Yet gradually, the euphoria of approaching victory does take over, and we’re with the diarists as they throng Piccadilly on May 8, 1945. But these diaries would not be a true reflection of the British character without necessary shots of bathos. And here is one, right on cue. The accountant in Sheffield, who has been saving up his precious can of tinned chicken for six years to enjoy as a celebratory treat, is “somewhat disappointed” on opening it. “Although it is genuine chicken — bones, skin and meat — it is spoiled by aspic jelly.” It’s not surprising, with such jellified horrors appearing under the tin-opener, that the nation suffered from post-VE Day tummy aches.
Unlike the very many books and films “bathed in the golden glow of ‘Blitz Spirit’,” what makes these accounts “so valuable and so poignant,” argues Brown, is that they’re “riddled with fear and defeat”. Reading them now, while enduring a collective crisis of our own, one can’t help but draw parallels. I felt the pain of the widowed housewife bemoaning rationing, the loss of scattered and absent friends, and the “beastly long” blackouts. “Everything seems reduced to a vast, drab boringness,” she writes.