Book Club Pick: April 2016
Title: A Rose for the ANZAC Boys
Author: Jackie French
Series: Stand alone novel
Publisher: Angus & Robertson
First Published: 2008
In is 1915. War is being fought on a horrific scale in the trenches of France, but it might as well be a world away from sixteen-year-old Midge Macpherson, at school in England learning to be a young lady. But the war is coming closer: Midge’s brother are in the army, and her twin, Tim, is listed as ‘missing’ in the devastating defeat of the Anzac forces at Gallipoli.
Desperate to do their bit – and avoid the boredom of school and the restrictions of Society – Midge and her friends Ethel and Anne start a canteen in France, caring for the endless flow of wounded soldiers returning from the front. Midge, recruited by the over-stretched ambulance service, is thrust into carnage and scenes of courage she could never have imagined. And when the war is over, all three girls – and their Anzac boys as well – discover that even going ‘home’ can be strange and wonderful.
A Rose for the ANZAC Boys focuses on the female volunteers of World War I, who nursed and cared for soldiers, drove ambulances, raised money for the War effort, sent food parcels and knitted clothing. Jackie French calls these women the ‘forgotten army’.
It is 1915 and sixteen-year-old Margery ‘Midge’ Macpherson from a Canterbury sheep farm in New Zealand is studying at Miss Hollington’s School for Young Ladies, a boarding school in England, while her two brothers Dougie and Tim serve in the Army during World War I.
Midge is worried as her twin brother Tim (who enlisted under another name because he was underage) is listed as missing in action. Keen to do her bit Midge and her boarding school friends Ethel and Anne open a canteen in France to feed and care for the soldiers returning from the front.
While working at the canteen Midge meets Slogger Jackson, a female ambulance driver (driving an old butcher’s van). After Slogger’s hands are badly hurt Midge takes her place as an ambulance driver and ends up assisting at field hospital. Midge suddenly experiences the true horrors of war.
ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Midge meets Harry Harrison, a son of an Australian sheep farmer. They share bond because of their connection as farmers.
Majority of the novel takes place between 1915 and 1920, during and just following the First World War. But the narrative is bookended by two contemporary events – an ANZAC Day service in Biscuit Creek, a small Australian town in 1975 and ANZAC Day in Biscuit Creek in 2007.
The book is written in third person with personal letters sent and received by Midge interwoven between the chapters.
French does not shy away from the horror of War and there are some graphic depictions of the violence and consequences of War.
Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.