Sunday 28 December 2014

The Heimwehr and the Home Guard

These two organisations are similar. They are made up of man too young or too old to join the main war effort or who are working in reserved occupations and who give some of their free time on a voluntary basis. They help to protect civilians. 
There are a few men in all three strands of the novel who take on this sort of work.  
However, in Germany it took a more sinister turn in 1944 and the Volkssturm, the people’s army, was created. This was a vicious force of former Heimwehr members, Hitler Youth and even BDM members. They were to do everything possible to protect the Fatherland.  It was a last ditch attempt by the German government. The Germans were beginning to lose the war. Also there was much fear that they would be badly treated by the liberators so this civilian population was encouraged to fight hard to the end. At least the patriotic German teen boys in our novel have the sense to capitulate early to the professional American soldiers. Not all did, and some lost their lives in a particularly gruesome way. 
The Volkssturm became a highly organised paramilitary organisation though was made up of mainly the Hitler Youth, men invalided out of the army and those who have been declared unfit for active service.  

Food for thought: 

Why do you think so many teen boys were willing to take on the Allies when they moved into Germany?
How might their training with the Hitler Youth have helped these young people?
The Heimwehr is similar to our own Home Guard. However, there are differences. Can you think what they might be?       

Saturday 29 November 2014

The Blackout

In our story, Renate does not see a stone in the road. It would not have been all that dark in July 194, but it would have been difficult to see and it is likely that she would not have had a battery for her cycle lamp. Notice that the local Policeman was more worried about the family having a door open letting light out than that an “enemy alien” had been out after curfew.        
The Blackout started on 1 September 1939, though was quickly revised in November 1939 because of the many accidents that happened. Accidents included people falling into rivers or being hit by cars.   
As well as streetlights being turned off, road signs and railway signs were removed. People had to put dark black curtains up to their windows. This cost a lot or money and didn’t always work. Sometimes windows were painted black or covered in card. This shut out daylight as well and caused low morale. Firms that had glass roofs had to paint them black. This was very costly.   

Sunday 9 November 2014


Literally the Reich’s Work Service. It was also known as the RAD. If young women had been to one of the schools where they learnt how to do housekeeping they only had to do half a year. The girls would go to camps and live in barracks. They were then taught a variety of skills including household management and childcare.  This was in line with the Nazi ideal of producing efficient mothers. After six months, the girls might have an outside placement, perhaps helping on a farm, helping a family that had over five children or helping at a hospital. They might have also been kept at the camp to help teach other girls. They would then go on to their Kriegshilfsdienst  
It was created in 1934 to help to reduce unemployment. However, as the war progressed there was plenty of employment especially for the men. At the time of our story it was mainly a training programme for women and got them ready for the later Kriegshilfsdienst though men involved still were used on major projects such as the construction of motorways.

Thursday 16 October 2014


Here are some descriptions of some places mentioned in the story or mentioned in the letters written by the real German girls. It is worth considering these places, both as they were then and as they are now, as this gives a greater sense of what it might have been like for these young girls growing up in Nazi Germany.
A real puzzle is that Hitler constantly argued for more Lebensraum  - “ living room” for Germans.  Yet they had many wide open spaces. It was also quite difficult sometimes, for those who lived in the countryside, where bombs were scarcer and food more plentiful, at first at least, really to realise that they were at war.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Writer’s in cafés: Gill James at The Art of Tea, working on Girl in a Smart Uniform

The Art of Tea in Didsbury village is my sort of place. I spent a pleasant afternoon there recently as I took a day’s leave. What does a writer do on a day’s leave? Sit and write of course. Busman’s holiday or what? Read more... 

Monday 15 September 2014

Nazi Key Figures

Adolf Eichmann 

Adolf Eichmann was in charge of the Final Solution. He had quite a difficult life as a young man and changed his job frequently. Being a member of the SS seemed to give him a purpose in life.
He had looked into deporting the German Jewish population to Madagascar but this was not viable in the end. In his defence Eichmann reported that he was merely obeying orders.  

Monday 1 September 2014


Lebensborn literally means “Spring of Life”. This programme was set by  SS leader Heinrich Himmler. It provided maternity homes for the wives of SS members but also cared for unmarried mothers and ran orphanages. However, people who used them and babies who were born there and later brought up in the orphanages had to be “biologically” fit. For approval, especially amongst the unmarried women, purity had to be traceable over three generations. Later it came to be seen as a breeding programme, though no woman was forced to have sex with a man if she didn’t want to.
It reinforced the obsession with Aryan qualities. This showed up in other places and children were constantly assessed for how Aryan they were. One of the German girls finds herself involved in measuring and assessing the shapes of the noses and ears of the children in her charge. 
The children brought up within the Lebensborn system were given a good life, full of luxury but often suffered from psychological problems afterwards.  

The Lebesnborn initiative was an attempt to create perfect babies who would turn into perfect human beings. Do we still do this?
What about farm animals and pets? 
Would single mums have been more comfortable within the Lebensborn system than they would have been in Britain at the time? 
How does that compare with our experience in the 21st Century. 

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Land Girls

We don’t really meet any land girls in the novel, though they are there in the background in the Renate strand. There are some working on the farm when Renate ends up living. Renate and her friends end up helping on the farm and many of their activities are similar to what the land girls would have done.  German girl Gerda is a farmer’s daughter and she also experiences many similar things.  
Micky Mitchell’s gives a good account of what life was like for a land girl in her A Country at War, memoirs of a land Girl.
Women had to work the land because men were off at war. They worked hard but also seemed to have a good social life as well – dances, entertainment evening by ENSA and huge supper gatherings when farmers had helped each other.   

What sort of work do you think the land girls had to do? 
How was this different from the way the German girls may have worked?
Which jobs are a farm are easier in the 21st century?
Why was ENSA useful?
Would something like ENSA be uesful today?
Do we in fact have anything like that?      

Wednesday 13 August 2014


Arguably we treated people in internment camps and prisoner of war camps better than the Nazis treated inmates of their prison camps, the concentration and death camps. However, we were still taking away human freedom and were depriving people of their normal living conditions.
Thankfully, Renate and Kathe Edler were not interned. They merely became Class B enemy aliens. Clara Lehrs was interned, with a tragic result.
Some German Jews were interned in Britain. Many of them later joined our forces.

Was it right to intern German Jews during World War II?
Can an internment camp be made humane?