Caulfield (Murder in Pigeon Cove, 2011, etc.) presents a biography of a U.S. Army nurse, whose English posting allowed her to witness the heroic and tragic results of some epic 20th-century battles.
The author runs through the life and career of her elderly New England friend, a typical World War II Army nurse. However, nobody’s story can be called typical on the fringes of this fierce global conflict. June Houghton Sullivan, after a chaotic, cross-country upbringing during the Depression, enrolled in a Massachusetts nursing school at 17 in 1940. In 1943, she enlisted in the Army Auxiliary Nursing Corps and shipped out aboard the Queen Mary, through U-boat– infested waters, to work in the 120th Station Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland. Her unit relocated to different countryside locales in a grievously embattled Britain, where Houghton and her fellow caregivers labored to heal wounded Allied troops and, after D-Day, German prisoners. One Luftwaffe pilot received, unbeknownst to him, a transfusion from a Jewish doctor—the only match to his rare blood type. Other detainees were Axis conscripts, innocents who wanted no part of the Third Reich. Richly illustrated by Sullivan’s photo collection (including a snapshot of young Crown Princess Elizabeth), this slim volume sometimes takes unnecessary detours, addressing such tangential topics as President John F. Kennedy’s childhood bout with scarlet fever. That said, the book is tastefully written and suitable for young-adult readers—swear words are coyly bleeped, and there’s no immersion in combat-wound gore. Older readers may appreciate the chivalry and values of a bygone era, as when June quits an early hospital job after one day because young male patients got “fresh” with her or when a maimed SS officer in custody is allowed the honor of retaining his treasured Iron Cross.
A companionable, nostalgic salute to an unsung WWII heroine.