Alison Stuart's Blog

March 15, 2017

Picture There is no moment more exciting for an author than a cover reveal!

And while I have loved all 3 of my GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN covers individually, my publisher has decided to bundle them all together under this stunning cover!

Release day is 25 May but the Guardians of the Crown set is currently up for PRE ORDER on Amazon and Kobo for the price of US$4.99... pretty much the price of one book sold individually.

So here they are all together... my 3 gorgeous boys - Jonathan, Kit and Daniel... just waiting for you to pick them up (or in this case... download them). PRE ORDER NOW And just as a reminder about the series - it is set in England between the years 1650 and 1660... ​ Amazon Aus Amazon UK KOBO
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Published on March 15, 2017 20:56 • 9 views

February 20, 2017

Picture I’ve teamed up with 45+ fantastic HISTORICAL FICTIONS authors to give away a huge collection of novels and a KINDLE FIRE!
You can win my latest book AND THEN MINE ENEMY, plus books from authors like ELISABETH STORRS and STEFANIE DRAY.

To enter just click/tap the button below....
Good luck, and enjoy!
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Published on February 20, 2017 11:00 • 6 views

December 25, 2016

PictureThe craziness of Christmas is over... the leftovers are in the fridge and I swear I will never eat another morsel!

Time to curl up with a new book (on your new ereader???)... a romantic saga of the English Civil War perhaps?

AND THEN MINE ENEMY (Feathers in the Wind Book 1) is now live on all reputable estores and will be coming in print imminently!

To celebrate the release of the first in this new series, I am giving away a $20 Amazon Gift card. Scroll down to the end of this post to enter :-)
AND THEN MINE ENEMY Picture A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.

Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and  family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.Read an Excerpt...As the first streaks of light illuminated the cold, grey, colourless morning, the wounded came. The echo of horses’ hooves and the creak of wagon wheels, sent Perdita hurrying downstairs. As she stepped outside, her breath frosted in the cold air and she shivered, thinking of the battle that had been fought the previous day and the wounded men who lay on the hard, frosted ground.
In the forecourt a troop of horse, or what was left of a troop of horse, sat their weary mounts as their commander, a tall man on a bay horse leaned down talking to Ludovic. Even in the grey light she could see from his build that it was not Simon and she slowed her steps.
As she approached him, the man raised his head, his fingers going to the brim of his heavy, iron helmet. She stopped, her breath catching. Adam Coulter.
She wanted to run to him, satisfy herself that he wasn’t hurt but even in the circumstances, any undue haste could be construed as unseemly. Instead she raised her chin and walked purposefully across to him.
‘Adam Coulter? What brings you here?
The answer was obvious and his red-rimmed eyes narrowed. ‘I’ve wounded with me and I can take them no further.’
Perdita moved her gaze to the tired, dispirited faces behind him. Dreading what she might see she turned to the wagons, recoiling momentarily from the stench of blood and worse, and the piteous cries
Adam swung himself down from his horse, wincing as he straightened his back.
Perdita caught the grimace of pain. ‘Are you hurt?’
He shook his head. Beneath the shadow of the helm’s brim, he looked exhausted, his face unshaven and grimy. ‘Thank you for your concern, Mistress Gray, but no I’m not hurt. Just stiff. My men . . .’
‘Take the wounded into the barn.’ Perdita addressed an older man with a greying beard who seemed to carry some authority. She turned to Ludovic. ‘See that there is food and drink for the men. I’ll see to the wounded.’
She supervised the unloading of the wagons, indicating the grey stone solidity of the barn, hurrying ahead as the able-bodied men carried their injured companions into the grey stone solidity of the barn. ‘We heard the sounds of the battle. Where was it?’ Perdita threw the question to Adam, as he helped one of the more lightly injured soldiers off his horse.
‘Kineton village. A place they call Edgehill.’BUY LINKS (click to go straight to the link)​AmazonKobo, iBooks, Nook,  Smashwords  For more information... including the Pinterest Board and Goodreads Reviews, click the button below!More InfoBut wait there's more... a Rafflecopter contest to win a $20 Amazon Gift Carda Rafflecopter giveaway
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Published on December 25, 2016 06:00 • 21 views

December 14, 2016

Picture Only last week I posted a blog about my lovely 'boys' from the Guardians of the Crown series. (Click HERE).

