Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
November 9th, 2012

What I’m Reading Now: War Girls by Janet Lee

War Girls by Janet Lee

Fleur Demorest, the heroine of my NaNoWriMo novel is an ambulance driver. There were multiple women’s ambulance units working in France throughout the war (the Voluntary Aid Detachment, the Women’s Reserve Ambulance [Green Cross Corps], the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, etc), but the most famous were the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. It was founded in 1909 with the aim of creating a unit of nurses who could ride onto the battlefield to administer first aid. The technology of WWI quickly changed the focus from horses to automobiles, and since access to and skill with both horses and autos were the prerogative of the well-to-do and aristocratic classes, the FANY was typically made up of upper middle class and upper class women who could drive and also afford to kit themselves out.

The duties of each ambulance unit were rather similar–ferrying the wounded, meeting hospital trains and ships, knowing a little First Aid, etc–but as Lee points out, the FANY stood out as independent, gutsy, and insouciant in a world where the proper place for a woman was only as a nurse or rolling bandages on the Home Front (the Land Girls, clippies [bus conductresses], policewomen, etc also butted heads with this notion).

Nursing widened the scope of women during WWI, but being able to hop into an ambulance and drive like a man was an even bigger leap, and Fleur’s choice to take this road instead of remaining at home results in her estrangement from her parents. Her unorthodox wartime work also opens her up to gross insinuations…which leads to much angst between her and Ivor!