The jolly hockey sticks style jarred with me. To an extent the "larks" described in the book, at least in the early stages of World War One, were in keeping with the prevailing mood. It had been a long time since Britain had been involved in a proper war and, with so many people desperate to do their bit, Mairi Chisholm, an 18 year-old upper-class Scottish motorcyclist, and her friend Elsie Knocker, a 30 year old single mother, were no different. Somewhat improbably Elsie and Mairi were recruited by a socialist, vegetarian, idealistic nudist to work in a privately managed ambulance corps. Their lack of medical skills didn't inhibit them, and they spent much of their time handing out patent medicines and mugs of soup and hot chocolate.
There are some interesting aspects to this book. The extent to which, in the war's early stages, so much was improvised. And, as I've already hinted, the extent to which the war was exciting and fun for these two women, indeed it seems to have been something of a playground for them. Elsie and Mairi enjoyed playful conversations with German soldiers, and lovely suppers with flowers, chocolate and champagne. Before long Elsie and Mairi became celebrities, collecting medals from Belgian and English dignitaries. At the Battle of Passchendaele, Elsie and Mairi were gassed and finally evacuated, and they returned home.
I have read ten books about World War One in the last few months and much of what is described in this book comes over as a completely different conflict. There is a fascinating book to be written about this aspect of World War One, perhaps using Elsie and Mairi's experiences as the springboard for a broader study, however this book felt flippant and lacking in substance. Perfectly readable, but too much like a ripping fun-filled yarn, which is completely inappropriate and demeaning for a story that takes place during World War One with all of its associated suffering and tragedy.