Doreen by Barbara Noble

Endpapers from the Persephone Edition of Doreen

Endpapers from the Persephone Edition of Doreen


I finished this book a few days ago and I thought that it was quite wonderful.

There are so many things I want to say about this book and its subject matter that I’m going to depart from my usual style and ask and answer a series of questions.

That way I hopefully get everything in and keep things coherent.    



This Book is for the War Through The Generations Challenge?

Yes, it is. The challenge blog is here and is well worth a read.

It wasn’t the most obvious challenge for me to do, but I was drawn to the idea. My fiancé reads a lot of military history and I often feel that maybe I am not as well informed as I might be.

I had a look through  my shelves and  I found six books that would fit the challenge. Not books about warfare but books about people who lived through world war two and whose lives were changed by it. A woman who was trapped in Germany during the war while her children were in England, a girl growing up in Nazi Germany, Londoners living through the Blitz and, in this case, an evacuee.

So why a book about an evacuee?

One of my favourite childhood books was about an evacuee – Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden.

There’s a more personal link too.

My grandmother took in refugees. She had a big house with losts of space in a quiet seaside town. Both of her sons were away fighting and my grandfather had just died, leaving just her and my mother at home.

My mother recalls that one family were unable to adjust to life in Cornwall and decided to take their chance in the Blitz, but a number stayed. She continued to exchange Christmas cards with one until he died a few years ago.

Anything else about evacuees?

Yes, lots! Jessica Mann wrote a wonderful introduction to the Persephone edition of Doreen.

The British government set up an Evacuation Sub-Committee in 1931, long before the war. They believed that if war broke out again it was inevitable that London would be heavily bombed. And so a plan was put into place to move the population elsewhere in the event of war, hoping to relieve the authorities of responsibility for the most vulnerable, free up hospitals and the emergency services and minimize panic. And when war was declared that plan was used.

Never before and never again since have large numbers of children been taken en masse from their homes in vulnerable areas to live with strangers in safer areas.

Nobody considered the psychological effects of separation, living in different homes, changes in upbringing …..

Was evacuation a lesser evil than the dangers of total war?

And what about Doreen?

Doreen Rawlings is the daughter of an office cleaner. Her mother initially refused to let Doreen be evaucated but when the Blitz began she began to realise that she should have let Doreen go and borne the parting to give her the best chance of avoiding danger.

Mrs Rawling’s employer Helen Osborne provides a solution. Her childless brother and sister-in-law lived in a quiet country village and would be happy to take Doreen in.

The Osbornes are a kind, loving middle-class couple, who grow to love Doreen and want to do the best for her. Doreen settles happily into her new life

But Helen Osborne sees the danger of taking Doreen “out of her class” by teaching her grammar and ironing out her accent, giving her things that her mother could never provide. And eventually Doreen’s two mothers clash, as they have very different ideas as what is best for her.

Barbara Noble writes beautifully and with great insight about the mind of a child torn between her mother, whom she leaves behind in London, and the couple who take her in.

Doreen is likeable and utterly believable. Indeeed all of the characters are wonderfully drawn and you can empathise with every one, though you know that not all of them can have a happy ending.

There is much detail about life in Britain during the war, both in the Blitz in London and in the quiet countryside. The contrast is striking.

And light is shed on the sharp class distinctions of the time, different ways of raising children and the perils of separation.

A wonderful story and much food for thought – this definitely a book that will stay with me.

Evacuation kept children safe, but at what cost?

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday Where Are You?


It is 1940 and I am in London. The war started quietly but now the Germans are dropping bombs and we have to go down to the shelter every night. I don’t know what to do about my daughter. Should I let her be evacuated to the country? There are only the two of us and I have to earn a living and hold on to our home, so I couldn’t go with her. I can’t bear to part with her, but what if I keep her with me and something happens? The shelter rocked last night and we were so scared. I think I have to let her be evauated. I have to keep her safe, don’t I?

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“At this time of the morning, with an hour or more to go before the shops opened and the office staffs assembled, there were few people about on the streets and most of them were solitary women in their oldest clothes. Unconscious guardians of London’s morale, the cleaners went as usual to their work.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB

This all comes courtesy of Doreen by Barbara Noble.

War Through The Generations Challenge WWII


This is the first challenge of a new blog dedicated to challenges relate to war and its impact.

Their first challenge beginning January 1, 2009 is World War II .

Readers must commit to reading at least five books throughout the year.

The books can be fiction or non-fiction, and they can be about any aspect of WWII. WWII should be the primary or secondary theme, and it doesn’t matter whether the book takes place during the war or after the war.

I am by nature an escapist reader, but I am engaged to a lover of non-fiction and he has inspired me to learn a little more about the real world out there!

The six books I plan to read are less about the war itself than people whose lives were affected by it.

1. A Fine of 200 Francs,  by Elsa Triolet

Elsa Triolet worked with the French Resistance and this is fiction bases on her experiences. This book was first published illegally by Underground presses.

2. Doreen, by Barbara Noble

The story of a child evacuated from London to the country who becomes torn beween her mother and the family that took her in.

3. Few Eggs and No Oranges, by Vere Hodgson

Vere Hodgson worked for a London charity during the Second World War. She began writing a diary at the start of the Blitz.

4. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: the Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

These short stories first appeared in The New Yorker between 1939 and 1944. They are snapshots of people at defining points in their lives, viewed against the backdrop of the War.

5. On the Other Side: Letters to my Children from Germany 1940-46, by Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg

This is a volume of letters written (but never posted) by a 60 year-old woman, to her children living abroad, about the experience of living in Hamburg during the war. They were discovered in a drawer in the 1970s and published in England and Germany in 1979.

6. The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf

This is the story of a young woman growing up in Nazi Germany.

Decades ’09 Challenge


The Decades ’09 Challenge is being hosted by Michelle here.

The rules are:

  1. Read a minimum of 9 books in 9 consecutive decades in ‘09.
  2. Books published in the 2000’s do not count.
  3. Titles may be cross-posted with any other challenge.
  4. You may change your list at any time.

This is going to suit me well. I love reading books from different periods and reading a book from each year of the 20th century will help me towards my long term goal of having a list of 100 book that I have read and recommend for each year of the 20th century.

It may well change, but here is my initial list, one for each decade of the 20th century.

  • The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1909)
  • The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915)
  • The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (1929)
  • Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann(1932)
  • Doreen by Barbara Noble(1946)
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson(1966)
  • Mrs palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
  • The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns(1985)
  • Symposium by Muriel Spark (1999)

Eight are from my TBR and one is a book that I have been looking for a good excuse to buy!