Home Fires: The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War

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9780143108450: Home Fires: The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War

The basis for the PBS Masterpiece series starring Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Cranford)
 
Away from the frontlines of World War II, in towns and villages across Great Britain, ordinary women were playing a vital role in their country’s war effort. As members of the Women’s Institute, an organization with a presence in a third of Britain’s villages, they ran canteens and knitted garments for troops, collected tons of rosehips and other herbs to replace medicines that couldn’t be imported, and advised the government on issues ranging from evacuee housing to children’s health to postwar reconstruction. But they are best known for making jam: from produce they grew on every available scrap of land, they produced twelve million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation.
 
Home Fires, Julie Summers’s fascinating social history of the Women’s Institute during the war (when its members included the future Queen Elizabeth II along with her mother and grandmother), provides the remarkable and inspiring true story behind the upcoming PBS Masterpiece series that will be sure to delight fans of Call the Midwife and Foyle’s War. Through archival material and interviews with current and former Women’s Institute members, Home Fires gives us an intimate look at life on the home front during World War II.

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About the Author:

Julie Summers was born in Liverpool but grew up in Cheshire, where the Home Fires series was set and filmed. Her first book, Fearless on Everest, published in 2000, was a biography of her great uncle, Sandy Irvine, who died on Everest with Mallory in 1924. Her grandfather, Philip Toosey, was the man behind the Bridge on the River Kwai and her biography of him appeared in 2005. Fascinated by how people cope with extreme situations, she has turned her attention on the effect of the Second World war on non-combatants - the women and children. Recently she published Fashion on the Ration, a book that looks at what we wore during the Second World War. Her book Home Fires, the story of the WI in wartime, has inspired Masterpiece’s new Fall 2015 drama series HOME FIRES, featuring Samantha Bond, Francesca Annis and many others.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for Home Fires

‘That image of defiant jam-making sums up the way many see the wartime contribution of the Women’s Institute. But Julie Summers . . . shows its much wider contribution.’

The Economist

‘Millions of words have been written about the military and social history of both world wars, but Summers carves out a little area of her own by examining the vital work performed by the Women’s Institute who, through its meticulous organizational skills and national network, found its finest hour in the face of conflict.’

Daily Mail (London)

‘I thought I was fairly well up on the WI contribution to the World War II effort until I read Julie Summers’s book! I was wrong – every chapter was a revelation – full of information, reminiscences, humor, and social history. It is also well written, well researched, and easy to read. Reading it not only gave me great pleasure but also made me proud to be a member of such a long lasting, valuable, and vital organization – an organization which is still working actively to “improve the quality of life of communities” both urban and rural.’

—Helen Carey OBE, former chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (1999‒2003)

‘Julie Summers recounts how thousands of women rallied around during the dark days of Hitler, baking cakes and knitting jumpers as if their lives depended on it.’

Mail on Sunday

‘Superb . . . Overall, this book tells a wonderful story – highly recommended.’

Who Do You Think You Are? magazine

Home Fires: Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond head the cast of this classy period piece about the friendships and hardships of a Women’s Institute group in Cheshire during World War II. The series is based on the bestselling factual book by Julie Summers about the role the WI played during the conflict.’

TV Times

PENGUIN BOOKS

HOME FIRES

Julie Summers was born in Liverpool but grew up in Cheshire, where the Home Fires series was set and filmed. Her first book, Fearless on Everest, published in 2000, was a biography of her great uncle, Sandy Irvine, who died on Everest with Mallory in 1924. Her grandfather, Philip Toosey, was the man behind the Bridge on the River Kwai, and her biography of him appeared in 2005. Fascinated by how people cope with extreme situations, she has turned her attention on the effect of the Second World War on noncombatants – the women and children. Recently she published Fashion on the Ration, a book that looks at what we wore during the Second World War. Her book Home Fires, the story of the Women’s Institute in wartime, has inspired Masterpiece’s new fall 2015 drama series of the same name, featuring Samantha Bond, Francesca Annis, and many others.

