★★★★ 4.5 stars
Before beginning CITIZEN ARMIES, I decided to read the first book in this series, "Everybody's Somebody" , and to be honest I'm glad I did. Although CITIZEN ARMIES could probably work as a standalone, the reader will get far more background into Rosie and her family by reading the first book first.
The story picks up some years after "Everybody's Somebody" left off, just as war was declared in Britain. Rosie and Jim's daughters have grown with Gracie now 18 and working at Guy's Hospital training to be a nurse and Mary at 16 evacuated along with her school to Hastings. Jim now runs old Mr Feigenbaum's fruit and veg stall, after the old man's death, as well as being Chief Warden for the ARP. Her girls having grown up, one working and one almost finished school, Rosie feels she ought to be doing more for the war effort and decides she too will join the ARP. Jim is reluctant, at first, but Rosie is nothing if not determined and so she endeavours to become an ambulance driver.
Then the Blitz comes with constant day and night raids over London from the Luftwaffe which was to last in excess of six months. But despite all her training and all her expectations, nothing could prepare Rosie for the things she would see. If she thought war was brutal, cruel and senseless before, she is more than sure of it now. As the Germans wreaked havoc from the skies above them, hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians are killed. Why? It was beyond comprehension.
Struggling with fatigue, Rosie's family are a constant source of love and support. Once again there joys amidst the tragedies as the daily battles on the home front continue to exhaust the country. But nothing compares to the battles fought at the front...and we get firsthand insight to those at Dunkirk to the D-Day Normandy landings to the Battle of the Bulge as well as the Battle of Britain fought in the skies above.
When Mary completes school, she begins training at Guy's alongside her sister to become qualified nurses. Gracie meets a young soldier she is treating, Sam, and after walking out together for some months, they marry. It is at their wedding that Mary meets Sam's best man and fellow soldier, Bertie, whom she later marries before both men are sent back to North Africa. It is then through Sam's and Bertie's eyes we are given some insight into the battles they were involved in.
For Rosie and her family, just when they thought the Blitz was over and done with a few years before, then comes a new weapon in June 1944 with the launching of the V1 rocket (flying bomb), more commonly known as a doodlebug or buzzbomb. Launched from France, the V1 rocket could be heard approaching but as soon as its engine cut out that was when the bomb would fall from the sky and create even more devastation. Then in September 1944 came an even greater threat in the V2 rocket missile which was soundless and its presence only known when it hit. The devastation was enormous, killing hundred of thousands yet again. With these new rockets, Rosie is recalled to her ambulance duties and it is a V2 that delivers her the greatest tragedy of all.
Not for the first time, I have often thought how utterly terrifying it would have been to live through the war, particularly the Blitz and the constant bombings. My dad was a just a child when the war began and his recollections as a child of those horrors are simply terrifying. It would be scary enough for an adult but even more so for a child. He remembers the Blitz and the V1 rockets which he refers to as "doodlebugs", although he was evacuated to Wales at some point for the duration of the war. I have read many books in this era but Beryl Kingston really does capture that horror and the terror felt by those who lived it every day. There is just something that really makes you feel as if you are there living it alongside Rosie and her family.
Whilst the first book spans three decades with the first war featuring in just a part of it, CITIZEN ARMIES is set solely throughout the course of WW2 so there is more detail in the various battles than in the first. Rich in by historical detail, the reader is given enough insight into the war to keep it interesting but without boring us with too much factual content. This is what make Beryl Kingston so easy to read as she has just enough mix of historical fact with the fiction to make it so compelling.
A fascinating account of an ordinary family in extraordinary times, CITIZEN ARMIES is totally absorbing from start to finish. It highlights the strength of the British people when, even through their darkest days of the Blitz and then the V1 and V2 flying bombs, they did not surrender where other countries had. Instead they rallied together, made cups of tea and got on with it. Through it all, no matter what the Germans threw at them Britain would stand united and come out victorious. And that they did.
A compelling depiction of life during that time through Rosie's eyes and those of her family, CITIZEN ARMIES is an intriguing tale you will not want to put down. I sincerely hope there is a Book 3 as we continue to follow Rosie and her family, but I also feel this book rounded things off nicely.
I definitely recommend CITIZEN ARMIES for lovers of historical fiction, but not before reading "Everybody's Somebody" first.
I would like to thank #BerylKingston, #NetGalley and #EndeavourQuill for an ARC of #CitizenArmies in exchange for an honest review.
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