bookblast world war two wrens

Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

This is the story of The Women ― today, as Clare Boothe Luce never imagined them yesterday. An all-star, all-women cast, it’s true, but there the resemblance ceases. These women are playing their parts in a world drama, but they remain limelight dodgers. And the scene is no demi-paradise of beauty parlours but the wild hills and lochs of Western Scotland.

Here, in pitching little boats, cutting through the mists and gales, on the big depot ship, swarming up and down plunging rope ladders, balanced, cat-like, to walk along the perilous jutting booms, picked Wrens undergo their boats-crew training. Or work as visual signallers, or service the torpedoes and depth charges aboard the motor torpedo boats and corvettes in the clanging uproar and grime of the Naval bases. One and all disprove the old wives’ or rather the old-fashioned husbands’ tale that woman’s place is the home, that women can’t get on together.

It is only recently that Wrens have taken over such specialised, seagoing work. Since the last war their motto has been Never at Sea ― it should be revised. Today, they are actively engaged in many different aspects of seamanship. Perhaps the most spectacular of all is the boats-crew training which is done on board the depot ship. This huge hulk lies at anchor in the loch; several seemingly sardine-sized submarines have sidled alongside for repairs or refuelling. The depot ship has impressive machine shops, foundries and blast furnaces all stowed away within; there is a constant sound of riveters at work; a faraway, fretful clanging which never ceases. The submarine must be off within twenty-four hours, and the engineers are working at top speed.

[. . . contd.]

Lesley Blanch wrote about everything, but fashion. Her articles can be accessed to view by appointment at:
The Vogue Archive,
National Art Library, first floor,
Victoria and Albert Museum,
Cromwell Road,
London SW7 2RL
tel: 020 7942 2000  

Rights enquiries, contact:
Harriet Wilson,
Director of Editorial Administration and Rights,
The Condé Nast Publications Ltd,
Vogue House,
Hanover Square,
London W1S 1JU.

British Vogue was the ultimate fashion-and-society bible which showcased a pot-pourri of the best artistic and literary talents of the contemporary avant-garde: Aldous Huxley, Nancy Cunard, Clive Bell and Virginia Woolf; Noël Coward, Vita Sackville-West and the Sitwells . . . while Cecil Beaton, Hoyningen-Huene and Horst turned fashion photography into an art.

Opinions expressed in the press dominated all classes in a time before TV, radio or the internet. By the end of the 1930s, British Vogue began to cater for a mass readership, showing women how to dress stylishly on a budget and weighing up working girls’ wardrobes.

 After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Londoners settled into chaos, living day-to-day in an atmosphere of danger, but they pulled together. Air-raids enforced night-long blackouts, but it was business as usual at theatres and restaurants although they closed early, so after-hours clubs sprang up in the reinforced, shored-up basements of hotels and restaurants.

Lesley Blanch wrote about ballet, theatre, cinema, books . . . the movers-and-shakers of the time. A selection of her articles were published in her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian  Life (Virago, 2015).

Part Two – Scenes from the Home Front
‘Spotlight’: writing from the Vogue Years (1937 – 1945)
Lesley Blanch / British Vogue © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd.
The Years Between – British Vogue, September 1941, pp. 115–19.
A Babel of Tongues – ‘Spotlight’, British Vogue, November 1939, pp. 119–20.
Living the Sheltered Life – British Vogue, October 1940, pp. 120–3.
To Have or to Hold – British Vogue, April 1941, pp. 123–5.
War on Winter – British Vogue, November 1941, pp. 125–7.
Blitzed Britain – ‘Spotlight’, British Vogue, October 1941, pp. 127–8.
Noël Coward’s New Medium – British Vogue, November 1942, pp. 54, 72.
The True Story of Lili Marlene – British Vogue, April 1944, pp. 142–6.
Some of all the Russias – British Vogue, March 1942, pp. 31–2, 86.

The lead photos of a recruitment poster and the King and Queen visiting bombed South London are  from Richard Collier’s The Years of Attrition 1940-41 and are copyright material. They may only be used for associated reports about this post. It is not permitted to change the images, to add to them, reproduce or modify them in any other way. In case of violation, we reserve the right to withdraw the right of use.


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Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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