A historical novel throws a young man into the World War I trenches with a glimpse of possible salvation through love.
November 1916. Deep in France in the Valley of the Somme, Harry Wheatly is “sick of dirt, sick of death, and sick of the everlasting mud.” He keeps colorful visions of Saskatchewan, Canada, alive by reading the Bible his grandmother gave him. Tragically, the book falls in the mud, so he takes it on an operation to Amiens, hoping to clean it. But he loses the Bible in a river, where local widow Rosemarie Legrand retrieves it. Seeing that the book is soaked, Harry loses hope until Rosemarie offers to dry it in the sun daily until his return. She treats the task like a mission: It is “vital to her to rescue his book as if it too had become a victim of war.” When possible, he brings Rosemarie and her son, Marcel, rations, but always deems the Bible in need of more drying as an excuse to return. Rosemarie eagerly anticipates Harry’s visits as he earns her love, and he tries to see her every Christmas morning as the war continues. But in 1918, when the Germans press into France, she must flee to the countryside and they lose track of each other. After the Armistice, Harry is sent to Wales. He contracts the Spanish flu, putting his love and life at risk. In the postwar chaos, many obstacles must be overcome if the lovers are to reunite. Warfield (Valentines From Bath, 2019, etc.) has authored numerous historical novels and this fourth entry in the Holiday Collection series continues to demonstrate her mastery of period details. The passages about civilian living conditions, military movements, and the soldiers’ challenges lend a laudable degree of authenticity to the story (When Harry “first reached France, he had found solace in writing poetry, but he had long run out of metaphors for death...Harry was sure he had begun to go mad the morning it occurred to him that even the fighting would be preferable to the long slow annihilation of those trapped in the hell of the trenches”). The romance is quiet with a touch of passion. A minor flaw is the lack of maps for readers who are less informed about World War I.
A well-researched, engaging war tale infused with Christmas themes and a gentle romance.