The Yellow Duster Sisters

The Yellow Duster Sisters

A Wartime Childhood

Book - 2011
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1939. As war breaks out across Europe, nine-year-old Susie and her older sister Gyll are despatched to Africa by their mother. Alone on the dusty continent, the sisters find little sympathy in their new guardians, and little to like about their new way of life: patched-up clothes, a 6 o'clock bedtime (a particular indignity) and regular obsessive cleanliness rituals. Their continued presence a nuisance, and overwhelmed by fear of doing the wrong thing, Susie and Gyll seek an ally in Mavis, the only other child of the house, but it's a relationship that becomes tinged with jealousy.

Feeling increasingly abandoned as the years pass and letters from home become ever more infrequent, the sisters begin to dream desperately of escape; if only they could go home, everything would return back to the ways things used to be. But when they do finally arrive home and get off the boat, no-one is there to greet them off the boat. Gradually they learn that their mother has joined the Polish army and that their father has taken on a mistress, who has moved into the family home. Life only gets stranger when they are sent off to the baffling Cheltenham Ladies College, where English boarding school life only adds to their feelings of alienation.

Recounting a youth filled with both hope and despair, Susan Kennaway writes with a charm and honesty of the challenges of growing up during evacuation. The Yellow Duster Sisters is a wonderfully evocative and moving exploration of the shifting nature of 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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