Like so many young women of her generation, Anita Leslie volunteered for active service during the Second World War. The daughter of a baronet and a distant cousin of Winston Churchill, Anita sought more dangerous assignments as the war progressed.
During World War II, she volunteered as a mechanic and ambulance driver for the Mechanised Transport Corps and served in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. She also drove ambulances with the Free French Army in northern France in 1944 to 1945, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military honour given to foreign military personnel allied to France. Her time in the Middle East and Europe is what Train to Nowhere is about.
Her style of writing is like others from this era; self depreciating, almost dispassionate and chatty in parts. When you think about the horrific things she would have witnessed and the danger she often faced, you could be excused for thinking the author was talking about anything but a world war. No whining, no self pity and few complaints about the often harsh conditions under which she worked.
Her description of the Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany, factual though it is, is pitiful to read. Along with other ambulance drivers, Anita was assigned to helping the American forces who had liberated the camp with the evacuation of the surviving prisoners.
Anita says “I had grown bored with the outcry about concentration camp horrors, but neither film nor pen could describe the sinister atmosphere… it was the hideous craziness, the organised cruelty that had gone on before, that haunted the place.”
I knew exactly what she meant about the atmosphere, having been to Auschwitz and Dachau myself some years ago. Anyone who is shocked by her saying she was bored with the outcry about the camps, needs to keep in mind that one can become desensitised from the constant exposure to the horrors of war. At the same time, its important to remember that while war can bring out the worst in people, Train to Nowhere is a reminder that it also brings out the best. An absorbing and fascinating look into one woman’s role during a conflict that changed the lives of millions.
I was surprised to learn that Anita Leslie was a prolific writer, with seventeen books to her credit, including several about the Churchills. She died in 1985.
Thanks to NetGalley for the Kindle download of Train to Nowhere.