The Casualties Were Small
May Hill, my Grandmother, lived in Chapel St Leonards, a seaside village near Skegness. Her Diaries abound with anecdotes about village life, poems, recipes, her own childhood memories and comments on the war and politics.
Wartime Poetry and Diaries*
of a Lincolnshire Seaside Villager
Chapel St Leonards, Near Skegness, 1940-1944
Edited by Tom Ambridge and Margaret Ambridge
May Hill began to keep a Diary not long after the outbreak of the Second World War. The strategically important East Coast area of Lincolnshire around Skegness had been transformed from a bustling holiday centre to an armed encampment. Butlins became ‘HMS Royal Arthur’ a Royal Navy training centre, RAF air bases sprang up throughout ‘Bomber County’ and soldiers were billeted in the surrounding villages including Chapel St Leonards.
Ron, May’s son, volunteered for the RAF and May started to express her thoughts and prayers in verse. The poem “The Casualties Were Small” reveals her worst fears as his exposure to danger increased even before being posted abroad.
As the War continued, May maintained her eloquent record of family and village life as well as the events of the War itself - including the sad loss of three nephews and an early hint of victory with the ‘D-Day’ landings.
The selection of Diary entries in this compilation has been chosen to include those which reveal the specific experiences and events which inspired over twenty poems. May’s own writing is supported by additional explanatory notes and illustrated by over thirty photographs from the collections of the family and others from the village.
Published: June 2009 UK PRICE £8.99
May Hill's Lincolnshire Village Wartime Diaries can also be found on 'Poetry of the Second World War'
May Hill's Words on Worldwide Web Radio
Readings from the poetry and diaries, written by May Hill during World War II, were broadcast in an interview of May's grandson Tom Ambridge on internet-based radio station Deben Radio. The programme can be heard or downloaded anytime, via this link:
'Grandma May would have been amazed if she could have anticipated her own words reaching so far and wide in this way. The website and interview include more information on the background to the book 'The Casualties Were Small'.
following extract is from May’s writing on D-Day:
people featured are: May
Hill (widowed a few months
earlier), Rene (married daughter),
daughter), Ron (son,
serving with RAF in Italy),
Emmie (Ron’s wife), Mrs
Russell (Emmie’s mother), Ciss
(May’s husband’s niece), Percy
husband), General Field
Bernard Montgomery, Archbishop of Canterbury
William Temple, King George VI.
Tues June 6 1944, D.Day 9.30 pm *
An Ordinary Day
at last the long-talked of Second Front has begun. I have not even given it a
new page and that seems a fitting symbol of how it appears to me. What
excitement there may be in towns or elsewhere, in the country does not seem to
have touched us here. It is just an ordinary day, after nearly 5 years of war
it takes a lot to make us demonstrative. I went on with my ordinary work and
made my first toy for sale, a white duck with green wings and yellow beak and
feet. It is for Mrs Russell to give to a baby friend. I must make the rabbit
for Emmie next and try to send an extra one too. Ciss cleaned her pantry and
Rene washed. Jean went to school, indeed she had gone before the announcement.
to the Radio
ships and a great many smaller craft crossed the channel. Great air-liners
took air-borne troops behind the German lines.
Montgomery is speaking now, a
message to the troops of which he is the head. Now a service. Almost
clock. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken and now they are singing
"Oh God, our help in ages past." At nine o'clock the King broadcast
a call to prayer, not just one day but all the days of
the news afterwards we heard that all was still going well in France. I fear
the "little people" like us would not just go on with this ordinary
work. However pleased they may be at the thought of deliverance, at present it
means danger and hardship and war. Many will have
to leave their homes and
many I fear will lose their lives. The service is over, a beautiful service, ending with the hymn, "Soldiers of Christ Arise."
the End of the Day
are in bed. A motor cycle has just gone by and a swiftly moving plane. Percy
was with Home Guards last night. I am pleased he is at home next door tonight.
God be with us all those whose sons or husbands or other dear ones have
already fallen in this new front. Be with the wounded and comfort the dying
and those who are afraid. We had 12 letters from Ron to-day - a record. I had
6, the others 3 each. In the most recent one, only a week since he wrote it,
an air mail letter, he says his hopes of return are practically nil. I am
almost pleased much as I long to see him but somehow he seems safer there at
present. I must try to sleep now. The longed for D-Day has arrived.
Deliverance Day, Jean says it means.
Brian R Hill
Shadows from a Time Long Past
* All extracts taken from the book "The Casualties were Small" and reproduced on this page are Copyright © The Editors and Estate of May Hill 2009 - All rights reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
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