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Archive for the tag “WW2”

WW2 in pictures

babies in shelter

Underground maternity unit – note babies on shelf!

During my research for my second world war Lavender Road novels I’ve come across some extraordinary photos. I sometimes share these on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but I realised I haven’t shared many of them with my Blog readers yet.

Some of them relate directly to my novels, some of them don’t. But they all give a flavour of that incredible time when people (and animals) in Britain were struggling to survive under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Here are just a few …

 

war carrots on sticks

Tough times for children too

 

farringdon market V1

Keep calm and carry on

 

bombed library

Keep reading ….

 

ats with princess

Do you recognise the ATS girl centre back (the only one sitting on a chair)? Yes, it’s Princess Elizabeth – our current Queen!

 

balham tube station bus

The Balham Bomb, 1940

 

wvs rifle practise

WVS rifle drill

 

eton ww2

Eton rifle drill!

 

untitled

Nurses disembarking in Normandy soon after D’Day

 

wartime pet

Battersea Dogs Home trying to rehouse dogs orphaned in the bombing

 

dog and soldiers

Awww!

 

This is just a small selection – more to follow in due course …

 

 

Helen Carey’s new novel LONDON CALLING is now available at Amazon and in all good bookshops.

Remembrance

poppy planesLast year I had terrible trouble with my poppy. The first one’s stalk broke within ten minutes. I replaced it with a stick-on one which disappeared before I had even got home. The third one fell to bits as I put on my coat after lunch in a tapas bar. As I scrabbled under the tables to retrieve the various bits, the red flower, the flimsy leaf and the black centre button, I heard someone mutter, ‘Why do you bother?’

Straightening up I glanced at him wondering whether he meant why did I bother rescue the poppy pieces, or why did I bother wear one at all. I was tempted to say that I bothered because, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, young men like him had died fighting in wars. But my friends were waiting at the door and I didn’t want to get into a big discussion (and judging by the look of him it wouldn’t have been a fruitful discussion anyway). So I just smiled apologetically and left. Later of course I wished I had said something.

Several years ago we spent a week in Sicily with some friends. Before setting off we happened to visit my elderly aunt who reminded me that her brother Basil (my uncle) had died during the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and was buried in Siracusa.  ‘It would be so lovely if you could go and put some flowers on his grave,’ she said and we promised that we would if we could.

Unfortunately when we arrived in Sicily we discovered that we were staying right at the other end of the island. ‘It’s too far,’ we said to each other. ‘It would take hours to drive all over there.’ And we tried to settle down to enjoy the holiday.

But we felt guilty – after all my uncle had sacrificed his life and we wouldn’t sacrifice one day of our holiday. So we decided to go.

It took us seven hours solid driving to get from from Capo San Vito to Siracusa. (Sicily is somewhat. bigger than it looks on the map.)

We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon, bought two bunches of flowers and made our war to the cemetery.

We were unprepared for the emotion that hit us. Lines and lines of small white headstones, each engraved with a young man’s name. We found my uncle’s grave quite easily, it was in the front row. Capt Basil Beazley, 29 years old.

The glider assault had been a disaster. They were launched from too far out to sea and the winds were too strong. Most landed in the water, some even crashed into Mount Etna. Many, like my uncle died soon after landing attempting to defend positions with inadequate support.  Military planning at its worst. Those young men must have known their chances were slim, but they did it anyway.

Seven hours later we arrived back at the villa in the pitch dark. For some reason I wasn’t on the car insurance so my husband had had to drive the whole way. Did you have a good day?’ Our friends asked as we staggered in.

We looked at each other. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘We drove for seven hours, cried for twenty minutes and then drove seven hours back again.’ But it was worth it.

We had picked up some pebbles and a bit of dry earth from the grave and when we gave these to my aunt a few weeks later she cried too. ‘I still miss him so much,’ she said.

That’s why I rescued my poppy.

It was this experience that made me write LONDON CALLING, my next novel, which will be published by Headline in February next year. Catch up on the series at http://viewBook.at/B0066DLQGM

Wildlife in war

While I have been researching the novel I am writing now, the fourth in my Lavender Road series, among the trauma of WW2, I have discovered one small, unexpected, beneficial aspect of war. (And I am not just talking about winning and ridding the world of the Nazi/fascist cruelty of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini.)housemartins

It is an odd fact that, even as people are fighting wars, the natural world gets on with its own routines and migrations. During WW2 there was a cessation of shooting wild birds in Europe. The inhabitants of Italy, Greece, Malta and the other Mediterranean islands were too busy shooting each other, or their enemies, to carry out their traditional, brainless slaughter of migrating birds. As a result, the populations of song birds, swallows and swifts etc., increased considerably, (only, sadly, to be targeted once again the minute the war was over.)

I found other odd side benefits too. In prisoner of war camps across Europe, British POW amateur ornithologists kept meticulous records of birds passing by, creating a comprehensive log of species, some of which were previously unrecorded.

While fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Malaya, a British SOE agent, Freddie Spencer Chapman, recorded the wildlife he encountered with scientific dedication.

In London, for years after the WW2, the broken, damaged buildings and undeveloped over grown bomb sites provided homes for a plethora of birds and insects. Nobody was too bothered about appearances at that time. Certainly not to the extent of knocking off under-eaves house martins nests because they made a bit of mess on the walls, as so often happens now.

