Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson

April 1941

Thursday, 17th - Well, last night was a fiendish raid, and no mistake.  All night long they thrummed over our heads and what we heard coming down is more than can be put into words.  It was like one of the worst nights of last Autumn, and even then I don't remember hearing the sky so full, incessantly, hour after hour, of bombers zooming overhead.

Many of the images we see of the Blitz are in black and white.  Reading Vere's account of daily life as the bombs fell transformed those images into vivid colour for me.

Imagine the sounds of gunfire and fighter planes roaring overhead almost nightly as you fell into bed in a state of exhaustion.  The task of keeping your ear to the ground for word of a shipment of precious fruit and vegetables day after day was a necessity.  The quest for reasonably priced linens to replace threadbare sheets was more often than not a fruitless one.  The communal cat wasn't spared and had his meagre milk ration watered down when supplies were scarce.  He didn't seem to go too hungry though as Vere gave him a talking to about the number of mice spotted scurrying about the place.

Vere's numerous acts of kindness humbled me again and again when several times she was presented with an extra ration of cheese or meat and immediately shared with friends.  During many air raids, there were elderly women to drag under desks or make quick cups of tea for.  A stirrup-pump was always close at hand for putting out incendiary fires and on one occasion, a chimney fire that had nothing to do with the war.  Pulling on a pair of wellies and pitching in wherever help was needed empowered Vere.

During the month of April 1940, there was a bus strike and I laughed at the description of soldiers replacing the drivers.  Passengers were directing them through the streets of London as best they could but occasionally wrong turns were made and they would end up lost.  With bricks and debris lying in piles everywhere it must have taken ages to get anywhere.

Not only does this fascinating diary offer a glimpse of the home front, it offers a lesson in the politics of the day in a very readable manner.  Vere was an ardent fan of Churchill, had harsh words for Hitler and Mussolini and was heartbroken by news of lost fleets during action.  Her reports of invasion, treatment of POW's in Japanese war camps and the horror of the holocaust as they were reported in the papers are riveting.

Reaching the end of the war and the diary, I couldn't help feeling emotional as the black-outs were ripped from their place over windows and doors.  Vere felt it was too good to be true and there was a slight nervousness to embrace a sunlit room.  When victory is announced crowds stream toward Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Whitehall. 

'Precisely at 3 pm Big Ben's chimes told us the moment was about to begin.  All traffic stopped.  The mounted policeman wiped the sweat from his brow.  All was still.  How wonderful to be standing in Whitehall, in the shadow of the House of Commons, listening to That Voice which had steered us from our darkest hours to the daylight of deliverance.' 

Out came the steamed puddings saved for such a day and cups of whatever people wanted.  And with any luck the eggs and oranges weren't far behind.

(photo credit - John Hinde)


  1. Oh Darlene, why did you have to post this before my moving boxes arrived with my books? I'm ready to pick up Few Eggs and No Oranges right now and start reading but it's currently somewhere between Vancouver and the Rockies! A lovely, lovely review that has made me all the more eager to discover Vere's writing and impressions for myself.

  2. I like this period in history and have read quite a few books of this time. Another one to add to my list. Thanks for this review.

  3. I'd always thought I'd like to read this book - and now I know that I do!

  4. This was my first Persephone purchase. So glad that you enjoyed reading it.

  5. Oh I'd just resolved to put this one off to meet my 50 books goal for 2011--but now I want to dive right in!

    And interestingly G has been watching a series on the BBC documenting WWII in color--somehow watching color footage makes it seem so much more real...

    K x

  6. Oh Darlene! I am desperate to read this now! I am going to try and get it from the sounds wonderful. I LOVE how resourceful people were during the war - it just goes to show that there always have been a lot of decent, hard working, and generous people out there.

  7. Claire, I can't tell you how many times I've let anything slightly annoying just blow by as Vere has made me so thankful to live in peace with a pantry full to bursting. This book is pretty darn fantastic on so many levels!

    Mystica, I am constantly amazed at the resilience of people to survive and carry on with daily life during war. And you're welcome!

    Joan, If this era holds any sort of interest for you then this book is not to be missed!

    Geraldine, It was one of my first Persephone titles as well and had been languishing on my shelf for far too long. I'm so thankful that Nicola chose to print it!

    Kristina, There has been commercials on tv for that series...looks so interesting! You can push this one into the new year, make your quota!

    bookssnob, I can't help but think that if your relatives lived during this era it is something to be so proud of. And generous indeed, I kept thinking that I would have gobbled up any extra rations myself! For shame...

  8. I read this and loved it-but did not realize that Few Eggs... was the title of the book-I am going to have to find a copy of it.

    Thank you and Happy Anniversary.