The Courage of a Christmas Past

I’m presently engaged in editing my historical novel, Touching the Wire, published in 2014. Not big changes: just moving errant commas that are running riot, swapping odd words for some that I like better, clarifying where needed, and rewording awkward sentences before it goes for a professional edit. I’m on chapter nine. It isn’t the first chapter that’s had me in tears, but this one is particularly relevant given the time of year. The time is Christmas 1944, and the place is Auschwitz/Birkenhau, Poland.

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‘Wind from the Carpathians blew a breath of life across the camp. The October nights were cold, now. Crematorium IV lay idle, damaged beyond use, but the Sonderkommando had failed to set the charges in the other crematoria.

Rumour travelled across the camp, spread by the voracious underground network, and the outrage of Nazi officers. Although most of the explosives had been used for demolition charges, the men of the Sonderkommando had also fashioned grenades using sardine cans and shoe-polish tins organised from Kanada. Local partisans had slipped small arms, hammers, knives, and axes through the fence. Rumour said twenty-five guards had been killed. Rumour also had it a hated German Kapo had been stuffed alive into a crematorium oven.

The rebels of the 12th Sonderkommando fed the flames as they’d known they would. It was the way of the camp: every few months a new intake burned the bodies of the last Sonderkommando and then processed the bodies of others, including their own families, conscious they too would feed the same flames. Flames and grief, hatred and guilt, and the stench of death filled their lives, waking and sleeping.

He sent a message to Miriam. Twelve men escaped. SS patrols with dogs are searching. Next day he wrote another. They crossed the Vistula. The SS tracked them and shot them. They have brought back their bodies. I believe one may yet be free.

The dead could not betray them, but the living could. He wrote yet another message for Miriam to spread. The SS have traced the gunpowder back to the Union Munitions Factory. Warn the girls there. He left the message in the usual place and waited.

A reply came next day. I fear we are too late. Workers in the pulverraum are being questioned as I write.

If he still believed in God, he would have begged for his help. He sent up a silent prayer anyway and paced outside the medical block. Next day, he could write Miriam better news. Rumour says orders from Berlin have arrived. The gassings are to stop.

Another sleepless night and another desperate dawn. He checked the crack in the wall: the message had gone. In the distance, a recognisable figure approached still upright despite his deprivation. ‘Rabbi Schaeler, how are you?’

‘I’m well.’

‘What news?’

‘The guards are jittery. We believe the Soviet army is pushing west at a great rate. We fear for our lives.’

‘The SS are also nervous. orders have come to stop the gassings. There’s talk of blowing up the other crematoria to hide their crimes.’

The rabbi slipped a note into his hand. ‘This is from Miriam.’

He read it aloud. ‘God hears our prayers. We have great need of blankets.’ He smiled. ‘Miriam’s faith is absolute. Is she well?’

‘She’s exhausted, but her faith sustains her. Ilse is a great help and comfort.’

‘I’m glad she has a friend. I wish I had her belief.’ It was, as Aaron Schaeler had said, political prisoners with something to fight for and those of great faith, who were the ones who most easily found the strength to endure. He enjoyed Aaron’s company: his friendship helped keep him sane. They had had many deep, if short, debates concerning God, Judaism, Catholicism, and in more weeks, faith in general.

Rabbi Schaeler nodded in understanding. ‘This place is enough to test all belief, yet God upholds us in our struggle.’ He smiled that same serene smile Miriam managed, day after day, fighting with whatever strength she had. ‘It’s freezing in the infirmary. I’ll help carry the blankets, if you can get them, after I’ve cleaned the latrines. I’m to go to the women’s camp next.’

‘Thank you, Rabbi.’ He hurried back to the medical block; Miriam would have her blankets.

He blocked his passage. ‘My friend, what conclusions have you drawn from yesterday’s autopsies on the dwarves?’

‘That they were malnourished. Their organs showed signs of failure. I didn’t need to perform autopsies to discover that.’

‘You are being pedantic. What effects did you record?’

The evil bastard would string him on the gibbet or stand him in front of the wall of death if he knew what and who he’d recorded. Clauberg, killer of women, Oberheusen, murderer of children, Kremer, needle of death – Schmitt, coward, murderer and beast. He looked into the fathomless dark eyes of evil – and him, the Good Uncle, child torturer, madman, and murderer. ‘I saw only two senseless deaths. These are people, Herr Doktor.’

‘They’re vermin but interesting vermin. You’ll carry out your orders. Remember your little nurse and your patients. Think about the uses human skin can be put to.’ The back of the immaculate green tunic receded.

His fists clenched. Rumour had it there was a market for human skin. ‘Herr Doktor?’

The green tunic swivelled on a polished heel. ‘Yes?’

‘A nurse in the infirmary in the women’s camp. She has heterochromia iridii. I know your interest in eye colour, so I questioned her. This peculiarity runs in her family.’

‘But she’s not Sinti or Roma?’

‘No.’

‘Bring her to me.’

‘Yes, Herr Doktor.’ He searched store cupboards until he found blankets: dozens of clean, neatly folded blankets. He filled his arms, carried the blankets to the end of the medical block and returned for more. When he got back with the third load Aaron Schaeler was waiting.

The rabbi hugged half the blankets to his chest, and together they walked towards the women’s camp. They were both known, and the guards gave them access. He almost ran into the infirmary building. The stench hit him in the guts. ‘Miriam…’

‘Chuck…’ She hurled herself into his arms as he dropped the blankets.

‘You look flushed.’ He held her at arm’s length and examined her. ‘I will try to get more food to you.’ He picked up the blankets. ‘Thirty. It may be possible to get more, but I have to think of a reason to come or risk suspicion. I won’t get away with my nurse with different-coloured eyes having died of pneumonia a second time.’

‘Thirty. It’s a miracle.’ She kissed him. The stench of the infirmary was on her clothes and in her hair.

How soon he’d forgotten how bad things were here. ‘I’ll send more drugs and dressings as soon as I can. You feel hot. Do you have a fever?’

‘I’m well.’

She wasn’t being entirely truthful. Her eyes reflected the fear in his heart. Sickness, betrayal… He should be here with her, caring for her.

Her hand was small in his, her eyes large and anxious in her pinched face. ‘Peti? Arturas?’

He forced a smile. ‘They are in good health and better fed as pets of the camp physician. So far he has only taken blood from them.’

‘I’m sorry I doubted you.’

‘Don’t ever be sorry. I’ll come again soon and send what medicines and food I can.’ He turned to the rabbi. ‘Aaron, marry us. If she will, I want Miriam to be my wife. Miriam, will you?’

Her face lit with a smile. ‘Oh, Chuck, yes. Yes!’ Her face fell. ‘But the Rabbi is not permitted.’

‘Because I’m not a Jew? Can I convert?’

Aaron shook his head. ‘It would take at least a year to teach you. We may have only hours. Miriam is right.’

‘Is there no way?’

‘You abide by the seven commandments of Noah. We have talked enough for me to know you are a good man. I am supposed to dissuade you three times from converting to Judaism.’

‘If it means I can marry Miriam, nothing will dissuade me.’

‘You should be circumcised, given a Jewish name, and immersed in the mikvah.’ Aaron looked from him to Miriam and threw up his hands. ‘Mitzvah, these are not normal times. We’ll improvise. Later, if we survive, it will be my honour to teach you. Find me four nurses to hold the chuppah.’

Miriam fled to find them. All who could rise from their bunks crowded around. Four nurses held a blanket aloft, like a roof.

He stood bemused as Miriam circled him seven times. She stopped at his side. ‘We have no wine.’

Rabbi Schaeler gave him a wry smile. ‘Water will suffice. Did your Jesus not turn water into wine?’

‘We have no rings.’

A woman hobbled forward coughing. For a moment, he didn‘t recognise her. She had aged years in weeks. ‘Ilse?’

‘I swallowed my wedding ring when we came here. I rescued it from the latrine and have kept it hidden sewn inside my dress. I’d be honoured if you’d take it.’

Miriam gasped. ‘Ilse, I can’t accept such a gift.’

‘I have my memories, Miriam. And I’ve no further need of a ring. This will be your memory in years to come. Just promise you’ll remember me.’

Miriam hugged her, eyes bright with tears, and took the offered ring. ‘How could any of us ever forget you, Ilse?’

Chatan – bridegroom – you must declare thus to your bride. ‘Behold, you are betrothed to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel.’

He repeated the words.

‘Now place the ring on Miriam’s finger.’

The ring slipped on. It was loose but in time it would fit the god of Moses and Israel willing.

‘According to Jewish law you are now married. I should read the marriage contract. I fear I cannot remember the exact words. You undertake to provide food, shelter, and clothing and be attentive to Miriam’s emotional needs.’ He sighed. ‘God can see into your hearts. He knows you wish to do these things. Here…’ He shrugged and launched into Hebrew.

‘The seven blessings,’ Miriam whispered, squeezing his hand as, one after another, her friends poured blessings on them. Her eyes shone. Fever, fear, or happiness?

Aaron waited for silence. ‘It is traditional to break a glass to signify the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. We have no glass. No matter. In our hearts we do these things according to our tradition. You are man and wife and are truly blessed. May your joy be long. Now, I fear I must leave you.’

‘Mazel Tov.’ The shouts of rejoicing, the smiling faces, he would remember forever. ‘Mazel Tov.’

He bent to kiss his wife. ‘I love you, Miriam. I love you so much.’

The honeymoon lasted half an hour. He smiled and waved and left his heart amid the parched courage, the starved hope, and the ever-present smell of rancid soap and excrement.

His joy lasted half a day.

He delivered the news, gloating. ‘The names of some of the resistance have been given under torture. Four women are accused of supplying explosives.’

Which four? A guard knew the names. He scribbled a quick note and hid it in the crack in the wall. Roza Robota, Ella Gaertner, Esther Wajcblum, and Regina Safirsztain have been arrested for supplying explosives.

One of those poor women knew their names and where to find them. The SS would go to any lengths to get information to expose the rest of the resistance: they would rape and torture her until she begged to tell them all she knew.

***

Walt surveyed the surface of Lil’s dining table: no water marks, no hairs, no specks of dust – just a smooth sheen. French polishing wasn’t his favourite job if only because he had to suspend all other work for fear of raising dust. He hovered a finger over the surface. Patience: finishes took longer to dry in cold weather. A finger-mark would ruin the whole thing. He’d leave it until tomorrow before applying the carnauba wax.

He should be tidying the workshop, or sweeping the coal corner ready for a new delivery, sharpening his chisels, or throwing out the tin bath that hung on the wall. How many years since they’d last used it? A shape on the wall stopped him dead: a gibbet, with a hangman’s noose. It was a shadow, only a shadow, just the low sun throwing the distorted image of the bird table, hung with a half-coconut, through the window.

But the memory of the gibbet was inescapable.

November: in an attempt to cover their crimes, the Nazis had destroyed the gas chambers, and the internees had rejoiced. But there were other ways to kill: phenol or chloroform injections to the heart, starvation, beatings, repeated delousing, and executions. One by one the survivors succumbed.

The four women arrested for smuggling explosives after Crematorium IV was destroyed, continued to hold out under Gestapo interrogation. Rape, beatings, electric shocks, the removal of fingernails – they were only girls, really. How long could they stay silent?

The camp shivered on starvation rations through a Polish winter. More and more skeletal figures, only half their normal body-weight, sat on the ground wrapped in torn blankets and stared into an unknown hell: Muselmann sat beside Muselmann no longer knowing who they were or where they were. They felt no fear, no hunger, thirst, or pain: they’d surrendered to their fate and but for the thudding of their hearts were already dead.

