I will be releasing my fourth novel, The Promise on 23rd June and in anticipation of this event will be writing a series of short posts about the publication. Having recently watched ‘The Darkest Hour’ I’m rather obsessed with Winston Churchill, hence the quote.
This book, like all of my projects, has been a long time in the making. I think I first started thinking about this particular story way back in 2009. Oh, yes, that long ago.
It was inspired, again, by a snippet I read from a Prisoner of War account in the BBC archives. I’ve been interested in the history of the two World Wars that have endured, even more so when I discovered my grandfather, Harry had been awarded for bravery for his action in WWI. He was 19 years old. He had never talked about his experience, not uncommon, but it fuelled my passion to find out more.
We’d been living in Italy for around two years and were keen to find out more about the history of our new home. I was surprised to discover that there were two prisoner of war camps quite near us in Le Marche. One in Sforzacosta about 40 minutes away and one much nearer in Servigliano, a delightful little town. I must hasten to add, that most of the places in and around Le Marche are delightful, unspoilt by tourism and full of genuine and kind people.
Camp 59 in Servigliano is now a park, but with remnants of it’s former life. A plaque at the entrance to the site reads:
“After the Armistice of September 8, 1943, 3,000 Allied prisoners escaped through the opening they had dug on the west side of this camp. They will forever be grateful for the immediate and courageous generosity shown by the Italian people.”
And it was this that further fuelled my story when told of the bravery shown by ordinary Italian residents, often with very little to give but who shared their generosity with escaped soldiers, people they did not know or have to protect. This kindness came at a great cost for some and many families around here were bereaved. There are many stories to read and listen to, each one of them special and poignant in themselves.
The other part of the story in The Promise, reflects the affects that war had and still has, on those who serve their country. There is a name for it now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but then it was hardly recognised. Men who went to war returned broken and torn, if not physically then mentally.
Last September I visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, the place where I was born. I was literally blown away by the vast collection of memorials and the beautiful setting among over 30,000 trees. The one memorial that touched me most was The Shot at Dawn Memorial which is dedicated to the servicemen, some of them minors, who were executed by firing squad for ‘cowardice’ during the First World War. the cause of their crimes is now considered to be related to the effects of stress. The statue is blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back and all buttons removed from his coat. He is surrounded by a semi cirlce of over 300 stakes to represent all those executed in this manner.
His representation is modelled on 17 year old Private Henry Burden who was shot for desertion… as a mother this literally brought me to tears.