11 November 2012


I don’t know how it happened - 11.11.12, and I am so much older than I feel. We had 11.11.11 last year, then 10.11.12 yesterday. Just numbers to reflect upon, seemingly insignificant dates, but is any date insignificant? I’ve been delving into history and the meaning of historic fiction. In a previous post I wrote of the intimate connection between history and stories; history teaches us – stories help us to really understand. History was born out of stories and stories are born out of history.

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Today I think of my character Sam in my “Dream of Christmas”. Sam never existed, but many Sams did exist, from whom Sam was born. They fought in the trenches of World War One long after Sam’s short story ended - as Sam would have done after the Christmas Truce ended, war resumed and real horrors repeated. Sam faced a temporary hope as hostilities ceased along the front lines on Christmas Day 1914. England felt the familiar loss to Germany at football in no man’s land; makeshift balls being fired instead of guns. Sam would have to wait another four years to shake hands with another German – if he even survived to November 1918.

I look at my history classes in school, which taught me about the horrors those brave men suffered so that we could have the lives we live today. After those lessons I knew, but my understanding was sparse. I wasn’t there to witness those horrors. My understanding came from behind a safe school desk; fed into my limited experience as a child. My experience didn’t equip me to imagine the implications of what was being taught. Much has been added to those teachings in my later years. I’ve read stories retold through characters that we can all connect with – stories told through their eyes, not by a list of facts printed onto a grubby school text book.

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I connected with these stories, and they along with my schooling have led to a much better understanding and appreciation of 11am on 11 November. I think of Sebastian Fawkes’ Birdsong, Michael Morpurgo’s Warhorse, and Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way which I’m currently reading. Having the story told through the eyes of a character you care about brings tangible understanding and empathy for what it was really like for those men. An empathy that a list of facts and dates can never bring. It’s just stories we’re reading here – but they bring a new respect. For me they are more than stories. They re-tell the truths that really did happen to men on a daily basis, so that we may understand, respect and never forget.

I think of Sam and his new German friend Dieter. I realise the horrors were no less great for Dieter than they were for Sam. Today I remember all the brave men who fought in a war which should never have been necessary. I’m a mere story-teller, who used to be a lawyer – but in my memory you will always live.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing with us.