Set in 1946, World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfil the promises made to the men they wed in wartime. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy’s ironclad sanctions. And for Frances Mackenzie, the complicated young woman whose past comes back to haunt her far from home, the journey will change her life in ways she never could have predicted—forever.
Jojo Moyes The Ship of Brides is a fictional account of an actual voyage undertaken by young Australian women in 1946. They left Australia starry eyed and desperate to reunite with their husbands - British servicemen whom they had met during their own service or while the men were on R&R in Australia. Most of of the marriages were hasty and for some brides the arrival of a brusque four word telegram “Not wanted don’t come” was a shattering humiliation, as they were bundled back home in disgrace. Many were pregnant, and nearly all were naive and vulnerable.
By focussing on four brides, Jojo Moyes brings this amazing journey to life. Avice, the wealthy, snobbish young socialite must share a tiny, hot and claustrophobic cabin with a Jean, 17 year old illiterate working class girl whose main aim is to have as much fun and alcohol as she possibly can. They are joined by Margaret from a farming background. Her advanced pregnancy ensures a most uncomfortable trip but she does her best to maintain peace and good humour between her cabin mates. Finally, there is Frances, who is reserved and enigmatic. A former Army nurse she seems the most mature but she has many secrets which could destroy her. It is a taxing voyage for all, despite all the efforts of the navy personnel to provide for and entertain this unusual cargo. All the women are facing the unknown, undesired proximity to strangers, seasickness, boredom, physical privations and great apprehension about their future in a strange country with their barely known husbands and new families. It is really hard to imagine how they must have felt.
Put nearly 700 young women on a worn-out naval vessel for six weeks with 1000 young men overseen by an irascible, ageing captain who never wanted this voyage in the first place and just about anything might happen - and it did! An interesting account of the actual voyage is available at this website, and the book brings it to life for us remarkably well.
This was a great book for several reasons: it made me aware of the problems facing war brides and how their stories did not all have happy endings. It was well written - in fact a real page turner, with great observations of character and situations.