What Would You Give?
A guest post by Linda Shenton Matchett
In times of war sacrifice is expected not only from the troops, but from those who remain on the home front. During WWII, Americans tightened their belts as food, clothing, rubber, metal and more were rationed. Women entered the workforce, and men left for parts unknown with the armed forces. Children played with toys that mimicked their parents’ lives and participated in air raid drills at school. However, the thousands of miles that distanced us from the conflict buffered the U.S. from the privation and challenges experienced by the European countries.
With only four miles separating France and England across the Straits of Dover on the English Channel, British citizens lived in fear of invasion. Street and subway station signs were removed to confuse possible raiding soldiers, and people were cautioned not to give directions to strangers. Anxious to win the war, the population was willing to do anything to further the cause.
One of the ways civilians helped was to give up their homes. According to Requisitioned, a book by John Martin Robinson, “the majority of houses of large size in Britain were requisitioned by the government…for use as barracks, homes for evacuees, schools, hospitals, works of art stores, strategic and military headquarters, billets and training premises, even prisoner-of-war camps.”
My story, “A Doctor in the House,” (part of The Hope of Christmas collection) takes place on a requisitioned estate north of London and explores what life was like for the homeowner to have his house converted to a convalescent hospital. Because the requisitioned homes were centuries old, they lacked central heating and other modern conveniences. Constructed of stone and brick, the structures held a constant chill during the cold winter months. Residents had to get creative to provide heat for themselves, and reports abound about furniture, paneling, and even staircases being broken up for firewood.
Nearly everyone used cigarettes at the time, and countless fires occurred due to careless smokers. Episodes are told about soldiers using priceless art work as dart boards, and at Tottenham Park in Wiltshire, the grounds were used as an ammo dump. An accidental explosion blew out every pane of glass in the house and the conservatory. Arundel Castle’s herd of red deer was hunted for food, and at Brocket Hall soldiers carved their names, addresses and phone numbers in the balustrade of the park bridge.
Hatfield House and Heath House served as the inspiration for my story’s setting. Hatfield House was used as a hospital and POW camp, and Heath House was taken over by the Red Cross as an auxiliary hospital for military personnel. The sheer volume of individuals stationed on these properties that previously housed several dozen people at most, created extensive wear and tear, but they did not suffer irreparable damage as so many others did.
Because of hard use or maltreatment, more than one thousand ancestral homes were destroyed or torn down after the war. In 1946, building materials were still rationed and taxes high. Repairs to country homes were done on a shoestring, make-do-and-mend basis, which meant bigger issues were covered over to be dealt with at a later time. But the generations who took over after the war were determined to make a go of it, and thanks to grants, opening their homes to the public, and the use of second-hand furnishings, thousands more homes have survived.
How would you feel about giving up your home?
Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, blogger, and history geek.
Born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life.
She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a Trustee for her local public library. Linda is active in her church where she serves as treasurer, usher, and choir member.
Blurb for Linda's novella, "A Doctor in the House", part of The Hope of Christmas story collection:
Emma O’Sullivan is one of the first female doctors to enlist after President Franklin Roosevelt assigned to England to set up a convalescent hospital, and she leaves behind everything that is familiar.
When the handsome widower of the requisitioned property claims she’s incompetent and tries to get her transferred, she must prove to her superiors she’s more than capable. But she’s soon drawn to the good-looking, grieving owner. Will she have to choose between her job and her heart?
Archibald “Archie” Heron is the last survivor of the Heron dynasty, his two older brothers having been lost at Dunkirk and Trondheim and his parents in the Blitz. After his wife is killed in a bombing raid while visiting Brighton, he begins to feel like a modern-day Job. To add insult to injury, the British government requisitions his country estate, Heron Hall, for the U.S. Army to use as a hospital. The last straw is when the hospital administrator turns out to be a fiery, ginger-haired American woman. She’s got to go. Or does she?
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