The manuscript of Anthony Ryle’s wartime diary, in four quarto volumes, has been deposited in the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum. It is not at present findable in the Museum’s online catalogue, but is in fact recorded as ‘Documents.24999 – Private Papers of A Ryle’, and can be seen at the IWM research room using these details.
It joins a large collection—probably over 4000—of diaries from various periods since the outbreak of the First World War. About 1000 of these diaries relate to the Second World War, but only a tiny handful, perhaps half-a-dozen, are by young people who were at school during any part of it.
Anthony began his diary on 1 January 1940, at the age of twelve and continued it throughout his school career. The surviving text ends early in 1944, as he approached his seventeenth birthday. For most young people at that time it was common to leave school and start work at fourteen or fifteen. As a result, this period of their lives, when tastes and opinions often crystallise and relationships are formed on an increasingly durable and serious basis, was disrupted by a crucial change in their circumstances. In a case such as Anthony’s where this did not occur, there is the opportunity for a story of a young person’s maturing to emerge without the obscuring upheavals of enforced change and the dislocation of relationships. It is also a stage of life when the state and political organisations start taking an interest in the future citizen—especially during war—offering or demanding political and military education and participation. Anthony joined in these activities with critical interest, and in some cases enthusiasm.
As a senior school student, he was able to take part in the education programme of the recently founded Council for Education in World Citizenship (CEWC) concerning the war and national and international reconstruction after it, under the auspices of the League of Nations Union. Anthony’s is a rare—possibly the only—contemporary account by a young person of participation in these events. (Anthony’s friend of that time, Barbara Tizard, includes recollections of them, and of Anthony, in her autobiography Home is where one starts from.)
The political education programme of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, and the discussion groups which arose alongside it, is well known, and its possible influence on British politics in the later 1940s has been debated. The rather similar initiative of the CEWC, aimed at schools, has received little attention. It’s possible influence on left-leaning activists of the 1950s and ‘60s (like Anthony Ryle) would be interesting to explore.
Anthony’s school provided military training in a unit of the Junior Training Corps, in which Anthony became a radio operator. He describes the corps’ often chaotic, but otherwise unrealistic, mock operations with a strong sense of their comic aspects. He also used the military skills he acquired for his own amusement, and more seriously, attempted to interest other boys from his home village in the use of them in case of invasion, partly on the inspiration of reports of partisan fighting in Russia.
Most of the Ryle family at this time were strongly pro-Russian, and Anthony’s close attention in his diary to the Russian war effort illustrates the strong sympathy towards the USSR which became widespread in Britain, and also the political controversy surrounding it. He argues with himself about his interest in the Communist Party, his reading of books pro and con (he was himself increasingly pro) and his conversations with young Communists, from a variety of backgrounds, met at meetings and through friends. Indeed, the juxtaposition in Anthony’s diary of the personal and political sides of his development is one of its striking features.