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Remembrance Day 11 November 2018

This week on the memorable occasion of the Centenary of the end of World War I. We hear a lot about how this war has now passed out of living memory and the fantastic efforts to pass on the lessons learned to the next generations and so I’ve shamelessly re-posted my thoughts from 2013 about how books help embed those lessons bringing the stories down to human experience.

Armistice Day (which overlaps with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day) is celebrated every year on 11 November to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

If I’m completely honest I despite being taught about both World Wars at school I think that reading books has helped me put what I had learnt into context. I find books that tell the stories of what it was like during wartime captivating and this interest started early on in life.

My knowledge of the First World War pretty much began with the set texts of war poetry we learnt as part of our O’ Level English Literature course and the haunting words that were sent down the decades from young men, many not significantly older than I was at the time, have stayed with me over the years.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Without the endless dissection of those poems by my excellent teacher I don’t think I would have had anything like the understanding that I gained during those months. Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke all bought to life exactly how great every soldier’s sacrifice was.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

But before that the effects of war had been through fiction, heavily based upon fact, to give a feeling what war meant for the wider population. Children like books that have links to their own lives but given the right texts that doesn’t mean that they have to be modern stories, there are some great books about children in war-time, here are a few of my favourites.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by the wonderful Judith Kerr was an early favourite. My father is Jewish and I was fascinated by this heritage even as quite a small child, although it was only on the death of my Grandfather that I realised that our surname had been anglicised on the birth of my Uncle in 1938.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Partly autobiographical, this is first of the internationally acclaimed trilogy by Judith Kerr telling the unforgettable story of a Jewish family fleeing from Germany at the start of the Second World War
Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people.
That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy with her schoolwork and toboganning to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe – starting with her own small life.
Anna suddenly found things moving too fast for her to understand. One day, her father was unaccountably missing. Then she herself and her brother Max were being rushed by their mother, in alarming secrecy, away from everything they knew – home and schoolmates and well-loved toys – right out of Germany… Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

Another childhood favourite was Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, another of my favourite authors for children.Carrie's War

‘I did a dreadful thing…or I feel that I did, and nothing can change it…’
It is the Second World War and Carrie and Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in Wales, where they are placed with strict Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister.
Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with Hepzibah Green who tells wonderful stories, and the strange Mister Johnny, who speaks a language all of his own. Carrie and Nick are happy to visit Albert there, until one day when Carrie does a terrible thing – the worst thing she ever did in her life…
Based on her own childhood, Nina Bawden’s enchanting story Carrie’s War has delighted readers for almost 40 years. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

When I read this as a child I used to wonder how all those children coped being sent away from their parents. Now as a mother, I wonder how on earth those poor women managed to carry on with their children far away being looked after by people they didn’t know.

Although the lives for those fighting the war doesn’t even bear imagining the effect it had on everyone’s view of life changed forever. Those that were around for both World Wars must have seen more pain and hardship than any other generation.

At around ten I came across The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, written while Anne and her family were in hiding in Amsterdam.Diary of a young girl

Anne Frank and her family fled the horrors of Nazi occupation by hiding in the back of a warehouse in Amsterdam for two years with another family and a German dentist. Aged thirteen when she went into the secret annexe, Anne kept a diary. She movingly revealed how the eight people living under these extraordinary conditions coped with hunger, the daily threat of discovery and death and being cut off from the outside world, as well as petty misunderstandings and the unbearable strain of living like prisoners. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

I was moved by the everyday writing depicting the horror of a life lived in secret. Years later I visited Anne Franks house, by now aware that my family were Dutch Jews and saw both my paternal parents surnames repeated over and over in the book of names of those who died in concentration camps. I will never forget that moment when I realised that it was due to a decision made years before, that I was even alive.

Anne Franks House

Anne Frank’s House Amsterdam

Books about the wars are still a staple of my adult reading and I’ve picked just a couple of those that I think stand out as exceptional examples of books that make you think and really appreciate the sacrifice that was made by all those young men.

My preference tends towards those books which look at society as a whole and . Andrew Cowen’s book Worthless Men published in 2013, is a particularly strong example. This book depicts life in an anonymous English market town in 1916, where many of the men were missing, fighting for King and Country.

Click on the book cover to read my review

worthless-men

Link to Amazon UK

Wake by Anna Hope also looks at the period just following Armistice day in an exceptional novel that uses the progress of the journey for the internment of The Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph. Each chapter is a day and each of those days follows the journey of the coffin from France to Britain for the ceremony. So moving and a brilliant illustration of a war and what it meant for those who fought and those who were left behind.

Remembrance Day 1920: A wartime secret connects three women’s lives: Hettie whose wounded brother won’t speak; Evelyn who still grieves for her lost lover; and Ada, who has never received an official letter about her son’s death, and is still waiting for him to come home. As the mystery that binds them begins to unravel, far away, in the fields of France, the Unknown Soldier embarks on his journey home. The mood of the nation is turning towards the future – but can these three women ever let go of the past?

Link – Amazon UK

To the Grave by Steve Robinson has a different way of looking at the lives left behind during World War II


To the Grave

Our American Genealogist Jefferson Tayte aka JT has been employed by Eliza Gray who has received a suitcase with some effects telling her that she was in fact adopted. JT travels to Leicestershire to discover who the mysterious Mena Lasseter was. The story of Mena is based towards the end of the war in 1944/45 but the current day story has just as much, if not more to offer.
The characters are well drawn and Mena’s story is an emotional one but at the same time there is a lot of intrigue in the present day. JT finds himself in danger but who wants to cover up what happened all those years ago.

