Home Fires Series Two

Home Fires series 2 begins on Sunday 3rd April at 9pm on ITV. It is so exciting to be going back to Great Paxford to see what will happen to the characters that we were introduced to in 2015. Many people have asked me over the last few months whether I have had to write another book for series 2. I have not: Jambusters is a non-fiction ‘biography’ of the Women’s Institute covering the entire Second World War. Simon Block, the creator and writer of Home Fires, used and continues to use the book and my research as the inspiration for his drama. Inspiration is the key word here. Home Fires is not based on Jambusters per se but rather set in a fictional version of the same era that I describe in my book. Some of the stories that you will come across in series 2 of Home Fires have evolved directly from Jambusters, others have been the result of research, conversations and other lines of inquiry. From my perspective this is fascinating and exciting. The link to history of the Second World War and life on the Home Front in Jambusters anchors the series in the 1940s but leaves Simon Block free to let his characters grow and develop in Great Paxford.


I have to be a little careful not to give anything away about series 2 because I might spoil people’s enjoyment of the drama. However, what I can say is that it takes place against the extraordinary summer of 1940. Series 1 set the scene for what happened in rural Britain during the early months of the war in the period known as the Phoney War. The unnatural calm of the winter and spring of 1939-40 was about to be shattered by the Blitzkrieg when Hitler’s army marched into the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The British Expeditionary Force, who had spent the winter guarding the Maginot Line, was suddenly called into action against a furious, implacable, overwhelming foe. This began on 10 May and by the end of the month over 330,000 Allied troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk.

Little Stan (Brian Fletcher), Steph (Clare Calbraith), Stan (Chris Coghill) practising the ‘Farrow Frown’, November 2015 © Julie Summers

A month later France fell to the Germans and Britain stood alone on the edge of Europe waiting with baited breath for an invasion. It was a summer of high drama and danger; a summer when thousands of families opted to send their children abroad to the USA, Canada and Australia. It was also a summer of bountiful harvests, glorious weather and prodigious activity by the WI on the food production front. Britain was never invaded, as we all know, but everyone, even Churchill himself, thought it the likeliest outcome at the time. Elaborate emergency plans were laid to and a secret guerilla army was built up throughout the country and trained to carry out acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. It was the moment in the war when Britons realised that it was up to them to fight; to resist whatever threat might be around the corner and it proved the making of many on the Home Front. Far from panicking, people resolved to be calm and brave and it is this extraordinary stoicism which became defined, later, as the Blitz spirit.

But Britons were not entirely alone. Canadian troops had been in the country since December 1939 and immediately after the fall of France Churchill welcomed a large number of battle-hardened troops from the continent. Nearly 5,000 Czechoslovak and 20,000 Polish Forces would turn out to offer immeasurably valuable support during the Battle of Britain when the German Luftwaffe tried, but failed, to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force. This is the backdrop for series 2 of Home Fires.

WI Members at a market c. 1940 © EPSON MFP

One of the aspects of Home Fires which I found most rewarding was the bonds of friendship that grew up between the actors when they were on set for filming. It mirrored closely the extraordinary bonds that developed during the Second World War when women were thrown together in a wholly unfamiliar situation, put upon by every department in government imaginable and expected to cope. They coped and with humour.

Nothing could have delighted me more when I read Samantha Bond’s reply to a question asking her what it was like to reunite the cast:

‘It was absolutely glorious. I’m afraid we are appallingly happy and we relish each other’s company on set and off. I can’t remember ever having been in a company so happy and so funny and so full of love. All immensely supportive of one another. I adore them. And our men. All brilliantly written by a man. Simon Block has done a fantastic job.’

ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS HOME FIRES EPISODE 1 Pictured : FRANCES GREY as Erica Campbell, CLAIRE RUSHBROOK as Pat Simms, and SAMANTHA BOND as Frances Barden. Photographer: STUART WOOD This image is the copyright of ITV and must be credited. The images are for one use only and to be used in relation to Home Firs, any further charge could incur a fee.
Erica Campbell (Frances Grey), Frances Barden (Samantha Bond), Pat Simms (Claire Rushbrook) Home Fires Series 1 © ITV

I made three visits to set in the autumn and each time I was aware of the great atmosphere on set and the mutual support and respect the actors had for each other’s performances. I watched a wonderful scene filmed in the church when Sarah Collingbourne (Ruth Gemmell), the vicar’s wife, makes an emotional speech about coping at this difficult time. Samantha Bond said of this outstanding performance: ‘It’s just stunning. I was sitting on the front pew trying to be the grown-up big sister, sending your little sister waves of support. And I just kept crying. We were all in pieces.’ So was I.

