WEDNESDAY: Not All the Heroes Were Men


Copyright is held by the author.

THIS IS my diary.

It should have been a real diary; black or brown leather with a silk ribbon of blue or red to slip between the fine parchment paper to keep your place — to tell you where to begin again and again.

But it’s not. It’s a shoddy old notebook bought at Woolworth’s on the High Street in 1940. I can’t remember how much I paid for it — tu’pence maybe.

In films you see a woman sitting at a softly lit table, most likely in her boudoir, lifting up an expensive fountain pen and writing in an exquisite, calligraphic hand: “Dear Diary.”

Me, I didn’t have a fountain pen. I didn’t have a boudoir. I had a pencil and I would have felt like a real ejjit writing “Dear Diary.” I started with “Hello.”

Jack said there was no fear he would be called up. I believed him. “It’s you and the twins”, he said, “they don’t send married men with families when the young lads are still walking the streets. He left us two days before Christmas.


January, 1941


There’s been no word from Jack. My Da said he’d still be in training as they wouldn’t send someone that green to the front.” What front?

If they changed their minds and sent married men why couldn’t they send anyone, anywhere who didn’t know one end of a rifle from another?


March, 1941


Jack is somewhere but nowhere. His letter home was mostly scratched out writing. Censors they said. One sorry page.

In between the mess, he said he loved us and that he met a lad from when he worked on the buses.


July, 1941

I got tired of writing. I’m just plain tired. I got the threat of a fine for having a hole in my black-out curtains. The warden, him that was once a copper, is full of himself — a little tin-pot dictator running around with his torch scaring us all to death and threatening us with jail. Jail!! We’re all in jail for God’s sake man. Scared to stay in when the sirens go off, hating the air-raid shelters with their mobs of people with their smell of fear.


December, 1942

Jack has been gone for two years now. A few more scratched out letters. Sometimes I forget about him. I have too much to do. They started rationing the food. I never let the ration book out of my sight for you won’t find much charity here if you lost it. I feed the twins as best I can.


June, 1943


My brother Daniel is missing in action. His wife is demented with worry. My mother won’t talk about it.


November, 1943


I miss everything. I miss white soap, cream biscuits, real eggs, sunshine and light. I miss laughing. I miss dancing and walking and running and talking. I miss lipstick and nylons and dresses. God I miss dresses.


January, 1944


Daniel is dead. A telegram came. Jack is coming home. Injured they said.


March, 1945


Jack is home. He walks with a cane because of injuries to his leg. He won’t talk about it. You can’t make him.

He’s thinner. He’s sadder. He doesn’t know what to say to the twins, and they don’t know who he is.


Summer, 1945


The war is over. We won. I have everything and nothing. I will get on with my life with this man that I married.

I will get on with my life with this sad, empty man and I shall put this diary to the back of the wardrobe.

  1. Great idea — makes me wonder what my mom would have written if she kept a diary during those years.

  2. There is an understated sadness that says more about the diarist than 5,000 words ever could. I especially admired the sentence, “We won,” which, unadorned, expresses no joy at the outcome, only an empty, exhausted bitterness. Well done. A well crafted and finely written period piece, which avoids the trap of sinking into pathos.

  3. This is a very thought provoking story. I particularly liked the sentence: “I have everything and nothing.” It has a haunting quality to it. Thanks for a well-written bittersweet story that lingers in the mind.

  4. Well done. A beautiful image of what we see when we read and only fragments of the image are given and the message of how the war affects so many for years.

  5. […] we re-post a favourite story or poem from the CommuterLit archives. Today we present the story, “Not all the Heroes Were Men.” Click on the link to […]

  6. It is very well written and thought provoking. I found myself not sympathetic to the diarist but that’s okay. I think that everyone is going to react differently because it is so open ended. Everyone will see a different reflection as they put themselves in the diarist’s place.

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