Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bothered on the Home Front

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bothered on the Home Front

Article excerpt

Byline: DOMINIC SANDBROOK

THE REAL 'DAD'S ARMY': THE WAR DIARIES OF COL RODNEY FOSTER edited by Ronnie Scott (Viking, [pounds sterling]16.99)

"WAR declared by England and France at 11 am," the retired, 57-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Rodney Foster wrote gruffly in his diary on Sunday, September 3, 1939. "I drove Phyllis to church for 11.30 service. At 11.15 Chamberlain broadcast and as soon as he had finished the local air raid warning started. There was a panic among people in the street. I told the congregation, who came out and wanted to disperse, that it was only sounded to say war was declared ... Heaven help us if our nerves are to be shattered by such false alarms."

If you lament the demise of the stiff upper lip, this is the book for you. Foster kept up his journal all through the war and the resulting book traces the experience of wartime in Folkestone in an entertainingly terse and grumpy style. Born in India into a British Army family, Foster had spent almost all of his life abroad, and you never quite shake the impression that England was a bit of a disappointment to him. Only a few weeks after war was declared, he was smouldering with fury at the first wartime Budget, which raised income tax to pay for the conflict.

"Cruel and vindictive," Foster raged, declaring the government would "squeeze us dry, and we will starve before the Germans".

Perhaps fortunately for his blood pressure, Foster was soon distracted by his involvement in the Home Guard -- hence the title The Real 'Dad's Army', which has already been used by several other books and a TV series. In this case, it is well deserved. Foster found himself platoon commander in Saltwood, Kent, the same position held by Arthur Lowe's inimitable Captain Mainwaring, with much the same results. His men included a labourer, a gardener, a shop assistant and a chauffeur, none of whom had much idea what they were doing. …

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