Saturday, 8 October 2011

Flogged in the First World War

October - a very exciting time of year for me! IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, my eighth novel is set in 1919. There is, of course, a central romance between my heroine, Birdie Connor and her shop-keeper sweetheart. But Birdie's loyalties are tested when brother Frank, veteran soldier and accused deserter, escapes from prison. The idea for this story comes from the experiences I knew my grandfather had in the First World War. He was an infantry man in Belgium, judged to be a deserter, tied to the wheel of a gun-carriage and flogged. Many men were not strong enough to survive these merciless crimes of war. By a miracle, my grandfather did. Though unsurprisingly, he returned to Britain, a changed man. After his death in the fifties, my Nan was free to talk about his experiences. Many men couldn't bear to discuss what had happened to them for the stigma was shameful. And Granddad was no exception. But the truth was, the terrifying shelling and poisonous mustard gas had caused Granddad - and other young boys some only fifteen and sixteen who had lied about their ages to enlist - to become separated from their unit. Granddad was made an example of; a very successful strategy for the army as the shell-shocked and walking-wounded were classified as cowards if they were unable to perform their duty to King and country. I was a very small child during the last part of Granddad's life. He was racked by coughs and found breathing exhausting. This tall, gaunt, haunted-eyed man with whispered words and heart-felt pauses, tucked a few boiled sweets into a small brown paper bag for me every Saturday. I remember his long, artistic, gentle fingers curling over the paper as though it was something very precious. He did this right up to the end and there was something in his expression that bound me to him in a very special way. So IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER expresses all I have learned about brave men who have been labelled cowards - and the support of their families who deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome. We have a name for it now, but in those days many  just said, "Pull up your socks and get on with it". Birdie Connor ( like my Nan and aunties), is a fighter. She won't back down and she believes in her man. It's stirring stuff and I'm so glad I was, at last, able to write it!

1 comment:

  1. Look forward to reading this one, Carol! I love war stories and your Grandad sounds like he was a good man.