In this beautifully illustrated and well produced book, Grace MacFarquhar, née Lucas (1906-2001), describes her life in Herne Hill and the surrounding area during and shortly after World War One. Grace was the eldest of five children and her descriptions of childhood games, doing chores and looking after younger siblings are particularly vivid. The children lost their father at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and Grace tells of how her widowed mother dealt with life with a young family in wartime South London. The family had links to South London’s thriving music hall community both through Grace’s mother who had been a small-time actress and her father whose motor workshop under the arches at Herne Hill repaired the coaches that transported London’s music hall troupes round the country. She tells of Fred Karno, Lottie Collins and the Lupino family, of creeping downstairs late at night with her sister to listen to the songs and piano playing at her parents’ parties.
The book is sensitively edited by Laurence Marsh and Colin Wight and they have an interesting approach to dealing with memory, that great challenge to capturing a personal history. In the book proper, Grace gives her account in her own words meaning we get an unmediated view of how she makes sense of her life, while endnotes detail where her recall may be at odds with the documentary record. This approach means that any fault in the accuracy of Grace’s own experience is given due process but not shunted centre stage. After all, remembering is not like playing back a recording it is more like telling a story, and this is a valuable story, well told.
With a foreword by Helen Hayes MP and book design by Sophia Marsh, this Herne Hill Society publication is a good contribution not only to the 1914-18 narrative but also to the rich social history of our part of London.
Grace’s Story published by The Herne Hill Society £8 is available from Village Books and Herne Hill Books