And now for my Australian readers... as a Christmas present from Harlequin Aus... ALL my Escape Publishing titles (the three Guardians of the Crown books and Lord Somerton's Heir) are on sale for Au$2.99 in the Amazon Australia store.

They are also available on iTunes (Aus), Kobo, Google and Booktopia so get in quick to snaffle them at this price!

Links are below... Alison's Books on Amazon Australia (Click the image to go straight to the site) KOBO GOOGLE PLAY iBooks Alison's Books on BOOKTOPIA  Alison on Escape Publishing
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Published on December 14, 2016 18:28 • 16 views

November 16, 2016

Picture PREORDER This is absolutely the best part of being a writer... the moment when all that hard work suddenly takes shape and form!

So... ta da... the cover for Book 1 of THE FEATHER IN THE WIND SERIES - AND THEN MINE ENEMY

All credit is due to my amazing cover designer... Fiona Jayde. We did loops and cartwheels when we found exactly the right image for Adam and Perdita. As I have probably complained in the past, I WILL write books set in the English Civil War and finding the right cover imagery is an extra challenge!

Needless to say the cover for Book 2 (NOW MY SWORN FRIEND) is equally stunning but you will have to wait for that one (and I have to finish writing the book!).

You may ask why the strange title? The titles of both books and also the title of the series comes from Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE. It fits the story concept of a family divided by the civil war. 

...He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter,
Now my sworn friend and then mine enemy,
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all...

The inspiration comes firstly from Perdita's name (also from the same play) and also because of the proximity of the principal location for this story - Stratford Upon Avon!

About AND THEN MINE ENEMY A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.

Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and  family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted. PREORDER READ AN EXTRACT... England
July 1642
A shudder of rain slewed across the sodden countryside, sending its cold fingers cutting through Adam’s already saturated cloak. He huffed out a misty breath and straightened his aching shoulders. Not for the first time he cursed his brother for summoning him to a meeting Adam knew would inevitably end in grief and recrimination.

The remote inn loomed out of the gloaming and led on by the cheerful light spilling through the front windows, Adam urged his weary horse forward. The miserable beast, the mud dragging at its every step, plodded forward.
A young boy ran from the stable, a sack over his head and shoulders. Adam threw him the reins e and, taking a deep breath, strode into the inn.  He tossed his hat and gloves to the innkeeper, his numbed fingers fumbled at the ties of his cloak.

‘His Lordship’s in the private parlour.’ The innkeeper scowled as he held the dripping garb at arm’s length.

Adam pushed open the door the man indicated. The two men seated beside a cheerful fire that burned in the wide hearth rose to their feet. His half-brothers schooled their faces to a neutrality that Adam knew would not last. As they faced him across the room, a growing sense of despondency gripped him as he stood before them. Once more the cuckoo in the nest, always the acknowledged baseborn son but not even given the protection of his father’s name.

Denzil Marchant, just as Adam remembered him, tall and powerful, with a mane of tawny hair like his father, and his younger brother Robin, as tall but of a slighter, elegant build, his hair more auburn and sleekly curling.

‘Denzil, Robin,’ Adam acknowledged them as he stepped into the room. ‘I wish I could say, well met, but I would be lying.’

‘Adam Coulter.’ The deliberate use of his full name jarred, as Denzil no doubt intended. ‘I would scarcely have recognized you. Hardly the darling of the court now, are you?’

‘I found lovelocks and pearl earrings something of a hindrance to the life of a soldier.’ Without waiting to be invited, Adam poured himself a full measure from the bottle of wine that stood on the table, hoping that they would not mark that his hand shook.