But a film set is a place of work and one of the striking aspect of set visits from the point of view of someone who spends their working life with her nose in a book or an archive, is that there are so many people involved. I have said this before: there are more people working in the Make-Up truck at the unit base for Home Fires than are involved in the production of one of my books. Well, on the editorial side at least. On set everyone is so professional, clear-headed and confident in what their role is. For me the fun is in the detail. I’m often described as a scratch and sniff historian because I like tiny snippets that tell me something about the minutiae.

Stockings drying November 2015 © Julie Summers

So this photograph of stockings drying in a trailer is one of my favourites from series 2.The actors wear real stockings, not tights. The wardrobe is authentic to the last inch and I love that. The clothes are hired from Angel Costumes and all date from the 1930s and 1940s, shoes and underwear included according to Melissa Cook, who is in charge of the wardrobe. It is as important for me as making sure the lettering used on the war memorial is of the era (it is) and that the cows are the right breed (they are). The telephone exchange, the cars, the tractor are all minutely observed. Even the ration books look authentic.When details like this are correct but don’t get in the way you can trust the rest of the drama, which I do.


The magnificent Austin – one of only a handful still on the road in this country © Julie Summers

The filming was done in Cheshire, where fictional Great Paxford is set, and it is a stunningly beautiful corner of the North West which is still relatively unknown. Although the phone signal is poor and one Cheshire lane looks very like another – imagine what it was like for incoming drivers when all the signposts were removed – everyone in the cast speaks very fondly of the area around Bunbury. Claire Rushbrook, who plays Pat Simms, said recently: ‘You do have to pinch yourself that you’re working. Because it’s just stunning around there. . . I hope the viewers enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.’

Front Cover Only
The non-fiction book that inspired Home Fires


Weekly blogs will appear here to introduce each episode. No spoilers, just a little background historical information for anyone interested in knowing a bit more about the war. And of course there’s history, sticky jam and plenty of laughter in Jambusters. You won’t meet Frances Barden or Pat Simms but you will meet their true historical counterparts: Edith Jones, Clara Milburn and Ruth Toosey, whose stories are equally fascinating, although their hair and make-up might not have been quite so beautiful…

Love and Sex in Times of War: for HOME FIRES Episode 4


ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS HOME FIRES EPISODE 1 Pictured : DAISY BADGER as Claire Hillman and MIKE NOBLE as Spencer Bradley. Photographer: STUART WOOD This image is the copyright of ITV and must be credited. The images are for one use only and to be used in relation to Home Firs, any further charge could incur a fee.
Claire Hillman (Daisy Badger) and Spencer Wilson (Mike Noble) flirt over a bicycle in episode 1 of Home Fires. © ITV Studios

‘If you put men and women together in close proximity in a danger shared, a mutual attraction is not only the inevitable result, it is what we should expect, and we should be very surprised and perturbed from a national point of view if it wasn’t.’ Thus wrote the English novelist, Barbara Cartland in 1945. As a welfare officer for the women’s services during the Second World War she was warm, generous and young people responded to her: ‘No one has ever minded when I have talked to them, and I’ve been both personal and intrusive. Being a novelist helps. I don’t know why, but people always want to confide in novelists, and the other thing which I believe makes everything alright is the fact that I am sincere. I do believe what I say.’ There were those in society who judged young people who got into trouble and condemned them but Cartland thought that was unfair and wrong. They were young, in love, in danger and in a hurry.

This lovely young woman is wearing her boyfriend’s wings on her blouse

Wartime love affairs were not exclusive to nations under attack. Toronto-based Star Weekly’s front covers feature one belle after another, often with her beau, always exuding fresh excitement at new-found love. With the influx of trainee pilots into Canadian airfields there were plenty of opportunities for dalliances, as there were indeed in British villages when handsome, well-dressed Canadian soldiers and airmen turned up and turned heads. From today’s perspective it is difficult to imagine or understand the stigma caused by extramarital affairs or illegitimate children. For both men and women during the war there was a sense that living for today was fine because tomorrow you might die. This spilled over into behaviour which to some seemed reprehensible but which to others was inevitable and not even particularly surprising. ‘War Aphrodisia’ was traditionally ascribed to men in battle and was a well-recognised condition. In total war, as the Second World War undoubtedly was for Britain and mainland Europe, a hedonistic impulse reached many other segments of society and was reflected further afield, wherever service personnel were stationed.

