Lengthening War : The Great War Diary of Mabel Goode
The First World War was an event so important, so catalytic, so transformative that it still hangs in the public memory and still compels the Historian's pen. It was a conflict which, by the end of the struggle, had created a world unfamiliar to the one in existence before it and brought levels of destruction and loss all too unimaginable to the generation of minds which created it. Despite this, we still find it hard to picture what it was like to live through this war.
Right from its start, Mabel Goode realised that the First World War would be the biggest event to take place in her lifetime. Knowing this, she took to recording it, taking us day by day through what living in wartime Britain was like. The diary shows us how the war came to the Home Front, from enrolment, rationing, the collapse of domestic service and growth of war work, to Zeppelin attacks over Yorkshire, and the ever mounting casualty lists.
Above all else, Mabel's diary captures a growing disillusionment with a lengthening war, as the costs and the sacrifices mount.Starting with great excitement and expecting a short struggle, the entries gradually give way to a more critical tone, and eventually to total disengagement. The blank pages marked for 1917 and 1918 are almost as informative as the fearful excitement captured at the onset of that tremendous conflict. This is a strong narrative of the war, easy to read, mixing news with personal feelings and events (often revealing gap between official news and reality).
Also included are several poems written by Mabel and a love story in the appendix, giving a complete insight into the life of the diarist. Of note is the fact that Mabel and her brothers (the main serving protagonists in the diary) lived in Germany for some time, meaning they could all speak German and knew 'the enemy nation' as many Britons did not.
This diary, edited by the writer's great-great-nephew, "Offers fresh evidence of how life was lived on the home front …. Complete with the most extraordinary rumours and misplaced optimism." To this, one should add two limitations: firstly, it stops in December 1916, and secondly, though Mabel Goode is rightly described as middle class, a doctor's family will have been very much at the top end of it. Men folk were automatically officer class and those lower-class people she ever came into contact with were mainly servants.
The book is oddly arranged, with a long section describing her family and discussing the diary, with so many quotations from it that I wondered whether the diary itself would be mere repetition (to a large extent, it was). After the diary text itself, Michael Goode then takes over to describe her later life and includes some of her poetry.
Mabel Goode was well educated by the female standards of the time, but in spite of having lived several years in Germany and being in constant contact with a doctor brother at the Front, she seemed unable to maintain any perspective distinct from the barrage of war propaganda.
Some facts were new to me: the extent of German raids on the East coast, and that warnings were given by means of lowering the domestic gas pressure. The extent of German starvation in the blockade - I had not heard of "Kriegsbrot" before. The extent of the voluntary effort by middle-aged women (Mabel did haymaking, supervised sandbag making and sewed Red Cross brassards) which must had added substantially to the efforts of employed and uniformed women.
I thought I had seen all the recruiting posters in the course of reviewing a number of books, but the author has found some less famous ones to add to Mabel's own work. I found the author's glosses on the diary often platitudinous and sometimes redundant, although it does help to be reminded what it is like to be in the middle of a situation not knowing how it will turn out.
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