Review: The Roses of No Man’s Land ~ Lyn Macdonald

rosesISBN ~ 978-0140178661
Publisher ~Penguin Books
No. Of Pages ~384 pages
Links ~ Penguin Books, Amazon

Drawing on the experiences of survivors of World War I, the author wrote a story of courage and endurance: the story of men who suffered physical and mental wounds; of volunteer nurses transported from their drawing rooms into carnage; and of doctors struggling to cope with the devastation.

5 Thumbs-UpIt is hard to believe that this year, 2014, sees the 100 year anniversary of World War I.  What is tragic is also the fact that there are now no more living veterans from that war; the last dying in 2012 at the age of 110.  It is this last point that makes books like this an invaluable addition to any home bookshelf and library, as it pulls on interviews with those who were there.  However, this is not the usual book on the Great War, as it does not just tell the tale of those who fought in the traditional sense, but also looks at the stories and experiences of those groups of unsung heroines, the Nurses.

Using extensive research this Author produces a compelling account of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Ladies taken out of the security and safety of their drawing rooms and thrown into the horrors of war, men who traded in pitchforks for bayonets some who would never return and those who did, would return changed forever.  This is a book full of poignant accounts of how these people watched, not only their peers die in the Great War, but also the world they knew and loved.

With great skill this Author is able to weave together the chronology of the war with firsthand accounts of the women who nursed these wounded and broken men.  Not all the injuries they nursed were visible, some were hidden in the depths of the mind, making this a book that hand me drawing my breath as I read on.

As the majority of the accounts in this book are from the Nurses point of view, with some given by men in the position of doctors and orderlies, this book also highlights how, out of great suffering some important aspects of medical care were advanced.  Each chapter also focuses on a different part played in evacuating the British Soldier from the frontline to the eventual hospital care they would receive if they made the journey alive; the reader is given accounts from the stretcher bearer in the dreaded No Man’s Land to the volunteers at the stations who changed pillow cases and lit cigarettes for the wounded, sometimes just holding a hand and talking to them, through to the final destination of these injured men.

It is by no means an easy read, and I found myself in awe at these women who would sometimes work up to 22 hours a day without complaint, and in such a matter of fact way it would put modern day medical staff to shame.  Their living conditions were primitive and for many came as a huge shock when compared to the cosseted lives they had led up to the outbreak of war.

I have read many books about WWI but this has to be amongst the best I have read.  It shows how courage can come in many forms and from the most unlikely people, but it also highlights the point that, although the war may have destroyed a generation of men, both mentally and physically, it actually played a large and important role in recreating the role of women in that time.

I would highly recommend this book to all readers regardless of whether they are avid WWI readers or not.  We can learn a lot about attitude from this book.

As an afterthought I decided to add that a contemporary song was written as a tribute to the Red Cross Nurses at the front lines of the First World War ‘The Rose of No Man’s Land’ by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan, and I have included this below:

roseI’ve seen some beautiful flowers,
Grow in life’s garden fair,
I’ve spent some wonderful hours,
Lost in their fragrance rare;
But I have found another,
Wondrous beyond compare.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

Out of the heavenly splendour,
Down to the trail of woe,
God in his mercy has sent her,
Cheering the world below;
We call her “Rose of Heaven”,
We’ve learned to love her so.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

 

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Review: World War I: The Definitive Visual History from Sarajevo to Versailles ~ R.G. Grant

WWIISBN ~ 978-1465419385
Publisher ~ DK Publishing
No. Of Pages ~ 360 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository,

2014 marks the centennial of the start of World War I — DK will mark the occasion with the publication of “World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide,” a vividly illustrated, in-depth account of the Great War.

Written by historian R. G. Grant, and created by DK’s award-winning editorial and design team, “World War I” charts the developments of the war from a global perspective. Using illustrated timelines, detailed maps, and personal accounts, readers will see the oft-studied war in a new light. Key episodes are set clearly in the wider context of the conflict, in-depth profiles look at the key generals and political leaders, and full-color photo galleries showcase the weapons, inventions, and new technologies that altered the course of history.

A vivid portrait of the confrontation on land, sea, and sky, “World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide” offers readers a bold and thoughtful new look at this complex and explosive moment in history.

4 Thumbs-UpWhat is not to love about a book that has been put together by The Smithsonian and DK?  Sometimes they don’t always hit the right note and produce a piece of work that appeals to all audiences, but with this book they hit all markets and made this period of our world history accessible to everyone.

Full of pictures, maps and excerpts from people who were actually there, this book provides an interesting collection of information about the World War One.  I originally picked this book up as I am having to write a paper on trench warfare, and found facts in here that I had not come across anywhere else; the detailed maps were also a plus in my research, and would help in understanding this form of warfare to those not familiar with it.

For those who might be concerned that this book may be too much for younger readers, there is no need; although the pictures used are mainly ‘war’ photographs and paintings, there is nothing too graphic or disturbing about them, rather the opposite they exude a sense of sadness when viewed from this point in our history.  The start of the book provides a timeline up to the outbreak of war, and then in a somewhat chronological order follows it through to the Armistice and then the aftermath and how the end of the war didn’t just stop with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The way in which this book has been put together gives the reader the museum experience without leaving the comfort of their own homes, and the heavy pages and striking cover add to this feeling of being in another place.

My reasoning for giving this lovely book only a four thumbs rating was the size of the text, I did find it rather small and densely packed in places, and would have been happier with more pages in the book if the text were larger. Overall though this a great book to use as an introduction to the era, and as a supplement to more serious studies; as a plus it also looks great on the coffee table too.

I would highly recommend this book to all who are interested in this era, or just want to expand their knowledge about, what was supposed to be, the ‘war to end all wars’.  It will make the reader think considering that some of the places mentioned in the book are still fighting today, which will bring up the question of why?

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Review: Search The Dark (Inspector Ian Rutledge #3) ~ Charles Todd

Search the darkA mind-damaged veteran comes home from the Great War to be told his wife and two children were killed in the bombing of London. Refusing to believe the news, or unable to, the man thinks he spots them on the platform of the station of a small town in Dorset. Then a woman’s body is found there, and Rutledge is sent by his jealous rival at the Yard to locate the children.

 

4 Thumbs-UpI came across this book by accident, hiding on my shelf and opened it to scan the first page; later that day I closed the cover and sat back feeling I have used my time wisely.

The main protagonist in this book and all the other in this series is a Scotland Yard policeman.  Newly returned from the Great War, he has his own personal demons to deal with as well as helping those who are also dealing with their demons from fighting in this war.  Add to that the stress of trying to find the criminals, and it could make for a very unstable and highly strung character but the Author manages to avoid this wonderfully.  Instead he uses this character as a vehicle to bring the reader’s attention to the unseen horrors that many carried with them when they returned home.  This character is vulnerable, unsure whilst at the same time being very capable of doing his job and bringing the wrongdoer to justice.  I felt for this character as I don’t usually do in a cozy mystery, and wished there was some way I could help him find peace in his life.  In this one character the Author managed not only to show the inner turmoil of those who returned from the fighting, but he also shows in the other people he encounters in his enquiries the change in society that had taken place while he was away.  These range from total indifference to the way these returnees were feeling and going through, to those who wanted to cosset them and keep them wrapped up from the hurts that may come their way in everyday and finally to the group of people who refused to believe that, mentally, their loved ones would never return to normal.  This book is not loaded down with a bunch of secondary characters which helps the book move along at a steady clip and keeps the reader on track to the end.

What an end it was.  This is the kind of book I love.  I thought I had spotted the bad guy, then no it took a twist, and another, then another until the end I had no idea who the real criminal was, and when the reveal came I was blown away as I never thought it was this person.  Add to this the feeling of flying down country roads in a little old car when horses and carriages were still in good use, and it all combines to the kind of book that I just couldn’t put down.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries, and those who enjoy a great read that will keep you guessing until the end.  I will definitely be reading more in this series.

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Review: Paris at the End of the World: How the City of Lights Soared in Its Darkest Hour, 1914-1918 ~ John Baxter

Paris at the end of the worldA preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city’s history.

From 1914 through 1918 the terrifying sounds of World War I could be heard from inside the French capital. For four years, Paris lived under constant threat of destruction. And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. It’s taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received reinforcements from across the world; the grandest museums and cathedrals housed the wounded, and the Eiffel Tower hummed at all hours relaying messages to and from the front.

At night, Parisians lived with urgency and without inhibition. Artists like Pablo Picasso achieved new creative heights. And the war brought a wave of foreigners to the city for the first time, including Ernest Hemingway and Baxter’s own grandfather, Archie, whose diaries he used to reconstruct a soldier’s-eye view of the war years. A revelatory achievement, Paris at the End of the World shows how this extraordinary period was essential in forging the spirit of the city beloved today.

2 Thumbs-UpI was really looking forward to sitting down and reading this book, after all according to the title I would get an insight into what life was like for the French, in particular Parisians during World War One.  What I actually found between the pages was more a memoir written by the Author of his search for his Grandfather who was in Paris during the ‘war to end all wars’.

Questions I wanted to know such as the Parisians reaction to a war raging so close to their city was not covered and, although the journey of discovery the Author writes about was marginally interesting, not enough was in it to stop me asking myself what this had to do with not only Paris, but the way it reacted to the Great War.

This book turned out to be a huge disappointment as I was hoping for more of a social history of Paris, a city I greatly love and another perspective on the attitudes of the people who lived here and in this time.  Each time the reader comes close to Paris it seems as if the Author decides to take the left fork in the road instead of following the path into the city, some readers may not find this irritating but for me it was a major peeve, and was one of the reasons this book only receives a 2 thumbs rating.

If the is book had been listed as a memoir the disappointment I felt in it would not have been so great and, it would probably have received a higher rating; also if this book were re-categorized into the memoir genre, I feel it would reach a wider, more satisfied, reading audience than it possibly does under its current classification.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs, but I highly doubt I will read anything else by this Author.

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Review: To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War ~ Jeff Shaara

To the last manMoving on from the American Revolution and the Civil War, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, etc.) delivers an epic account of the American experience in WWI. As usual, he narrates from the perspective of actual historical figures, moving from the complexity of high-level politics and diplomacy to the romance of the air fight and the horrors of trench warfare. Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commands all American forces in France in 1917-1918 and must prepare his army for a new kind of war while resisting French and British efforts to absorb his troops into their depleted, worn-out units. Two aviators, American Raoul Lufbery and German Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) fly primitive aircraft in an air war that introduces new ways to die. And Pvt. Roscoe Temple, U.S. Marine Corps, fights with rifle and bayonet in the mud and blood of Belleau Wood and the Argonne Forest. These men and a supporting cast of other real-life characters provide a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the brutality and folly of total war.

4 Thumbs-UpThis Author is well-known for writing historical novels, and they have continued in that vein when writing this book which centres on the often forgotten war that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’.

Essentially this novel is two books in one, which can then be divided into three parts. The first 1/3 of the book focuses almost exclusively on the air war taking place at that time, with the main protagonist for this section being the notorious Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen and the French-born American ace, Raoul Lufberry. Both these characters are brought vividly to life allowing the reader to build on what knowledge they may already have of these larger than life fighter aces.  Through the Authors words we are given a look at what may have been the driving forces behind them being as successful as they were, and also at the same time brought to the realisation that, in the end they were just human like everyone else involved in this conflict.

The middle 1/3 of the book, the reader is introduced to Gen. Pershing and a young marine private named Roscoe Templer, which begins the second book where the first leaves off with the deaths of Richthofen and Lufberry. Through the eyes of the Private, the reader sees the horrors of trench warfare from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective; this resulted in me wondering why this truly hadn’t been a catalyst to end war.

The final 1/3 of the book focuses exclusively on the exploits and perils of the ground war.  Here the Author really comes into his own, showing his outstanding research skills and ability to translate history into a form many readers would find more palatable than actually doing the research themselves.  Through the Authors words the reader is transported to the water filled hovels that the ground troops called home; they can smell the death and decay that permeates the air and everything around these soldiers.  The reader is able to feel the sheer terror that they must have experienced when waiting for the whistle to blow that would signal them going over the top to an almost certain death.  But this descriptive skill is not just limited to those on the ground, the Author extends this to the flying aces in their flimsy fabric coated aeroplanes and the knowledge they also carried with them on a daily basis that this time might just be their last in the air.

Throughout this book, whether you are reading about the regular Soldiers and Pilots, or the Officers back in the rear you will be affected by this war in a way that may come a little way to the feelings of those who experienced it both at home and in France.

Whether you are a novice or a World War I aficionado, I would highly recommend this book, and if you have never read anything by this Author this is a great place to start.

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Dulce et Decorum Est ~ Wilfred Owen

Gas

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

An Interview with Mary-Rose MacColl

Mary-Rose MacColl picMary-Rose MacColl discussed the inspiration behind her book about World War One, In Falling Snow.

In your Author’s Note, you write about accidentally stumbling upon Women of Royaumont: A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front in a library. What inspired you to interweave the story of Royaumont with that of a female doctor battling sexism in the 1970s?

