19. Cambridge at War. The Diary of Jack Overhill 1939-1945 edited by Peter Searby
Jack Overhill grew up and later lived in Newtown in Cambridge. A pacifist, his diary vividly describes civilian life in the war years.
This volume contains the entries for 1939 to 1945 in Jack Overhill’s gigantic diary (it comprises twentyfive books of typescript), which he began in 1932 when he was 29, and ended shortly before his death in 1989. Displaying the talents and obsessions of its compiler, this addition to the Cambridgeshire Record Society series contains a detailed and striking portrait of Cambridge in the Second World War, from the viewpoint of a quarrelsome pacifist.
Jack was also an enthusiastic swimmer who might be seen in the Cam summer and winter, and an ambitious author who composed twenty-six novels and a lengthy autobiography. Jack failed to find publishers for these writings, save for three novels, and so his life was clouded by a major disappointment. The work he most valued was his diary, a lasting validation of his identity: when the air-raid siren went it was his diary that Jack chose to save by taking it into the shelter. He would have been delighted by this publication of a small part of it.
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Born in 1930, Peter Searby was educated in the universities of Liverpool and Warwick. From 1968 to 1994 he was a lecturer in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College. He has written on British history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, his largest work being volume 3 (1750–1870) in the four volume History of the University of Cambridge, published in 1997.
In recent years he has been fascinated by the diaries compiled by civilians on the Home Front during the Second World War—the earliest epoch he can fully remember. After co-editing a Norfolk diary published in 2004, he turned to the present diary in 2005.