VOICES FROM WARTIME LEEDS 1939-1940:
THREE MASS OBSERVATION DIARIES
Edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson
Mass Observation was set up in 1937 to document the lives of ‘ordinary people’. It was seen as conducting a sort of ‘science of ourselves’. Its first main publication, May the Twelfth: Mass-Observation Day Surveys 1937, published the testimony of over 200 observers on Coronation Day, 12 May. From August 1939, as war approached, MO asked its observers to keep diaries, and by 1945 some 480 people had done so, albeit many for only a short time. This present volume publishes diaries from three residents of Leeds in 1939-40: Joan and Tony Ridge of Far Headingley, who had come to Leeds from London in the Spring of 1938; and Henry Novy, already an MO social investigator, who was sent to Leeds for military training in November 1940 as a result of his call-up and married there a few weeks later.
The Ridges recorded their daily experiences in Leeds as the war closed in on their lives, including the problems of the black-out and the fears for loved ones thought to be in danger. They discussed their attitudes to the War and to the Germans – he was of German descent and they had relations and friends in France. In a period that has come to be known as the ‘phoney war’, their lives were less disrupted than they might have expected, and travel and leisure continued to be relatively easy. Their thoughtful writing reveals some of the attitudes of the local population and the views of friends and neighbours, as well as, on occasion, their own private feelings. All three diarists had literary interests. The Ridges wrote of the theatre, cinema and music; and Novy’s diary says a lot about the mainly working-class men whom he spent time with every day – soldiers in training whose families, in many cases, were suddenly in late 1940 under threat from German bombing. These diaries capture much of the vivid immediacy of everyday wartime life.
Patricia and Robert Malcolmson are social historians who have published many books and articles on English history, including editions of several Mass Observation diaries and a history of the wartime Women’s Voluntary Services, Women at the Ready (2013). They now live in Nelson, British Columbia.
ISBN : 978-0-900741-78-4
ISSN : 0082-4232
Available from The Thoresby Society,
The Leeds Library,
18 Commercial Street,
Leeds, LS1 6AL
Publication, May 2017