The Casualties Were Small
I have just read a most charming book, illustrated here – The Casualties Were Small. This is a collection of poems, family photographs, and diary entries recording the impressions, sorrows and worries of May Hill, a wife and mother living in wartime Chapel St Leonards. The collection has been compiled by two of her grandchildren, Tom and Margaret Ambridge, who state in their introduction that although they never knew her she was brought to life for them through the eloquence of her writings.
And her writings do evince a vivid image of wartime in a small rural community of family and friends and, eventually, of soldiers billeted with them. The war itself seems at first somewhat distant, its effects limited to rationing and shortages, news reports of bombing in the cities, and the occasional sighting of enemy aircraft. All this set as a backdrop as the community continues its seasonal cycle of jam-making, weddings, and making-do and mending as life goes on. But the darker side starts to intrude – the transformation of Skegness and surrounding areas into a military encampment, the construction of bomber bases, the tiredness and strain of fire-watching and air-raid duties, the increasing worry and prayers for the young men called up for active service, and eventually the sorrow shared by the community when some of those young men are killed in action. The title of the book is taken from a poem in which Mrs Hill indicates her fear for her only son after he joined the RAF.
There are many sad and poignant moments in this book, not least just before the end. The book is also a delightful reminder of a world long-disappeared, not just for the impact of the war and its hardships and sacrifices, but simply of a life before the true impact of 20th Century technology and values.
Information about the book, including a synopsis, extracts, readers’ comments and ordering details, can be seen on www.ambridgebooks.co.uk. It may just make that special present you are looking for!