Category Archives: Light Horse Boy

‘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.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #2 – Harefield and early inspiration

What were the first seeds of inspiration?

After years of researching and writing, it’s interesting to look back at how a book started. The idea for In the Lamplight began with research for its partner titles, Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. Then around 2012, I heard about the Gilgandra Coo-ee March. After heavy losses at Gallipoli, WWI recruiting drives occurred across Australia (Men from Snowy River, March of the Dungarees). Gilgandra was the first.

In October 1915 two brothers gathered a group of 26 men. They set out from Gilgandra on a march to Sydney (320 miles). By the time they arrived, the number of recruits had grown to 263. One of the brothers, Bill Hitchen (plumber and captain of the Gilgandra rifle club),  died at Harefield in September 1916. Bill’s story inspired me and I was curious to learn more.

Fast forward to 2013 when I accompanied my husband on a trip to Albany’s sister city, Pèronne for Remembrance Day. Before flying home we had a day in London. While Pete walked around Westminster, I caught a train and bus to Harefield village, on the outskirts of London to visit Bill’s grave. A kind local helped me with directions. We began chatting and she walked with me to St Mary’s Anzac Cemetery, the resting place of Bill, 111 of his fellow soldiers and Sister Ruby Dickinson. I found Bill’s grave and then visited the Anzac Wing of Harefield Hospital, learning how in 1914 the Billyard-Leake family (expat Australians) donated their home, Harefield House for recuperating Australian soldiers to use for the duration of the war.

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at the grave of Bill Hitchens (Gilgandra Cooee

The Anzac wing also held photographs; evocative WWI images of recuperating patients and nurses. One photo captured my attention. It was a photograph of a nurse stroking a wallaby mascot. I’ve since found another AWM image of the wallaby, ‘Jimmy’ (sometimes named Jimony) being fed by the same nurse, who I discovered is Nancy Birdwood, daughter of General Birdwood (commander of the Australian Imperial troops). Nancy volunteered at Harefield Hospital and later married a West Australian airmen, but that’s another story…

Some readers know my fascination with WWI animal mascots. This began during the creation of Light Horse Boy and has continued to grow. I suspected that Nancy’s wallaby could be the same fellow that stands proudly to attention in the AWM photograph below (I love this photo). I wanted to find out more about the wallaby’s story and will post more about Jimmy in a future blog.

Harefield House became the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, sometimes treating up to 1000 patients. The first nurses, led by the very capable Matron Ethel Gray, arrived in May 1915. As casualties increased, life in the small village of Harefield changed forever. The village green was filled with homesick soldiers in their distinctive slouch hats. Kind-hearted villagers did all they could to help the young men so far from home. They read to patients, taught them handicrafts and French, took the men for automobile outings and organised concerts and sporting matches.

Deciding which WWI images to include in my book was a challenge. There were so many great photos. My favourites include patients skating around the frozen lake with the support of chairs, Jimmy posing with the brass band, as well as one moving photograph of a one-legged lad playing cricket with laughing nurses fielding. The lad looks so young.

More sombre photographs are also included; of funeral parades and shell-shocked amputees. During WWI over 50,000 Australian soldiers were treated at Harefield Hospital. Towards the end of the war, when Spanish Influenza ravaged Europe, there were deaths most weeks. Strong lads who’d survived months in the trenches, sometimes died within a day from this terrible illness as their lungs filled with fluid.

Harefield villagers lined the streets to honour funeral parades from the hospital to St Mary’s cemetery. The first death was in February 1916. As Private Robert Wake’s coffin passed the Junior School, headmaster Jeffrey ran inside, pulled a flag from the classroom wall and draped it over the bare coffin. This flag was used in subsequent funeral processions and still exists today (more on that next week). Connections between Harefield and Australia remain strong and I’m grateful to Harefield residents for their historical advice; particularly Lorraine Piercy and Andy Harris. Each Anzac Day, local schoolchildren lay flowers against the headstones for the Australians who died in their village.

Lest we forget.

