First sentence: A small voice came in the night and said, “Go.” And when I put it up to the boss he leaned back in his chair and said, “Go.” And when I sat alone with my so-called conscience and asked it what to do, it pointed and said, “Go.” So I’m on my way to London.
Premise/plot: Ernie Pyle in England was first published in 1941. It gathers together Ernie Pyle's newspaper columns from his time--three or so months--in England (and Ireland and Scotland). (He was an American journalist.) At the time the book was published, America had NOT yet entered the second world war.
My thoughts: WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS BOOK EXISTED?! Seriously. I've gone all these years of my life not knowing about Ernie Pyle?!?!?! This one was a PERFECT fit for me. I love to read about England. (I do. I really do.) And I love to read about World War II. If you love history, this one may prove quite satisfying. And if you love human-interest stories, then this one will certainly satisfy!!!
I found it fascinating, entertaining, compelling, charming.
A ship carries people out of reality, into illusion. People who go away on ships are going away to better things.
Our bathtub has three faucets, one marked cold, and two marked hot. The point is that one is a little hotter than the other. I don’t know why it’s done this way. All I care about is that one or the other should give off hot water; and they really do — plenty hot. But our radiator does not have the same virtue. It is a centuries old custom not to have heat over here. All radiators are vaguely warm; none is ever hot. They have no effect at all on the room’s temperature. I’ve been cold all over the world. I’ve suffered agonies of cold in Alaska and Peru and Georgia and Maine. But I’ve never been colder than right here in this room. Actually, the temperature isn’t down to freezing. And it’s beautiful outside. Yet the chill eats into you and through you. You put on sweaters until you haven’t any more — and you get no warmer. The result is that Lait and I take turns in the bathtub, I’ll bet we’re the two most thoroughly washed caballeros in Portugal. We take at least four hot baths a day. And during the afternoon, when I’m trying to write, I have to let the hot water run over my hands about every fifteen minutes to limber them up. I’m telling the truth.
My new English friends wanted to know what America thought; and they told queer bomb stories by the dozen. “You’re a welcome sight,” they said. “We’ve all told our bomb stories to each other so many times that nobody listens any more. Now we’ve got a new audience.”
London is no more knocked out than the man who smashes a finger is dead. Daytime life in London today comes very close to being normal.
Some day when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges. And standing there, I want to tell somebody who has never seen it how London looked on a certain night in the holiday season of the year 1940. For on that night this old, old city was — even though I must bite my tongue in shame for saying it — the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire. They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.
And Big Ben? Well, he’s still striking the hours. He hasn’t been touched, despite half a dozen German claims that he has been knocked down. Bombs have fallen around Trafalgar Square, yet Nelson still stands atop his great monument, and the immortal British lions, all four of them, still crouch at the base of the statue, untouched.
Londoners pray daily that a German bomb will do something about the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. If you have ever seen it, you know why.
Apparently the national drink in England is a beef extract called Bovril, which is advertised everywhere, like Coca Cola at home. Yesterday I went into a snack bar for some lunch. I asked the waitress just what this Bovril stuff was, and in a cockney accent that would lay you in the aisle she said: “Why sir, it’s beef juice and it’s wonderful for you on cold days like this. It’s expensive, but it’s body-buildin’, sir, it’s very body-buildin’.” So I had a cup. It cost five cents, and you just ought to see my body being built.
If I were making this trip over again I would throw away my shirts and bring three pounds of sugar.
You can hardly conceive of the determination of the people of England to win this war. They are ready for anything. They are ready to take further rationing cuts. They are ready to eat in groups at communal kitchens. Even the rich would quit their swanky dining rooms without much grumbling. If England loses this war it won’t be because people aren’t willing — and even ahead of the government in their eagerness — to assume a life of all-out sacrifice.
Don’t tell me the British don’t have a sense of humor. I never get tired of walking around reading the signs put up by stores that have had their windows blown out. My favorite one is at a bookstore, the front of which has been blasted clear out. The store is still doing business, and its sign says, “More Open than Usual.”
One of the few things I have found that are cheaper here than at home is a haircut. I paid only thirty cents the other day in the hotel barbershop, and since then I’ve seen haircuts advertised at fifteen cents. I’m going to get a haircut every day from now on — enough to last me for a year or two.
It was amazing and touching the way the Christmas spirit was kept up during the holidays. People banded together and got up Christmas trees, and chipped in to buy gifts all around. I visited more than thirty shelters during the holidays, and there was not a one that was not elaborately decorated.
I probably wouldn’t have slept a wink if it hadn’t been for the bathroom. I discovered it after midnight, when everybody else had gone to bed. The bathroom was about twenty feet square, and it had twin bathtubs! Yes, two big old-fashioned bathtubs sitting side by side with nothing between, just like twin beds. Twin bathtubs had never occurred to me before. But having actually seen them, my astonishment grew into approval. I said to myself, “Why not?” Think what you could do with twin bathtubs. You could give a party. You could invite the Lord Mayor in for tea and a tub. You could have a national slogan, “Two tubs in every bathroom.” The potentialities of twin bathtubs assumed gigantic proportions in my disturbed mind, and I finally fell asleep on the idea, all my fears forgotten.
It is hard for a Scotsman to go five minutes without giving something a funny twist, and it is usually a left-handed twist. All in all, I have found the Scots much more like Americans than the Englishmen are. I feel perfectly at home with them.
Pearl Hyde is head of the Coventry branch of the Women’s Voluntary Services. It was Pearl Hyde who fed and clothed and cheered and really saved the people of Coventry after the blitz. For more than a week she plowed around in the ashes of Coventry, wearing policeman’s pants. She never took off her clothes. She was so black they could hardly tell her from a Negro. Her Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters was bombed out, so she and her women moved across the street. Her own home was blown up, and even today she still sleeps in the police station. Pearl Hyde is a huge woman, tall and massive. Her black hair is cut in a boyish bob. And she has personality that sparkles with power and good nature. She is much better looking than in the film. And she is laughing all the time. She was just ready to dash off somewhere when I went in to see her, but she tarried a few minutes to tell me how good the Americans had been with donations.
It is against the law to leave a car that could be driven away by the Germans. You have to immobilize your car when you leave it, even though you might be walking only fifty feet away to ask a policeman for directions. In daytime, just locking the doors and taking the key counts as immobilization, but at night you have to take out some vital part, such as the distributor.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews