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on 3 April 2017
My grandparents were children during the war, old enough to know what was going on but young enough not to be called up. This was a history I'd not thought about before. Turns out my great aunt was in the WRNS in Cyprus though. It was eye opening to read all these stories of how women coped when their menfolk were away for years and came back as different people, changed. Highly recommend
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on 23 April 2017
A very interesting book gives a insight into how those coming home after the war coped and also their families
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on 28 May 2017
A glimpse into how the population managed during wartime bringing the women into focus while the men were at war.
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on 9 October 2017
This book was ok in parts but very drawn out
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on 17 March 2016
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 September 2017
This non-fiction book takes a look at the women, be they wives, mothers, sisters or daughters who welcomed back their menfolk from the Second World War. How did these women adapt to the men who returned from battlefields or prisons? How did they begin to cope with all too apparent trauma that returned with them?

Stranger in the House is a collection of reminiscences about life in the immediate aftermath of the war and of the long term consequences of readjustment. There are interviews with wives, widows, sisters, daughters and granddaughters showing how this war cast a very long shadow indeed. Julie Summers has also raided the historical archives to give us the mother’s view – these poor women had often already lost members of their family in the First World War, how brave they must have been to send off their sons to another conflict.

This is a book full of details, clearly carefully researched and full of real accounts from the women who had lived, not only through the upheaval of war itself, with sometimes many months with no idea whether their loved ones are alive or not, to the aftermath with damaged men returning to families, sometimes children who didn’t recognise their fathers and all this with severe rationing in place.

“When their war ended, our war began.”

Of course the men themselves had an enormous adjustment to make and it seems like those in charge had accounted for the fact that support was needed for these fractured families following the huge failings of the First World War but this concentrated on practicalities like housing rather than what was really needed which was emotional support for the men and women who had to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The structure of the book is that the chapters relate to all the different subjects from the aftermath of war, communication and the variety of different relationships the women had with the men that returned from war.

One of the early chapters focusses on the contrast between those men stationed where the Army Post Office were able to deliver and those who weren’t. The men and women who had received regular communication on the whole fared much better than those who hadn’t.

“Letters for us stand for love, longing, light-heartedness and lyricism. Letters evoke passion, tenderness, amusement, sadness, rejoicing, surprise. And none of this is possible without the Army Post Office”

Of course some of those letters told of children born while the men were away, and not all of these could be explained in the husband’s absence. These families had a whole different struggle when the men returned and the author didn’t shy away from this difficult subject.

There is a particular emphasis within the book on those men who had been Japanese prisoners of war and it seems from the accounts in this book that many of these men were specifically ordered not to talk about their experience and of course these men often came back with serious medical problems to cope with too. The number of different voices, children at the time of their father’s return, who talk about rituals or issues over food and mealtimes is striking and so sad to read. The often factual accounts which are devoid of exaggeration or a wish for sympathy are all the more heart-rending because of that.

It is particularly touching that the last chapter speaks to the grandchildren of these men and often these children, not bought up to avoid any talk of the war, got the men to open up for the first time to their relatives and the families heard what the men had seen and heard during the six long years of war.

