Call Nurse Millie by Jean Fullerton

In brief: Millie is a district nurse and midwife in London’s East End. Join her as World War II ends for a bumpy ride…

The good: Fans of Call the Midwife will adore this book – it’s not the same, but captures the same essence.

The not-so-good: There is a lot going on for poor Millie.

Why I chose it: I really like historical nursing stories.

Year: 2013

Pages: 424

Publisher: Orion Books

Setting: East End London

My rating: 9 out of 10

I, like millions of other people, am a big fan of the television series Call the Midwife. I’ve enjoyed two of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs (Call the Midwife and Shadows of the Workhouse), but as for medical fiction set in that time period? There’s not a lot on offer in general fiction that I’ve found (but am open to suggestions). So when I found this novel while browsing in a bookshop, I grabbed it. Could it live up to my expectations of creating the Call the Midwife world within a book?

In short, yes. But of course you need to remember that Nurse Millie is not Nurse Jenny Lee and Millie does a lot more general nursing than Jenny does. Plus, Call Nurse Millie is set much earlier than Call the Midwife – it opens on VE Day, 1945. There the comparisons should end, but if you’re looking for a historical novel charting the changes in London’s East End post World War II, this is a great book. It has wonderful characters, a sense of place and a bumpy ride for Nurse Millie and her friends and colleagues.

As the book opens as all of London is preparing to listen to Winston Churchill on the radio announcing the end of World War II (in Europe at least), Millie is a busy nurse in the East End, attending to births and illness as part of the local district nursing association. A Queen’s Nurse, she is young but highly regarded amongst the majority of her peers. She’s smart and willing to take charge where her superintendent falls down. Unfortunately for Millie, what should be a happy day ends in tragedy and sets off a number of events in her life that will continue for the next couple of years. As she tries to cope with an ill mother and a sly colleague, she also manages to fall in love and rise at work. It’s a very bumpy ride for Nurse Millie, but the tale is told with warmth, humour and hope. Fullerton also has a knack for ending a chapter just on the precipice of a major event, so the ‘one more chapter’ will easily become three or four.

The period detail in Call Nurse Millie is also very well done. Fullerton has obviously done a lot of research in not just post-war East End London, but into district nursing and Queen’s Nurses. The medicine is historically accurate (and shows just how far we’ve come in research since then – can you imagine a nurse administering every insulin dose these days?). All the research is brought to life in the wonderful characters created here. Millie, at first, seems a bit of a do-gooder, teacher’s pet, but as the novel progresses we see that she’s not perfect, but trying her best to help everyone she can (sometimes with negative consequences). She’s also not afraid to stand up for what she believes in or injustices, which gets her into trouble several times. But there’s still time for romance for Millie after meeting a handsome policeman…

I found this novel beautifully done. It has real warmth and comfort flowing through the pages, but it’s not all sweet. It’s an interesting look at the lives of everyday people in the post-war world, from saving coupons for wedding dresses to cardboard cake cut outs (rationing didn’t allow for a proper wedding cake). To my delight, I found that there is now a sequel to Call Nurse Millie called All Change for Nurse Millie and an eBook novella, Christmas for Nurse Millie. I look forward to reading these and immersing myself in Millie’s world once again.

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