|Author-to-Be and Best Selling Author|
Students of the Great War are probably wondering who Jacqueline Winspear is. Two-fold explanation: she is the award-winning author of the Maisie Dobbs series of books. Dobbs is a fictional nurse/sleuth who solves mysteries in the Great War, with her career continuing into peace time and the next war. Jacqueline is also the granddaughter of Jack Winspear, a British infantryman who was shelled and gassed at the Somme and suffered from his wounds until his death in 1966. These are some of the Great War experiences throughout this book that influenced Jackie in later years when she became a writer and the creator of Maisie Dobbs.
The bulk of this book is about Jackie growing up in post-WWII England with all the privations and difficulties thereof. England was impoverished by the wars, unlike the U.S. which came out better, stronger, full of hope and purpose. She tells of how her family always had to watch how they spent their money, how her father worked two jobs, how a holiday would be going out to the country to help with harvests of hops and apples, and the near-death experience of her brother when he developed appendicitis which went undiagnosed for two critical days. A cause for celebration was when the government subsidized the installation of indoor plumbing in their home. Her mother’s relationship with Jackie alternated between loving and rocky. Despite it all, Jackie considered her life a happy success.
Jackie Grew Up Just Outside of Town
Jackie also told other stories about the Great War: the gross injuries suffered by many men and the White Feather Movement which wrongfully accused some men of cowardice when they had actually done their duty at the cost of severe injuries. She told of singing and dancing for two brothers who had empty sockets where their eyes had once been. But not only the men suffered; there were women who endured a lifetime of loneliness because their loved one had died in the war. The government called them “surplus women,” the two million women who would never marry because of the corpse-strewn battlefields in France and elsewhere.
As a youngster, Jackie had experiences with Granddad’s PTSD. She had misbehaved so badly that the old man had an episode where he stabbed her doll because it had triggered memories of bayonet training. Even at the age of 77, Granddad was removing steel splinters from his legs, put there by a shell that had exploded nearly 50 years ago. These experiences led to her interest in that period, shaping her novels.
Early in the book, her riding trainer asked Jackie, then age 63, to attempt something new. Because of her fear of this activity, she had several sessions with a sports psychologist. She was diagnosed with secondary PTSD because of her mother’s stories about being trapped in a house collapsed by bombing during the Blitz. A reviewer had written of one of her Great War novels, “…the wartime period that continues to haunt her.” Elsewhere, Jackie quotes a study that claims it takes three generations for war trauma to pass through a family.
While I haven’t read Jackie’s novels—my wife has read them all—I found this book, pardon the cliché, a page-turner. Two wars formed the background for Jackie’s upbringing, and she used them both to become an acclaimed novelist. Read this book to learn how the wars affected a nation for decades in ways that are eye-opening to us relatively spoiled Yanks. Or read it just because it’s a really good story.