In January I reviewed Code Name Pauline by Kathryn J. Atwood (Chicago Review Press), the memoir of Pearl Witherington Cornioley, who was an SOE operative during WWII. The author recently sent me some more of her work from the Women of Action series and I’ve just finished reading Women Heroes of World War I. This book covers sixteen women in detail, from resisters and spies to medics, soldiers and journalists. Each role has a section, with an introduction and information about each of the women.
I found descriptions of women such as Flora Sandes, who worked in Serbia during the war, very fresh because the Western Front is often concentrated on in books aimed at teenagers or young adults. Sandes was a British woman who went to Serbia to help nurse the soldiers there. She was involved in fundraising for, buying and distributing supplies.
Later, she was accepted as a private in the Serbian army. I enjoyed reading about women who worked in the other theatres of war further afield, such as Helena Gleichen, a radiographer in Italy. I was interested in the story of Marina Yurlova, a girl who boarded a troop train and ended up as a Cossack. I think the woman I was most inspired by was Louise de Bettignies, a French woman who worked for the British intelligence service and organised the Alice Network, a resistance group in Lille. This fascinating woman thought of many creative ways of evading arrest while carrying secret messages.
All of the accounts were very interesting and full of information. I certainly learned a lot, and the use of anecdotes made the women leap off the page! As the women worked in different countries, and some moved between several places, I found the map at the beginning of the book very helpful for tracking the progress of each story. There are many quotes and short historical background notes included which were relevant and useful as well.
On the other hand, there were places where more stringent editing would have improved the read. Also, I was disappointed that while this book includes information about British, French and Russian women, as well as a Romanian and women who worked in Serbia and Italy, there was very little mention of any German women. As the title of the book, (Women Heroes of World War I), does not say anything about ‘Allied Women Heroes’, I think that the imbalance was odd, although it could be due to a lack of available sources. However, the depth of research and detail in this book is evident and the author has provided a feast of fascinating stories which inspire and educate.