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Nella Last's War: The Second World War Diaries of 'Housewife, 49'

(Housewife, 49 #1)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,410 ratings  ·  164 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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Monthly Book Group
Mar 14, 2011 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 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
Diane Barnes
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars - because diaries are hard to rate. This was my bedtime reading for the last couple of weeks, a few entries at a time. A very good day to day description of the war on the home front in England, with all the shortages of food and gas, and the bombing raids and blackouts, the best part for me was Nella's growth inside, realizing in her 50's that she had more talents and worth than just being a wife and mother. Her volunteer work running a thrift shop and canteen gave her a chance to be ...more
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
Gumble's Yard
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
Diary of a Barrow-in-Furness housewife starting on the breakout of WWII and going through until VJ Day, setting out her daily actions and thoughts for the Mass Observation Project (a project involving 500 volunteers).

Nella is upper middle class married to a timid and conservative husband and with two boys Arthur – a civil servant posted to Ireland and Cliff – a thoughtful artistic type who nevertheless volunteers to fight in the Middle East).

The book is a fascinating and at times compelling re
Aug 05, 2010 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
Jun 27, 2014 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
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Apr 26, 2009 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
Glenna Pritchett
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I wobbled between three and four stars. Three isn't enough, and four might be just a bit too much, but given the topic I decided I should be generous.

It took me a l-o-o-ong time to finish. I really enjoyed the first half, then it began to wear on me a bit so I laid it aside for awhile, then when I picked it back up I read only a few pages at a time. I'm not judging Nella's writing, really, just the choice of entries included in the book. It is a diary, after all, and Nella had her faults and "is
The Library Lady
Mar 06, 2010 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
Nov 07, 2013 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
May 09, 2012 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.
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The was an amazing book. Nella Last participated in the War Observation study that began prior to the declaration of war in England. The study asked everyday people to observe and chronicle their day-to-day happenings.
Nella wrote like she had ink in her blood. She observed everything. She talks about sex, marriage, her volunteer work, her battle with anxiety and depression. Nella so loved the act of writing out her life that she continued after the war and lucky for us, this is also available in
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir, ww2
I am fascinated by things written during WW2 instead of just about WW2. Things written by people when the outcome was uncertain. So I was looking forward to this for that reason.
But I was surprised to find this to be so compelling. Not just the facts of wartime life, but rather full of the inner-most thoughts of Nella. She is dealing with so much more than the war; with her children leaving home, her relationship with her husband, finding purpose in her life. I am sad to leave her now that the
Aug 17, 2010 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
Nov 11, 2011 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
Feb 19, 2015 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
Ayelet Waldman
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was part of the Mass-Observation project in England, where people -- not writers, just regular, normal, not-necessarily-neurotic people -- were asked to keep daily diaries. Nella Last's is remarkably fascinating. She's a terrific writer, but more to the point, the window into the life of a housewife in the thick of the war, the bombings, the rationing, is incredibly interesting. And the food! Gah. Horrible.
Nov 17, 2008 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.
Christopher Newton
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, england, wwii
I love this book, and its sequels. For some reason I don't quite understand, it just kills me. Well maybe not quite kills me, more the opposite, like maybe there is still some hope for the human race, as found in this dear faceless middle-aged ordinary WWII housewife in the north of England who somehow wrote it down, the whole dilemma of existence in a world gone mad.
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the first diary I read which was part of the Mass Observation which was the brainchild a journalist and an anthropologist in 1937. It was to encourage people to express their war experience at home in England. The diaries are uncensored and present an amazing portrait of the English soul and ability to endure at home. There are
Many of them.
Laura Seagraves
Apr 11, 2008 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.
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Here's my review. ...more
Marion Husband
Jun 30, 2011 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
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I didn't want it to end.
Gail Amendt
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm sure that when Nella Last started keeping a diary for the Mass-Observation project, she never expected that anyone other than the researchers would ever read it. If she had, she never would have been so honest about her life. The housewife from Barrow-On-Furness began writing in 1939, right at the beginning of WWII, and this book covers the diaries she kept during the war years. When she began writing she was 49 years old, the same age I am now, and perhaps that is why I can relate to her so ...more
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an absolutely fascinating insight into the everyday life of an ordinary woman living through the Second World War. The diary entries were written for Mass Observation, a social research project that started in 1937; Nella Last wrote assiduously throughout the war years, documenting her life in Barrow-in-Furness as a housewife and member of the Women's Voluntary Service. Her writing is heartfelt, often humorous, sharp and perceptive; it is eminently readable and brings alive the mundane c ...more
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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

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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