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The Oaken Heart: The Story of an English Village at War Paperback – 1 Mar 2011
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a marvellous account of the decency and bravery of our people in a quiet, unexceptional corner of England. Simon Heffer
--Sunday Telegraph 13.3.2011
'Her wonderfully authentic diary from 1940 vividly evokes the way country people coped.' --Val Hennessy in the Daily Mail
"a minor classic of the Second World War." --This England Magazine - Autumn 2011
"This inspiring and interesting read will leave you feeling warmed by a community standing strong in their fear and determined to do their bit." --The People's Friend - April 2011
"One can't help feeling awed by the courage and generosity of the real people populating this record, Margery Allingham included." --Dorothy L Sayers Society Bulletin - May 2011
"This stirring tribute to the people of rural England." --Mail on Sunday - 1.5.2011
"The book is a hymn to the strength of a village when threatened from outside." --W I Life - Nov/Dec 2011
From the Publisher
The Oaken Heart was published almost as soon as it was received in 1941. This fourth edition, published seventy years later, includes diaries, letters, editorial notes and recollections from some of the people still living in Essex who were children when Allingham wrote. A wealth of contemporary photographs should help readers today feel the reality of the ordinary village dwellers who Allingham came to admire so profoundly. In speaking so eloquently and accurately for her own village she reflects the experience of so many other communities at that extraordinary time.See all Product description
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The author was living in a large house in an Essex village in 1939, and the stories and experiences reflect the lives of those around her as war looked increasingly likely, people were evacuated to the village from London, the outbreak of war and the departure of men and women into the Forces. There is a small railway, a school, shops and all the small businesses and concerns linked to a mid century British village. There are characters who behave well in adversity, and the general tone is of resigned acceptance of the imminence of destruction, whether personal, local or national. Thus there is the urgency of gas mask distribution, the preparations for evacuated schoolchildren who turn out to be mothers and children, and the reality of bombs falling in the area if not immediately on the village itself. There are the daily practical concerns of a large influx of people who need not only housing but also feeding and clothing. Book manuscripts must be hidden in biscuit tins, windows taped up and a place for London couples to argue provided. A straw shelter from bombs is built but is most used for cattle over winter. Various elderly people adopt a fatalism which means that they do not seek shelter; and the dropping of flares and incendiaries provide firework type entertainment.
This book is an account of life by a woman dealing with unprecedented experiences; her daily life and the departure of her husband and others to fight. It is reality finely drawn, as the foreword says “And The Oaken Heart reflects her truthfulness on every page”. It is not a smooth, highly planned narrative, yet it is not a diary in the sense that it contains reflections on this war and those whose lives are being threatened and transformed by its progress. There are funny tales of the determination of one man to build a glass topped extension, but not to hit the last nail in as that is when it is bound to be destroyed. This is no bland ‘Britain can take it’ propaganda as it is too honest; it reflects the real fear as well as the determination to survive and flourish.
It perhaps feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book as there is an element of suffering and fear present. It is an eminently readable narrative, fascinating in its eye for detail and its honesty, when much of the writing about this time almost romanticises the romance of peril. This is the story of a woman who has to visit a bomb scarred London and misses buildings no longer standing, and also who confronts the potential ending of everything. It is also well written and personal, as she recalls and records the strange events and personalities that make up the village around her. The Golden Duck edition that Blackwells tracked down for me contains a short diary and other information, pictures and photographs which all add to the reality. If you have an interest in the Home Front in Britain I would definitely recommend this book.