Over by Christmas

A few months ago I reviewed the first novel in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles "The War at Home" series - Goodbye Piccadilly, which focused on 1914, the lead up to and the first few months of the First World War. I'm pleased to say that the second novel in the sequence Keep the Home Fires Burning (note the musical connection between the titles) is every bit as good as the first novel.

It's now 1915, the war has already gone on longer than anyone was expecting, the threat of conscription looms ever nearer, and as the first of the wounded return home the nation starts to feel the true cost of war. Life goes on however, and as ordinary people try to have fun, zeppelin raids will bring the war frighteningly to the home front.

Like the first novel in the series I enjoyed Keep the home fires burning enormously. There was an added poignancy to the second in the series too, as war will change forever these characters that you've grown to know and love in the first volume. The impact of the First World War on the home front is something that's received not a great deal of attention in contemporary literature, though there are plenty of excellent novels and memoirs of life as a soldier (The ghost road, Birdsong, Goodbye to all that etc. etc.) A notable exception is Vera Brittain's memoir Testament of Youth.

Perhaps the biggest change that becomes increasingly obvious in Keep the home fires burning is the way in which life would change dramatically, and ultimately liberatingly, for women. From small steps driving vehicles for the Red Cross to the introduction of women policemen 1915 marked a period of great change for everyone from young men going abroad often for the first time, to women treading a new path in society. Families are torn apart and the war changes from a gentlemen's affair where football could be played on Christmas Day and Silent Night sung, to a total war where no quarter was given and where chemical warfare would become a sinister fact of life.

Keep the home fires burning is not the most cheerful of reads, but for an evocation of an era in a period of great change it's a fascinating and gripping read.


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