Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Nella Last's War

I saw a review of Nella Last's War on a podcast I watch and I thought it sounded intresting so I popped it on my wish list and Mick bought me it for my birthday. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


Mass-Observation was a UK social research organisation founded in 1937. It aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of around 500 volunteers who maintained diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires.

Nella Last was a housewife who lived in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire. She wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Archive from 1939 until 1966. Nella Last's War is an edited version of the two million words she wrote during World War II.


' In September 1939, housewife and mother Nella Last began a regular diary that lasted for thirty years. The account that she left of life during the Second World War is moving, fascinating and unique.

While Nella's younger son joined the army, she and the rest of the family tried to adapt to the transformed rhythms of life in Barrow-in-Furness, which suffered terribly from enemy bombing raids. Writing each day for the 'Mass-Observation' project, Nella grows in confidence as a result of her new work, and her diary entries tell a powerful story about the war years, covering everything from sex to the genuine fear of invasion.

This was the period in which Nella turned fifty, saw her children leave home and reviewed her life and her marriage - which eventually she compared to slavery. This is the war as Nella Last lived it'.


I found this a fascinating read, not only hearing first hand how the war affected the ordinary person on a day to day basis, but hearing about Nella's worries for those around her and her fears for the future.

A further two volumes of Nella's diaries were published, Nella Last's Peace and Nella Last in the 1950s, which I'd now like to read.

50 comments:

  1. I remember watching the Victoria Wood dramatisation of this - and we were still in Hampshire which says it was a long time ago. I adored the TV version and have since read all three books. I found them brilliant, sometimes funny, exceptionally poignant and on more than a few occasions I sat and cried with her. Hope you enjoy the next 2 books.

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    1. I haven't seen the Victoria Wood dramatisation but found it online after I'd finished the book so I shall definitely watch it. I'm sure I'll enjoy the next two books in the series, I thought this one was really good.

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  2. Victoria Wood dramatised Nella Lady's story in 'Housewife 49'. Also well worth watching if you haven't seen it. I don't know how true it stays to the original diaries though.

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    1. I didn't know about Housewife 49 until I saw it mentioned on the cover of the book. I've found it online so will watch it, I really like Victoria Wood.

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  3. You will love the other two books. I go back and read them over and over

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    1. I don't keep many of the books I read but this one has gone back on the bookshelf so I understand you going back to read them again, I shall probably do the same at some point.

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  4. I love books about the ww2 so will look for this one, thanks.
    Briony
    x

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    1. I think you'll enjoy it. It's really interesting reading how the ordinary person coped with the war, especially living in an area which suffered from heavy bombing. It's a fascinating read.

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  5. I've watched the film, Housewife 49 a couple of times, didn't realize that it was now a series of books. I love anything to do with WWII, especially how people coped at home, they were made of strong stuff back then, or perhaps they just had to get on with it. I often wonder how we would cope with something like that now.

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    1. I'm definitely going to watch Housewife 49 now that I've read the book. It's amazing how people coped during the war, I just can't imagine the sheer terror, going to bed and not knowing if you'd ever wake up again, and thinking about young sons in far away places and not knowing exactly where they were or what was happening there. I really enjoyed reading this book as it's written by an ordinary woman who was having to live these terrors day after day and she managed to get everything down on paper.

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  6. I thought it sounded familiar. Although I have seen the film, I haven't read the book. I intend to now, however. X

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    1. It's the other way round for me, I loved this book and I'm definitely going to watch the dramatisation now.

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  7. Mass Observation records and diaries have been used for lots of books - I've got most among my WWII collection. The Nella Last books are all such a good look at the period. I've watched Housewife 49 several times when it's been on TV - it's sad in bits

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    1. It's funny, I'd never come across Housewife 49 before I saw it mentioned on the cover of this book, though I love Victoria Wood. I'm definitely going to watch it now. I'm actually quite interested in the other diaries which have been published from the Mass Observation records now, I may have to look into those at some point in the future.

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  8. Read your review, Jo, and immediately ordered the paperback from Amazon. It will arrive tomorrow. It sounds like my type of book and I really look forward to reading it. Thank you so much. P. x

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    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, it's a fascinating read. Nella Last's other two books have been added to my Christmas wish list, though I may not be able to wait that long.

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  9. This book sounds very interesting. I could not find it on our local library website. I'll have to see if our bookstore can order it.

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    1. It's definitely worth tracking down if you're able. I'm really looking forward to reading the next two books in the series, it'll be interesting to hear from Nella again in the years after the war.

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  10. Dear Jo
    Housewife, 49 is very true to the book and brings the book to life. Victoria Wood did a great job and all the cast worked very well together. I have read all the books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Considering there was a war on and then rationing until the 1950s, Nella seemed to be able to make a little go a very long way. I am sure you'll enjoy the next two books as well.
    Best wishes
    Ellie

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    1. I'm so pleased that Housewife 49 stayed true to the book. I do like Victoria Wood and I'm looking forward to watching it and seeing her in the role of Nella. I loved hearing what Nella was making for dinner and tea, she made her rations go a long way and was very imaginative when thinking up meals.

