Category Archives: In the Lamplight

‘In the Lamplight’ – UK book launch

Now that I’ve caught my breath after returning from my whirlwind UK book launch and schools tour, I can at last share some of the lovely photos.

The Harefield Library and Harefield History Society both gave generous support, making the UK launch of In the Lamplight a friendly and memorable occasion. Library staff decorated their function room with Australian and British flags symbolising the close connection their town shares with Australia. Lara Marshall, Richard May and their team also provided a beautiful afternoon tea, complete with savouries, delicate cakes and delicious scones, jam and cream. Their kindness made me feel so welcome.

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with Harefield library staff

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With Harefield History Society members. Andy Harris (front left) gave valuable research help.

After a presentation showing pages from the book, with images from Harefield and evocative charcoal illustrations by Brian Simmonds, we shared stories about WWI, the village, now and then, and also the hospital. Then we enjoyed the scrumptious food. I learnt a lot more about the town’s history and made lovely new friends.

Despite the perfect spring sunshine outside, it was a wonderful turnout, made even more special by the arrival of family members, Brooke and Justin, who are working in Peterborough. Linda Evans my very first contact in Harefield also popped in for a chat, despite having another commitment. Thank you to everyone who helped make the celebration so special. I’d encourage any Australian history lovers who are visiting London to add a side trip to Harefield to visit the WWI Anzac cemetery and meet the friendly locals. I’m hoping to return and fingers crossed for another visit in 2019.

 Thanks again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for funding support which made this launch possible.

School visits in the UK

 

I’ve enjoyed a wonderful week of speaking and workshopping at schools across Hillingdon and Greater Manchester, celebrating the launch of In the Lamplight which is set in the UK during WWI. Students were keen to tell me about their favourite books and share personal stories. Some lovely readers like Karl from Harefield and suffragette Alice from Altrincham (pictured above) also love writing stories. And Karl wants to become an author 🙂 I was made welcome at all of the schools; thank you to staff at Harefield Infants School, Harefield Junior School, Harefield Academy, Hermitage Primary, Cedar Park School, St Vincent’s Knutsford, St Vincent’s Altrincham and Loreto Preparatory School.

There were so many highlights. I especially enjoyed talking about Australian/UK WWI links especially those relating to Harefield Hospital. Showing historic photographs that appear in the book was fun and speaking to hundreds of St Vincent’s Altrincham students dressed in costumes for History Day was amazing. Thank you to parent helpers Sharon Dobson and Catherine Collins (and Lucy, Molly and Erin) for introducing me to your fabulous schools. It’s all been wonderful …

And a special bouquet to my friend Clare Valley (originally from the UK) for sharing school/friend/family contacts. For fellow Australian authors planning a book tour, one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from this experience is the importance of connections and word of mouth. UK schools are very security aware, without introductions from Clare I would not have been able to reach as many readers. Clare put hours of her own time into helping me plan and I am very grateful.

And thank you again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for generous funding support.

 

Serendipity & Black Jack’s Mill

black jackThere are many places I could have stayed in Harefield, indeed I originally booked somewhere other than Black Jack’s Mill, but something about the B&B on the canal called me. Imagine my surprise, when today I found out, that after donating their manor house for the use of convalescent soldiers in 1914, the Australian Billyard-Leake family moved into Black Jack’s Mill!

I love serendipity and have enjoyed sharing interesting conversations with other children’s authors about strange coincidences linked to their work. Synchronicity seems especially common to authors who write historical fiction (looking at you Mark Greenwood and Norm Jorgensen). To research In the Lamplight, I thought I’d read all the books about Harefield Hospital in WWI, but discovering this small snippet in Tanya Britton’s, The ANZAC Hospital No. 1 at Harefield and the Australians who died there and elsewhere but who are buried at Harefield 1914-1918 has made my day, and started me thinking about serendipity all over  again. It’s also made me keen to find out more about both the Billyard-Leake’s and Black Jack. So far no one has been able to confirm whether the latter was a horse or a man. Hopefully more details to follow…

 

International Nurses Day

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Matron Gray with a patient, Photo AWM

12th May, the anniversary of the birthday of Florence Nightingale, is now widely known as International Nurses Day – a time to honour and appreciate nurses. And a perfect time for me to post about the amazing Australian women who travelled across the world to nurse wounded soldiers in Harefield.

On this same day in 1915, four Australian Sisters joined Matron Ethel Gray to begin scrubbing the Harefield manor home donated by the Billyard-Leake family in readiness to receive wounded. Three days later they’d polished floors, acquired linen, organised supplies and dragged mattresses into place. By Sunday 16th May, 80 beds were ready. Two weeks later eight patients arrived. A month later there were 170 patients. Numbers continued to rise and during the war years, around 50,000 soldiers were treated at Harefield House.

As well as nursing, the women tried to boost the men’s spirits by organising concerts, wheelchair races and cricket matches. One of the nurses, Sister Ruby Dickinson died during her service. She was buried with full military honours at Harefield’s Anzac cemetery.  In the Lamplight is the final title in my ‘Light’ series and in this book I’ve focused on the changing roles of women during WWI. The story follows Rose, whose life is changed forever when WWI arrives in her peaceful village. While the suffragettes have put aside their goals for the duration of the war, Rose finds inspiration in the courage and dedication of the cheerful Australian girls, so far from home. She summons her own courage, firstly to read to the patients, and then to begin the challenging journey of becoming a nurse.

Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for generous funding support.

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Alfred Kemp, playing cricket with nurses at Harefield,  Photo: Andy Harris

24 hours in Karratha

Karratha has an amazing new library and arts space, the Red Earth Arts Precinct and last night The Lighthouse Girl was their first theatre performance. Thank you to the City of Karratha Library (and a special shout out to Helena Mead) for organising my travel, so that I could attend and present a pre-show talk.

I left Albany at dawn, two flights and 2000km later I hit the ground running doing a presentation with the lovely Year 4 students at St Paul’s Primary  , a quick shower and catch-up with Denmark Bookgroup buddy, Helen and then it was off to the new library for my pre-show PowerPoint talk about Lighthouse Girl, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. The library is a stunning, light-filled space and the arts building is an impressive landmark. After my talk there was time for 15 minutes speed-signing then it was show-time.

This is the fourth time I’ve watched Hellie Turner’s beautful adaptation of my books and each time I notice new details. I’m fascinated by the way different audiences engage differently. There was laughter and tears. It felt very strange to feel that my work sparked this evocative production. At the end of the show I was touched to be called onto the stage by Benj D’Addario to share a curtain call bow with the cast. The theatre looked very different from up there…

After a few hours sleep, Helena collected me for an ABC breakfast radio interview with Ewan Gilbert and then another phone interview with Alicia from Pilbara Times and then it was back to the airport. What a fabulous whirl.

Thank you City of Karratha, Black Swan Theatre, Rio Tinto, ABC, St Paul’s Primary, Pilbara Times and everyone else who made my 24 ours in the Pilbara so special.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #4 – Jimmy the wallaby mascot and a Harefield cockatoo

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Imagine being a wallaby in a small English village during WWI.  Jimmy (sometimes referred to as Jimony) was one of many Australian animals taken to WWI as mascots to cheer the troops and to remind them of home. Jimmy’s story is both strange and sad … Researching this wallaby was time-consuming. There were differing accounts surrounding Jimmy, making it hard to know which lead to follow. I also found historical inconsistencies when I was researching Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. It’s an exciting and frustrating part of writing historical fiction. As time goes by, more primary resources are uncovered, shedding new light on what we know and stories can change.

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Before Jimmy became the mascot of the No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield, he was the mascot of the Australian Third Division. Tanya Britton’s Harefield during the First World War reports that, ‘Jimmy had been presented to one of the volunteer [hospital] workers in October 1916 by the daughter of Sir William Birdwood…’ Meanwhile Mary P. Shepherd’s Heart of Harefield reports that, ‘In October 1916, before setting out for France, men of the Third Division AIF presented a wallaby (a small kangaroo) to one of the volunteer workers, the daughter of General Sir William Birdwood …’ The difference between the two is slight but important; was Nancy Birdwood entrusted with Jimmy’s care or did she present him to someone? It’s an intriguing detail which is still on my list of things to discover.

