Reviewed by Sarah Brew
It's 1945 and, as the troops begin to return home, the inhabitants of London attempt to put their lives back together. For 25-year-old Millie, a qualified nurse and midwife, the jubilation at the end of the war is short-lived as she tends to the needs of the East End community around her. But while Millie witnesses tragedy and brutality in her job, she also finds strength and kindness. And when misfortune befalls her own family, it is the enduring spirit of the community that shows Millie that even the toughest of circumstances can be overcome.
Through Millie's eyes, we see the harsh realities and unexpected joys in the lives of the patients she treats, as well as the camaraderie that is forged with the fellow nurses she lives with.
Love Call the Midwife and can’t wait for it to come back on TV? In the meantime, get your fix of East End nursing and midwifery with Jean Fullerton’s books. Starting a little earlier – 1945, in fact – as the troops are returning from the war, the authentic setting is vividly portrayed. Life is tough and Nurse Millie has to content with squalor and deprivation, always with a good dose of common sense and a sprinkling of humour, as she goes about her everyday nursing duties.
I have read many books about East End life and what always strikes me is the wonderful sense of community – despite extreme poverty and dire living conditions (or maybe because of them) the East Enders are always there with a helping hand. This is clearly demonstrated in Nurse Millie’s story, where she finds that help is always on hand, whether for her patients or in her own time of need.
We are transported into a pre-NHS world; a world where the skill of district nurses played an essential part in people’s lives. We get a wonderful feeling of the respect given to these nurses. Millie’s strength of character and compassion shines through, whether dealing with difficult superiors, troublesome patients or problems in her family. On a happier note, there’s romance too, and plenty of chance to get to know Millie away from her job. Totally absorbing, the characters are convincingly portrayed and you feel part of their lives by the end of the book. And the best thing? There’s more to come in ‘All Change for Nurse Millie’.
Nurse Millie Sullivan is now Nurse Millie Smith, having married aspiring MP Jim Smith. The war has ended and the NHS has just come into action, so the nurses are busier than ever as the community realise that they no longer have to pay for the services. Minor ailments need attention, babies need to be helped into the world and some of the larger-than-life characters need keeping in line, so Millie has enough drama to cope with without having to deal with more from home...and Alex Nolan, her ex-fiance, is back in town.
I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the plot for those who haven’t yet read Call Nurse Millie, so suffice to say that this starts where that left off – and to recommend that readers start with Call Nurse Millie to put the setting and characters in context and get the most from this equally atmospheric sequel.
‘All Change’ refers to the fact that the newly-formed NHS is in operation so the nurses are in demand more than ever as people realise they no longer have to pay for medical care. In addition, Millie is facing changes in her personal life which put additional pressures on her. We share in her dilemma as she tries to balance her personal and professional lives. The storylines are excellently interwoven and there are no loose threads left by the end of the story – but still scope for a sequel. Her characters are really true to life and the reader is drawn into the ups and downs of this huge transition in health care. Millie’s personal life has its share of ups and downs too, and her strength of character is put to the test; she is definitely a modern woman in a time when attitudes were changing all too slowly.
Jean Fullerton is a qualified nurse who grew up in the East End, worked there as a District Nurse and still lives there. This gives true authenticity to her novels and I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that she puts huge efforts into her historical research – that shines through in her books. I was, coincidentally, in the East End whilst reading this book and I loved the sense of place it gave me although, of course, many places are virtually unrecognisable. It’s brilliant that the book, unusually for fiction, includes a map, so the reader can follow Nurse Millie in her work. A superb read for anyone who likes to read of days gone by.
I'd like to thank Harriet at Orion Books for sending me both books and Sarah for reviewing them for the blog.