When I pick up a DE Stevenson novel, I know I am in for a treat. I have enjoyed almost every one of her books (and she has written close to forty!) Although her novels are called ‘light romances’, I have found her characterization to be genuinely solid, with some historical interest often thrown in amongst wry humor.
“Mrs. Tim Carries On” is the second book in the Mrs. Tim series. Book one (“Mrs. Tim of the Regiment”) introduces the character and life of Hester Christie, based on the author’s own experiences as a British military wife. In the foreword, the author explains why she continued the story:
“…it was not until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 that I felt the urge to write another book about Hester Christie.
“Mrs. Tim Carries On” was easily written, for it it just a day-to-day account of what happened and what we did- and said and felt. The book was a comfort to me in those dark days; it helped me to carry on, and a sort of pattern emerged from the chaos.”
Hester has two children, the buoyant, enthusiastic Betty and her son Bryan who is occasionally away at boarding school. This novel begins with Hester having just dropped off Tim at the train station on his embarkation for France.
“Have had several letters from Tim, and from what he says there seems to be very little fighting – except in the air – and, thank heaven, very few casualties. Have decided not to mention the war in my diary – or at least only to mention it as it affects me. Diary is to be an escape from war (if possible).”
But this resolution does not last long. When Tim doesn’t return from Dunkirk and there is no confirmation of his death, Hester is left to ‘carry on’ with her family life as best as she can. There are other military wives in need of Hester’s aid, there are tea parties with Polish refugees soldiers, and small intrigues with military families. Hester keeps busy with visits to the sick, shopping for the Barrack’s Christmas party, and encouraging her friends, finding that sometimes, first impressions are not always correct:
What a curious thing it is to look at these men! They are exactly like regular soldiers who have been in the army for years. They have the same habits, they have the same faults. A year ago – or less in some cases – these men were clerks, bakers, chauffeurs and a hundred other things, but they are soldiers now. They are cheery, irresponsible, vocal and sentimental; they grumble and swear; they laugh, they swagger a little – and why shouldn’t they swagger? Tony says they’re tough, and I can believe it.”
I don’t want to give away any spoilers as you will enjoy reading this world-war-two-era novel for yourself! Many of the author’s books are hard to find and out of print, but some titles have been reprinted and you can often track the others down. For myself, I find them to be light comfort reads, enjoyable and satisfying.
“News today most cheering. Roosevelt in, the Greeks doing well, and London free from air raids. I put on my coat and trip down to the Barracks, feeling on top of the world.”