Book Review: Army Wives by Midge Gillies
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered.
The life of a soldier is hard and often dangerous, but the life of a soldier’s spouse has its hardships and hazards as well. This book collects the stories of various British Army wives from the Crimean War (where wives sometimes shared tents near the front lines with their husbands) to the modern day, when social media allows spouses (now including husbands) to worry about the servicemember’s safety in “real time.”
After chapters on spousal travel and accommodations, the remainder of the book is in roughly chronological order. There tends to be more information on officers’ wives than those of enlisted men, as especially in the early days they were more likely to be literate and thus leave behind letters, journals and memoirs. Most of the women covered are ordinary people who rose to the occasion, but there’s also Lady Elizabeth Butler, who was a famous painter even before marrying a famous soldier.
The epilogue is about life after the army, both in the general sense, and the fates of the specific women used as examples in the book. There’s a nice center section of pictures, many in color, plus a bibliography, end notes and an index.
As always, learning about the lives of people in unusual circumstances is fascinating, and there is quite a variety of women and outcomes represented. The writing is decent, and some sections are emotionally affecting.
On the other hand, covering so many different stories means that some feel as though they’ve gotten short shrift. Edith Tolkien, for example, gets two pages, mostly about the codes her husband (J.R.R.) slipped into his letters to let her know where he was. And the section on soldiers who came home from World War One with facial disfigurements has no direct testimony from wives at all.
That said, this book should be of interest to those interested in military history (especially about women in military history) and those considering being the spouse of a military person.
And now, a video of the British Army Wives’ Chorus: