Read Daughters of War Online

Authors: Hilary Green

Tags: #WWI, #Fiction - Historical, #England/Great Britain

Daughters of War

Book 1 of the Leonora Trilogy
Hilary Green
Recent Titles by Hilary Green
First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Hilary Green.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Green, Hilary, 1937-
Daughters of war. – (The Leonora trilogy)
1. First Aid Nursing Yeomanry–Fiction. 2. World War,
1914-1918–Medical care–Balkan Peninsula–Fiction.
3. Love stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-071-5   (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8036-9   (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-353-3   (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
About the Book
These books are not romantic fantasies but are based on solid historical fact. They were inspired by the lives of two remarkable women, Mabel St Clair Stobart and Flora Sands. Stobart, who features as a character in this book, was the founder of the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy in 1912, led a group of nurses to care for Bulgarian soldiers during the First Balkan War and returned to help the Serbs during World War I. She gave an account of her experiences in her books
Miracles and Adventures
The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere
Flora Sands was the daughter of a clergyman and an early member of the FANY – the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. In 1915 she volunteered to go to Serbia with Stobart, was separated from her unit and joined up with a company of Serbian soldiers, with whom she endured the terrible hardships of the retreat through the mountains of Albania. She later returned with them to Salonika and took part in the final advance which ended the war. She was the first woman ever to be accepted as a fighting soldier and ended the war with the rank of sergeant. Though she does not appear as a character in these books, much of the action is derived from her experiences, which are recorded in her own memoir
An English Woman Sergeant in the Serbian Army
and by Alan Burgess in
The Lovely Sergeant
I am grateful to Lynette Beardwood, archivist for the FANY and Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University, for drawing my attention to the stories of Mabel Stobart and Flora Sands and for providing me with invaluable source material about the FANY during World War I.
The leaves on the trees in Hyde Park were drooping in the summer heat. The Bayswater Road was busy with hansom cabs and tradesmen’s vans and in the middle of the throng one or two motor cars honked and spluttered. The air was heavy with dust and the smell of horse dung. Leonora stood aside to allow a nursemaid pushing a perambulator to pass and almost collided with a small boy bowling a hoop. Children in the charge of nannies or governesses were heading home for afternoon tea after their walk in the park. To escape the crowd and the smell Leo turned into Albion Gate and paused in the shade of a tree, gazing down across the grass to where the Serpentine glittered in the sun.
Raucous voices drew her attention to Rotten Row, where the elite of London Society were accustomed to ride or drive.
‘Call yourselves women? You’re a bloody disgrace!’
‘Gallivanting about in uniform. Who do you think you are?’
‘They’re not women, they’re bleeding suffragettes!’
Coming towards her was a curious little cavalcade; half a dozen mounted women in scarlet tunics and peaked caps, followed by a horse-drawn wagon with a red cross painted on the side. The jeers were coming from a group of workmen on the far side of the track, but as she stood watching Leo heard a well-dressed lady nearby remark to her companion, ‘Riding astride, like men! Really, it’s shameful.’
At that moment a sudden movement caught Leo’s attention. One of the men stooped and picked something up from the ground, then his arm went back and a missile flew through the air. One of the horses, a nervy-looking grey, let out a squeal of pain, reared up and sent its rider crashing to the ground. Panicked, the horse broke into a canter, heading directly towards the gate where Leonora stood. She realized instantly that if it galloped out into the crowded road there could be a serious accident. Acting on instinct, she stepped directly into the path of the careering beast. The horse shied violently and flung up its head but with a leap Leo grabbed the reins and used her body weight to drag it to a standstill. It stood shuddering and snorting and she caressed the sweating neck and murmured to it in a language not her own, which seemed to rise unbidden from the depths of some childhood memory.
Shouts and cries of alarm erupted around her, and above the general hubbub she heard one voice raised in fury. The rider had scrambled to her feet and turned on the man who had thrown the stone.
‘You brute! If you wanted to hurt someone, why didn’t you aim at me instead of the poor bloody animal?’
The language was coarse but the diction was refined and Leo found herself smiling at the contrast. The girl who had spoken was running towards her. She had lost her hat and her dark hair was coming down around her neck. Her face was flushed and her eyes glittered, but with anger rather than embarrassment.
‘Well done you!’ she exclaimed breathlessly as she reached Leonora. ‘I must say it takes guts to face a bolting horse like that.’
‘Oh well.’ Leo shrugged self-deprecatingly. ‘I didn’t stop to think. I’m used to horses. Are you hurt?’
‘Only in my self-esteem. I shall be ribbed mercilessly for coming off like that.’
‘Now then, miss.’ A police constable had appeared at Leo’s shoulder. ‘Better let the young woman be on her way. You did very well there to stop the horse, but we don’t want any more incidents.’