His work in the hospital camp and the medical block, combined with fear of their betrayal, made sleep impossible unless exhaustion claimed him, and then his nightmares woke him screaming: Miriam lay on a dissecting table or stood while he placed a noose around her neck and kicked away the chair. Her body swung on the end of a rope. Then it was him facing a firing squad. And worst of all, the children: he wept for the children.

December followed November with relentless, mind-numbing cold. Peti and Arturas still lived: so far, he’d shielded them from the worst atrocities, playing God again, though Arturas was unwell. Aaron Schaeler was ill too with scarlet fever, and messages came less often. He worked as if in a daze helpless to stop the horror for fear of swingeing retribution on Miriam and the women’s camp. The Soviet army must come soon.

A low drone took him outside. He tilted his head, trying to gauge its direction. In the distance, rank after rank of bombers flew in formation. Panic erupted around him: Allied planes. Guards and officers ran from the buildings and hurried towards the bomb shelters, leaving the internees to fend for themselves in the open. He stood in the middle of the track and watched their approach. Silently, he cheered them on, praying they knew which were the command headquarters and which the barracks of the prisoners of war.

Time hung like the undropped bombs. The planes droned on and explosions blasted the still air. Flame and black smoke rose in a pall of too bitter a memory. Again they’d targeted the oil refineries about five miles away. Did the pilots even know the extermination camp existed? Had they no idea what was happening to the men, women, and children? Did the Allied governments not care?

Christmas Eve arrived with the dread of past Christmas Eves when the SS had erected Christmas trees under which to leave their macabre presents of frozen souls. While the officers and guards celebrated, he slipped away. Twins were housed in various barracks across the camp: Peti and Arturas were in camp BIIe, which had been the Gypsy camp. He’d persuaded the camp physician to let him move one set of twins to the barrack set aside for them in the women’s camp to relieve overcrowding. He checked the order was in his pocket and hurried to BIIe.

Inside the barrack, it was dark and cold. He switched on the light and children huddled together, cringing away from him. ‘Peti? Arturas?’ He found them hiding beneath a blanket. ‘There’s nothing to fear. I’m taking you to see Miriam, that’s all. Come.’ He took them by the hand and led them across frozen ground, past the guard, and out of the compound.

There were children other than twins in the women’s camp now that they were no longer gassed on arrival, and the sight of them warmed his heart. He stopped outside the women’s infirmary. ‘Wait here.’

The inside of the infirmary was decorated with fir boughs hung with bright tatters of rag and crammed with women determined to celebrate Christmas whatever their faith.

‘Miriam.’ He hugged her and held her close. ‘Are you well?’

‘I am but we have an outbreak of scarlet fever. You look tired, Chuck. You must hang on. They say the Soviets are near.’

‘Not near enough.’ He pointed to the fir boughs. ‘You’ve all worked hard to keep up morale. You have isolated the infected?’

‘Yes, of course, and we’ve scrubbed the floors with snow and the disinfectant you sent.’

He nodded. ‘You must stay well.’

She waved aside his concern. ‘We’ve presents for the children, look. The women have sewn toys from scraps of material. And we’ve candy for them.’

‘Candy?’

‘Shared by those who’ve had parcels from home. I’ve saved some for Arturas and Peti.’

‘Then you’d better give it to them.’

He went to the door and motioned the boys inside.

‘Arturas, Peti, you’re frozen.’ Miriam hugged them close. Other women crowded round to welcome them home and press small gifts into their hands.

‘I got them moved to Block 22.’

‘Thank you, Chuck. Thank you.’

‘I should have thought of it, before.’

‘They’re here now.’ She took Peti’s hand in one of hers and held Arturas’s in the other. ‘Look, Peti, one of the girls has made a little Christmas tree. And we’ve candles, Arturas, left over from Hanukkah.’

Candles organised from Kanada. They lit the candles as the light failed. Children’s upturned faces flickered yellow in the light of the flames, and Arturas and Peti’s eyes were wide with wonder. A voice began to sing quietly and uncertainly. A Polish carol? Another voice joined in, and then others; those who recognised the tune, women of all faiths, sang in their own language, swelling the sound to the rafters. He joined in with the words his mother had sung. Angels greet the holy child, in a manger, heart beguiled. Christ is Lord and Christ is born, joy to all, this Holy morn.

He put an arm around Miriam’s shoulder. His deep voice underscored the soprano and alto voices of the women and the high trill of the children. Rejoice, rejoice, throughout the earth, let love embrace the holy birth. Pain and sorrow leave behind; our saviour’s born for all mankind. The voices faded to silence, and women hugged each other and cried.

Miriam wiped away tears. ‘Can you all stay? Just for tonight?’

‘No-one will miss us, not tonight.’ He found space on a bunk for the twins and followed her to her bunk. They lay in each other’s arms far into the night listening to the strains of a midnight mass from the men’s camp and the quiet sob of broken hearts.

On Boxing Day, he took the boys to their new barrack. They were no safer there, but Miriam would be able to see them, and they’d enjoy the comfort of the familiar faces of those who loved them. Allied planes again dropped their bombs on the oil refinery and the IG Farben factory at Buna. 1945 arrived without fanfare. He left message after message in the crack in the wall, praying Aaron had recovered enough to deliver them. Direct orders from Berlin. The four women are to be executed. Did that mean the SS had extracted a confession?

He waited for guards to come and arrest him his guts writhing like a coiling serpent. He’d have heard if Miriam had been arrested, wouldn’t he?

Message followed message. Send word that you are well, M. I love you. He walked to the place where Rabbi Schaeler would look for messages and pushed it into the crack. It wouldn’t go. His fingers drew out a slip of paper, and he opened it his heart racing. I long to hear from you, M. I love you.

He’d left that note three days ago. She had to be safe: she had to be. He folded both messages, pushed them back into the crack, and returned to his work. Arturas and Peti had been brought back to the camp hospital from their barrack after only a day in the women’s camp, and he needed to check on them. Arturas was ill with fever and isolated. Peti was in a room with other single twins waiting on the fate of their siblings who were all that kept them alive. He feared that, for Arturas and Peti, time had run out.’

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FREE TRIP TO AUSTRALIA!

Well, the next best thing. FREE today at mybook.to/OnDifferentShores (Book 1 of 3) What’s the catch? You have to bash a gamekeeper on the head and join a mutiny on a convict ship. Can’t be that hard.

A story of unbreakable love across vast oceans. ‘Truly exceptional trilogy’ 

Based on real events, Jem is a young poacher who, with his two cousins, falls foul of Lord Northampton’s gamekeeper. When the gamekeeper dies at their hands, all three are transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life. Ella, Jem’s common-law wife is left behind pregnant and penniless. Determined to stop at nothing to join the man she loves, she embarks on a perilous journey to join him. A woman in love is unstoppable, and Ella is a woman in love.

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Roots, home,and travelling afar.

Our roots are something we can’t escape no matter how far we roam. Roots are the things that anchor us in the soil of the place we think of as home and the place we return to at some time in our lives.

While I feel at home in Pembrokeshire, where I’ve lived for the past twenty-six years near the village where The Silence of the Stones is based, my roots will always anchor me firmly in Northamptonshire, where I was born and lived until 1992. My family’s roots go back for many generations in the villages to the north and south of Northampton. Their names are dear to me – Warkton, Isham, Walgrave, Yardley Hastings, Brafield-on the-Green, Adstone, Maidford, Woodend – and of course, the market town of Kettering where I was born and went to school.

Many of my novels have grown from these roots though the branches have taken me back in time and across the globe to the Australias and to the trenches of Gallipoli. My characters have also grown from these roots and many are inspired by the people I’ve discovered while researching my family history and therefore their stories. In fact, now I think of it, only Where Hope Dares has nothing of my roots in it, only my love of my planet and my fears for its future. 

Walt, in Touching the Wire, lived his post-war life in Kettering in the back-street terraced house where I spent the first year of my life. This house also features in The Dandelion Clock, the story of my grandparents’ trials during World War One, and Bill, who hailed originally from Warkton, was a bootlast maker, part of the traditional shoe-manufacturing industry of Kettering.

The village of Yardley Hastings was where my maternal grandmother was born, and it’s her errant relations that drove my historical series For Their Country’s Good a fact-based tale of convicts transported to the colonies for shooting and killing a gamekeeper. The uncovering, bit by astonishing bit, of this half-believed family story was a revelation of epic proportions.

It wasn’t until I researched another family story, this time my paternals grandmother’s family, that I discovered some of the facts behind my great-grandfather marrying sisters. Not a big deal, you’d think until you realise that he did it sixteen years before it was legal. It’s amazing sometimes how the facts you uncover support the story you have in your mind. I’ve no idea how much of Kindred and Affinity, due out in 2019, is true, but it must have been a difficult decision to take bearing mind that her family were Baptists and Methodists at a time when faith was more strictly adhered to than might be the case nowadays. As one person put it in a contemporary letter to a lady considering such a union ‘It is against the laws of Kindred and Affinity in the Book of Common Prayer, and God will surely damn you to eternal hell.’ Strong words to ignore at your peril.

Again, the strengthening of my roots, as they dug deeply during the research and writing of these stories, has anchored me more firmly, and I’m glad to have these tales to leave to my children and grandchildren, whose roots and homes are still in Northampton, to secure them and give them a ‘place’ to which to return from wherever life takes them.

For previews of my novels see Previews

And see more about my books at My titles

Coming 2019 Kindred and Affinity

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A Date With . . . Melanie P. Smith

One very interesting lady.

Frank Parker's author site

Today I’m going to introduce you to Melanie P Smith. Melanie was born and raised in Utah and she loves it there. Why?

“That’s easy. It’s the scenery. We have five National Parks here in Utah; Zions, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. If you love the outdoors — which I do —it would be hard to find an area that has more beauty than the state I call home. We have mountainous hiking trails, desert backroads great for exploring, as well as lakes and reservoirs that are perfect for swimming and fishing. And, to top it all off, I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing view of the Wasatch Mountains (which are part of the Rockies) from my front yard.”

Melanie is a prolific writer who works in several genres. Her background is in law enforcement. How far does that experience feed into her stories?

“My knowledge and experience…

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Richard & Maria – Readers’ Favorite

I love this series and have been waiting for book two. I wasn’t disappointed. The best news is that book three is planned. I’m looking forward o seeing how this story enfolds.

Sarah Stuart - Romantic Suspense

Click a pic to pre-order.

Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers’ Favorite
Two Face the World: Marry in Haste… by Sarah Stuart is a suspenseful romance with strong psychological hints, a second entry in a gripping romance series. I first read Three Against the World and was literally hypnotized by the author’s exploration of the emotional depth of the characters, but in this new novel, she takes the stakes higher. Richard and Maria are a new couple and while they have every reason to be happy, both are haunted by their past, both caught in a powerful, disturbing dilemma — face the truth of their past and risk their marriage or keep their secrets from each other and live in constant fear. But when their lives and property are attacked, they make the decision to uncover the person behind the attacks.

Sarah Stuart spins a tale that will resonate with…

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2018 Tribute to Veterans

Thank you, Grey.

Honoring veterans of all wars

This year you have the rare opportunity to obtain three historic war novels FREE.  Just click the links below and enjoy reading and learning about the  our veterans and the sacrifices that helped to maintain our freedoms.

Kicker (The Forgotten Front)   A WWII thriller about a family’s hardships on the home front and the Army airmen who flew unarmed missions over Japanese territory in China, Burma and India.  This ebook is available free November 9, 10 and 11 of 2018.

The Dandelion Clock  A wish to end all wishes. The war to end all wars. This WWI novel is available free November 10, 11 and 12 of 2018.