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  11. My husband and I were children in WWII. We have memories, but of course..... NOTHING like these, on the front lines of that horrible war.

    Not sure if I could read it though. But it is wonderful, that she kept such a record, for posterity.

    Please read my Tuesday Musings...

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    1. Reading someone's diary who went through this is very humbling. When we think about the war we think of those men fighting in Europe, so it's fascinating hearing from an ordinary woman who lived the day to day life here in England amongst air raids and rationing. Her diary is a gripping insight.

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  12. I have read Nella Last's war and the follow up in peace but didn't know there was another one. I enjoyed the drama - Housewife 49.

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    1. Nella Last in the 1950s is the third book in the series. I'm looking forward to that one as that's really when things started to change after the war.

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  13. Sounds an excellent book.
    I did see Victoria Wood's TV version of it and thought it very good indeed. If you get the opportunity of watching it (called 'Housewife 49') I'm sure you would enjoy it.

    All the best Jan

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    1. I shall definitely watch Housewife 49 now that I've read the book, as well as reading the next two books in the series, I'm really looking forward to them.

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  14. It sounds a fascinating read and a book that I would really enjoy. My Mum spends a lot of time talking about her days as a child in the War these days.

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    1. I think you'd definitely enjoy this book, it's a fascinating read. It's a wonder how people managed in the war with the terror of air raids and rationing. People had to be very imaginative with what they had, that's for sure.

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  15. I have just read a book about the setting up and the early years of Mass Observation called Work Town it was a fascinating read. I knew that they asked people to keep diaries from this book but had no idea that some of these had been published. I will be looking out for these books now as I too would love to read them, I am sure they will be in my local library as they are set in my county, although not at the time they were written!

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    1. I came across this book purely by chance, a recommendation on a podcast. I'd never heard of Mass Observation before, what a great idea, especially during war time. Now we have a proper insight into how people were feeling at this time, their hopes and fears, and how they managed. I would definitely recommend this book.

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  16. I really enjoyed reading this, I didn't know there were two more, that's exciting news.
    I watched this story on TV and then purchased the DVD, same story of Nella but called Housewife, 49. Nella was played by the lovely Victoria Wood and is true to the book. Well worth a watch.
    xx

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    1. I shall definitely watch Housewife 49 and I'm looking forward to reading the next two books in the series too.

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  17. Good review, and glad to see you enjoyed it. It's been on my to read list for far too long. xx

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    1. I don't know where I've been, I only heard about this book recently. I really enjoyed it though.

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  18. I still have the Nella Last books on my wish list and still not got around to reading any of them. I have seen Housewife 49 many times. It seems to always feature in the autumn on a Sunday afternoon when its wet and windy outside.

    Mx

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    1. It's funny, I've never seen Housewife 49 anywhere before I got this book. I shall definitely be watching though now after such a great read.

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  19. Thank you so much, for commenting on my post, yesterday. I am so grateful to all who commented. There is a lovely discussion going on there.

    🍂🍁🍂

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  20. I would love to read Nella Last's War but sadly it's not offered on the Kindle. Several other Nella books are though so hopefully one day.... My dad fought all over Europe during WW2 and lifestyle type books always fascinate me. They make me feel closer to Dad since he didn't talk too much about the war.

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    1. That's a shame. I believe The Diaries of Nella Last is a collection of all three books, perhaps that's an option. There were so many ex servicemen who didn't talk about the war once they came home from fighting, I think they just wanted to put the horrors they'd seen out of their mind. It's terrible to think what they went through.

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  21. That does sound like a fascinating read.xxx

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    1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and will definitely read the next two books in the series now.

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  22. Definitely sounds like a great read. One of the first diaries I had my kids read was Anne Frank - it still gets to me, so many years after I originally read it & I'm thinking this book would do the same.

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    1. We've all read Ann Frank too, it's one of those few books on my bookshelf which I shall always keep.

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  23. That looks like a good read Jo. When you can follow up a read with a drama based on the book even better, I think. Victoria Wood was such a talented actress. I haven't seen it, but I can imagine she would have been good as Nella Last portraying her everyday life and that of many other women during that period. Reading diaries you get a sense of what was happening on the home front. Published records pay tribute to the women at home. I shall enquire about this book at the library. I like reading non fiction in between reading novels.

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    1. I'm looking forward to watching Victoria Wood in Housewife 49, I'm sure she'll bring something to the role as she was a very talented actress. I hope you can find the book in the library, it's definitely worth reading.

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  24. Sounds like a great read! Thanks for sharing about it.

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    1. It's an excellent read, one I can most certainly recommend.

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  25. This has been on my reading list for so long, and I don't know why I haven't picked it up yet. I will now!

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    1. I think you'll enjoy it, it's such a good read.

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