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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2012
One of many remarkable facets of these diaries is how like, and yet how unlike, the television sitcom was to reality. The diarist, a retired Indian army officer living in the heart of Hell Fire Corner throughout the second World War, was an early member of the Home Guard in Kent. He did not suffer fools and encountered a number. Eventually, exasperated, he resigned and became a driver in the Volunteer Car Pool.

Colonel Foster is an exemplary diarist. His entires are brief, lucid and to the point; they have room for the wider view of the war as it unfolded but also for the trivia of everyday life. A picture emerges of daily exposure to danger, the stress of regular air raid warnings, the bombs and explosions, the death of acquaintances; but also of domestic life when the housemaid is suspected of being a spy, when the writer stands next to a rear-admiral in a half-hour queue to buy fish, when a journey can only be completed by borrowing a gallon of petrol, while on another drive to an emergency hospital, "I did the 28 miles in 1¼ hours."

Unwittingly, perhaps, the Colonel provides a telling self-portrait. Clearly he was a man of principle, devoted to his wife and daughter, a willing helper of deserving causes, a prickly team member, and a prejudiced patriot - among those who come in for recurrent criticism are Winston Churchill and most of his cabinet, Field Marshall Montgomery, General Eisenhower and most Americans. British servicemen who consistently damage his fence are not excused.

We can only be grateful that these diaries, having disappeared after the author's death, resurfaced in a car boot sale. Anyone wishing to understand what life was like for civilians in the front line will find a clear and accurate account. I should add that much of it made difficult reading for one who was born in Folkestone, experienced some of the later months but mostly escaped as an evacuee in Wales. So I was not there when my school premises were damaged. Unfortunately, as a photograph of wrecked houses on page 113 shows, my parents stayed on and paid with their lives.
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on 12 December 2011
If you like military history you will like this book,an ant's eye view of the battle of britain and the experience of living through world war 2 on the kent coast through the eyes of col. rodney foster. Lots of interesting information on air raid times,troop movements,public opinion,and such like.most military history books say about the same on the different wars or theatres,this book isn't written by an author it's written by a diarist writing down the day to day happenings around him, it gives you a very good sense of being there and what life was like for people living under the threat of being bombed or invaded at any moment.amazing to read the thoughts of someone who died fifty years ago on events that happened seventy years ago and who was born a hundred and thirty years ago.a nice old boy with a very british stiff upper lip,recommended.
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on 3 December 2011
A real insight to the war years in an area of southern england. The diaries, beautifully written, humourous, informative give a real sense of what life was like for the everyday individual getting on with their 'existence' under constant threat as best they could. My family lived on the east coast during the war years and my father injured in a bombing incident at Ashford Railway station so amazing to turn up all these new facts and recollections. A book to be picked up and put down, not a must read from cover to cover in 'one session'!
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on 17 January 2012
This is a splendid read based on a diary that one presumes was never intended for publication. The diaryist, a retired officer from the Indian Army and one of the Old School is a man of honour, decency, integrity, diligence and dedication. Whilst his views of his some superiors might be seen as disaffection, his personal views never adversely influence his patriotism, his sense of duty nor his determination to beat the squalor that is Facism, an idealogy that is the very antithesis of his being.

This is a remarkable record of the Second World War, which melds the routine of daily life with the death and destruction of the war, mostly within viewing distance from his lounge. One aspect that he clearly articulates, is the incredible acoustic background to living on the front line that was Hythe. The noise of exploding bombs, torpedoes and mines, together with the constant crash of gunfire and the whine of piston engines driving planes and vehicles to war (never mind the constant and irritating damage to his garden fence by careless army drivers!) is indelibly printed upon the pages. This is not a cover to cover read but it is certainly a very fine one.

Whilst the title suggests a focus upon the Home Guard the story is much wider than that, encompassing everything from air-raids, vehicle accidents and plane crashes, to the Girl Guides, shopping queues, drunken soldiers and allotments. The passing vignettes on the tragedies of the people he knows hides immense loss for so many.
How sad that Rodney Foster cannot inform and inspire us in person. He has though, left us the next best thing. His perspectives are so practical yet moving; the very routine makes it fascinating. A Lost Generation now rediscovered!
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on 5 March 2012
I am still reading this book and the one thing that strikes me is how many times they had to run for cover, or get under the table to avoid a bombing raid, sometimes two or three times a night as well as during the day. The constant threat of being invaded, the sirens, lack of sleep, scarcity of everyday provisions really makes you think how on earth did they cope with it all. The people that fought, and those who just did their bit back home have my utmost admiration. This book is a real eye opener as to what was really happening here in Britain during the 2nd world war. It is not an easy read nor is it a book that you want to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but just catch up now and again to see what's happening to Mr Foster and his family.The thing that I have to keep telling myself is that this was real, not a drama or a film, but how it really was. It's terrifying to read what they all went through. I wonder how we would cope today?
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on 2 November 2011
This book arrived on time, was well packaged.

I picked it up and delved straight into it, a fascinating book.

As lovers of the Dad's Army programme, it is interesting to read about the real thing.

A daily diary of wartime life in the Home Guard and the everyday life in Wartime Britain.
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on 30 October 2011
Living on the South Coast, facing France, I find this book fascinating. Despite the war part of Rodney's life went on as normal. A great read - now reading it for a second time.The Real 'Dad's Army': The War Diaries of Col. Rodney Foster
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2012
Many editions of this book seem to have been published - the one I have is Penguin. Having read it, I am surprised. It is the sort of thing one expects to see under the impress of a local history society. When others have raved over it, why am I so mean as to give it only 3 stars?