Touching the Wire  Auschwitz:1944 A Jewish nurse steps from a cattle wagon into the heart of a young doctor, but can he save her? 70yrs later, his granddaughter tries to keep the promise he made.  This WWII novel is available free…

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1918-2018 Memorial Centenary – Lest we forget – FREE BOOK DOWNLOADS.

RGreyHoover PhotoOn this Remembrance Memorial Centenary, I have the pleasure of talking to R Grey Hoover, author of Kicker the Forgotten Front. Through a similar process, we have both commemorated the men and women of two wars in our writing for very personal reasons. Grey wrote about the US Forces’ WW2 experiences while my interest lay mainly with the British Forces of WW1.

Grey, I can remember when I was a child, born a couple of years after the end of World War II, being bored to tears by my friend’s father’s war stories. It seemed every man in the street had his own version, his own personal story. Blah, blah, blah – They fell on deaf ears, ‘killed in the war’ was just another way to die, and I was grateful my own father hadn’t fought being not fit due to a tangle between a wooden trolley and a two-ton truck when he was eight. The war seemed to me then so long ago and of so little importance to my life, and I failed totally to grasp how close and ever-present it was to those men and how brutal and overpowering an experience it was for most of them. For me, the war meant sugar was rationed, and there was barbed-wire and concrete on the East-Coast beaches.2866714645

I did listen to my grandfather’s stories of his time in Egypt in World War One mainly because he talked about his horse and the desert, and I loved horses, but he told me nothing of the horror.

 

 

 

 

It was only recently, with the onset of old age I suppose, that I felt the need to research Grandad’s war and wrote The Dandelion Clock, as Grey Hoover, author of Kicker, has researched his father’s.

Grey, was it childhood memories that prompted you to write your book?

I was born 4 days after Pearl Harbor, Rebecca, and my father enlisted in the Army when I was a year and a half old, so I have memories of the war years. When dad returned from the war he didn’t talk much about his experiences, but when he did, my brothers and I were very interested. Dad died suddenly at age 56 and I didn’t think about documenting his wartime service until after I retired. My original intention was to produce a historical document just for my family, but as I researched dad’s service records and interviewed and befriended other veterans from the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre, I felt that I had to write something to honor all of them and thus began my journey to become an author. DadCBI2

Grey, I know of men who died young because of being gassed, and one of my great uncles was gassed in France. 

Do you think your father’s war experiences had anything to do with his early death? 

It is hard to say for certain, Rebecca. The veterans of the CBI were at the end of the supply chain and had to subsist on meager Army rations and whatever they could get from the local natives. Dad seemed healthy after the war but over the years he gained a little weight and died suddenly of a heart attack on his way home from work. He had no indication of health problems before his death.

That’s so sad, Grey. 56 is no age at all. I can imagine that a long period of malnutrition would weaken the body’s defences and possibly affect vital organs. The father of a friend of mine was a POW, I think in a Japanese camp, but I can’t be certain of that now. He was a big man, and they say he weighed 6 stones when he came home from the war. Starvation severely affected his health, and he wore a colostomy bag for the rest of his life, though he made a reasonable age. He never spoke of his experiences.

I am strongly of the opinion that ‘the sin of war’ spreads out to engulf us all. It’s something I explore in The Dandelion Clock – the effect it has on families of victims and survivors, on relationships. One reader told me her grandfather was changed by the war to the extent that he became violent towards his children, for which they never forgave him. She said that reading The Dandelion Clock helped her see what physical and mental deprivations he might have suffered, and she understood his ‘rage’ better. TDC march battlefield royalties

My other ‘war’ novel, Touching the Wire, is about Auschwitz, and again, I’ve had readers, survivors and their families, tell me that reading it has helped them. I feel a responsibility towards my readers and those I write about, and I hope my stories are informative and bear a useful ‘message’.

Do you feel the same responsibility? Do you think there’s a message in Kicker? 

I agree that war engulfs us all and we should learn the lessons that war teaches so that we never repeat the mistakes that cause such misery and loss. I feel that no aspect of a war should be ignored or forgotten, and that is why I wrote Kicker and why I included the history of my family on the home front in the book. I think one message in my book is that wars can’t be won and liberties protected without the sacrifices and labours of the folks at home. The other message is that every soldier, no matter where he served, contributed to the successful outcome of WWII. As I was writing Kicker, I wanted to be sure that it was as historically accurate as it could be. I spent 7 years researching for the book and my efforts were hampered by the two things. One was that many military records were destroyed in a fire at the St. Louis Military Records Center and the other was the declining population of WWII veterans. Did you encounter any problems in researching for The Dandelion Clock and Touching the Wire

Seven years? Wow. That’s commitment, Grey. I too strive for historical accuracy in my fiction, but seven years? I haven’t read Kicker yet but intend to remedy that. I know nothing of that theatre of war.

I was incredibly lucky when researching for The Dandelion Clock, because I knew very little about WW1 either before I began my research. Although a lot of records were destroyed for security reasons at the end of the war, I managed to find my grandfather’s military service records, demob account, medal record, and photographs of him with the Royal Buckingham Hussars and in uniform on his horse. I also managed to source excellent histories of the two brigades he served with: Fighting for the Bucks is a history of the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars and The Diary of a Yeomanry Medical Officer was an invaluable first-person account of the war as encountered by the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry, which Grandad served with from 1916-1919. I doubt my novel could have been written without these. Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars

Touching the Wire was a whole different ball game. There’s a wealth of information out there, and I also read several first-hand accounts – If This is a Man by Primo Levy; Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel among others. My problem was the horror and heartbreak I encountered at every turn. Did this really happen? How could a man do this to another, or to a woman, or worse still, to a child? How did this mass ‘hysteria’, for want of a better word, against the Jews and Roma come about and how was it sustained and taken to such terrible extremes? I would discover some new evil, a fresh horror, and have to step away, take the dog for a long walk, take deep breaths to stop feeling nauseous, and reconnect with the present day. It literally had me in tears. But the women of Auschwitz couldn’t walk away. They lived every hour of every day not knowing if they’d be alive that evening and knowing their families had been gassed – everyone they loved: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, and children. Clever, intelligent, gifted people – gone at the whim of a madman. How do you live like that? What incredible courage must it take? The more I researched, the more I knew their story had to be retold to a new generation. “Lest we forget” took on a whole new meaning. children Auschwitz

I think what struck me most was the matter-of-fact way in which the first-hand accounts were written; there was no anger, no bitterness, no recrimination, just the burning desire for the world to know what had happened and to be believed. Primo Levy, for one, survived the camp only to commit suicide after the war because he couldn’t live with his past and that people didn’t believe it. I believe it. I see this kind of fear rising again and begin to see how easily public opinion can be swayed against a people, but it mustn’t happen again.

