Debs at War


More book-buying shenanigans today… was in Blackwells and my eye was caught by the title Debs at War, because I thought it might refer to my heroine, Deborah Mitford. It doesn’t, but closer inspection didn’t make the book look any less interesting – the full title is Debs at War: How Wartime Changed Their Lives 1939-1945, and it’s about those who were debutantes shortly before war broke out. Anne de Courcy, the author of this book (and maybe known by some as a biography of Diana Mitford/Mosley), interviewed 47 women who were pre-war debs whose lives were dramatically changed by the war. They entered the Services, as Wrens, WAAFs, FANYs or ATS; they became nurses or VADs; some even started factory work and tried to hide their background.

As before, I’ll try to give an overview of a book by its chapter headings. The difference, of course, being that I haven’t read this one yet…

– Childhoods ‘We were taken down to say good morning to our mother’

– A Question of Upbringing
‘You won’t need exams’

– Coming Out
‘The whole point was to find a husband’

– The Approach of War
‘I stood in the room that had been my nursery, listening to Chamberlain declaring war’

– Joining Up
‘I wasn’t going to get on with anything else until we’d finished with Hitler’

– FANYs
‘Posh girls driving staff cars’

– ATS
‘We were the rough, tough ones’

– Fun in Wartime ‘Boyfriends were more important than bombs’

– Factories
‘We were working too hard to flirt…’

– Nursing
‘Sometimes the ambulance bells never stopped’

– Love and Marriage
‘…and then we got engaged. Crazy, really, wasn’t it?’

– Bletchley
‘How much German do you speak?’

– On the Land
‘We don’t want any bloody land girls here’

– The Class Barrier
‘We’d never met girls like these before’

– Wrens
‘We began to learn to do without sleep’

– The Air
‘Why are you bringing up only half an aeroplane?’

– Afterwards
‘The war made us feel capable of doing something’

9 thoughts on “Debs at War

  • October 30, 2008 at 7:18 am
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    This sounds like a really interesting companion to some of my other “war time” interview collections. Another one for the “when will I ever get time to read all these” wishlist!

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  • October 30, 2008 at 8:38 am
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    Sounds great, thank you ! I added it to one of my lists. They grow, and grow, and grow (I have more than 500 titles on them)…

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  • October 30, 2008 at 10:19 am
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    I’ve read Anne de Courcy’s “1939:The Last Season”. She is very good on that time and social stratum.

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  • October 31, 2008 at 3:03 pm
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    I found this book fascinating. One of the debs featured, Christian Miller, wrote a memoir called A Childhood in Scotland, which I wholeheartedly recommend (published by Canongate, I think) – quite interesting to compare her childhood to that of the Mitfords.

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  • October 31, 2008 at 3:14 pm
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    I’ve had my eye on this along with a few other books by de Courcy, which are generally not published in the US.

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  • November 1, 2008 at 4:59 am
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    I read ‘Debs at war’ earlier this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is just the way history should be written, in an engaging style.

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  • November 8, 2008 at 2:52 am
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    A bit late posting on this – have been away for a couple of weeks. Ditto peta’s comment and others.

    Bletchley: Now that was an interesting place – have read about it several times in the last year.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 8:51 am
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    I just finished the author's biography of the three Curzon sisters-not bad-Debs at War sounds better

    Reply

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