The most recent edition of “Slightly Foxed” carried a piece about the above volume which intrigued me sufficiently to resort to abebooks.co.uk to see if I could buy a copy – I could – and I did – and I am jolly glad I did. The Countess of Ranfurly is one of those people I can get on with authorwise. She writes simply and directly and tells you what’s going on in plain English.
I have read a number of books about both World Wars and in general prefer those about World War One. Why that should be is perhaps worth thinking about and writing about on some future occasion. But this book starts off as so many do with a young woman scarcely out in the world being pitched into that world head first and coping magnificently. One gets the impression that she would cope with almost anything, magnificently, and its not ego or swollen headism, just force of personality and ability.
Briefly, she gets herself to the Middle East to be with her newly married husband, but is alas soon separated from him by reason of his being taken prisoner in North Africa by the Italian Army. He eventually returns, but a great part of the story is how the Countess survives in Egypt and Palestine – not only survives but being a shorthand typist, gets jobs with important people and plays a significant part in the war effort. She moves west to Tunisia and Algeria and then up into Italy and is eventually re-united with her husband some time after Italy changes sides. Usually books about WW2 centre on Europe – England post Dunkirk, then D Day, and then the European Campaign and we read about the Middle East in excepts from letters from friends or relations. Well this young woman was there and there in the thick of it, and you get the experience of living in a colonial atmosphere of hotels and night clubs, bright lights and good food while a few miles to the westward all hell is being let loose and casualties are mounting dreadfully. She herself recognises this and reflects upon it, hears the news of the death of friends, and worries about what is happening to her husband and his comrades in Italy with little or no news, or news that is very out of date. It is an aspect of WW2 which I was conscious that I knew about but only in a fragmentary and disjointed way, but which now comes together, for me at least, coherently.