REVIEW: Spam Tomorrow by Verily Anderson
“When I asked the local chemist for lint and disinfectant, he felt it was only fair to allow the first-aid post to claim me. . . . Half a dozen V.A.D.s made a rush at me and treated my small abrasion as though my whole head had been blown off.”
From an impromptu wedding in the early days of World War II, to a bout with German measles in a hospital reminiscent of a medieval torture chamber, to becoming the first casualty for over-eager V.A.D.s, Verily Anderson’s war gets off to a bumpy start. And it doesn’t get easier.
In this acclaimed memoir, we follow the inimitable Verily and her husband Donald through all the vicissitudes of war, including the unforgettable birth of Verily’s first child in the midst of a German bombing raid. By turns hilarious, poignant, and harrowing (and sometimes all three at once), Spam Tomorrow presents a rollicking view of home front life from the perspective of one strong, courageous, and very funny participant.
How could I resist this title? I had to investigate and after reading the blurb I got a sample. After laughing through much of the sample, I bought the book. Now having finished it, I have a great deal of respect for how people in London and Britain survived the war. I also laughed out loud a lot.
This is the real story of how Verily (her vicar father had an odd method for how he named the children) Bruce was brought up in a sort of madcap English way in the years before World War II, then met Donald Anderson, then tried to resist him because the family didn’t really approve, then tossed that disapproval aside and married him anyway. And that’s only the beginning. Verily has a run-in with the F.A.N.Y.s which doesn’t end well. Verily comes from genteel country families who know everyone else, or went to school with them, or know someone who did.
“You look pale,” said Aunt Evie over tea, “not yourself at all.”
“I know,” I said truthfully. “I don’t feel myself.”
“I’m not going to let you go back to those draughty camp-beds looking like that,” she said firmly. “Beryl,” she turned to her younger niece, “telephone Verily’s young woman and tell her I’m keeping her for the night. If she starts to argue, tell her I used to know her father. A rotten bad shot he was too.”
Tall, pretty Beryl wandered away to shatter, in her gentle caressing voice, the discipline of my unit.
Happily married, she and Donald begin to experience life in wartime London, with blackouts, bombings and sleeping in shelters. Once when they wandered up after the all clear, they met some friends in the street and went with them to a nightclub but had to keep their coats on since underneath they were in their pajamas.
Verily is delighted to learn that her nausea isn’t due to fear of the bombs but from her first pregnancy. Her experience in the country estate turned maternity ward and then the delivery at the hospital are simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
I had no idea how long this would go on. In spite of the table-talk at The Barrens, I had no idea of what to expect beyond a liberal share of Churchill’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
With the guns booming in the background, Verily delivers her first daughter along with the help of the nursing sisters and six medical students who trooped in from a game wearing their tennis whites. Then after Marian is born, pandemonium breaks out and as Verily is unconscious for most of that, she can’t satisfy her ward-mates with the grisly details of her experience – much to their dissatisfaction.
Verily and her growing family finally seek shelter in the country to get away from the terror of the bombs – though poor Donald, who works at the Ministry of Information must stay – and end up living near an American tank division stationed at a requisitioned country house that Verily knew from her youth. Then finally one morning they see signs of what everyone has waited for.
“It’s our invasion!” I said, jumping up and down. “It can’t be anything else. We’ve invaded France!”
We ran across the meadow to the cowman’s wife. She had the nearest radio. We had never asked to listen to it before.
“Yes, it’s the invasion all right,” she said. “They’ve landed in Portugal. Hundreds of our poor boys killed.”
“Portugal?” I repeated.
“Some such name.”
One of the many thrilling broadcasts about the Normandy landings was in progress.
“Could it be Normandy?” I suggested.
“Yes, Normandy. Same thing no doubt. They’re all foreign places.”
The broadcast was stirring and real and near. Not many hours after the first landings, we were hearing intimate details and recordings. It put us, with all the millions of listeners throughout the world, right in it. I wondered whether our paratroopers landing on strange French fields, not knowing what hedge hid the enemy, felt the influence and blessing of those millions.
More adventures awaited Verily, her friends, and children before VE day arrives. I wish that the book had a sequel to continue her story into the postwar days but “Spam Tomorrow” is a little delight. B