Saturday 12 October 2019

#BookReview — Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2) by Beryl Kingston #HistoricalFiction #WW2 @berylkingston

Citizen Armies
 (The Jackson Family Saga, #2)
By Beryl Kingston

A heartening tale of unity and courage.

The Jackson family’s peaceful south London life is shattered when World War Two breaks out.

Sixteen-year-old Mary is immediately evacuated, and the rest of the family sets about combining daily life with wartime duties in the nation’s capital.

The war is gruelling and heart-breaking for Londoners, and Rosie and Jim Jackson are no exception. But their close family bonds and the warmth of friends and neighbours see them through, as the ups and downs of family life – marriages, births and deaths – continue as they always have, despite the conflict that rampages around them.

Until one day, a tragedy that nobody had dared to consider, strikes a devastating blow. And as the war gradually comes to a close, the Jacksons find themselves facing the future with a family – and a country – that have been irrevocably changed.

Citizen Armies combines the qualities of an absorbing family saga with acutely observed and beautifully written social history, and is bound to please lovers of fiction and history alike.

"I must warn you that being an ambulance driver is not a glamorous job. It will be dangerous and dirty and exhausting."

Rosie Jackson was under no illusion how difficult her job might be if London was indeed bombed, but she felt compelled to help in any way she could. Her beloved husband, Jim, was a Chief Warden and if he were out there, risking his life for his fellow Londoners, then so would she.

But despite the training, despite the imagined expectation, nothing had prepared Rosie for this. War was cruel and brutal. She knew that. But why...? Why target innocent people? It was beyond comprehension.

As Rosie struggles with war fatigue, her family rally around her. With their love and encouragement, Rosie continues to do her bit to show Hitler and his Nazis that they cannot break the British Spirit. But, oh, what she would give for this war to be over...

From the Miracle of Dunkirk to the London Victory Celebrations of 1946, Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2) by Beryl Kingston is the heart-wrenching tale of one family as they navigated the horrors of the Blitz on London during World War II.

Citizen Armies is a compelling account of an ordinary family in an extraordinary and unprecedented time of war. I was captivated by the first sentence and by the end of the first chapter, I felt like I had known these characters forever. Kingston has such a wonderfully compelling narrative and realism to her writing that makes this book not only utterly irresistible but next to impossible to put down.

Citizen Armies maps the course of the war from the perspective of the Johnson family. Through them, we get a real sense of how those at home followed the events of the war. We are with them during the Dunkirk evacuation, and we experience the Blitz of London, which climaxes with the terrifying V-1 and V-2 flying bombs, or the buzz bombs and doodlebugs as Londoners called them. The book ends with victory and celebrations. Kingston has brought this era back to life and has captured the very essence of what it was like to live in London during this time.

There are moments in this story where everything seems very bleak as the worst of humanity has the advantage, but it also demonstrates the determination, the utter stubbornness of the British to withstand whatever the Nazis threw at them. The "we will pull through in the end," mentality is alive-and-kicking in this story.

As a history tutor who specialises in this period of history, I am always in awe of the British spirit of defiance. When I think about how many countries surrendered to the Germans because of Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) tactics, it always amazes me how Britain did not, even at the darkest of hours, contemplate surrender. Instead, they rallied together, made a cup of tea and got on with it. Maybe this was because of Churchill's ability to inspire patriotism and to be able to turn a disaster such as Dunkirk into a successful operative, or perhaps it was the government's careful use of propaganda which brought the British populous together. Or maybe, it was because the people of Britain realised the significance of defeat and what that would mean. Perhaps it was all of the reasons and then some. Nevertheless, this mood, this sense that no matter what the Germans threw at them, the British would be victorious was firmly embedded in the mindset of the population — blindly optimistic it may seem to modern eyes, but very pragmatic nonetheless. This is what Kingston has captured with so much elegance and authority in this story. Never once, do her characters dwell on the fact that they could lose. They would win. It might take a while. But they would win — one way or another.

Kingston's depiction of the horrors of the Blitz and the emotional consequences of those who risked their own lives every day in a bid to help save others has to be commended. I have read many historical fiction books that focus on the devastation of the Blitz, whether that be in London or other UK cities and ports, but I have never read one written by an author who experienced it first hand. This knowledge gave a very dramatic sense of realism. The relentlessness of the bombing and the devastation and loss of life is staggering, and in Citizen Armies, we witness this terrible destruction primarily through the eyes of Rosie Jackson. Rosie is a very loving and compassionate woman, who adores her husband and her children, and is quite content with her life. When war is declared, Rosie doesn't think twice about her own safety, she wants to help, and she does so by learning to drive an ambulance.  

Kingston demonstrates what life was like for an ambulance driver during World War II in great detail — from the long gruelling shifts to the horrors that they witnessed on a daily basis. As the war progresses, Rosie struggles with her mental health. The end of the war seems so far away, and Rosie feels trapped in a nightmare which won't end. However, with help Rosie continues to help others, and like Britain, Rosie would not surrender. It did strike me, though, through the course of this novel, how the bombing became almost a normal part of everyday life, much like the weather. There is almost a desensitising of what was going on — Kingston demonstrated this beautifully with Rosie, who after her shift would fall into an exhausted sleep in the shelter, regardless of the bombs dropping on her city.  

This is a really wonderful book. Not only is it rich in historical detail, but it is also like taking a step back through time with Kingston as the very competent tour guide. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2). Not only is the story fabulous, the characters wonderfully human, and the setting brilliant depicted, but the writing is fabulous too. There is nothing in this book that is not to be liked — a real treat for lovers of quality historical fiction.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
Citizen Armies

Beryl Kingston 

Bestselling  Beryl Kingston was born in 1931 in Tooting, where she spent the first four months of the Blitz. She was evacuated twice during WWII, the first time to Felpham and the second to Harpenden in Hertfordshire.

Connect with Beryl: WebsiteBlogTwitter.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx