Review Blog

Oct 15 2020

The Windsor diaries 1940-45 by Alathea Fitzalan Howard

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Hodder & Stoughton, 2020. ISBN: 9781529328097.
The author of the diaries (edited by her niece-in-law Isabella Naylor-Leyland to whom they were bequeathed) was born in 1923 to an aristocratic Catholic British family. She would have been the next Duke of Norfolk had she been a male.
Alathea recorded her life in diary entries from January 1939 until she died in January 2001, but only the 1940 to 1945 war years when she lived with her grandfather in a grand house near the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Windsor are covered in the book.
Given her social status, mention of famous people of the time are frequent. What stood out to me was Alathea's obsession with becoming and remaining part of the 'royal circle' to the extent of acting and dressing younger than her years to be closer in age to the princesses.
As appropriate to her age at the time, the entries are often of a shallow nature - what she and others wore and ate, visited, liked/hated, marriage, etc. Some entries indicated a very troubled (self harming) teenager, with an ambivalent relationship to her parents.
The war and its effects are only incidentally touched upon. The references to food, clothes, parties, etc are not indicative of great war time hardships. Having to undertake mandatory war work appears to be resented as an intrusion on Alathea's social life.
The diary entries reflect the class distinctions and prejudices of the time and Alathea's main preoccupation besides continuing the friendship of the royals is love and marriage to a suitable aristocratic man (but not a 'second son'). She does appear to have insight that the aristocratic way of life with servants, leisure, etc is a thing of the past - which she greatly regrets.
Not a gripping book, but useful as an insight into the effect of WWII on a small segment of upper class British people. The diaries could be used as a primary source by History students to compare WWII experiences of upper and other class teenagers. For those interested in the British royal family, there are some insights into the daily life of the royal family during the time spent at Windsor during WWII.
Ann Griffin

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