The full extract of Chapter 1 is available HERE PREORDER
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Published on November 16, 2016 20:42 • 21 views

November 6, 2016

Worcester - 2nd September 1651

‘We’re not going to lose.’ Daniel declared. ‘We are the guardians of the crown. We’ll fight for the King and for glory and honour,’ he continued, oblivious to the cynical silence of his audience.
Jonathan considered the boy for a moment, seeing himself in the youthful romanticism of a cause in which he had believed so passionately, but wanting desperately to prevent the futile loss of another life.
‘Daniel, war has nothing to do with glory and honour,’ he said and leaned forward, fixing the boy with a hard gaze. ‘Have you ever smelt the stench of death? Have you ever seen a man with his guts hanging out and still living or a man with his face shot away? Have you watched a friend die of gangrene?’
Jonathan knew his words were brutal, and Daniel paled and swallowed. But he met Jonathan’s gaze.
‘I was there when they took and burned our home,’ the young man said. ‘I saw men die. I saw my father killed.’ He glanced at his brother. ‘He died in Kit’s arms. So, yes, I have seen death.’  (Excerpt from BY THE SWORD)
Meet The Guardians of the Crown...England 1651... Three young men came together at Worcester for one last battle, one last attempt to regain the throne of England for the exiled young King, Charles II. This one battle will mark a turning point in all their lives...

JONATHAN THORNTON (BY THE SWORD): Exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King's cause, he has returned to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. 
KIT LOVELL (THE KING'S MAN): A cynical and disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress, and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell. He will abandon his honour to save his brother...
DANIEL LOVELL (EXILE'S RETURN): An idealistic youth in 1651, bound to concepts of honour and vengeance, he will return to England in 1659 after years of imprisonment, exile and torture, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.

And for the women who love them, life will be a bitter hand to mouth existence...
KATE ASHLEY (BY THE SWORD): Will find her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.  
THAMSINE GRANVILLE (THE KING'S MAN): Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything. Terrified, and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her from death but Kit Lovell will plunge her into a world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love. 
AGNES FLETCHER (EXILE'S RETURN):  Following the death of her lover, his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian. Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care.

The three books in the series GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN are digital only but thanks to the generosity of my publisher, Escape Publishing, I am offering one lucky reader their choice of one of the titles IN PRINT.

To claim your chance to win a print copy of one of the Guardians of the Crown books, subscribe to my newsletter by 31 December.  Anyone subscribing between 10 December and 31 December will go in the draw.

But wait... there's more. EVERYONE who subscribes will be able to download a copy of SECRETS IN TIME for FREE... so everyone wins!

To subscribe, simply complete the form below... 
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Published on November 06, 2016 15:33 • 4 views
Watch this space - Post (and prize) coming on 10 December
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Published on November 06, 2016 15:33 • 12 views

