A recent comment on a post I published back in January about young Valentine Joe Strudwick piqued my interest; all your comments are interesting, of course they are, but you’ll see why I mention this one in particular.
It came from one Tim Atkinson, and part of it was as follows; “Joe Strudwick’s grave features in my own current Great War project – a lightly fictionalised account following an army search team as they go about finding and burying the bodies abandoned on the road to victory. Perhaps you’d care to take a look? ” So I did. And, bearing in mind the subject matter of theBigNote, what I found was of great interest. And I reckoned that if I found it of interest, many of you lot would too. So I contacted Tim to find out a little more. Searching questions like, Tim, who exactly are you?
“I’m a teacher-turned-writer, the author of five books (including the novel, Writing Therapy) and an award-winning blogger. In addition to winning the ‘MADs’ Blog of the Year award 2010 and the award for Best Blog Writer the same year, bringingupcharlie.co.uk has also been described as ‘puerile witterings’ by The Daily Mail.”
Puerile witterings? Mm. I think I can relate to that. My missus reckons she’s seen you on the telly, by the way. Anyway, I digress. Tell me about the project?
“Put simply, battlefield clearances, burials, exhumations and interments. The story of the men who served their King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel – that was the story I found myself compelled to start telling. And of course that’s not only a social, historical tale but a personal one too. Just as these men were helping build the monumental memorials to their fallen comrades that served as tokens of remembrance for the nation, they themselves were coming to terms with what they’d been through and rebuilding their own lives – amid the ruins of the war they’d fought.”
Okay. Spending as much time as I do in CWGC burial plots and cemeteries both at home and abroad, the whole issue of battlefield clearance has long been of interest to me. What was it that gained your interest in the first place?
“My interest in WW1 was originally piqued by a personal connection – my father’s great-uncle not only served for most of the war but was decorated too (MM, DCM and Bar) and I began to do a little research on his war service and, well, one thing led to another. He was in one of those Battalions (12th West Yorks) that suffered so heavily it was disbanded. Uncle Will became a member (briefly) of an entrenching battalion. A what? Finding out about that, about Labour Companies and all the many and varied things that soldiers did that didn’t involve firing guns and going over the top, that really started the whole thing off. I also have a friend whose grandfather was gassed, but who wasn’t even posted to France until 1919. Again, curiosity led to the discovery of entire battalions who remained in France and Flanders until 1921, as well as the fact that some men, once demobbed, didn’t return home at all – or at least, not until the outbreak of another war twenty-odd years later. I became intrigued by the fact that so many men who’d served – and survived – on the Western Front stayed on after the Armistice, often voluntarily, to clear the battlefields and bury the dead. In some cases, they remained as IWGC gardeners until the outbreak of World War Two. What was their story? Why did they stay? And what was it like doing what they did? The more I delved into this hidden world of the war, the more fascinated with it I became. And yet, it was also a frustrating quest because there really isn’t much ‘out there’. The odd book on the Labour Companies, brief mentions in War Diaries, and – of course – the wonderful official histories of the War Graves Commission all provided different pieces of the jigsaw. I spent time in Ypres tracing some of the local stories, walking the battlefields and visiting the cemeteries. I also spent time in the Imperial War Museum archives in London, accessing some first-hand accounts of the work of Labour Company men.”
Very interesting, I have to say. So, on to the practical stuff. Time for the pitch. How and where can people find out more?
“The book, The Glorious Dead, has been signed by Unbound, the world’s first crowdfunding publisher. They’ve been around since 2010 and have published books by Terry ‘He’s not The Messiah’ Jones and Raymond ‘The Snowman’ Briggs among others. The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth, published by Unbound in 2013, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and they’ve since published the best-selling Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. The Glorious Dead is crowdfunding now on the Unbound website (The Glorious Dead). There’s an introductory video and an extract from the book as well as a synopsis. So far, around 100 people have pledged their support for the book, which will be available in various formats from eBook to Hardback. Everyone who subscribes gets their name in the back of the book as well as regular, exclusive insights into the writing process. Plus the book, of course. Although for those who want to, there are also higher levels of support including book bundles, a soundtrack of the songs featured in the book, and even the original manuscript of the book in draft form – a collector’s item!”
So there you have it, folks. Seems to me that this is a most worthwhile project, indeed a necessary one. Do follow the link and check out Tim’s work – and if you feel like helping out I have no doubt he’d be hugely grateful!
The second & third photos, of Essex Farm, where Joe Strudwick is buried, and Tyne Cot, are Tim’s; the other three photos are mine, all from cemeteries I have yet to take you round.