May 31st, 2014


The Roses of No Man’s Land, Lyn Macdonald.


I read this book at the beginning of the month, meant to post about it then but somehow didn’t get around to it. Then, yesterday, I randomly found the answer to a question the book had posed for me, so here at last is a mention of an excellent book.

huskyteer lent me the book because she thought I’d find it interesting. I certainly did. It’s about VADs and doctors working during the First World War, mostly at the front but some back at home. What makes the book different is that it consists largely of letters and diaries of those engaged in the work. It was first published in 1980, so when Lyn Macdonald was researching the book, there were still survivors she could interview. I found these first hand accounts more moving than fiction, although the book tied in well with my reading of Wilfred and Eileen and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.

Here’s just a taster. Dorothy Nicol, a VAD at No.11 General Hospital, Camiers, was writing here about concerts for the troops:
The very worst time was the last concert of all before I went back to England … The pianist started to play, and men started to sing ‘The Long, Long Trail’, and it was almost unbearable. I simply couldn’t take it and found myself fading out after the first two lines.
I don’t know whether it was the sad tune or the words, or because I was leaving soon, but that particular evening everything got me. I looked out of the window and saw a stream of ambulances going very slowly along the dusty road … At the same time I could see a train full of men and horses and guns going up the line. … It was too much seeing the ambulances coming in and the train going up at the same time – too much to think of all the pain and hurt and suffering.
I find it interesting that the poignancy we find in those songs today was felt at the time, too.
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