The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI

Today marks 100 years since the end of WWI. What a horrifying and devastating war. Tragically, the terms of the armistice led to economic distress and resentment in Germany, which when combined with a toxic man like Hitler, who promised to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, led to WWII.

Each of my three published novels features the end of the war. Here’s an excerpt from my first novel Unravelled when Edward Jamieson is remembering his experience.

After Valenciennes, Germany was ready to surrender. On November eleventh, unaware of any official communiqué, Edward and his comrades instead became conscious of the absence of gunfire, a quiet filled with birdsong, the rustle of leaves and the creak of an unhinged shutter. Bells began to chime. Wild shouts filled the air as voice after voice swept the news along.

Clustered in front of their homes, in the fields and along the roadside, the French people seemed stunned at first. But soon Edward’s unit heard the sound of drums and the unmistakable rhythm of the Marseillaise. Responding to the call of their homeland, families began singing. Then a procession formed as a man with only one arm held the French flag high in the air, leading whoever would follow into town. Cafes and restaurants filled to capacity, windows and doors opened wide, the smell of food wafted into the streets as though the town itself brimmed with joy.

Gathering in the town square to hear Lieutenant Colonel Gill’s briefing, every soldier dreamed of home. The sun shone brilliantly. Gill’s voice rang out.

“Men, today marks the beginning of the future. You have fought tirelessly to secure freedom for family and friends, for our country and the Commonwealth. It is a momentous victory, which we have achieved together. You have given of yourselves unstintingly and courageously. You have seen your comrades suffer, seen death close at hand and yet, you have endured. It is a testament to your valour and commitment that Canada has contributed so magnificently to the outcome of this war. The war is over. Peace has been won. We have made the world safe for democracy and soon we’ll all go home to our families.”

Edward heard a rustle in the back of the ranks and then the applause and cheers began. On and on it went. Elated warriors filled the square with their shouts and four years of pent-up emotions released like floodgates opening on a narrow gorge.

Gill raised his hand and held it there for some time until the square was quiet again.

“Signals officers will be reviewing the needs of the army during occupation. We will assess each and every soldier and proceed in stages to return you all to Canada as soon as possible.” He stopped to look around the square as though he wanted to make eye contact with every soldier, one by one. “I am proud, so very proud, to have been your commanding officer for the past three years.”

Emotion thickened Gill’s gruff voice. He saluted his troops, holding his arm rigid for much longer than usual, then stepped down from the stage. Only a very few who were close enough saw the tears glimmering in his eyes.

The dead had lived on in Edward’s nightmares. He remembered feeling like an old man, withered and worn, wise in ways he wished he were not, aware of all that sucks humanity from the marrow of men.

The title UNRAVELLED says it all. Reading this again now, I’m filled with feelings of loss and the incredible damage to humanity that war brings about.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

RMS Walmer Castle – 14th January 1917

I began this series as Somewhere in France – it looks like I’ll soon have to call it Somewhere in Africa.

This is our tenth day out and as I hear we are putting in at a place en route on the West Coast and I am taking this opportunity of writing. We eventually got away on the 5th inst., after many delays, a goodly fleet in all, comprising eight big ships with some well known liners amongst them, and a strong escort. We scattered during the first night out but reassembled on the third morning on the escorting cruiser, whose flashing signals we picked up in the haze.

We are in two columns with the cruiser ahead and a couple of destroyers in the offing. We occupy pride of place at the end of the starboard column, which honour I believe is due to the rank of our commander, who looks to be nothing less than an admiral with all his gold braid.

We have had very fair weather, although a bit blowy at first, and I had some anxious moments as to the fate of my first breakfast at sea – but all is well; and now in these warmer and calmer waters I feel a seasoned old mariner. There is a big muster of troops on board, drawn from every conceivable unit, and a sprinkling of passengers for South Africa. There is a regular program of sports, concerts and dances which helps to pass the day, but like all voyages it gets a little monotonous at times.

We are on full duty however and the K.A.R. officers [King’s African Rifles] have been attached to other units on board who are bound for other fields of service. Tonight for instance I am on guard duty from 12 to 4 a.m. and again for the same hours tomorrow afternoon.

