Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Beauchamp’

I really had wanted to review this one a little earlier in the week, but I am struggling a little to keep up with the blog. I’ll still be here – but the gaps between posts might get a bit wider some weeks, I’m so thoroughly exhausted all the time at the moment.

Needing something of a diverting but comforting nature last weekend, I turned once again to my pile of Dean Street Press books. I have quite a few to choose from and having enjoyed so many books set during the Second World War, I was drawn to Wine of Honour because it is set in the early months of peace.

The war had been so disruptive to normal life – people were spread across the globe – separated from their loved ones sometimes for years, put into uniform and given completely new roles. Suddenly, that all came to an end, and for some people it wasn’t quite the celebration it should have been. Those who had felt purposeful and busy, or enjoyed being defined by a role or a uniform, found themselves thrust back into their pre-war tedium, several years older and no better for it.

“I wonder how many women today are back in their pre-war ruts. For how many was the war merely a temporary disarrangement and for how many others has it meant complete re-adjustment, an entirely new set of circumstances? This is a stupid thought for me to have when, even in my own case, I don’t know the answer.”

The story is told from several perspectives. Part of it is the first person narration of Helen Townsend – the rest of the novel told in the third person. Helen and her neighbour Laura Watson are friends who don’t have that much in common, they became close while serving together in the ATS. Now they are both back in their village of Kirton, out of uniform and feeling like strangers in their own village. Helen is married to the local doctor Gyp who has been away in the East for five years. However, she has spent much of the war – serving in various places – with her lover Brian Gurney – who is also from the village. Gyp is due back at any moment and Brian wants Helen just to go away with him.

Laura has returned to normal life quite reluctantly but with a grim resignation. Trapped at home with her domineering father – who is very grumpy and disagreeable and doesn’t care at all for how his daughter feels. Laura had loved the ATS – she is already beginning to live on the memories of the past few years, and Helen recognises that Laura will continue to do this – and that as time goes on her memories will only sharpen. Helen feels a little awkward around Laura now, as she thinks she may have an inkling about her and Brian but really isn’t sure. They have not become the kind of friends who confide such things to one another.

Helen’s lover Brian is the younger son of Sir James and Lady Gurney, his sister married a Polish officer and was soon widowed with a child, his elder brother who joined up by pretending he was younger than he was is now nearing forty and has nothing to do. While Lady Gurney is worried about her eldest son her husband is worried about their finances – living at Kirton Manor is starting to seem it may no longer be an option. Angela Worthing a woman determined to carve out a career for herself in this brand new peace, draws close to Peter, and tries to help him.

The Cobb family run the local pub – and the war has changed them too. The daughter Lily came home from the WAAF pregnant, her fiancé killed before he could marry her. The Cobbs welcomed their daughter home with nothing but pride – she has been a wonderful help to her father behind the bar. Their son, Dick has come home damaged from the war – badly injured at the moment he was given a captaincy – he is struggling to hold down a job and be a good husband and father.

Mary Cross who lost her husband in the First World War, is mother to an RAF pilot, she spent her life trying to be both mother and father to her son. Now she writes an agony column in a national magazine.

While most of the novel takes place in the village – we also pay a few fleeting visits to London, where we learn the BBC is so longer wearing its wartime camouflage – and the streets are full of damaged buildings and scaffolding.

“She walked round by Lansdowne Place where, since May 1941, they’d been patching up the blitzed corner. She noticed, with methodical satisfaction, that yet another gleaming yellow brick building was nearing completion. You could date the devastation and the rate of repair from the lighter brick walls down to the grey black of the house on the Guilford Street corner.

Yes, spring was certainly here. The ladies of Guilford Street had discarded their utility furs for brighter and shorter jackets. Pale sunshine gleamed on the darkening partings of bleached heads. They are feeling the draught, poor dears, Angela thought, and noted the complete absence of American uniforms from the street scene. That was the big transformation—apart from spring and scaffolding—there were no Americans.”

Wine of Honour is fascinating for how it shines a light on one fairly short period of time – those first months of peace in 1945. Wives had to learn to live with husbands again, wind back the clock several years, remember who it was they had once loved so much.

“It went on and on and, quite suddenly, Laura felt desperately tired. Everybody but herself was married or doing something interesting. Only she was left out and lonely. She could have wept for the years snatched from her life. Years of hard work and happiness and the promise of something exciting just ahead. A lovely phase of her life which peace had cut short, leaving her instead just those number of years older.”

Parents had to learn how to live with the altered people their adult children had become, and those children had to reconcile the fact that the best years of their lives were in the past, and all they had ahead was middle age. Society had changed – and everyone had to find their new place in it. Change is always interesting for the way people handle it and Barbara Beauchamp has tapped into this perfectly. Wine of Honour is a lovely, highly readable novel – and I zipped through it.

(A small warning for those reading this edition, there are a few typos – names being mixed up. Maggie Cobb became Mary at one point and Lady G, Laura – I got momentarily confused, this issue might have been fixed in the digital version.)

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