Next week I’ll share two stories linked to In the Lamplight; the Anzac quilt and the Harefield flag. I am grateful for funding support from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #1

With less than a month until publication I’m now on countdown to the launch of In the Lamplight the third and final book in my ‘Light’ series. From today, I’ll be writing a weekly blog post sharing details about my research and writing journey, but first, I’d like to acknowledge the generous support of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. dlgsc-logo-colour-rgb-jpgI’m the very grateful recipient of a Commercial Development funding grant which will allow me time to maximise interest in this new title and also help me try and gain a footprint in the elusive and hard to crack UK market. Wish me well and I hope you’ll follow my blog journey over the next weeks.

I’ll be writing about In the Lamplight‘s links to WWI Harefield (UK) and the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital that grew out of an expat Australian’s English manor house. We’ll meet Jimmy the wonderful wallaby mascot that hopped around Harefield village and some of the soldiers and nurses that served in Harefield during the war. I’ll share the history of the Anzac flag and its links to Adelaide High School. I’m also keen to post photos and information I discovered as part of my research about the suffragette movement, WWI nursing and changing roles of women, as well as after effects of the war and the horrors of the 1918/1919 worldwide Spanish Influenza pandemic (more deaths were attributed to influenza than entire war casualties).

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illustration: Brian Simmonds

Next week my blog focus will be on Harefield, the English village just north of London (and setting of In the Lamplight), its WWI cemetery and ongoing Anzac links…

Summer Reading #1

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Last week (on Dianne Wolfer – Author) I posted a photo of my first batch of summer reads. I’m making good progress and have already finished Kate Constable’s New Guinea Moon which I very much enjoyed. The story has satisfying and unexpected twists. It’s marketed at a YA audience but like so many teen novels is just as enjoyable for adults. I’m drawn to books with PNG settings; three of my own works unfold there (The Shark Caller is set in the New Ireland Province and Photographs in the Mud is set along the Kokoda Track in 1942). The backdrop for New Guinea Moon is in the Highlands, pre-independence, a time when things are changing for both Nationals and expat Australians. Kate grew up in PNG and her use of local language and culture rings true.

My next read was fun. I have several ideas bubbling for emerging readers and so have been reading titles from the hugely successful I Can Read! series. Think Berenstain Bears, Fancy Nancy and Flat StanleyDanny and the Dinosaur – Too Tall is a great example of a concise book with exciting characters and a compelling, exciting plot. How on earth does Syd Hoff weave this magic in 32 pages? Stories with depth that appear ‘simple’ are hard to create – editing, shaping, editing …

 Michael Morpungo’s books make me cry. They are so good. I love animal characters and Morpungo is a Master of creating stories with powerful links between animals and humans and thought-provoking moments in history. After re-reading his poignant and lovely I Believe in Unicorns, I’ve been visiting Michael Morpungo’s website. I knew he was a prolific writer and I loved Shadow (set in Afghanistan), but there are so many others that look enticing. Perhaps I’ll spend summer reading all his animal novels… I’ve also just noticed that this month he’s releasing Lucky Button. After the synchronicity of the War Horse movie being released just before the launch of Light Horse Boy, I’m glad my Nanna’s Button Tin came out in June.

I’ll be posting more Summer reading blogs over the next few months. My Want-to-Read book tower is tall but I always love hearing recommendations …

 

In the Lamplight

With Remembrance Day this Saturday and the final draft of my new manuscript going to print, it feels timely to share a sneak peek of the cover of this third title in my ‘Light’ series.

Rose cover

In the Lamplight is a companion novel for my historical titles Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. The story follows fictitious Rose through WWI and overlaps with Jim’s Light Horse journey, then links back to Albany’s King George Sound. Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, whose generous support allowed me time to write a first draft. Here is the blurb:

Rose O’Reilly’s sheltered life in the peaceful English village of Harefield takes an unexpected turn with the outbreak of war in 1914. A local manor house becomes a repatriation hospital for wounded Australian soldiers and Rose begins helping out by reading to patients and pushing wheelchairs. 

As the war progresses, and slouch hats fill the village green, Rose’s skills grow and she begins training alongside the Australian nurses. Then a new patient arrives. Sergeant Jim O’Donnell is unable to walk and his eyes are bandaged, but he will change Rose’s life forever.  

In the Lamplight will be published by Fremantle Press in April 2018. I’m currently taking (WA) bookings for school/library visits in the last two weeks of Term 1. Please email me (contact tab) if your school would like an Anzac themed presentation (ASA rates and small travel fee). I’ll also be visiting schools in the eastern states, probably early Term 2. I’ll post again with more details and launch information early in 2018.

