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Nella Last's War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 (Housewife, 49 #1)

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  940 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
In September 1939, housewife and mother Nella Last began a diary whose entries, in their regularity, length and quality, have created a record of the Second World War which is powerful, fascinating and unique.

When war broke out, Nella's younger son joined the army while the rest of the family tried to adapt to civilian life. Writing each day for the "Mass Observation" pro
Paperback, 312 pages
Published 2006 by Profile Books (first published 1981)
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Community Reviews

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Monthly Book Group
Jan 18, 2014 Monthly Book Group rated it really liked it
Most of us very much enjoyed this book. There were many dimensions to it, and different dimensions appealed particularly to different people.

One was that of her relationship with her husband. It is a remarkable record of a woman living in close proximity with a husband for whom she felt, if you believe her, nothing other than resentment. The ebb and flow of their daily exchanges is carefully charted, and her relief at being able to sleep in a separate room. It is funny, sad and very honest. Acco
Dec 11, 2010 Veronica rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, and Nella. It's the wartime Mass Observation diaries of Nella Last, "Housewife, 49" of Barrow-in-Furness. I've read other similar diaries, most notably the ones in Our Hidden Lives, and they are interesting, but none has captivated me as this book did.

She starts out cautiously but is soon using the diaries as a safety valve to express her frustrations with life. She writes beautifully and naturally, but what's most interesting is the way she changes as the war progresses. At t
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I bought this book about 3 years ago and have read it at least 6 times. We are told that Mrs Last wrote literally millions of words for Mass Observation in the course of 30 years ; it's a bit disappointing then for avid readers of journals, diaries and correspondence like myself to be offered such a tantalising taste of her prolific output. Maybe 100 years from now she will be called "the 20th Century Pepys" and perhaps in another 200 years, complete editions will be published. Unfortunately I w ...more
Jun 27, 2014 Jana rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful surprise of a book and I grew to love Nella. Thank you, Jennifer, for introducing us. This was her choice for our postal book group.

How amazing it is to read a first hand account of what it was like to live in England during WWII. Her perspective is as a mom, wife, and homemaker in a small town. Her ability to cope with little money and resources is inspiring. Her humor, determination, fear, spunkiness, love and frustrations are all conveyed in her diary.

There are two more
Aug 12, 2010 Dianne rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
I don't know why I love memoirs so much. It doesn't seem quite right that I should get so much enjoyment out of reading other people's diaries. I don't think I'll pursue that line of thought any further though because, well, just because. This is a diary and I loved it. And it turns out, she had a talent for writing, one more reason why you'll enjoy reading it.

It is the diary of an ordinary housewife, Nella Last, in a small town in England, and it covers the time period between September 1939 an
There are many books out there that give us a perspective of World War II from the point of view of those fighting on the front lines, in the resistance and from Whitehall, but there are very view that show us what living through this war was like from the viewpoint of the civilian at home. In 1937, the Mass Observation Project in England was founded by Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson. They wanted to record the views of ordinary British people, and recruited volunteers to observe British life, a ...more
I found this book absolutely fascinating. I happened to see the movie based on it ("Housewife, 49") first, since my local library had that and had to wait a while on the book, and the book was much better (as is so often the case). For whatever reason I'm quite interested in what it was like for people living on the Home Front in WWII England--I've read fiction set then, but after seeing "1940s House" I really wanted to track down real accounts of that time. This diary, kept by Nella Last throug ...more
Sep 17, 2014 Vanessa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: unforgetable
This is not the work of fiction and therefore should not be judged as one. I have seen some comments about this book having a "slow plot", and I think that these comments are inappropriate. Nella Last voluntarily kept a diary of her daily war time life to contribute to Mass Observations, a social research project watched by the government to monitor war time morale. Now, this book gives us an invaluable insight into the minds of people who lived during the war. It shows us the roles of women, vo ...more
Aug 17, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it
British authorities promoted writing "observation" diaries during the late 1930's and '40s, by ordinary citizens. Nella Last, a housewife living near a shipyard north of Liverpool, nearing age 50 when her diary started in 1939, writes revealingly from the heart. She describes her emotions and those she observes in other people, the personality changes, the strategies of housewives faced with shortages of everything and, early in the war, with bombing raids. She presents a cheery face to the worl ...more
Aug 05, 2009 Graceann rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: history
Nella Last took part in the Mass Observation Project during World War II, a groundbreaking program in which British people were asked to maintain diaries discussing their daily experiences. She wrote diligently for more than thirty eventful years. Nella Last's War concentrates on 1939-1945 and in doing so focuses on a woman blossoming, starting at the age of 49, into an independent, free-thinking spirit.

