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The Girl from Station X My Mother's Unknown Life by Elisa Segrave

The Girl from Station X My Mother's Unknown Life

Biography / Autobiography   Books of the Month   History   Reading Groups   
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Sue Baker's view...

March 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month.

One woman at the heart of this biography but with two very different lives, as a young privileged member of the upper middle-classes she went to work for Bletchley during WWII, as a Mother she was distant yet clinging, an alcoholic who descended into Alzheimer’s and old age. If it wasn’t for the diaries that Anne Segrave kept, Elisa would never have found out about her mother’s other life. It’s a life that’s hard to square with the woman she became as wife and mother but the diaries hold the clues in Elisa Segrave’s fascinating detective story recreating her mother’s life.

Like for Like Reading

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, Sinclair McKay

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codebreaker's War, 1941-45, Leo Marks

Who is Sue Baker

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

  • Sue Broom - 'I found this book incredibly interesting for many reasons...a terrific portrayal of a life lived in ‘interesting times’.' Read full review >
  • Jill Peters - 'The last world war brought out an inner strength in so many ordinary people but equally gave women a chance to show their true colours, in roles which had typically belonged to men in pre-war years...This book is a must read for anyone really wanting to know how women came into their own during the war.' Read full review >
  • Natasha Radford - 'I am truly grateful to Segrave for sharing such private moments of her family's life with the reader. The combination of fascinating insights into life during WW2 and a world of high society makes The Girl from Station X difficult to put down.' Read full review >
  • Clare Topping - 'The book, revealing first hand, as it does, someone’s experiences during the war is an interesting read.' Read full review >
  • Lydia Roshanzamir - 'Although I did not enjoy The Girl from Station X, it may appeal to those more captivated by the intricacies of family relationships, particularly between a mother and daughter.' Read full review >
  • Maggie Crane - ' It is interesting to enter a world at a vital time in our history and realise the individuals involved were damaged even before war conditions entered their lives.' Read full review >
  • Lisa Redmond - 'A fascinating glimpse into a time of great change for women and a perfect read for fans of William Boyd’s Restless or Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Grey.' Read full review >
  • Susan Walsh - 'This is the most ENTHRALLING book I've read this year...You find yourself completely absorbed in the story and each turn of the page makes wonderful reading.' Read full review >
  • Barbara Gaskell - 'Do you ever really know your mother? Who was she before you existed? An interesting read, which left me wanting to know more about Anne.' Read full review >
  • Kath Whitfield - 'Beautifully written memoir by Elisa Segrave. I have never read anything like it before.' Read full review >
  • Lynn Curtis - 'A fascinating, if very sad, case study of an almost uniquely unhappy family.' Read full review >
  • Annette Woolfson - 'All-in-all this was an interesting insight into family dynamics and one woman’s attempts to understand the enigma that was her mother.' Read full review >
  • Sarah Mustafa - 'This book is both a touching and sad memoir of Anne as well as an insightful depiction of a mother-daughter relationship, which makes it appealing and relevant to a wide range of readers.' Read full review >
  • Jan Kirkcaldy - 'An enlightening story in many ways and well worth reading.'
  • Siobhan McDowell - 'Truly rewarding and well researched.' Read full review >
  • Dorothy Calderwood - 'I found it to be a compelling read – a fascinating insight into a bygone age and a poignant portrayal of a mother–daughter relationship.' Read full review >
  • Tessa Bennett - 'A fascinating read, heart breaking, surprising, shocking and enlightening, this book will keep you gripped from start to finish.' Read full review >
  • Kate Thacker - 'Beautiful. This is what I think this book is. I would say I was hooked to know more from the first page, if not the first sentence.' Read full review >
  • Kath Thornton - 'As the centenary of the First World War nears, the book gives the reader an insight into the role of women during the Second World War.' Read full review >
  • Sian Spinney - 'This true tale reads like a story and is engrossing from the beginning.' Read full review >
  • Nikki Whitmore - 'Knowing what the future holds for both mother and daughter make this an especially poignant read. This book might break your heart a little.' Read full review >
  • Phyl Smithson - 'Extremely interesting, very well written and very different portrayal of the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship.' Read full review >


Click here to read more reviews.


The Girl from Station X My Mother's Unknown Life by Elisa Segrave

'A typical day on the 4 to 12 shift, as I am at present, so that the sheer agony of it may be placed on record for me to look back on, perhaps one day in the far distant future when this period may be seen like a nightmare and be mercifully semi-observed in oblivion so that I shall remember only the glory of my position as the first and only woman on the watch and holding the most responsible position of any woman in the Hut.' October 12th 1942. When Elisa Segrave uncovered a cache of wartime diaries written by her mother, she had no idea that she would be brought face to face with a character utterly different from the troubled woman who had become so reliant on her. Now, on the pages before her, Segrave encountered Anne Hamilton-Grace, a young woman who had grown up in immense privilege and luxury but who leapt at the first opportunity to join the war effort. Through determination she excelled in the world of secret intelligence. Leaving the world of finishing school and hunt balls behind her, Anne's journey took her to Hut 3 at Bletchley Park, to Bomber Command in Grantham and, finally, to a newly liberated Germany. In The Girl From Station X, Segrave opens the pages of her mother's diaries to us and recreates her life both before and after the war. At once a vivid recreation of a dramatic era and a powerful portrait of a mother-daughter relationship, this is an original and affecting work about what it means to come to know someone through their writing; about how Anne unwittingly found a way to link her life with her daughter's decades after they had given up trying to communicate.


