Forces Sweethearts by Joanna Lumley (Bloomsbury, 16.99) Mgr Joseph Mallon THERE you are, sitting on a bus, and you find a diary clearly lost by a previous passenger. The owner's name and address are clearly given. Now be honest. Before you send it back, do you have a peek? Of course you do. Nobody has that much strength of character.
Forces Sweethearts is a bit like that. No wonder, because it has been compiled from the most intimate' memories and memorabilia of hundreds of people. Joanna Lumley was invited by the Imperial War Museum to prepare this book and
received thousands of items in response to her appeal for material. It has the poignancy, the humour, the bitterness, the heartbreak of many hundreds of people striving to live with love and war, all the way from 1914 to the Gulf conflict.
One WRNS signaller conducted a romance by Aldis lamp with an American sailor on a ship four miles away. His ship sailed off without warning one day, probably carrying him to his death. She never heard his voice, nor saw his face, nor learned his fate. And she never forgot him. Then there was the GI who claimed to receive the shortest V-Mail letter ever. It said: "Go to hell." They later married.
There are letters "to be opened in the event of my death"; details of
wedding dresses made from parachutes; cartoons sent from the front. notes on the part played by Vera Lynn and Rita Hayworth and Jane of the Daily Mirror.
Even infidelities are recorded, but the overall tone of the book is of wonder at the enduring power of love between two people. One World War 11 chaplain and his fiancee exchanged over 6,000 letters in a four year separation.
Like all anthologies, this is a book for dipping into. It is very well presented, and packed with reproductions. Miss Lumley's linking narrative never intrudes on her heroes the men and women who left their diaries for you to real Fr Mallon is Principal Catholic Chaplain to the Army.