On Distant Shores
I’ve recently finished a glom of Foyle’s War, an excellent BBC mystery series set during WWII which looks at life on the English home front. This novel also deals with various portions of Europe during the war and reminds us that not everything centered on hometown parades with confetti and streamers. It cost a lot to get to those celebrations.
Lt. Georgiana (Georgie) Taylor followed her best friend Rose into flight nursing. Georgie is really more of a home and hearth kind of girl, so working in the air and being transferred to bases all over the globe to help evacuate seriously wounded men has been a huge stretching of the wings for her. Every day is a decision on whether she should stay or go. Complicating matters is the fact that her fiancé and family back home write regularly to let her know she is not cut out for the life of glamour and grit that is a flight nurse’s lot and she should come back to them. ASAP.
Sgt. John (Hutch) Hutcherson is a pharmacist who, rather than using his degree to attain officer status, enters the forces as enlisted for the sake of his profession. Pharmacists are seen as technicians, nothing more, and don’t receive credit for anything beyond filling a doctor’s orders. But Hutch knows the truth. His pharmacy degree enables him to make aspirin, something the other techs have no idea how to mix. His degree tells him how to stock a pharmacy, which chemicals should never, ever be shipped together, and what meds can be substituted for others in a pinch. Yet it is hard to perform his service with a smile when his rank prevents him from getting respect and the doctors treat him like less than a medic.
When Hutch meets Georgie he is attracted to her but also very aware of his fiancé back home. Georgie, a social butterfly, finds herself drawn to the quiet, stoic sergeant. Delighted that he is one of the few men in the army not flirting with her, she forms a tenuous friendship with him. She invites him to parties and other outings she plans, and he shows her the stars through his telescope. They talk about home and hopes and dreams for when the war ends. And each of them privately wrestles with inner demons.
Georgie knows she is not good at her job. She also knows her heart is not in it, not because she doesn’t believe in flight nursing but because she doesn’t believe in herself. When the time comes where she will either have to step up and be brave or quit, she isn’t sure she will manage to do what she secretly wants to do. Then a tragedy affects her decisions in ways she could never have imagined.
Hutch believes in himself and what he does. But he grows increasingly frustrated and angry that the army medical corps doesn’t. As the rage builds within he has to determine whether God’s grace really is sufficient for him or not.
Even as they face internal battles they face external ones as well. Problems from the home front cloud the lives of those serving in these shrapnel-ridden theaters and the war itself threatens them at every turn. Can love be borne in such violence and turmoil?
Since this is an Inspirational, trusting God through the really tough times is an important part of the story and is interwoven throughout the tale. The author does a good job of not using her text to preach but instead simply showing her characters’ growth. She also does a great job of painting a picture of what the war looked and felt like to people who had never before thought globally. I liked the way that came through in the book – that for many of the people fighting in the war the experience of leaving home and being thousands of miles away was, while not as much of a shock as the fighting itself, still a big deal. Georgie, a girl who had planned to marry her next door neighbor and never venture much beyond the confines of her small southern county is overwhelmed – in a good way – by the adventures offered in the greater world. She is in awe that a girl like herself is seeing Pompeii, temples, and Italian shores first hand.
Hutch, a big city boy, learns that challenges come in different shapes and sizes and the real adventure is in overcoming them. What will determine what his war looks like is the attitude he brings to those challenges.
I loved the depiction of practicing medicine during the war, when supplies were short and enemy fighters were deliberately bombing clinics. The story had much more of a battlefront feel than many other WWII books I have read recently, which added both a sense of urgency and suspense. There was one scene in particular that was memorable, in which Georgie finds herself with a full bladder while surrounded by men and no way of emptying it without either wetting herself or exposing herself. I loved the solution shown.
The love story here is sweet and very slow which I found appropriate given the circumstances. Both began the war in love with others and have to deal with that issue before they are free to love each other. The author handled each situation individually and didn’t just cause convenient endings in either case. There was a portion of the book where the two had some struggles with each other but this seemed natural given what was going on in their hearts.
I found this an amazingly fast and pleasing read. While not perfect it is certainly a strong story with wonderful insight into the war and the feelings of some of the average Americans fighting it. I am happy to recommend it.