26 Fruits

My year of Armistice

On 11th November it will be 100 years since the ending of the first world war. Every year we mark the occasion with regret and relief, sadness and bitterness at the waste. From my own personal perspective, the war meant that I never knew my grandfather (Harry Branch, killed at Passchendale in 1917) and my grandmother single-handedly brought up my mother and aunt from their earliest years.

The impact of this situation didn’t hit me fully until I was grown up myself. When I had children, and then grandchildren, it brought home the gap in our family that a gravestone in a war cemetery can never fill. But that story of the missing is common to millions of people around the world. We have our individual stories, and there is the universal story.

A couple of years ago, aware that the centenary was approaching, my mind focused on a story that has Armistice Day at its centre. That story is now written into my next novel The Good Messenger that will be published in the autumn. The novel is set before and after the war, and on Armistice Day 1918, told through the eyes of a woman in London who was there on that day. In researching this, and in writing it, I became more and more interested in the changes brought about by the war. Politics, society, everyday life – everything was transformed.

Here’s an extract from The Good Messenger’s Armistice Day chapter.

Joshua Joshua sweeter than lemon squash you are how they sang those munitions girls in their dungarees, linking arms and dancing in a line down the street, swerving into Trafalgar Square each with a soldier interlinked. The khaki uniforms bestowed a hero status higher than the left-behind boys would ever now attain, and the gazes that met them mingled respect and envy and came out as a kind of staring lunacy. Except the one, standing at the fringe with a woman clutching tight to his arm, his stare fixed on the far distance, still watching the scattering of mud and whizzing of shells all around in his head. So the realisation sank into Vanessa, we have to pity the shell-shocked above all today.

Absorbed for a couple of years in the writing of this book, I wanted to create a special project to mark the Armistice centenary. It would involve many other writers: what collectively could we write about the people who had been alive at that time? What were the lives of people like in all parts of society, not just the soldiers in the trenches? What was the perspective from other countries? I believed, if we collected these, we would have a moving and memorable response to the war.

Last week 100 writers from 26 www.26.org.uk rushed to volunteer as writers on the Armistice Project. In partnership with Imperial War Museums we will publish their work daily over 100 days leading up to Armistice Day. Each writer will create a centena – a new form I’ve invented, exactly 100 words in which the first three words are repeated as the final three words.

Then there will be Armistice Day. November 11th 2018. Then reflection. And silence.


One Response

  1. Steve says:

    New book sounds great. Armistice initiative excellent for memory of those who fought and those who lost their lives. I knew both my grandads who fought and survived. However, officially one did die even though he had not. There was a telegram saying he had died and one a few months later saying he hadn’t! They are still in my family. Sadly my great grandfather who was in his 40’s did die along with most of his regiment in one battle. Like you we have a photo of the gravestone and the death plaque is in the family. I look forward to seeing the Armistice Project as a tribute to those who died and those who survived.

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