Time to cue the old Vera Lynn recordings
. We're talking England during World War II and its aftermath. Good stuff. I'm a bit of an Anglophile and love immersing myself into the British experience from the 30s through the 50s. So, now you understand the basic setting and have your background music cued up, on to the plot sketch.
First, what's a Wren? Well, the WRNS were the Woman's Royal Naval Service, but its members were generally called the wrens, like the birds. I wonder if "bird" was a slang term for a woman back then, or if that came in during the Beatles' era, when I first learned of that bit of slang. Whatever, Wrens were where women helped out the British Navy and they lived in a barracks called the wrenery
. One can imagine that if Shakespeare had lived 350 years later, he might have had Hamlet telling Ophelia to "get thee to a wrennery". Or, perhaps not. But, I'm digressing, huh?
Anyway, some five or eight years after the end of World War II, we have a young Australian, Alan Duncan, coming back to live on his parents' sheep station. He finds the household in a flutter, because the parlour maid, Jessie Proctor had just committed suicide. She had apparently left no personal items behind so that people could know who her relatives were or whom to contact about her. After talking to the cook, Alan figures out that at least one of the personal items that came into the house with Jessie might have disappeared. He wonders if she might have hidden something. So he searches the house and eventually finds, tucked away in the attic, a suit case with Jessie's personal papers. But, as Alan begins to investigate those papers, he realizes that the young woman was actually Leading Wren Janet Prentiss, who had been his brother Bill's sweetheart during the war.
What then follows is a meditation on the life of Janet Prentiss, partly from the diaries she had left behind, and partly from Alan's recollections from the time he met her and also from talks he had with her friends after the war. He had met Janet once, and after his brother was killed in combat, had tried to track her down so as to communicate with her. He viewed her as family, in that he was certain she and Bill would have wed had they both survived the war.
It's a simply, but beautifully written story of the heroism and staunch optimism of the British people during the dark times they faced during the early and middle 1940s. One of my all-time favorites.