I finally finished this book last night. It’s unusual for me needing a couple of weeks to read a book this size, but somehow this book was not as light of a read as it could have been. I guess some authors have a knack for writing about a serious topic, in a light and entertaining way. It’s not that this book is boring. Not at all, but it comes off as heavy. Perhaps because I really wanted to understand what these girls went through? What exactly they did? How isolated they really were all the time?
At the beginning of the book, it says that Vee Thomson Robinson really, really wanted to publish this book about her service during WWII, but as most people, had no way of doing so. I guess in Britain, there is a fairy godmother by the name of Noel that decided to fulfill her dream. As far as I understood it, she has not written this book from memory alone, but has consulted her diaries from the time, for a lot of the story.
Who was Vee Thomson? A girl from a little country village, her father a carpenter, two siblings, all three of them brought up with firm parental hands. She originally wanted to join the Land Army but her father refused to sign the consent forms, so when war broke out, she instead joined the Royal Artillery. The Army did not want female soldiers, BUT Winston Churchill thought it a great idea, so what he said, went. After her initial training as a soldier, she chose Ack Ack Command and spent the rest of the war in that section of defense.
The book goes in to detail, their training, the instruments they used, their clothes, their food, their different postings, weather, their surroundings, the lack of water, terrible sleeping quarters. You name it, and it is in there. All the hardships. In a way, she describes what Stephen Ambrose described in “Band of Brothers”. But not in such an easy flow of language, as he did. Her little section of girls became a band of sisters. They were close knit and that is the best part of the book! When she describes all the humorous episodes that will always happen when a bunch of girls live together and have to go through hardships together, then the book is a wonderful read. They laughed at each other but not in a mean way. They learned to get skin on their noses about it. I laughed out loud at these stories, recognizing myself in them since similar things often happen in a girl’s world. Daniel and T. did not quite get the humour of it, when I read it loud. I guess you have to be a girl to see the fun in these episodes.
Another thing that made the book enjoyable to read, was to read about all the trouble these young girls would go to, to get to a dance. No matter how small, no matter how bad the conditions, no matter if the dance floor was just boards in a tent, they always made the effort and enjoyed themselves. When some of the girls managed to start going out with soldiers, it was interesting to see how little they would know each other upon marriage. To see how it did not always work out between couples that really loved it each other or thought they did. And it was amazing that they were actually able to find anyone to go out with since they were in isolated places with few men around.
The saddest part of the book, was actually Vee’s own love story. She met Bob by chance, when some men were stationed in the forest near their Ack Ack gun site. She and other girls taught him to dance. He would take her on a several mile walk to an inn that only served eggs in different shapes. He brought her home to meet a disapproving mother and he proposed in April 1945 when they had not seen each other since February 1944. Days before their wedding, she received a letter where he broke off the engagement, canceled everything without giving a reason. She was heartbroken and wrote in the book that she never ever got over the betrayal. So it was strange to read in the last chapter, that he contacted her again in 1947 and that a couple of months later, they were married. What this book really lacks, is the reason for what he did and the reason for why she took him back, 2 years later. If one reveals everything else, it’s not fair to leave out that part, since the reader wants answers! Otherwise, it was a good book. It was not written by a “real” author, so that is what you get of course. She wanted to tell HER story and how proud they all were, over serving with men, beside the men, defending their country, in a day and age when society did not think women could do everything that men can.