I’ve written two historical novels inspired by family history, For Their Country’s Good series is based on my grandmother’s family and their enforced emigration to Van Diemen’s Land in 1841 in the convict ship Tortoise, and I’m presently researching a third, Kindred and Affinity, so called because of the UK 1907 Marriage Act that legalised a man marrying his dead wife’s sister, previously banned because of the forbidden relationships listed in the Book of Common Prayer. (I have a lot of black sheep in my family who are a wealth of inspiration.)

What inspired the title of Kicker? Do you have plans to write another book, and if so, would it be fact or fiction and what would be your inspiration?  

It sounds like you had quite a bit of reference material available to you, but then the British were always good at keeping records. The CBI theatre wasn’t quite so organized which is probably why the soldiers there said CBI meant Confusion Beyond Imagination. The title of Kicker came from my father’s job during the war. Here is an excerpt from the preface of the book that explains it:

‘My father was part of the effort to supply allied troops on the ground in China, Burma and India. His official military title was “Flight Traffic Clerk”, but he and others like him were better known as “Kickers”. They were aircrew members whose job was to properly load bundles of supplies onto aircraft and then unload those supplies by dropping them from the planes to soldiers on the ground. Sometimes the supplies were specially bundled with parachutes, and at other times, they were not. AirdropsThe job was neither easy nor safe and usually required unloading 6 to 7 thousand pounds of supplies while their plane flew over frontline positions at very low altitudes and speeds. It would typically take 7 to 15 passes over their target to completely unload the supplies. During these passes, they were often subjected to deadly fire from enemy aircraft and ground forces. The term “kicker” came from one of the methods the crew often used to unload the supplies. As they approached their target area, supply bundles would be stacked in the open doorway of the plane’s cargo bay. One of the crewmen would then lie on his back behind the stacked bundles, with his knees flexed and his feet firmly planted in the center of the bundles. At a signal from the pilot, the “kicker” would literally kick the supplies out of the door to the waiting troops on the ground below. The process would be repeated until all supplies had been dropped.’C47

I do not have plans to write another book, but have you ever considered writing about the WWII battles at Imphal and Kohima India where the British stopped the Japanese invasion of India? They were bloody and gruelling battles that are a testament to the courage and fighting ability of the British troops in the CBI theatre. My father’s unit dropped supplies to British troops during those battles and I have a chapter in my book dedicated to those battles.

I love “Confused Beyond Imagination”, Grey – that sums me up most of the time! I think it sums up much of what I know of WW1 as well. It certainly seems as if the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing most of the time.

I’d wondered about the title, Kicker. The book sounds fascinating. I’ve just downloaded it, by the way, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. There are striking similarities between the inspiration behind Kicker and The Dandelion Clock, and it will be interesting to see another author’s treatment of a similar basic scenario; the hard choices to be made between duty to country and duty to family and the effects these choices have. It must have been incredibly difficult for these young men and the families they left behind.

I hadn’t thought of writing another war story and wouldn’t have written The Dandelion Clock but for my family-history research, but I love writing historical fiction and the way historical fact moulds and constrains the plot. Oddly, my favourite genre to read is science fiction/fantasy, but I’ve read some great Indie authors of all genres over the last few years.

What do you most enjoy reading, Grey? Do you have any book recommendations? Any favourite authors? 

I enjoy reading science fiction and alternate history books. My favourite science fiction authors are Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. My favourite alternate history author is Harry Turtledove. Turtledove wrote a series of alternate history books around the American civil war and they are really fascinating. He also wrote alternate history about WWI and WWII that will make you think of what might have been. I have also downloaded your book The Dandelion Clock and am anxious to read it. My grandfather served in the trenches in France during WWI and his service there probably saved his life since his father and two brothers died within a week of each other during the U.S. flu epidemic of 1918. Who would think that being at war had a plus side.

It must be one of very few plus sides, Grey. A lot of the dead of World War One were victims of disease and the terrible conditions in which they lived. On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed Asimov and Clarke. I haven’t read any Turtledove – what a lovely name – I shall have to see what I can find of his; they sound fascinating. I still remember reading a novel called Pavanne, can’t remember the author now, that was an alternative history of England had the Spanish Armada overpowered the British. It was thought provoking. I’ve begun Kicker, I’ve learnt something already about the US involvement, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I hope you enjoy The Dandelion Clock.

It’s been lovely talking to you, Grey, and I wish Kicker every success.

***

R Grey Hoover is an Air Force veteran with a family tradition of military service that dates back to the American revolution. He wrote his book, Kicker the Forgotten Front, to honour his father and the other veterans of World War II who fought in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre. During the war, the European and Pacific theatres got most of the supplies and media attention leaving the CBI theatre with the leftovers. Even in today’s media coverage of World War II, the CBI theatre is never mentioned. The author’s book is an attempt to correct this gross oversight. 

Kicker Cover

 

 

KICKER

World War II is raging. A young father must choose between his family and duty to his country – a decision that could cost him everything.

Download it FREE on 10th, 11th, and 12th November at 

Kicker the Forgotten Front

 

 

My review of Kicker.

