This novel begins on Tuesday 21 November, 1916. 8:00a.m. aboard the HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship ) Britannic. Britannic had been requisitioned as a hospital ship with the onset of WWI and was travelling to collect wounded from Greek Macedonia, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. The time and the date are important because 12 minutes later, at 8:12 a.m, an explosion rocked the ship. (Probably a mine) Fifty-five minutes later the HMHS Britannic was lost beneath the sea. The Britannic had been a sister ship of the Titanic and many improvements had been undertaken so this ship could avoid the fate of the Titanic. Unfortunately, simple human error was probably responsible for its quick sinking ; the nurses had opened all the portholes on that fresh and breezy day to air out the chambers.There were adequate lifeboats (unlike the Titanic) and the final death toll was 30 men . This much is a fairly accurate account of the sinking of the Britannic .
And now to the story–or shall we say fiction. Bess Crawford is a nurse and a survivor of the Britannic. She is sent home to England to recover from a nasty broken arm and she has another mission that she is determined to complete during her leave. A soldier she had nursed made her promise to fulfill his dying wish. He wanted her to visit his family in Kent and give them a fairly simple-sounding message. She had agreed to do this but put it off more than once. Her near-death experience makes her realize that her life could end at any time and she better fulfill that promise.
The family is visited and the message is delivered. The family appear indifferent.
During her short visit to this small village, Bess is called upon for her nursing skills. The local doctor asks for her help with a shell-shocked patient and then she must nurse a pneumonia patient, the brother of the soldier responsible for her visit. She begins to put pieces together regarding the message and the family but much of it doesn’t make sense. eventually she must leave the village but this mystery won’t leave her alone.
This is another story about the devastation of war–even far from the battlefields.
A very worthwhile read.
Interesting tidbit—Charles Todd is actually a mother-son writing team.
Harper-Collins Publishers (2009)