“Jon Wilkins gets to the very heart of the mud and the blood of the battlefields and then with the same ease the gaiety of the ballroom in a thriller that will keep you entertained for hours.” Stuart Hill, author of The Icemark Trilogy.
1917: with her father in the British secret service and her brother Alfie in the trenches, under-age Poppy Loveday volunteers against her parents’ wishes to drive ambulances in France. We follow her adventures, racing to save wounded men driven to the Casualty Clearing Station, and back to the Base Hospital.
During one battle she finds Élodie Proux, a French nurse, at a roadside clutching a dead soldier. Poppy rescues her. Élodie becomes her dearest girl as they fall in love.
Poppy and Élodie encounter frightening adversaries at the Western Front as well as away from it during the closing weeks of World War One.
This book takes us into the world of Poppy, a VAD ambulance driver, underage but determined to ‘do her bit’ she is stationed as close to the front as you could get without actually fighting.
This book takes you right there and the description of life as an ambulance driver, and nurse, during WWI is fascinating. It also shows how awful the fighting was and how it affected the soldiers and those caring for them, both physically and mentally.
Alongside this is the murder of a soldier who is being treated for a self inflicted wound. He is being treated in order that he can face a court-martial and, undoubtedly, the firing squad! Poppy and Élodie wonder who did it and, even though they are told not to speak of it, find themselves investigating.
They also get involved with espionage when a family friend of Poppy’s parents asks them for a favour – another murder and a little more sleuthing goes on!
Although the main storyline is the war and romance the subplot of the two mysteries is diverting and enjoyable.
Poppy finds Élodie at the roadside, after a battle, holding onto a soldier who has died. Élodie is hurt and Poppy takes her back to the Barn, where she is stationed, and looks after her. Élodie, a French nurse, is allowed to remain and work at the same station as Poppy.
The two women find themselves drawn to each other not only as friends but with a strong and deepening love for each other. As same sex relationships were not accepted* their love has to remain secret. This element of the book is well written and delightfully told by the author.
The author writes with insight and brings to life Poppy’s story. The characters are well drawn and believable. Poppy and Élodie are a feisty, lovable pair so the ending came too soon for me! I would love to know what happens with them after the war.
Poppy Flowers at the Front was a fascinating, wonderful read which I really enjoyed and hope there will be more to come.
Previous reviews: Utrecht series
*Same sex relationships
“Female homosexuality was never explicitly targeted by any legislation. Although discussed for the first time in Parliament in 1921 with a view to introducing discriminatory legislation (to become the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 1921), this ultimately failed when both the House of Commons and House of Lords rejected it due to the fear a law would draw attention and encourage women to explore homosexuality. It was also assumed that lesbianism occurred in an extremely small pocket of the female population.” Steven Dryden (Short history of LGBT rights in the U.K.)
Lesbianism may not have been illegal but it was certainly taboo and brought with it social stigma and a real fear amongst many.
“I am making a claim that lesbianism might not so cavalierly and categorically be relegated to extra-legal status. I am also making the more radical claim that based upon even one of the following findings, there is an Anglo-European legal history of lesbianism. And that history is not necessarily benign.” Ruthan Robson (Lesbianism in Anglo-American Legal History 1990)
Nurses, Drivers, VAD’s in WWI
Thanks: My thanks to Emma at #damppebblestours for the invite to join the tour of Poppy Flowers at the Front by Jon Wilkins and for providing an eCopy of the book to review.
Why not check out the other wonderful blogs on this Tour?
Published by: Brigand London | 21 February 2020 | Paperback | ISBN: 978-1-912978-17-5
Author: Jonathan loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for 20 years and coached women’s basketball for over 30 years.
He regularly teaches creative writing workshops in and around Leicester.
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