It gets dark extraordinarily quickly and completely at night in these latitudes and one gets many a barked shin prowling round the ship, visiting the different guards, in the dead of night as of course all lights are forbidden. The men moreover are allowed to sleep on deck, which is an added snare to the unwary. We have not yet crossed the line, but do so soon after our port of call. Any smoke on the horizon is immediately hailed as a raider, but no luck so far! [Perhaps he’s jesting?] We had quite a good joke over the wireless yesterday, which was the British Admiralty repudiating a claim made by the Germans to have sunk in December the cruiser which is at present escorting us.

Letters addressed King’s African Rifles, Base Post Office, Mombasa will find me sooner or later. I will let you have a line from any port we touch at. I am feeling very fit and our physical jerks in the early morning is just what is wanted on board ship to counteract the tendency to eat your head off. You would be greatly entertained seeing a multi-coloured array of pyjama clad figures doing weird contortions by numbers and the final sprint on being dismissed to be first for the limited bath accommodation.

From what I can discover, it seems that many British officers were sent out to Africa in 1917 to augment the leadership of forces there. Henry Tod might have been in this category. We’ll see if subsequent letters support this assumption.

Mombasa is in present day Kenya. As you can see from the map, RMS Walmer Castle would have had to sail around the bottom of Africa to get to Mombasa and British East Africa. 

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 7th and 17th May 1916

Henry Tod was in the thick of the action in his last letter. Let’s see what happens next. I haven’t read any of these before I share them with you.

Farm near Bethune

7th May 1916

Just a line to acknowledge your letters of 10th April and to report all well. We completed our tour without any further untoward happenings, but were jolly glad to get out of the place. [Now there’s an understatement.] Our next visit to the line will be a little to the right [this would be south], in the vicinity of my first visit to the trenches, likewise of bad memory. We are spending out six days out in the quite big town of Bethune, by way of change, where it is possible to do some useful shopping. This time the whole battalion is billeted together under one roof in a disused factory and we had a very successful concert last night. Some of our later drafts have provided excellent talent in this respect, including a professional comedian. The Colonel passed on a message from the Divisional Commander complimenting us on our stout behaviour in the trenches recently and we were all very pleased with ourselves.

17th May 1916

Your letters of 25th April are just to hand and glad to see you are all well, and I can likewise report “all present and correct”. As you will have seen from the papers, our part of the line is coming in for the attentions of the enemy. The Germans again attacked at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, of which we hold a part, and this time succeeded in establishing themselves in a section of our front line. We were in reserve and the Royal Scots were the unfortunate ones in possession. They are in the same Division.

It was after the usual terrible bombardment, against which infantry have no chance. The K.O.S.B [Kings Own Scottish Borderers] and the Scottish Rifles made the counter attack and managed to contract the enemy’s new line a bit, but failed to drive them out. The part taken is of little account as it formed a pocket in the enemy line and the result has merely been to straighten the line, but it is not pleasant to be treated thus.

Countryside near Bethune

We were brought up as support and provided digging parties, ammunition carriers, etc, etc, and to consolidate if the attack were successful. The Huns however, had already got their machine guns up and kept up a heavy shell fire on our lines, and our colleagues were unable to get through despite two valiant attempts. Owing to the contour of the ground our artillery is twice as far back from the line as the German guns and consequently could not make such good practice, and that made a big difference.

The brigade casualties were pretty heavy. A 5.9 shell found the headquarters dug-out of the Royal Scots killing two field officers, two company officers, and a host of others. Tomorrow we relieve the Irish on our right, who had a bad time of it in the last gas attack, for the simple reason that they were not nearly so well disciplined in gat drill and a number of the men had thrown away their helmets. We do eight days there. My leave is due but officers are scarce at the moment and I will have to wait.

Officers are scarce … sounds ominous, don’t you think. Although, I’m reminded of looking at Canadian battalion reports where casualties for officers were listed by name and casualties for regular troops were listed by numbers along with horses.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.