By Julie Summers
Author website: http://www.juliesummers.co.uk/
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Kayt.
Soon to be a PBS Masterpiece series starring Samantha Bond (“Downton Abbey”) and Francesca Annis (“Cranford”)
Away from the frontlines of World War II, in towns and villages across Great Britain, ordinary women were playing a vital role in their country s war effort. As members of the Women’s Institute, an organization with a presence in a third of Britain s villages, they ran canteens and knitted garments for troops, collected tons of rosehips and other herbs to replace medicines that couldn’t be imported, and advised the government on issues ranging from evacuee housing to children s health to postwar reconstruction. But they are best known for making jam: from produce they grew on every available scrap of land, they produced twelve million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation.
Home Fires, Julie Summers s fascinating social history of the Women’s Institute during the war (when its members included the future Queen Elizabeth II along with her mother and grandmother), provides the remarkable and inspiring true story behind the upcoming PBS Masterpiece series that will be sure to delight fans of “Call the Midwife “and “Foyle s War.” Through archival material and interviews with current and former Women S Institute members, “Home Fires “gives us an intimate look at life on the home front during World War II.”
Home Fires (originally released as Jambusters) is “the story of Britain’s Women’s Institute in the Second World War”. It is full of facts, writings from members and others that dealt with the WI, conversations from living members or family members and much more. Although the WI had been around for a long while they really made a name for themselves during the trying years of WWII as well as afterwards. The ladies of the village counties dug down deep and worked tirelessly to provide for their families, evacuees, the country, the soldiers and even the people of Europe who were in dire straits. What started as a group of women based on Quaker peace loving principles, worked to educate women on sanitation, child rearing and the like, turned into an enormous juggernaut of a group that carried the weight of England’s civilians on their shoulders.
Members of the Women’s Institute are well known for their jam making (in England, but not so much in the USA I think). And while they produced more than “12 million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation”, they did so much more. These village ladies collected rosehips and other herbs to send off for making much needed medicines the country could no longer get. They knitted, ran canteens and kept themselves and others entertained. They also advised the government on “issues ranging from evacuee housing to children’s health to post war reconstruction”. Their membership included the future Queen Elizabeth II and her mother and grandmother.
As the end of the war was in sight WI president Lady Nenman had the foresight to see that the members would be needed to assist not only their country, but also those others impacted by the war mongers in other countries as well. In her speech in 1944, she called upon them in spite of all they had endured and suffered, “…..our war task will not be done until we have done all in our power to feed and clothe the victims of Hitler’s New Order…. We can at least relieve their physical suffering……”
Author Julie Summers researched thoroughly, went through diaries of members, letters and memories of family members including her own and has assembled a broad spectrum of the makeup and achievements of Great Britain’s Women’s Institute during the tragic years of WWII. It was a time when village and small town women met immense challenges and flourished. I had no knowledge of the WI before reading Home Fires. I look forward to watching the TV series as I think it will be more entertaining than informative (after just one episode I find that to be very true and am looking forward to more of them). This book contains wonderful village flavor in the members own words. History buffs interested in the time period, WWII, will really appreciate the research and information here. I did enjoy learning about these amazing women, but for me it was a bit factual overload. That said it is a well written book on an interesting subject.