Bombs and evacuation in a battered little book

Bombing raids on Hamburg, evacuation to the countryside and the dangerous journey home are among events described in a German schoolgirl's wartime diaries.

The "battered, chintz-covered little book" belonged to Warwick woman Geseke Clark's elder sister Hilke and might have remained an unread heirloom if Mrs Clark had not translated it for her family.

Times columnist Matthew Parris received a copy of the diary from his brother, a neighbour of Mrs Clark, and printed extracts of the "sweet, sad and compelling" book last year.

Now the 74-year-old is hoping the diary, in which her sister recorded everything from cartoon pictures of her teachers to her perilous trek home following the German surrender, will help later generations understand the war.

Mrs Clark, of Coventry Road, said: "I would like it to do some good. There is no point publishing this little book unless it has some good influence - that young people understand how important it is to work for peace and for older people to understand the German side a little."

Hilke moved to England after the Second World War. She married Malcolm Clark, an Englishman, but was killed in a car crash in 1959. Geseke later married her sister's husband and brought up the couple's son.

Years later, Mrs Clark decided to translate the diary for the son. When she began working, she realised how important a record her sister had kept. After other members of the family told her how important it was, she decided to have the book published.

Hilke's Diary records how the young girl - aged 11 when she began writing - saw the air raids and their aftermath, the loneliness of evacuation and the dangers of travelling back across Germany under allied occupation.

It also gives a glimpse of how effectively a generation of children had been brainwashed. Even at the end of the war, Hilke was still in awe of Hitler, even though her father, a lawyer in Hamburg, had been forced to leave his job because his mother had been Jewish.

Mrs Clark said: "She had been at a school where the teachers were all Nazis. She was definitely indoctrinated, although not by our parents. Our father had to be careful not to say too many things in front of the children."

The diary contained cuttings of plants and flowers beside clippings from German newspapers, and Mrs Clark feels much of the book's importance comes from its innocence.

She said: "Hilke was so self-reliant and so fair and honest with herself. She doesn't hide her faults. She was trying to be patriotic and at the same time asking why we have to have war.

"You can't just edit it in a way that takes away what is uncomfortable. The whole book is only valuable because it is honest."

q Hilke's Diary costs 9.99 and is available from Warwick Books.