Christmas with the Cornish Girls by Betty Walker – three young women work at a military officers’ convalescent home in 1941

Christmas with the Cornish Girls by Betty Walker

A well written novel telling the story of three women in 1941 as they work in a military officers’ convalescent home. Although the second book in a series, the setting is different from the first and new characters are introduced; it could certainly be read as a standalone novel.  This book is a brilliant story of the strange circumstances of war, the frustrations of rationing and fear in bombing raids, the unusual circumstances of life and the difficulties of uncertain relationships. Each of the three young women who feature have very different backgrounds and circumstances, are not necessarily great friends to begin with, but are forced to make connections in order to get through. As with the previous book in the series, there is a wealth of detail in the setting, with the descriptions of the wards and rooms being particularly detailed, and the clothes and other personal details being just right for the time. The dialogue is well used and reflects the language and especially the accents of the time. There is obviously a lot of research behind this book, but it never interferes with the narrative. Altogether it makes for a really enjoyable and involving reading experience, and I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 

The Cornish setting of this book means that it opens in the small village of Porthcurno, the site of a top secret listening post which provides work for Lily with her aunt and sister. It perhaps also increases the number and intensity of enemy bombing raids, and some of the women are emerging from a shelter, relieved to see that their home is still standing. When they are told that one of them must find new employment, Lily realises that her bad memories and current restlessness may well mean that she should take up an offer to work at Symmonds Hall. Eva, a Colonel’s daughter, is working at the Hall and wrote to offer Lily an alternative to her cleaning job, and the young woman decides to take up the training post. Eva has trained as a nurse, partly because she has a special interest in one of the officers receiving treatment at the Hall. She is a vivacious and determined character, and soon involves several people in her schemes and plans, which are always well intentioned. Perhaps the most remarkable character to be introduced is Sister Rose Gray. An experienced nurse who grew up in the area, she is very dedicated to her work at the Hall, and tries to ensure that the other nurses are similarly hard working.She has a strict reputation, but secretly admires doctor Lewis Lanyon, who she has known for years. Rose also becomes concerned about the treatment of the children in the adjoining Orphanage who she glimpses through windows and fences. She ponders whether they are harshly treated, especially when one small boy, Jimmy, particularly comes to her attention. As the festive season approaches, preparations and concerns about various patients come to the fore, especially as bombing raids seem to interupt every plan. 

This is a book that I greatly enjoyed, finding myself quickly immersed in the story and the fictional lives of the characters. The writing maintained my interest throughout, and the working out of the plot kept me guessing. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys female led dramas set during the Second World War as a lively and well written book.