Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Gram Reads WWII Books

I've written before about my Gram and Grandpa and how they met during WWII. I've never told you the whole story nor will I today (hopefully I'll get around to it one day - it's a great one!), but I do want to tell you a few things because they are related to some books Gram has read recently.

Eileen (aka Gram) was 16 years old in 1940. She lived in Coventry, England with her parents, 2 sisters, and 1 brother. This was the year that Germany began regularly bombing Coventry. All my life Gram has told me stories about her father loading the family up into their car at night and driving them out to the middle of the fields outside town, and how they'd spend the night sleeping in the car to escape the bombings. She's told me about her older brother, Jimmy, and how he was a fire watcher who had to stay on the rooftops in town during bombing runs to warn of fires that might spread through the town, and how the rest of the family would worry about him every night. She's also told me about hiding under metal staircases during air raids.

I recently asked her if she ever hid in the bomb shelters and she said no. Her father said they were too dirty and he preferred to take the family into the fields in the fresh air. Gram said the bomb shelters were used by drunks as a place to have sex, and that you could smell the urine from outside - she never went into one.

A few years later she got a job doing "war work" in a factory in Coventry. The factory was on Spawn Street and Coventry Road. Her job was to make needles and some little brass things, and she was paid by the gross. She still has one of those little brass things somewhere in her house. Her boss's name was Mr. Bolton and he was a very nice man, nice to all the girls who worked in the factory. Whenever there was an afternoon air raid he'd tell the girls to go home and they'd all run as quick as they could. Gram would run down Spawn Street and make a left onto Hollyhead Road. Her house was on that street, less than a mile from the factory. One day she came to work to find that the factory had been bombed during the night and the roof was gone. They were still able to work that day, but when they came to work the next day, the entire factory was gone.

One night, after sleeping in the fields, Gram's family came home to find an unexploded bomb sitting in the middle of their road. It had a fin that was sticking up into the air. Everyone was excited and touching it. Gram says she realizes now that they were all crazy, that it could have exploded at any moment, but no one seemed to realize that then.

When I heard about the book COVENTRY by Helen Humphreys I knew I had to read it, if only to get a better idea of what Gram went through. After I commented on her review, Amanda offered to send me her copy of the book so I could share it with Gram on her next visit. Aren't bloggers wonderful?

Well, Gram's visit finally came around but things haven't gone as planned. She and my Grandpa were supposed to stay in Maryland for a month and return to Florida in September. Unfortunately, while she was here Gram was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoma and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. She's really struggling with it, and it is, of course, difficult for the rest of the family as well. This woman who was bowling three times a week in August now can hardly sit up at the table for more than a few minutes. But she's been reading when she can, and she was very excited when I brought over COVENTRY for her to try.

I can give no better endorsement to the book than to say that according to Gram, Humphreys got everything right. She would have loved to see her street, Hollyhead Road, mentioned but otherwise she loved this book. In fact, Gram enjoyed the book so much that she gave it to her younger sister when she came to visit; Aunt Hilda read it in 2 days and loved it as well. So if you want to know what it was really like to live in Coventry during World War II, you definitely need to read this book - I'm doing that right now.


I also brought Gram my copy of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. She breezed through that book in just a few days (before starting COVENTRY) and loved it as well. She absolutely loved the character of Elizabeth. Gram doesn't remember hearing anything about Guernsey back during the war; like me, she was completely surprised that the German's occupied the island. She was, however, very familiar with the fact that children were sent away from their families and into the countryside to keep them safe. It didn't happen in her family but she knew that it was happening in others. Gram highly recommends this book as well. Her sister Hilda was planning to get it from the library when she went back home after her visit with Gram.

The book currently on Gram's shelf is THE MIRACLE OF THE NORTH PLATTE CANTEEN. I've had this book for quite a while and have been meaning to read it. As with COVENTRY, Gram is beating me to it. I'll let you know what she thinks about this WWII book as soon as she finishes.


Serena said...

Wow, fantastic that Gram has been reading these books with you. A wonderful way to get a first-hand perspective on these historical books. I have coventry on the shelf and hope to get reading it soon, maybe during Readathon...uh oh, will I be changing that list again! :)

Kailana said...

I have read COVENTRY and I passed it on to my grandmother, too! She didn't live it, so I didn't know it was so correct. That's great to know! I love stories about WWII. My grandfather fought in it, but before I was old enough to appreciate it, he had passed away. I am sure some great information died with him...

bermudaonion said...

