Review: The Nurses’ War by Victoria Purman

 

Title: The Nurses’ War

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: April 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Set in the first Australian Auxiliary Hospital established in Britain for the recuperation and rehabilitation for Australian soldiers during WWI, The Nurses’ War by Victoria Purman is an emotional story of service and sacrifice, based on true events.

In 1915, Nurse Cora Barker arrives from South Australia to staff a sixty-bed Australian convalescent hospital at Harefield Park, a country estate offered by Australian heiress and her husband for military use, on the outskirts of London. At age thirty-one Cora is an experienced nurse, eager to serve her country and provide care for the men injured in battle, but nothing has prepared her for the challenges of wartime nursing.

Within days of its opening on June 1st, the hospital was forced to expand its services for soldiers evacuated from the battlefields of Gallipoli, France and Serbia. By mid month the grounds of Harefield Park were home to more than a dozen hastily erected wards to accommodate 360 patients, barely a year later it housed over thousand, while thousands more had passed through its doors, having been discharged from duty due to injury or disease, or recovered and sent back to rejoin the fighting. With sensitivity and compassion, Purman details the daily operation of the hospital as Cora and her fellow nursing staff spend long shifts caring for men, many with gruesome physical injuries and fragile mental health, while contending with their own exhaustion, home sickness, and emotional distress. The determination of the nurses to do everything they can for ‘their boys’ is inspiring, and I loved learning about the ordinary, and extraordinary, work and achievements of the Number 1 AAH and its staff, thanks to Purman’s meticulous research. Three of my four great grandfathers served in the Australian forces during WWI and may well have passed through the hospital. (I’d be interested to know if a patient list exists, I couldn’t find one with a cursory search.)

It’s easy to feel for Cora as the war that was expected to be ‘over by Christmas’ drags on. Though she has support from her fellow nurses, Leonora, Gertie and Fiona, no one could truly be prepared for what was to come, and Purman explores how the Cora was changed by her experiences. It’s a subtle process as Cora gains a clearer understanding of the human costs of war, and lets go of some of the social strictures she was raised with. I really liked Cora’s unexpected relationship with surgeon Captain William Kent, and the support they were able to offer each other.

Introducing the perspective of Jessie Chester allows Purman to explore the effects of the war on the civilians of Britain. A young local seamstress, Jessie is a sweet character who lives with her widowed mother and palsied brother. I thought the development of her character was very well done, as the establishment of the Harefield Hospital brings an unexpected opportunity for romance, and a change of career.

I did feel the pacing was a little off, a casualty in part of the nearly five year timeline I think, and I felt there was some instances of repetition, however these are very minor quibbles that didn’t detract from my satisfaction with the story overall.

I found The Nurses’ War to be a moving, thoughtful and absorbing tribute to the women who served with courage and compassion.

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Review: The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

Title: The Women’s Pages

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: 2nd September 2020, HQ Fiction

Status Read August 2020 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

The Women’s Pages is another captivating novel of historical fiction from best-selling author, Victoria Purman.

Set in Sydney, Australia as World War II draws to a close, Tilly Galloway is an official Women’s War Correspondent for The Daily Herald, and though she has found it frustrating that as a woman she has been restricted to reporting from the home front, she loves her job. While the end of the war is cause for celebration, for Tilly the occasion is bittersweet when her boss insists she returns to writing for the women’s pages to make way for returning serviceman, and prepare for her own husband’s homecoming.

Seamlessly merging historical facts with fiction, Purman’s focus is on exploring the post war experiences of women in this enjoyable, moving, and interesting novel. Though the end of the war brings relief, it also creates new challenges for Australian women.

Many women suddenly find their working life abruptly altered or terminated to benefit returned serviceman, and struggle with the loss of their independence. Tilly acknowledges she is lucky to still be employed, but disappointed to be reassigned to cover gossip and social events, especially when she feels strongly that there are issues women are facing which are more urgent and meaningful to report on.

Other women expect to settle back into a life of domesticity with their demobbed husbands only to discover, as does Tilly’s best friend, Mary, that their men are virtual strangers, struggling with physical injuries or mental health issues from their wartime experiences. Few men returned unchanged from the war, and women bore the brunt of the aftermath with no, or little guidance, and Purman portrays these challenges with clear-eyed compassion.

Some women, like Tilly, and her sister, Martha, discover after years of waiting, that that their husbands may not be returning at all. Tilly is increasingly anxious as there is no word of her husband, who is a Japanese prisoner of war. Martha’s husband survived the war, but has deserted her, leaving her to raise their three sons on her own without any financial support.

These are just a few of the issues for women Purman explores in The Women’s Pages, she also touches on the government’s failure to adequately provide for war widows and their now fatherless children, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the divide between the experiences of working class and upper class women. Through the members of Tilly’s family, Purman also highlights the postwar Union struggle for fair wages and working conditions, particularly on the waterfront, and its effect on women, like Tilly’s mum.

Heartfelt and poignant, with appealing characters, The Women’s Pages is an excellent read which presents an engaging story that also illuminates the real history of post-war Australian women.

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Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins

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Also by Victoria Purman reviewed at Book’d Out

 

  

Review: The Land Girls by Victoria Purman

Title: The Land Girls

Author Victoria Purman

Published: April 23rd 2019, HQ Fiction Au

Status: Read May 2019

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My Thoughts:

In Victoria Purman’s historical fiction novel, The Land Girls, It’s 1942 and World War II has spread from Europe across the Pacific. As fathers, brothers, husbands and sons fight on the frontlines against the Germans, Italians and Japanese, the women left behind are asked to do more than just tend their victory gardens, knit socks, and roll bandages. While some women heed the call and join auxiliary services like the WRANS or the WAAF, or take up positions in factories and shipyards, workers are also desperately needed to ensure Australia’s agricultural industry doesn’t collapse and thus, The Australian Women’s Land Army was founded.

Flora, a 30 year old under-appreciated secretary, volunteers because while one of her brothers is serving overseas, the other cannot, and she is determined that no one will be able to accuse their family of not doing enough.

Betty, not quite 18, leaves her job as a Woolworth’s counter girl when her best friend, Michael, enlists, wanting to prove that she too can make a difference beyond selling cosmetics.

Lily chooses to join the Land Girls when her new husband must report for duty to the Airforce the day after their wedding, despite the displeasure of her ‘society’ parents who would prefer their daughter assist the war effort in a more seemly manner.

With warmth, humour and honesty, The Land Girls follows the journey of these three women from when, for meals, board, a brand new uniform, and thirty shillings a week, they are given their first assignments. It explores not only the challenges the women are faced with as they work long hours, largely unaccustomed to such intense physical labour, in unfamiliar surroundings with strangers, but also the emotional challenges of being separated from family, and their fears for their loved ones serving overseas. There are gains and losses, joy and heartbreak. All three of these women will be changed by their experiences as Land Girls, and the vagaries of war.

Well researched, The Land Girls is a wonderful tribute to the 6000 women who participated in the war effort as a member of The Australian Women’s Land Army between 1942 and 1945. It shamefully took more than fifty years for the Australian government to recognise the value of their contribution. I’m thankful Victoria Purman has shone a light on this admirable facet of history.

The Land Girls is a charming, edifying and poignant novel of Australian women in wartime and the important role they played on the home front, a story of resilience, tragedy and hope.

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Available to Purchase from HarperCollins AU

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