While researching information for my book Olive’s Obsession, I found a fabulous book called Debs at War: How War Changed Their Lives 1939-1945 by Anne de Courcy.
I was amazed to learn how little the debutantes knew about life. They had been sheltered for most of their young lives. Their main goal in life was to find a good match and marry very well. The higher up the better! Then war came along. Many had servants and maids who did everything for them. All of a sudden, they were thrust into the war effort. Some went into nursing, some worked for the Women’s Voluntary Association, some became pilots and some drove ambulances. One deb was asked what she knew about the gas tank. “It was full of oil and hair,” she replied. Her chauffeur had taught her this but instead of saying hair, he had said air! As for support from their parents, many didn’t dine with their mother or father until much older.
The sole influence on their lives was Nanny. They learned all her mannerisms which carried them through life. They were challenged during the war to use skills they didn’t know they possessed.
Imagine going into culture shock from your world where the lady’s maid looked after all your clothes to one where being inspected for head lice was routine. Some went on to Bletchley Park or became Land Girls. Most went into the Services – as FANYs, ATS, Wrens or WAAFs. The class barrier had existed in England but it dissolved under the love and war or continued on to in superiority to those less wealthy. No one was catering to them when they volunteered.
Character in Book
I will be having a debutante as one of the characters in my book. More details to come.