Book Review: Beyond the Sea: A Wren at War by Christian Lamb

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Mardle Books
Publication Date: August 19th, 2021
Pages: 240, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Christian Lamb is one of the last surviving Wren Officers to have served throughout the Second World War, from Blitz ravaged London, to the important Radar and Operations rooms and undertaking a vital role in D Day.

Escaping both the Spanish Flu pandemic when she was born and the pandemic we are emerging from today, she has reached the impressive age of 101. Now she leads us through the story of her extraordinary life and the wartime experiences of her fellow Wrens.

I’m a big fan of WWII memoirs, especially those written by those on the homefront. Christian Lamb’s I Only Joined for the Hat has been on my TBR list for a while, so I was excited to see her new book, Beyond the Sea: A Wren at War.

I’m not sure how, or even if, Beyond the Sea differs from her previous memoir about her time in the Wrens during WWII. I expected Beyond the Sea to contain Lamb’s thoughts and experiences, but there are vignettes from other Wrens sprinkled throughout the book. That’s not a bad thing, but I thought the focus was to be on Lamb herself, and the book to be more autobiographical, given the A Wren at War subtitle.

Lamb takes us through her early life through her post-WWII experiences as a military wife, and even a peek into her life today. Born during the 1918 pandemic, she contrasts that with the current pandemic. She provides her perspective into the causes which led to WWII, and how she and women from all classes felt they had to “do their bit.” There are some stories about culture shock when encountering those from other areas, and apparently, at one billet, the Wrens were bad enough that she asked to be transferred. That, plus some name-dropping of her Wren associate who became a duchess smacked a little of classism, but I could be misinterpreting it. She also talks about how some of the Wrens were not as clean as others, and had body odor.

A surprising amount of the book is about her ante- and post-bellum life, which was also interesting, but I think the book would have been improved by focusing on Lamb herself, and her experiences during the war, rather than bringing in letters from her friends. 

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