To War with Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, 1939-1945

To War with Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, 1939-1945

by Hermione Ranfurly

In September 1939, the young Lord and Lady Ranfurly's idyllic holiday in Scotland was brought to a premature end when war broke out.

Countess Ranfurly's diaries of this time give a witty, charming and compulsive insight into the problems of a young woman at war.

What People Think about "To War with Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, 1939-1945"

Diaries are far more interesting when the people keeping them lead fascinating, varied lives. She knew seemingly everyone worth knowing, went out to dinner with most of them even though she had barely two crusts to rub together, and watched them all troop off to war, many never to return. She and everyone she knows are always desperate for war news, snatching glances at newspapers whenever they can, despairing at ever keeping up with the number of fronts, battles, attacks and allegiances, but her continual refrain is how appalling the news is: how can we do this, she writes, yet how can we not? In fact, the whole diary is an intimate, heartbreaking portrayal of the numbing shock of war, the ways in which normal people pushed themselves through unbearable times on little sleep and less food, when the news was almost always bad and you might spend a pleasant afternoon with someone, only to hear that they were dead the next day. Though some of her attitudes and remarks date poorly, and she is very clearly experiencing a vastly different war than the wives of common soldiers without connections and friends to call upon, this is an absolutely fascinating, charming, engaging and heartwrenching book.

This 'story' had already begun when in September 1940 the manager of Barclays Bank in Cape Town said to the Countess of Ranfurly I know you will pay me back, so I need no security payment. I just love rebels and romance and adventure, If you want to find out about the sinking of the SS Empress of Britain off Ireland in September 1940; what working for SOE Special Operations Executive was like; having Freya Stark as a friend; an epic journey from Baghdad to Tehran in January 1943; the inside-story of the Conference of Cairo (Churchill, Roosevelt, Chiang Kai Chek) in November 1943; visiting Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill in hospital in Bari (Italy); and dinner with David Stirling (who later founded the SAS); and more, much more, then do read this book. Why did Lady Ranfurly buy yards of silk for General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart to have made up into pyjamas in India? Why did General Patton buy silk stockings for Lady Ranfurly?

In 1994, at the age of 80, Lady Ranfurly published the diary she kept for six years during World War II, a first person account of the war fought in North Africa. The back story: Hermione and Dan Ranfurly were married in London on January 17, 1939; both were twenty five years old. Wives are not allowed to follow their husbands, but she, undaunted, finds a way to follow Dan, defying orders to return home to England, finding work in dangerous areas close to the fighting, remaining even after he is taken prisoner of war in Italy. The passages are filled with stories of meeting the VIP's of the war: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, President Franklin D. The details of the last months and days of the war are filled with tension and strategy meetings and official dinners, Hermione, always conscious of the human toll. Her intelligence, humor, wisdom, and empathy are reflected on every page of the diary, a wonderful story of love and loyalty and a window into the war.

Unique in that it is a the diary of an Upper-class Englishwoman (Baroness) who finds herself working as a vital but still blue-collar secretary job by day at Army Headquarters and by night presides as a Lady Hostess for the steady stream of visiting dignitaries and soldiers. Since English speaking stenographers were non-existent in the North African and Mideastern Theaters at the time she finds a way to stay and became an insider eyewitness to the war serving on the Headquarters Staff for the commanding British Generals in Cairo, Jerusalem and in Italy. The events the author records in her diary rank with the most momentous of history, but unfortunately the author has little gift for anecdote or sketching characters (a limitation which made the book a little bit of a chore to finish for me).

Reading her diary, I really felt transported.....and moved too, by her words, her life, and her great love for this man who was not entirely forgettable, and yet wasn't all that unforgetttable either.

Found this in a charity shop for two euro, had never heard of it or the diarist but I love diaries. that the reader frequently forgets the POW hubby because she wastes few words in worrying about him, sparing us from what must have been a traumatic and painful separation that lasted years.