Review Blog

Jul 17 2013

Flora's war by Pamela Rushby

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Ford St, 2013. ISBN 978 1 921445 98 1.
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. World War One. Egypt. ANZAC. It is excavation season along the Nile. The team from the USA, headed by Dr Travers, accompanied by his wife and daughter, Gwen has arrived, meeting their Australian friend, Mr Wentworth with his daughter Flora, now his assistant. Both girls are sixteen, and the first few months of Cairo are a heady mix of dressmakers, balls, dinner engagements, learning to drive the new motorcar. But war is approaching. Other excavation teams have not come this year, it is 1914, and men have been called to serve elsewhere.
The girls are asked to volunteer for the recreation hut established by Lady Bellamy, and become involved with talking to the soldiers, particularly the Australians, from the huge camp near the Sphinx. They write letters for the men, visit them in hospital where they languish with malaria and measles, take groups to the excavations. Moving their accommodation when their hotel is taken to be a hospital is the first sign that something more significant is about to happen. Their quiet existence is over. It is April 1915.
Rushby builds the setting meticulously. The girls are proud of themselves as modern and forward thinking at a time when most girls of their age and class would have been heavily chaperoned and headed for marriage with someone known to the family. Egypt is a living entity in the book, the detail of the excavations and the Ancient Kingdoms a constant backdrop to the unfolding tale of this little appreciated aspect of the Gallipoli story.
The details of the war will readily hold the readers' attention. We are plunged like Gwen and Flora into the worst imaginable results of the Gallipoli campaign. The girls are asked to drive the wounded to the various hospitals in Cairo, seeing for themselves the pitiable end point of the doomed invasion of the Dardanelles.
The ease with which Rushby introduces her themes is astonishing. The girls' innocence is sorely tested and their work during the Gallipoli campaign an underrepresented one. I am in awe of the amount of information skillfully woven into the story, and the presentation of a group of women we hear little of.
Fran Knight

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