I don’t think I’ve read a book about war that more poignantly illustrates that for a whole generation the war was never really over.
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on 1 August 2011
Although war and its aftermath have been around forever, I had the feeling that the things this book described could only have happened at one particular point in history, the middle of the 20th century.
For one, with modern communications it's inconceivable now that a large group of men could be held captive for several years with no hint of where they were or even if they were still alive. For another, it was at this point that women started to have lives outside the home, in the workplace and the professions, which would not have been the case even 20 years earlier. Roles which in most cases they were expected to give up automatically on resuming their true role as housewives on the return of their menfolk.
Apart from one or two boys, the focus is on the women's story, which is understandable, since they were the ones who stayed at home and then had to deal with often very damaged men who returned, often with no understanding of how much the Home Front had changed in the years they were away fighting or in prison.
The stoical self-sacrifice of some of the women is immensely moving. Elizabeth Glassey qualified as a doctor during the war, and rose to become the dedicated head of an obstetrics department at the age of 24. When her fiance returned, after three and a half years as a POW in the Far East, she immediately gave up her post and supported him while he in turn went through his medical studies. Only much later - after seven pregnancies in nine years, just four of which led to surviving children - she became a junior member in her husband's practice.
Even more extraordinary to me was the story of Monica Littleboy, who lost touch with her friend - not even fiance - George in 1939, only for him to search her out when he returned from the Far East in 1945. Although she was involved with another serviceman, she eventually decided - after much agonising - that it was her duty to help George recover some normality by marrying and supporting him, a largely unrewarding task which she carried out until George's death in 2000. I've no idea where women like that come from, but it's heartening to think that there are such people, and we can never know how many men were saved from breakdowns and worse by the loyal and unquestioning support of their wives.
Not that chldren were unaffected. Imagine that you have never seen your father except in a picture, then at the age of 5 or 6 you suddenly meet a stranger who looks totally unlke that picture, who then moves into your life and becomes the centre of the household. Such a child can't be expected to understand the difficulties their parents experience, but they suffer nonetheless. Try this for a laconic comment from one such child about her mother, dealing with her husband's premature death as a result of illness contracted as a FEPOW:
'I would get home from school and find her with her head in the oven and the gas switched on. It was a very difficult time.'
There are many such stories in this book, and what is certain is that there are many thousands more which were never told and now never will be. The quiet heroism of just coping, in some cases for over half a century, has attracted very little attention, and yet it is difficult to escape the conclusion that sometimes the greatest heroes of a war end up without either a medal or their name on a memorial.
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on 27 November 2013
What an absolutely tremendous book this is.

This thoroughly researched book deals with the stories of the men who returned from the Second World War, physically and emotionally scarred, and how their loved ones coped with the situation. Most importantly, it deals with the impact upon the children, who were not necessarily fathered by the absent serviceman. Those who were, often found marked dissimilarities between the treatment of their siblings who were born before the war and those who were born after the father's return.

It was a time when many returning servicemen did not discuss their wartime experiences with their wives, either because they wanted to put the war behind them or because in some cases their wives were simply not interested and shut them up when they attempted discourse. The majority of the former POWs did not discuss the depredations they had endured with anybody and certainly not with their wives. It was the `stiff upper lip' time when it was thought that if one did mention these matters it would lead to accusations of a `lack of moral fibre' - consequently, the POWs, their wives and children all suffered and, in the case of the majority of the Far East POWs, suffered abominably.

But no two stories are the same; and that's what makes this such a remarkable book. Julie Summers has invested a great deal of time and research which has been carried out so successfully that even though her questions to the survivors might to some appear to be intrusive, she has obviously put those questions with extreme tact which has resulted in the answers which make this book so readable.

There is also a very interesting chapter on the grandchildren of the survivors; the former POWs would often divulge their experiences to them, something they never would have done with their own children. As one contributor mentioned, `It was as if the communication between my father and my children was a private matter that we were able to listen in on, but could not interrupt.'

Perhaps, one of these days, someone will write a book about the effects of combat on servicemen and women returning from conflicts, such as the one in Afghanistan. I only hope that person will be as skilful a writer as Julie Summers.

The best book, on any subject that I've read in a long time.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 September 2017
Good read if you like excerpts of letters written during the war, some sad and some very funny bits.
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on 19 November 2008
When Julie asked me if she could include my parents' story in Stranger in the House I agreed because I felt strongly that my mother's experiences, like those of tens of thousands of other women, deserved our attention. Julie has been sensitive and thorough in her research and she's done a marvellous job of shedding light on this little known aspect of wartime experiences. There is much we can learn from these stories and it is important, I believe, that each contributor is allowed to speak for themselves. My parents and I were in safe hands.
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