Friday, 1 December 2017

Book Review: "The Lengthening War: The Great War Diary of Mabel Goode"

“The Lengthening War: The Great War Diary of Mabel Goode” is an extremely important social history record of the way of life of middle class people in Britain that disappeared completely after the First World War.   Edited by her great-nephew Michael Goode, and with a Foreword by Sir Chris Clark - Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University - Mabel’s diary takes us through the early days of the war and tell us how people at home saw the conflict develop and the effect it had on their lives.   Michael explains that Mabel’s perception of the war comes mainly from what she read in the newspapers – the quote from Lord Northcliffe about news at the start of Chapter two is particularly telling.  

 In the first seven chapters, Michael Goode explains the background to Mabel’s diary and her perception of the war and gives us photographs and biographical details about the three Goodes - Mabel and her two brothers, Henry, who became a doctor, and Stuart, who joined the British Army.  As teenagers, they spent some time living and studying in Germany.

Also included are copies of WW1 posters and postcards, as well as family photographs which serve to illustrate the text of Mabel’s diary.   There is also an index, a bibliography and explanatory notes on the text.

I was disappointed to find the final entry in Mabel’s diary was on 10th December 1916 as I would have loved to have read more of her writing.  Why did Mabel not continue writing her diary?  Was she too busy – we know that she studied art and after the war earned her living through painting.  During the war she knitted socks for the soldiers and bought jute to make sandbags to send to the troops at the front.   Mabel also helped out with hay-making and made cakes and so on to send to her brothers who were serving abroad.   There is however an Epilogue which explains what happened to Mabel and Henry after the war and a delightful unrequited love story.  What, I wonder, happened to Stuart? 

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was particularly interested to read about the day-to-day details of Mabel’s life.  During the war she lived in York with her brother Henry who had a medical practice there and we learn that Mabel helped ‘write out the bills’ – for there was no National Health Service in those days and people had to pay for the services of a doctor.    Mabel writes about the threat from Zeppelins – I did not know that the signal for imminent danger from Zeppelins was to lower the gas pressure which made the gas lights dim as a warning.  Mabel then describes how the household members took refuge in the basement.  I was amazed that Mabel used the word ‘duvets’ to describe bedding as I had no idea the word was in use during the early part of the 20th Century.  I imagine the Goodes must have brought the duvets back from Germany because at that time, people in Britain used flat sheets, blankets, bed-spreads and eiderdowns.

I was also delighted to discover that Mabel wrote poetry and several of her poems were published in the local press and are included in the book.   I can therefore add Mabel Goode to my list of Female Poets of the First World War and write up an exhibition panel about her.  I wonder if she wrote any other poems?

“The Lengthening War: The Great War Diary of Mabel Goode”, published by Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, £19.99.  For further details, please see www.pen-and-sword.co.uk

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