Review: Joyce’s War

Verdict:

A fascinating slice of history told from a unique point of view; Joyce’s War perfectly captures a wartime experience that is both alien yet strangely familiar to us. Though you will be left desperate to know more (Joyce introduces a fiance and then a husband with no indication as to how they met!), Joyce’s War is an essential, easy read for anyone interested in personal accounts of global events.

 

Joyce’s War: The Second World War Journal Of A Queen Alexandra Nurse 

– Joyce Ffoulkes Parry, edited by Rhiannon Evans 9780750962308_2_1

 

Overview:

The previously unpublished private diary of Joyce Ffoulkes Parry, a Queen Alexandra nurse serving in Africa and the Middle East during the Second World War.

Review:

During her time on active service as a Queen Alexandra Nurse during World War Two, Joyce Parry kept a journal, detailing both her personal experiences and the development of the conflict at large. Her daughter, and the book’s editor, Rhiannon Evans states in the introduction that Joyce wanted her journal to be published – and it certainly seems so, both in the poetic way she writes and in her great attention to the war itself. Joyce, it would appear, hoped that her diary would one day be shared and studied as a reliable source on the war.

Where Joyce truly excels is in providing her readers with a unique and fairly unusual view of the war. When we think of the Second World War, we think of the Blitz, D-Day, France and Dunkirk. Primarily, as well, we think of the male soldiers risking their lives and the women who were left behind. As an active female participant in the war, Joyce’s point of view is an invaluable historical asset. As Rhiannon Evans points out, Antony Beevor’s definitive (not to mention recent) work on World War Two doesn’t even mention nurses or nursing in its index. This is therefore a rare treat for academics and armchair historians alike.

More importantly, Joyce spent the majority of the war in the Middle East and Africa – places ravaged by the war and yet largely forgotten in western writing on the conflict. It is a refreshing, insightful read – a World War experience harassed by humidity, mosquitos and monsoons! Unfortunately, a lack of contextualising information from Rhiannon Evans means that it can be a bit unclear as to what is happening around Joyce. While Joyce does her best to update her journal with the war’s progress, she writes as one living an event, rather than for readers 70+ years down the line. Perhaps she hoped one day to add in extra detail? Regardless, while footnotes have been added to explain certain references, the book would have benefited from an introductory timeline or or something of that nature.

Ultimately, though, Rhiannon Evans’s decision to transcribe and publish her mother’s diary exactly as she found it should be applauded: when historical writing so often says as much about the writer as it does the subject, we are allowed an unparalleled insight into life in the 1940s, rather than a viewpoint coloured by 21st century culture. The journal is also made all the more enjoyable for Joyce’s talent as a writer. She is by turns funny, poetic, blunt and inspiring. Though not without her fair share of war-time agony and suffering, Joyce’s experiences are surprisingly relatable – she explores new cities, she goes shopping, she worries about her next pay cheque… In short, it is not your usual wartime account, though this makes it no less valid. If anything, it makes it more valuable. As I have written before (and will probably write again), there is never one all-encompassing experience of global warfare and Joyce’s War is a perfect testament to this.

You can buy the book here.

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