Review Blog

Apr 04 2018

In the lamplight by Dianne Wolfer

cover image

Ill. by Brian Simmonds. Fremantle Press, 2018. ISBN 9781925591224
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: World War One, Hospitals, Nursing, Spanish influenza, Armistice.  With copious charcoal illustrations, archival material and a story told through diary entries alternating with text, this highly readable tale of two people surviving the rigours of World War One is intense, intimate and involving.
Following the success of her two books, the award-winning Lighthouse Girl (2013) and Light Horse Boy (2009), Wolfer has followed the journey of Light Horse Boy, Jim as he languishes in a rehabilitation hospital in Harefield village in what is now Greater London, unsure of whether he will see again.
Here he is nursed by Rose a local girl from the nearby village, and it is her diary we read as she falls in love with this Australian soldier, one of the 50,000 Australians and New Zealanders nursed at this hospital. Each time a coffin makes its way to the cemetery from the hospital, it is draped with a Union Jack and that flag made its way to Adelaide High School, where it has been recently restored by Artlab and will be on display for the celebrations marking the centenary of the end of World War One.
Through Rose's diary entries we hear of her life in Harefield before the war, which contrasts with life during war as privation set in, and the thousands of wounded come back from Europe. She decides to become a nurse to help care for these men, despite her family's anxiety. A girl in the village sends white feathers to those men who have not joined up, some mothers receive telegrams about their sons' deaths, but the village opens its heart to these wounded soldiers.
The archival material gives a wonderful impression of life at Harefield Hospital, with photos of the recovering soldiers, their dormitories, the funerals, celebrations, nursing staff and mascots.
I found this an engrossing read, one which gives a sound background to the lives of those we rarely read about, the men in hospitals, the staff who cared for them, those who remained home.
I can imagine many readers poring over the detail, and checking out the story of the flag that draped the coffin, which can be found here.
The map, background information and even the acknowledgements make for fascinating reading after the book has been read.
I thoroughly recommend this as a highly readable account of how war affects lives far beyond the battlefield. In joining Jim in Australia, Rose leaves her country and her family for ever, taking a risk on a man who has never seen her. It's an amazing thought, but one which parallels the changes taking place for women after World War One. Teacher's notes are available.
Fran Knight

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