The War offered Nella a chance to do useful work that made a difference in the world; the clo
Jan 02, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I ended the year on a high note - - I enjoyed this so much that it bumped a book out of my "top ten read in 2011". In England during WWII, average citizens kept diaries as part of a Mass Observation project to record their every day lives during the war. In some ways, nothing very much happens and yet so much happens. Nella is a 50 year old housewife who has focused her entire life around her husband and two sons. The war introduces a new focus for Nella who starts taking charge at the local can ...more
The Library Lady
Mar 16, 2010 The Library Lady rated it really liked it
From the moment I chuckled at her sarcasm over a neighbor's piety: "Cannot help thinking if God wanted to do that (strike Hitler dead)he would not have waited till Mrs Helm asked him to do so." I knew that Nella Last was someone I'd like to have known in real life. Her diaries bring you the picture of a REAL person living through WWII. Her courage despite what were clearly pre-war struggles with depression and marriage woes on top of everything the war brought to her doorstep is amazing and insp ...more
Apr 14, 2015 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Truly one of the best books I have read in a long time.
I acquired this book through my libraries interloan program and it traveled a long way for my enjoyment. Thank God for Public Libraries!!

Nella Last an ordinary woman with extraordiny insight. She mentioned at times she didn't feel she was very smart, yet she touched on many subjects where she seemed to be ahead of the times in her way of thinking.

This is not just a book about the war. It is filled with inspiration from the thoughts and fee
Dec 21, 2014 Josie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[Audiobook version]

There are far too many intelligent reviews of this book already for me to attempt to write one myself, so instead have my disconnected thoughts:

- The narrator was PERFECT!

- The varying volume, however, was not. I can't stand audiobooks where the sound goes from whisper-quiet to blazing shouting. As I listen to audiobooks in the car, I was either straining to hear above the engine or nearly jumping out of my skin. Not an ideal situation when you're driving. :| (Neither is drivi
May 22, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Nella Last was a 49 year old Englishwoman when she signed up for the Mass-Observation, an experiment meant to collect the voices of ordinary people by encouraging them to fill out surveys and questionnaires, and also to keep diaries. Nella had always been interested in books, and had an extensive correspondence. She kept the diary for 30 years. And, by some bit of historic luck, she started it in 1939, so she was right there as her little northern industrial town faced the full brunt of World Wa ...more
Feb 03, 2015 Jan rated it it was amazing
I chose this as DVD and loved it. The print version might not affect me as much but I'm so thankful Victoria Wood brought this to film. It may help if one is an Anglophile, interested in historical daily life of the British citizens during WWII. I felt it conveyed the era of the middle class home life with so much more realism than any I've read or seen. The relationships of this family are complex & so well demonstrate one individual found her inner self, saved her sanity & grew to unde ...more
Jan 13, 2014 Nigel rated it really liked it
A wonderful and powerful insight into the lives of the ordinary civilian population during the 2nd World War. This is the diary that Nella Last submitted to the Mass Observation Study from 1939 to the end of the war (although there is a gap where the diaries were lost). She is an ordinary housewife and mother living in Barrow. The entries are funny, moving and insightful - well worth the read if the idea appeals to you.
Caroline Roberts
Jun 01, 2012 Caroline Roberts rated it did not like it