October 27, 2016

As halloween approaches, I thought it timely to share a post from the Hoydens and Firebrands blog. A tale of witches and the real life 'Witch Finder General' - Matthew Hopkins... Among the (possibly) inappropriate reading I indulged in as a young teenager (where was Harry Potter?), I devoured the stories of Robert Neill, who wrote several books set in the English Civil War period. His book “Witch Bane” begins with a young woman suspected of witchcraft being publicly stripped and submitted to trial by “pricking”. (It was a common belief held that a witch could be discovered through the process of pricking their skin with needles, pins and bodkins and body of the woman (or man!) was closely searched for the “witch’s mark” to which the bodkin was applied in the belief that the person would not feel pain or bleed when pricked). Even though “Witch Bane” is long out of print, I won’t give away any more of the plot but the slightly salacious cover alone was enough to grip me from the start!
So as Halloween approaches and thoughts turn to “ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night”, I cast around for an appropriate topic for this post. There are others  who are  experts in the area of seventeenth century witches but, in the memory of “Witch Bane”, I thought I might have a look at one person whose name inspired fear throughout England of the 1640s and 1650s… Matthew Hopkins - The Witchfinder General.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" EXODUS xxn. 18
In 1604 James I passed the the Witchcraft Statute which made “witchcraft” a capital offence if the victim was injured. It also incorporated a number of continental notions of witchcraft, including those of, a pact with, and worship of, the devil and made the exhumation of bodies for “magical purposes” a crime. This statute remained in force until 1736, when it was finally repealed. Following the Lancashire witch trials of 1634, there was a requirement of material proof of being a witch (some physical manifestion of a pact with the devil).
Little is known of Matthew Hopkins’ early life. It is thought he was born in Little Wenham in Suffolk in the early 1620s (making him a comparitively young man at the time he rose to infamy). It is postulated that he studied law.
The English Civil War (1642-1645) was at its height when Matthew first comes to public notice. In a country torn apart by violence, politics and religion and where fear and superstition prevailed, the moment was opportune for a young man with a fervent belief that he had the power to rid the country of witches and in 1644 we have the first public mention of Matthew. Essex and the Eastern counties where Matthew worked was the seat of power for the puritan forces and it is from this seething hot bed of religious fervour that the witch mania rose.
In 1644 Hopkins fell in with an already established “witch pricker”, John Stearne. Hopkins claimed to have overheard several witches discussing their meetings with the devil: “…March 1644 he had some seven or eight of that horrible sect of Witches living in the Towne where he lived, a Towne in Essex called Maningtree, with divers other adjacent Witches of other towns, who every six weeks in the night (being alwayes on the Friday night) had their meeting close by his house and had their severall solemne sacrifices there offered to the Devill, one of which this discoverer heard speaking to her Imps one night, and bid them goe to another Witch…”
As a consequence a trial of twenty three women was held at Chelmsford in 1645. Four died in prison and nineteen were hung. Following the notoriety of that trial Hopkins and Stearne became self appointed “witch finders” (the term Witch Finder General bears no official stamp of approval). The work of carrying out the “pricking” was done by well paid (and no doubt zealous) female assistants. In the vacuum of proper authority caused by the war, Hopkins and Stearne operated throughout the eastern counties with relative impunity.

Hopkins’ favourite methods of interrogation (bearing in mind torture was by now illegal in England) were “swimming” (where the woman was bound and thrown into a pond…if she floated she was deemed a witch as she was being rejected the waters of baptism…if she sank, and most likely drowned, then obviously she was innocent); cutting with a blunt knife or sleep deprivation. Hopkins was ordered to discontinue swimming in 1645, unless he had the subject’s permission! By far his favourite was “pricking” (described briefly above). The victim would be shaved of all hair and if a mole or an extra nipple was discovered, it was deemed that this would be the means by which the witch would suckle the devil or an incubus or imp. If found guilty the most common form of execution was hanging. It is estimated that Hopkins was probably responsible for the death of some 200 people between 1645 and 1647.
He wrote a pamphlet describing his methods - The Discovery of Witches - which made its way across the Atlantic to the new colonies and his methods were employed in the witch trials of the New World, most notably the Salem witch trial of the 1690s.
However by 1647 Hopkins began to run into opposition. Sermons were preached against the work of Hopkins and Stearne and his methods (and the fees he charged for his work) were called into question by the authorities in Norfolk.
Mistley PondMatthew Hopkins died in August 1647 in his home town of Manningtee in Essex. While it is more than likely that nothing more extraordinary than tuberculosis carried him off, for such a controversial figure there is a legend that he met his end after being accused of witchcraft and subjected to his own ‘swimming’ test. It is said his ghost haunts the pond at Mistley.
The last execution in England for witchcraft was Alicia Molland who was executed in Essex in March 1684,he last conviction in 1712
And in the spirit of Halloween here is the master of horror himself, Vincent Price, in his 1968 portrayal of Matthew Hopkins in the film "The Witchfinder General". 

