Book Shelf: World War II - The Autobiography edited by Jon E. Lewis

Book Shelf: World War II - The Autobiography edited by Jon E. Lewis
Reviewed by Man with a Bag

Early in 1941, young Rachel Wray (she was 19 years old) decided to leave her depressed life in Northeastern Oklahoma and follow her boyfriend, George, who had joined the U.S. Navy, to San Diego, California, in the determination to turn around her fortunes.

She got a job as a pastry cook at an exclusive restaurant at $15 a week plus board and was feeling quite satisfied with herself – so much so that she and George made wedding plans. But come 7th December 1941, their lives changed dramatically.

George went to sea to fight the war, while Rachel decided on a path of self-improvement and enrolled in night school to do vocational training in bench mechanics and riveting, graduated after three months and obtained employment at Consolidated Aircraft (later Convair) at 80c per hour as a Riveting Technician.

"I remember my brother, who was in the Air Corps at the time, and his friends laughed at me one day thinking I couldn't learn this mechanical stuff. I can still see them, but it only made me more determined. I think it probably hurt their pride a little bit that I was capable of doing this," she wrote.

"Convair was the first time in my life that I had the chance to prove that I could do something, and I did. They finally made me a group leader, although they didn't pay me the wage that went with the job, because I was a woman."

Raised on a farm by a "daring mother who was afraid of nothing", and forced to quit school early to go to work, Rachel must have been a courageous young woman, because not only did she reach the top of her profession at Convair, but she found time to fight for and win equal pay for equal work and the overall betterment of working conditions for her workmates, both male and female.

Many in her department were ex-school teachers, artists and housewives, and she actively railed against the discrimination against them reflected in the week's wages.

"To us it seemed the men's pay automatically went up, and ours didn't," she recalls. "I was fortunate enough to get raises later, even a ten-cent raise, and I actually had an assistant foreman come up to me and say, 'Don't say anything to the other girls about getting a raise'. I told him, 'I don't discuss my personal wages, but how about the other women who are deserving, too?'. So on the wage board I fought for the other women as much as I fought for myself."

By 1943, Rachel was earning $1.15 per hour and had an A-mechanic classification.

There are 199 more insightful letters, memos, notes and correspondents reports like Rachel's in World War II The Autobiography arranged in chronological order from September 1st, 1939, to October 16, 1946, and under section headings such as 'Resistance & Reconquest', 'The Road to Berlin' and 'Setting Sun'. More complete histories of World War II can be found but this book takes you into the direct world of those that were there at a particular time and date.

You will read the actual words of political and military leaders from all sides of the conflict through the duration. But to me the most fascinating and thought-provoking parts of the book are the letters written by the soldiers, sailors and airmen, the men and women at the front, or waiting at home. These letters talk about fear and death but more importantly about our ability, as human beings, to rise above the futility of war and at least look forward to a better future.

Geographically, you will travel from France to Europe to Africa, England to Russia, to India, Burma, New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, China and Japan. From 30°C below freezing to 40°C-plus. From the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, these letters come from all points of the compass. This book will not be to the liking of everyone, but for keen students of all ages interested in this period of history, I recommend it as a should-read.