Happy New Year to all my readers and future readers! I am so grateful to everyone who has already read Major Tom’s War, wherever in the world you may be (India, Canada, America, France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere…). Your feedback has been so kind, constructive and positive. As a début novelist, I am so grateful to each and every one of you.
2019 promises to be an exciting year, with second edition tweaks to get down to and a French edition in my sights. Not to mention the itch of a new novel in a similar genre(which may overlap a little with Major Tom’s War) which simply won’t go away!
After the joys and trials of Christmas and New Year I thought you might like to join me for a bracing winter’s walk through the ancient Mormal forest, not far from Bavay in Northern France. This dense area of woods, slightly smaller today than in 1914 – 1918, but still teeming with deer and wild boar, will require no introduction to those who have completed Major Tom’s War. For those of you who have yet to begin, here is a brief account of its significance – I hope without too much of a spoiler alert!
Soon after the Great War began in 1914, the small British Expeditionary Force was beaten back fast and hard towards the coast by an immensely powerful and much greater German army. The retreat became a rout and the Forêt de Mormal split the retreating army into two. Its woodland fringes became a bloody battlefield. Some regiments were ordered to protect the retreat in any way they could. Many men paid the price for this, while a very few, probably those familiar with forests from home, managed to hide in thickets or clamber up trees. They must have watched, unseen, with a combination of relief and terror, as the German army advanced past them.
These Allied soldiers became the concern of certain communities in the area of Northern France occupied for the duration. They managed to remain hidden for some time, fed and protected by local people (perhaps for example the grandparents of the two cheery hunters we encountered on our walk) until the weather turned colder and the leaves began to fall from the trees… but to know what happened next, you will need to read the book.
I was able to explore the Forêt de Mormal with my cousins Pippa and Roger Clegg, who chose the walk from a selection of leaflets offered by our helpful hosts the Mirapel family at the Auberge du Bellevue in Bavay. Locquignol was only a 20-minute drive away.
We placed a small poppy cross at the foot of one great beech tree adjacent to a very deep ditch which we had scrambled across. I wonder if any readers will ever spot it there, in the heart of the forest? I had not walked through this area before writing Major Tom’s War, but even so we all agreed it was like walking through the pages of the novel. This was particularly the case when we crossed the long, straight, Roman roads which criss-crossed the forest, but I cannot explain why without ruining the read.
We skirted the pretty village of Locquignol and enjoyed its quiet pasture edges.
This would have been a more ancient forest with older trees then. Most of the tree cover now dates back no more than a century, but it is still a timeless place, somewhere to walk slowly and wonder at small things.
I hope you have enjoyed this virtual walk – thanks for your company!