What a treat! An exceptional and fascinating insight into the lives of US airmen helping to fight the Japanese in China, Burma, and India in 1944 and 1945. This was a theatre of war I knew nothing about. R Grey Hoover brings alive the men, the jungle, the dangers, the hardships, and the friendships and camaraderie of the units involved in dropping supplies to ground forces that were suffering intolerable conditions. It made me laugh and made me shed a tear or two. My respect for these servicemen grew with every page. Highly recommended.

An Excerpt from Kicker.

April 4, 1944 – Dinjan Airbase, India

Sam and Bobby Joe were totally exhausted when they crawled into their charpoys. The harrowing events of the day had taken its toll on them physically and mentally. In spite of the heat and noise of the jungle, Sam felt the blessed relief of sleep approaching soon after his head hit the pillow. However, as he drifted off, a feeling of unease came over him. It was a feeling that something was wrong, not here in India, but at home. He didn’t know if he felt uneasy because he still hadn’t received mail from home or because of some unknown reason, but the feeling stayed with him until he finally succumbed to his exhaustion and slipped into a deep sleep.  

Thankfully, his slumber was not disturbed by his recurring nightmare, and he slept soundly until the wee hours of the morning when he suddenly awoke not knowing what had disturbed him. A light rain was falling outside, and except for an occasional flash of distant lightning, the basha was in total darkness. He lay very still, listening to the sounds around him. He strained his hearing, but no sound came except for the steady breathing of the sleeping men around him. After several minutes, he relaxed, thinking his imagination was playing tricks on him. He was almost asleep again when he thought he detected a faint unfamiliar sound coming from somewhere in the basha. Once again, he listened intently, not sure he had heard anything; but then he heard the sound again—only this time it seemed closer, and he was sure it came from within the basha. He couldn’t quite place the sound, but it seemed like something soft brushing against an object. He listened closely, but all was silent. None of the other men in the basha stirred, and after an extended period of silence, he relaxed once again in anticipation of sleep.

     He was in that dreamy state just before slumber when he felt the presence of something or someone nearby. Once again, his senses came to full alert, and he made a conscious effort not to move. He listened carefully, bringing all his senses to bear. He could see or hear nothing, and yet he was sure something was there. He was startled when someone at the other end of the room moved, but then all was silent once again. He was lying on his back, so he slowly moved his head to the right and scanned the darkness.

     At first he saw nothing, but then attention was drawn to a slight movement at the foot of his bed. He couldn’t make out what it was. It appeared to be an undistinguishable shadow against the darker background of the room. As he watched, the shadow moved, and he held his breath as it silently glided along the side of his bed. There was no sound as it moved, and it slowly drew nearer and stopped near the head of his bed. He could tell that it was something large, but due to the extreme darkness, he was unable to see what it was. His instincts told him this was something dangerous and evil, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood erect. At that moment, a distant flash of lightning faintly illuminated the scene, and in that instant of light, Sam could see the large form of a tiger standing beside him. The animal’s head was enormous. Its eyes, momentarily reflecting light from the faraway lightning, gave the beast an evil, devil-like appearance. This was death incarnate staring directly at him.

     Sam was frozen with fear, and his heart seemed to stop. His .45-caliber pistol hung on the wall not three feet away, and he cursed himself for not keeping it inside the mosquito netting with him. He knew the tiger could see that he was awake, and he feared any movement would cause it to attack. The animal stepped closer, and Sam could see its dim outline and smell its damp fur and the fetid odor of its breath. The tiger appeared to know its victim was helpless. The great beast took its time as it sniffed the mosquito netting as if testing its strength. Slowly it raised a huge paw and placed it against the puny impediment. The tiger’s claws caught in the netting, and with a mighty swipe, it ripped the flimsy material away from the bed.’

Read more at Kicker on Amazon

 And find out more about Grey at:

Website http://rgreyh.wordpress.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/rgreyhoover

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rgrey.hoover

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/rgreyhoover/   

The Dandelion Clock 4 tanned enlarged Florrie, hair-softened and photos soft-edged with overlays top faded subtitles moved pic moved in red shadow with top light overlay removed contrast1Cover Touching The Wire Award 400pxl copy

THE DANDELION CLOCK

Families torn apart by World War I – promises that should never have been made but must be kept. Download it FREE on 10th, 11th and 12th November at

TheDandelion Clock 

TOUCHING THE WIRE

A journey into the lives of the women of Auschwitz.

Download it FREE on 10th, 11th and 12th November at 

Touching the Wire

A new review – just in time for the Memorial Centenary.

 

I loved this read from start to finish, at first The Dandelion Clock appeared to be your usual war with romance this was different to say the least.
The writers style and interspersing of lives at the home front with those going away to war was a winning combination for me, including the letters that are a regular part of the whole. There are happy and joyous moments in this read and when they do crop up you will find an inner warmth start to incubate.
The futility of battle and the loss that went with it is heartfelt and written with compassion as the story expands along with the core characters and there interactions with others both human and animal. You can envisage the hardships these characters are facing on internal levels as well as external along with the truth that some questions have no answers, closure is not always possible and yes life throws up some very unfair challenges/demands that can and will push people to the edge.
Take a look from an unblinkered and open minded perspective and hopefully this will captivate you too!’
A story inspired by real events in the Great War.

The true cost of crime, living in a cage, and a points system?

Capture woman's face

I’ve been mulling this over for some time and I feel a sudden urge to get up on ‘Speakers’ Corner’, though I realise my ideas may be controversial. It’s a complex subject where black and white are muddied with many shades of grey, but this is the gist of my probably simplistic thoughts on rising crime. There isn’t just one victim when there’s a bag snatch, a burglary, a rape, a murder, or any of the other crimes, minor and major that occur every minute of every day in the UK.

Whilst it’s obvious that friends and relations of victims are affected by such actions, as well as sometimes deep psychological effects to the victim themselves, it’s perhaps not so obvious that every crime affects us all.

