Roses Of Winter by Murdo Morrison

Tom Brokaw called the people that lived through the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War 2 The Greatest Generation. In his 1998 book called The Greatest Generation he recounted stories of how soldiers and families in America were effected by the war. Life in the 30’s and 40’s wasn’t easy and some families were torn apart by the financial struggles of the Great Depression in the 30’s and young men having to go off to war in the 40’s.

Overtime, I’ve read quite a few accounts of American families during the war years, so I was happy to find a fictional novel that centered around two families in Scotland during World War 2. The book is called Roses of Winter by Murdo Morrison. Roses Of Winter was originally a podiobook and was released in print in July 2011. The two families in the story are working class families who are greatly effected by the war.

The first family is the Burns who live in Maryhill. In September of 1939, Mary and Charlie sat in their home reading the paper and wondering when the Germans would attack Scotland. The Burns have three kids, Alastair, Elspeth and their teenage daughter Ellen. In the evening, they go to church where the Reverend announces that the country is now at war.  The congregation is in shock. They had hoped the Great War that ended in 1917 would be the last, but things didn’t work out that way.

Things get worse for the Burns. Ellen is not getting along with her mother Mary while Charlie who is in the Merchant Navy has to sail away on a ship called The Jasper to deliver petroleum to the British army in France. The ship gets bombed by the Germans en route, causing the crew to abandon ship and head for land where things aren’t any better. Back in Maryhill, Mary has to leave her family to attend the funeral of her mother in Glasgow. On her return she finds Ellen is dating a man who is headed off to fight in the war.

The second family is the McIntyers. Bessie and Murdo have two sons, Donald and Alec, who are off fighting in the war. The couple lives in Scotstoun where Bessie dreams of a better life. Bessie has no friends and her life was turned upside down when she was a teenager when her family lost all their money in the Great Depression.  Bessie has had to work hard ever since and her life gets worse when one of her sons is killed in the war. One of her neighbors: Ella reaches out to her, giving Bessie the opportunity to talk about her sad life.

Ella has a daughter that lives near by Clydesbank. One night in March of 1941, Scotland’s worse fears come true when Clydesbank is bombed by German forces. Fearing for her daughter, Ella leaves the safety of her apartment and takes the tramcar to find her daughter. As she gets to town there are explosions and people screaming all around. There is no safe place to turn but she can’t leave the war-torn town until she finds her daughter.

Roses Of Winter has vivid descriptions of naval battles along with cities getting bombed into rubble, but its more then just a war story. What really makes Roses Of Winter a great novel is how the characters in the story react to the chaos around them. The characters change during the course of the story and you feel for them. When I read a book, I like to bookmark parts that I really enjoy. I bookmarked 20 different scenes in Roses Of Winter that I felt were examples of great writing.

For example, I liked when Mary is at her mother’s funeral and while grieving makes the realization that someday her kids will have to attend her funeral and feel the same way she feels. I also liked when the ship Charlie is on is under attack and as he sees the bombs dropping, he imagines being on a picnic with his wife. Other things I liked in this book was how Bessie and Ellen changed throughout the story. There is also a good scene where Andy finds the people he works with are more then they seem and there is a good commentary on how its the working class that really pays the price in a time of crisis.

Murdo Morrison put a lot of work into the research of Roses Of Winter and should be commended for it.  He read several accounts of people in Scotland who lived through that period; also the ships in the story we’re based on real ships from the era. The tenaments that many of the characters lived in were based on the place where the author’s mother grew up and was very similar to where the author used to live in.

Roses of Winter is kind of like a journey through World War 2, where you will find a little bit of everything. The book has a couple of love stories, there is loss, suspense, a suicide and some good battle scenes. At its core, the story is about how families and friends pull together to survive in the face of disaster. Roses Of Winter is a great human drama and an excellent read.