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BOOK REVIEW: "Domestic Soldiers" by Jennifer Purcell

BOOK REVIEW: "Domestic Soldiers" by Jennifer Purcell.

Another great non-fiction read from the Footscray Mechanics Institute (FMI) Library. "Domestics Soldiers" by Jennifer Purcell tells the story of six ordinary women during the Second World War (1939 -1945). Primarily the focus is on England and also the German part of the conflict.

The origins of this book lie in the Mass Observation (MO) movement, a study of the English populous via diaries, completed and submitted by a select group of 500 or so people. The women come from different areas, ages and economic background, from the south east to the far north of England. The stories the women submit are connecting to their emotive and personal journeys thru the war. Clothing, make up and their relationships with their husbands and other significant others are a focus. The book also put the personal in the context of the political and strategic events of the time.

The government was a war time arrangement with main parties of Labour, Liberal and Conservative in coalition. There was no election for 10 years. Yet parliament continued to sit, and Churchill the war time leader, faced no confidence motions during the war years. The war waxed and waned before turning to the allies advantage with Russia and America being determinate in the outcome. However with English troops in Burma, North Africa and eventually in invasion of France many English women had personal stake in the conflict as their relatives were at the pointy end for years. This is not to mention the Airforce, who fought over southern England in defence, and the routinely attacked targets in Germany.

The concept of total war where civilians as important to war effort as the actual troops, led to the concept of domestic soldiers. Minimising out goingexpenses in food and petrol were one role. "The most mundane activities of peacetime were infused with patriotism and value during wartime"

The indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas put the domestic to the forefront of conflict. unlike previous wars fought by opposing armies. Women volunteered in a wide variety of roles, they ran the household, allowing men to fight or work in war industry, and they carried the psychologic burden of support.

For some of the six women a triple burden to carry, whilst also being attacked by aircraft initially, and later on by missiles. Despite this burden, social mores are such that divorce is very difficult to obtain, so many women lived, as reflected in the lives of the six women in the book, often under difficult situations. The case of who is entitled to savings from keep money, and side earnings from renting upon divorce is ruled upon in1943 and appealed, but the husband is ruled entitled to these monies, much to women's unhappiness with this decision

Some of the six women in the book also carry out a kind of sociological research from which the MO is able to feed back to government where the populous is at in terms of attitude to 'black out' and food rationing. 'Black out' was very strictly imposed by wardens who could impose fines. This was to prevent aircraft from bombing. Rationing of essential foodstuff went on from1940 to 1954 in one form or another. The amount people existed on may surprise later generations. Clothing was rationed with number of buttonholes, or length of socks controlled, so as to minimise use of cloth. This goes on for years.

During the war years social change was mooted as the populous was not happy with the situation between 1918 and 1939, in that despite a 'war to end wars', poverty and neglect of large sections of the population were normalised by lack of education, underemployment and social payments such as pensions. Women were not paid for many role,s and if they were widowed or divorced were often left destitute.

During the war a scheme of welfare and education of the population, and provision of universal health care through insurance for all was devised. A brave new world was envisaged. This continues to this day; still not fully equitable but better than it was for many women.

A good read. NF

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