Leo looked at him. ‘Aren’t you going to arrest the man who threw the stone? He’s the cause of all the trouble.’
The constable turned his gaze on the little knot of workmen, who stared back belligerently. ‘If young women, who ought to know better, choose to disport themselves in unsuitable clothing,’ he said ponderously, ‘they have only themselves to blame for the consequences.’
‘But that’s not . . .’ Leo began angrily but the policeman had already turned away.
Her companion reached out and gripped her wrist. ‘Let it go. No point in making a fuss.’ She smiled, and Leo found herself looking into deep blue eyes that sparkled with vitality. ‘By the way, I’m Victoria Langford.’
Leo took the offered hand. ‘I’m Leonora Malham Brown. How do you do?’
Victoria gathered up the reins of the now docile horse. ‘I’d better get going. The others are waiting for me.’ She placed one foot in the stirrup, then turned back to Leo. ‘It would be nice to meet again. Would you care for that?’
Leo answered without needing to think. ‘Yes, I should, very much.’
Victoria swung herself into the saddle with an ease that Leo could only envy. She caught a glimpse of riding breeches under the divided skirt and was aware of the frustrating impediment of her own petticoats.
‘Tomorrow? How about tea at the Grosvenor?’
‘That would be lovely.’
‘Four o’clock then?’
‘Thank you. I’ll look forward to it.’
! You saved a lot of people a lot of trouble. See you tomorrow.’
She turned the horse’s head towards the spot where her companions were waiting and cantered away. As she did so a church clock nearby struck the hour. Leo started. Four o’clock! It was her grandmother’s ‘At Home’ afternoon and she was expected to put in an appearance. The last thing she wanted was an inquisition into where she had been. She began to walk briskly towards Sussex Gardens.
No. 31 Sussex Gardens was one of a terrace of elegant Georgian houses. When Beavis, her grandmother’s butler, opened the door to her Leo could tell from his expression that she was both late and looking dishevelled.
‘Madam is in the drawing room,’ he announced, ‘and she has been asking for you.’
‘Does she have guests with her?’ Leo asked.
‘Yes, miss. Lady Stevenage and Mrs Fawcett have called.’
‘I’ll just go up and take off my hat,’ Leo said.
Beavis made a small bow and withdrew through the green baize door to the servants’ quarters. As Leo crossed to the stairs she heard her grandmother’s voice from the drawing room.
‘Marriage? Oh dear, I’m afraid there’s very little prospect of that. The girl is too tall, too clever and too arrogant.’
Leo had no doubt that she was the girl in question. Up in her bedroom she interrogated her reflection in the dressing-table mirror. Wide amber eyes flecked with green looked back at her. There was a trace of moisture on the lashes which she hastily brushed away. She had resolved long ago that she would not let her grandmother make her cry. She had been fifteen when her father sent her back to live with the old lady and she had sensed at once that her grandmother disapproved of her. She guessed that her father had been a disappointment because, instead of staying at home and going into business to increase the family fortune, he had squandered it on an inexplicable – to his mother – passion for archaeology. Then he had compounded his sins by marrying a foreigner, a Greek woman without any social credentials. As a final dereliction of duty, when his wife died he had kept Leo with him instead of sending her back to be educated in England like her brother, Ralph, with the result that when she finally arrived at Sussex Gardens she was, in her grandmother’s words, a hoyden with no idea of how to behave in good society.
Too tall? Leo considered her reflection. It was true that she could look most men straight in the eye, rather than gazing up at them as they seemed to prefer. And it was true that she didn’t have much of a figure. In fact, she was so lacking in feminine curves that her brother had long ago nicknamed her ‘beanpole’. But she was not bad-looking, even if her strong chin and well-marked cheekbones were not quite what contemporary fashion regarded as beautiful. In fact, her brother had told her that one of his friends had referred to her as ‘a devilish handsome gel’. Too clever? Was she to blame for the fact that her father had kept her with him on his travels and educated her himself? So that now she could not only read Latin and Greek, she also had a good understanding of mathematics and history. She spoke French and German, which might be expected, and in addition she was fluent in demotic Greek and Turkish and could make herself understood in Italian and Arabic, though possibly not in terms suitable for a young lady. Too arrogant? It was true that she did not suffer fools gladly and had never reconciled herself to the notion that well brought-up young women were not expected to express opinions on religion or philosophy, and certainly not on politics. But she did try to keep a guard on her tongue and look suitably demure and admiring when men were talking rubbish.
She secured the last wayward strand of heavy chestnut hair with a stab of a hairpin. Anyway, what her grandmother had said was untrue in one respect, at least. Tom Devenish would propose to her tomorrow, if she gave him the slightest encouragement. She stood up, straightened her dress and went downstairs. Outside the drawing-room door she paused, drew as deep a breath as her corsets would allow, lifted her chin and went in.

Other books

Old Motel Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Lost Girls by Angela Marsons
The Black Marble by Joseph Wambaugh
A Necessary Evil by Alex Kava
The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
Dangerous by Patricia Rosemoor
Veiled (A Short Story) by Elliot, Kendra
The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash