Carry on Coping: Diary of a Doctor 1942-1945

on Wednesday, 27 September 2017.

Joan F. Hickson, edited by Ruth Skrine
2013 Ex Libris Press  pps 253   £9.95

© 2013 Ruth Skrine

Copies available for view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre and for loan at Chippenham and Corsham Libraries, ref: CHP.611

This is the diary of a Chippenham GP, written during WWII and recently edited by her daughter. The years that were chosen for the publication were reported as the most coherent and interesting. Included in the preface are Ruth’s own feelings regarding her mother’s writing and an attempt to provide a little background to explain the personality behind the diary.

The diary begins with Joan visiting the aftermath of the Baedeker raids in Bath, witnessing the devastation caused and commenting on how the civil defence workers were coping. The content of her entries is compelling. From viewing firsthand the mental anguish of the evacuees arriving in Chippenham, to her views on Beveridge’s White Paper from the perspective of a medical practitioner, her thoughts are both vivid and enlightening. Joan’s frustration with the medical system is laid bare… but also apparent are the minutiae of day to day living: the blackout, fuel rationing, rumours of D-Day, her civil defence work. The difficulties with her domestic staff, her teenage children and evacuee patients are heart-felt, as is the real sense of exhaustion of a 43 year old giving as much as she has, felt both in the tone of her writing as much as the text.

Ruth Skrine calls the diary a contemporary record of one middle-class family at an extraordinary time in the history of England, but it is more than that. It is a true and honest expression of life during wartime, warts and all, and of the feelings which must inevitably go with it. Joan had a feeling that her thoughts may be of interest to her children and there is a sense, towards the end of her diary entries, that she was in also writing for an audience. I felt privileged to have been able to share her thoughts so many years after they were written. As a research study for social history it will not disappoint, and as a guide for local and family historians it will give an insight into the workings of a market town during wartime.

An insightful and enjoyable read, skilfully edited.

You might also be interested to know that the original diaries have been deposited with us at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, ref:4236/1-8.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

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