Book Review: Nella Last’s Peace

Throughout World War II housewife Nella Last along with a host of others kept regular diaries collected and preserved by The Mass Observation Archive, an organization that documented the experiences of average British citizens. Unlike most of the participants, Nella continued keeping her diaries long after the war was over. Nella’s post VJ-Day chronicles are featured in this second collection of her work, a sequel to Nella Last’s War. While most readers are familiar to some extent with the uncertainty that came during the postwar era, this provides a rare, deeply personal look at the effects severe food rationing, job loss and ongoing austerity had on the general population.

What also emerges is a glimpse into Nella’s innermost thoughts as she struggles to cope with an oppressive, moody husband, waspish shop owners and the rebuilding of a nation. Nella’s need to keep her sons safe, the desire for grandchildren and finding creative release in her doll making along with finding enough to eat and dealing with a penny pinching spouse are central themes. Then as now, while world leaders go about the business of setting policies and political maneuverings, it is the common folk who are ultimately left to cope with those decisions. There is no better illustration of this then Nella’s diaries as she documents with warmth and empathy, the trials and tribulations of the postwar era and the sacrifices made by her countrymen.

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