Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell

This book was first published in 1946 and as you would expect from the title it’s 1945 and the war in Europe is just about to come to an end. You would think that it would be a time of celebrations and relief but in truth the people are all a bit unnerved by this new situation as they’ve become used to war and all pulling together and having one common enemy. Everyone is worried about the future and how things are going to change.

I really enjoyed this one though and all the young people are getting nicely paired off with each other. Even David Leslie, the charismatic but ‘bone-selfish’ favourite of Miss Bunting is being ‘managed’ by one of his many old flames. It’s mainly light-hearted and humorous but it has the odd passage in it which I’m sure had a lot of readers of that time shouting ‘hear hear’ when they read them. Like:

A very horrid rumour of more peace was floating about in Barchester and indeed about all England for a few days before Anne’s visit, filling everyone with deep misgivings about trains and more especially about the grocer and bread. Public opinion was divided, some saying They would certainly have peace on a Tuesday so that one could get the rations done on Monday, others saying that they knew for certain that the King had asked for peace to happen on Friday, so that everyone could have a long weekend. Yet others, and these a very large class including all the housewives of England who had been working for sixteen or seventeen hours a day ever since the war began, looking after children and aged relatives, standing in queues, walking a mile to the bus and taking an hour to get to the nearest town only to find that the whelk oil or chuckerberry juice or whatever it was they were told their children must have wasn’t in and it was two hours before the bus went back and anyway they had been given the wrong certificate, slaving at W.V.S. in their meagre spare time, suffering evacuees, taking in lodgers because their husband was getting only army pay now, cooking for everyone, firewatching, being wardens, being mostly too tired to eat, seeing Italian and German prisoners of war riding happily about the country in motor lorries while they pounded along on bicycles against wind and rain or lugged heavy baskets on foot, seeing mountains of coal and coke at the prisoner of war camps while they were down to two hot baths a week and very little soap for the washing and the laundry only coming irregularly every three weeks, seeing Mixo-Lydian and other refugees throwing whole loaves into the pig bin and getting the best cuts at the butcher’s, keeping their children nicely dressed while they got shabbier themselves every day, too driven to consider their looks, unable to have their houses properly repaired, having to be servile to tradesmen and in many cases to tip them in money or kind, seeing one egg in eight weeks with luck, in a state of permanent tiredness varied by waves of complete exhaustion, yet never letting down anyone dependent on them; this great, valiant, unrecognised class, the stay of domestic England, all knew that THEY would burst peace on them whenever it was most inconvenient and went about their shopping listlessly, waiting for the tiger to spring.

Whew – that’s what I call a rant, and it’s just as well that the people then didn’t know that things were going to get even worse, and rationing was going to carry on right into the 1950s because Britain was having to send food to Europe, when they didn’t even have enough for their own population. Then of course there was the debt of more than one variety which was owed to the U.S. The monetary one was only paid off a couple of years ago!

Anyway, if you ever see an Angela Thirkell book, and you enjoy books which are set in the 1930s and 40s, do yourself a favour and snap it up.

6 thoughts on “Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell

    • Judith,
      I really don’t know how women managed to feed their children, never mind everything else they had to contend with. It’s no wonder Angela Thirkell’s books were so popular at that time.

  1. I have been snapping up Angela Thirkells whenever I can, but they are few and far between in my part of the world. Only one of them is read, but I did like it and you have inspired me to pick up another one soon. And to continue the hunt!

    • FleurFisher,
      I think they’re thin on the ground in general. A few seem to have been reprinted some years ago but they are usually expensive on the internet, as are Oxfam bookshops. It’s good fun hunting though!

  2. Angela Thirkell is a favorite of mine, too. If you liked this book and want to know more about how people in England coped during and after WWII, you might like to read the journals Nella Last submitted to Britain’s Mass Observation project. A real woman in real times. Fascinating. I grew to like Nella very much.

    • Joan,
      Thanks for that. I haven’t read Nella’s journals but I did watch the TV dramatisation a few years ago which was called ‘Housewife 49’ and really enjoyed it. Worryingly I saw a lot of myself in her!

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