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May Smith was a young teacher, living with her parents in Swadlincote, Debeyshire, when WWII started. When war began she was twenty four and she was thirty by VE day. I point this out as May's age, her fluctuating weight and her marital status are all of great importance to her throughout these pages. In other words she was a lovely, normal young woman - preoccupied too much with life to worry too much about world events. Although what happens to her throughout her war years obviously are recorded here, this is very much a story of the Home Front and of the way normal people coped with the abormal during that time.

Edited by her son (for whom I thank profusely for making these wonderfully entertaining, witty and fascinating diaries available) May's story begins in December 1938 and ends in 1945. May was a teacher during a time when her class size grew and grew - although miserably her holidays were shortened. She copes with evacuees and often a class twice the size of our national average. Her sarcastic wit (school is described as a "loathesome place") does not allow for too much sentimentality; but it is fair to say that teaching has its plus points if she is threatened with Fire Watching or Munitions work. May often uses capital letters to emphasise words and this works very well, somehow giving May a voice within the text.

Much of her entries relate to the two current men in her life - plus the clergyman who jilted her in the mid 1930's. The two beau's in question are 'Dougie Dear', who lives a fair distance away (you feel thankfully for May!) but provides fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs at intervals throughout the book. There is also the 'Faithful' (sometimes 'Faithless'!) Fred, who accompanies May to the 'flicks', tennis (where he has a rival in a married man May certainly does not encourage) and dances. As well as work, May's preoccupations lie with friends, tennis, English lectures, her love of the movies, books and theatre. She is lively, fun and delightfully brave. When told that invasion is imminent, she finishes outstanding correspondence, in order to be invaded with "a clear conscience". Staunchly patriotic, she nevertheless jokes about German bombers carrying home ariel photographs of Swadlincotes "impregnable defences" and when told that Hitler is planning to drop thousands of men over England in parachutes, she exclaims, "How awful!" and then finishes, "for them, I mean." In other words, despite being bombed on a daily/nightly basis at one point, hearing the "shattering news" of clothes being rationed and having her life turned upside down, she retains both her humour and her humanity.

This is an absolutely delightful account of Britain in wartime which I cannot praise highly enough. Filled with daily accounts of life carrying on regardless, war rumours (all treated with excellent scepticism - you feel Goebbels would have had a hard time convincing May of absolutely anything she was not sure about herself) and 'making do and mend', this is really entertaining, funny and sometimes moving. May often says she doesn't want to hear about the suffering going on around her, but she obviously feels things deeply and cares for her family, friends and neighbours. If you enjoy this, and I am sure you will, you might also like the fictional war diaries Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 (The Bloomsbury Group) and Henrietta Sees It Through (The Bloomsbury Group). Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and it contained illustrations.
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VINE VOICEon 6 January 2013
May Smith's - 'A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries' is a wonderfully fresh insight into what it was like to be a young woman during the Second World War. May lived and taught in Swadlincote in Derbyshire at this time and instead of the diary entries being filled with doom, gloom and all the panoply of war, this was a breath of fresh air. We read about her many trips to the pictures, outings to buy clothes (despite the advent of clothing coupons). She always seemed to have too much month left at the end of her money and can't wait for the next pay day. She has a complicated 'love' life dangling two young men at the end of a string, unable to decide which, if any, she prefers. School days appear to be particularly difficult as far as she is concerned, and she comes over at times as being unduly harsh on her pupils - although I don't think this was the intention. During air raids shelter at Granny's house - not that she has an Anderson shelter but they take refuge under the stairs, with sometimes hilarious results. This is a great read, especially for anyone young or old interested in how life was lived by young people during World War 2.
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on 27 December 2012
It's a marvellous feat to make the everyday events of life in wartime Swadlincote so readable. The reader is taken into May Smith's world and shares her experiences. The writer has a natural style that suits her shrewd observations, and a ready wit. We totally understand her predicaments and the challenges she faces, against the background of a war that is coming closer. Her personality is likable; we are with her and on her side!
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on 14 August 2014
Whilst I enjoyed this I can't help thinking it was a bit too 'mediocre' for publication . I'm not knocking May at all here as my own diary is hardly thrilling but she didn't really get up to much so the book became a little boring towards the end and I found myself skipping entries .If it had been fiction the author would have had to add quite a lot more 'scandal' to please readers !

What came across to me was just how resigned people got to the war which is sad in itself .

It has made me very interested in May and her family though . I'd love to know about her marriage to Frederick and I really hope she found true happiness .
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on 7 November 2013
The period when the diarist is describing the many air raids is quite revealing as I hadn't realised how regularly sirens went off where she lived in the country. Being an ex class teacher myself I liked her honesty about finding teaching a bit of a drag at times, although I hadn't realised how little holiday schoolchildren had during wartime.I lost interest a little when she was obsessing about her clothing problems and found her attitude towards her two suitors rather annoying, but it was refreshing to hear a different viewpoint of the war.
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on 24 November 2013
I found this book fascinating, recalling my mother's tales of her war. She was a similar age to May and somehow it brought back her stories. Having spent a lifetime in teaching I found May's diary riveting. She was obviously a feisty character and her words are powerful and humorous. I was sorry to reach the end.
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on 15 June 2014
Not very impressed with it. I thought it might be an entertaining read but it is just someone's diary of general life. I gave up when war was declared! I might try to read it again sometime
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on 19 October 2014
Light and amusing. Life goes on - a real diary so the tedious and mundane side of life too which was so well written to make it interesting and part of her life story. This was a 'feel good' book of a young woman coping with WW2, remaining cheerful, enthusiastic and positive. Two things happened in one year which changed her life and both were unrelated to the War. It was a pleasure to read. What happened to the generous and patient admirer she didn't choose I wonder.
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on 5 March 2014
This was a good read and I found it hard to put down. Very comical in places, the diarist has a gift for wit (and sarcasm!). After the air-raids die down, the war is hardly mentioned except for the occasional momentous event, and life for May continues much as usual. Nevertheless, it gives the reader a good account of life during WWII and how people continued their every-day lives. Whilst not in the Nella Last league, it is an enjoyable read.
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on 22 May 2014
As a fan of wartime diairies I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It reflects the values of young women, perhaps their naivety or innocence in World War II. May is a very determined young school teacher with strong opinions about her fellow man although she doesn't particularly appear like children! She strings two men along throughout the war and eventually settles down happily with one of them. A good holiday read.
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