When Bloomsbury got in touch a few months ago to tell me of their plans for a series of reprints and to ask for suggestions of much-loved titles to go on the list, among the books I mentioned to them was Joyce Dennys' Henrietta's War. Originally a series of articles for The Sketch magazine, the wartime letters from Henrietta, the wife of a doctor in a Devon coastal town, to her 'Childhood's Friend', Robert, who is serving abroad with the Forces, are about "the trivial doings of protected people in what is called a safe area". But for all their self-deprecating humour and their 'making the best of it' light-heartedness, they are also a perceptive study of people's attitudes to the war, of the way they thought and how that affected daily life.
Evacuees from London are prone to 'bombing oneupmanship', the locals find themselves becoming compassion-weary, and Henrietta admits, "I have been rather bad about the war lately. This time the feelings of waste and desolation have taken the form of extreme irritability with Mrs. Savernack whom I suspect of enjoying the war because she can sit on committees and boss everybody about...."
The plumply comfortable, always good-natured Lady B. says, "I am a great believer in the Power of Thought...I take a big breath and shut my eyes and send great waves of hope and courage and confidence across the Channel. And what's more, they get there!" (Lady B. also memorably describes the enemy as "mentally and spiritually pot-bound").
As Henrietta wistfully recalls "more spacious days", and she and her friends and neighbours try to carry on as normally as possible, the letters - with their sharp and funny illustrations by Joyce Dennys herself - amuse and reassure as they chronicle the seemingly unimportant daily doings of those whose job it was 'to carry on'. As I've said before, they are a delight and they deserve a wide readership, and I hope that Bloomsbury will publish the second volume, Henrietta Sees it Through, in due course.
But don't wait for that, buy this book in quantities!