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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 11 Spring 2010
book cover

The casualties were small
by May Hill (Ambridge Books, 2009)

May Hill was a woman of strong Christian faith and grandmother to Woodbridge St John’s member Tom Ambridge, who co-edited the book with his sister Margaret. This review by Steve Bonde, editor of Legion Lincs (the newsletter of the Royal British Legion, Lincolnshire) is included here by permission.

Listen to Tom Ambridge talking about ‘The Casualties Were Small’ on Deben Radio

The casualties were small is a charming collection of poems, family photographs and diary entries, recording the impressions, sorrows and worries of May Hill, a wife and mother living in wartime Chapel St Leonards (a seaside village near Skegness). It has been compiled by two of her grandchildren, Tom and Margaret Ambridge, who state that although they never knew her she was brought to life for them through the eloquence of her writings.

Her writings do evince a vivid image of wartime in a small, rural community of family and friends and, eventually, of soldiers billeted with them. The war itself seems at first somewhat distant, its effects limited to rationing and shortages, news reports of bombing in the cities, and the occasional sighting of enemy aircraft. All this is set as the backdrop as the community continues its seasonal cycle of jam-making, weddings and making-do and mending – and life goes on. But the darker side starts to intrude – the transformation of Skegness and surrounding areas into a military encampment, the construction of bomber bases, the tiredness and strain of fire-watching and air-raid duties, the increasing worry and prayers for the young men called up for active service, and eventually the sorrow shared by the community when some of those young men are killed in action. The title of the book is taken from a poem in which Mrs Hill indicates her fear for her only son after he joins the RAF.

There are many sad and poignant moments in this book, but it is also a delightful reminder of a world long-disappeared, not just for the impact of the war and its hardships and sacrifices, but simply of a life before the true impact of 20th century technology and values. It may just make that special birthday present you are looking for!

Look at www.ambridgebooks.co.uk for more information, extracts and readers’ comments. The book, priced £8.99, can be ordered direct from Tom Ambridge (Tel: 01394 385412) or from St Mary’s Church Shop.