The Girls They Left Behind


192 pages
ISBN 1-55005-927-7
DDC jC813'.54




Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson

Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.


Most war stories for adolescents are written from the perspective of an
Armed Forces member, virtually always male, who has gone off to combat.
Only a few, like Barbara Haworth Attard’s Love-Lies-Bleeding, have
been written about the individuals who remained behind on the home
front. Bernice Thurman Hunter died before completing The Girls They Left
Behind; however, her daughter, Heather Anne Hunter, working from
Bernice’s notes, was able to finish it. Like most of Bernice’s other
books, this one is historical fiction, and it exhibits her customary
episodic plot structure while focusing on social history.

Commencing on June 10, 1943, and concluding in December 1945,
Toronto’s Beryl “Natalie” Brigham, 17, shares via diary entries
and letters how the war affected her life, and, indirectly, how World
War II led to transforming women’s place in Canadian society.
Abandoning a summer candy-counter job at Eaton’s department store and
postponing her schooling, Beryl elects to do her bit for the war effort
by working first at the converted John Inglis appliance factory making
shell casings and then at De Havilland Aircraft constructing Mosquito
fighter bombers. Beryl’s personal contact with the war overseas is
through her beloved 18-year-old cousin, Carmen Baker, a nose-gunner in a
Lancaster bomber. With the war’s end, Beryl finds herself displaced at
her job by the returning vets and having to return to school, a woman
among young girls.

As is typical of Thurman’s writing, she unobtrusively builds in the
numerous little details that flesh out the period. Uncharacteristic of
her writing are the factual errors this novel contains, all centring
around the famed Dambusters Raid. Nonetheless, the work remains a
valuable contribution to today’s teens’ understanding of this period
of Canadian history. Recommended.


Hunter, Bernice Thurman., “The Girls They Left Behind,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,