Sunday, June 01, 2014

Eggs, Oranges and Bombs

Where have I been? We had a couple of groups of visitors and apart from that it has been end of term activities, preparation for summer (which may have finally come), and a hurried attempt to work my way through one of the most interesting books I have come across. I have been paying attention to footnotes and I borrowed through inter-library loan from Central Michigan University a book that turned up in one of the histories of World War II. I can never keep the title straight, but it is, in fact, FEW EGGS AND NO ORANGES, A DIARY showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-1945 (somewhat sic.) Oh, and written in the Notting Hill area of London by VERE HODGSON.

The author, seen here, supplies many useful maps, photographs and historical and biographical information. She herself had been born in Birmingham where she later received a degree in History. She had also taught in the south of England and at the Poggio Imperiale in Florence, where she numbered Mussolini's daughter, Edda, among her pupils. At the time war broke out, Vere Hodgson was engaged in Social Work in London, associated with a Christian Spiritualist movement, though she does not seem much of either. Earlier I was enthralled by a similar diary, Nella Last's War, but that was written in the North of England. I found Few Eggs and No Oranges more moving. It was more familiar territory, although my family did not live in central London, but in the environs. It helped me understand the difficulties my parents had gone through, rationing and shortages, and surely most of all fear not so much for themselves, but for me, born at the beginning of the war, and my brother, born at the end. No part of England was safe from the bombs she so graphically describes, incendiary bombs, V-2's and Doodle Bugs, which fell virtually non-stop for five years. Amazingly, she was not hurt and although she constantly felt the shock waves, she was never the victim of a direct hit. The book is 500 pages long, and it would take that number of pages to tell her story. We had just seen The Monument Men, and what did I read here? "The most exciting news is about the Italian Art Treasures. Major Eric Linklater entered a villa on a ridge a few miles from Florence to look at the city. He saw suddenly an Italian crucifix, . . . gazing around, to his amazement he discovered Botticelli's Primavera stacked against the wall—also numerous pictures  of Fra Lippo Lippi, Cimabue . . . in fact all of the treasures of the Uffizi!"
I loved the way that bombing raids and kipper rations, lack of sheets and death tolls all took equal space, not because she was an unfeeling person, but because it was the only way to carry on. Here she learns about Pearl Harbor.
"Listened to the Midnight News on Sunday, after they told us at 9 p.m. that American Bases in the Pacific had been bombed. Studied the map of the area, found Hawaii, and it looked so far from Japan—but we had forgotten Aircraft Carriers.
Poor dear people in those islands of bliss, sunshine and fruit drinks. They must have had an unpleasant Sunday afternoon."
After every blitz in the vicinity of Notting Hill, she would go out the next day to survey the damage, not from some ghoulish and morbid curiosity, but because government news was not always correct, presumably to lead the Germans astray. In April, 1944 she writes "West Middlesex Hospital at Edmonton was hit." Very close to home, but there was no West Middlesex Hospital. It was North Middlesex Hospital and that was where I was born in December, 1939. My brother was born there on June 8,1944. I remember a family legend that the hospital was hit when my mother was there and my dad couldn't get through on the phone to see if she was safe. Did she go in early because of her high blood pressure? Why didn't we ask questions when my parents were alive?

Happy 70th Birthday, Brian, and I wish you were here to sort out my indentations.


Maggie May said...

Although I was born in the war, I can't remember it. It must have been terrible to live in the thick of the bomings like that lady. Comparing the kipper shortages with the raids....... I suppose you get used to it after a while.
Sounds like a good read. Glad you thought so anyway.
Maggie x

Nuts in May

rosaria williams said...

Thanks for the visit to my blog, and for leaving a calling card. Lovely to meet another retired educator.

rosaria williams said...

p.s. How do I follow your posts?

Beryl Ament said...

Thanks, Rosaria. I'm sorry to say I never figured out RSS Feeds, so the only way to see if there is a new post up is to go to
once in a while. Do check.

And Maggie, I am pretty sure only people of our generation and nationality would really enjoy the book. It really was a diary. Amazing to see how the trains kept on running, the government managed to keep paying out to people who lost their houses etc, even tho' I have no idea how they kept track of them, and Londoners kept going to the pictures, even though cinemas were routinely bombed.