Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson

First Lines: 17 October 1945. Maisie Shipley put down her copy of The Daily News and gazed out her kitchen window, momentarily taken an ocean away, to the jungles of Sumatra, and to a beach on a small tropical island.
In 1941, country girls Minnie Hodgson and Margot McNee board a ship in Perth, Australia, and sail to Singapore, keen to experience a life of adventure and excitement as nurses doing their bit during wartime.

When the Japanese attack and Singapore falls, they board the Vyner Brooke to escape. The ship is bombed and sinks. In the mayhem, Minnie, Margot, and the friends they've made are separated. One group finds themselves in prisoner-of-war camps for the duration, while the other washes ashore on Bangka Island to meet a fate that should never be forgotten.


The War Nurses, inspired by the author's own family history, is a sensitively-written story of friendship, courage, and endurance. It is based on the true events of the Bangka Island Massacre, and not only does it have the power to inform and inspire, but it can also break your heart. I've read non-fiction accounts of the things nurses were forced to endure in Southeast Asia during World War II, and Hodgson's novel ranks right up there with them. 

The author's notes and acknowledgments at the end of the book let readers know important facts and how she pieced together the story. The mind boggles at what these women were forced to endure and at how they managed to use their wits and courage to survive in unbelievable circumstances. (One of the things that made the nurses' situation even worse was that they were not considered to be prisoners of war. They were merely "internees" and not given any of the paltry "extras" prisoners of war were allowed. This really put their creativity to the test.)

As sad and horrifying as The War Nurses could be, I also found it heartwarming to read how important and life-affirming friendship was to these women, and what they would do to endure, to live to tell others of what really happened.

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson
eISBN: 9780143779117
Michael Joseph © 2023
eBook, 401 pages
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. This sounds powerful, Cathy. Those women made so many sacrifices and, as you say, went through so much, and we don't always know the truth behind their stories. It sounds as though Hodgson explores that in depth without losing sight of the characters.

    1. She does. One of the reasons these women were determined to live and get back home is to let the families of the nurses who died know exactly what had happened to them.

  2. This sounds like an amazing book! And one I definitely want to read. It reminds me a little of Guests of the Emperor by Janice Young Brooks which I read years ago and totally loved.

    1. I'll have to look that book up. I think I've read too much to want to be a "guest of the Emperor"!


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