Getting the war mentality right - new novel from Beryl Kingston

Beryl Kingston
Beryl Kingston

Aldwick-based novelist Beryl Kingston admits she wrote her latest book – her 30th in around 35 years – because she was cross.

“And that’s not the best reason to write a book!”

But coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, Beryl wanted to get across a true sense of how things were in those dark days of the middle of the last century.

“Ever so many young writers are putting out what they call My War stories, and I read them and I think well, yes, they have got the dates right, but I read them and I think that they just don’t know how we were, what we thought, what we said, how we did it and what we did.”

Beryl aims to put the record straight in her new book Citizen Armies.

The book is the sequel to Everybody’s Somebody and follows her heroine through World War Two.

“She is now in her 40s, 43 when the war begins and 49 when it ends, so she’s living in my lifetime (I was eight when the war began and 14 at the end of it) and she lives in the Borough, where the bombing was particularly fierce.”

Through the book, Beryl aims to get across a true sense of the wartime mindset.

“Everybody talks now about how wonderful the wartime spirit was. Well, it wasn’t wonderful.

“Everyone just accepted the war. Everyone just accepted that the war was coming and that it was going to be God awful but there was nothing that any of us could possibly do about it.

“There was a sense of resignation but also a sense that whatever it was going to be like, we were going to be able to cope with it. And that seems odd to me now because we were so very very nearly overrun and became part of Hitler’s empire.

“But at the time, at no point was anyone ever saying that we were going to lose. And I think that was admirable, and I also think it was comforting, but I also think ‘How the hell could we have just thought we weren’t going to lose?’ We were at very great risk. If it was not for the fact that the Channel was rough and that the RAF were even rougher, the Germans would have come and we would not have been terribly well prepared. We had barbed wire on the beaches, but we were not that well prepared at all.”

In writing the book and taking herself back to the war years, Beryl had a prop – the diary she kept throughout the war.

“It covered the entire war and I put down all sorts of things, and sometimes I look back and realise to my horror that I didn’t think about it all in the way that I do now.

“I was reading it and I got to Hiroshima.

“I just assumed that I must have felt dreadful about it because that is how I feel now, but I read the entry and it said ‘We dropped a bomb on a town in Japan and it killed everybody. Serves them right. They had it coming!’

“And I think now ‘My God! I actually wrote that!’

So that’s what Beryl means about getting back into the wartime mindset to ensure that her book has the authenticity of how people acted and how people thought at the time.

The book is published by Endeavour Quill at £7.99 (ISBN: 978-1-911445-70-8)

The Jackson family’s peaceful south London life is shattered when World War Two breaks out. Sixteen-year-old Mary is immediately evacuated and the rest of the family sets about combining daily life with war-time duties in the nation’s capital.

The war is gruelling and heart-breaking for Londoners, and Rosie and Jim Jackson are no exception. But their close family bonds and the warmth of friends and neighbours see them through, as the ups and downs of family life — marriages, births and deaths — continue as they always have, despite the conflict that rampages around them.

Until one day, when a tragedy that nobody had dared to consider finally strikes…

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