Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Roses of No Man's Land - Lyn McDonald - review

'On the face of it,' writes Lyn Macdonald, 'no one could have been less equipped for the job than these gently nurtured girls who walked straight out of Edwardian drawing rooms into the manifest horrors of the First World War ...'

Yet the volunteer nurses rose magnificently to the occasion; in this book they get a chance to tell their own stories. In leaking tents and draughty huts they fought another war, a war against agony and death, as men lay suffering from the pain of unimaginable wounds or diseases we can now cure almost instantly. It was here that young doctors frantically forged new medical techniques – of blood transfusion, dentistry, psychiatry and plastic surgery – in the attempt to save soldiers shattered in body or spirit. And it was here that women achieved a quiet but permanent revolution, by proving beyond question they could do anything. All this is superbly captured in The Roses of No Man's Land, a panorama of hardship, disillusion and despair, yet also of endurance and supreme courage.


My old man had recommended me another book by this author a while back, but whilst searching for the cheapest available option on the web, I stumbled upon this one that set my heart alight a little more. £2.12 later and it was mine. Gotta love new & used. I'll have the crumpled one, thanks.

I instantly fell into an easy rhythm with the writing style of Lyn MacDonald. I usually find it a little hard to get into proper history books, as The Beard calls them. An awful lot depends on how they present the information they have gathered.

Compiled over several years, with endless tracking, tracing and interviewing of VAD's, Doctor's, Orderlies, trained nurses as well as soldiers, this book floored me. 

It made me realise that I have a Great deal to learn about this War.

MacDonald sprinkles real life accounts with the background of major events seamlessly, which makes absorbing the details all the easier. I found her attention to detail flawless and interesting. 

Spanning from the first influx of Scottish Highlanders to the South of England in 1914 and the affect standard illnesses like mumps had on them due to lack of exposure in their native locality, to the devastating reality of The Somme in 1916 and the following creation of plastic surgery, all the way to the hammer blow of Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 -  every type of experience has been captured for posterity.

It is not a book solely about the female volunteers - but about the growth, trials and memories of the healers, soothers and miracle workers of both sexes - who were every inch part of the front line.

An astounding 8/10


  1. I first read this book over ten years ago, and I've gone back to it several times since. It's that good.

  2. I love my books a little battered too!
    This sounds really good,thanks to Downton Abbey I've gained an interest in the subject,so I must see if they have this at the library!
    Happy New Year,sweets!

  3. Great review, I remember watching "Upstairs, Downstairs" when Miss Georgina did nursing training in order to go out do her bit. I think I'll be looking out for this one. X

  4. This one has been on my list for ages, but I haven't got around to buying it yet, I did get a copy for my friend and she loved it. I can also recommend, "Elsie and Mairi Go to War", and "The Virago Book of Women and the Great War". Also "Stranger in the House", which is about the second war and the effect it had on relationships and how difficult it was to have traumatised soldiers returning home etc.

  5. Hello, again! Just wondered if you knew about this web site, it's really quite fascinating.

  6. Thanks for the comments folks!

    LW - I have all those books :) They are teetering close to the top of my TBR pile :) Also - I adore HistoryPin - but thanks for thinking of me!


I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!


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