Yes, I am researching the Great War aka the European War or World War I. There’s lots of dry (really boring like I nearly fell asleep on the treadmill boring) books out there on the subject. And yes, I read them while on the treadmill so I stay awake then another chapter or two before bed, so I can fall asleep.
Thankfully not all are boring, but many of them lack the personal details that bring a fictional story to life. For that, I tend to favor diaries. Not just any diaries, women’s diaries. Why women? Because women really wrote for themselves, not with the idea of publishing their diaries as is. Men on the other hand, are highly cognizant of their place in history and so…um, embellish the truth to make themselves appear far more important that they were in the grand scheme of things.
Such a quest lead me to the following books, and I’m not sure if it was the writers personality, where they were stationed or the number of folks they lost that dramatically affected the book. All Volunteered as nurses (nurses aids) and served as VAD. If it matters, the first 2 are English and the last is American.
Unlike the other two ladies, Traffy never planned to be a writer. Instead in her personal diary, she records the number and names of the men in her ward, some of the usual duties and her growth from green/untried aid to what seems to be a career in nursing after the war. Of the three books, she relates conversations and the ribbing between the men as well as the French that crept into the language of the Tommies (British Soldiers) and their use of popular culture. She spends the war safe in England and while there are many losses she experiences, she maintains her spirits and for the most part so do the men.
I love this book, even though I sometimes found the main character irritating. This is by far the most comprehensive of the three books, giving an overview of how many of the middle-class men and women were in for a shock as to the reality of war. Because this covers the time from the author’s birth to the early 1930s, it broadens it’s focus from just the war years to the feminist and pacifist movements. It is deeply rooted in the writers sequence of losses and sometimes her bitterness and resentfulness seeps across the pages. The heroine starts at a hospital in London, travels to Malta then ends up 20 or so miles behind the front line in France. That said, it will be a long time (if ever) that I’ll forget this book. It’s that good.
Oh boy, this is an in your face why are we bothering to save these soldiers anyway kind of story. Not a concise narrative, this is more a series of vignettes told through a cold and dispassionate nurse. To give you an idea, it starts with a deserter who shoots himself in the head but doesn’t die so the nurses must heal him so he can be executed by firing squad. It also tells in gruesome detail, how freedom isn’t just won on the suffering and blood of soldiers but so too are medical advances. The stories are moving but I was thankful that it was short.