Farming, Fighting And Family : A Memoir of the Second World War
Farmer, author and broadcaster Arthur (A.G.) Street was one of the leading voices of British agriculture during the Second World War. His daughter Pamela - herself an aspiring writer - was 18 when war broke out. David, her future husband, served with the 4th RHA in North Africa.
Using their previously unpublished diaries and letters, Miranda McCormick - Pamela's daughter - tells the candid story of a Wiltshire family living and working at a time when 'a little German with a black paint-brush moustache turned [the] world upside down'. Their very different experiences of war are woven into one masterful narrative of love, duty and separation during a time of national adversity. Detailing the sudden rise of her tenant farmer father to the status of a national celebrity, Pamela's service as a VAD nurse and in the ATS, as well as her unofficial fiance's detainment in German and Italian prison camps, this is a story told with an almost allegorical simplicity.
Intimate and personal, this vivid account of 'ordinary life' during extraordinary times is also the chronicle of a generation for whom farming was the fourth line of defence.
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Miranda McCormick's maternal grandfather was Arthur Street, a farmer who from the 1930s to the 1950s wrote and broadcast on countryside matters. Using her mother Pamela's wartime diaries as her basis, and expanding their often rather meagre entries by quarrying the correspondence of other members of her family and her grandfather's broadcasts, Ms McCormick has built up a picture of life for a fairly well-to-do farming family during World War II.
This is probably not the book for anyone interested in farming history, as it leaves many questions unanswered. I wondered, for instance, how other farmers regarded Arthur Street who was evidently an influential champion of farmers but not a typical farmer himself, given that he eventually drew most of his income from other sources. The military experience of Pamela's future husband is covered in greater depth, but is, again, part of the backdrop.
Ms McCormick writes simply and engagingly, and tells a rather sad tale well. Her mother's story appears to be one of disappointment until quite late in her life when she blossomed as an author in her own right and gained entry into the London literary world. The inter-War lifestyle of middle class rural young people is captured, as well as their experiences during the Second World War itself. There are a few things that may surprise the reader: for example, the way that Pamela Street took up and then put down a number of uniformed activities with so little fuss may strike the modern servicewoman as strange. With its mix of the familiar and the alien, Farming, Fighting and Family offers a delightful glimpse of what was once our (grand)parents' present.
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