Link to Amazon UK

I just want to finish by saying that we shouldn’t forget the effects the two World Wars had not just on the soldiers who fought in them but a whole generation.

Lest we forget

Posted in Weekly Posts

Musing Monday (September 9)

musingmondays51 Hosted by Should be Reading

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

This week I’m musing about the use of Family History as Fiction; This genre combines two of my interests in one:

It I have traced some of my ancestors mainly through tracking them back through the UK Census using birth, marriage and death certificates to add a little flesh to the bones of this 10 year glimpse at their lives. I often wonder what their lives were really like. How did my Great-Grandmother cope at the age of 24 when she realised she was pregnant and unmarried at the turn of the century?  Funnily enough this wasn’t passed down in the oral history I’d been told by my beloved Grandmother. Oh, I knew that Rose, her mother, had married a man who had been widowed and was 20 years older than she was. No-one said that she married him 6 months to the day after his first wife had died and my Great-Aunt was born less than 4 months after that – I did the maths! I’m sure the internet has uncovered many such secrets from the past leaving those of us in the present to imagine the back-story.

I digress; Dan Waddell who wrote the tie-in the to the popular family history program Who Do You Think You Are then wrote his first novel, The Blood Detective, (nominated for he CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger, the Macavity Debut Novel award in the USA and the Cezam Prix Littéraire in France.)

The Blood Detective
Blurb

As dawn breaks over London, the body of a young man is discovered in a windswept Notting Hill churchyard. The killer has left Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster and his team a grisly, cryptic clue…
However it’s not until the clue is handed to Nigel Barnes, a specialist in compiling family trees, that the full message becomes spine-chillingly clear. For it leads Barnes back more than one hundred years – to the victim of a demented Victorian serial killer…
When a second body is discovered Foster needs Barnes’s skills more than ever. Because the murderer’s clues appear to run along the tangled bloodlines that lie between 1879 and now. And if Barnes is right about his blood-history, the killing spree has only just begun…
From the author of the bestselling Who Do You Think You Are? comes a haunting crime novel of blood-stained family histories and gruesome secrets. . .

He then followed up with Blood Atonement, featuring the same central characters, genealogist Nigel Barnes and DCI Grant Foster.

Blood Atonement

Blurb

Katie Drake was an affluent single mother living in Queen’s Park – until someone cut her throat and tore out her tongue. Worse still, the killer has abducted her fourteen-year-old daughter, Naomi.
Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster quickly sees chilling parallels with the disappearance of teenager Leonie Stamey three years earlier. With hopes fading of finding Naomi alive, he calls on genealogist Nigel Barnes to piece together the links between the families of the two girls.
The trail leads Nigel back to 1890, when a young couple arrived in the UK. A husband and wife fleeing a terrible crime in their past, and harbouring a secret that’s now having bloody repercussions in the present …

Read more about Dan Waddell on his website http://www.danwaddell.net/

This led me to seek out other books in this genre and I came across Steve Robinson’s first book featuring Jefferson Tate. JT, to his friends is the genealogist who doesn’t know his own past but goes on thrilling adventures to find the truth in the past. His first adventure was within the pages of In the Blood

In the Blood

The story starts with American genealogist Jefferson Tayte, JT, having to board a plane to Heathrow before catching a train to Cornwall in order to complete an assignment for a client’s birthday, only problem is he is scared of flying. It took a while to get into the story as early on we are introduced to the Fairborne family boarding the boat, Betsy Rose, in America to sail to England in 1783. Once the JT had to Cornwall the parts from the past linked well with the many twists and turns happening.

JT is portrayed as a likeable character desperate to do a good job with integrity. There is quite a large cast of characters to get to know both in the past and in the present, and some of those baddies are really bad!!

This book is well written; it has a lot going for it and I would love to follow JT on his next adventure and maybe find his birth family in the process.

The second episode To the Grave and is set in World War II. This one is my favourite, possibly because of the time period.

To the Grave

Our American Genealogist Jefferson Tayte aka JT has been employed by Eliza Gray who has received a suitcase with some effects telling her that she was in fact adopted. JT travels to Leicestershire to discover who the mysterious Mena Lasseter was. The story of Mena is based towards the end of the war in 1944/45 but the current day story has just as much, if not more to offer.

The characters are well drawn and Mena’s story is an emotional one but at the same time there is a lot of intrigue in the present day. JT finds himself in danger but who wants to cover up what happened all those years ago.

This is a stand-alone story however I would suggest reading Steve Robinson’s previous book first. As before the genealogical angle is covered accurately but not laboriously so it only serves to enhance the story not get in the way of it.

This emotional, thrilling tale thoroughly deserves 5 stars, I can’t wait for the next one.

The latest book is called the Last Queen of England

The Last Queen of England
This time the story revolves around Queen Anne and the Jacobites, a period in history that I didn’t know much about. Jefferson Tayte meets his old mentor, Marcus Brown and soon there is a murder and a puzzle to be solved. This is a fast paced story with JT getting into all sorts of difficult situations as he races to finish what his friend had started.

The beauty of Steve Robinson’s books are they can all be read as stand-alone books as they are all so different. Each one is written in an engaging way with JT being a rounded likable character. In this outing we are introduced to Jean, another strong, well-defined character who adds a different dimension to JT and one that I am hoping stays for the next instalment.

To give the reader a history lesson in a way that enhances and doesn’t interfere with the story indicates what a good writer the author is. A thoroughly good read particularly for anyone interested in genealogy and history.

I love JT and was thrilled that Steve Robinson has got a signed contract with Amazon Publishing even though it may mean a slight delay in the next book. Read more about JT and Steve Robinson on his website http://ancestryauthor.blogspot.co.uk/