The Oaken Heart
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The Oaken Heart is Margery Allingham’s only published work of non-fiction. It was written over the ‘noisy bomb-filled winter’ of 1940 – 1941 but covers the period from August 1938 when war first seemed a real possibility. Allingham was living in the Essex village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy which she nicknamed ‘Auburn’ after Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village. She was already an established detective novelist when war broke out in 1939 but quickly found herself acting as village billeting officer and first aid organiser. Her house became the Air Raid Precautions Post and it was not long before troops were billeted there – officers in the house, two hundred men in the strip of meadow she was keeping to make hay. Allingham was at work on a thriller, Traitor’s Purse, but found it harder and harder to concentrate on fiction when the world around her was threatening to become a thriller in its own right. She expressed some of her emotions in her diary, others in letters to her American publisher. He was so impressed that he asked her to extend her reports into a book in order that his fellow citizens could gain some understanding of what the war felt like to the ordinary British people. “She speaks for England, I think” he wrote to a colleague. Allingham’s account focussed on the process of mental ‘hardening-up’ that she and her neighbours experienced as they realised firstly that war was inevitable and secondly that invasion was a real possibility. As the continental countries fell to Hitler’s Blitzkreig the people of ‘Auburn’ were shocked, confused, frightened and then determined that the same should not happen to them. The Oaken Heart is an authentic, completely credible, insider’s view of the Battle of Britain spirit and the practical ways in which people worked together voluntarily to counter a terrifying threat.