To begin at the beginning, ‘Citizen Armies’ is the title of my 30th novel, which is the sequel to ‘Everybody’s Somebody’ and follows my heroine through World War 2. She is now in her forties, forty-three when the war begins and forty-nine when it ends, so she’s living in my lifetime (I was eight when the war began and 14 at the end of it) and she lives in the Borough, where the bombing was particularly fierce. But of course there’s a different story behind the title.
My first two books were given titles by my publisher – I didn’t know how to do titles then and sold them as Novel 1 and Novel 2 – but from then on titles tended to leap at me in unexpected places or as this one did, lurk in my memory. It’s been lurking for seventy two years so I reckoned it was time I used it.
The war was an experience that taught us to think about horrors and to face the fact that they were happening to millions of people. There were millions killed in air raids; millions gassed in the concentration camps because they were Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists or anybody Hitler didn’t like; millions on both sides killed in land and air battles, or at sea; millions ‘displaced’. And on top of that, millions of houses were destroyed – one million in London alone – and two cities in Japan were reduced to piles of radioactive rubble by the first atomic bombs. The implacable figures are endless. So on May 13th 1945, when it was finally over and we knew that the official announcement would come that day, we took off to our city centres and went crazy with relief. I was among the crowds in Whitehall and Trafalgar Square and remember it vividly, dancing the Hokey Cokey, singing the Lambeth Walk, paddling in the fountains, and cheering, cheering, on and on and on, until our voices grew husky. We stayed there for such a long time that when we finally decided we really ought to go home, the trams and buses had finished running and the Underground stations were closed down. So we had to walk and it took us the rest of the night. But who cared about that? The war was over.
Wonders came in threes during the next few months. The second one came on July 26th, when the vote in the first General Election in ten years was finally announced and we discovered that although we hadn’t dared to hope that such a thing was possible, we had actually voted in a majority Labour Government and a revolution. The first bloodless revolution the country has ever known. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very Heaven.’
And then on June 8th we had an amazing Victory Parade in London. There were war leaders there naturally, and a long columns of war vehicles of every kind, and contingents from all three of the armed forces, men and women alike, but as well as the fighting troops there was another and very special section consisting of the Civil Defence workers who’d been out night after night and day after day rescuing the wounded during the air raids, wardens, ambulance drivers, fire men, heavy rescue teams, the WVS. They got a mighty cheer. And quite right too. It was well deserved.
The next day the papers reported it all in happy detail, with lots of pictures. But it was the headline in one paper that remained with me from then on because it was so apt. ‘CITIZEN ARMIES ON THE MARCH’ it said. And I thought what a splendid description it was because we were all citizens, conscripted men, civil defence workers, all the men and women who had voted in the new government, all the lot. So now I’m writing about the bravery of these citizens what better title could I choose? Respec’ Citizens!