The author Susan Kennaway reminds us in her memoir The Yellow Duster Sisters that there are few people remaining with memories of wartime evacuation. She is right about that but I suspect that few who still have those memories had quite such an experience as the author and her sister.
From the beginning of this book we are aware that all is perhaps not idyllic in the family home but for the two young girls who love their parents all is well until the war comes and their parents decide that they would be safest in South Africa with their maiden aunt. Accordingly, they travel by sea and begin to live with their aunt who is a paid companion for a three generation family with a daughter of their own age. She is very religious but also in a difficult social position.
We are reminded forcibly that no one really understood this family before they went to live there. They were hundreds of miles from home in a country that was not their own and incredibly vulnerable. Things did not go well. The author has a pragmatic view of life and time has allowed her to put things in perspective but it is obvious that the children were bullied, neglected and sexually abused.
In the end they forced a return home only to discover that there was no place for them there either. They were an inconvenience for both their parents who had clearly moved on with their lives before the return and didn’t want to change things. This meant another move as the children went off to school – they were different from the other girls, spoke with a different accent and desperately unhappy.
This is an interesting memoir in that it talks about an era that is now distant in cultural memory. It also tells us a lot about dysfunctional families and the vulnerability of children, especially girls, at this time.
I picked this book up at a charity shop for no reason other than it attracted my attention and I like biographies and memoirs. I am glad I did.