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Mass Observation was founded by Tom Harrisson, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings in 1937. Its purpose was to create ‘an anthropology of ourselves’ in other words, to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. Discounting an initial pamphlet, this was the tenth book to be published. It appears in Faber Finds as a part of an extensive reissue programme of the original Mass Observation titles.
War Factory was originally published in 1943. It was largely the work of one ‘observer’, Celia Fremlin, also known as a thriller writer. It records the experiences and attitudes of women war workers in one particular factory just outside Malmesbury, Wiltshire specializing in the making of radar equipment (neither location nor purpose are, of course, revealed in the book).
On publication the book’s importance was quickly spotted. The New Statesman described the book as the ‘first coherent and serious study’ of a wartime industrial community lodged in the middle of the countryside. The Manchester Guardian called it ‘a remarkable study’ and the Sunday Times ‘a fascinating examination’. The Daily Herald having pointed out ‘the girls were grossly – and it would seem, indefensibly – overworked went on to say ‘What is certain is that those who are responsible for maintaining the rhythm of war production in the fifth year of war will find no adequate solution to war-weariness if they ignore the penetrating human facts which are brought to light in such investigations as are recorded in this important book.’
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