An Uncertain Heart

Written by June Tate
Review by Cathy Kemp

The absolute horror and loss of life experienced by the soldiers and the medics who treated them from the battlefields of Passchendaele during 1917 were not easily erased from memory. For many of these young people, scarred both physically and mentally, their trauma endured for the remainder of their lives, affecting their ability to sustain relationships, hold down a job, or resume everyday activities.

June Tate has captured these difficulties perfectly. The main characters were stationed in Belgium during this period and their lives were inextricably linked thereafter. From the theatres at the field hospital behind the frontline, to the near normality of the facilities at the hospital in Rouen, leading Surgeon Richard Carson and Theatre Sister Helen Chalmers face their challenges tirelessly, and a physical relationship develops, though Richard has a wife back home. A chance encounter with young Captain James Havers gives Helen the opportunity to break away from her reliance on her colleague, much to Dr Carson’s chagrin. When James is injured during crossfire on his return to his unit, he is removed to their theatre, and his recovery depends on Richard’s operating skills. Once fit enough to be repatriated, with Helen accompanying him on her well-earned leave, James’ recovery is fraught with nightmares from his experiences, eventually necessitating some psychological intervention.

Many authors would be content to allow their characters to resume their lives once Armistice was reached. Tate further develops her story to focus on the post-war issues and the realities facing those who continued to suffer in the months and years that followed. The characters captivate us, and we become engrossed in their progress.