Monday 25 June 2018

Citizens Armies by Beryl Kingston #History #WW2 #HistoricalFiction @berylkingston

Citizens Armies
 by Beryl Kingston

To begin at the beginning, ‘Citizen Armies’ is the title of my 30th novel, which is the sequel to ‘Everybody’s Somebody’ and follows my heroine through World War 2. She is now in her forties, forty-three when the war begins and forty-nine when it ends, so she’s living in my lifetime (I was eight when the war began and 14 at the end of it) and she lives in the Borough, where the bombing was particularly fierce. But of course there’s a different story behind the title.
My first two books were given titles by my publisher - I didn’t know how to do titles then and sold them as Novel 1 and Novel 2 – but from then on titles tended to leap at me in unexpected places or as this one did, lurk in my memory. It’s been lurking for seventy-two years so I reckoned it was time I used it.
The war was an experience that taught us to think about horrors and to face the fact that they were happening to millions of people. There were millions killed in air raids; millions gassed in the concentration camps because they were Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists or anybody Hitler didn’t like; millions on both sides killed in land and air battles, or at sea; millions ‘displaced’. And on top of that, millions of houses were destroyed – one million in London alone – and two cities in Japan were reduced to piles of radioactive rubble by the first atomic bombs. The implacable figures are endless. So on May 13th 1945, when it was finally over and we knew that the official announcement would come that day, we took off to our city centres and went crazy with relief. I was among the crowds in Whitehall and Trafalgar Square and remember it vividly, dancing the Hokey Cokey, singing the Lambeth Walk, paddling in the fountains, and cheering, cheering, on and on and on, until our voices grew husky. We stayed there for such a long time that when we finally decided we really ought to go home, the trams and buses had finished running and the Underground stations were closed down. So we had to walk and it took us the rest of the night. But who cared about that? The war was over.

Wonders came in threes during the next few months. The second one came on July 26th, when the vote in the first General Election in ten years was finally announced and we discovered that although we hadn’t dared to hope that such a thing was possible, we had actually voted in a majority Labour Government and a revolution. The first bloodless revolution the country has ever known. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very Heaven.’
And then on June 8th we had an amazing Victory Parade in London. There were war leaders there naturally, and a long columns of war vehicles of every kind, and contingents from all three of the armed forces, men and women alike, but as well as the fighting troops there was another and very special section consisting of the Civil Defence workers who’d been out night after night and day after day rescuing the wounded during the air raids, wardens, ambulance drivers, fire men, heavy rescue teams, the WVS. They got a mighty cheer. And quite right too. It was well deserved.
The next day the papers reported it all in happy detail, with lots of pictures. But it was the headline in one paper that remained with me from then on because it was so apt. ‘CITIZEN ARMIES ON THE MARCH it said. And I thought what a splendid description it was because we were all citizens, conscripted men, civil defence workers, all the men and women who had voted in the new government, all the lot. So now I’m writing about the bravery of these citizens what better title could I choose? Respec’ Citizens!

Everybody’s Somebody

"Life’s for real an’ you got to get on with it."

Rosie Goodison is not one to shy away from life’s problems. Whether it’s finding work or challenging injustice, Rosie squares her shoulders, sets her chin high and faces it full on.

Born at the end of the nineteenth century, in the rural south of England and sent into service aged just twelve, Rosie quickly discovers that many good people spend their lives toiling for very little reward, whilst others ‘have it all’.

She decides it won’t be like that for her. Why can’t she ride in a car? Why can’t she work when she’s pregnant? Why can’t she live in a nice flat? Why can’t she be an artist’s model?

Whilst working as a housekeeper for two upper-class boys, Rosie starts to learn more and more about the world, gleaned from overheard conversations and newspapers left lying around. This triggers an ongoing thirst for knowledge, which shapes her views, informs her decisions and influences her future.

Rosie aspires to have a better life than that of her parents: better living conditions, better working conditions and pay, better education for her children, to be able to vote, to be able to control how many children she has…

Without realising it, this young woman is blazing a trail for all those who are to come after.

Whilst working in London, Rosie meets her sweetheart Jim, but the The Great War puts paid to their plans for the future, and matters worsen afterwards, as she, along with the rest of society, tries to deal with the horrors and losses.

This heart-warming story follows the events of the early twentieth century – the impact and horrors of WW1, the financial crisis and the rapid social and political changes that took place.

All that remains of Rosie now is a quartet of paintings in an art gallery. The artist, now famous but the model, unnamed and forgotten; nobody of consequence.

But everybody has a life story. Everybody leaves some kind of mark on this world.
Everybody’s somebody.

Beryl Kingston

I was born in 1931 in Tooting, and when I was four was enrolled at a local dancing school run by a lady called Madam Hadley, which I attended until I was eight when the war began. Because of the war my school career was – shall we say – varied. I was evacuated twice, the first time to Felpham which is near Bognor Regis and the second to Harpenden in Hertfordshire, and consequently went to ten different schools. I ended up at Streatham Secondary School, an LCC grammar run on the Dalton system, which offered a few lessons as sparking points and then required pupils to be responsible for their own learning, either in study rooms with their teachers on hand to help and advise, or on their own in the library or the school hall. It suited me to a T. Then to King’s College London, where I read English and enjoyed myself a lot, but wasn’t particularly distinguished, having other things on my mind by then...


  1. Such an interesting post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. So, so impressive. What a fabulous article. I shall order this book. You look like Doris Lessing , my favourite writer.


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Mary Anne xxx