PENGUIN BOOKS

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

penguin.com

First published as Jambusters in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2013

Published with a new preface by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015

Published in Penguin Books 2015

Copyright © 2013, 2015 by Julie Summers

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

ISBN 978-1-101-99196-1

Cover photo © ITV Studios Ltd. A coproduction of ITV Studios and Masterpiece.

In affectionate memory of Ga and to all the unnamed WI members who made the countryside tick during six long years of war

Preface

Foreword

1 Let the Sunshine Stream In

2 The Gathering Storm

3 The Piper’s Call

4 Coupon Culture

5 Digging for Victory

6 Boil and Bubble, Toil and Trouble

7 Knit One Purl One

8 Gaiety, Song and Dance

9 Building for the Future

10 A Final Word

Notes

Bibliography

Photograph Credits

Photographs

Acknowledgements

Index

PREFACE

The story of the journey from book to TV series has been for me an intensely personal one. It has been exciting, at times a little alarming but without doubt one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Taking a non-fiction book and turning it into a drama series is a creative process like no other that I have been involved in. However, let me start at the beginning.

When my then editor at Simon & Schuster, Mike Jones, asked me in November 2009 whether I thought the Women’s Institute had done anything interesting in the Second World War I agreed to go and find out. Given that I have written a whole book on the subject, you will not be surprised to know that the answer to his question was emphatically yes. The most surprising thing I discovered about the WI in my first weeks of research was that it was a pacifist organisation. That was not a fashionable thing to be in the late 1930s, but it proved in some ways to be the making of them during the Second World War. They could not be swallowed up into war work so they had to define their own rules and stick to them. As we shall see, this is exactly what they did, devoting themselves to the humanitarian side of the war effort. It never occurred to me, or to Mike I suspect, that we were about to embark on a project that would eventually inspire a major drama series.

Home Fires took a long time to research and write. It was by no means an easy book as there was almost an embarrassment of material and yet very little in the way of ‘voice’, so I had to dig deep to find the heart of the wartime WI and the members who had kept the countryside ticking. Minutes and record books charted their activities and listed the immense quantities of herbs collected, fruit preserved and pies baked. It was only when I met women who had been wartime members, or whose mothers had been active in the WI during those years, that the personal stories added real life experience to those extraordinary achievements. Those are the stories that you will read in Home Fires.

Eventually I handed the manuscript to Mike in March 2012 and spent the summer dealing with editing questions and selecting images. This is a creative process because every image in the picture section has to earn its place and the all important captions have to justify their inclusion. In September 2012, about six months before the book was released in the UK, I signed up to go on an Arvon script-writing course. I felt I needed to try something new after writing ten books, to try a completely different discipline, which might present an interesting challenge. Spending a week at Totleigh Barton in Devon with an enthusiastic and diverse group was a wonderful experience, but within hours of starting the course I realised that this was not for me. I do not watch enough television and especially not the kind of series that my fellow students wanted to write. However, I was determined to get as much out of the course as possible so I threw myself into it with my customary enthusiasm. One of the tutors was Simon Block. When we met for a tutorial on the last day of the Arvon course he asked me what I did as a day job. I told him I was a writer and he laughed. ‘I thought you were!’ he said. We both agreed that I should not give up the day job and I should continue to pursue my passion for storytelling.

That morning Mike Jones had sent me the final design for the hardback jacket. The mobile phone reception at Totleigh Barton being somewhat patchy, I had had to walk to the top of a hill to receive the email. I was thrilled with the jacket and I showed Simon the image on my phone. This started a conversation about women on the home front during the Second World War, one of enduring interest to me ever since I wrote Stranger in the House in 2008, which looked at the effect of returning men on the women of Britain after 1945. It was a little researched or understood subject, but one which had an enormous impact on the way society coped in the post-war years. Home Fires gave me another perspective on women in the countryside and the research for it produced some wonderful stories. As I was preparing to leave Totleigh Barton the following day, Simon took me aside and said: ‘Julie, I think Home Fires has the potential to be enormous.’ Actually, he was even more extravagant than that. I doubt that either of us had the slightest inkling that we were about to embark upon what I can only describe as an incredible journey.

