War Song

Written by James Riorden
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

War Song pictures working-class life in Portsmouth and nursing in France during WW1. Twin sisters, Dorothy and Florence, together with Mum and eight children, struggle financially while Dad and their brother are at war. To help the war effort, Doss and Floss join the ‘canaries’, workers in a munitions factory. Their work is filling shells with TNT which turns their skin yellow. While Doss makes shells, which maim and kill, Floss resolves to devote herself to nursing those wounded.

Lying about her age, Floss joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment to assist nursing staff with menial tasks, then trains in nursing and joins the Duchess of Sutherland’s Ambulance (hospital). Here she mixes with upper-class girls as devoted as she is. Through the horrors of First-Aid Dressing Stations just behind the lines to crossing no-man’s-land searching for medical supplies, Floss and her friend Beatrice show determination as well as foresight. For a time they help Germans, too, perhaps injured by Floss’s sister’s shells.

James Riorden shows us that the human qualities of self-sacrifice, compassion, care and drive, are given to all. They are not the province of accepted ‘do-gooders’, celebrities, the educated or the religious. In War Song, love and care are given by the humblest as well as the titled and wealthy.

Unfashionably, War Song extols the unselfish love between humble people following the examples of Edith Cavell and Florence Nightingale. Not for nothing is our heroine named Florence. This book also illuminates the work of the medical profession and shows their selfless devotion to their patients in spite of overwork, exhaustion and shortage of medical supplies. Highly recommended, especially for teenage girls.