Diana Raymond: An author's experiences of World War II
Diana Raymond was born in 1916, and her father was killed the following year, at the preliminary bombardment to the Third Battle of Ypres. The experience of being one of the many fatherless children of her generation is poignantly explored in Lily’s Daughter. The effects of war resonate throughout the story, as they did for Diana herself.
While the first of the world wars impacted on Diana’s childhood, and beyond, by the Second World War she was a grown woman, with a family and a career. Diana worked for the British government in Whitehall both before and during WWII. At the Committee of Imperial Defence she was personal assistant to General Ismay, who was to become Winston Churchill’s chief military assistant. She then worked for the Ministry of Food.
In September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Under the Munich Agreement, Adolf Hitler guaranteed that he would not invade the United Kingdom. Chamberlain arrived back in the UK and gave his ‘peace for our time’ speech at Heston airport in West London. Later that day, he repeated his assurances to cheering crowds outside Downing Street. Diana witnessed this from her Whitehall office but was unconvinced, she knew at that moment that war was inevitable. In Lily’s Daughter, the young Polish Jew, Aaron, personifies this acknowledged threat of the coming war in Europe, and beyond:
‘I write for a Polish newspaper, Nasz Przeglai. A Jewish paper: you would call it Our Review. I have to say how it is in England, how you look on Poland, but it is difficult for I do not think you look at all.’ He glanced over the water where the first fallen leaves drifted by, yellow with the dying summer. ‘So peaceful! But do you know what I hear as I sit beside you? What I see? A million marching men, bands, banners. Huge banners ‒’ he spread his arms wide ‒ ‘black and red, the swastika flying out like a flock of such birds as eat flesh.’
In 1940, the staff of The Ministry of Food moved to Colwyn Bay in Wales, from where they could more safely carry out their Food Defence Plans. Diana went with them, but soon returned to London when she married the acclaimed novelist Ernest Raymond. The couple set up home in Hampstead, and the following year, they had a son, Peter. The child was evacuated for a time to a nursery in Reading, Berkshire. But Diana missed her son and brought him home, just in time for a bomb to land near their flat, on Hampstead Heath. In fact, almost 500 bombs and missiles fell on the Borough of Hampstead (as it was then called) during the Second World War, causing hundreds of deaths and many more casualties. Fortunately, Diana and her family were unharmed.
Ernest Raymond was a member of the Home Guard, and his unit would meet on Hampstead Heath. The Home Guard was a home defence force made up of men who could not fight because they were too young or old, or because they worked in a reserved occupation. At its peak, the Home Guard had over one and a half million members. Women could not officially join, although some units allowed them to carry out certain, administrative, duties. In later life, Diana often talked to her family about how the couple could see the air raids on London from their home in Gardner Mansions. Ernest would always go out with his notebook.
Diana would also often talk to her family about the great fear of flying bombs, particularly the V2s (Vengeance Weapon 2). These dreaded rockets made almost no noise and travelled faster than the speed of sound. In 1944, V2s killed and maimed many civilians in London. In one devastating strike, the department store Woolworths in New Cross, south London, was hit, killing 168 customers and staff.
Diana’s daughter-in-law, Margaret Raymond, says: ‘Diana writes from the heart. She lost her father in the First World War, and the threat of World War II and its consequences were always strongly remembered.’
Reflecting on Lily's Daughter, she continues: ‘Everyone can appreciate being at the beginning of adulthood, where everything is new. There is the excitement as well as the uncertainties. This is what the book encapsulates, amid the uncertainties of war. It is told in such an elegant manner, that, for me, it encapsulates Diana.’
Lily’s Daughter by Diana Raymond is published by Corazon Books.
Diana Raymond (1916-2009) wrote 24 novels, as well as theatre criticism, poetry and a play about Keats.
Are We Nearly There? Diana Raymond (private memoir)
About Lily's Daughter
“Diana Raymond is an observant, sensitive writer whose characters come alive.” The Daily Telegraph
Being Lily's daughter has never been easy. Jessica has long had to cope with her mother's fragile mental state, and a hand to mouth existence. When she finally makes the decision to have her mother committed, Jessica must face an uncertain future alone.
But there is the promise of a different kind of life when Lily arrives at Huntersmeade, the home of her estranged Aunt Imogen. It is here that she meets her dashing cousin, Guy, and Deirdre, the wealthy young woman he is expected to marry. Meanwhile, Imogen's house-guest Aaron, a Polish Jew, has a deeper understanding than the English youngsters of how the world they know will soon change forever.
For Jessica, there will be difficult lessons to learn about her family's secrets, and how falling in love for the first time can be a bitter-sweet experience with far-reaching consequences.
Diana Raymond was the author of 24 novels, theatre criticism, poetry, and a play about Keats. This first ebook edition of her work has been licensed by her family.
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