Nancy’s story is also fascinating. She was the eldest daughter of General Birdwood, the man who commanded the Australian troops for much of the war. She volunteered at Harefield Hospital, fell in love with a Western Australian airman and ended up migrating home with him. But that’s another story …

 

Back to Jimmy. It seems that Harefield’s wallaby mascot regularly strayed from the hospital, roaming/hopping around the village, bringing smiles to the faces of patients, nurses and villagers. However this freedom also led to Jimmy’s untimely passing. Harefield’s beloved wallaby was remembered as, ‘the most peaceable and tame of any animal of that kind …’.

Reports surrounding Jimmy’s death varied greatly. To try and unearth the truth, I travelled to the Australian War Memorial Research Centre in Canberra and trawled through 100 year old copies of Harefield Park Boomerang, the hospital’s magazine. My patience was rewarded with the article extract on p.57. Rose’s diary account on p. 56 is based on this primary resource. This also cleared up any confusion regarding his name.

Jimmy wasn’t the only Australian mascot at Harefield. There was also a cockatoo which had been brought from the trenches of Gallipoli. The bird had the unnerving habit of imitating the sound of a Turkish shell blast. This wasn’t good for the shell-shock patients.

One of the things that fascinated me as I wrote Light Horse Boy was the variety of WWI mascots; there were dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys, roosters, kangaroos, wallabies and even one poor koala named Teddy. They seemed to bring a smile to the faces of the soldiers. When I visited the Gallipoli Peninsula I was amazed to find similar WWI images in Turkish museums. The old photographs showed Turks playing with their small animal mascots in just the same ways. Soldiers have been taking animals to war since our earliest stories. Sadly for the Australian veterans, the animals were not allowed to return, but then again, there are the stories of warhorse Sandy and canine Horrie …

Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for their generous funding support.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #3 – The Harefield Flag and Anzac Quilt

So many stories came to light during three years+ of research. Each one worthy of its own book. The Anzac Flag and Harefield Quilt are two objects that captured the patriotic mood of the time. Both keepsakes survive one hundred years later; one in Harefield and the other in South Australia.

The Anzac Flag: Last week, I wrote about Headmaster Jeffrey running into a classroom to pull down a Union Jack to drape over Private Wake’s bare coffin. As the war continued more patients died and the flag was used many times to cover soldiers’ caskets on their final journeys from hospital to graveyard.

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Photo: Andy Harris & Harefield History Society

Patients’ funeral cortèges passed down Harefield’s main street with villagers, patients and nurses in attendance. After the war ended, the Union Jack which had covered soldiers’ coffins was presented to the hospital’s last commanding officer. Lieutenant Colonel Yeatman was tasked with giving the flag to an Australian school and asking them to send their own flag in return. Adelaide High School was selected in recognition of the generous relief parcels which students sent to Harefield during the war years. Adelaide High School has treasured the Harefield Flag for over one hundred years, hanging it in a prominent position until it became too fragile to display. The flag has recently undergone extensive restorative work to preserve this symbol of friendship between communities.

The Harefield Quilt: was created in 1917 as a fund-raising exercise. It was made by volunteers of the British Red Cross Society. The idea with fund-raising quilts was that you donate a sixpence, write your name on a large cloth, ready to be embroidered.  In the case of the Harefield Quilt, twenty small squares containing signatures surround a central square. The central patch shows the Red Cross emblem, the Advance Australia ensign as well as motifs of the 29th Battalion and 31st Battalion of the Eighth Brigade.

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Photo: Andy Harris/Harefield History Society

Descendants of Mrs Helena Gough who opened tearooms in her home in High Street presented the quilt to St Mary’s Church for safekeeping in 1972. Each April the quilt is displayed on Anzac Day in remembrance of the soldiers who died in Harefield. In 2015 a centenary quilt was commissioned. It hangs in the Harefield Hospital.

Next Wednesday’s post will focus on Jimmy the wallaby mascot and the Harefield cockatoo. Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for funding support.