Friday, 4 July 2014

The Wars that influenced The Housemaid's Daughter

As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I have been struck by how short a period of time elapsed before that generation became caught in a second world war at the end of the 1930s. In the space of 20-odd years, the world stood on the brink of another huge conflict. And the men who had fought in the trenches were being called upon to serve again.

The call was heard in South Africa, former British colony and staunch ally from the earlier Great War. My father, a pilot, volunteered to join the RAF, and served in North Africa. As did my uncle, who honoured his background by joining the SA Irish and seeing action as an infantryman there as well. Sadly, he died at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh in 1941. Both my father and my uncle were too young to have served in the Great War, but they went to battle with the clear knowledge from their parents of what a terrible conflict it had been.

When I was developing the plot for The Housemaid's Daughter, I patterned the character of Phil on my late uncle. (In a previous blog I have written about how I discovered my uncle's grave in Libya, via the efforts of the SA War Graves Project.) However, I wanted the fictional Phil to survive the battle and return to South Africa to play his part in the novel. In addition, I wanted to reflect the hugely damaging effect of shell shock - what we now call post traumatic stress - that has affected so many in both World Wars, and also in recent conflicts. As I wrote about Phil and his struggle to overcome the legacy of his war, I read about how today's soldiers and civilians are being rehabilitated from the same tragic condition.

I hadn't meant this blog post to be depressing, but it is sad that we are still subjecting young men and women to the same kinds of shocks that so devastated an earlier generation on battlefields that are now 100 years old...

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