Opening Line: “The first time I saw her again, I felt as if I’d been hit.”
I absolutely loved this book, another winner from JoJo Moyes who bases this moving story on real events (and her own grandmother) Taking the reader back to 1946 in the aftermath of the Second World War as thousands of young war brides are transported from Australia to England to meet up with their GI husbands whom they’d married during the conflict. For many woman it was a time of huge uncertainty, leaving their families and everything they’d ever known behind and preying they didn’t receive the dreaded “Not wanted, don’t come telegram” once aboard.
Ship Of Brides follows four of these woman (out of the 650 on board) all from very different backgrounds and covers their experience from a boarding house in Sydney throughout their 6 week journey at sea aboard an aircraft carrier (which also still carries over a thousand naval officers so rules of honor, duty and separation must be enforced.
The story begins in India in 2002 (which initially threw me a bit) as an elderly grandmother on vacation stumbles across the broken hull of a once great British warship, now in the process of being dismantled for scrap on an oily, debris littered beach. She has come upon a ship graveyard and can just make out the name on one of the rusted hulls “Victoria” and at once is overwhelmed by memories…
I was surprised by how involved I got in this story but Moyes not only takes the reader back to 1946 but manages to keep a huge element of suspense going throughout the journey (Frances, a former nurse is kept frustratingly mysterious until the very last pages – and I kinda loved her.) We also enter the POV of the injured and grieving Captain, a Marine who has received a Dear John letter, a woman widowed before she reaches her destination, another who discovers her husband is already married and follow stowaway dogs, boiler room brawls, disastrous fires, miscarriages, lovely leg contests, ashore days in India and Gibraltar, excitement, fear, heartache and joy.
Because this has been based on an actual sailing taken by the HMS Victorious, Moyes was able to include extracts from journals, newspaper clippings, and diary entries from the actual men and women aboard which added an element of real emotion to the voyage.
The writing is fantastic and by the end I felt like I really knew these women and wondered how their lives had turned out, in fact I didn’t want to let them go.