Researching World War Two

I’m re-writing my novel set in the 1950s, written during my 2 years on the MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University.

The story started out with one narrator, a child, who then had a mother with her own history and then an uncle. His experiences took the reader back to WWII and then there came a scene in which the mother refers to her war experiences. I considered my re-write and realised I had very little knowledge of WWII – how I wished I’d asked my mother when I could – and I needed to know what went on and how the war affected people, both away fighting and at home.

The war story is most important to my character Ted, who returned home in 1945, suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, then an unrecognised mental illness. In the eyes of my child narrator, he was just barmy Uncle Ted who did no work. Unfeeling little thing! Then I got my hands on a memoir written by one of my uncles, also seen by me as a lazy good-for-nothing. I read and repented. My uncle endured a hard war, fought in Italy to be seriously wounded and was invalided out after the Battle of Monte Cassino. I needed to read history books.

The internet is a wonderful place when it gives you what you need. I found plenty of books and bought Salerno 1943, The Allied Invasion of Italy and Monte Cassino, The Story of the Hardest-Fought Battle of World War Two. I read them, dipping in and out, reading pages relevant to my narrative. Then I re-read my draft. To my surprise, it was all there on the page. I might have made it up but, back in the 1950s, when the grown-ups talked of nothing but the war, something of the truth had sunk in, even if I wasn’t aware of when or how.  I decided not to re-draft using descriptions from those publications, but, knowing the truth, knowing that the picture I’d painted with my words were the right words, I have the confidence to continue.      

Books on my shelf about life during WWII.

Salerno 1943 The Allied Invasion of Italy : Angus Konstam

Monte Cassino The Story of the Hardest-Fought Battle of World War Two : Matthew Parker

The War Years 1939-1945 Eyewitness Accounts

How We Lived Then A history of everyday life during the Second World War : Norman Longmate

Few Eggs and No Oranges The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940 – 45

Bombers & Mash The Domestic Front 1939-45 : Raynes Minns

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park :Sinclair McKay

Waiting for the All Clear True stories from survivors of The Blitz : Ben Wicks

A 1940s Childhood From Bomb Sites to Children’s Hour : James Marsh

Britain At War Unseen Archives (Photographs)

The Day War Ended Voices and Memories from 1945

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