'A fascinating glimpse into a lost world of upper-class privilege and the dubious happiness it brings. It explores the complex and contradictory feelings of a daughter towards her mother, and the surprising effect of war on a young woman who found she was suddenly necessary to her country, and who rose to the occasion in a remarkable way. A riveting read.'
Deborah Moggach, author Tulip Fever and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

'The Girl from Station X is really two books in one, both of them riveting and sad and full of surprises. Certainly the reader will close this book moved by Anne's youthful courage and brio, and what became of it. Segrave's story has wider resonance, of course, in that all our mothers have unknown lives, their own secret hopes and fears. We who are mothers have secrets from our children, too.'
Cressida Connolly Sunday Telegraph

'A rich repository of missed and mixed messages - the natural reticence of parents and children to reveal their private lives to each other, the daughter's discovery of documentation, her mother's forgetting. Perhaps, when it comes to secrets, you neither discover nor keep exactly the ones you intend.'
Claire Harman Guardian

'Segrave's latest is a pignant family memoir, uncovered wen she found a cache of her mother's wartime diaries in the attic. The author provides her own sharp commentary on extracts from the diary, so present and past combine in a wonderfully evocative way.'
Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler

'Perceptive, tender biography. As an intelligently unorthodox diarist in her own right, Elisa is enthralled by the experience of 'gradually uncovering a woman I had never expected to know so well.'
Iain Finlayson Saga

'A fascinating snapshot of a young woman thrown unexpectedly into an irrevocably changing world. The real strength of this book though is not as a wartime adventure but as a detailed, sometimes uncomfortable analysis of a mother-daughter relationship. It's a book which is sometimes uncomfortable to read, but will have changed its writer's life for the better.'
Giulia Rhodes Sunday Express

'The diary is pure gold. If only life could be so rich, without the war.'
The Times

'This combines intimate family memoir with extensive material about the code-breaking work at Bletchley Park, at which her mother excelled.'
The Bookseller

About the Author

Elisa Segrave

Elisa Segrave is the author of The Diary of a Breast, about her battle with cancer, and the novel Ten Men (both published by Faber.) She writes for many newspapers and magazines, including the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Independent and The Lady.

Below is a Q&A with this author.

1. How did you first come across your mother’s diaries?
In autumn 1997, my mother’s large house in Sussex was put up for sale. She had had Alzheimer’s already for five years; she was almost helpless, and for a year she had even been too scared to go downstairs into her sitting-room and garden, so was confined to her bedroom. She was a hoarder and the task of sorting out all her things was daunting. There were ornaments, whole cupboards of shoes, stacked papers in a tiny room off her sitting room where swallows nested each year, old copies of the National Geographic, and many books. One afternoon the two ladies who were helping sort her things out came downstairs with several boxes of diaries. They had found them in the attic.

2. At what point did they suddenly seem fascinating to you?
At once, I realised that these diaries would be more important to me than anything else that my mother owned. I could see, by opening one or two that these were not engagement diaries or diaries in which the diarist writes down just every day facts. In these diaries, in her intense, closely-written almost illegible handwriting, my mother, I was sure, had poured out her innermost feelings. She had always been a secretive, complicated woman, unable to answer a direct question, and I was hoping that by reading these diaries I would finally have the chance to get to know her.

3. When did you realise that the story of your mother’s life, and the diaries themselves, might make for a book?
I am a writer and even before finding the diaries had thought of writing a book about my mother. I like to write about something painful and challenging – my first book `The Diary of a Breast’, was based on my own diaries of when I had breast cancer at 41 – and my relationship with my mother, a childlike alcoholic who had not been at all maternal, was certainly challenging. I knew that to most of her friends, and to strangers, she appeared as an interesting, lively woman, who had travelled extensively in Russia and other far-off places, who was charming and charismatic, and I wanted to reconcile that image with the inadequate mother she had been to me.

4. As the author of `The Diary of a Breast’, what attracts you to the diary form?
I have been a compulsive diary-writer since I was fifteen – like my mother, it turned out, who had started her diaries at that age – and the two main things that attract me to the diary form are its spontaneity and the likelihood of a diary being truthful. A proper diarist does not lie. We try to write down the exact truth of what happened though of course sometimes memory i inaccurate. A diary though, because it is written so close to the events it describes, stands a fairer chance of being accurate than a memoir written many years later. This is why I like to read historical diaries – Victor Klemperer, in his volumes `I Shall Bear Witness’ and `To the Bitter End’ describes how, as a Jew, he spent the war in Dresden and describes the minutiae of daily life under the Third Reich.

5. Can you explain how it felt to have to recreate the image of your mother you had lived with until that point?
When I found her diaries in 1997, my relationship with her was very bad. Long before she had got Alzheimer’s, she had become a liability, falling over drunk, breaking limbs, being generally helpless and not behaving like a helpful mother or grandmother. In her diaries, particularly those that she kept throughout the six years of the war, in the WAAF including Bletchley Park, and I found a completely different person, capable, alert, clever, and able to take responsibility, something I had never known in her.

6. Has writing this book influenced your relationship with your own children?
I would like to think that writing the book, which has taken several years, has made me more thoughtful and mature. My son, now twenty-nine, announced aged eight: “Mummy is a baby who hasn’t grown up yet!” and perhaps that was true. My daughter, thirty-one, says I have become kinder and more understanding since finishing my book. I am also enjoying being a grandmother to two little boys, something that my mother was unable to be properly to my own children.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th March 2014


Elisa Segrave

More books by Elisa Segrave
Author 'Like for Like'


Aurum Press Ltd


336 pages


Biography / Autobiography
Books of the Month
Reading Groups

Biography: historical, political & military



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