Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948
In 1936 anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet and journalist Charles Madge and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings set up the Mass Observation Project. The idea was simple: ordinary people would record, in diary form, the events of their everyday lives. An estimated one million pages eventually found their way to the archive - and it soon became clear this was more than anyone could digest. Today, the diaries are stored at the University of Sussex, where remarkably most remain unread. In Our Hidden Lives, Simon Garfield has skilfully woven a tapestry of diary entries in the rarely discussed but pivotal period of 1945 to 1948. The result is a moving, intriguing, funny, at times heartbreaking book - unashamedly populist in the spirit of Forgotten Voices or indeed Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman
This is another of the Mass Observation publications, providing extracts from diaries of people who lived through WW2. The diarists in this book are an unmarried secretary in Glasgow, a God fearing salesman in Preston, a lady who evacuates to Cornwall with her children but she returns to London just as the bombs start to fall, a London social worker and a writer who featured in the Our Hidden Lives book.
The diary entries cover the period between august, 1939 as the outbreak of war waits in the wings to a year later with the Battle of Britain and the start of the Blitz. Garfield weaves the diaries of these five people as ‘they face an anxious and uncertain future.’
As usual in a book like this we are dipping into their consciousness at an extraordinary time in their lives. They reveal their inner selves and the mores and attitudes of those around them.
Another entry tells of when the Germans marched into Prague and the propaganda film showed the soldiers giving shoes to the bare footed children. When ‘in fact’ the diarist states the soldiers went to the school and removed the shoes first then the film crew filmed the shoes being returned.
'Had a bath ready for my medical at 10.30 on Saturday.' This was a diary entry on the Thursday before.
Simon Garfield has once again produced a mesmerising collection of thoughts and fears, frustrations and humorous asides, from these diaries. His skill is the way he keeps the entries relatively short, sometimes contradicting sometimes complimenting. We dip in and out of each of the writer’s days being swept along by their accounts of this momentous change in their lives.
This is compulsive reading, you grow to like them, admire them even and in the end, while they still have four long years of war to face, we reach the final pages of the book wanting more. Wanting once more to share their lives, their time, and their experiences.