It's been a while since I first met the Hunter family of Northcote, England, but their story, begun with Goodbye Piccadilly, continues on in Keep the Home Fires Burning. This is very much an 'upstairs downstairs' family saga. The Hunters are the main focus of the story, but their servants, their extended family and various members of the Northcote community pass through the pages as well.
Just as a quick rehash to orient things, the previous book covers the year 1914 and the beginnings of WWI. The Hunters are an average upper middle class family. Edward, a banker, and his elegant wife Beatrice have six children, but it's the four eldest children around which most of the drama swirls--David, Diana, Bobby and Sadie. Both Edward and Beatrice have siblings which play a role in the story, as well as the Hunter servants. Belowstairs there is Cook and Ada, both working a long time together and for the Hunters as well as housemaid Ethel who has her sights on something better and with an eye for the best man who can take her away from the drudgery of her life.
The Hunters are a likable family, more nouveau riche than aristocratic, but their daughter Diana makes a conquest with the oldest son of the local aristocratic family, the Wroughtons, which ruffles more than a few feathers. Both Lady Wroughton and Charles's younger brother, Rupert, are sure she is just out to get a title and his money and do everything they can to sabotage the romance. But everyone knew Diana, whose beauty is the pride of the county would make a good match. She's not just beautiful but she is a decent person. It makes for uncomfortable interactions between the more urbane Hunters and the stodgy and always-oh-so-very-correct Wroughtons.
Sadie has a love of horses and an incorrigible companion in the form of a dog named Nailer who follows her about and gets into touble. She would much rather be mucking about in the stables than going off to finishing school, which she has worked hard to avoid. David is the first to go off and sign on to go fight in the war and Bobby remains at University. For the time being.
And so, 1915 the year that Keep the Home Fires Burning covers, sees the war becoming mired in Europe and most decidedly not 'over by Christmas'. The world and especially that of the Hunter family sees sweeping changes and nothing is certain any longer. While there are a number of battlefield scenes, most of the drama takes place at home. It's an interesting perspective on the war as their are details I hadn't realized about what WWI meant for life at home in England.
Edward's sister Laura, a smart and determined suffragette, becomes a lady policeman, which mostly entails patrolling the railway stations keeping an eye out for white slavers, giving advice to mothers and children and making sure drunken soldiers get to their trains on time and stay out of trouble. Needless to say the women are a source of much ridicule, but Laura manages to hold her own and becomes close to one of the other women constables. Although I knew zeppelins dropped bombs on London during the war I had no idea of the devastation they caused as housemaid Ethel encounters one first hand on one of her days off in the city. Ethel, a sassy and very independently-minded woman knows how to play coy and attract the men, but she is careful in which ones receive her attentions. She is with her latest beau, and the one she has been most serious about when the bombs start falling.
Sadie has been doing the thing she loves most, helping train the horses being shipped over to serve in the war effort. She is most disturbed by the idea of gas being used in battle and the idea that while the soldiers have gas masks (ineffective as they likely were) the horses have nothing. Sadie is just on the cusp of turning into a proper young woman. She has always been more of a tomboy than a girl who likes dressing up, but in the previous book she became friends with a young veterinarian who shares her love of animals. He is called to Europe to serve but she doesn't forget him. Her sharp edges begin to refine, and when she starts visiting the wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital in Northcote male attentions give her moments of pause.
David is surely the apple of his mother's eye. He is the favored one even as she knows she should not play favorites. When he becomes engaged with a pretty young woman, the sister of a good friend, of whom he has been enamored by, Beattie is devastated. He uses leave time to go visit and ask Sophy for her hand rather than go home to his parents which only saddens and angers her. While David was still training he met and became friends with a modern young woman of a good family. They could and did talk about everything and he continues to write to her. Curiously David doesn't see the attraction Antonia has for him. When he writes home he doesn't give details to his family so as not to worry them, only tells Sophy how much he loves and misses her, but opens his heart to Antonia and tells her everything he is experiencing.
There is so much that happens in this book, as you can see. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has set things up nicely to continue on in 1916 in The Land of My Dreams, which I am eager to start. So much drama and I was careful not to give spoilers away--keeping in mind this is war and bad things happen, people die, people have affairs . . . I may have to give more detail next time I write about the continuing story! I'm not sure how many books are planned, though there is a fourth book now available about 1917. Perhaps another one after that? I hope so.