Here comes everybody

Triumph and tears: as the nation celebrates VE Day, we select the cream of a wartime crop - books on the final international; Jonathan Sale on a bombardment of war books

Ten Days in May: the People's Story of VE Day

Russell Miller

with Renate Miller

Michael Joseph £15.99

What Did You Do in the War, Mummy?

ed. Mavis Nicholson

Chatto & Windus, £16.99

The Evacuation: A Very British Revolution

Bob Holman

Lion, £14.99

Went the Day Well?

ed. Derek Tangye

Michael Joseph, £14.99

Sound the sirens! Here comes another bombardment of books about the War. Maybe the auth-orities should bring back rationing. There has certainly been some rationing of talent - though not in the case of Russell and Renate Miller, whose trawling of diaries, memoirs and interviews has produced the excellent Ten Days in May. The Millers chronicle the run- up to victory, the ten days that didn't shake the world as much as the Russian Revolution, largely because it was still a phoney peace; families like mine had relatives still stuck on the Japanese front.

One in four of the population had their doubts about whether Hitler was in fact dead, which would have put a damper on their rejoicing. Such doubts were understandable. The government had always been economical with the truth (thank God all that's behind us now) and had declared that the V2 rockets were really exploding gas mains. It even sat on the news that the Germans had in fact surrendered. Many thought that the first documentary films about concentration camp atrocities were merely propaganda; it didn't help that one of these real-life horror movies was shown in a double bill with a Donald Duck cartoon.

Still, there was dancing in the West End, some of it to the strains of Humphrey Lyttelton's trumpet. He started the evening as a solo act and was joined by a passing trombonist and a man with a drum strapped to his chest, and ended up being pulled around the West End in a handcart.

Everyone made sacrifices for peace. Women dropped their principles; one ex-virgin discovered her knickers hoisted to the top of a flagpole. In her Daily Mirror cartoon strip, Jane finally stripped competely. The MP and publisher Harold Nicolson tore his trousers in the crush on his way to Westminster. Barbara Cartland was shocked into having a sensible thought. Meanwhile, the then pilot officer Anthony Wedgwood Benn was on the Sea of Galilee: he celebrated with an orange juice and an ice cream.

Captain Alan Whicker and his army media unit were first into Milan; like many of his subsequent television viewers, the Germans were rather disappointed, since they had hoped to surrender to a more senior officer. Lord (William) Deedes would have done nicely, but he was too busy contemplating the fate of the military man in peacetime: redundancy. Even more gloomy was a wounded soldier who left his hospital for a quick pint and was locked up by some uniformed jobs-worth for not wearing his cap.

The Millers also have a fair amount of material on the Home Front, including one or two Adrian Mole-ish characters whose idea of rolling out the barrel was to stay in and listen to the wireless. One of the War's less attractive radio voices, "Lord Haw-Haw" (William Joyce) was alive on VE Day, but not for long afterwards; the Fascist broadcaster was later hanged.

Those who kept the home fires burning - or put them out if they resulted from enemy bombs - make up most of the interviewees in What Did You Do In the War, Mummy?. Mavis Nicholson has recruited an intriguing regiment of women, from Kathleen "Orlando the Marmalade Cat" Hale to Molly "Dr Finlay will see you now" Weir.

It has to be said that Ms Nicholson is no Tony Parker: she never quite gives the feeling that she has coaxed the essence from her subjects. And her toe-curling introductions to each chapter deserve saturation bombing from a great height. But her high-octane ladies still shine like searchlights in the blackout. Singer and "Forces' Favourite" Anne Shelton was saved by Workers' Playtime; her scheduled appearance on that programme prevented her from taking up Glenn Miller's kind invitation to join his fatal plane trip to Paris. Another survivor was Odette Hallowes, the British agent, who, captured by the Gestapo in France, lost her toe-nails but not her life. They all show that the War was often a liberating time for women. Even working in an ammunition factory could be a welcome reprieve from being permanently stuck at home with elderly parents.

One of her best subjects is Lady Swinfen, who was involved with the Bletchley decoding operation when it was more fashionably based at St James's. Her account here is better than The Camomile Lawn or anything else her ladyship has written as Mary Wesley. Later she moved to Cornwall, where she found the East End evacuees "really enchanting".

Two years old, suffering from measles and evacuated from Ilford to East Anglia, Bob Holman did not feel particularly enchanting. "We did not last long in Ipswich," he recalls in The Evacuation, which is laid out like the school textbook it deserves to become. "We did not last long anywhere."

The kids were often reluctant to leave the cities, sometimes because they were convinced that the Germans were waiting for them at the other end. Reception committees could be about as charitable as an SS platoon in a bad mood. "Two girls," was the request of one foster mother, adding, "Fair hair and blue eyes, please." Yet many householders were astonishingly tolerant of the small strangers dumped upon them, becoming aware for first time of the degrees of deprivation in society. Holman, a former Professor of Social Administration, sees this awareness as an early glimmering of the Welfare State.

The immediate result of VE Day meant that the remaining evacuees could all go home. Went the Day Well? is a tribute to those who never returned. It feels as if it was written a good 50 years ago and indeed it was, being a re-print of a collection of tributes to dead fighting folk by their friends, edited by Derek Tangye. The trouble with this curio is that the writers have all been afflicted with a touch of the John Buchans: "The square-jawed lad shrugged his broad shoulders." The chaps seem exactly the same: brave and perfect. No one, after all, was going to include too many of their pals' faults.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own