Next year is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War – or the Great War, as it was called until the Second World War started.
Several years ago, I visited the exact spot in a small Belgian village where the very first shots of the war were fired by a group of British cavalrymen. They were out on reconnaissance, and, quite by chance, encountered a small German troop, who were also on a reconnaissance mission.
It was a very brief skirmish, lasting only a few minutes before the Germans made a quick withdrawal. Those first shots, however, were the start of the bloodiest war there had ever been, during which millions of young men were killed on both the eastern and western fronts, and at sea.
What has this to do with writing? Recently, on my own blog, I posted a short article about the war, and while I was checking up on my facts, I found some personal accounts of the skirmish on August 22nd, 1914, including that of a young cavalryman. One story also told of how a Belgian nurse turned up after the incident, in what was then called a ‘limousine’, and offered her help to anyone who had been wounded. It turned out she was the daughter of the owner of the local chateau.
Several years later, after the end of the war, a memorial was built in the Belgian village, to commemorate the first shots of the war. The young cavalryman, who had survived the war, attended the unveiling ceremony – and so did the Belgian nurse.
You know when you get one of those ‘A-ha’ moments when a real-life story strikes a chord somewhere in your mind? It’s happened to me several times – such as when I read about a Paris apartment that had been abandoned since 1939, and another time when I found Maureen O’Hara’s signature in a guest book at ‘The Quiet Man’ cottage in an Irish village. I've used, or rather adapted, both of these in my novels, .
There are some stories or incidents that seem to embed themselves in your mind, and won’t go away. A seed is sown and starts to grow, and in some deep dark recess of my mind, the story of the British cavalryman and the Belgian nurse is starting to germinate.
Their real names were Ben and Louisa, by the way, so I don't have to think up new names for them, which I might have done if they'd been called Horace and Agatha!
P.S. An interesting footnote is that some of the last shots of the war were fired in the very same Belgian village, when a Canadian troop, pursuing fleeing Germans, stopped firing at 11a.m. on November 11th, 1918, the 'eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month', the exact time of the Armistice. Another memorial marks the place where they halted, which was about 50 yards from where the first shots had been fired, just over four years earlier.
|August 22, 1914 November 11, 1918|