Beautiful, accomplished June S. lives in a decaying 17th-century mansion on the banks of the Thames at Chelsea along with scores of other bright young people. She combines service as a driver for the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service with a glamorous but exhausting social life in the restaurants and clubs of the West End, mixing with artists, politicians, diplomats and bankers. Like most Londoners she strives to suppress her distress but when she dealt an emotional body blow by people she trusted her world shatters. Will she be able to recover enough to start her life again?
London, spring 1940. Throughout the Phoney War, June S. tries to avoid thinking too hard about the war. Instead she focuses on carving out a career as an artist and dress designer—but when friends are killed at Dunkirk she knows she knows she must overcome her misgivings and signs up as a driver for the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service.
While Britain and Germany fight tooth and nail in the skies, June drives through the blacked-out streets of London, loading the dead and injured into her make-do vehicle. It’s gruesome, dangerous and frightening work but off duty she seems to rise above it. Her gilded life of shopping in the West End, dancing at the Café de Paris and partying with both the smart set and the bohemians of Chelsea continues at a frenetic pace.
After the Blitz abates a new danger, ennui, takes its place. She feels useless and bored, and the trauma she has suffered displays as illness and anxiety. Every so often her life is punctuated by the departure of friends for dangerous war zones or, worse, news of their deaths. ‘Another star goes out,’ she writes each time. She struggles to stay buoyant, and when people she thought friends betray her, she is not sure she can recover.
Throughout it all, June writes her diary—but she is old school and her ‘stiff upper lip’ means she leaves only faint clues to her real thoughts. Naomi Clifford unpicks her words to reveal a young woman struggling with monumental loss and fear in a world where the display of emotion is seen as dangerous and self-indulgent.