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Not So Quiet    by Helen Zenna Smith order for
Not So Quiet
by Helen Zenna Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Feminist Press at CUNY, 1993 (1930)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith consists of Smith's thoughts on her contribution to the war effort during World War I. She was from an upper-class family who were horrified when she volunteered to drive an ambulance at the front lines in France. All through her time there, she wrote in a journal of her responsibilities and the work involved as well as of her fellow ambulance drivers.

It is 1915. World War I. The average age of the women drivers was 23; she was 21. She paid for the privilege (buying her own uniform and a kit needed in the ambulance) of driving the wounded through shellfire in the freezing cold on no sleep and an inedible diet under the watchful eye of the punishing commandant nicknamed Mrs. Bitch. Quite a job description.

Not So Quiet was first published in 1930 and offers a scathing description of how the women drivers were treated and the awful circumstances they were living under. But no one gave them credit for what they were doing being the fairer sex, they were denigrated at every turn.

While describing her runs to pick up wounded and transport them to base hospitals, Smith bemoans the senselessness of war and the 'complacent patriotism' of those at home. Bragging of their children's volunteerism, the home folk wanted to be able to tell of their own children's daring, not giving a thought to the danger their kids were in. Her own mother did the same, not having a bit of understanding of the blood and vomit her daughter cleaned out of her ambulance every day. Or time listening to the cries and moans of the wounded. Or holding a dying soldier's hand so he would not die alone.

This is a book that should be read by every proponent of war. It is a ghastly business whose repercussions do not go away after the peace treaty is signed. My father was an ambulance driver, just as Smith was. By the time I can first remember my father (I was born in 1932), he was still screaming many nights in his dreams, reliving the awful war.

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