I returned to Oxford and carried on with life as normal, finishing the proofs of the book and considering what I might write next. Four weeks later I received an email from Simon telling me about a conversation he had had with a friend who worked as a television producer at ITV Studios. She would like to meet me, he wrote, and I was sure to like her because she had worked on Foyle’s War. This was recommendation enough. I met Catherine Oldfield, then a development producer at ITV Studios, in Covent Garden. My diary for that day, 22 October, records ‘lunch at le Deuxieme. Evening lecture at Eastbourne Congress theatre. Many miles covered.’ Quite the understatement as it turned out. At that lunch I agreed to send Catherine a draft of Home Fires and she in turn asked me to scribble down any ideas I might have about the type of setting that could work for a drama series. Well, I had been on a script-writing course, hadn’t I? The following week she wrote to tell me that the book had made her cry and that she would like me to meet Francis Hopkinson, Creative Director of Drama at ITV Studios, to discuss buying the ‘option’ for it. To my delight, Simon Block was signed up as the series creator and writer. Simon is a key player in so many ways and since we first met he has become an inspiration and a friend. He, Catherine and I spent a day at my home in Oxford before Christmas turning ideas over and over. It stands out in my mind as the most wonderful, creative and exhausting day I have ever spent. By the end of it Simon had begun to draw three characters, two sisters and a young man, who would be the first creations in his drama. It was so exciting to watch him conceive completely fictional characters, pulling them out of the air, as it were. They seemed to me to be ghostly shadows that would eventually become solid human forms inhabited by actors. My contribution to those discussions, as it has been ever since, was as a historical consultant. Not just facts but tone, mood and detail about the WI as well as some history of Cheshire, which is the county of my birth and in which the drama was to be set. I felt the county offered so much scope. With Liverpool and Manchester as its (then) two major cities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the war’s longest running battle, and the huge number of camps – army, air force, German and Italian prisoner of war and Polish Resettlement – plus the Wirral, and the neighbouring counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and North Wales, there would be no shortage of material or incidents to draw upon.

Over the ensuing months Simon produced an outline and then a first script. Reading that was a very special and precious moment. Finally a version of that script was submitted to the ITV commissioners and I received a telephone call from Catherine one afternoon telling me that ‘we’ had the green light to make a show of six episodes. That day, 18 March 2014, I wrote in my diary ‘HOME FIRES ARE GO!’. As with everything to do with this series, that was an understatement. What had appeared to move at glacial pace now accelerated to a hundred miles an hour. Within a month I found myself sitting in a script development meeting at The London Television Centre talking about the National Register of 1939, the beginning of rationing in 1940 and the running of a secret ballot WI style. Over three days we bounced ideas around while Catherine tried to keep everything in order, writing notes all over the walls. By the end of the third morning we had rough outlines for episodes two to six.

I have been so very fortunate that Simon and Catherine have allowed me to be involved in the scripts, not in the writing of course, but in the historical detail and in the tone. It is difficult to capture the mood in the country in the first weeks and months of the war, and most especially in the early summer of 1940 when the most likely outcome was an invasion of Britain. We know the way the war ended, but at that stage it was far from clear. I felt that each episode had to match the prevailing mood of the time and this is certainly something that Simon has woven into the scripts.

At one point during the script development meeting Simon said, ‘I have a question for you to which I don’t think you will know the answer. What day did it start snowing in 1940?’ To his surprise and my slight embarrassment, I did know. A big WI agricultural meeting, scheduled to take place on 31 January in London, had to be cancelled as it had started snowing heavily four days earlier and transport was impossible. Trains were marooned, villages all over the country cut off and two days before the meeting there were snowdrifts ten to twelve feet deep in places. My family all know that I am, like my father, fascinated by the weather and I love the shipping forecast, so it is not really a surprise that I had paid attention to such a dramatic weather event. Since then I have been consulted on any number of questions to do with the WI, the war or the home front. One day my phone buzzed while I was having lunch with my mother and aunt. Sophie Bicknell, the show’s script editor, wanted to know what the price of a pot of jam would have been in 1939. It was an urgent request because the art department was dressing the set for a scene to be shot that afternoon. Fortunately Mum, Jane and I managed to work it out (about 1s 3d) and I could ring Sophie back minutes later.