marlene-dietrichThe emancipation of women in Britain after the First World War had led, briefly, to a more liberated attitude towards fashion and behaviour. One commentator wrote: ‘Women bobbed their hair, donned short skirts, smoked in public and wore the heavy makeup which had formerly been the attribute of the harlot.’ The seeds of emancipation had been sown and the flame was fanned hardest in the USA where the combination of a buoyant stock market, bootleg gin and the racy novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald fuelled the frenetic pace of the social revolution. Hollywood played its part, producing erotic films for a mass audience and elevating the leading stars to almost legendary status. Audiences flocked to films such as Alimony (1917), which promised ‘brilliant men, beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting parties in the purple dawn, all ending in one terrifying climax that makes you gasp.’ The Great Depression put a stop to much of this and divorce rates in Britain plunged along with the stock market, reaching a low in 1933, down 40% from the 1928 level. The number of weddings also fell.

The outbreak of the war changed everything. In the autumn of 1939 couples all over the country rushed to marry. The statistics show that in 1939-40 more marriages were recorded than in any previous or later year on record, a 30% increase on 1938. In the face of an uncertain future couples were desperate to tie the knot while the chance was still there. Many wartime weddings followed the briefest of courtships, like that of Kate and Jack in HOME FIRES.

© ITV Studios

Other couples had had lengthy courtships but were catapulted into decision-making by circumstances. Frank and Gladys Mason met in 1932 and got engaged six years later. They had planned to marry in the summer of 1940 but the war focused their minds, as it did for so many others, and they joined the rush for an early wedding, marrying within two weeks of making the decision. Gladys kept a diary throughout the early years of the war and some of the entries, juxtaposed as they are against the backdrop of the sinister news from the war in Europe, make strange reading. Two days after announcing she would marry Frank she wrote: ‘Hitler watched German siege of Warsaw. City in flames. Had my wedding dress fitted. Lovely.’ Many young women chose to marry in traditional long white dresses but a significant number saw the advantage of having an outfit that could used on more than one occasion. Gladys selected a pink crepe material and her mother, a dressmaker by profession, created a calf-length dress with a Peter Pan collar, short sleeves, button-through with buttons and belt of the same material. The matching short jacket had long sleeves and she offset the outfit with a navy hat and shoes. The night before her wedding she wrote in her diary: ‘We are both looking forward to our wedding very much. Frank went on duty at 6 pm. I did odd jobs. Went to bed about 11. Very excited. Hitler made a speech. Wants peace. Won’t get it.’

Frank and Gladys Mason with a guard of honour from the Fire Brigade
Frank and Gladys Mason with a guard of honour from the Fire Brigade © Barbara Hall

Later in the war, when everything was in short supply, including wedding dresses, help came from among others Lord Nuffield, a wealthy British motor manufacturer and philanthropist. He had about two hundred wedding dresses made in the United States and held them in a warehouse in London. Young brides in the Forces could borrow a dress with as little as 24 hours notice and have the chance to look beautiful on their wedding day, rather than having to marry in uniform, which was the other option. Barbara Cartland also stepped into the fray with 150 wedding dresses she bought from women who were prepared to sell them for use by Forces brides. The War Office set a maximum
price of £8.00 (£200 in 2015 or $350) for a dress, with veil and wreath, though occasionally she would top that up with a bit more from her own pocket, ‘because I understood that those dresses were made of more than satin and tulle, lace and crepe de chine; they were made of dreams, and one cannot sell dreams cheaply’.

Rose married Horace Boulay of Belledune, New Brunswick, one of 43,000 British women who married Canadian men during the Second World War © Canadian War Brides/Melynda Jarratt

Home Fires by Julie Summers is the non-fiction book that inspired the drama series HOME FIRES, published as Home Fires by Penguin USA and as Jambusters by Simon & Schuster UK


Home Fires Episode 3: Love, War and Housecoats

By the end of the Second World War the British government had such minute control over every aspect of people’s lives that it governed the length of men’s socks and the amount of metal and rubber in women’s corsets. Even trouser turn-ups were banned and only six designs of underwear for women were permitted. Food was equally carefully monitored and rationed. Everything had been streamlined and controlled to help towards the war effort. The novelist Barbara Cartland was heard to lament that love was about the only thing left unrationed by 1945.

