By Leah Cooper
I particularly enjoy historical fiction that helps me better understand the events that shape history or that introduces me to events I did not know about before reading the book. Wickwythe Hall provided me with both.
The story opens with Dunkirk, the British military’s hasty retreat from France when the Germans invade France in World War II. To the British, it is the Miracle of Dunkirk, with 85% of their troops successful transported back to England for the defense of Great Britain. But to the French, it was abandonment of an ally.
Young Annelle LeMaire, an orphan reared with her two brothers in a French convent, joins the mass of humanity fleeing the Germans, hoping to get to North Africa, where her brothers are serving in the French Foreign Legion. Instead, she ends up on a boat headed toward the English port of Dover.
At Dover, Annelle’s path crosses that of Mabry Springs, an American woman married to a British aristocrat and living at Wickwythe Hall. Mabry and her husband Tony provided food and other assistance to the weary troops returning to Britain from Dunkirk. When Mabry goes to Dover to check on the response, she discovers Annelle stranded at the train station. Taking pity on her, she takes her back to Wickwhyte Hall.
Once at Wickwhyte, things are frantic getting ready for the arrival of Winston Churchill. Soon we meet the third major character, Reid Carr, an American now working as a vendeur for a French champagne company. Secretly, though, he is also working as a go-between for Roosevelt and Churchill, thus giving the reader insight into the real interaction of these two great men as Britain struggles for survival and the United States edges closer to war.
Annelle perfectly sets the stage for the second part of the book: “Birds trapped in cages. Innocent people trapped in prisons. She was in England, her brothers were in North Africa, and the Germans were in France.” Soon the reader is introduced to Operation Catapult, the true dilemma Churchill faced when the French navy escaped to North Africa, but no one knew if the ships would remain in the fight against the Germans or become part of the German force fighting against Britain. To Reid, “Catapult might be gut-wrenching and despicable, but it was a military maneuver of bold proportions.”
I was thoroughly drawn into the story of these three characters in this critical juncture of World War II. This is a book meant to be shared, compelling me to donate my copy to Jefferson Carnegie Library. I hope you will experience the book, too.
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