Original date of publication:
My edition: 2006 (Profile Books)
Why I decided to read: Amazon.com recommendation
How I acquired my copy: Waterstones, Piccadilly, London, September 2011
Nella Last’s War is a compilation of diary entries that Nella Last, a middle-aged housewife, write for the Mass Observation Project during WWII. In her diary, which she later continued on after the war and into the 1950s, Nella chronicles her everyday life, living in Barrow-in-Furness. The diary starts in September 1939 and continues through VE Day.
Although Nella meticulously describes the minutiae of her every day life, her story never gets boring. I think one of the hallmarks of good writing in personal nonfiction (diaries, letters, memoirs, etc.) is finding one’s voice, and Nella certainly did in her diary. She’s an optimistic woman and very, very sweet—although slightly neurotic. She takes pleasure in the small things, even with shortages of food and everything else. One thing that comes across abundantly in Nella’s personality is her love for her family, especially her younger son Cliff—because you see him from her point of view, you almost end up falling in love with him, too.
There are more diary entries from the beginning of the war, and I wish that the editor of this collection had included more from 1943, ’44, and ’45. However, I did like the fact that there are little historical notes scattered here and there so that the reader who might not know much about WWII can keep up with whatever Nella mentions in her diary. There are also photos included of Nella and her family from the war years. In all, this is an excellent first-hand account of one housewife’s experiences living through WWII.