Let’s look at the psychological side first. It’s about loss of trust, really. If you can’t trust your fellow humanity, how can you sleep at night with an open window on a hot night? While criminals are out thieving and causing mayhem, the law abiding toss and turn in their beds. How can you leave things you value in your garden? Chain them up? Lock them away in a shed? Learn not to value anything? How do you go out for the day, or on holiday, knowing the house is empty? I daren’t leave my dog in a car to enjoy a meal out for fear she gets dog-napped. I daren’t walk down the street alone at night. Then there’s the hate crime, bogus phone calls and e-mails scams from people intent on getting hold of cash that may have taken you years of hard work and sacrifice to put by for a ‘rainy day’. And insurance defrauders who put up the cost of premiums… I could go on.

Fear of crime is ruining the lives of the law-abiding. It is we who live our lives in cages of their making, not those who flout the law, think nothing about the consequences to others, and escape prison with lenient sentences. And then there’s the pervading feeling of a lack of true justice – of the punishment fitting the crime. Is it any wonder we are all stressed? Is this the Britain our menfolk and womenfolk fought two world wars for?

I wonder too what the cost is of, say, a police chase after a drunk/drugged driver. No victim, you’d think, if there’s no serious accident, but not so. Tot up the costs of the police wages, the  provision and maintenance of police cars, the possible involvement of a police helicopter, the possible assistance of ambulance crews, their wages and vehicle maintenance, the cost of running and maintaining police stations, the unnecessary load placed on the NHS by violence and illness caused by drugs and alcohol… the cost of a court case, the cost of prisons or probation services. The list goes on and the mind boggles.

Crime takes resources, huge chunks of resources from where they are desperately needed. The financial problems of our health service and social services, care homes, social housing, children’s services, schools, local council services etc could all be solved if the criminal element didn’t steal from the system and so from each and every one of us, including their own families and themselves. Underfunding by government also has a knock-on effect on economic confidence, which shows in lack of investment in jobs, and pushes our youngsters, now deprived of school and parental discipline by modern law, into crime so inducing a downward self-perpetuating spiral.

(Good intentions aren’t always the best legal modifiers. To introduce a law against smacking children before you have educated parents in good parenting techniques is shortsighted. Raising the next generation is the most important job in the world and yet parents have no training to tackle it. A parenting course should be mandatory for every new parent. My own children turned into good adults by pure chance – I hold up my hands and live with the guilt; I wasn’t a good parent and a parenting course would have been of huge benefit to me and to them, as children learn by example. We are now into our second generation of undisciplined youngsters which is possibly one reason we’re seeing so much crime.)

What’s the answer? I wish I knew, but the problem of crime, exacerbated by alcohol and drugs, it isn’t going to go away. It’s a truism that laws are only obeyed by the law-abiding: criminals ignore them – laws act only as a framework for punishment.

I do think that the whole spectrum of law-breaking should pay for the cost of the entire process. Going back to our drunk/drugged driver, shouldn’t he or she pay the cost of calling out the police, the helicopter, the ambulance, and compensation to any injured party as well on top of court costs? And if they can’t pay, then maybe their friends and family should foot the bill in the hope that peer and family disapproval will dissuade them from further crime. We have to do something, surely, or there’ll be no society and no freedoms left. There’ll be mob rule.

Now, I firmly believe that we all do stupid things at some time in our lives, I certainly have, and maybe most of us deserve a second chance, or at least a chance to put things right. So how about a points system?

Twelve points and you’re out. Personally, since the only way to save much-needed money to fund essential services is to remove the twelve-pointers from the planet, I’d stick them in a box and stop feeding them. Too harsh? Well, I’d feed them long enough to allow a twelve-month stay of execution for appeal, to try to ensure any innocents didn’t accidentally get the chop. Two hundred years ago, we exiled our criminals to the other side of the world for even minor crimes, but unless we build a Moon base or colonise Mars, we no longer have the option of exile open to us. So we have a choice – we spend billions of pounds keeping them alive… or we don’t. Keep them alive, that is.

I’d give murderers, rapists, child abusers, and drug-dealers twelve points; the damage done is too severe to warrant risking further infringements. Fraudsters might get six points, lesser crimes perhaps three points or even one. The important fact here is, repeat offend and you’ll eventually hit twelve points. It would reduce the need for prisons and act as a deterrent, and it would remove the worst and repeat offenders from society permanently. I know some might say criminals need help, and there is a case for that, but sadly, the funds aren’t there to help them because of criminal wantonness. There’s some perverse karma in that.

It would have its down side, of course. Someone has to live with making life and death decisions, and that wouldn’t be easy. Another argument against capital punishment is that criminals would carry guns and knives, and we would need to arm our police. I’d hate to go down that road, but weapons are already being used in crime. I know of a couple who ran a post office and were robbed at knifepoint. The robbers didn’t get away with much money, about thirty pounds, I think – it was a small rural post office and not a pension day –  so not much harm done.

Oh, so not so! That couple’s lives were destroyed. They gave up their post office, and in the process lost their livelihoods and their home of many years. But it wasn’t just the fear of being robbed again, and having run a post office I know how that plays on your mind, that harmed them. The shock of the robbery triggered early-onset Alzheimer’s in the wife and she died as a result. Now, to my mind, that robber committed murder. He may not have intended to commit murder, but he instilled the fear of death by carrying a knife. He might just have well have stabbed her through the heart. I see any crime that leads to a death as a twelve-point crime. If you don’t intend to stab or shoot someone, don’t carry a gun or lethal knife.

The points’ system will never happen, of course. Criminals will continue to bleed our country dry and keep us imprisoned. We’ll continue to underfund our police as well as every other essential service. My nearest hospital, five miles away, is closing it’s 24-hour emergency department. Our nearest alternative A&E facility will be 70 miles up the coast-road or, traffic willing, an hour and a half to two hour journey inland. And they talk about the ‘golden hour’ in which to get treatment for the best chance of survival? There’ll be deaths, maybe mine or someone I love, and I lay these avoidable deaths firmly at the feet of those who scam the system and think there are no victims, if they think at all.

There is no such thing as a victimless crime.