The best books featuring World War Two that captures little hidden corners of life at that time

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing novels for many years now about the social history of Birmingham and the West Midlands and often find myself writing about World War Two. It’s the history of most families in this country. But I also grew up—unusually for my generationwith parents who were active adults in the war, my father in the army in North Africa and Italy, my mother in a factory that had gone over to munitions in Coventry. So the war felt very present as they talked about it a lot. Only later I grew to understand what it means to people and explored the history for myself.

I wrote...

Meet Me Under the Clock

By Annie Murray,

Book cover of Meet Me Under the Clock

What is my book about?

Growing up in Birmingham, sisters Sylvia and Audrey Whitehouse were always like chalk and cheese. When World War 2 breaks out, Sylvia is still dreaming of her forthcoming marriage to fiancé Ian, while Audrey jumps at the career opportunities offered by the WAAF.

Audrey joins the ranks at RAF Cardington but finds her new freedom also brings temptation. Sylvia takes up work as a railway porter, a job her fiancé disapproves of as not very feminine, unlike Sylvia’s new, pretty friend Kitty. But Kitty’s innocent nature holds a dark secret… As pressures of rationing, bombing raids, and sleepless nights grow, the two sisters must decide what they really want from life and whether they are brave enough to fight for it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Fair Sex - Women and the Great Western Railway

Annie Murray Why did I love this book?

When I wrote my book, which includes a lot about the railways wartime, I struggled to find any books which described women’s experience. When it comes to railways, nerdy descriptions of wheel configurations abound! Enter this book. Rose Matheson describes the fascinating and often troubled history of women when it comes to railway work and its opposition by male employers and unions. A good number of women were employed by the railways in World War Two, but never allowed to drive engines or stoke the fires. The work they were permitted to do is described here with plenty of photographs—as well as the ongoing history after the war when women continued the struggle to be taken seriously as railway workers.  

By Rosa Matheson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fair Sex - Women and the Great Western Railway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Great Western Railway struggled with what was called 'the women question' for many years. It had heartily agreed with The Railway Sheet and Official Gazette that 'the first aim of women's existence is marriage, that accomplished, the next is ordering her home'. Yet women were the cheapest form of labour, apart from young girls, presenting the company with a dilemma and the GWR finally succumbed to allowing women to work after heavy external pressures. Using over 100 pictures, Swindon author Rosa Matheson traces the development of this problematic relationship, from its beginnings in the 1870s when women were employed…

Book cover of Idle Women

Annie Murray Why did I love this book?

I have written two books about working life on the canal set during World War Two. Susan Woolfit’s book describing that period is a great read. Many men who worked narrowboats carrying coal and other important cargoes left to go to war. This left the women to cope—and there were not enough of them, so volunteers were drafted in. Women from all walks of life who had often never been near a narrowboat and whose upbringing was vastly different from the women who lived ‘on the cut’ all their lives. This is an entertaining book about some of those women adapting to this tough, outdoor life—and all of them having to adapt to each other. 

By Susan Woolfitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Idle Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Bengal Journey

Annie Murray Why did I love this book?

Rumer Godden is a favourite novelist of mine, but this is non-fiction. Godden was born in India and only left after Independence. Towards the end of World War Two, she made a long journey to document the work done by women volunteers in the Bengal region of India during the war, travelling huge distances, crossing many rivers, to remote places. The book, with photographs, includes the work of both European and Indian volunteers in a huge number of organizations, ranging from the Red Cross, hospital trains, and dispatch riders to the ARP and mobile canteens. Best of all are the descriptions Godden gives us in this wonderful book as she turns her novelist's eye on all these people and places of work and brings them all to life.

By Rumer Godden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bengal Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Joyce's War 1939-1945

Annie Murray Why did I love this book?

Personal stories are usually the best way of getting the flavour of a time. Joyce Storey, who would describe herself as an ordinary working-class woman, married in 1939. Her story tells of the everyday struggles of a young mother of two daughters with a husband absent in the RAF. She spent some of the war living with him when he was posted to Grimsbyvery foreign to her as she came from Bristoland with all the everyday battles of in-laws, air raids, and struggling for every penny. She’s a lively writer, conjuring up pictures of her new neighbours in Grimsby, the birth of her babies, and early motherhood ‘Yuk!’which she did grow into. You get very fond of Joyce and her challenges.

By Joyce Storey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Joyce's War 1939-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of Our Joyce's war, 1939-1945, with the destiny everyone else wanted to carve out for her. With an army husband rarely on leave, Joyce, very quickly the mother of two, fights her own battles with air-raids, in-laws and factory work - always searching for the dream house and a life to call her own. The author also wrote "Our Joyce".

Book cover of Requiem For a Wren

Annie Murray Why did I love this book?

I read this story in my teens and as a result, spent years wanting to join the navy. (That did wear off!) Having read it again recently, it seems a much darker story than I had remembered. But the mystery at its heart won’t let you go. Nevil Shute was a great storyteller and like many writers of his generation had many experiences to draw on. The story is quite slow-moving, but poignantheartbreaking in fact. Gradually, he unfolds the mystery of Jessie Proctor, an Englishwoman working for a family in Australia. It begins with Jessie’s suicide and we uncover the events that have haunted this young, ex-servicewoman’s life. As Shute says, "a war can go on killing people for a long time after it’s all over."  

By Nevil Shute,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Requiem For a Wren as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mysterious death of a young woman on an Australian farm reveals a bittersweet story of doomed wartime romance amidst a family crisis.

Alan Duncan returns to his family home in Australia after the war and several years of study in England. But his homecoming is marred by the mysterious suicide of his parents' quiet and reliable parlour-maid. A search through her belongings in search of clues leads to heartbreaking revelations about the woman's identity, the death of Alan's brother Bill and, above all, the disappearance of his brother's fiancee, Janet.

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Book cover of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

Joe Mahoney Author Of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Broadcaster Family man Dog person Aspiring martial artist

Joe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's public broadcaster. It's for people who love CBC Radio, those interested in the history of Canadian Broadcasting, and those who want to hear about close encounters with numerous luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, J. Michael Straczynski, Stuart McLean, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gzowski, and more. And it's for people who want to know how to make radio.

Crafted with gentle humour and thoughtfulness, this is more than just a glimpse into the internal workings of CBC Radio. It's also a prose ode to the people and shows that make CBC Radio great.

By Joe Mahoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures in the Radio Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In dozens of amiable, frequently humorous vignettes... Mahoney fondly recalls his career as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio technician in this memoir... amusing and highly informative."
— Kirkus Reviews

"What a wonderful book! If you love CBC Radio, you'll love Adventures in the Radio Trade. Joe Mahoney's honest, wise, and funny stories from his three decades in broadcasting make for absolutely delightful reading!
— Robert J. Sawyer, author of The Oppenheimer Alternative''

"No other book makes me love the CBC more."
— Gary Dunford, Page Six
Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's…

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