Somewhere in France – 2nd April 1916

Henry Tod writes his parents about a mine blowing incident – that’s mine blowing not mind blowing, although the latter could also apply.

Dear Mother and Father

I am not quite sure where I left off in my last letter. Sufficient anyhow that we were relieved and clear of the front line trenches just in time. [Imagine receiving his earlier letter then waiting to hear whether he lived or not.] I think I told you we were going to spring a mine on our front and had everything planned to occupy and establish communication with the crater. The question was whether we or the relieving battalion would do the job.

We knew the Germans also had a mine ready under us, or nearly ready, according to our sappers, but we would probably blow first. We had just been relieved by an Irish regiment and got as far as the reserve trenches on our way back, when the Bosche blew his mine and rather badly strafed our Irish friends. (A euphemism to be sure.] We came in for some of the bombardment which invariably follows on these occasions but nothing to what the front line was getting and altogether we thought ourselves very lucky fellows.

We stood by while it lasted in case of an attack on our lines but this did not develop and eventually we resumed our way to billets. The Irishmen had heavy casualties and a long stretch of their trench was knocked in, while a new geographical feature called ‘Munster crater’ was added to their responsibilities. [The name might have derived from the name of the Irish regiment – pure speculation on my part.]

Photo source – https://graphics.wsj.com/100-legacies-from-world-war-1/

We are now out of the line for a couple of weeks rest and training and are at the same place where we spent our last Divisional rest, at Christmas time. The weather is perfect and I got a football sent out for the men. The other companies are following suit and already there is fierce rivalry between them. My company (B) drew with A company last night after a great tussle – one goal each. There were two casualties of a minor nature. I get plenty of riding exercise and so far we are having a nice easy time. The men are getting brushed up in their drill and have received a complete refit in clothes and kit. We also do a lot of shooting and wiring practice. Nothing further to report meantime.

If you are interested in the work of mines and sappers and the underground world of WWI, read the novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It’s one of the most popular novels about the war and a chilling look at what men endured.

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.

 

Favourite WWI Novels

Not long ago I posted Favourite WWI Novels – A Teaser, which included just a few of the novels readers mentioned in a survey of WWI fiction. I’ve now tabulated all 296 responses (over 600 books cited) to discover that readers mentioned 223 different books!

Drumroll please … the top six books are:

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (43 mentions)
  2. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (42)
  3. Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker (36)
  4. Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (29)
  5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (23)
  6. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (19)

In addition, Charles Todd’s various novels from the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series were mentioned 29 times.

After A Farewell to Arms, numbers fall off to 9 mentions for each of Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery and War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.

When time permits, I’ll publish a complete list of novels recommended by readers.

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.

 

The Book Club reads Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong by Sebastian FaulksLast June’s book selection meeting included my nomination of BIRDSONG to honour the centennial of WWI and on Monday, with Christmas lights twinkling in the background, the book club gals settled in for a discussion of war. (You can see all our selections here.)

We always start with a general question – did you like the book? This is not intended to solicit a lengthy response but more of a thumbs up or thumbs down kind of reaction. To my delight, the group gave Sebastian Faulks’s highly regarded novel a resounding thumbs up. They loved it and were blown away by Faulks’s  powerful descriptions of battle as well as the underground world of sappers.

We’re a fairly structured group, having learned over the years what it takes to prompt an interesting evening, and since I was leading the discussion, I had a number of other questions prepared as well as some information about the author.

At the age of fourteen, Sebastian Faulks made up his mind to become a writer. After university he had a series of jobs – running a book club, freelance book reviewer, feature writer, literary editor – but it wasn’t until the success of Birdsong that he could “focus his energies on books”. In describing his writing, Faulks says “he has this tremendous greed for the experience of the near past” and that his mission in writing about the world wars is “to articulate the horror which, for so many, was literally and devastatingly incommunicable.”

Why should we, in 2014, care about WWI, I asked. This question elicited immediate responses concerning its relevance to understanding the wars that are going on today, particularly in times like ours where conflicts are more local and have not required the enlistment of vast numbers of our population.

The group went on to talk about Faulks’s central theme – what are the limits of humanity – and his conclusion that there are no limits. Soldiers will endure a shocking degree of degradation and inhumanity spurred on by even the faintest glimmer of hope and the love they feel for their comrades.

We agonized over why governments and citizens at large permitted such wholesale slaughter as that which occurred at places like the Somme, and expressed shock at the commanders who sent their men into battle knowing the hopeless (suicidal?) conditions they faced. We discussed the weaponry of today compared with that of the early 20th century.

Talking about the main character, Stephen Wraysford, prompted comments about how his childhood and the devastating love affair with Isabelle had affected the man he became in conditions of war.

On the topic of style, the group agreed that Faulks’s more sparing style with few adjectives and lots of action verbs made the story flow in a compelling fashion. A few found the level of detail concerning tunnelling operations somewhat tedious or confusing. On the topic of the more modern section of the story – the one that occurs in 1978 and 1979 – most of the group felt Elizabeth’s story was unnecessary and too contrived. In contrast, Part I, which occurs in 1910, was deemed essential to appreciating Wraysford’s character development and his ultimate drive to survive.

A resounding endorsement for this powerful novel. Birdsong is a profound story that touched us all.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.