Charlotte Bingham has written a series of enjoyable novels about,
especially, the lives of upper-class women over the years, and here
she charts the experiences of the full strata of those living in a
small fishing village on the coast of Sussex when the Second World
War broke out. Separated from the fighting in France by only a
narrow stretch of water, Bexham is almost immediately in the front
line. German aircraft crossing the Channel on their way to bomb the
cities further north keep the villagers in a permanent state of
alert - and very soon bombs are dropping on their own houses too.
Rusty Todd, daughter of the local boatyard owner, finds herself
embroiled in the 'little ships' rescue of stranded soldiers on the
Dunkirk beaches. The well-off lose their servants to munitions
factories and the production of camouflage material. Their
daughters, destined for 'good' marriages and comfortable idleness,
defiantly marry 'unsuitable' husbands -and leave home to join the
Forces. Many do not see the end of the war; those who are left,
bruised but not broken, face a very different future from the one
they anticipated five years earlier - happier for some, lonelier
for others, for there are many empty places, and many ghosts who
will forever now haunt the battered little village by the Sussex
sea. This is an absorbing and satisfying read, well evoking the
sense of years gone by. (Kirkus UK)
It is the summer of 1939, and like the rest of Europe, the
residents of the little idyllic Sussex fishing port of Bexham are
preparing for war. Beautiful but shy Judy Melton, daughter of a
naval war hero, her determinedly feckless friend, the social
butterfly Meggie Gore-Stewart, seemingly demure Mathilda Eastcott,
and Corrie Hogarth, the tomboy daughter of the owner of the local
boatyard, are all in their very individual ways determined to play
an active part in the defence of their country. Knitting socks and
bomb-dodging is not what they have in mind for themselves while
their husbands and brothers, fathers and lovers are away fighting.
But attitudes to women's roles in a warring world are difficult to
change, and at first all four find it impossible to settle for the
traditional kind of work that their families envisage. However, it
is not just the young women of Bexham who are determined to find
new roles for themselves - so are their mothers. In this manner the
little Sussex village, facing as it does the coastline of
Nazi-invaded France, finds its closely sewn social fabric gradually
unstitch, inch by little inch. Under the tree on the green the
women of Bexham meet to look back on a landscape that has changed
irrevocably, and which they have in their own ways helped to alter.
None of them are the same, and yet, with the men returning from
war, they are expected to slip back into their simple roles of
mother, daughter, grandmother. This, more than anything perhaps, is
their greatest sacrifice. Having been freed by war, they have now
to relinquish that very independence that gave them the liberty for
which they once fought. Only the chestnut tree planted by Corrie at
the edge of the village flourishes in the accepted manner, finally
becoming the uniting symbol of all that has passed forever.
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