After reading the two books of Sandi Toksvig's A Slice of the Moon, I decided to read Valentine Grey, a book for adults set at the time of the Boer War. The main character is Valentine, a girl who was born in India, and spent her early years there with her father. Her mother died when she was a baby. When she was seven she was sent to English relatives who try to instil the correct attitudes for a wealthy lady. The only respite is her cousin Reggie, who entertains her and becomes a companion when he is home from boarding school.
A few years later Valentine takes Reggie's place as a volunteer in the army, and the parallel stories of her life in South Africa, and Reggie's life with his gay lover in London allow Toksvig to incorporate a great deal of factual social history, and history of the disastrous war.
Definitely a feminist book, and an entertaining read, even if horrifying in places.
Another book which touches on war and volunteering, is The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey. This tells the story of John Manners, 9th Dukes of Rutland and owner of Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, by exploring documents which were locked away for 60 years after his death in April 1940. Intriguingly all documents from three periods in his life had been destroyed: a period when his older brother Haddon, died aged 9; and two periods in the first world war. The author's search for information about these periods forms the framework of the book.
The mystery is perhaps overplayed and a bit of a let-down when it is partly revealed, but the social history and characters are fascinating.