During 1917 and 1918 the U.S. took part in what was then known as the Great War, but is now known as World War I. To honor the centennial of that terrible conflict I read three juvenile series novels set during the time period: Ruth Fielding In the Red Cross; Ruth Fielding At the War Front; and Ruth Fielding – Homeward Bound.
Back in 1913 the adventures of our heroine began when she was a 12-year-old orphan sent to live with her grumpy uncle, and they ended in 1934 when she was a wife, mother, motion picture writer / actress / company owner, as well as a mystery solver. The only books in the series I’ve read are the ones that take place during the Great War, and I’ll give a combined synopsis of the three plots.
When the United States goes to war friends Ruth Fielding, Jennie Stone, plus twins Helen and Tom Cameron drop out of college to help defeat the Hun a/k/a the German army. Tom enlists in the Army, the young ladies take on volunteer work, and all eventually end up in France.
At first Ruth helps at the local Red Cross chapter, where she meets Mrs. Mantle, a disagreeable lady who causes problems by saying the organization has dishonest people working for them. Ruth goes off to work at Red Cross headquarters, and so does Mrs Mantle, who is hired as the bookkeeper. Ruth suspects Mrs. Mantel and two others are stealing money, but a mysterious fire destroys all financial records, so good luck accusing anyone of wrongdoing.
Ruth goes to France to work in the Red Cross supply department, and guess who her new supervisor is? None other than trouble-making Mrs. Mantel. Ruth begins work at a French evacuation hospital, where she meets an ambulance driver named Charlie Bragg, and keeps seeing glimpses of what is thought to be a werwolf – who seems to live in the home of Countess Marchand.
For a time a badly wounded soldier is thought to be Ruth’s friend Tom Cameron, but soon after Mrs. Mantel, her two cohorts, and one of the Countess’s servants are arrested Ruth receives a visit from an-only-slightly-wounded Tom. And so ends the first book.
The adventures continue when Charlie Bragg brings dire news. A field hospital had been bombed and the Red Cross lady in charge of supplies was killed. Someone needs to train a new worker, so Ruth volunteers to go and work within a few miles of the front line.
If that isn’t enough trouble for a young lady to deal with, Ruth learns that Tom Cameron is missing from the army, and many believe him to be a traitor. Plus that werwolf is still at large, and the animal may be carrying information to the German army.
Fortunately Ruth learns the so-called werwolf is actually Countess Marchand’s dog, who is carrying information to French spies, including the Countess’s son, Major Henri Marchand.
Ruth returns to her work at the evacuation hospital, and just as her friends Helen Cameron and Jennie Stone show up for a visit, Ruth must leave with Henri Marchand on a secret mission through No Man’s Land to save Tom Cameron. But not before Ruth has time to quickly train Helen and Jennie as temporary medical supply workers. Secret missions can’t interfere with vital Red Cross work.
If you happen to meet the right spies its not difficult to obtain numerous disguises and journey through trench tunnels to save an old friend, who has been working as an American spy. Everyone returns safely to the hospital, and they all have a nice visit with Helen and Jennie. Quite a chummy way to end the second book.
The final book begins with Jennie Stone announcing she is engaged to Henri Marchand. The evacuation hospital is bombed and Ruth Fielding receives injuries that end her Red Cross career, so she is being sent home. She’s visited by Tom Cameron, who tells her he will be taken up in an airplane by his ace-pilot friend Stillenger.
Just as Ruth is boarding a British ship she is given a letter informing her that Stillenger and an unknown army officer may have been shot down. Yikes, what a way to begin a dangerous war-time sea voyage home.
While onboard ship Ruth meets a nasty lady by the name of Irma Lentz, who does not seem to be very patriotic. What’s more Ruth overhears the lady speaking German so she tells the first officer about her, and he believes the nasty lady may be dangerous. Alas, the first officer tells the captain, who tells Irma Lentz about Ruth’s accusations. Not a good way to begin an investigation.
An explosion takes place, crewmen tell the captain the ship is about to sink, and everyone is ordered to head for the lifeboats. Ruth is tripped and knocked unconscious. She awakens to discover the lifeboats have all left and the only ones remaining on the ship are herself, the first officer, who’d been drugged, and the radio man, who’d been locked in a room. A boat load of German-loving crew members return, capture Ruth and her friends, and take over the British ship.
What can three people do against so many enemies? It would be helpful if feared-dead Tom Cameron could somehow appear on the scene and save the day, but that would be a ridiculous plot twist, so you won’t learn about that from me. I’ll just say the heroes triumph, Ruth Fielding arrives back home, and Tom Cameron – who has earned an army furlough – gets to spend some time taking his pretty neighbor for rides in his automobile.
I was hoping the books would portray a more-or-less accurate account of what a Red Cross worker might have done to help the war effort, but I got only glimpses of that as Ruth is in charge of medical supplies and volunteers in the wards writing letters for wounded soldiers. Most of the plot twists are spy-veruses-spy, with plenty of plugs for earlier books, which tell more of everyone’s back-story.
On the positive side, the adventure parts are fast-paced and rather fun to read, so it was easy to not concern myself too much over how unlikely the events were. Plus, I learned the French don’t add a second “e” to the word werwolf, and villians can be easily spotted because they tend to be so disagreeable. Though I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to about Red Cross workers I did get some some insight into early 1900s juvenile series novels.
If you’d like to read the three Ruth Fielding novels set during World War I they can be downloaded free of charge at: