The Mass-Observation project set up in 1937 before the coming of war two years later left behind a treasure trove of archive material of different kinds, all solicited from the hundreds of volunteers who accepted the invitation to send in reports and diaries about their own lives and the world they observed all around them. James Hinton, who recently authored a valuable account of the mobilisation of British women during the Second World War, has chosen to explore a small selection of the diaries as a window onto the way in which ordinary people coped with the pressures of wartime life. The result is an absorbing and sophisticated exploration of how the public demands of war intruded into the private sphere and moulded new, if usually temporary, identities.
The nine diarists include six women and three men, drawn chiefly from a broad middle-class constituency. The diaries were not all of equal length, some being kept for a few years and some for the duration and beyond. They also vary in the level of candour and self-reflection