Sweet dreams...
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Published on October 27, 2016 22:43 • 22 views

September 3, 2016

This post is a repost of a blog I wrote following my 2015 visit to the city of Worcester, site of the last full scale pitched battle on English soil - 3 September 1651.
For the supporters of the young King Charles II it was the end of their dreams of restoring the monarchy and the beginning of almost ten long year of 'republican' rule known as the Interregnum, ending with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
My 3 book series GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN covers this period of the Interregnum and for the three main characters (Jonathan - BY THE SWORD, Kit - THE KING'S MAN and Daniel - EXILE'S RETURN) the Battle of Worcester defined the rest of their lives. 
On a canal bank in Worcester, I met with my 'imaginary friends' and we walked their battle... 
PictureThe 3rd September marked the 364th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester, the defining event of the Guardians of the Crown series which begins with the battle itself (BY THE SWORD). Worcester CathedralMy family has had a long, long association with Worcester, most notably boasting a High Sheriff of Worcester (my great grandfather) and a well respected MP and County Councillor (my grandfather) and my father served under the colours of the now defunct Worcestershire Regiment. In May this year I returned (or, in a sense, went home) - on a canal boat (a whole other story!). My last visit to Worcester had been some twenty plus years ago when I was researching a little story I was writing about the Battle of Worcester. That little story became BY THE SWORD... which flowed on to THE KING'S MAN and on to Book 3, EXILES' RETURN (which comes out next February). I wanted to write about a group of friends/comrades and what this seminal battle of the English Civil War meant to them and their families. Our canal boat traverses the Sidbury Lock - The Commandery on the leftWe moored our canal boat below the Sidbury Lock within spitting distance of The Commandery and the site of what was once the Sidbury Gate through the walls of the old city (now long since gone). Having an afternoon free, I abandoned my travelling companions and stepped down on to the tow path of the canal (which had not been there in 1651). They were waiting for me - Jonathan Thornton, Giles Longley, Kit Lovell and his brother Daniel, the Guardians of Crown, my companions from the past and they would be my guides for the afternoon. AS outside The Commandery We began with The Commandery (that was its name long before the events of 1651). In its past it had been a merchant's house, a hospital and in 1651 became the Headquarters for Charles II.(Jonathan) attended the meetings at the Commandery and concluded the house had been wrongly named. He saw precious little evidence of command taking place within its walls...In the endless councils that took place in the hall the young King found himself assailed from all sides by conflicting advice.  (BY THE SWORD) From The Commandery we set off up the hill to Fort Royal where a royalist battery had been established to defend the approach to Worcester along the Sidbury road. I won't go into the details of the battle itself (I've written about it HERE). Suffice to say that while the royalists held Fort Royal, Cromwell had taken Red Hill and Perry Hill. The king himself led an attack on Red Hill but was driven back to the city. Fort Royal fell, the royalist defenders slaughtered to a man and the guns turned on the city itself. My American readers may be interested to know that it was on this hill that an oak tree was planted in commemoration of a visit by Thomas Jefferson who is quoted as reminding all Englishmen that it was at Worcester that the concept of Liberty was fought for... you can read his quote on the plaque below... My companions led me back down the hill toward Sidbury Gate... The Parliament guns had been brought to bear on the gate, turning the retreat into wholesale slaughter. Amidst the screaming of man and beast, the carnage of blood and guts and with shot pounding into the walls and the city, the King managed to get back through the gate. Jonathan followed through the confusion, scrambling over an overturned oxen cart to reach his King. (BY THE SWORD) No trace of the gate or walls remain today (destroyed for the building of the canal in the 1760s), just one small plaque on a wall marks its existence. We turned into the city and down one of the last remaining authentic city streets - Friar Street (curse those 70s redevelopments!). Still lined with half timbered houses, it is only here one can still get a feeling for 17th century Worcester.Wilmot pulled at Jonathan’s arm and they both ran up Friar Street, toward the King’s lodging. Jonathan took only one look back to see Giles, fighting like a virago, a small defence against the mass of red-coated soldiers who now flooded into the city from all gates except one: St Martin’s Gate stood close by the King’s lodging and remained as yet unbreached. (BY THE SWORD) Friar StreetIt was here in Friar Street that Jonathan, Giles, Kit and Daniel lodged in a house that may have looked a little like Greyfriars (now a National Trust property). Here they played cards on the night before the battle. Another evening at the Commandery had ended in bickering and Jonathan trudged wearily back up Friar Street to his billet ... In the downstairs parlour of the large, half-timbered house, Giles played cards with Kit Lovell, who had recently rejoined them. They were both fiendish card players, with a tendency to cheat, and Jonathan declined their invitation to join them.  (BY THE SWORD) The parlour of Greyfriars where the Guardians played cards on the night before the battle... maybe...Further up Friar Street we came to the building now known as The Charles II house (and rather ignomiously - a pie shop) which had been the King's Lodgings and from which he escaped.They found the King within his lodgings, watching uncomprehendingly as Buckingham burned papers on a hastily lit fire.‘We must go, Your Majesty,’ Wilmot said.The King looked up at his old friend and advisor. ‘Leslie will come,’ he insisted. ‘We will rally again.’‘No, Your Majesty,’ Buckingham spoke. ‘It’s too late. Leslie has failed us, Hamilton is fallen. We must away while we still have breath in our bodies.’The noise of the fighting, drawing closer up the street, brought the King to his feet. With the Parliament’s soldiers at the front door of the house, the King and his party left by the back. Taking the nearest horses they fled, at a hard gallop, through St Martin’s Gate, the gate that led the way to the north.  (BY THE SWORD)Here we parted company,  my imaginary friends returning to the past, and I trudged back through the streets of Worcester to meet my real friends at the Worcester Porcelain museum (in what had been a thriving factory on my last visit).
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Published on September 03, 2016 17:03 • 27 views

