Christmas, 1914, the country is at war. But for Poppy Pearson, parlourmaid to the de Veres, life goes on as normal; except that young Freddie de Vere has begun to seek her out and express an interest in her, something she finds both alarming and exciting.
Poppy’s life is thrown into turmoil when her old teacher offers to sponsor her as a VAD nurse. Poppy accepts and suddenly finds herself in a completely different world. First comes the training at Devonshire House in London, and then she is sent to the Royal Victoria Military Hospital in Netley. Poppy must learn to cope with men who have lost half their faces, or who have been blinded or lost limbs. She must be calm, unflinching and do what she can to help, no matter how difficult or unpleasant.
Fortunately, there are a few precious meetings with Freddie to lighten the stress of her nursing work. She lives for his letters, but can she believe all his protestations?
I really enjoyed this book. What impresses me is how thoroughly Mary Hooper draws you into the VAD world. It is Poppy’s whole world, and it becomes ours, too. There are the everyday tragedies and small triumphs of life on the wards. The badly-wounded soldiers are often brave and cheerful but sometimes despairing and suicidal, and Poppy must learn to handle their various moods and problems.
Previous reviewers have called Mary Hooper’s work ‘wholly imagined’ and ‘thoughtfully-written’, and I’d go along with that. Mary Hooper brings an emotional depth to the story which I found most impressive. Poppy is no 21st-century heroine in period dress, she is a fully-realized girl from 1914 with the class assumptions and hopes and fears of that period. It’s extremely well done. Highly recommended for girls of 12 plus.