1917: with her father in the British secret service and her brother Alfie in the trenches, under-age Poppy Loveday volunteers against her parents’ wishes to drive ambulances in France. We follow her adventures, racing to save wounded men driven to the Casualty Clearing Station, and back to the Base Hospital.
During one battle she finds Élodie Proux, a French nurse, at a roadside clutching a dead soldier. Poppy rescues her. Élodie becomes her dearest girl as they fall in love.
Poppy and Élodie encounter frightening adversaries at the Western Front as well as away from it during the closing weeks of World War One.
This book was nothing like I expected. The story begins in France in 1917, towards the end of the First World War. Our heroine 17-year-old Poppy Loveday drives an ambulance ferrying injured soldiers from dressing stations to makeshift hospitals and to the mortuary in many cases. She can hear the soldiers screams of pain from wounds and gas. Every detail of the horror – the mud, the cold, the lice, the rats, the blood, the body parts – it’s all here.
But a lot of the story focuses on her forbidden relationship with French nurse Elodie Proux – a romance that must remain hidden from everyone else. Only in high society Paris can they express their love more freely.
Poppy keeps a private journal in which she reveals her true feelings for Elodie – musings about forbidden love and about the futility of war. We also get to read the letters she sends home and to her brother Alfie, stationed somewhere in Europe. In these letters she can only refer to Elodie as a friend.
Her thoughts are very mature for someone so young. She even worries about the horses, including those from her parents’ estate, that are sent to die needlessly. As the war moves towards its conclusion, the soldiers seem to get younger, the deaths more frequent and the injuries more horrific. Then the Spanish flu begins to take hold across Europe and Poppy is more afraid than she was before. Very apt in these times of Covid. Maybe the author felt it was appropriate to write about it at this time.
I really enjoyed reading about Poppy and Elodie. It has horror and sadness mixed with a touch of P. G. Woodhouse, especially from her brother Alfie, referring to – as my friend would call them (courtesy of Charles Dickens) ‘the Aged Ps’ – ‘Dada’ and ‘mater’ and his jolly good show type of language. But then Poppy is actually Lady Ophelia Loveday, mother used to be a suffragette and Dada is a spy. How totally spiffing!
I got to love Poppy in particular and I am sure you will too.
Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours
About the Author
Jonathan loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for 20 years and coached women’s basketball for over 30 years. He regularly teaches creative writing workshops in and around Leicester.