Women of Valor: The Rochambelles on the World War II Front, by Ellen Hampton, McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., 2021, $29.95
During World War II Free French Army Gen. Philippe Leclerc was known for utilizing unusual tactics to gain material advantages for his fighting units. Desperate to obtain ambulances to transport wounded troops, Leclerc was open to a radical proposal by indomitable American socialite Florence Conrad: Gain 19 ambulances by utilizing a group of female ambulance drivers dubbed the Rochambelles.
Women of Valor is a detailed and highly entertaining account of the Rochambelles, an organization of mostly French and American drivers whose idealism and patriotism enabled them to provide an essential service under life-threatening battle conditions. Initially met with resistance by male soldiers and their commanders, the determined and courageous Rochambelles quickly won allies. In this updated edition author Ellen Hampton vividly depicts the grueling conditions they faced, including intense cold, dirt, little food, lack of sleep, pest-infested sleeping areas and treacherous roads, as well as the mental stresses of live fire, near-death experiences and transporting casualties suffering from horrific battle injuries.
Hampton’s book offers valuable insights into the psychological makeup of the Rochambelles, whose quick thinking, resourcefulness and decisive action in treacherous situations saved many lives. The author laces the book with the women’s wry humor and describes their struggle at war’s end to readjust to society’s limitations.
Women of Valor is the inspiring story of how the Rochambelles met and then exceeded the challenges of World War II. As Hampton notes, they “opened the door to women as integrated members of an army,” making their history a “valuable template for courage and determination.”
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