#BookReview #BlogTour To All the Living by Monica Felton @RandomTTours @I_W_M

To All The Living BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for To All the Living by Monica Felton. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the Imperial War Museum for my review copy. Do check out the posts by the book bloggers who have already hosted stops on the tour.

To All The LivingAbout the Book

In January 1941 Griselda Green arrives at Blimpton, a place ‘so far from anywhere as to be, for all practical purposes, nowhere.’

Monica Felton’s 1945 novel gives a lively account of the experiences of a group of men and women working in a munitions factory during the Second World War.

Wide-ranging in the themes it touches on, including class, sexism, socialism, and wartime bureaucracy, the novel is vivid in its portrayal of factory life and details the challenges, triumphs and tragedies of a diverse list of characters.

Format: Paperback (412 pages)                          Publisher: Imperial War Museum
Publication date: 23rd September 2021 [1945] Genre: Fiction, Modern Classics

Purchase links
Publisher | Hive
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

I’ve read quite a few of the previous books in the Imperial War Museum’s Wartime Classics series, including Eight Hours From England, Patrol, Green Hands, Pathfinders and Sword of Bone. To All the Living, drawing on the author’s own wartime experiences at the Ministry of Supply, is the latest in the series which is aimed at bringing previously out of print novels about the Second World War back into the hands of readers.

To All the Living is packed full of detail about the minutiae of the daily organisation of the Blimpton munitions factory although there is less detail about the actual work the women carry out. Blimpton itself is a sprawling complex whose various buildings, some partially underground, are described as ‘looking like mounds of earth with a door cut in, like huge communal graves newly thrown up and not yet ready for the stone-mason’. Prophetic, as it turns out.

The book has a large cast of characters, some of whom are brought to life by Monica Felton’s observant and often unsparing pen pictures, such as Miss Creed, Chief Women Labour Officer, ‘a large faded blonde who might have been described as overblown had it not been so obvious that she had never flowered’. Or Senior Labour Manager, Captain Knowles, who ‘had a special way of laughing; a way that seemed to imply that anyone who thought his observation intended to be funny would be convicted of weak judgment and frivolous outlook’.

A satirical edge is introduced through the naming of some of the characters. For example, Lord Outrage, the Minister for Weapons Production, or Otway Dolphin, a Public Relations Officer for a factory whose operations must remain a secret. Or the aforementioned Captain Knowles’ proud boast about having been previously employed by a company named EELS (which we learn stands for Empire Exploitations Ltd.) I also enjoyed the author’s humorous descriptions and pointed asides that draw attention to the pomposity of various characters and the meaningless bureaucracy that absorbs so much of the management’s time.

The book’s cast of characters reflect the mass of people from all classes and backgrounds who found themselves working together at munitions factories like the fictional Blimpton during World War Two. Although having a common purpose, not everything at Blimpton is harmonious.

One of the issues Monica Felton explores in the book is the shortage of labour, especially of women workers. This is hardly surprising given the workers are often billeted in less than ideal accommodation, the work is potentially dangerous and frequently monotonous in nature. As one character remarks, ‘This isn’t a holiday camp’. The petty rules and restrictions, and the remote location of the factory add to the difficulties. This is exemplified by the experiences of new recruit, Griselda Green, who arrives at Blimpton Halt railway station to find there seems to be no transport laid on to reach the factory.

It has to be said the management of the factory, especially Mr Brown the factory’s Superintendent, don’t come out too well being depicted as ineffective, overly bureaucratic and averse to change. The exception is Assistant Superintendent Dan Morgan, whose efforts to improve efficiency and conditions for the workers are met with a lack of enthusiasm, even resistance. He comes across as a lone voice of reason, for instance when other members of the factory management seek to blame their failure to reach output targets on the poor quality of labour. He protests, ‘People are what you make them. The finest people on earth can’t travel twelve miles to work every day when there isn’t any transport’.

I’m afraid I must beg to differ with Alan Jeffreys in his introduction to the book in which he argues that To All the Living is more readable than other similar books such as Inez Holden’s Night Shift and There’s No Story There (both published by Handheld Press). Having read both of those books, I found them preferable to To All the Living which at 412 pages (not 312 pages as stated on the IWM’s online shop) requires quite an investment of time.  Having said that, there are occasional passages of evocative description in which the writing really came alive for me, such as the following depicting those coming off the afternoon shift.

The spring evenings were clear and sharp, like winter. When the night-shift workers entered the factory, at a quarter to ten, a thin rim of dusk still hung around the sky, but when the afternoon-shift left, half an hour later, it was dark. Torches flashed on and off down the clean-ways. The shifting-houses were crowded… They jostled and shouted, flinging off their uniforms, hastily fastening the belts and buttons, the hooks and zippers of their own clothes, and then rushed out to reclaim their contraband at the entrance to the Danger Areas and to scramble to the buses that would take them to the Main Gates of the factory. Outside the gates the rush was intensified… Voices rose and fell, monosyllabic, tired; in the dark they seemed to come from nowhere; they were like the voices of England, all gathered together in one place: lively cockney voices, breaking into shrillness; the slow cold tones of the midlands, flat and unaccented; the singing voices of Wales, and the chipped, rough accents of Lancashire; soft, blurred country voices from twenty counties mingled into the chatter, the laughter, the sudden brief screams of townspeople lost in the darkness, homeless, fierce in their desire for rest and warmth and comfort.’

Although I may have enjoyed other books in the Wartime Classics series more, To All the Living certainly  provides an insight into an often overlooked part of the war effort and highlights how much of a contribution to that effort was made by women.