I was really interested in these women from my grandmother’s generation who’d achieved something extraordinary at a time when it was very difficult for women to pursue professional lives. I very much wanted to honor them and was surprised that their story hadn’t yet captured the public imagination. The seventies was another key period for women in professions. Grace is the first generation of women to “have it all.” I didn’t think of these things consciously while writing. Iris was always going to be reflecting on her past experience at a later time. Grace walked in one day and started bossing her grandmother around. She happened to be part of the first generation of women who were mothers and doctors and it was just a lovely time to write about.

You gave Iris Crane your grandmother’s surname. Do they share any other characteristics?

For me, writing always has an intellectual trigger and an emotional trigger. I was very close to my maternal grandmother, Meta Crane, who was one of those grandmothers who made everything right in my young life. She died soon after I came across the women of Royaumont. She was about the right age to have served in World War I and she was a nurse. I started to wonder what her life might have been like if instead of doing the things she’d done—marrying my grandfather, running his medical practice and raising four children—she’d gone to Royaumont. She and Iris do share some qualities in common. They’re both nurses who grew up on a property called Risdon in the country west of Brisbane in Queensland. My grandmother married Al (Alban Lynch not Alastair Hogan) and the two Als are both doctors whose practices are in Fortitude Valley.

Is Dr. Frances Ivens based upon the real founder and head of Royaumont? Does the abbey where the hospital was established still exist?

Oh yes, all the characters at Royaumont other than Violet and Iris are based on the real doctors and nurses and orderlies who worked there. Miss Ivens was the medical chief of the hospital. Obviously my character is imagined—I never met the real Frances Ivens—but her quick assessment of a situation (sometimes to a fault), her organisational skills (or lack thereof when it comes to details!), confidence and especially, her bedside manner, were all a matter of record. As for the abbey, it’s now a cultural foundation for France and I was very lucky to stay there for a week while researching the novel which allowed me to walk through those corridors, up the stairs where the orderlies carried patients, to the wards where the patients were cared for. It’s a truly amazing place.

Between the Senegalese conscripts, the firing squads, and the French soldiers’ “precious pinard,” you’ve recreated the feel of World War I in astonishing detail. How long did it take you to research this book?

I first read the history of Royaumont in Eileen Crofton’s The Women of Royaumont which was very helpful (it’s being republished this year as Angels of Mercy by English publisher Birlinn). From there, I read mainly first–hand accounts of the experiences of doctors, nurses and soldiers during the war. I was quite nervous about writing some of the marginalised stories, including those of African soldiers and I was lucky enough to find an audio–recorded account of a Senegalese soldier which helped me understand better what war must have been like for these people. I also read some of the broader history to know what happened when and where. I tend to write first and research later so the whole process was years rather than months.

In an earlier nonfiction work called The Birth Wars, you wrote about the conflict between those who view birth as a medical procedure and those who see it as a natural process. In Grace, you created an OBGYN who views pain relief during childbirth as a woman’s right. What drew you to return to the subject in this novel?

Maternity care, in Australia and elsewhere, is in a state of entrenched conflict. Instead of people on both sides of that conflict working together to make sure women get the best evidence–based maternity care, in many care environments, the two sides are at war with one another. Although the battles were different in the seventies from how they are now, the war is the same. When I came to write The Birth Wars, I was amazed that in the twenty–first century we haven’t sorted this out. I came back to this conflict with In Falling Snow because it was still in my mind. It’s also relevant to the novel’s themes.

In Falling Snow displays a thorough understanding of medicine, particularly of obstetrics. Was this a career you once considered pursuing yourself?

I didn’t ever consider a career in medicine. I have worked closely with doctors on reviews over the years—I worked in universities for ten years and as a consultant writer on a number of health and medical reviews—and met many obstetricians and midwives while researching The Birth Wars. Grace’s character came very naturally, but I also wanted to make sure the obstetrics in the novel was true–to–life. An obstetrician friend kindly read the novel in manuscript for me.

Would you consider this a feminist novel?

In Falling Snow first and foremost tells the story of the women of Royaumont and they were extraordinary. It certainly reflects on the issues facing those women who wanted to pursue careers at the time when this was largely unavailable to women. In the seventies, again women were negotiating career and family issues. They were great times to write about.

In Falling Snow

I will be reading and reviewing this novel in 2014.

This interview was first featured on bookbrowse.com on 12 September 2013, and has been abridged for inclusion here.

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