The Roses of No Man’s Land

This is the kind of history I love: told from the point of view of the people who lived it, and not an objective study written at a distance by an academic who’s spent decades in the research stacks.

I’m not arguing against those kinds of books; it’s just that I find them hard to read and worse, once read, even harder to remember. The words go in through one eye and out the other without taking the time to stop in my memory.

The Roses of No Man’s Land recounts the experiences of the nurses and doctors of World War One. (Mainly British and Americans, but a few stories from the German side do appear.) There’s enough historical detail about the fighting to put their stories in context, but the focus is always on the reminiscences of the medical staff, and foremost on the nurses.

Working non-stop for days at a time to cope with waves of casualties from the front; being torpedoed on the way to France; fearsome nursing Sisters; British versus American discipline; icy storms at Gallipoli; reconstructing the faces of wounded soldiers… the stories in this book are all vividly told, often by those involved in the form of letters and diary entries or later interviews. And they’re held together by Lyn MacDonald’s compelling narrative, one that sweeps you on and on through the years of conflict and makes it very hard to stop reading.

If you have the remotest interest in WWI, I’d say this book is a must-read.

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