In three words: Authentic, detailed, acutely-observed

Try something similar: There’s No Story There by Inez Holden

Monica Felton Author PIcAbout the Author

Monica Felton (1906–1970) was a feminist, socialist, peace activist and a pioneering proponent of town planning. She went to University College, Southampton and then did a Phd at the LSE. in 1937 she was elected a member of the London County Council representing St Pancras South West. During the Second World War she served in the Ministry of Supply, an experience she reflected in To All the Living.  In 1942 she became a Clerk of the House of Commons.

After the war she became involved in town planning, serving as Chair for the Peterlee and Stevenage Development Corporations. However, she was fired from the post after taking an unauthorized trip to North Korea on behalf of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in 1951. On her return from this trip she accused American troops of atrocities and British complicity. There was a media and establishment backlash and even accusations of treason. As a result she became increasingly isolated in Britain and moved to India in 1956. She died in Madras (modern day Chennai) in 1970.

#BookReview Splinter on the Tide by Phillip Parotti @Casemate_UK

Splinter on the TideAbout the Book

Having survived the sinking of his first ship, Ensign Ash Miller USNR is promoted and assigned to command one of the sleek new additions to “the splinter fleet,” a 110-foot wooden submarine chaser armed with only understrength guns and depth charges. His task is to bring the ship swiftly into commission, weld his untried crew into an efficient fighting unit, and take his vessel to sea in order to protect the defenseless Allied merchant vessels which are being maliciously and increasingly sunk by German U-Boats, often within sight of the coast.

Ash rises to the deadly challenge he faces, brings his crew of three officers and 27 men to peak performance, and meets the threats he faces with understated courage and determination, rescuing stricken seamen, destroying Nazi mines, fighting U-Boats, and developing both the tactical sense and command authority that will be the foundation upon which America’s citizen sailors eventually win the war. During rare breaks in operations, Ash cherishes a developing relationship with the spirited Claire Morris who embodies the peaceful ideal for which he has been fighting.

Format: Paperback (234 pages) Publisher: Casemate Publishing
Publication date: 5th July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Military

Find Splinter on the Tide on Goodreads

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Publisher | Hive | Amazon UK
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My Review

When Naval reservist, Ash Miller, is assigned to the subchaser, Chaser 3, he is warned by Lieutenant Commander Sims not only that the vessel will roll a lot (as he and his crew subsequently find out) but that the war is right on America’s doorstep. Sims observes, ‘This is going to be a citizen’s war, an amateur’s war, and that makes it our war.‘ Given a largely untried crew to command, Sims advises Ash, ‘Drill them, Mr Miller; drill them until they think there’s no tomorrow, and then drill them some more’.

Ash takes this advice to heart and the commissioning process that follows is relentless and takes place around the clock: taking on food and other supplies, managing the delicate art of bringing ammunition aboard, and completing unending amounts of paperwork. The cramped quarters make for uncomfortable living conditions and the rolling of the ship in anything but the calmest seas means frequent recourse to ‘barf buckets’ for most of the crew.

The Cruel Sea Penguin edition
‘So they went to war.’

Ash takes his command responsibilities seriously, advising his two ensigns, Solly and Hamp, ‘From here on out, the only thing that can relieve me of my responsibility for this ship and relieve you of your responsibility to me is if I am killed in action‘. Following sea trials, and equipped with only sonar but no radar, the crew of Chaser 3 embark on their first mission, escorting a tanker and three freighters on a four hundred mile journey. It will be the first of many such missions, all of them fraught with danger.

Soon they have their first brief encounter with a U-boat and later the reader experiences the crew’s excitement on getting their first positive contact on sonar.  What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the subchasers and enemy submarines intent on sinking ships in the convoys, ships taking vital supplies to and fro across the Atlantic. However Ash is conscious that success against a U-boat, while sparing the lives of men aboard merchant shipping, means consigning other men, albeit the enemy, to a watery grave. ‘Killing Germans was in no way a course of action in which he would ever take pleasure, but if it were the only way to get rid of Hitler and his crazed regime, Ash knew that he would do it, and live with it until the job was finished.’  

There is a real sense of the crew of Chaser 3 becoming a family and I especially enjoyed the banter between Ash, Solly and Hamp. Time ashore is brief but the crew make the most of it, including Ash who soon forms a relationship with a woman named Claire. It’s the nature of war that romance happens at the speed of light and is made up of snatched, intense moments between people who don’t know when – or if – they will see each other again.

Splinter on the Tide introduced me to the maritime vessel, the subchaser, as well as countless other things I didn’t know before such as the fact that Nazi U-boat attacks on shipping along the US’s Atlantic coast were kept from the American public for fear of its effect on morale or that, during the war, some American companies continued to supply gasoline to Germany which fuelled enemy aircraft and U-boats. 

As well as being a gripping naval adventure story, Splinter on the Tide oozes authenticity. If you are a fan of films such as The Enemy Below, In Which We Serve or The Cruel Sea, then I think you will enjoy Splinter on the Tide as much as I did.

My thanks to Casemate Publishing for my review copy. You can read more about Phillip’s inspiration for the book here and find my pick of the historical fiction titles recently published and forthcoming from Casemate. Finally, you can read an exclusive extract from Appointment in Tehran by James Stejskal which will be published by Casemate on 15th October 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

In three words: Compelling, authentic, inspiring

Try something similar: The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat

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Phillip ParottiAbout the Author

Phillip Parotti grew up in Silver City, New Mexico, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963, and served four years at sea on destroyers, both in the Pacific and the Atlantic, before exchanging his regular commission for a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In addition to a number of short stories, essays, and poems, Parotti has published three well received novels about The Trojan War. In retirement, Parotti and his wife, Shirley, live in their hometown where he continues to write and work as a print artist.