Title: The War Nurses
Author: Anthea Hodgson
Published: April 12th 2023
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
A moving and inspiring WWII novel of friendship and courage, based on the true events of the Bangka Island Massacre, by the bestselling author of The Drifter.
‘A powerful and absorbing story of friendship and courage, bringing to life a history that should never be forgotten. I could not put this book down, even as it broke my heart.’ Kelly Rimmer
In 1941, country girls Minnie Hodgson and Margot McNee set sail from Perth, Australia, for Singapore in search of adventure, full of excitement and keen to do their part working as nurses to the fallen soldiers in a time of war. What they encounter is an army of new friends and the terrors of a city under siege.
When the Japanese attack and Singapore falls, they are forced to flee aboard the Vyner Brooke. The ship is bombed, resulting in utter devastation. Separated in the mayhem, one group of nurses find themselves in prisoner-of-war camps for the duration of the war, surviving on their wits, with humour, dignity, loyalty and determination. But another group of young Australian nurses – the girls on the beach – are washed ashore on Bangka Island, where they will meet a fate that must never be forgotten.
Inspired by the author’s own family story, this is an unforgettable novel of enduring friendship and boundless courage, based on the shocking true events of the Bangka Island Massacre. It is both a riveting tale and an important tribute to our brave nurses who sacrificed so much during World War II.
Releasing in time for last month’s Anzac Day commemoration, The War Nurses is a historical fiction title inspired by real life experiences. The sinking of the Vyner Brooke after it was bombed followed by the Bangka Island massacre on Radji Beach in 1942 is the principal subject focus of West Australian author Anthea Hodgson’s much anticipated third novel. Filled with stories of extraordinary bravery, grit, resilience, fortitude and endurance, The War Nurses is a fundamental text that should not be overlooked.
Australia’s role in the war, with a focus on the female perspective of World War II, is illuminated in written form thanks to Anthea’s Hodgson’s The War Nurses. Taking us initially to the year 1941, we meet a group of country girls from WA who embark on an unforgettable journey to Singapore from Perth. Hoping to do their part of the war, these excited young women are keen to experience a new way of life while nursing injured soldiers in the war. While new friendships are forged, these women face incredible horrors as the war takes hold. The resulting Japanese attacks on Singapore send the Australian nursing crew on board a vessel named Vyner Brooke and this fateful move sees the women on board grapple with the aftermath of a fatal bomb attack from the Japanese. The Vyner Brooke is destroyed and the nurses find themselves facing a new nightmare in the prisoner of war camps run by the Japanese. This experience will test the nurses to their very limits as sickness, poor living conditions, the weather, the brutality of the soldiers and a lack of food and water consumes them one by one. A group of nurses who find shelter on the shores of Bangka Island face a destiny that cannot be erased from history, despite the attempts of the government to hide this terrible chapter of history. Remembering those who sacrificed their all in securing our freedom today, The War Nurses is a moving tribute to the heroic nurses of the Second World War and the Bangkor Island massacre.
I know it’s been a while since we last heard from Anthea Hodgson and now we know why. Hodgson has been toiling away for years on The War Nurses, living and breathing the hidden histories of her Aunt Minnie and company’s experiences during the Second World War. Finally, now that her third highly anticipated novel has been published, we are able to find out what kept Anthea so busy and committed to telling her Aunt Minnie’s story, along with the other incredibly brave nurses who shared this moving time with Minnie.
Anthea Hodgson, hats off to you for your passion, commitment and enduring spirit in ensuring that the nurses of the Bangkor Island Massacre and the Vyner Brooke bombing have their stories told. I know I was utterly captive from the moment I stepped into the pages of The War Nurses until the bitter end of this tragic novel. I feel so blessed to learn about the fate of these women, which is brought to life thanks to Anthea Hodgson’s penmanship. I also feel a touch embarrassed that I really didn’t know anything at all about this particular segment of the war. In fact, for years this pocket of Australian nursing history was hidden from the public thanks to a government gag order. I was inspired to conduct some further research and additional reading following the conclusion of my very moving reading experience of The War Nurses. Once readers crack this one open, they will discover a treasure trove of history linked to the very personal female perspective of the nurses who headed off to Singapore from Australia in the Second World War. Informed by copious documents, testimonies, museum artefacts and accounts, Anthea Hodgson has balanced plenty of historical fact with fiction, to ensure that we can fully connect to this incredibly moving story. I couldn’t believe thanks to the author notes that some of the most outrageous but also atrocious acts in this story were actually very real. I think you need to read it to believe it! Many of the scenes featured in The War Nurses are still sitting with me as I compose this review.
Hodgson’s connective writing allows us to see the various core nursing staff who grace the pages of this novel as much more than just historical figures from times past. We feel their emotions, feelings, anxieties, hopes, dreams and moments of utter despair. Each cast member is rendered perfectly, with a strong blend of authenticity and interest. I loved the touches of friendship and even romance that filled the pages of this unthinkable war story. It will fill your eyes with tears as these courageous women were placed in an against all odds situation, simply for serving their country. At every moment I felt a part of the comradery which is down to Hodgson’s enveloping style of storytelling. Make sure you read the author notes at the end of The War Nurses, it is vital that you understand the importance of this story.
I dearly hope the publication of The War Nurses will share the spirit and bravery of the women who gave their lives so selflessly to the war effort, in such heartbreaking circumstances. May they live on in our own minds thanks to the dedicated words of author Anthea Hodgson.
The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson is published on April 16th 2023 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The War Nurses, Anthea Hodgson visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.