by Jacqueline Winspear
New York: Soho Press, 2020. Pp. x, 303.
Illus.. $27.95. ISBN: 1641292946
How Two Wars Shaped A Novelist
Students of military history are probably wondering who is Jacqueline Winspear. 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 during 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-W.W. II England with all of the privations and difficulties thereof. England was impoverished by the Wars, unlike the US 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, her father worked two jobs, how a holiday would be going out to the country to help with harvests of hops and apples, 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 told many stories about the Great War; the gross injuries suffered by some 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 nearby fifty years ago. These experiences led to her interest in that period, shaping her novels.
Early in the book, her riding trainer asked Jackie, 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 any of 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.
Our Reviewer: Ron Drees is an archivist, retired from processing the collection of Dr. Michael DeBakey, a world-famous cardiologist at the Baylor College of Medicine. His interest in history dates back to junior high school with an emphasis on American military history, particularly the Civil and World Wars. He has written several reviews for Michael Hanlon's blog "Roads to the Great War", about the catastrophe that still shapes the world. His favorite WWI book is Margaret MacMillan’s Paris, 1919 which tells how the tragedy was compounded by setting the stage for even greater misery. He lives in Houston with his wife of 42 years, Lin, a retired librarian, and their Sheltie, Hannah. He had a grandfather who was a teamster on the German side in WWI, his first boss had been a Marine at Iwo Jima, virtually the only survivor of his company, and his brother-in-law had been at Inchon. Ron’s previous reviews include Imperial Germany and War, 1871-1918, Beneath the Killing Fields: Exploring the Subterranean Landscapes of the Western Front, Tirpitz and the Imperial German Navy, Between Mutiny and Obedience: The Case of the French Fifth Infantry Division during World War I, and The Kaiser’s U-Boat Assault on America.
Note: This Time Next Year We’ll be Laughing is also available in paperback, audio-, and e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium