My mother’s 1946 diary begins with an entry on the flyleaf, written on Christmas Day 1945: “I am sitting in the front room writing this and am by myself. We have five days holiday over Christmas. What can I write here? There is so much to say that cannot be put into words. How tired we all are. Things this Christmas are a deal worse than they were last year, although they say it is our first peace-time Xmas. Ours perhaps, as regards actual physical fighting, but the fight in our minds still goes on. There is fighting still in Java with the Indonesians, and our men are still being killed, even as I sit here writing this. How lucky are the Americans and Canadians. From what we hear things have very much returned to normal over there, and food is wasted each year, as much as could feed the British Nation for a year. We are hard up, but living in Paradise in comparison to some of the peoples in Europe. We have had two chickens and a joint of pork, Christmas pudding and a rich fruit cake and much of the usual Christmas fare, including oranges. But no bananas or nuts. We haven’t seen these for five years.”
The war had ended several months earlier, but food rationing would continue until 1954 – two years after my parents were married, and only four years before I was born. In 1946 most of the wheat harvest was destroyed by rain, and for the first time bread was rationed, to widespread public outrage. In 1947 potatoes – a wartime staple – underwent a similar fate. Sugar, meat, cheese, butter, eggs, tea – all remained on coupons for years. Even items that weren’t rationed were often hard to obtain: in January 1946 my mother’s diary reports that a cousin has sent them some pepper in the post, because “we can’t get any”, and later on the acquisition of a bottle of gin merits a special mention in capitals.
But my mother also speaks of a kind of spiritual weariness, hardly surprising after six years of privation, fear, death and destruction. At least with the ending of the blackout the lights had gone back on, but much of the city was in ruins, and there was no money or materials for reconstruction. London had suffered renewed attacks in 1944/1945 from the terrifying V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets – the latter capable of wiping out an entire street with absolutely no warning. My mother had also been profoundly affected by the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan, and would remain vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons throughout her life.
Small wonder then that, having lost her religious faith during the war, she talks of trying to find it again now, although “when life is so hard it is difficult to believe. I shall try to do so with all my heart.”