Garden by Rhys Bowen brings to life women's roles during
World War I. As with her other historical novels she beautifully
blends in historical facts, likable characters, and a mystery.
Emily Bryce meets Australian pilot Robbie
Kerr while she volunteers to pass out cookies to those wounded
in battle. She is not allowed to sit and talk to the young
men or write letters for them, and can only serve buns from
silver trays with crystal tongs. It is against the rules to
talk to the men other than pleasantries. But Kerr has other
ideas, and as an Australian, he is willing to break the rules.
As he gets to know Emily, he encourages her to become more
independent. They start to become very close, and after he
is transferred to another hospital, she decides to disobey
her parents, and join the Women's Land Army to do something
to help the home front and feel worthwhile. The bonus is that
she will be close to Robbie until he is called upon to fight
again. Knowing that pilots in that era had only a life expectancy
of six weeks the mystery becomes whether Robbie will ever
Meanwhile one of Emily's assignments is tending
to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It's
here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a
medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden.
Emily now has a profession of sorts as well.
"I wanted to show how just fifteen years
before, the Wright Brothers invented the plane. It was basically
paper and had fabric wings, tied together with wire. There
was a high risk of crashing, not to mention the dog fights
of the pilots. Remember the Red Baron was during this era.
It is quite understandable there was so much PTSD among all
those fighting. Those boys living in England got on a boat
and crossed the Channel for an hour. Then they were in hell,
knee-deep in the muddy trenches surrounded by rats. They had
to endure grenades and rockets firing on them."
Bowen also noted, "In England, the War
literally wiped out a whole generation. I thought if the men
were off fighting who would become the blacksmiths, carpenters,
and gardeners? Of course, it was the women who stepped up.
Women showed they could do tasks people thought beyond them.
Those in the Women's Land Army wore bloomers, boots, and army
jackets. They threw away their corsets and cut their hair.
They wanted to show women were no longer subservient. Also,
class barriers broke down for those women in the WLA. Normally,
people Emily worked with would not have been those she associated
with. Yet, the cockney girl, those raised on farms, and Emily,
a middle-class girl, all became friends and had incredible
support for each other. They came through beautifully. After
the war, because ten million young men died, many of the women
remained in jobs because the men were not coming home. It
was shortly after WWI that women in England were given the
Interestingly, the contrast between women at the home front
versus women on the warfront shows how society was changing.
Many women have taken jobs once denied to them, replacing
the men fighting. Clarissa Hamilton is an example of an aristocrat
who had taken on a very intense job, becoming a nurse and
directly tending to those wounded on the battlefront. Emily,
living in England, had to wait until she turned twenty-one
because during that era parents controlled their children.
But once that age, Emily contributes in her own way to the
This story is informative, and readers take a journey with
Emily. They see her grow from someone solely dependent on
her parents both financially and emotionally to a headstrong
woman who is determined to make a life of her own.