Lt. Mellie Blake is looking forward to beginning her training as a flight nurse. She is not looking forward to writing a letter to a man she's never met--even if it is anonymous and part of a morale-building program. Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer stationed in North Africa, welcomes the idea of an anonymous correspondence--he's been trying to escape his infamous name for years.
As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other's true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face-to-face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage by their pasts?
Combining a flair for romance with excellent research and attention to detail, Sarah Sundin vividly brings to life the perilous challenges of WWII aviation, nursing--and true love.
Lieutenant Philomela Blake (Mellie), works as a nurse at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. in October of 1942. She is a cheerful girl choosing to believe that: “hurting and healing men deserved a soft hand,” so treated her patients to her beautiful voice and upon their awakening would sing ‘At Last’, unlike the other nurses who assaulted their patients with electric light and harsh voices.
Mellie missed her father so much since he’d sent her stateside a year ago. She hadn’t heard news of him since the Japanese conquered the Philippines a few months before, and the State Department and Red Cross had not yet found out his fate. Mellie wishes he had come with her instead, and wondered how she would continue on without him. All she could do was pray.
Lieutenant Newman,approached Mellie regarding a ‘morale program’ which involved the nurses writing letters to American soldiers in an Engineer Aviation Battalion based in England where Lieutenant Newman’s own husband was currently stationed. All the nurses in Mellie’s unit had signed up but her which meant ‘one’ American solider wouldn’t receive a letter. Mellie hadn’t written letters before and wasn’t excited about penning letters to strange men she didn’t know and told Lt. Newman she wouldn’t know what to say. After explaining the letters would be anonymous – no names, no pictures, Mellie agreed to ‘one’ letter and finally began to put “pen to paper.”
Lieutenant Thomas MacGilliver Jr was on the HMS Derbyshire, a British transport ship stationed in Liverpool, England in October of 1942. After watching the evening movie with his platoon mates, Captain Dick Newman told the men his wife had: “charmed the nurses in her charge to write letters to you oafs. Anonymous letters” and held up a stack of envelopes. He handed out the envelopes instructing the men that it was their choice as to whether to reply or not and if they did there was to be: “no names, no pictures, no personal details – hometown, people’s names” anything like that. Tom grabbed his envelope, tore it open saying: “…let the letter be from the right sort of woman.” He was surprised when a photo fell out of a pretty brunette in a ‘cheesecake pose.” Another platoon member made fun of his letter yelling out to his buddies: “You wanna laugh? Listen to this dame – ‘Before I start this letter, I must be clear that I’m searching for friendship, not romance. I don’t want to mislead you or toy with your affections. I do apologize if you hoped for a romantic letter from a perky beauty.’ With that the man tossed the letter in the garbage but as soon as the room was cleared, Tom, retrieved it from the trash. He immediately read the discarded letter and it touched his heart. He knew at that moment: “this was his kind of woman.”
Mellie has just arrived at Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky in November of 1942. She has taken a position to train to assist in air evacuations. Flight nurses would fly into combat areas, load the wounded, and care for them in the air. They would be stationed all over the world and Mellie hoped in the Pacific where she would be close to her father. Mellie would be bunking with Rose, Georgie, Vera, Alice, and Kay and hoped she’d be able to make friends with these women for she didn’t make friends easily.
Tom’s ship had left port and was now sailing to Oran, Algeria. Somehow they’d managed to travel all the way from England without a single U-boat encounter. That was just miraculous! In the meantime, Tom was penning letters to “Anne”, the name he’d given to his anonymous, garbage retrieved nurse who we all know is really, Mellie.
Mellie was on the tarmac looking over the Douglas C-47 military revision of the DC-3 passenger plane used by civilian airlines. The Douglas had a snub nose, was painted a muted green, and had a large cargo door. The U.S. Army Air Forces white star on a blue disc was painted at eye level. Lt. Newman appeared with four enlisted men. Their job was to instruct the women in the proper use of the litter. The medics would normally carry the patients, however, this was war, and war doesn’t follow plans so the flight nurses had to learn everything. They were told: “if you’re under fire or ditching a plane, you’ll carry patients yourself.” The girls were made to practice loading one of each of them in the litter, two carrying and then rotate. The girls couldn’t imagine being this regimented under fire! After training was over for the day, Mellie headed to the PX for a coffee and to see if there was any mail that would bring news of her father. With great excitement she’d received one letter from the postmaster but it wasn’t news about her dear papa but instead, an anonymous letter from Thomas whom she decided to call Ernest. It seemed to Mellie that Tom was searching for the same things as she was: anonymity, friendship only, and no romance.
Finally things were beginning to happen for Mellie and her crew. Things had changed in Washington. Generals called for air evacuation in the Pacific and North Africa, and everyone rushed to get the nurses off the ground. On November 30th, General David Grant, the Air Surgeon, made a public call to recruit flight nurses. The previous day, two squadrons were officially activated and named the 801st and 802nd Medical Squadrons, Air Evacuation Transport and Mellie was in the 802nd.
On December 24, 1942, Mellie was on a train in Nashville, Tennessee bound for Morrison Army Airfield in Florida. Training had been cut short and they were going overseas. Their destination had to be North Africa, which was the only active combat theater to the east. The 801st would head west for the Pacific which Mellie wishes she was on to be closer to her father. But instead, she’d be closer to, Tom. Only twenty-five flight nurses belonged to Mellie’s squadron and if they flew into his airfield he’d identify Mellie. That just simply could not happen, they both needed anonymity.
In February 1943, Mellie was on the USS Lyon sailing out of the New York Harbor. In two weeks she’d be in Africa. The 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron crowded the deck. Once she reached Africa, Tom’s letters would arrive more quickly and she’d get to explore a new continent. Meanwhile, Tom was fighting off attacks by the Germans.
On February 22, 1943 Mellie was in Oran, Algeria, they were 400-miles from the front. When she arrived four letters from Tom were waiting for her. By now, Mellie knew Tom’s heart, mind and soul but not his face.
Finally in March of 1943 Mellie and Tom meet and Mellie knows it’s Tom due to the story about his infamous father but Tom does not know she is his anonymous ‘Anne’. Mellie worried and silently prayed: “…don’t let him figure it out.”
Throughout their letter writing, Tom and Mellie establish an honesty and friendship like no other. They both needed the honesty and the trust that they felt with each other in order to live their daily lives. It was important to them both. However, it doesn’t take terribly long for Tom to begin to fall in love with this ‘Anne’ and their letters are just beautiful. What a wonderful way to fall in love!
With Every Letter is a beautifully written story that will leave you wanting more. You’ll be routing for and encouraging Mellie along the way. She appears to have the most resistance for reasons NOT to give up their anonymity and really tell each other who they are. I simply loved this story and will be highly recommending it to my friends.
"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".