A few weeks ago, I read The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey. The story follows the World War II adventures of three twenty-something women from Boston. This trio of best friends volunteer to be Red Cross Clubmobile girls overseas. One the women, Fiona, hopes to get to the European continent and somehow find out the fate of her missing-in-action fiancé. The other two have come along to support Fiona and also to support the troops.
This story kept my attention to the end. A few places felt like information dumps, but they were easily overlooked because they didn’t weigh the story down or keep me from enjoying the book. There was more romance than I thought there would be. It wasn’t overdone or unbelievable, though, and it didn’t overshadow the reasons I read this book. I was not disappointed with the story at all. It was a worthwhile read.
Why this book?
I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the lives of young people during the war. My mom, Gladys MARTIN HEISER (1921-1999), who was a government girl in Washington, D.C. during the war, said that no one knew if they would see another day and young people lived with that in the back of their minds. She said that because of this they had fun whenever they could; like dancing or sightseeing with soldiers, sailors, and WAC’s; taking boat rides down the Potomac River, and going to clubs to listen to music.
She said couples married hastily before the man was shipped out with some of the couples barely knowing each other. They got caught up in the emotion and stress of the times, both wanting something to hold onto in the uncertain times or wanting to meet that milestone in life while still alive to do it.
Did The Beantown Girls line up with what my mom said?
The Beantown Girls echoed how my mother described the war years. Being able to take a break from the war by listening to music or dancing or having a peaceful meal was treasured and appreciated by most all the characters in the story. The attitude of not knowing if they would live another day was apparent, especially since the story took place in England and on the European continent where fighting was going on. Relationships between characters happened faster than one might expect, but perhaps the characters’ feelings of having to ‘live’ now-or-never lent to those quick romances.
The girls and the soldiers
The descriptions of what the girls did as Red Cross Clubmobile girls lines up with what I read about them from other sources. Soldiers being there one day and gone the next lines up, too. Losing soldiers in battles happened, too, as one would expect. But happy reunions happened, as well. The girls were morale boosters for the soldiers, a fresh breath of home, and a distraction from the war.
In the story the soldiers bravely followed their orders, knowing at all times that they might not return. Yet they did it anyway because of the importance of the war. I expect my dad, Charles Leroy HEISER (1913-2001) had a similar experience, and I gained a new understanding of his time in France as a glider mechanic and paratrooper pusher. He used to joke that he never jumped himself, but he did push the paratroopers off the planes.
I’m sure every time he went up to push paratroopers out he knew the plane he was in could be shot down. But he kept doing it anyway. He was a brave man. And not the only one.
A photo in my dad’s WW II photo album
As I was reading, I remembered a photo from my dad’s World War II photo album of a young woman serving coffee and donuts to soldiers. My dad isn’t in the photo; but perhaps he knew people in it. It is clearly a professional photo.
I expect, though, that my dad was served coffee and donuts by some young women in a truck, and that he welcomed the little bit of home they brought to his location in France. I often wondered what A.R.C. meant in the photo’s caption. Now I know it was American Red Cross. The girls in The Beantown Girls were like the girl in the photo…brave women willing to risk their lives in the war effort.
What book have you read or movie you watched that gave you insight to your ancestors? Please comment and let me know.
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