So Others May Live

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Dear Readers,

As most of you know, I completed my World War Two novel tentatively titled So Others May Live in November. In the nick of time, as it turned out, as I ended up in the hospital for six days over Thanksgiving Break. If you are new to this blog, I wrote a whole series of posts called Reaping the Whirlwind which details the writing process and you may read an excerpt from said novel here, but be warned, it is graphic. Anyway, I thought I’d give you a list of some of the sources I utilized during the writing of said novel. This is not an exhaustive list by any means and I’m leaving some stuff out, but here is your World War Two reading list, particularly relating to the air war and the German Civil Defense system.

General Histories

These are general World War Two histories.

Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History

Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power

Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hastings, Inferno

Hastings, Armageddon: The End of the War in Europe

Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy

The Air War and It’s Impact

Knell, To Destroy a City

Friedrich, The Fire

Friedrich, Brandstatten

Hastings, Bomber Command

Crayling, Among the Dead Cities

Wilson, Bomber Boys

Wilson, Men of Air

Lowe, Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg

Middlebrook, The Berlin Raids

Everitt & Middlebrook, The Bomber Command War Diaries

Wartime Berlin/German Home Front

Read & Fischer, The Fall of Berlin

Beck, Under the Bombs: The German Home Front 1942-1945

Grunberger, The Twelve Year Reich

Johnson, What We Knew

Moorhouse, Berlin At War

Mayer & Evans, They Thought They Were Free

Selby, A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin

German Military

Since the firefighter character spent time in the Germany Army before being returned to his pre-war occupation due to wounds, it was important to bone up on German military attitudes, etc.

Knappe, Soldat

Neitzel & Welzer, Soldaten 

Koscherrek, Blood Red Snow

Bellamy, Absolute War

Reese, A Stranger to Myself

Cooper, The German Army 1933-1945

Fritz, Frontsoldaten

Beevor, Stalingrad

Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier

Wartime London

Gaskin, The Blitz

Gardiner, The Blitz: The British Under Attack

Longmate. How We Lived Then

Todman, Britain’s War

Ingham, Fire and Water: The London Firefighter’s Blitz, 1940-42

Novels

Why novels for research? There are a couple of reasons. First, from a professional standpoint, they teach be about plotting, creating characters, etc. Second, they often include historical nuggets that I can follow up on in non-fiction books.

Ledig, Payback

Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Remarque, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

Deighton, Bomber

Bird, London’s Burning

Frei, Berlin

Gillham, City of Women

Misc

Thankfully I was able to view several pieces of film footage shot of German firefighters during the war, including a “how to put out an incendiary fire” video. In addition, there are tons of documentaries on YouTube about the London Blitz, life in Nazi Germany, the Bomber War, etc. Far too many to list here, but I probably watched 50-60 hours worth of them and took notes.

In graduate school, I had the opportunity to interview some individuals who had worked in the German Civil Defense system during the war, either with the Luftschutz or as auxiliary firefighters/rescue workers. My notes from those conversations helped me craft a logical response from the Berlin fire brigade to air raids. Or at least I hope it did.

I also made use of some maps of wartime London and Berlin to help give me a handy reference when dealing with directions, etc.

Again, this list is not comprehensive. My World War Two library alone includes 500 volumes (it totals a little over 2,000 when you add all the other books). If any of you are interested in this subject, the list above provides a good place to start.

L.H.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Other Beginning’s End

 

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Dear Readers,

In 1999, my senior year of college, the band Semisonic recorded a song entitled “Closing Time”. There is a line in the song that says Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. This is, of course, quite true. I have one new beginning that is ending this week and another new one which will start in January.

In early August of 2013, two weeks removed from my final day on the job after my injury, I was offered the opportunity to teach dual credit college courses at an early college high school that was just about to open its doors to students for the first time. (To explain, I’m a college professor. The only difference between this class and one on the college campus is that I’d be teaching a class full of 16 year olds.) I agreed to do it, though not without some trepidation. I’d taught dual credit courses before in the past, as I’ve been teaching part time since 2004. But in the past, the kids always came to the college campus. Now I’d be going onto their turf. I know full well I’m not cut out to be a high school teacher, so facing a class full of high school kids in a high school campus on the first day of school made me as nervous as a fully involved multi alarm apartment fire.

My trepidation vanished as the first class began, and it’s never come back. I feel like I’ve found a home there. Each semester I teach two or three courses and the nice thing is, I generally get to have the same students all year which is different than it would be in an “adult” class on the college campus. I’ve had the time of my life at this school. Seeing students walk across the stage and accept their Associate’s Degree and then later, their high school diploma is a feeling I cannot describe.

I have stacks of cards, photographs, and even a signed poster board that I’ve been given by students over the years. Every professor or teacher struggles with self doubt, at least if they are a good one or want to be a good one. On those days, I need only look at what I’ve been given and know that at least for someone out there, I made a difference. Since I deal with chronic pain from my injuries along with an incurable autoimmune disease, my weeks are filled with some really rough days. But when I walk through those doors on Monday and Wednesday mornings, all the pain vanishes to the deep recesses of my brain as I look forward to spending the day with my kids. Sure, I enjoy my regular college classes too, but there is something special, perhaps even magical, about this place.

Over the past five school years, I’ve shared a ton of laughs with my students, sometimes at my own expense, and even shared a tear or two. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life on one hallway it seems, and the thought of leaving for a full time position, while obviously a no brainer financially, still tears me up inside to think about it. Wednesday will be an emotional day for me. I’m not going to lie and say it won’t be. My students mean the world to me and no words I can say or type can fully express that to them. I see my students as my own children. I care about them. I worry about them. And I try to look out for them, just as I do my own son who is around their age.

So when I walk out those doors for the last time on Wednesday, it will be with a heavy heart. I’m excited for my new beginning, but I mourn the beginning that is now coming to an end. I’ll take away a lot of good memories, like coaching the junior girls in the powder puff game this year. I can only hope and pray that I did enough for my students so that they know that no matter where they (or I) end up, they’ll always have me in their corner.

Hutch

The Sound of Distant Cannons

 

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“Are you hot in that uniform?” “Well, some women think so…..”

Dear Readers,

Whenever I teach about the Civil War in class, it makes me a bit nostalgic. Not for the war, but of the sixteen years I spent as a Civil War reenactor. Yes, I spent four times as long reenacting the war than the war itself was. I guess my reason for getting this way is because I was younger then, of course. And it was before I suffered a serious injury which ended my public safety career and left me in constant pain. Also, I miss my friend and comrade of all those years, Robert, who passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. The laughs we shared, the funny incidents we witnessed, the people we met and the places we saw are just as fresh in my mind today as they were back then. You can see the post I wrote upon learning of his passing here.

Since I now dwell in an academic world and not one filled with fires and arsonists, I have come to understand that many (I dare say, most) academic historians look on living historians (my preferred term for what I did) with barely disguised and often open disdain. I’ve heard them claim that all reenactors are racist, Lost Cause types. I’ve heard them claim that reenactors are all gun freaks or super right wing nut jobs. People who proudly boast of how “open” and “tolerant” they are quickly lump all reenactors into one category. Are there people within the ranks who are all those things? Of course! But most are not. They are men and women who love what they do and try to bring history to a wider audience.

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The 13th US Infantry on the field at Liendo. 