August 18, 2016

PictureAugust 18th 2016 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Captain Richard Conway-Lowe MC at Pozieres. Richard was my grandfather's cousin and I couldn't let this significant date in the family's annals go unmarked.

What follows is a repost of a blog I did some time ago about my search for Richard and the deeply moving effect it had on me. Since writing the original post I discovered that among other things at 6' 7" Richard was the tallest man in the British Army.

I had the pleasure of dedicating one of the Tower of London poppies in his memory and of hearing his name read out at the evening roll call. 

Tears on the Western FrontMy husband, who prefers to keep his cyber identity private so I shall call "D",  and I met in the Army Reserve (Officer Training...he lent me a pencil for my navigation exercise...etc. etc.). We both served in the Australian Army for just on twenty years each before a move to Singapore put an end to both our careers. One thing all those years instilled in us was a mutual interest in military history. D’s grandfather fought with the Australian Army in World War One. He had been in the second wave at Gallipoli and the family had always assumed he had sustained his wound there.  Until D started researching his grandfather’s history, no one knew he had served in France. He would talk about Gallipoli but never the Western Front and it was on the Western Front, in the bitter fighting on the Somme he had been wounded in the left arm. My own grandfather (on my mother's side) was a medic in the British Army and served, as far as we know, for most of the war in the Middle East. He joined up after his eldest brother had been killed near Basrah in modern Iraq. Many people may think the medics had a cushy job but quite often they put their own lives on the line to rescue the wounded and transport them back to the casualty clearing stations. Mercifully he survived unscathed but his experience may explain why he never settled to normal life in Yorkshire and accepted a posting in the civil service in Kenya (Colonial East Africa), taking his new bride with him,  a young lass who had never even been to London. In 2005, D and I finally achieved a long held ambition to visit the Battlefields of World War One. We began in Ypres in Belgium, that beautiful medieval cloth town so comprehensively destroyed in the war.  Together we walked the city walls finding little war cemeteries along the way and joined the solemn crowds at the Menin Gate for the service of commemoration which is held every night. The evening commemoration at the Menin GateWe  hired a car and with a map in hand we drove out into the Ypres Salient. The flat Belgian countryside bears little resemblance to the nightmare pictures we had seen in the Museum in Ypres but among the green fields, there are countless cemeteries, with the white crosses in orderly lines looking,  as I described it in Gather the Bones, like a “harvest of death”. The Allied Cemetery - Passchandaele (Polygon Wood)From Belgium we drove down to France and Amiens. It is hard to imagine the horror that 1914-1918 visited on the soft green fields of the Picardy countryside.  The little villages have been rebuilt and farmers tend the fields just as they always did but the grand war memorials and scattered cemeteries once again bear the testament of those who died here.  It was one of many tiny little villages on the road to Amiens that brought together both D's grandfather and my search for a missing relative - Pozieres. It was here, at the battle for  Pozieres, that D’s grandfather had been shot in the arm, an injury which would trouble him for the whole of his life and it was here in the British cemetery that I fulfilled a promise made to my father ... to find the grave of his own father’s cousin, Captain Richard Conway Lowe MC. The War Graves Commission makes it an easy task to locate the one tombstone among the many and I had little trouble in finding it in the British Cemetery.What I hadn’t been prepared for was the wave of emotion that surged through me as I stood looking down at the simple white grave stone.  All I knew about Richard Conway Lowe had been gleaned from a few family photographs of a rather solemn little boy with fair hair and glasses. Family history recounts he had been a good student at Winchester and Oxford and had been destined to go into the Church. I also knew he was 6’ 7”. He came from a respectable middle class family in Edgbaston near Birmingham and on the outbreak of war, he joined one of the local Warwickshire volunteer regiments. I didn’t know he was only 22 years old when he died. He was the same age as my eldest son. As I laid the little poppy I had bought with me, I touched the gravestone and thought how many, many years it had been since anyone grieved at this graveside. The entire family line had effectively died out with this boy. I sat on the grass beside his headstone and the tears welled up.  Laying a poppy on Richard's grave Since returning from that trip to France, the wonder of the internet enabled me to trace the citation for his military cross. I wish my father were still alive to share it with.  It reads: Military Cross for Officers"Second Lieutenant Richard Conway Lowe., 1st/6th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Territorial Force.For conspicuous gallantry on 4th November, 1915, in France.When directing a working party in front of the parapet, the Germans opened fire and wounded a man of the covering party. Second Lieutenant Lowe and a Serjeant rushed to his aid, and although the Serjeant was grazed by a bullet and Second Lieutenant Lowe shot in the thigh, the bullet being subsequently found in the wound, they carried the wounded man across the open and through the wire into a place of safety.Second Lieutenant Lowe had previously been wounded, and had been brought to notice for excellent work at the front." (London Gazette Issue 29371 16 November 1916) He received his medal personally at Buckingham Palace in January 1916 while home recovering from his wound.  He was killed in action on August 18, 1916. The Germans had been in occupation of Pozieres since 1914 and in July 1916 the allies commenced one of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front...the recapture of Pozieres and to secure the high ground behind it. When I looked to see what action had taken place on that day,  "British advance from Pozieres to Somme; ground gained towards Ginchy and Guillemont."  Just another day on the Western Front. The main street of Pozieres after the action of 1916After his death his mother, Marie Lowe, worked tirelessly in organising women volunteers for the provision of laundry services to the hospitals in Birmingham coping with the needs of the wounded. By Dec 1917 over 4000 articles a week passed through the hands of the 70 VAD volunteers and 8 paid laundresses. The family history relates that his father, Conway, "never really recovered from the death of his elder son". He fell out with his business partners and "These two blows left Conway a broken man, and Marie had to become the decision maker and mainstay of the family." The little boy who died a hero...These few days spent in the company of the dead from a bloody war provided part of the inspiration for my new book, GATHER THE BONES.  The following is a short extract, drawing on my own experience... "...Helen stared out of the foggy car window as the countryside changed from pleasant fields and hamlets to an unrecognizable landscape of ruined villages, barely passable roads, devastated forests of tree stumps and a bleak landscape of churned fields. If she could have imagined the end of the world this is what it would have been like. Many of the villages through which they passed had been completely destroyed leaving nothing more than piles of rubble where there had once been a bustling little town with bakers, butchers, churches and homes. Some new buildings had begun to rise from the ruins, but the deeper they drove into the Ypres Salient, the more dismal the landscape became. What had once been fields were now nothing more than wild earthworks from a painting of hell, dotted with small cemeteries of rows of white crosses, like a grim harvest of death..." For more about the First World War and the inspiration for Gather the Bones, see my post on "A Michelin Guide to a Story Idea" first published on Historical Hearts.
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Published on August 18, 2016 04:00 • 27 views