Home Fires: The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a fascinating account of the British Women's Institute and its contributions, especially during World War II. The recent PBS series "Homefires" was inspired by it, although the stories and characters of the TV series were fictionalized. I knew next to nothing about the WI, other than it was a popular women's group in Britain, and I thought it was primarily a social organization. In fact it was the largest organization of women devoted to making life better for the small communities in which the groups flourished. It was instrumental in developing government policies dealing with health, education, nutrition, and housing before, during, and after the war. The British government recognized the power of the group, and used it to spur food production. Some of the statistics shared in this very well-researched book were mind-boggling! In 1940 the WI was responsible for making enough jam to support 2 million people with a year's supply of jam at the current ration allotment of 1/4 lb of jam every two months. While jam-making was a well-publicized venture, the WI was also busy collecting foxglove and belladonna so that the plants could be used to make digitalis which was in very short supply. I found myself reading bits and pieces of the book to my husband as I discovered new information. The author does a terrific job of illustrating just how difficult life was during the war for those left at home. Few homes had running water, indoor plumbing, or central heating. The amount of work it took to run a household is staggering by today's standards, and when the war time restrictions on food, clothing, fuel, etc were in place it was even harder. There are lots of facts and figures in the book, but there are enough personal stories and anecdotes to balance them and make this such an interesting read.
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