Friday, November 18, 2016

Researching Close to the Heart by Nancy M Bell

Lately I've been doing research for my contribution to Books We Love Canadian Pioneer Bride Series. My story is set in Ontario during World War 1. The story line very roughly parallels my grandparent's story. My grandfather and his brother came to Canada as young boys sent to work and live in Ontario by Doctor Barnardo's homes in London's east end. They were the sons of the youngest son of thirteen siblings. Why none of the aunts and uncles stepped forward and took them in I have no idea. But they ended up in Doctor Barnard's Foundling Home after their father died. They came separately but somehow ended up being placed close to each other near Renfrew and Eganville in eastern Ontario. 

The boy who would become my grandfather enlisted in the army and went to France where he was a Sapper. His older brother followed him a short time later. My grandmother knew both boys but had an 'understanding' with the older brother.

Unfortunately, the older brother was killed on August 8, 1918 near a small French town called Marcelcave. He was in the first wave of troops that came out of the 'jumping off trench' and was cut down by enemy fire. The morning had been heavy with fog and the companies that were supposed to provide cover for the first wave of the attack didn't arrive in time. At first he was listed as Missing in Action but eventually his remains were identified. My grandfather was listed as his next of kin, so while he himself was still fighting he received the news his brother was first missing and then confirmed Killed in Action. My grandfather to be wrote to my grandmother telling her the news. They began a long distance relationship based on their mutual love for the private killed in action. 

My grandfather was part of the engineers and was gassed and buried alive for three days with another man. Eventually he was rescued and sent to convalesce in England. When he was returned to Canada after the war he ended up in Vancouver where he found a job peeling logs for Fraser Mills. He sent my grandmother her engagement ring hidden in a box of chocolates and she eventually travelled to Vancouver where they were married in New Westminster. I have changed a more than a few things in my story because a) it is a work of fiction and b) I needed to change things to fit with my requirements for the plot. I didn't want to write what would effectively be a non-fiction story about my grandparents, but there were some very interesting twists and turns that work very well for what I wanted for my plot.

Below is an artist's rendition of Marcelcave

I can only imagine what life was like in the mud filled trenches living on top of each other filthy and infested with lice and fleas.

Although the battle of Amiens (which Marcelcave was part of) was a huge victory there were many Allied casualties and wounded.

I have found that as I delve deeper into my family's past that the great uncle I never knew becomes more alive and a part of me. No war is pleasant and all wars are bloody and cruel affairs. Modern warfare with the ability to separate ourselves from the reality by the use of electronics and drones give the combatants some distance, but there are still those on the front lines who look the enemy they wish to kill in the eye and it is very visceral and real, much like the boys in the trenches of World War 1. I can only be glad that there is no longer a cavalry and that horses and mules are no longer required to move guns and equipment. The number of horses and mules killed and wounded is huge, the beasts had no say in whether they went to the front or not and certainly a large percentage of them were terrified. The more I dig the more real these things become, I only hope I can do justice to the era in my writing.

Remembrance Day has just passed and while I have always taken time on that day to honour those who fought and fell and in particular those whose blood lines I carry, this year it was all the more poignant when I paused to remember them on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. When my sons were young I always read In Flanders Fields to them and told them stories about their great grandfather, his brother who fought in WWI, and their great uncle who fought in World War II and was captured by the Germans and spent time as a prisoner of war.

His Brother's Bride will release early in 2017, I hope you enjoy the story I have cobbled together from my own ancestor's story and my fertile imagination. Please look for His Brother's Bride and when you read it spare a moment to bless and remember those who fought and those who fell.