I hate to say it, but I was a little disappointed in this memoir. It’s the fault more of my expectations than of the book, I think; the cover states quite clearly that this is a light-hearted memoir of a WAAF’s service “for the duration”. It skates cheerfully over the surface of the war, from the time Felicity Ashbee enlisted (while Americans were still saying “there isn’t going to be any war”) to her demobbing, and … well, that’s the thing.
I was expecting – hoping for – something a little more … well, just more. This is a string of anecdotes about what it was like to live with a bunch of other women, what it was like during an air raid, what her duties were and what the atmosphere was in the mess hall and so on. Mainly what I took away from For the Duration was a sort of “I told you so” attitude based on Ashbee’s prescience regarding the probability of war, a sketched-in multitude of performances she produced wherever she was posted, and a sort of frank appraisal of the sexual orientation of the girls she spent so much time with.
Ashbee’s own love life is a blank, as far as these pages go; either she avoided entanglement altogether or it was not something she wished to discuss. (For whatever it means, she never married.) I certainly wasn’t looking for a red-hot accounting of a string of wartime encounters – but the dearth thereof contributes to a surprisingly sterile and clinical tale. There is humor; there is a certain fondness for a few people with whom she served and, of course, her family; however, there is no passion here. The tale of Felicity Ashbee’s War includes no real fear or devotion, love or hate, little of the dirt and blood and rawness of those years… It’s businesslike.
The lack of deep detail is perfectly understandable considering that, according to the introduction, the memoir was largely written entirely from memory, some fifty-odd years after the War. I wonder about the cool reserve of it all, though, whether it’s down to the fact that she was far from the front lines (she never left England, though that didn’t keep her from experiencing bombardments) or the distance in time or her personality, or all of that. Taking everything into account, it was an entertaining read. The disappointment is purely down to my own expectations.