Apart from those criticisms, the other major one I’ve heard over the years is that “Reenactors get too bogged down in details and don’t care enough about the big picture.” Maybe that is a valid criticism. However, the majority of them portray humble privates in the ranks and NEWSFLASH: they didn’t know much about the big picture either. Grant and Lee were not in the habit of discussing grand strategy with enlisted men. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things what the specific thread count of a Union sack coat was? Probably not. Another criticism is that reenactors don’t care enough about the cause of the war. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why professional historians often fixate on this. Reenactors are not reenacting the secession crisis. I think this might touch on why it seems like over the past several years, academic historians have all but removed the battlefield from the teaching of the Civil War, preferring to talk of other things. Which, by the way, need to be discussed, but the question of slavery was decided ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

How did my time as a reenactor help me become a better teacher? At most events, there would be a school day on the Friday before the reenactment opened to the public. Schools would bus in students who frequently had to complete a scavenger hunt. They’d come by in groups of 10-15 or so and we’d talk to them and answer their questions. Some reenactors looked on this as a bit of a bother and would show up after the kids left, but I came to enjoy it. I was talking to students long before I ever thought of being a teacher myself. It gave me better insight which helped explain the decision making process on Civil War battlefields. I’ve marched ten miles (which was nothing for a Civil War soldier) as part of a preservation march and did it barefoot and on an empty stomach just to try and see what it was like for the men who did it for real. Yes, I can load and fire a rifle, work a cannon, and explain how to perform “by files right into line”. None of that really helps in the classroom, but one of the things my students enjoy the most is when I teach them how to move from a column of fours to a line of battle and back. I’m enthusiastic when teaching about the Civil War and I hope that transfers over to my performance in the classroom.

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We ran a Civil War “boot camp” for high school and junior high teachers. Here I am performing a cursory examination to declare them medically fit for service.

Now, I want to tackle one subject which was kind of the reason for my post to being with. As a Southern boy who wore “the blue suit”, I want to address a statement that people (other reenactors too) frequently made. Yes, most (though not all) of my family who was in the United States at the time fought in the Confederate Army. I don’t apologize for that, nor do I feel the need to. I’m proud of the bravery they exhibited on many a field. I’m also glad they lost. Anyway, the one thing that people said to me all the time was “Your ancestors are turning over in their graves seeing you dressed as a Damn Yankee.” Here is my answer to that. First of all, I think our ancestors would be a little amused that we dress up like them and reenact something as horrific as the Civil War. Second, assuming our ancestors approved of what we do, I would think they’d want us to get it right and in the South, Rebel reenactors outnumber Yanks by 4-5 to one at most events. Since when did the odds ever favor the Confederacy that way? Third, I would occasionally switch over and portray a Confederate surgeon rather than a Union surgeon every now and then. Fourth, and most important, if you don’t like my choice of impressions, you can kiss my Irish a$$. Truthfully though, at events in the South, the Yankees are the “bad guys” and sometimes people boo as you march out to the battlefield. To be honest, it was kind of nice to be the bad guy.

So there you have it. My humble musings on my time as a reenactor. Here are some of the regiments that my ancestors served in (all Irish immigrants, by the way).

8th Ohio Infantry

160th New York Infantry

1st Tennessee Infantry (CSA)

48th Tennessee Infantry (CSA)

6th Louisiana Infantry (CSA)

4th Texas Infantry (CSA)

Hutch

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A Union Surgeon treats a wounded Confederate drummer boy.

 

Of Box Alarms and Phrases: The Historical Origins of Some Fire Service Terms

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Friends,

With my previous post about a historically significant fire in Houston, Texas, I thought I’d revisit the subject of fire service history. Fire departments are big on tradition, and a lot of the terms in use in some areas today have very old origins and harken back to the days of wooden ladders and leather lungs. Helmets, for example, are usually a firefighter’s most iconic piece of equipment, especially the traditional style (as opposed to the salad bowl type). When I was a humble fireman, my department issued us the “modern” style helmets but allowed us to purchase our own, so long as we stuck to the department color requirements. (Yellow for firefighter, red for captain, white for chiefs). Most of us purchased our own. Mine was a Morning Pride traditional helmet called the Ben Franklin. Why? Because Franklin was once the chief of a volunteer fire company! I went through a couple of different helmets, all the same style. When I was an arson investigator, I wore a leather Cairns New Yorker which has, other than a few modifications, been the same helmet for 168 years. Cairns began to make helmets in the 1850s and prior to that, made leather helmet shields going back to the 1830s. Ah yes……tradition! Thankfully I still have my arson helmet and one of my firefighter helmets. They make for nice conversation pieces.

