Ambulance Girls Under Fire

Written by Deborah Burrows
Review by Simon Rickman

January 1942, freezing blacked-out mid-Blitz London where under leaden skies and German bombs, amongst the debris and the ruins, conflict reigns between Britain and “that man”, Nazis and Jews, toffs and the hoi-polloi, honesty and lies, compassion and hate. In this well-observed, well-researched story, the first-person narrative also vividly demonstrates the internal emotional conflict of Celia Ashton, an aristocratic lady shunned for having married (too early) the foremost English fascist, currently jailed, but due out soon.  She’s an Auxiliary Ambulance Service driver facing airborne death and destruction nightly, getting cold, dirty and bloody coping with the chaos ferrying casualties from bombsite to medical centre.  Her longed-for divorce seems an impossible age away as she tries to make sense of her feelings for another man who has entered her life literally by accident, albeit professionally.  In addition, a traumatised child refugee focusses everyone’s emotion, especially a rescued parrot’s!

Authentic realistic scenes capture London’s Blitz spirit, where looters and voyeuristic ghouls lurk at the periphery, often in the way of the rescue teams’ desperate efforts.  “More open than usual,” a sign in a windowless shopfront proclaims.  “We’d be much worse off under Hitler … none of this matters, so long as we beat him,” is the word on the rubble-strewn streets.  Truth battles propaganda and rumour for control of the unknown to stem fear, to nurture care and safe keeping. This detailed examination of “loved ones not present but not forgotten” also provides a most unexpected intriguing twist at the end, affirming that the once acceptable pre-war race-hate attitudes towards Jews held by English upper-class Nazi-sympathisers be exposed as the heinous crimes they always were. “We’re all the same deep down.”  A very good read.