THE BATTLEFIELDS OF FRANCE AND BELGIUM
Hi Karen, thank you for inviting me to your blog.
I would like to share some of my research for my World War 1 novels, Shattered Dreams and Wild Oats from The Wild Rose Press and Devil’s Ridge from Whiskey Creek Press.
As well as delving into my family history, trawling through dusty old tomes in the library, I decided to visit the Australian battlefields on the Somme in France and also in Belgium, a truly poignant experience.
Australia was a small country in 1914, with a population of less than 4 million, yet we sent over 300,000 men to the front, Gallipoli in Turkey, Egypt, France and Belgium. More than 50,000 of our soldiers lie in the beautiful cemeteries in France and Belgium, 12,000 miles from home.
Our pilgrimage commenced in Amiens where we were met by our guide who had not only a personal interest, but a wealth of knowledge regarding the battlefields. Using war time maps, he was able to point to within a hundred yards, where my grandfather’s cousin was seriously wounded near the village of Hermes in 1917. Chills ran down my spine. I felt as if a hand was gripping me from the grave. Unfortunately, this relative died of his wounds, leaving a wife and 2 small children behind. He is buried in the war cemetery at Rouen, and we were elated but sad when we found his grave.
We visited large cemeteries where hundreds of white headstones stood amongst green lawns with pretty flowers nodding their heads between the graves. It was so poignant one could have cried a million tears and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
At Thiepval we saw a monument with thousands of names engraved on it, for English soldiers who fell in the area but have no known grave.
One of the most memorable monument wasn’t very big. It was at Fromelles, a bronze statue of an Aussie soldier carrying his wounded mate.
POST SCRIPT TO THIS: About twelve months ago, a mass grave was found at Pheasant Wood (Fromelles), it contained the remains of hundreds of English and Australian soldiers who had died in the battle and were buried by the Germans. Extensive excavation work was carried out, and every soldier will eventually be re-buried with full military honours in individual graves, in a newly created war cemetery. DNA samples have been taken from the remains, (buried since 1916), and relatives of soldiers listed as missing after the battle have been asked to give DNA samples, and the Commonwealth War Graves authorities are hopeful that many of these soldiers will be identified.
At the Menin Gate in Belgium, is a huge monument with thousands of names inscribed on it for soldiers without a grave, they still, after all these years, play the last post every evening as a mark of respect for the fallen. We visited large war cemeteries here and beautiful and sad as they were, the most touching was a small cemetery near Passchendale with only a handful of white headstones. Night was falling as we passed through this cemetery, and as we stopped to read the inscription on an eighteen year old soldier’s grave, we whispered that someone from home had come to visit him. When we turned and walked away through the misty rain, all we could leave behind for him was our tears and a red poppy.
WILD OATS – The Wild Rose Press (A prequel to The Trouble With Playboys)
Captain Phillip Ashfield toasted his elevation to fatherhood, as a barrage of artillery pounded the battle scarred fields around him.
English aristocrat, Phillip Ashfield, comes to Australia to sow some “Wild Oats”. After seducing Allison Waverley, he decides to marry an heiress to consolidate the family fortunes. Phillip has made a fatal choice, that will not only ruin his own life, but the repercussions will be felt by the next generation.
To save Allison from the disgrace of having Phillip’s baby out of wedlock, Tommy Calvert marries her. Mortally wounded on the French battlefields, Tommy is found by Phillip who learns that Allison has borne him a son. He vows to claim the boy when the war is over, because his wife cannot give him an heir. In the meantime, Allison finally finds happiness from an unexpected source.
SHATTERED DREAMS – The Wild Rose Press
Three young soldiers leave a shattering legacy as they pass through Lauren Cunningham’s life. Danny her childhood sweetheart is killed in action in 1915. Captain Blair Sinclair returns from the war with amnesia and believes Lauren to be his fiancée. Dick McKinlay is a shell shocked soldier who is prepared to marry her to hide a terrible secret.
Even if Blair can forgive Lauren for being an impostor, will she always be haunted by the ghost of her lost first love and tainted by the scandal surrounding her marriage to Dick?
DEVIL’S RIDGE – Whiskey Creek Press
By the time Ross Calvert discovers Harry Martin is in fact Harriet Martin she has fallen in love with him. Realizing she has failed in her final effort to protect her shell-shocked brother, she puts a desperate proposition to Ross. Marry her and she will give him an heir.
Ross accepts. However, he is tormented by the betrayal of his former fiancée Virginia. On his honeymoon he meets her again and is still infatuated. With the army recalling him to the Western Front, he faces a terrible dilemma, taste Virginia’s passion before he heads to the trenches of France, or keep his marriage vows to Harry.
With the spectre of war hanging over them, there are even bigger obstacles for Ross and Harry. Ross returns to the trenches, and a man seeking wealth at any cost, endangers Harry’s life in a way she had never imagined possible.
Margaret Tanner’s Website: http://www.margarettanner.com/