Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Call of the Wrens

If you love historical fiction set in the First and Second World War, strong, daring, remarkable women who force society’s limits, this is the book for you!

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Historical Context

This is from the author’s note, because I simply can’t put it better. Jenny Walsh talks about women in the World Wars in Great Britain:

At the onset of the Great War in 1914, the only military role viewed as “suitable” for a woman was in the capacity of a nurse.

Nineteen thousand women served as nurses and up to one hundred thousand as Voluntary Aid Detachments.

No small number, and invaluable to the war efforts. Still, women weren’t seen as a viable asset until 1916, when the British realized a large manpower shortage.

[…] The Wrens (nicknamed this way from the acronym WRNS – Women’s Royal Navy Service) officially began in 1917, and by 1919 was over seven thousand strong, including such positions as cooks and stewards, writers and telephonists, sail makers, coders and cyphers, and my personal favorite: motorcycle dispatch riders.

[…] At its peak in 1944, the number of women who served within the Wrens was nearly seventy-five thousand, with postings all over the world.

“The Call of the Wrens”, by Jenny Walsh
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The Call of the Wrens – Plot

Marion is an orphan getting evicted from the orphanage where she was living because she was turning 18. Having no income and no home, her best alternative is to join the war efforts at the beginning of the First World War. Her best friend, soon to become her boyfriend, Eddie, does his best to follow her, even into the war.

Evelyn is a beautiful, rich heiress with a club foot, who, before the Second World War, was a passionate race car driver. The war puts an end to her activity and forces her to go along with her parents. They move away from the big cities, the ones most likely to be bombarded. Life becomes unbearably sheltered and dull and being treated as a child by her mother takes up new dimensions. With the help of her childhood friend, Percy, she joins the war as a dispatch motorcycle rider.

The two stories show determined, strong willed women who overcome their insecurities and do their best to serve their country. As you may expect, their destiny brings them together at some point and everything gets tied up beautifully.

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My Thoughts

…On the Characters

I love how the author draws a parallel between Marion and Evelyn. The two serve in different wars, different times, when expectations of women have changed. The change in how they are viewed is not radical from the First World War to the Second, but it is there, and it is palpable in the book.

Both women are strong and are a lot alike in determination, but they are driven by different motivations. Evelyn wants to prove herself and that makes her reckless. Marion, as an orphan, wants to belong. She finds a sisterhood with the Wrens. They make her happy.

Both women have a childhood friend who believes in them and who is able to reach their soul. They also don’t have any girl friends while growing up and don’t really get how to interact with other women. Eddie and Percy remain their main, almost only friends as adults too. However, while Eddie is clearly completely in love (Marion and Eddie soon become a couple), the relationship between Evelyn and Percy is more complicated. Their parents’ pressure doesn’t help either.

Evie has a much too sheltered life, while Marion’s life was much too difficult, but they were, in the end, both very lonely. Marion’s passion for reading is endearing. Evie’s passion for race cars suits her nature perfectly.

These two characters, as the author explains in an ending note, while fictional, where inspired by real people. The situations they go through were inspired by real situation Wrens faced in the two World Wars.

What I loved most about them was, however, their portrayal of personal motivations that pushed them in the wars. They were not intrinsically motivated by serving their country. They both joined for what can essentially be viewed as selfish reasons.

That felt very, very real.

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…On the Writing

The book is constructed with two different timelines. One is Marion’s, which starts before the First World War and one is Evelyn’s, which starts before the Second World War. The events in their lives mirror each other and we get to see two points of view, two different upbringings, two reactions to war, two different love stories. This made me very attached to all the characters.

The war descriptions are on point, but with nothing of the horrid details one might expect in war.

The only thing I didn’t like was that there are scenes with a bit of a build up, only to have nothing happen in the end. I am still not sure what to think of them. An example is when Marion delivers pigeons to a man who delays giving her the receipt for completing her mission. She is fearful, she doesn’t understand why the man delays giving her the receipt. I start thinking…Is he a spy? Is he going to rape or kill her?…

🫣 Spoiler alert: he does nothing of the sort and we move on rapidly to a different scene, no real conclusion from it.

Is it just me? 🤔

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I was so moved by this story! Women claiming their right to serve, women running away from a sheltered life, women finding kinship within army service, women finding courage for anything – everything was such an example of a positive, inspiring message. I loved, loved, loved everything about this book!

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If you like historical fiction, this novel can’t be missed!

If you love historical novels, you can also check my other recommendations here.

✨✨✨ The book is available on Goodreads here ✨✨✨

The call of the Wrens by Jenny Walsh

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