One Woman’s War by Christine Wells – the contribution of a woman to an operation that may change the course of the Second World War

One Woman’s War by Christine Wells

Set in the Second World War, this is a novel of women’s contributions to the secret world of espionage. Despite the title, it features two women who found themselves at the heart of the secret activities that had a bearing not only on their fates, but also on the chances of thousands of others, and arguably the outcome of the war itself. They are different women in some ways, from Austria and Britain, having varying experiences and lives. Their perspectives on their roles differ; is it self-interest, the greater good or sheer survival? This is a clever, deeply felt book which focuses rather brilliantly on the thoughts and feelings of Victorie “Paddy” Bennett and Friedl Stottinger as they face challenges of various kinds. They are attracted to various men in different ways, they put their lives on hold for different reasons, and there may be real danger in what they do. This book is obviously based on a lot of research in various areas, ranging from the treatment of “enemy aliens”, how government department worked and the rarefied work of the secret services to what women actually wore when foreign clothes were difficult to import, and shortages began to bite. The author skilfully blends this information into the story in a natural way. It also mentions real people, particularly Ian Fleming before he created James Bond and was working on elaborate schemes to try to turn the tide of the war. This is a carefully written novel which is based on real events and solid evidence as seen and experienced by two women. I found it an intense and vivid read that I greatly enjoyed, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The novel opens in Bordeux, France on 18th June, 1940. It is fairly early in the war, but German forces are moving towards the occupation of France, meaning that many British people are desperately trying to escape across the channel. As desperate people scan the horizon for ships to escape on, many with their possessions, Paddy is taking a keen interest on who may be able to help her and others. Called on to help an older woman in distress, she meets Jean who will become an important friend. She takes charge of the situation with commendable organisation and gives a good impression to many. She resolves to play her part in the war effort by nursing but being untrained she is landed with the very worst of tasks. Accordingly, she does not take much persuading to leave that role and enter the Admiralty, and not merely as a typist but becoming involved in a vital role working with the charismatic Fleming. As her situation changes, she wonders if she is doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, singer Friedl is performing in Portugal when she is approached to undertake espionage work for Germany in Britain, where her sister has married well and will have excellent contacts in the upper reaches of society. Despite her family’s adoption of fascism, she is very reluctant to do so. Once in Britain she is approached from another source and is keen to avoid internment. However hard she tries, there seems to be danger in every shadow, and she must show extraordinary fortitude and resourcefulness to cope.

This is an enthralling read which I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters are strong and well-drawn, and the settings, which encompass London in the Blitz and other places yet untouched by war. I am very interested in the part played by women in the War, and this book really emphasises that nothing was straightforward and that many had to make difficult decisions. I recommend this as a vibrant and well written book.