BOOK REVIEW: Jambusters by Julie Summers

The Second World War was the Women's Institutes finest hour.
Making jam, gathering rosehips, housing evacuees, setting up canteens for the troops, knitting and singing were not only part of the everyday life of the WI but at the heart of their efforts during the war. Two decades of educating, entertaining and supporting women and campaigning on women's issues culminated in a collective desire to 'do their bit' for Britain.
Through archive material and interviews with many members, Julie Summers gives us the compelling true story of how the WI pulled rural Britain through the war with pots of jam and an indomitable spirit of make-do-and-mend.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 333

Jambusters by Julie Summers is the book which inspired the ITV drama Home Fires; I've not watched the series yet but I joined the WI just four months ago so I was interested to read more about them.
Summers very much focuses on the WI's role during the Second World War, obviously there is much more to them than that but it is probably this period of time that showed them to be a real force to reckoned with.
They have had to live with the cosy couplet of 'Jam and Jerusalem' for over half a century and it was ridiculing the enormous amount of work done by the women of rural Britain.
Yes, they did indeed make jam which was hugely important as at the time of rationing it was vital that no food went to waste. However, they did so, so much more during the war. Many WI's were heavily involved with the evacuee process, helping to re-home and care for the many children who had to leave towns and cities due to the threat of bombing. WIs knitted and hand-made many garments sent abroad for the forces; tasks like this were vital and who else would have taken them on? WI's across the country were also involved in the Digging for Victory movement, they provided information through their publication Home and County as to what should be planted and when and how to care for the food once picked. This movement and hard work created extra food supplies that were desperately needed.
Whilst these extra activities were going on, the WI continued to focus on building a better future and campaigning for changes to be made. Part of the book that really hit home for me was about one WI member whose husband left for war; she did not see him again for almost four years and during that time she had to raise three children on her own, run the household and maintain a farm yet she still found time to be involved in her local WI so that she could help others.
At the end of the day this book is about women and the way in which the WI brings them together. I joined my WI because I moved to a relatively small village where I didn't know anybody plus I always find spending time with other women pretty inspiring. There's a lot of recognition and understanding between women; everyone who joins the WI does so for their own reasons but the aim is often the same
The great thing about the WI is that you are one of a few who are all trying things out. You get drawn into it and that makes you want to encourage others to join. She has to appreciate what it can be, what it can mean to her, what it can do for her.
Julie Summers has written an excellent account of the WI during the Second World War. I really enjoyed the anecdotes that she included and it was obvious that she had done a great deal of research. It was particularly interesting to find out in greater detail the role that women played during the war. They were not on the front line but they had to keep everything going plus get involved in activities to support those who had gone away to fight. In many ways the Women's Institute should be very proud of the 'Jam and Jerusalem' tag but it is also refreshing to read about their many other contributions to one of the most difficult periods of time our country has ever faced.

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