Keep in mind that what I discuss below may vary from department to department. Some use all of the terms, others may use none of them. Not only that, but the meaning of the terms may vary as well. The meanings and origins I give are the originals, rather than how they’ve morphed over time. Though the fire service is strong on tradition, things do change no matter how resistant some may be. Change comes slowly, but it does come. So without further ado here are some historical terms still in use.

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Box Alarm/Assignment: This is a holdover term from the days of telegraph fire alarm systems which existed in most major cities. Alarm boxes like the above stood on street corners. Should a citizen witness a fire emergency, they could hurry to the nearest box and pull the lever. This transmitted a coded series of numbers by telegraph to the central alarm system. The dispatcher reviewed the box number (which corresponded to an intersection), and then selected a punch card which had the apparatus assignments for that intersection. The punch card was fed into a second telegraph which sent the box number to the stations assigned to that intersection. Meanwhile, at the station, the alarm bell would ring to notify the station where to go. Let’s say it was box 427. The bell rang four times, pause, two times, pause, followed by seven times. It may sound complicated, but alarms could be transmitted from alarm box to station in seconds and, believe it or not, horse drawn apparatus often cleared the floor in less than 30 seconds! Though the FDNY doesn’t use fire alarm boxes (thanks to things like cell phones), they do use box numbers. Boston, however, maintains their fire alarm boxes as a redundancy should their 911 system fail. In my hose dragger days, I typically heard the term Box Alarm to denote a working residential fire with a Heavy Box used for commercial buildings or multifamily dwellings.

(Note also, however, that ambulances are commonly referred to as “the box”, not to be confused with “box alarm”.)

Antique Wooden Telephone

Still Alarm: As telephones became more commonplace, fire departments began to receive calls by phone, along with calls from alarm boxes. If a call came in by phone, it was called a “still alarm” because it didn’t ring the bells at the station. In other words, the bells were still. Though not as commonly used today as “box” is, it is sometimes and by some departments used to refer to fire alarms, medical calls, etc, in other words, anything not a box alarm.

Ready to be confused? You can still a box and you can box a still. If a still alarm turns out to be a working fire, then an officer may box a still, in other words, convert it to a box alarm assignment. Conversely, if a box alarm turns out to be a fire alarm, an officer can still the box, ie: downgrade it to a still alarm assignment.

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Tap this location out: This one is still very common in my area. When an assignment is complete, or nearly complete, the ranking officer will radio the communications center and say “Tap this location our holding units on scene (or a specific unit).” Again, this harkens back to the good old days of the aforementioned fire alarm boxes. Fire department officers carried keys to the boxes and when an assignment ended, they would open the fire alarm box and use the telegraph inside to tap out a message to Central Dispatch, hence the “tap this location out”. I cannot state this as a fact, but apparently the keys were shaped like a “J” and might be the origin of the nickname “jakes” for firefighters. Part of me wonders how many officers, especially the younger ones, know the origin of this phrase since they have mostly likely used, or at least heard it, before. I guess I can say the same for all these phrases.

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I’m sure that there are some other terms or phrases that I’m forgetting or that even I don’t know the origins of, though I try to stay up on my fire service history. When I was in graduate school, my favorite paper to write was the one about firefighting in Colonial America. I learned a lot of interesting things, though when I shared them at the fire station, the guys were underwhelmed by it all. Their loss, not mine. When it comes to firefighting, I think you can truly say that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same. Assuming that the world is still here in 100 years, I imagine some fire service historian will write an article on all the quaint terms from today that will still be in use.

Hutch

Reaping the Whirlwind (Pt. 4)

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Dear Readers,

I’ve reached the 1/3rd point of my work in progress. It’s been a mixture of slow and fast going. I write much slower now than I ever have before. When in college, I could dash off 10 pages in a matter of an hour or two. Now, my 3,000 word a day limit sometimes takes me the better part of 6 hours to finish. Of those words, maybe half of them are actually any good. But books a rewritten more than they are written. That’s what editing is for. The important thing is to get the first draft finished. I’ve identified several issues with the overall plot and layout which will require extensive revision. I may end up cutting the four characters down to two so that I can get more in depth into them and their world. We’ll see. There is much left to write.

As I slave away in front of the computer, I have been pondering great works of World War 2 fiction that I’ve read in my life. If you are a writer, you have your favorites that influence your style and even the type of fiction you write. I’m a HUGE fan of the Dave Robicheaux series by the great James Lee Burke. Indeed, my completed novel is a mystery set in a fictitious Texas town on the Gulf Coast. It’s pretty good, actually. I haven’t take the time to revise and edit it though. I might once I finish with my current project. So please allow me a few moments to discuss my favorite World War 2 novels. For those who tough it out to the end, you’ll get to read the opening of my own novel So Others May Live. 

Bomber by Len Deighton. This is an incredibly written novel which takes place over a 24 hour time span. It details everything that went into planning and carrying out a bombing raid on the fictitious German town of Altgarten. At the same time, it also details the town itself with all its secrets and intrigue. Deighton is a master storyteller. As an added bonus, the BBC did a radio dramatization of the novel in the early 90s too, so you can both read it and then listen to a radio version of it. Both are excellent. I would tell people that if they read any novel about the Second World War, make it this one.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque. Wait, I hear you saying, isn’t he the guy that wrote All Quiet on the Western Front? Yes, Dear Readers, he is. This novel is, in my opinion, perhaps better even than his best known work. It takes place over a short span of time and involves a German soldier on leave from the Eastern Front. Particularly evocative of the paranoia and claustrophobia of wartime Germany, Remarque does an excellent job showing the behavior of people in wartime. It is worth noting that Remarque’s books were banned in Nazi Germany and he fled to Switzerland. In retaliation, the Nazis arrested his sister who remained behind. At her trial for undermining morale, the judge said “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach but you, however, will not escape us.” She was beheaded in 1943. Remarque eventually immigrated to the United States and became and American citizen. He married actress Paulette Goddard who was both incredibly hot and a redhead. But I digress.

The Burning Blue by James Holland. A friendship. A forbidden love affair with a best friend’s twin sister. Spitfires. The Battle of Britain. They blend together in this wonderful novel to create a perfect tale of wartime England. Told through a series of flashbacks whilst the main character lies recovering in a hospital bed in North Africa, the book starts a few years before the war and builds towards an exciting climax. You feel for the main character as he lives on a razor’s edge during the Battle of Britain. You want him to get the girl and you genuinely grieve when he doesn’t. Or does he? The aerial combat scenes are magnificent as are the personal interactions between the characters. Holland is a master of aviation fiction. (See his other work A Pair of Silver Wings as well.) For fans of British period dramas (Foyle’s War, etc) or The Battle of Britain, I highly recommend this novel. If you want to find yourself behind the controls of a Spit, read this book at once.

Berlin by Pierre Frei. This is technically not a World War 2 novel as it is set in Berlin, but it is at least in the immediate post-war period. A serial killer stalks the streets and a Kripo detective is partnered up with the Americans to track him down. What is really neat about this novel is that you have a chapter about each victim that tracks their lives up until the instant they are murdered. Then you’ll have a chapter about the investigation of their death. Getting deep into the lives of the characters makes their deaths all the more tragic. The novel does an incredible job of describing post-war Berlin; the hunger, the black market, the fraternizing between GIs and German girls that wasn’t supposed to be taking place, the secrets people tried to keep about the lives during the Nazi era. The author was born in Berlin in 1930 and grew up there. First published in German in 2003, it was translated to English in 2005. Definitely read this, especially if you like murder mysteries.

Payback by Gert Ledig. “When the first bomb fell, the blast hurled the dead children against the wall.” Holy F–k! What an opening! This book is rare and difficult to get a copy of, though used copies do exist. First published in German in 1956, it was not translated into English until 1999. The author served on the Eastern Front and was sent home after he was wounded near Leningrad. Whilst at home, he experienced Allied air raids which are the subject of this novel. The book isn’t long. The whole thing takes place over the course of an hour or so in a nameless town as it is pummeled by bombs. Each short chapter tells about one person in the town. Before each chapter is short piece where the character introduces themselves to the reader. You see the raid unfold with all its macabre horror. From a 16 year old girl raped in a cellar as bombs fall to the dead unburied by explosions and hurled into the trees, Payback provides a stomach churning glance into life under the bombs. The book is controversial because British and American audiences do not generally like to read about what their bombs did. Still, this book is an anti-war classic and a must read.

Now, Dear Readers, as promised, here is the opening to So Others May Live. Keep in mind this is an unedited first draft and I cannot state with certainty that this will be the opening scene in the finished product and even if it is, it’ll probably be a bit different.

Fire. A tornado of fire. Flames shot upwards, a thousand feet or more, and turned the night sky to daylight. Wind swirled around the base of the inferno. Over the roar of the conflagration, a new sound emerged like the scream of wounded animals. People staggered over the rubble choked streets as the heat seared their bodies. Clothing burst into flame. The human torches ran in circles until they dropped to the street and lay still. The wind grew in intensity until it lifted, first children and then adults, and hurled them into the seat of the fire. They screamed and flailed in the air until the flames devoured them. Hair burned. Clothes burned. Even the streets burned. The odor roasted flesh overpowered that of the phosphorus driven firestorm. Somewhere, a bell rang.  

There you have it, friends.

Hutch

Reaping the Whirlwind (Pt. 3)

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Dear Readers,

As I share my journey in writing my book, I thought I’d take the time to share a little about the research process. You can read the other parts of this series here: Part One & Part Two.  My previous completed novel is a mystery, and since I was an investigator, I know something about solving crimes. As my latest work is historical fiction, I thought it worthwhile to say a few words about how the research process works for me.

The past is like a foreign country. It has its own language, culture, and living conditions. I find it best to approach it in that way. Now, I have always had a healthy interest in the past. I don’t know exactly why, but I’ve been reading about the past since I was five years old. That’s when I checked out my first book from the library and it just so happened to be a history book. I’ve been held captive ever since. I have a personal library of 2,000 books and the largest single subject is World War Two. Both of my grandfathers were veterans of this war. My grandmothers’ brothers all served as well (one was killed). All of my grandparents’ friends either served in the war or went through it on the home front, so in a way I was surrounded by it as a child. I studied history in college not because I planned on actual doing anything with it (I was happily a fireman in those days) but because I enjoyed the subject. The same goes for my graduate degree in History. Then I changed teams and became a police officer, still with no plans to use my degree, though I started teaching part time as an second job way back in 2004. I never would’ve guess I’d get hurt. I’m still teaching, and it is still part time because I’ve been told I’m not “full time material”. But I digress.

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My book deals with two interconnected pieces of the war. First, is the bomber offensive against Germany, particularly that waged by the British. Thankfully there are some excellent books and documentaries on the topic. I start at the time and read general World War Two histories, then general books about RAF Bomber Command, and finish off with specific books written by people who flew Lancaster bombers over Germany. I have also consulted books on the British Home Front. Start broad and finish specific. The second piece of the book deals with the German Civil Defense system, particularly the fire brigades and how they coped with devastating fire bombing raids. This proves a little more difficult to research as there is not a large amount of material in English. For this aspect, I use interview notes I’ve complied while speaking with those who experienced the war in Germany as civilians, including some who served in the Luftschutz and/or the fire brigades. These interviews were conducted long ago, and long before I decided to write a book. I also read general history books about Nazi Germany, then books specifically about Berlin during the War (and there are some great ones), and finally the published recollections of German civilians. I’ve also uncovered some excellent training videos done by the German government to instruct civilians how to respond to incendiary bombs. For the sake of comparison, the study of the London Fire Brigade during The Blitz and of the British ARP and Civil Defense system has been important too.

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Bomber Boys. 45% of all RAF Bomber Command aircrew were killed in action.

In some ways, I feel as though my entire life has been one big study session and this novel is my final exam. In that case, I hope I pass. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. Writing is a difficult enough undertaking, but with historical fiction I feel a solemn obligation to get it as “right” as I can. I feel I’d be doing a great disservice to the men and women who lived through this tumultuous period in our past if I fudge the truth. Maybe that’s asking too much of myself. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction where the author is so knowledgeable that they can’t help but dump massive amounts of information in a single paragraph to the detriment of the story. To help resist that urge, my motto is : “Storytelling first”. Tell the story and weave the history around it, do not weave the story around the history. But get it right, nonetheless.

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My book is divided into four parts. It takes place over the space of 36 hours and there are four main characters, one male and one female in England and the same in Germany. (There are, of course, a host of secondary characters who dance across the pages. Some for longer than others.) Each chapter is from the point of view of one character and each part has eight chapters. This is how part one is structured:

Part One: Afternoon, Sunday, November 21, 1943

Chapter One begins with Flying Officer Michael O’Hanlon, 22, as he finishes up his weekend pass with his fiance Grace. He has one more mission to reach his 30th which will give him a spell off of operations and an assignment to a training unit. They have plans to marry then. His reason for a weekend pass? The previous Wednesday he brought his plane back from a night mission over Germany with a dead top turret gunner, a dead wireless operator, and a seriously wounded navigator. His Lancaster received heavy damage and his crew got the time off to allow for repairs and to allow for replacement crewmen to be found. Now he will fly his last mission with half his crew inexperienced.

Chapter Two begins in Germany where Oberwachtmeister Karl Weber is teaching a class to a new draft of recruits. These aren’t military recruits, however. Karl is a veteran member of the Berlin Fire Brigade. One of the few men with experience still around owing to the constant drain on German manpower in Russia. Even Karl served during the early days of the war before a wound allowed him to resume his civilian occupation where he’s served since 1929. His recruits? Four young Hitler Youth boys 15-6 years old. Full of love for their Fuhrer and a belief in their own invincibility. The other four recruits are four young women who range in age from 17-20. It will be with these kids that Karl and the three older men at the station must wage a very different war than that waged by Michael O’Hanlon. While one drops bombs, the other tries to save lives amidst the rubble. Both are scared, yet they do their jobs anyway.

Chapter Three follows Grace Robinson,21, the daughter of a doctor and the only surviving child now that her brother, a Commando, was killed at Dieppe, as she leaves Michael at the train station. She can tell something is wrong with him, but she doesn’t know what. They haven’t known each other for long, just a few months, really, but she desperately wants him to return after his next mission so they can get married. Grace has not told her father of her plans to marry, much less her plans to marry an Irish Catholic from Belfast. She also harbors a deep secret, one which is alluded to, but that she won’t speak openly about. Should she tell Michael before they marry? Grace wanted to tell him while he was on leave but decided not to burden him with it before his next and hopefully last flight. Grace understands as much about Michael’s war as any civilian could. She was in London during The Blitz and knows firsthand the power of bombs. To that end, she and Ursula might get along if their countries weren’t at war.

