Doreen by Barbara Noble was first published in 1940 but my copy is a Persephone. I really enjoyed this one which begins in London during the heavy bombing of the Blitz. Walking to her work as an office cleaner through devastated streets Mrs Rawlings whose soldier husband has left her, decides that she’ll have to do what most mothers have already done which is to send her only child, nine year old Doreen away to the country for safety. After the previous night’s bombing she no longer has any faith that the bomb shelter will keep her and Doreen safe.
When Helen Osborne, one of the secretaries at the office finds Mrs Rawlings in tears she wonders if she can help by offering a country home to Doreen with her married sister Francie and her husband who are childless. They haven’t been allocated any evacuees because their home is seen as being too remote from a village for convenience. Francie quickly agrees to the plan and in no time she’s imagining what the little girl will be like.
After a shaky start Doreen settles down to life in a situation very different from what she’s used to. She has gone from a one room slum in London to living in a large country house and as she has been well brought up and she’s also quite clever and likeable, it isn’t long before Francie loves Doreen, she has always been sentimental about children. Geoffrey her husband has left the decision to take Doreen in up to Francie. He suffers from asthma and blames himself for not giving her a child. But inevitably Doreen’s mother is torn and visiting Doreen in the country she realises that Doreen has moved into a very different class from her poverty stricken previous existence and she doesn’t approve of it, she’s jealous and she knows that when the time comes for Doreen to go home she’ll never settle to life in a London slum again. It isn’t going to end well, but this is a really good read.
Considering that Doreen was written so early on in the war Barbara Noble must have quickly realised how evacuating the children to the countryside was going to make all sorts of problems for all concerned. It’s something that I’ve always known about as I’ve known people who were affected by it. One man in particular that I knew was very much surplus to requirement in his own large family and being evacuated to a loving couple was a definite plus for him and no doubt for them too. Luckily they did keep in touch after he had to go back home and they were the family that he had always wanted to be part of, I don’t think his parents were that bothered about losing him though.