The premise of The Ship of Brides did not instantly strike the right chord with me. I had settled for a guilty-pleasure read to take my mind off a mind-boggling book. After all, it had all the appearance of an ordinary war romance story, and I have always been a sucker for those. Mind you, it looked safely sentimental – pretty purple cover and all – nothing too existential, surely.
To some extent I had assumed correctly. The Ship of Brides is a war romance in pretty colors. To a bigger extent it is a to-the-point ode to courage in the face of uncertainty and social dogma. I was not changed by reading it, I did not emerge form it with that nice stupor of having read something raw and real, a truth that just renders your soul. I will soon forget most of the story. But I will not forget the historical facts that gave it life, and my admiration of the women it describes.
The book tells the story of the over 600 Australian war brides, who traveled on an aircraft carrier to Great Britain after the end of WWII to rejoin their British husbands. Some got news of those husbands’ deaths while travelling; others got a ‘Not Wanted, Don’t Come’ telegram, that would have send me on a killing spree right where it was sent from; and some, well, some were opportunistic.
The book is a delight. It has its plot holes and its sentimental moments, yes. But it also sheds light on an overlooked facet of the bigger story of war; and it does so with the confidence of massive research.
Many of the women on the HMS Victorious were still teenagers and all had crossed from childhood to adolescence in times of war. They had lost people dear to their hearts. Being women in the mid-XXth century they all faced the smallest of odds to make their own way in life. Marriage was the ultimate achievement in store for them.
Having all that in mind, how they faced that voyage is beyond me. How did they travel half the world, all alone, far from their families, to an unknown future with men whom they had known for precious little time, whose families and country they had no idea of.
A great read for fans of ships and the ocean, too – it takes you right there on the aircraft carrier. Worked great for my sailing nostalgia : )