Leeds nostalgia: New book looks at ‘Phoney War’ diaries from Leeds folk

Mass Observation archive material
Mass Observation archive material
Have your say

A new book which looks at diaries kept by people in the run up to the Second World War and indeed the period immediately after it began - known as the ‘phoney war’ for its lack of major military operations - aims to shed light on the priorities they had.

The book centres on diaries kept by various people under a programme known as Mass Observation (MO), which was set up in 1937 to document the lives of ‘ordinary people’. It was seen as conducting a sort of ‘science of ourselves’. Its first main publication, May the Twelfth: Mass-Observation Day Surveys 1937, published the testimony of over 200 observers on Coronation Day, May 12.

From August 1939, as war approached, MO asked its observers to keep diaries, and by 1945 some 480 people had done so, albeit many for only a short time. This present volume publishes diaries from three residents of Leeds in 1939-40: Joan and Tony Ridge of Far Headingley, who had come to Leeds from London in the Spring of 1938; and Henry Novy, already an MO social investigator, who was sent to Leeds for military training in November 1940. The book, from the Thoresby Society, is edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson and is priced £15.