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Penny Starns has a PhD in the history of medicine from the University of Bristol and is an established historian and writer. She is the author of Odette: World War Two's Darling Spy, Surviving Tenko: The True Story of Margot Turner, and Blitz Families: The Children who Stayed Behind.
With First World War casualties mounting, there was an appeal for volunteers to train as front-line medical staff. Many women heeded the call: some responding to a vocational or religious calling, others following a sweetheart to the front, and some carried away on the jingoistic patriotism that gripped the nation in 1914. Despite their training, these young women were ill-prepared for the anguished cries of the wounded and the stench of gangrene and trench foot awaiting them at the Somme. Isolated from friends and family, most discovered an inner strength, forging new and close relationships with each other and establishing a camaraderie that was to last through the war and beyond.
Since the discovery and widespread use of penicillin in the Second World War, which was a major turning point in 20th century combat medicine, there have been enormous changes in surgical and nursing techniques enabling frontline medical teams to save soldiers' lives and alleviate suffering on the battlefield. The Korean War saw the first use of helicopters to airlift wounded troops to medical facilities away from the front line, while the Falklands War, both Gulf Wars and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan have been characterised by the introduction of new surgical procedures using image intensifiers and a trend towards laser treatments. Dr Penny Starns gives a detailed and insightful account of battlefield medicine from Korea to Afghanistan.
When the Blitz hit London, everything changed. Once, the Home Front was relatively safe - now it wasn't. Suddenly, London was its own front line. Blitz Hospital follows the fortunes of two major London hospitals as they struggled to cope with mounting wartime casualties: St Thomas' and The London. The diaries, letters and reports of medical and nursing staff highlight the many human stories of tremendous courage and hope that lived and breathed within the corridors of London's hospitals during the Blitz.
Odette Brailly entered the nation's consciousness in the 1950s when her remarkable - and romantic - exploits as a Special Operations Executive agent first came to light. She was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross, as well as the Legion d'honneur, and in 1950 the release of a film about her life made her the darling of the British popular press. But others openly questioned Odette's personal and professional integrity, even claiming that she had a clandestine affair with her supervisor Captain Peter Churchill, with whom she had worked undercover in France. Soon she became as controversial as she was celebrated. In this full, fascinating biography historian Penny Starns delves into SOE personnel files to reveal the true story of this wartime heroine and the officer who posed as her husband. From her life as a French housewife living in Britain, and her work undercover with the French Resistance, to her arrest, torture and unlikely survival in Ravensbruck concentration camp, Starns reveals the truth of Odette's mission and the heart-breaking identity of her real betrayer.
From May 1940 the Children's Overseas Reception Board began to move children to safety abroad to Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. The scheme was extremely popular, and over 200,000 applications were made within just four months. In addition, thousands of children were privately evacuated overseas. The `sea-vacs', as they became known, had a variety of experiences. After weeks at sea they began a new life thousands of miles away. Letters home took up to twelve weeks to reach their destinations and many of these children were totally cut off from their families in the UK. Most found their new way of life to be a positive one in which they were well cared for; for others it was a miserable, difficult or frightening time as they encountered homesickness, prejudice and even abuse. This book reveals in heartbreaking detail the unique experiences of sea-vacs, and their surprising influence on international wartime policy, used as they were as an attempt to elicit international sympathy and financial support for the British war effort.
The mass evacuation of children and new and expectant mothers during the Second World War is well documented. But over fifty per cent of children were not evacuated during the War, and it is these young people who offer an unrivalled view of what life was like during the bombing raids in Britain's cities. In Blitz Families Penny Starns takes a new look at the children whose parents refused to bow to official pressure and kept their beloved children with them throughout the War. As she documents family after family which made this difficult decision, she uncovers tales of the deprivation, criminality and disease of life in the city and, conversely, the surprising relative emotional and physical wellbeing of those who lived through the Blitz compared to their evacuee counterparts. Because of their unique position at the heart of the action, these forgotten children offer us a priceless insight into the true grit and reality of the Blitz.
The dramatic tale of Margot Turner's survival as a prisoner of war during the Pacific conflict of the Second World War inspired the 1980s television series Tenko. The cargo ship on which she was evacuated from Singapore in 1942 was shelled, leaving her on a makeshift raft with sixteen other survivors. One by one they perished, leaving her along, burnt black by the sun, and suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Discovered by a Japanese destroyer, she was imprisoned on Banka Island and nursed back to health by nuns. A nurse by profession, Margot was initially permitted to help run the operating theatre on her recovery, when, unexpectedly she was arrested by the dreaded Kempeitai and thrown into Palembang jail. There, crammed with murderers and rapists in a filthy cell, she spent six months living in daily fear of joining the many prisoners who were noisily tortured and executed, before being returned to the prisoner-of-war camps for the duration of the war. In this, the first biography for forty years, Penny Starns describes the often horrific but occasionally heart-warming experiences of this unbreakable woman who, not content with surviving the war, went on to become a brigadier and matron-in-chief of the British Army nursing services. Using recently released material from the National Archives and Turner's own words, Starns re-analyses the Pacific conflict against a backdrop of one person's incredible fortitude and strength, and brings the story of a remarkable woman to life.