Sunday 4 September 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered with guest author John R McKay

As part of my ongoing tribute during this centenary of WW1, I am delighted to feature the work of some excellent authors who have written about The Great War.

Today I am delighted to introduce historical fiction writer

Hello John and welcome to this WW1 Remembered feature. Jaffa and I are delighted that you are our guest on the blog today...

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jo for giving me the opportunity of telling you my experiences of writing my new novel, The Sun Will Always Shine and my interest in the First World War.

My interest in the Great War began as a child when I used to avidly follow the comic strip Charleys War in Battle comic which told the story of a young man who finds himself caught up in the wave of patriotic fervour at the outbreak of war in 1914 and takes him through many of the horrors of the trenches including the Somme, Passchendaele, Verdun and the Zeppelin raids over London. Charleys War gave me an early education into the horrors suffered by that generation and sparked an interest and fascination that lasts to this day.

In 1991, whilst serving in the RAF stationed in Belgium, I took part in a Remembrance Day parade at Ypres. At first, being volunteered for this by my sergeant, seemed a bit of a drag, having to get up early on cold Sunday mornings to attend practice sessions leading up to the event. However, this parade proved to be one of the most emotional experiences of my life. A mixed group of soldiers, sailors and airmen; we marched from the Cloth Hall to the Menin Gate, all the time being watched quietly by the people of the rebuilt town, until we stood beneath the huge arches that bear the names of 70,000 soldiers lost at Ypres who have no known graves. Once there, we faced a group of World War One veterans, all of them now looking very old, sitting in wheelchairs, rows of  medals across their chests and blankets over their legs to give them some warmth in the November chill. As the last post was played and the poppy leaves began to rain down over us, I could see that many of them were in tears, no doubt remembering their fallen friends and the horrors they had to live through so long ago. I risked a glance across the line (we were supposed to face front, expressionless) and could clearly see many of my comrades with tears in their eyes, trying desperately to swallow the lumps in their throats, and then realised that I was doing the same.

Not long after, I attended a guided tour of the Somme battlefield, visiting the towns and villages that have this year been in the news due to the Centenary commemorations and have visited them again more recently. Villages such as Serre, where the Accrington Pals were massacred on the first day of the battle, Beaumont Hamel, Fricourt, Mametz, Delville Wood, High Wood, the Butte de Warlencourt, Albert, Bapaume and many more. What struck me about the area was the amount of cemeteries and memorials dotted about the countryside, some containing the graves of thousands of soldiers and some containing only a handful; a small part of a farmers field maybe, where a few friends had met their untimely deaths. Each of these graves and monuments wonderfully cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who do a fantastic job and cannot be praised highly enough.

The preserved trenches at the Newfoundland Park near Beaumont Hamel, which is looked after by the Canadian government, and the Lochnagar Mine Crater, are well worth visiting, to get an appreciation of the sheer scale of the battle.

Accrington Pals Memorial

Lochnagar Mine Crater

Trenches at Beaumont Hamel

I wanted to learn more and have researched the war a lot over the years. The one book that stands out from all the others is the account of the Somme written by Lyn MacDonald. Her book, simply titled Somme, is extremely well researched and very well written, as are all her other books on the First World War.

I got the initial idea for my first novel, The Journal, when I visited the Carriere Wellington in Arras, France in 2007. This is an underground holding area where 24,000 soldiers were billeted prior to the battle around that area in April 1917, and used the location again in my new novel The Sun Will Always Shine. Anyone interested in a battlefield tour should really pay this place a visit and combine it with a trip to the preserved trenches at Vimy Ridge, whose monument dominates the skyline north of the town.

Carriere Wellington

Vimy Trenches

Vimy Ridge Memorial

However, I always wanted to do a novel based around the Somme and after the good reviews I received for my WW2 novel The Absolution Of Otto Finkel I embarked on something that I had wanted to do for years.

I did not want to write an account of what happened, as this has been well documented, and so came up with the story of two brothers, one of whom is involved in a serious, impulsive incident that affects both their lives in a major way. They see the trenches as an escape from the trouble they find themselves in but do not realise that they have merely jumped from the frying pan and into the fire until it is too late. It carries themes such as love, friendship, death, regret and sacrifice and I am very proud of the novel. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have loved researching it (over many years) and writing it.

*All photographs are by kind permission

Finally another thanks to Jo for inviting me to take part in her excellent blog.

For more details of all my work please take a look at my website

John served for seven years in the Royal Air Force and after two rather dull jobs in the packaging industry he then moved on to Greater Manchester Fire Service until leaving in May of 2014.
He lives just outside Wigan in the North West of England.

Twitter @JohnMcKay68

To find John's book on Amazon UK click here 

Huge thanks to John for this fascinating guest post. It's been a real pleasure to have you as our guest today and thank you for sharing your interest in WW1 with us.


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