 

Light Horse and Beersheba

With the 100 year commemoration of Beersheba it feels timely to share some background to my historical story, Light Horse Boy. I was recently invited to contribute text to the Westbury RSL Light Horse Remembrance. Here is part of that tribute:

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Light Horse Boy was sparked by research for its companion title, Lighthouse Girl.

As I read about the thousands of Walers taken to WWI battlefields and the bonds between the horses and Australian soldiers, I knew I needed to write a second book. My writing journey spanned three years. I became fascinated by the story of Sandy. For me he represented all the Walers; those faithful and brave horses that didn’t come home. As I learnt more about Sandy, the shape of my manuscript changed. I found a reason to shift my fictitious human character, Jim from the troopship Wiltshire to the flagship Orvieto, by making him a farrier, thus allowing Jim to meet Major General Bridges and Sandy, and for their stories to interweave. After four years of battle I then wanted to find a way for Jim and Sandy to reunite, so that I could introduce young readers to Sandy’s story.

I live in Albany, the place where troopships of the 1st and 2nd AIF convoys gathered in late 1914, now home to the National Anzac Centre and the iconic Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, a recast of the original horse and soldier statue erected at Suez in 1932. Each Anzac Day a Dawn Service is held beside this powerful memorial. I’ve often gazed at the evocative statue imagining the stories of Light Horse men and their mounts.

My Light Horse Boy research took me to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Major General Bridges’ grave in Canberra, Maribyrnong, home of the remount centre where Sandy spent his post-war years and the AWM Research Centre. Along the way I learnt the names of faraway battlefields; El Arish, Magdhaba, Romani, Gaza and of course Beersheba.

Crafting an historical novel, for me, involves months of research, then I write (well over a hundred drafts) until a solid read-through version emerges. Then the hard work begins; shaping and editing, trying to cull anything that doesn’t add to the story arc. The final draft is like the tip of an iceberg. Readers will be unaware of the shaping and substance below, but that weighty base is important. The Beersheba scene in my story typifies this. For the spread above, I read several military titles, trying first to fully understand nuances of this extraordinary charge and then to capture the heart of this battle in an engaging way for young readers. Most of all I wanted to ‘get it right’ as a way to honour those who served – both human and animal.

Lest we Forget.

 

What’s in a Name?

media2   If it’s a book title, a lot!

For a year or so, I’ve been struggling with finding the right title for my almost completed manuscript, a companion title for Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. For continuity reasons I wanted the word ‘light’ somewhere in the title. We aren’t meant to judge a book by it’s cover, but research indicates that many of us do.

This story has been on the back-burner since 2011 when I visited the Anzac cemetery in the UK village of Harefield to research another idea (more about that journey in future posts). Ideas bubbled away as I completed other projects and then last year, at last, I was able to give this story dedicated time (thank you Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries). While the manuscript was a work-in-progress I initially referred to it as Quarantine Rose; a shocker of a title which I knew would never be the one. I couldn’t change my central character’s name because Rose is an overlap character with Light Horse Boy. For a while the title shifted to Rose on No Man’s Land, linking the story to a popular WWI song. However Rose works in a hospital not on the battlefield.

As the manuscript took shape I knew I needed a better title. At the annual SCBWI Rottnest retreat, fellow author Norman Jorgensen came up with the evocative Light from a Broken Lantern, however as the story progressed, there was more hope than brokenness. Sorry Norm!

Sometimes the right title appears at the same time as the first story idea. Other titles involve weeks of compiling lists and thesaurus trawling. Lighthouse Girl for a long while was Postcards from Breaksea, or simply Postcards. Then about two years into the four year writing process, the current tile settled. For Light Horse Boy, the final title was always the one.

With my going-to-print deadline quickly approaching, this month I sent out a cry for help. Thank you friends and family, writer group peers, bookgroupies and others who answered my call. You offered so many great suggestions. Even the cheeky suggestions from family were useful, as they sparked other ideas using the words light, shadow and darkness.

Meanwhile Fremantle Press have been market-testing one of the options on our short-list of title choices and I am pleased to finally announce that the title has been decided. The book will be called In the Lamplight. Tentative release date is April 2018. I hope readers will enjoy this new addition to the ‘light’ series. Thanks again to all the wonderful title-hunters for your kind suggestions…