Monday, 2 May 2011

Elsie and Mairi Go to War

This book by Diane Atkinson is the story of how two women find themselves working together in a field station so close to the enemy lines in World War 1 Belgium that they were subjected to enemy bombardments and gas attacks and could, at times, see and speak with German soldiers in their positions.

Elsie Knocker was a divorcee and Mairi Chisholm a well-to-do young lady from the Clan Chisholm. Elsie's childhood should have been a relatively prosperous one but circumstances conspired to destroy her young life, whilst Mairi's life was one of comfort and luxury.

What brought them together was a love of motorbikes and motorbike racing. And the need for volunteer ambulance drivers and volunteer nurses in the theatre of war.

It is a story of excitement, adventure, danger, death and misery caused by the first truly industrial scale war that the world has ever seen, of bureaucratic inertia and red tape, of petty jealousies, of ultimately breathtaking betrayal and a friendship forged in the heat of battle and probably destroyed by one careless 'white' lie and what can only be seen as more than one example of high-handed religious and social intolerance and pridefulness.

Diane Atkinson's book is an extremely well researched work, and she is meticulous in citing her sources. It is a very well written account of how two women, often by themselves, and woefully under-resourced, relying on public fund-raising, made a tremendous difference to the lives of soldiers, many of them severely traumatised and badly wounded in the hell that was World War One.

The book also reveals some interesting facts. That, despite later attempts by some authors to whitewash events, stories of German atrocities against French and German civilians and allied troops were not merely allied propaganda and that, pre-World War 1, there was a thriving and growing sub-culture of women's motorcycle racing, in which Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm had both played an active and important part.

The book relates the somewhat different lives of the two women after the war and, sadly, reveals how and why their friendship did not survive the war. It is an unfortunate fact that this does not really reflect well at all on one of the two women.

Published by Preface.

ISBN-13: 978-1848091337

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