Socks for the Boys!

My Great Aunt Norah's wartime diaries, 1938-1948


When Norah Hodgkinson, my great aunt, passed away at the end of 2009, she left me a suitcase of letters, photographs and pocket diaries spanning seventy-one years.





This blog explores Norah’s diaries from 1938, when she was a twelve year-old scholarship girl from a working-class family in an East Midlands village, through the course of the Second World War. Through Norah’s eyes we see a family, a community and a nation at war. As she records her thoughts, hopes and loves, as well as her daily life, we see something of what it was like to be a modern girl in the middle decades of a century that saw unprecedented changes in women’s lives.

Intriguingly, Norah’s diaries contain a mystery, a story which begins with a pair of navy seaboot socks knitted for the war effort in 1940; and inside which, before they were handed in to the lady from the WRVS, Norah, then 15, cheekily slipped her name and school address. The socks were picked up from the Comfort Fund by a sailor drafted aboard HMS Elgin. I’m calling him Jim, at least until ethical issues become clearer. Jim and Norah never met, but his first letter of February 1941 marked the beginning of a long correspondence that took many turns and lasted until well after the war had ended. (You can judge for yourself, of course, but Jim was not the sort of sailor I would want writing to my teenage daughter.) On Jim’s suggestion, Norah met up with his younger brother – let’s call him Danny  – an officer cadet in the RAF who was on a training course at nearby Loughborough College. Danny was suave and handsome and had a twinkle in his eye. Norah immediately fell in love. Over the next two years, they wrote regular letters and Norah packaged up Picture Post and other papers and magazines to send to him. He sent her Devon butter and Scottish heather in return. Danny visited the family home half a dozen times and became well acquainted with Norah’s mother and father, Milly and Tom, two older brothers Birdy and Frank, and her sister Helen. They talked of marriage and when Danny disappeared in 1943, Norah was distraught. She knew he was out night flying, intercepting German bombers. She assumed that he had been sent to continental Europe and while she waited and prayed, she carefully followed the news about various Allied operations: the landing in Italy, the support for the partisans in Yuguslavia, the liberation of Greece, the disaster at Arnhem. When he finally returned to Castle Donington and to Norah, the outcome was not as she had expected. A dabble in family history, some sixty five years after the war had ended, revealed that Danny and Jim had a secret to keep.



This blog is about uncovering this mystery and revealing the young life of the woman I knew only as a great aunt. Along the way,  it is also about the joys of history: researching and writing, uncovering and interpreting, about truth and storytelling, and the issues of integrity and danger that are bound up with them. It is about the hidden histories of ‘ordinary’ people, especially women, and is an exploration of how to best bring history alive.

All people and events in this blog are true, but one or two of them, for ethical considerations, have had to be disguised.


** Socks for the Boys! was shortlisted for the 2014 Tony Lothian Prize for a first uncommissioned biography. The whole shortlist can be seen here.**


3 comments on “About

  1. Pingback: Writing Lives | Blogs We Follow

  2. Pingback: A few Morton Connections | H.V.Morton

  3. michelle powdrill
    February 28, 2017

    hi hun do u know who mr powdrill is she talks about xx

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