When we visited the Falkland Islands a few years ago we were interested to see how the failure to clear the mines off the beaches there has had a beneficial effect on sea bird populations. Protected from human interference, too light to set off mines, their numbers have increased steadily.

Most modern warfare seems to be more detrimental. The on-going unrest in Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East has devastated wildlife habitats. Oil waste from damaged vehicles has contaminated land and natural water sources. Deforestation and pollution are rife, and conservation largely impossible.

But on the other hand, there are reports that, like the migrating birds of WW2, and perhaps due to people being too busy shooting each other to bother with slaughtering other species, the survival rate of Asiatic black bears, grey wolves, leopard cats and porcupine in certain areas of Afghanistan has improved.

I am (clearly) no expert. But while I can understand the inevitable effects of warfare on wildlife, I do wish that, where war or privation isn’t to blame, people would try to give wildlife a chance, whether it be welcoming a martin’s nest under their eaves, leaving a gap in a converted barn roof for an owl, cutting down on the use of slug pellets, or signing a petition to stop the relentless slaughter of migrating birds over the Mediterranean.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

This is just a quick message to wish a Happy Christmas to all you lovely followers of my blog.Sampler_3

I have been hard at work over the last couple of months writing the fourth novel in my LAVENDER ROAD series. I feel as though I have been living in 1942 so it comes as quite a surprise to find myself about to celebrate Christmas 2013!

And what a difference. In London in 1942 there were no whole, fresh turkeys or chickens to be had for love or money (or food ration book tokens!) And of course there were no frozen ones either in those days. The best most people could manage for their festive lunch was a chicken and dumpling pie. Sugar, suet and dried fruit was in short supply too so Christmas puddings were either very small or non existent. The toy shops were pretty much bare of everything except cardboard models and most fathers found themselves making toys and/or dolls from salvaged bits and pieces for their kids. One old lady I spoke to told me of a treasured necklace she had been given by her fiancé made from cherry stones!

Crackers and paper hats were often made out of newspaper. And if you fancied a festive tipple, the likelihood was that your local pub would have asked you to bring your own glass! It was easier to buy Wellington boots than shoes and, because of the difficulty in finding them, women no longer had to wear hats in church.

The British government encouraged people to give each other War Bond savings vouchers as gifts, and the Red Cross encouraged people to ‘Adopt a Prisoner of War’ (rather in the same way as people sponsor endangered wild animals nowadays!)

At Christmas 2013, millions will have been been spent in the UK on pet food alone. In 1942 it was illegal to put breadcrumbs out for the birds.

So there you go – enjoy the festivities, and remember to relish your freedom and your food and your gifts – and don’t forget to raise a glass to all the stalwart souls (like my characters in LAVENDER ROAD) of 1939 – 1945 who made it all possible!

Researching WW2 – treasuring those memories

However you define the term ‘historical novel’, there can be few things more daunting than being asked to write about events which you yourself don’t remember, but which other people do. This was the position I was put in when Rosemary Cheetham at Orion commissioned me to write a series of London based street sagas set during the Second World War. 

When my agent set up a meeting to discuss the project, Rosemary’s first words were, ‘Oh dear, I didn’t realise you were so young.’ Obviously this was a matter of opinion! Nevertheless the implication was that she had hoped for someone with at very least a few childhood recollections of cowering under a Morrison shelter in the corner of the kitchen while V2s whistled overhead. 

Clearly this was not the case with me but I was reluctant to be defeated at the first post by the trifling problem of my age: ‘Goodness,’ I said. ‘There’s so much material available about the Second World War. I can easily research it.’ 

It sounded easy enough. But what I hadn’t quite appreciated was exactly how much material there was. 

That was over ten years ago. Now, as I start researching the fourth in the Lavender Road series, on top of the published (and unpublished) histories, diaries and letters,  the museums, the themed ‘attractions’, the official reports, the local history libraries, the films, film footage and endless BBC documentaries, there is also the internet with a million WW2 sites and a plethora of WW2 online enthusiasts. 

But what there aren’t so many of now, sadly, are real live people who remember those eventful years.  And it was people’s memories that I found the most interesting element of my research last time around. Yes, historical records are great, but nothing compares with someone telling you at first hand what it was like to be caught in Balham tube station when a bomb severed the water main, or to crawl through the cellars of a collapsed building searching for a trapped child, or to take a tiny riverboat over to rescue soldiers marooned at Dunkirk, or to be parachuted into occupied France. And it’s not just the big events, it’s the small memories too, Americans soldiers sticking their chewing gum on the door of a hospital ward while they visited injured colleagues. a precious pound of sugar carried in a tin helmet, the terror of a war office telegram, the delight in a fresh egg. 

Yesterday I interviewed a ninety year old doctor who had been present in the laboratory where they developed the first penicillin cultures. He told me that they had to use bedpans to grow the cultures in, they simply didn’t have anything else suitable. Later on he casually let slip that in 1941 his ship was torpedoed at night crossing the Atlantic and he spent several hours tossing about in the dark on a makeshift raft in his dressing gown and slippers, waiting to be rescued. 

 That is one of the odd things about the war years, people who lived through it often look back as though it was all quite ordinary. But it wasn’t, it was extraordinary and it forced people to show extraordinary amounts of courage and resilience. That’s what makes it such a fascinating period to write about. At the very least it is a way of preserving some of those precious personal memories.

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