Twenty-Four Hours Leave (1943) by Renee Shann (pen name of Carol Gaye)

By Helen N.

This is an American edition (Triangle Books, New York 1944) of a 1943 British novel, which accounts for the cover which has a sketchy picture of a woman in uniform reading a letter. It is very much a “Woman’s book”, in that the story is written from the woman’s point of view, where emotions drive the plot. The story is basically a simple Girl meets boy story and the twist is that the heroine, Cherry Pyecroft, has already lost her man once. Simon, who she loved from afar, has married her friend Denise. Cherry has joined the WAAF, not only because of this but because she wants to “do her bit”. She is happy in her new life, where she is part of a busy team. When the story opens, Simon is returning from a trip to America and Denise tells Cherry that she is running away with another man and asks Cherry to tell Simon. When Simon arrives back at the flat he misunderstands Cherry and thinks Denise has caught a train to meet him. Before Cherry can disabuse him they hear on the radio that the train Denise was in has crashed. Carol feels she can’t tell him the truth and allows him to go on believing that Denise was running to meet him. Her body is identified by her very showy engagement ring. So the inevitable happens and Cherry and Simon gradually become close and at last he proposes to her.

They buy a cottage in the country and it is while Cherry is arranging the furniture from the London flat, which has been in storage, that she opens a drawer and finds what appears to be Denise’s ring. She decides to keep this a secret from Simon and go ahead with the wedding. All the time this plot is enlivened by Cherry’s life on base, with her friends , whose lives and loves are sketched in to suggest, that although hard work, the companionship and shared work make life very similar to a girl’s school.

The plot becomes more complicated, Simon finds out that Cherry has lied to him and rejects her. Eventually he finds he can’t live without her and they begin to pick up the pieces of their relationship. All is solved when Cherry finds out that Denise had had a copy made of the ring which she was wearing when she ran away. So all ends happily. The war is not over when the book ends (it was published in 1943) and there is always the possibility that one or other of them may be killed but that is understood, not mentioned.

I believe the book may have been written in response to a request for positive images of service life for women. There are references to remarks that “girls only join up for the uniform”. A character is introduced who is the new girl in the unit. She is shown collapsing with exhaustion after her first day’s work and Cherry remembers that is how she used to feel. The comradeship of the unit and the satisfaction of doing an important job are emphasised.
To readers today, the book will seem formulaic. Obviously the author could give only the most general details of Cherry’s job in the WAAF because of censorship. Cherry also has, as many heroines of the era do, a lack of confidence in herself. Nowadays young women are allowed some unsureness, but are also shown to be independent and talented individuals

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