Published on April 17th, 2023 | by Tim Chuma

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson Review (2023)

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson Review (2023) Tim Chuma

Summary: While it is good to finally have an account of the SE Asian theatre of WWII and particularly this incident, it seems to cut off abruptly and misses out an important element


Needs more detail

Based on the events surrounding the Bangka Island Massacre including the sinking of the Vyner Brooke this story follows two nurses from Western Australia Minnie Hodgson and Margot McNee and the friends they end up making on the way to Singapore and subsequent capture by the Japanese.

Of the 65 nurses on the Vyner Brooke only 24 made it back to Australia after the war. While some of the characters in the book have names of people who have died, others seem to have been based on several different people. Hetty seems to stand in for Vivian Bullwinkle who witnessed the massacre and ended up testifying in the war crimes tribunal after the war.

While I do have sort of an interest in World War Two, I am not super into it as some people seem to be. This book does take quite a while to get going (over 100 pages before they get to the ship) and then does seem to end rather abruptly. It took at least another year for the nurses to be well enough to make it back to Australia

I have read other books on prisoners in captivity including Changi Photographer and Edward Weary Dunlop’s biography, this did seem to be along similar lines but from the nurses’ perspective. It also seemed like it was written a long time ago as the only characterisation the Japanese guards get is EVIL. Even the Tomorrow When the War Began adaptation decided to add more characterisation to the enemy soldiers in the TV version, they didn’t even have a face or name in the books.

No need for everything to be as deep as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence or All Quiet on the Western Front, even just more than the name and “they are evil” would be enough. This book seems to be angling for a screen adaptation, is very episodic and split up in a way that seems to facilitate this.

There is some dramatic liberties taken in the book, supposedly the Australian government told the survivors to keep quiet as to what really happened during the massacre. Would have made the end of the book even worse than it is already so I guess they kept that out.

History is not neat and tidy and often you have to find out things you rather would not. It does not change what happened back then but does make it so you do not want to do the same things again.

Although I can see that a lot of work went into this book and it is from a new perspective I would recommend reading more of the actual history rather than this book as you would get more out of it.

If you already know a lot about World War Two and want to read a story about the South East Asian theatre of war I would recommend it. A lot of the stories still seem to be based in Europe or places the USA fought and not the Australians as much.

Book details:

Published: 12 April 2023

ISBN: 9780143779100

Imprint: Michael Joseph

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 400

RRP: $32.99

Categories: War & combat

About the Author

Writer, photographer, artist and music fan from Melbourne, Australia.

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