Dame Barbara Cartland in ATS uniform, c. 1942
Dame Barbara Cartland in ATS uniform, c. 1942 She spent six months of the war in Canada, evacuated with her young family, but after the death of her two brothers at Dunkirk in 1940 she returned to Britain. © Cartland family

In November 1939, however, most things were still available and all rationing, apart from petrol which had been introduced in September, was in the future. With nearly one third of the population entitled to wear uniform of one type or another, manufacturing had to turn its considerable energies to mass-producing tunics, battle-dress, bib-and-braces or nurses’ uniforms. The government recognised that controls would be necessary and not just for food but also civil industry and trade. Some planning had taken place in the Board of Trade, but this was mainly to control the import/export market. The immediate impact on civilian trade was major price rises. Unsurprisingly, the demand for goods such as sandbags, black-out material and torches or flashlights rose suddenly and the prices followed. Profiteering became a major issue and was addressed in November through the Prices of Goods Act 1939, which ‘limited the profit earned per unit of a commodity to the amount received at the end of August 1939’. The Act had only limited success, which meant that profiteering continued and inflation, much feared by the government, was an ever present concern. Clothes were particularly susceptible to substantial price rises. A woman told a journalist early in the war that she had gone into a shop to buy gloves and said to the assistant that she wanted to get them now because she feared the new stock would be dearer. To which the assistant replied: ‘Bless you!  You’re too late. We’ve put up the prices of the old stock already.’

The editors of women’s magazines tried to encourage practical solutions such as the wearing of housecoats to protect skirts and blouses. Pat Simms (Claire Rushbrook), for example, and Erica Campbell (Frances Grey), wear housecoats or aprons over their dresses. We might look at these garments today and smile at the memory of own grandmothers or aunts wearing them, but even the high-end fashion magazine Vogue considered them important enough to include designs for housecoats in the winter pattern book of 1939.

ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS HOME FIRES EPISODE 1 Pictured : FRANCES GREY as Erica Campbell, CLAIRE RUSHBROOK as Pat Simms, and SAMANTHA BOND as Frances Barden. Photographer: STUART WOOD This image is the copyright of ITV and must be credited. The images are for one use only and to be used in relation to Home Firs, any further charge could incur a fee.
Eria, Frances and Pat collecting blackberries copyright ITV

Controls of all sorts were introduced in the early months of the war. Market stalls were carefully monitored and once sugar rationing was introduced in January 1940 the Women’s Institute was no longer able to sell cakes and biscuits at their country markets. The WI found the bureaucracy of the Second World War a severe trial and one of the reasons my book was titled Jambusters in the UK was because the WI expended a great deal of energy busting bureaucratic log-jams in order to keep the countryside going. One irritated member wrote in her diary: ‘We went to Coventry this morning and I spent 20 minutes in the Food Controller’s Office getting a permit for butter and sugar for the Women’s Institute teas.’

The WI was nothing if not resourceful and positive. The government recognised the value of a huge voluntary body of women who could be marshalled with just one telephone call to their General Secretary, Miss Farrer, and it made sure that the WI was involved in the outset on food production. WI members were invited to sit on county agricultural committees and to encourage their villages to put aside as much land as possible to grow fruit and vegetables. In episode 2 of Home Fires some of the drama hinges on the determination of Mrs Barden (Samantha Bond), the WI president, to plough up the cricket pitch for vegetables. As seen, this was not popular with the men. This is something that happened throughout Britain. My own grandfather returned from the war to see that his beloved tennis court had been dug up for growing potatoes.

The autumn of 1939 brought great change and a strange sense of a new normality. As you watch episode three you will sense the heightened state of tension and emotion that the war rendered within the families in Great Paxford. It affected everyone in different ways: fear, anger, love, danger, separation but the Great Paxford WI offers its members a solid backbone as the country finds its way during the so-called Phoney War of 1939-40. One of the most successful schemes run by the WI during the war was the ‘Letter Friendship’ scheme. It was conceived in June 1939 at the meeting in London of the ACWW, Associated Country Women Worldwide, at which representatives from women’s movements from all over the world were present. Over 200 Canadian friendships were established and resulted in an exchange of letters so each could understand the other’s situation better. One correspondent wrote: ‘I listen a great deal to the radio but radio doesn’t tell me what the women do at home.’

