In A Rose for the Anzac Boys Jackie French vividly depicts the horror and heartbreak of battle at the Western Front during WWI. While not glorifying the violence, she doesn’t compromise at all with the gruesome truth of it.
The story concentrates on Margery (Midge) MacPherson and her experiences in France, serving tired and wounded troops near the front lines.
When war starts, Midge is away from her New Zealand home and lives at a school for girls in England. She and her English school friends decide to leave school so they can play their part in the war effort by setting up a canteen for the troops in France, not realising how much their lives will be changed.
Partly told in the form of letters, the realities of war are made clear, as Midge corresponds with family and friends at home and at the battle front. I found the letters to be a powerful and convincing part of the book, fitting in naturally with the ongoing narrative of Midge’s story. They had an authenticity comparable to the real letters and diary entries I’ve read before and were some of the more moving portions of the books. Maybe my desk at work during tea and lunchbreaks wasn’t the best time and place to read these sections.
While the book is set behind the lines, some of the letters from soldiers give us a glimpse of life and death at the front, while Midge’s experiences take us into the world of the many volunteers who worked as caterers, ambulance drivers, VADs and nurses. We see that few were left unaffected by the cost of the war and that the effects continue through following generations.
After the story, French includes a 19 page “author’s note” to give some historical context to Midge’s story, bringing to the reader’s attention the neglected, but significant role women played during World War I.
How many women fought in World War I?
We’ll never know. But there were thousands, or even million – as many, perhaps as the men who fought there too.
Few women in World War I carried weapons. But these days we say a soldier ‘fought’ in World War I or II if they were in transport, or administration, and not just one of the relatively small portion of soldiers who actually faced the enemy. The women of World War I fought in other ways, and often in battles as hard as the men’s. And most their war was unrecorded.
With a degree of poignant synchronicity, I read the last part of the book on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Fromelles, probably the most tragic single day in Australia’s military history, where almost 2,000 Australian troops lost their lives and many thousands more were wounded. There were more Australian casualties on that one day than in all post WWII campaigns combined.
(see my other blog for more about Fromelles: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/battle-of-fromelles-centenary/ )
The author’s web page related to the book: http://www.jackiefrench.com/#!a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/o3kat
Publisher’s page : http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732285401/a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/