Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Apparently, this book is the fifth and last in a series about a group of ‘lovely ladies’ from Europe’s royal and most influential families and their less privileged sisters who played such a pivotal role in both World Wars and whose involvement has been omitted from the annals of history. The author tells the reader that everyone and every incident in the book is based on people who existed and on real events, either true or compilations (431).
This is the first of these books that I have encountered, and I was not prepared for some of the information I read when being introduced to the characters in Legends of the Lost Lilies. When the main character, Sophie, returns to England and meets Bob Green, the reader is told that he “had once been her husband Nigel, but was her husband no longer, who had been Miss Lily, her teacher and mentor, and later her closest friend” (31).
Other characters within the story were not always described in the most flattering of ways. There was a woman with short grey hair and a face like an axe (85). Madam Thomas had a girth most extraordinary, with ankles like a draught horse (282). Then there were the most unlikely couples- James Lorrimer, dapper, impeccable, the epitome of a gentleman in England, and Ethyl, 6ft 2inches, size 12 boots, who resembled one of her father’s draught horses, and the pacifist pilot who was in love with the French designer, Violette, who knew how to hate as well as kill.
As the final book in a series, Legends of the Lost Lilies ties off many loose ends and explanations are provided. It then carries the reader forward to a different world in Australia in 1976, leaving the older participants with memories of an earlier time when things were so different. Throughout the whole story is the over-riding presence of the remarkedly wise Miss Lily who had such an impact on ‘The Lost Lilies of Espionage’. She taught women confidence and how to change the world. The clothes, the charm, the elegance were only tools. Mostly she taught them about love – “to love the whole of mankind, to build bridges instead of walls” (427).
This is certainly a book of intrigue. Now as a mother of teenage twins, happily remarried and running the successful Higgs production and export Industry, at a moment’s notice, Sophie finds herself transplanted back to England in the middle of World War 2 in a Lancaster aircraft with no weapons for protection. She is cast back into work she had done many years before, leaving behind in Australia her husband who has his own demons to slay and children in the later stages of their education. After a preparation period in England, she is flown into occupied France. Here the real drama begins.
The author discloses that her information comes from listening to people’s stories, research and remembering the wisdom that the stories offer. These she has passed onto her readers through an inspirational saying or austerity recipe at the beginning of each chapter. There is much the reader can learn that is relevant to modern times. “Do not waste your life on what you regret from yesterday but wonder what may be done tomorrow” (424). The research highlights information previously not available, some aspects of Australia’s war with Japan and some of the plots and atrocities that took place in Europe.
The female reader will enjoy the extra information provided, about food, fashion from recycling and how to make themselves look many years younger (89-91). I had to smile at the incorrect vowel used for an item of clothing on page 92 when talking about Sophie’s chest. She was “glad she always wore high-buttoned shorts in the paddock”.
Jackie French has made a name for herself through her writing. She is a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to children’s literature. In fact, she has become a popular writer across all genres.
This book was extremely interesting and informative, highlighting the role of women in the theatre of war which has largely gone unrecorded until now. There are parts of high drama as I’m sure the previous books of the series had too, but there is also love and loyalty. 2021 has seen the publishing of several books on this similar theme. The reader is told in the Epilogue, “If we don’t write our stories they’re forgotten. Maybe each generation will find different parts of them important. But how will they understand their past if they don’t hear its voices?” (428).
I thoroughly enjoyed Jackie French’s book, Legends of the Lost Lilies.
by Jackie French