One family, one war – many experiences

WW2 was a war that affected everyone, not just young men who went off to a foreign land to fight foreigners. Everyone in Britain was affected in one way or another by the need to be part of the war effort. In To War with the Walkers Annabel Venning tells the story of her grandparents’ generation during the conflict. In a family of six siblings all served their country in some way and all were affected for life by what happened during those years.

The Walker family we middle class at a time when that meant that they had a servant and the children attended boarding school. They had been abroad in the past working in the British Empire and were now settled in Devon for a peaceful retirement while the children grew into adulthood. The family was occasionally stretched for funds and the children couldn’t do everything they wanted but they drifted to the military and to medicine with the two girls looking for good marriages.

With war everything changed. Of the six children, one daughter worked in offices and then married an American airman; the other daughter became a nurse and was bombed out of her London hospital; a son was at the surrender of Singapore and ended up in a Japanese prison camp building what became known as the Death Railway; a son became a doctor and dealt with the aftermath of the bombing on London; one son was in the army and fought the Germans in Italy; and the final son fought the Japanese in Burma. Each of them had a very different experience of war and the author outlines their experiences helped by research in the public records, the accounts of those who knew the siblings and family memories.

It is interesting to see all these different areas of war in one family and to see the impact on individuals and on the family as a whole. The author is good at giving us the background information we need to understand these stories without losing her focus on the people and their personal stories. The most powerful part of the book is when the war is over and the family has to readjust to peace and to handle loss – for some of them it is not easy at all and they are all left marked by their experiences. This sounds like the plot for a novel series but it is all true and that makes it more gripping.

An interesting book and a fascinating memoir of a family.

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