A lot of good reviews for this book but I'm afraid I can't add to them. Whilst it provides a detailed account of one families war, accurately reflecting the reality of the time rather than the histrionics and heroics of news reel footage, it was just too dull for me to actually enjoy. A worthy read but one for historians rather than those reading for enjoyment in my view.
Leggere Nella Last's War è il modo perfetto di capire davvero che cosa abbia significato la guerra (nello specifico la seconda guerra mondiale) per tutte le persone che, senza combattere al fronte, dovevano comunque vivere in una situazione che oggi è assolutamente impensabile.
Nov 20, 2008 Kristy rated it really liked it
I really "enjoyed" this book and have so much respect for the author. She made so much for so little and remained strong during these times of the war. She is inspiring in how she kept her head up and became so much stronger as a person throughout the writing of her diary. It's a great portrait of everyday life during this time in England.
Laura Seagraves
May 07, 2008 Laura Seagraves rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
Such a compelling book, a daily diary of WWII Britain, by a normal housewife and mother of 2 sons old enough to fight.
Along with the good days, and the horrible days you get glimpses of the future of womens rights. Beautiful and heartbreaking, thoughtful and funny.
Oct 12, 2014 Jane rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but it was absolutely fascinating. As part of a major project - Mass Observation - to record everyday life in Britain begun in 1937, people were asked to keep diaries of their lives. Nella Last did, for many years and this book is a record of her wartime experiences in Barrow. She was a middle aged (51 when war broke out) housewife and the war gave her opportunities to work outside the home which she had never had before - with WVS and running a shop ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Shannon rated it it was amazing
This is a compilation of journal entries by Nella Last during WWII. Nella lives in Barrow and chronicles her day-to-day life as a mother, wife and volunteer during the war. Nella is a natural and gifted writer. Her entries are vivid, honest, and often biting at times. The read can be a bit blue at times and emotions, of course, run high. But to get a glimpse into the ever day thoughts of just a "normal" person during the war is priceless. You really feel the chaos, drudgery, and fear in her writ ...more
Marion Husband
Jun 30, 2011 Marion Husband rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely, lovely book, Nella Last's voice is so moving and vivid and just sensible...a great read
Nov 14, 2009 93bcn rated it really liked it
Here's my review.
Piara Strainge
Dec 27, 2014 Piara Strainge rated it it was amazing
I love wartime literature so this book was definitely for me. Nella Last's account of everyday life back then is fascinating from the cost of things, to the rationing, to her opinions of the country's leaders... and to write the way she did with bucketfuls of empathy, humour, sadness, contemplation and beautiful nostalgia is truly captivating.

This is the diary of Nella Last, Housewife, 49, which she kept religiously during the Second World War for the Mass Observation project. Charles Madge, a
Sep 27, 2014 Colleen rated it really liked it
In 1937, the United Kingdom began a national writing project called Mass Observation. Volunteer “observers” were asked to record day-to-day accounts of their lives and send them in to the project. All the diaries would be archived. One of the 500 volunteers was a housewife from the ship-building town, Barrow-in-Furness, named Nella Last. I’ll bet Nella had no idea, when she started in 1939, that she would continue on with the project for thirty years, writing over two million words! (The Mass Ob ...more
Kathy Van Oerle
Sep 01, 2012 Kathy Van Oerle rated it liked it
I was very interested in the description of the book by Victoria Wood, which indicated it was about seeing the war (WW 2) from the perspective of the domestic difficulties, chilly church halls...not the war of the newsreels. It was indeed written from the viewpoint of a housewife in Barrow-in Furness, England. She was Housewife 49 who wrote of the war years in her diary and submitted it to The Mass-Observation Archive, Special Collections at the University of Sussex Library, Brighton. I share th ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Nella Last’s War: Housewife 49, by Nella Last. A.
This was recorded by BBCw and purchased through Audible. During and after the second world war, people were asked to keep diaries of their experiences through the war. Nella Last’s was one of the best. She began her journal in 1939 and kept it for 30 years. Only the war years were reproduced in this book. In 1939 when the war began, Nella was a housewife who spent her time at home making a home for her husband and two sons. But her two sons were n
Julie Failla Earhart
May 25, 2009 Julie Failla Earhart rated it it was amazing
“In September 1939, Nella Last, a middle-aged housewife (with two grown sons) living in Barrow-in Furness (England), began a diary for Mass-Observation that she continued to write avidly for nearly thirty years.”

Nella Last wrote more than two million words about life in England between 1939 and 1945, documenting daily life in a ship yard town Editors Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming edited that extensive collection into a two-hundred ninety-eight page book simply titled Nella Last’s War. The entr
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Nella Last was a wife and mother who wrote up her day-to-day experience of civilian life in the Second World War as part of the Mass-Observation Archive, which was set up by sociologist Charles Madge and anthropologist Tom Harrisson to record ordinary people's views on contemporary events. She was an intelligent woman, who was stifled by her life and repressive marriage in a provincial place. Fort ...more
More about Nella Last...

Other Books in the Series

Housewife, 49 (3 books)
  • Nella Last's Peace: The Post-War Diaries Of Housewife, 49
  • Nella Last in the 1950s: The Further Diaries of Housewife, 49

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“If you love a person in the real sense, you want them to be happy, not take them like butter and spread them thinly over your own bread, to make it more palatable for yourself.” 19 likes
“She says she prays to God to strike Hitler dead. Cannot help thinking if God wanted to do that he would not have waited till Mrs. Helm asked him to do so.” 2 likes
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