In September, I released my latest Pride and Prejudice re-imagining, Mr. Darcy Goes to War, and the novel has received a warm reception. One of the reasons may be that many readers have heard stories of World War II from their parents or grandparents. That was certainly my inspiration for writing the novel. Another is my love of history. In Darcy Goes to War, Elizabeth Bennet is a lorry driver, and Jane works as a secretary for her magistrate father. While Kitty and Lydia work in a uniform factory, Mary is firing an ack-ack gun in Malta. I chose this particular assignment for Mary because when my husband and I were in England in 1982, we met a couple who had lived through the war years. Ironically, while the woman’s then boyfriend was serving in the military in Iceland and never fired a shot, his future wife was on Malta firing an ack-ack gun. Now their story lives on.
According to BBC History, “In the spring of 1941, every woman in Britain aged 18-60 had to be registered for war work, and their family occupations were recorded. Each was interviewed and required to choose from a range of jobs… In December 1941, the National Service Act #2 made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort. The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed in 1938. Its initial plan was to recruit 25,000 female volunteers for driving, clerical and general duties.
The Women’s Land Army/Scottish Land Army was reformed in 1938 so that women could be trained in agricultural work, leaving male workers free to go to war. Most WLA members were young women from the towns and cities… Because of petrol rationing, this was labor intensive, back-breaking work, and any young, single woman (e.g., any of the Bennet girls) could be declared to be “mobile” and sent to a farm for the duration of the war.
Military styling and lines influenced fashions at the start of the war. Women often wore trousers or a one-piece siren suit (so-called because it could be pulled on quickly when an air raid warning siren sounded)… Large handbags – to carry all the family’s ration books – were also practical rather than fashionable accessories.
Knitting became a national female obsession. Various schemes gave advice on recycling or making clothes last longer, two of these were the Make Do and Mend and Sew and Save schemes… Hair was worn long, but off the face. As war drew to a close, women adopted the ‘Victory Roll’, where the hair was rolled up tightly, fixed in place, and topped with a swept-up curl. Longer hair, like red lipstick, was thought to add to a woman’s glamour.
Do you have any World War II stores to share?
P.S. For those who are interested in my British mystery series, the second in the Patrick Shea series, will be released during the first week of October. It is titled A Killing in Kensington.