The book has a certain charm, I admit. Colonel Rodney Foster IS very much out of the same mould as Captain Mannering; a rather stuffy middle class chap obsessed with how others treat him, in his case in the local RSPCA rather than the bank (He doesn't seem to have a "day job"). But what we can best learn from these pages is the strange way that the everyday kept chugging along while mighty events were being played out. As far as war on the home front is concerned, Foster really was on the front line. He could see, from his house perched high above the Channel at Saltwood, events along the coast, out at sea and even on the French coast. After a "big gun" - the kind that could fire shells across the Channel - was set up nearby, his family takes to travelling out to a house in the countryside to sleep each night, as German raids on the gun endangered their house nearby. Air raid warnings are constant, yet, in the early years at least, the sirens only start to go off after the raid has started (or even when it has finished, sometimes). The threat of invasion is at times immediate, hourly; if it came, Foster would have seen the fleet advancing across the Channel from his windows. The Battle of Britain goes on over Foster's head; planes, parachutes and bombs rain from the sky indiscriminately.

Despite all this, Foster's sangfroid is most often disturbed by the weather. I quote from 5th November 1940, one of the longer entries. "At 11.30 am three Huns dived on the town from over Pedlinge and dropped bombs. Two fell on the ranges and one hit the quarters of the Quartermaster of the Small Arms School. The next hit and demolished the barricaded side of Nelson's Bridge over the canal, spattering the small houses nearby with black canal mud, and the last fell on Hospital Hill, Sandgate, killing a Sapper from the section on Hillcrest Road. Shortly after, the rain came down. On my way to mount the guard I saw the strafing of the French coast in retaliation for the shelling of Dover. It came down in buckets as I left the post and I was wet through." This oddly deadpan style prevails throughout; bad weather and violent death are both inconvenient, but the weather more so. Foster has no descriptive talent, and gets most exercised about the bad behaviour of troops stationed in the area (one lot steal his supply of coal, another lot break down his fence and help themselves to his vegetables. Other depredations and a certain amount of rowdy scrapping between regiments are also reported), also the committee goings on in the local RSPCA and the constant irritations of inefficiency and back-biting among Home Guard members. Many entries are laconic in the extreme; that for 9th January 1943 reads "A very cold day. Gribbon has put himself in command of all the Home Guard units in Folkestone, and reduced my command to three platoons. I wrote out my resignation. I had a restless night worrying about it". On the 12th, discovering that if he resigns as Saltwood commander, the Home Guard regulations mean he will go down in rank to "private", he withdraws his resignation. This section provides some of the best unintentional humour in the diaries; by the 14th the weather is again central stage with heavy rain, localised flooding, and Foster's car engine damaged by driving through a deep puddle.

Reading the book with care, one can see that Foster has his upper lip severely stiffened. He occasionally remarks in passing that some setback in the war makes him "very depressed", and from time to time a really close shave with the hardware constantly flying about his ears has him admitting to having been "really frightened". Bear in mind that this is a man who has seen numerous acquaintances killed or injured, and is only too aware of the inadequacy of the Home Guard to repel the invasion which at times is expected hourly. He is not one to confide in his diary, however. On 26th of April 1941 he writes "One cannot put down one's feelings on the war situation". He means this metaphorically - in the context it is clear he means it's too bad to put into words - but it is literally true; he is incapable of expressing his feelings, opinions or reflections in words on the diary page.

And yet I said I loved it. Why? Because my mother lived in Hythe through the war and has annotated my copy with entertaining marginal notes. She knew many of the people Foster mentions, saw the same events and - after the war - even worked in the house (illustrated by Foster's drawings) which the Fosters lived in at the time! The moral of this story is, that if you have a local connection - especially if you are interested in the intimate history of the area - this is a jolly read. If you are looking for something with the insight, thoughtfulness and sensitivity found in We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times or Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Postwar Britain, you certainly won't find it here.

A postscript for locals and Dad's Army buffs; it has often been stated that the "Warmington on Sea" of Dad's Army is Dymchurch. At Saltwood, Foster is only a few miles from Dymchurch and it is frequently mentioned in the book. Certainly the mood, and general situation in the television series (which was actually filmed inland at Thetford in Norfolk) fit very closely with Hythe, rather than Dymchurch. However, "Warmington on Sea" is a composite of southern seaside towns; neither Dymchurch nor Hythe has the kind of seafront described, which fits Hastings better. What is quite clear from this book is that the action in the air, out at sea, and even within sight on the French coast, is far more constant and dangerous than we see in Dad's Army, also that the Home Guard trained much harder, with constant practice on shooting ranges and much more weaponry than we see with Captain Mannering's platoon.
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on 4 July 2013
I found this book fascinating because immediately post WW2 I lived in a house (near the author's) which features in the text and on a detailed map; also some of the people mentioned were familiar to me. As an account of day to day events during the war in Hythe and Folkestone and to a lesser extent Dover it is of historical interest but it has little literary merit being in essence a log of events in which the author was involved, or noted. Some illumination of the human aspect is given by references to the frequent pilfering of the author's garden by soldiers billeted nearby and to the problems of discipline and training in a Home Guard whose members had other responsibilities and priorities. Clashes of personality appear to have been a recurrent problem. Frustratingly the author often mentions matters which require amplification for the reader's understanding but too often he doesn't provide this. He gives the impression of being of limited imagination and the reader is given little idea of the human experience of living on the home front while subject to frequent bombing and shelling. As a straightforward record of one man's war on the coast of East Kent it will be of interest to those who live in the area covered, or know it well, but it would seem of limited interest to those who don't have this connection.
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on 27 June 2012
I bought this for my 93 year old Dad who served in the RAF during the war. He is reading this book and says it is a very good source of information of what went on at the home front. He has learned a lot of things from this book which he didn't get to hear about during the war, some for propaganda reasons and to keep up morale in the fighting forces. The book is in the form of a daily diary and is very well written.
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