Chapter Four introduces us to Ursula whom we briefly met at the end of Chapter Two. She’s a serious, redheaded German girl who lives on the edge of Charlottenburg in the western part of Berlin. Her parents are dead. Frau Muller died in an accident in 1937. Herr Muller, a Social Democrat who referred to the Nazis as ‘Hitler and His Circus Clowns’ died of a heart attack on the day Germany invaded Poland. This was perhaps for the best as he was spared the deaths of his two sons, both killed on the Eastern Front. Ursula got those telegrams instead. She works as a telephone operator and shares a small apartment with two other young women, also phone operators. But she nurses her own deadly secret. We follow Ursula as she delivers forged identity papers to a group hidden in a warehouse. They have another assignment for her tomorrow night. Pick up a pistol and deliver it. She leaves the warehouse, in the middle of the blackout, and reaches her apartment building as the air raid sirens begin to howl in the distance.

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Each of these chapters are taking place simultaneously. The next block of four chapters which finish up Part One pick up where each of these chapters leave off. My working title is So Others May Live though I am also strongly considering A Terrible Symphony which was how reporter Edward R. Murrow described a night trip over Berlin in a Lancaster ten days after this story takes place. Which one do you like best? Since I’m not finished with the book, I’d not wedded to any particular title.

Many thanks to you all for sharing this journey with me. I do not know everything there is to know about World War 2, but I do know a lot. I’d be more than happy to help anyone with their war related questions and I place my library at your disposal. If you’d like to know specific titles I’ve found useful whilst researching my novel, please ask and I’ll forward you a list.

Hutch

 

 

Where it Began

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When I was a kid in the 80s, I remember watching a made for TV movie about the well known Anastasia imposter Anna Anderson. This sparked an interest in the fall of the Romanov Dynasty. In junior high, I read Massie’s masterpiece Nicholas and Alexandra. In 10th grade, my World History teacher showed us the movie in class.This was shortly after the Russian’s announced the discovery of the first grave with 9 bodies. Over time, I branched out and studied other areas of Russian History as well, particularly their role in the Great Patriotic War. I even began to study the language. I remember waiting with much excitement the results of the DNA testing done on the first set of remains and on the second set found in 2007. At last, we had a final ending to the story and I’m glad it happened in my lifetime.

I am not a monarchist by any means. I abhor the idea of a nobility where one man is better than me by virtue of his birth. However, I cannot help but feel pity for the children of the Tsar given the horrible manner in which they died. No matter the alleged “crimes” of their father, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei did not deserve their fate. But one of the daughters has held a special place in my heart from when I first saw the above photo many years ago.

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Maria Nikolaevna Romanova. My wife (aka The Redhead) says I have a history crush on Maria, perhaps because I keep a photo of her on my desk. Given the fact that The Redhead has not one but two photos of Manfred von Richthofen on her desk (she’s German, so…..), she has no room to criticize. And who knows? Maybe she’s right. Maybe I do have a bit of a history crush. But it isn’t just that. For some reason, in the photos Maria looks as though she’s looking straight into my eyes, and perhaps my soul. All of Nicholas’ daughters were beautiful young ladies, though each in their own way, but Maria speaks to me the most.

I’m not Russian Orthodox. I’m Irish Catholic. As such, things such as icons are frowned on officially (though we are allowed our candles…..I guess that is “different”). However, I have an icon of the Romanov Family (Holy Martyrs/Passion Bearers) on my wall. As a former police officer, Saint Michael is my homeboy. I wear a medal with his likeness on a chain and I speak to him daily. Before I leave the house each morning, I repeat “Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle….etc”. But I also speak to Maria Nikolaevna. I tell her of my hopes and fears, and of my battles with disease and injury. I ask her to intercede on my behalf, and I like to think she does.

One day I’ll get to meet her, after my body final gives up the fight. Perhaps my spirit will travel back in time so I can dance just one waltz with her at a ball in Saint Petersburg. After that, I have other places to go and people to visit, but she’s the one I’d like to meet first. So maybe it is a history crush. Or maybe it is just a profound respect.

L.H.