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The Lure of the Second World War

I was asked a question in an interview: why did you come back to the Second World War again. Of course, I have my own reasons for loving the era, but here are a few extra thoughts.

My warm and wonderful grandmother used to tell hilarious stories about the Second World War in Britain, and ever since then I’ve cherished a love for the era. After she died, I tried to rekindle her presence by reading personal accounts of the war in Britain—from journals, and letters to biographies and memoirs—to the point whereby I can close my eyes and imagine it all: the danger, the freedom and opportunities for women, and the racy hedonism.

“War is the most catastrophic instigator of social change,” sociologist Francis E Merrill declared in 1946, and this was not lost on British women. The war offered new openings for women to fill the men’s shoes in what were then known as masculine jobs. Women were needed, and that meant that they had more importance, more of a voice. If they were to be treated like men in the workforce, they could begin to speak out for themselves in society.

Shockingly, the majority of women I interviewed about the war told me that it was the best time of their lives. It seemed that the continual danger—over 40,000 civilians were killed by bombs in Britain—combined with the freedom led to parties, boyfriends, and the type of close-knit community that only war can bring.

Overlaying that, I simply love the way people spoke, the way their world looked, their firm and unwavering beliefs. In many ways it was a simpler time than these. War makes life and death incredibly stark: gripping hold of what’s good is the best that anyone can do.

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