Women needed each other as never before. The travel writer Rosita Forbes wrote in the magazine Women’s Own: ‘In these hard times, when the utmost is required of everyone, the most important virtues are courage and kindliness. Women’s courage is the valour of endurance, of standing up to endless small difficulties, of putting up with things and making things do. When you are sick and tired and frightened of the future as well, and you go on working without making a fuss, then you are quite as brave as the first person who flew across the Atlantic.’

Cover Croppedfashion on a ration_Cover

Home Fires by Julie Summers, published by Penguin USA, tells the true story of the wartime WI which inspired the drama series HOME FIRES: Fashion on the Ration by Julie Summers was published in March 2015.

Setting the Scene for Home Fires Episode 2

Episode 2 of Home Fires takes place against a strange time for Britons during the Second World War. Britain declared war against Germany on 3 September 1939, Canada a week later on 10 September. In Britain it was followed by a combination of mass paralysis and near mass panic. There was a very real fear that the German Luftwaffe would drop thousands of tons of bombs on London and other major British cities resulting in death and destruction on an unimaginable scale. Thus over one and a half million mothers and babies, unaccompanied school children, teachers and the sick or elderly were evacuated to the countryside. In addition a further two million children were evacuated privately to relatives or with their schools. The government called for all large gatherings to be shut down, so cinemas, sports fixtures, horse racing and theatres were closed for the first two weeks of the war. In short, Britain was in a state of heightened fear.

© ITV Studios
Members of Great Paxford WI making the most of September 1939’s abundant harvest of blackberries. The WI saved over 1,700 tons of fruit for the British larder in 1939 alone. © ITV Studios

People in the countryside were affected by the mass migration of evacuee children, though not every village took them. They were also concerned with the government’s urgent communications about growing crops on every piece of spare land available. Naturally the Women’s Institute sprang into action. It had been born in 1915 during the previous war in order to help with food production when Britons were short of essential foodstuffs. The structure of the WI, with its National Headquarters in London, a Federation office in each English and Welsh county (Scotland had the Scottish Rural Women’s Institute), and a village institute in one in three villages, meant that it was a vastly efficient machine for disseminating information and advice but also sugar, seeds and plants. With one phone call any government minister could be assured of the ears of over 328,000 WI members. They made those calls and the voluntary help requested was forthcoming. The Second World War was, in many ways, the WI’s finest hour.

At this stage in the war, everything was still unrationed, though not necessarily available. Food rationing was introduced in January 1940 when sugar, butter and bacon were limited. Further foods were added to the list over the months and years. The government wanted extra land brought into production so that the country would not be so reliant on imports. Most of Britain’s animal feed, for example, had been imported. Much of this was from the United States. With the perils of U-Boats torpedoing shipping convoys in the Atlantic, the need to become more self-sufficient was vital. The Battle for the Atlantic lasted for the entire war and hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping would be lost, in addition to tens of thousands of lives.

National Registration Form 1939 © National Archives

At the end of September the government introduced National Registration, completing more or less a census of the population. September 1939 was a busy month for the WI and the fictional Great Paxford is no exception. Everything you see played out in Episode 2 would have taken place in one form or another in villages throughout the country.
Although Simon Block’s scripts are entirely fictional, they draw deeply not only on my non-fiction book, Home Fires (Jambusters in the UK) but also on my knowledge of the wider story of the war. What we discussed very early in the planning stages of the drama was the need to capture the mood of the country in the first few episodes. Britain was at war but was not under attack. Men and women in their 40s and above had experienced the First World War and knew how terrible an impact that war had had on families. They knew that air raids and possible gas attacks could rain down on them at any moment. This was Total War, a war in which there are no non-combatants. It was as much the fear of what might come as the real threat that caused so much anxiety.

My book tells the story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War, following the lives of a small number of women who kept diaries or accounts of the war years. One such is Edith Jones, echoes of who can be seen in one or two of the characters in the drama series. A tenant farmer from the Welsh borders, she kept a few cows, a small herd of sheep and two dozen chickens. She bottled, pickled, preserved, cured and dried fruit and vegetables for her family’s needs. Her diaries record in brief but delicious detail life on the farm set against the background of events on the world stage. On 7 September 1939 her nephew, who lived with them as a son, turned 22. She wrote in her diary: ‘Today he is a soldier in the British Army. We hope and pray that next year he will be a British farmer.’ That sentiment sums up the mood in Britain for so many women in country villages, our wonderful, fictitious Great Paxford included.

Home Fires by Julie Summers, published by Penguin USA, tells the true story of the wartime WI which inspired the drama series HOME FIRES