My grandfather fought in the Great War. His name was William Harold Goodman, and he was a lad from Warkton, a tiny Northamptonshire village of thatched cottages belonging to the Boughton Estate of the Dukes of Buccleuch. Although records are sparce, I’ve discovered after months of research that he was with the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars and the Queen’s Own Worcester Yeomanry. I can’t be sure which campaigns he fought as I’ve been unable to discover when he first joined the army (he was with the QO Worcs from January 1916), but both brigades were at Gallipoli and were involved in the Sinai offensive and the Battles for Gaza and Jerusalem: names to conjure with.
I remember as a small child sitting on his lap in a big leather chair by the fire, listening to his stories of the desert. My abiding memory is of him holding out his right arm, hand palm downwards, and describing a wide arc, which to my small person encompassed miles and miles of sand, oases, dunes, and lack of water. I could see horses, camels, dusty roads, and men in uniform. I could smell the horses, hear the jangle of their harness, and see Jerusalem.
Sadly, sixty-five years on, the stories themselves are forgotten, their greatness trampled by the trivia of life. Having written a novel about the Holocaust in WW2, I was inspired by Grandad’s sweeping, all-encompassing arm, by this vision of Palestine, to research for a novel about WW1. It’s a pity that at age five I didn’t realise I would need these stories. Why didn’t I ask him to write them down for me?
So, it’s with the spirit of his tales rather than the personal facts that I write The Dandelion Clock, a tale of a young lad and his older brother taken from their home, family, and those they loved and plunged into a world they couldn’t have imagined in their darkest nightmares. They took with them horses they loved and cared for in intolerable conditions. They suffered, heat, flies, thirst, and near starvation. They saw Warkton lads fall beneath the machine guns of the Turks, they almost drowned in the trenches of Gallipoli, and saw men freeze to death. They slept in dugouts with mortars and high explosives bursting overhead and the the stench of death around them.
I can’t imagine that these are the stories Grandad would have told a young child, but this would have been the truth behind the tales, the pain and anguish behind the slow, generous sweep of that gentle arm. The tales he wouldn’t, couldn’t ever tell.
He died days before my twenty-first birthday, and I’ve missed him every day since. The only thing I have to remember him by is his army fork, which I used to eat with as a child and which I treasure. I can imagine him eating his bully beef out of a tin with this fork, possibly sitting in a trench at Gallipoli, or on the road to Rimani, El Arish, Gaza, or Jerusalem. I wish I’d talked to him more. I wish I’d listened more to my elders. On this Remembrance Day, I’m thinking of you, Grandad, and those Warkton lads, and all those who gave of themselves, and still give, at home and abroad during all our terrible wars. I salute you.
mybook.to/TouchingtheWire – a fictional tale of the men, women, and children of Auschwitz.