Family, friends, woman's role
A Last family friend - Jack Gorst
In these extracts, Nella writes of moments in her family life during the war. She reveals her feelings towards her husband, her sons, her past life and her anger at the limitations that society imposed on women at this time.
Monday 25 September 1939: I've got a lot to be thankful for. Even the fact - which often used to stifle me - that my husband never went anywhere alone or let me go anywhere without him, has settled into a feeling of content.
Sunday 8 October 1939: Next to being a mother, I'd have loved to write books - that is if I had the brains and the time. I love to 'create' but turned to my home and cooking and find a lot of pleasure in making cakes etc. He [her son Cliff] seems to have got the idea that I'll go into pants! Funny how my menfolk hate women in pants. I do myself, but if necessary for work, would wear them.
Wednesday 15 January 1941: I gave Cliff a very big helping as he had to catch the train back [to his base] after lunch. He said 'If you ever have to work for a living, Mom, come and cook for the Army'. I said 'What do you mean - work for my living. I guess a married woman who brings up a family and makes a home, is working jolly hard for her living. And don't you ever forget it. And don't get the lordly male attitude that thinking wives are pets - and kept pets at that.'
Sunday 27 April 1941: Jack Gorst, a family friend, came home on leave.
I see a big change in him and not for the better.
Nella Last was surprised by Jack Gorst's dislike of Churchill.
He says, 'He is not as popular as all that, and he has a good press agent' and he says that Churchill was badly received by the people of Bristol.
Nella listened to the Churchill broadcast.
I got no inspiration - no little banner to carry. More & more do I think that it is the end of the world, the Old World anyway. If anything is left, it will be America and Australia where life will be preserved in any form.
Cliff, Arthur - and home thoughts
Wednesday 29 July 1942: Nella learned in a letter from her son Cliff that he was going to India. This was through a secret code that they had agreed during his last visit - to evade the censor, who might have scored out this information for being militarily sensitive.
Tuesday 11 August 1942: I wonder all the time where Cliff is, and where he is going and how he is, it is never far from my mind. I wondered when my lad would see an English spring again - and would he still have his wide flashing smile when we met?
Diary entries are missing from January 1944 to May 1945.
In these years Cliff returned to England. He was wounded in action in Italy in November 1944. Arthur married his sweetheart, Edith. They then lived in Ireland. Russian troops invaded Germany and the western Allies drove the Germans out of France and towards Berlin. The blackout was lifted, but rationing was as strict as ever. The Allies discovered the concentration camps. VE Day was approaching.
Thursday 10 May 1945: I love my home dearly but as a home rather than a house. The latter can make a prison and a penance if a woman makes too much of a fetish of cleaning. But I will not go back to the narrowness of my husband's 'I don't want anyone else's company but yours'.
I looked at his placid blank face and marvelled at the way he had managed so to dominate me for all our married life, at how, to avoid hurting him, I had tried to keep him in a good mood.
I know that I'm not the sweet woman I used to be but rather a frayed battered thing, with nerves kept in control by effort that at times became too much and nervous breakdowns were the result. No one would ever give me one again, no one.
I tore the rosy rags Cliff had draped around a few of his illusions. I told him he stood at the crossroads, and if he took the left-hand path, he would end up like my father's n'er-do-well brother. One thing about him, though, he can 'take it'. Maybe when he is alone, some of my words will make him think.
Wednesday 23 May 1945: For the first time, it seems that he [Cliff] wants to begin to build his life and doesn't talk so foolishly of never settling down again, of just living where he wanted, as long as he wanted - he didn't want ties etc.
His year's abroad, and his illness on top of having no security, had made him very difficult, both for himself and for us who love him yet things are looking as if they will all work out, thank God.
Sunday 10 June 1945: Cliff was down to London, planning to study interior design. Arthur was still based in Northern Ireland as a tax inspector.
Arthur was explaining why controls will have to stay for years, shocking his father to his soul by saying we will all be happier when Communism, in a modified sense, was spread widely all over the word; and saying that Churchill - grand as he is, and marvellous as he was in wartime - cannot lead us back to real honest-to-goodness peace through 'big business' methods, which will always mean slumps and inflation.
I never get shocked by anything the boys says, I always encouraged them to think for themselves, heart thankful when they had opinions and did not voice other people's view - but I had difficulty tonight in not laughing out loud.
My husband looked as if he had found a cuckoo in the nest, he was reared a Tory and will die one.
Monday 18 June 1945: I can never go back to that harem existence that my husband thinks so desirable.
Wednesday 14 August 1945: World War Two ends
For Nella's reactions to public events of the war, see War Diary of Nella Last: Part Two