Helen Yendall

(HQ, £8.99)

In 1942, at her country estate of Dalreay in Ayrshire, Seffy (Lady Persphone Baxter-Mills) is fuming. Her younger twin brothers have just announced their enlistment in the RAF, stealing all the thunder of Seffy being chief bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding. To bring the attention back to herself, she announces her intentions to join the Land Army, despite never having shown any previous interest in war work. Somewhat surprisingly, her parents accept her decision, her father even suspending her allowance to put her on a level playing field with the others. He sardonically notes that it’ll be the first – and no doubt the last – time Seffy will have earned a wage.

The Land Army not being a viable option, Seffy is assigned to the Women’s Timber Corps, along with Irene Calder, whose husband has been away at sea for nearly two years, and who was waitressing in a Glasgow café when a passing recruitment march persuaded her to hang up her apron for the war effort. Also arriving at the Cairngorms lumber camp is Grace McGinty – tall, socially awkward and friendless – who has grasped the opportunity to escape her isolated croft and domineering mother.

Seffy’s exalted social rank and cut-glass accent is inevitably a source of tension and hilarity among the working class women who make up her group of “lumberjills”, and Yendall derives a fair amount of humour from the pampered Seffy’s attempts to rough it for the first time in her life, her inclination to play down her background and her discomfort with the irreverent, no-nonsense way the others speak to her.

Irene, who is made team leader due to her experience in a munitions factory, finds Seffy particularly irksome, and they become enemies almost instantly. The culture shock, along with the hard work and spartan conditions, has Seffy thinking that “unless things perked up a bit, she might even give this Timber Corps up as a bad job”.

Naturally, what follows is the story of how they put their differences aside and become a strong and mutually supportive unit, defying all the locals’ prejudices about “women doing a man’s job”. But there’s an additional complication to their lives in the shape of the men of the Canadian Forestry Corps posted nearby. In such close proximity, fraternisation is inevitable and some of the women succumb. Seffy is alternately attracted to and repelled by the frosty Sergeant Callum Fraser, who, unknown to her, has a fiancée back home, and his presence is causing her to question whether the man she’s expected to marry, the reliable but boring “sunbeam” Teddy, is really the one for her.

The Highland Girls at War sheds some light on an aspect of the war effort that hasn’t received much attention. But while it acknowledges the hard work and basic conditions these women had to endure, and the real hardship and tragedy some of them had suffered, we never really feel the dirt under our fingernails or the damp seeping through our clothes. Lives change and are reevaluated, there’s the odd potentially serious incident and one very moving scene dealing with the consequences of a tragic accident. (Interestingly, the relationship between Seffy’s Aunt Dilys and Marigold, assumed at first to be her “paid companion”, is taken in everyone’s stride.) But it doesn’t try to be anything more than a lively, entertaining romance written in a tone that chirpily reassures us that in the end everything will, more or less, work out – though not necessarily without a few loose ends that might be revisited in future books.