Without Warning: Ellen’s Story, 1914-1918
Without Warning is narrated by the heroine, Ellen Wilkins, who is almost fifteen at the outbreak of World War I. Her brother, Jack, is one of the first recruits from their small Sussex village. In the course of the next few years Ellen comes of age and begins to expand her world. She takes a job as a domestic servant in the household of the local lord. When she is sacked from that job, Ellen reaches out to Jack, who is now home trying to deal with the emotional problems of combat fatigue and the amputation of his right leg. Jack is on the verge of suicide when Ellen finally breaks through his introversion, helping to restore his emotional health. It is then that she realizes she wants to be a nurse. After overcoming her mother’s objections, Ellen goes to London to begin her training. She is fortunate to get a job at a hospital in France nursing wounded soldiers. Among her patients is a German soldier whom she befriends and re-encounters after the war.
Hamley writes with insight and compassion about the effects of war on civilians as well as soldiers. His heroine is sensitive, intelligent and typical of a young woman emerging into adulthood in the midst of a war. This is an interesting, fast-paced novel with well-developed characters, both good and bad.