I got chills reading your post. I'm so sorry to hear that your grandmother is having to deal with the nastiness that is chemo. Her endorsement of Coventry means a lot to me, though.

Zee said...

Thank you for sharing your Grandmothers views on the book. It sounds amazing.

I wish that I had been able to hear more of my grans stories about the war. Not to mention my grandfathers but he only told one person about what he did in the war and that person can't remember what he said. You are luck that you have that bit of family history. And I would love to hear the story of how your grandparents met!

Amanda said...

I am so glad they got to read it! I will be praying for your Gram. Chemo and all that stuff is no fun. My dad had Lymphoma so I can sympathize. Actually, that is the cause I've decided to donate to during this year's Read-a-thon. I can't believe your Gram lived in Conventry during this time. I guess I should say survived through Conventry. Thanks for this post!

Alyce said...

That is quite an endorsement! I just added it to my wish list.

I hope that your Gram feels better soon!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Serena - I never knew Gram liked to read until last year - now I save books especially for her. As for Coventry, it would be a perfect read-a-thon choice - it moves quickly and it is pretty short.

Kailana - I know that I am very blessed to still have one set of grandparents, and that they tell so many stories. I'm so sorry that you didn't have the same experience.

bermudaonion - Yeah, this chemo stuff is horrid. But we're praying for the best.

Zee - Thanks! I do hope to write their entire story on here at some point. Part of it will be in a guest post I'm doing at Historical Tapestry in November - I'll be sure to post here when it is up.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Amanda - Thank you SO MUCH for sending me this book - I wouldn't have bought it myself for quite a while, and I'm so glad that I had it to share with her right now.

Thank you also for your prayers and support - and for choosing that charity for the read-a-thon. ;)

Alyce - I'll admit that I'm biased - anything set in this time and place would probably find favor with me. But with Gram saying it is very accurate, that's all I need to hear. :)

Anna said...

What a wonderful post; I'll have to mention it on War Through the Generations.

Sounds like your grandmother has some fascinating stories. I'm glad she's been able to share them, and now books, with you. I loved Coventry, and I'm glad to hear that it's an accurate take on the events that transpired.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anna said...

I posted it here.

I meant to say in my previous comment that I'm keeping your gram in my prayers.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

What an amazing and touching story. I love that the book had such a personal connection with your grandmother.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Anna - Thank you for your prayers, and for reposting this - I hope other people enjoy reading it as well.

StephanieD - Thanks, it was such a joy to me to share this with her.

Literary Feline said...

This is a brilliant post, Heather. Thank you so much for sharing more about your grandmother. Family stories like the ones your grandmother has shared with you are true treasures. I am so sorry about her health though. My thoughts and prayers are with her. I am glad at least that she is able to read.

Unknown said...

Wow, thank you so much for sharing some of your Gram's story. WW2 history is my absolute favorite time period to read about and study. I think it is so cool that your Gram is reading these books & is able to compare them to her own experiences! Thanks for the Coventry recommendation too.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Heather - so sorry to hear what your Gram is dealing with; it must be tough for an active woman like her to be laid up so suddenly.

I love her stories about Coventry and WWII that you shared. What a great compliment to Humphreys for your grandmother to say she "got it right" in COVENTRY.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Literary Feline - Thank you for the prayers, they are much appreciated. This weekend Gram hasn't been able to read (she's been too weak) but I'm hoping next week will be better.

Ruth - I know, I realize that I'm so lucky to have her here to tell me the stories in person and tell me what the books are getting right and wrong.

Dawn - Thanks for your support, it means a lot. I'm so glad that you all are enjoying Gram's stories as much as I do!

Dreamybee said...

Wow, that part about your Gram coming home to find an unexploded bomb in her street gave me goosebumps. I'm so sorry she's not feeling well. My uncle Joe who is...75(?) had to go through chemotherapy for lymphoma last year, and he is doing really well now, so just tell her to hang in there. It seems to be a pretty treatable cancer.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Dreamybee - There is a part in the book where two of the main characters come upon an unexploded bomb - talk about deja vu! Thanks for the encouragement for Gram - VERY glad to know your uncle did well in the same situation. :)

Lisa said...

Sorry to hear about your Gram. How wonderful that she's found some books to take her mind off things for a while.

Veens said...

Oh My! I never knew anyone living in the WW2 times. God! it was so scary.

I am sorry to hear about your Grandmom. i hope she comes out of it... feeling better!

I am sure, i will definitely look for Coventry

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Lisa - Thanks, I'm grateful for that as well.

Veens - Thank you for stopping by and for your comments - they are much appreciated.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin