Daughters of War

Written by Lizzie Page
Review by Jon G. Bradley

May is living an increasingly isolated life in London: her philandering husband demeans her very existence, and she is struggling to maintain a relationship with her two pre-teenage daughters away at boarding school. Her days are spent walking, fretting, and pondering her life choices. Fate intervenes when she accidentally discovers a women’s swimming group, where she develops meaningful companionship. However, the commencement of World War One alters her world.

Forced to make life changes, May, against the strident objections of her husband, becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and soon finds herself attached to a small field hospital near the front lines. Over the four-year background of war, May becomes an efficient nurse while, at the same time, dealing with an ever-evolving emotional family situation as she navigates a nasty divorce. Will her private poetry and new colleagues provide an emotional safety net amongst the carnage?

The stark reality of nursing along with the generally horrific conditions of field hospitalization are aptly captured by Page. Soldiers die and limbs are severed; others are blinded by shrapnel; others suffer from a misunderstood condition termed “shell shock.” Even nurses and other aid workers become sick and/or die, leaving emotional voids in those left behind. The bleak refrain of “we might be dead tomorrow” ominously hangs over the environment.

The situational narrative is somewhat Kafkaesque as May moves from the carnage of her hospital to brief respites while on leave in the calm of London. After her experiences, there is no return to a ‘before’ or even a ‘normal’. A seismic shift has engulfed the world, and May must now begin a new journey to chart her course.