by Lisa De Silva
In wartime Britain, Marianne Sells grew up on a farm in Sussex. Here, Lisa de Silva talks to Marianne’s daughter about her mother’s memoirs
The impact of the Second World War on daily life was immense, bringing many changes, particularly to the lives of children. Evacuation, air raids, the loss of family members, food rationing and a disrupted education all became the norm. Today, it can be hard to imagine just what life was like during those times.
Claire Sells remembers her late mother Marianne talking and writing about her memories of growing up during the Second World War on a Sussex farm. Her captivating anecdotes full of both humour and sadness were not only entertaining but also shed light on an important aspect of our social history. So, after her mother passed away in July 2017, Claire decided to publish her mother’s memoirs to bring to life a child’s view of life during wartime in rural Sussex for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
The book is a charming and intimate portrayal of wartime lived on a Sussex farm. When war broke out Marianne was just six years old, happily living a privileged life on Hayling Island. But after her father joined up, Marianne’s mother moved her large family to an old farmhouse in Lodsworth (between Midhurst and Petworth), for greater safety. Still a working farm, Marianne, along with her brothers and sisters had no choice but to get on with milking cows, mucking out, driving tractors, digging ditches and helping with the harvest. Remembering watching the dog fights of the Battle of Britain, Marianne describes how the planes swooped and fired as if dancing with each other and one terrifying moment when a German sniper peered down from his cockpit as her and her brother ran through the farm. Thankfully he decided not to fire at them and flew away. But in the main, her memories are funny and heart-warming. The monthly dance at the village hall, the fun of the annual harvest, apple bobbing at Halloween and the time her brother invited an American tank regiment to sleep on the farm and the family awoke to the entire battalion camped out in the farmyard.
What is also apparent is Marianne’s deep affection for the Sussex countryside, finding huge comfort in its rhythms, fragrances and beauty. In a world full of chaos, flowers still bloomed, birds still sang and crops continued to grow. Just as nature continued to mark the changing seasons, life during wartime had to carry on.
“Mum always dreamed of having her book published and was always creative with a vivid imagination,” explains Claire. “It’s an honour to do something like this in her memory.”
For those who lived during this time and those with an interest, And A Nightingale Sang by Marianne Sells is a personal memoir, full of engaging and captivating tales.