Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson, adapted by Doreen Estall

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BBC Radio 4, 2-6 May 2011
Read by Fenella Woolgar, Millions Like Us told the stories of different women's lives as they endured the trauma of the Second World War. Drawn from a multitude of sources - diaries, interviews, published books - linked by Nicholson's pithy narrative, the book showed how women learned to cope with extraordinary situations - the need to find somewhere to sleep after one's house had been destroyed in the Blitz, the seemingly endless queue of soldiers needing serious medical treatment in various theatres of war; the need to entertain a group of children in a life-boat after their ship, the S. S. Benares, had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat, even though no one in that boat knew whether they would be rescued or not.
Nicholson paid tribute to the strength of ordinary women who endured such harrowing experiences, while trying to maintain a facade of normality. At the same time she suggested that the war gave them the kind of opportunities - both personal and professional - that never previously existed in the rigidly gender-divided world of the 1930s. They learned trades; worked in factories; and undertook those tasks which hitherto had been exclusively male preserves. While life was undoubtedly hard, with women working twelve-hour shifts and then returning home to look after their families, it was also rewarding. Some worked and played hard, as they put on their best lingerie beneath their overalls, and came to the factory with their best dresses in paper bags. Once the hooter sounded signalling the end of the working day, they dashed to the bathroom, made a quick change and sauntered through the factory gates, ready for the evening's entertainment.
Nicholson was also acutely aware of women's suffering as their loved ones either perished on the battlefield, or did not return for many years as they spent their time on active service or as prisoners of war. Some found happiness after May 1945, as their spouses or fiances returned; others had nothing except the memories of brief relationships and stolen kisses. Nicholson paid tribute to all women at war, whose fortitude and courage in adversity often went unrecognized. Most of them have passed away now, but their legacy lives on in what they wrote. The producer was Elizabeth Allard.