The Yellow Duster Sisters

The Yellow Duster Sisters

A Wartime Childhood

Book - 2011
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1939. Nine-year-old Susie and her sister Gyll live in Watford and all week look forward to their Saturday shopping expedition to Woolworths, accompanied by their nanny Alice, to buy something nice for Mummy. But as war breaks out across Europe, Susie and Gyll are evacuated to Africa. Alone on a dusty continent, the sisters find little to like about their new way of life and get no sympathy from their guardians, especially devout Aunt Geraldine (or 'Dor-dor') who forces them to wear patched-up clothes and be in bed by six o'clock.
Feeling increasingly abandoned as the years pass and letters from home stop arriving, the sisters dream desperately of escape and cling fervently to their memories of idyllic England. When they do finally reach British shores, only a few weeks after D-Day, there is no one to meet them at Liverpool Docks. After getting to their father's new home in Gloucestershire, they find a strange woman living with him and gradually learn that their mother has moved away and joined the Polish army. Life only gets stranger when they are sent to Cheltenham Ladies College, where English boarding school life is possibly even worse than their years of exile in Africa.
Wonderfully evocative, funny and charming, Susan Kennaway writes about the difficult challenges of growing up during the Second World War with rare honesty and insight. The Yellow Duster Sisters is a moving and unusual exploration of the often ignored, and often destructive, nature of shifting war-time family relationships.
Publisher: London, Eng. : St Martins Press, c2011
ISBN: 9781408812105
Branch Call Number: 941.084 KEN
Characteristics: 293 p. ; 22 cm


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Cdnbookworm Feb 20, 2014

This memoir covers the years of World War II when Susan and her older sister Gyll were evacuated from Watford to Africa and then their return to England.
The decision is made to send the girls to Africa where their mother's sister works as a governess. They stay with the family she works for, who have a son and a daughter. The daughter, Mavis, is the same age as Susan. They hadn't previously met their aunt, and find her hard to warm up to. Their new guardian treat them as poor relations, forcing them to wear patched up clothes, adhere to strict rules, and go to bed at six. Unbeknownst to the girls, their father had sent the guardians money for their upkeep, but they were made to feel as charity cases. When the letters from home grow further and further apart and then stop coming altogether, the sister feel completely abandoned and find comfort only in each other.
In the fall of 1942, the girls are sent from their guardians in Rhodesia to a boarding school in South Africa. By the spring of 1943 ships heading to England are starting to take civilians, and with the girls desperate for their old life they manage to work with their guardians to arrange a chaperoned passage back to England.
The second part of the book covers their return to England until the end of the war.
The girls are disappointed that no one meets their ship, but manage to get to London on their own where their father meets them. Their mother is in Scarborough working with Polish servicemen and the father living alone with servants. Neither parent seems glad to see them, and their father soon packs them off to a very strict boarding school where once again only being together makes it bearable.
The unhappiness with this time in their lives comes through clearly and looking it back on it several decades later hasn't dulled the pain for Susan. This amazingly open and honest memoir brings the loneliness felt by those girls to life.

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