By August it was time for the first read-through. To hear the words of the scripts spoken by actors for the first time was powerful and emotional. Simon’s scripts came alive in a whole new way for me and I began to hear the voices of the women he had created and given life and character to. Three weeks later I drove up to Cheshire for my first set visit. Nothing could have prepared me for the thrill of seeing the black and white world that I have known for the last fifteen years through pictures, words, diaries and books come alive.

The team were filming the opening sequence to the series. So, no spoiler alert. Steph Farrow and her son, Little Stan, were driving a herd of shorthorn cattle into a Cheshire farmyard. Simple as that. But for me it was an emotional explosion. There were smells, so familiar from my childhood but now linked to Simon’s drama. There was noise, colour, movement, heat and energy. It was overwhelming and I had tears in my eyes...

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Media Tie In. Language: English . Brand New Book. The basis for the PBS Masterpiece series starring Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Cranford) Away from the frontlines of World War II, in towns and villages across Great Britain, ordinary women were playing a vital role in their country s war effort. As members of the Women s Institute, an organization with a presence in a third of Britain s villages, they ran canteens and knitted garments for troops, collected tons of rosehips and other herbs to replace medicines that couldn t be imported, and advised the government on issues ranging from evacuee housing to children s health to postwar reconstruction. But they are best known for making jam: from produce they grew on every available scrap of land, they produced twelve million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation. Home Fires, Julie Summers s fascinating social history of the Women s Institute during the war (when its members included the future Queen Elizabeth II along with her mother and grandmother), provides the remarkable and inspiring true story behind the upcoming PBS Masterpiece series that will be sure to delight fans of Call the Midwife and Foyle s War. Through archival material and interviews with current and former Women s Institute members, Home Fires gives us an intimate look at life on the home front during World War II. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780143108450

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Media Tie In. Language: English . Brand New Book. The basis for the PBS Masterpiece series starring Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Cranford) Away from the frontlines of World War II, in towns and villages across Great Britain, ordinary women were playing a vital role in their country s war effort. As members of the Women s Institute, an organization with a presence in a third of Britain s villages, they ran canteens and knitted garments for troops, collected tons of rosehips and other herbs to replace medicines that couldn t be imported, and advised the government on issues ranging from evacuee housing to children s health to postwar reconstruction. But they are best known for making jam: from produce they grew on every available scrap of land, they produced twelve million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation. Home Fires, Julie Summers s fascinating social history of the Women s Institute during the war (when its members included the future Queen Elizabeth II along with her mother and grandmother), provides the remarkable and inspiring true story behind the upcoming PBS Masterpiece series that will be sure to delight fans of Call the Midwife and Foyle s War. Through archival material and interviews with current and former Women s Institute members, Home Fires gives us an intimate look at life on the home front during World War II. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780143108450

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Media Tie In. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The basis for the PBS Masterpiece series starring Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Cranford) Away from the frontlines of World War II, in towns and villages across Great Britain, ordinary women were playing a vital role in their country s war effort. As members of the Women s Institute, an organization with a presence in a third of Britain s villages, they ran canteens and knitted garments for troops, collected tons of rosehips and other herbs to replace medicines that couldn t be imported, and advised the government on issues ranging from evacuee housing to children s health to postwar reconstruction. But they are best known for making jam: from produce they grew on every available scrap of land, they produced twelve million pounds of jam and preserves to feed a hungry nation. Home Fires, Julie Summers s fascinating social history of the Women s Institute during the war (when its members included the future Queen Elizabeth II along with her mother and grandmother), provides the remarkable and inspiring true story behind the upcoming PBS Masterpiece series that will be sure to delight fans of Call the Midwife and Foyle s War. Through archival material and interviews with current and former Women s Institute members, Home Fires gives us an intimate look at life on the home front during World War II. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780143108450

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