Thank you for inviting me to write a guest blog.
In 1915, my grandfather and his brother enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces and set sail for what so many believed would be the adventure of a lifetime. Teach the Germans a lesson and be home by Christmas. For the next three years they were involved in horrific battles on the Western Front – Amiens, Fromelles and Villiers Bretonneux to name a few. Both came home but were never the same men again.
In 2015, I joined an Anzacs on the Western Front tour, visiting those battlefields. Looking at the lovely towns and villages it was hard to imagine the horrors of that war until our guide held up enlarged photos of blackened, treeless wastelands torn apart by shelling and littered with bodies of men and horses. Visiting the immaculately kept Commonwealth War Graves and memorials was humbling. Thousands of graves of young men who never came home. Particularly sad was the inscription on so many headstones – “Known Only to God”. I could only assume their bodies were unrecognizable and their identity discs destroyed or buried in the mud or blown elsewhere. When our guide told us the huge numbers of deaths in each battle, it brought home the utter waste of that war and how awful the task would have been identifying and recording deaths and injuries on their service records.
After the tour ended, I got to wondering if it was possible for a soldier to swap identity discs with another who had been killed in battle. In those days, war service records were hand-written with basic personal descriptions – name, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, nationality, religion, height, weight and colouring. Curiosity grew to a real need to know because I was sure it would have happened — a soldier suffering shock and wanting to escape or desperate to make a new life somewhere else. As a historical fiction author, I believe we must research the era of our story to provide an authentic as possible background. We can’t throw our characters headfirst into history and hope for the best. So, I contacted London’s Imperial War Museum and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra asking that question — were discs stolen or swapped. Both replied that it was possible, but the chance of discovery was very real and the penalties very harsh. Neither would confirm it did happen but that was good enough for me to begin my third book, The Proposition.
They met on the eve of battle. One enlisted to avoid prison, the other enlisted to avoid the money lenders. On the bloodied fields of France, Harry Connelly collapses beside the corpse of Andrew Conroy. It’s a risk, a hanging offence, but it’s his only hope for a future. Harry swaps identity discs. Now Andrew, he’s just another face in post war London until a letter arrives with a proposition, plunging him into a nightmare of murder, family jealousy and greed. To survive he must live this lie without a mistake, until Lacey, the truth and the consequences.
“Excuse me, call of nature.”
The niggling coil of unease had been growing and now, as Andrew watched the dining room door close behind Elliot, his instincts were jabbing at him. His host had been charming and hospitable. Last night, after a delicious dinner at Browns Hotel, they’d touched on their family connection, unsure of what to say without offending the other. Elliot had twirled his glass between his fingers. “My grandparents made a lot of money from the textile industry, my father sold seventy percent of those businesses and invested in other profitable enterprises. To put it simply, he was a very astute, successful businessman, but I’m afraid he was not a good husband and father. He cared little for us and it distresses me that he cared even less for you and your mother.”
Today, Elliot had proudly introduced him to his pride and joy, a dark grey Austin-20hp and they’d motored smoothly out of London and onto the soft Essex countryside. When they’d stopped at Thaxted’s Swan Inn for lunch, Elliot had commented, “Every spare acre in Essex has been growing vegetables, doing their bit for the war effort and rationing.” When they continued on to Saffron Walden, he’d pointed to his left, “Railway station, a branch line from Audley End. Made a big difference to this town.” They’d stopped briefly in High Street, then through the marketplace, bumping over cobblestones to a wider road and finally stopping at the entrance of a large Victorian house. He’d been shown to his room overlooking the rear of the house with its garden rows of vegetables.
Elliot had apologised again, business to attend to and please make himself at home. Not used to the substantial meals, he’d slept until five pm. At seven pm, he’d joined Elliot in the dining room where silver serving dishes containing roast beef, baked potatoes and green vegetables sat on spirit warmers. “Very informal this evening,” Elliot had said breezily. “I asked my daily help to prepare something easy for us, so please, help yourself.” The only time his host’s friendliness disappeared was when the daily help tapped on the door to tell him she’d answered the phone and left the message on the phone pad. Something was very wrong, or perhaps he was too jumpy from living on this tight rope of lies.
The door opened again. “Much more comfortable,” Elliot grinned. “More wine?”
“No thank you, I might not be able to climb the stairs, but I must thank you for another very pleasant evening.”
Elliot’s grin disappeared. “It’s time to discuss the business proposition which will give us both what we want.”
“I confess I was intrigued when I received your letter,” Andrew replied guardedly.
“You will perform a service and if that service is completed satisfactorily, I will pay you three hundred pounds and pay your outstanding debts.”
Andrew went perfectly still. “Perform a service?”
“You will impregnate the woman I married.”
About the Author
Jan Selbourne grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Her love of literature and history began as soon as she could hold a pen. Her career started in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting then a working holiday in the UK brought the history to life. Now retired, Jan can indulge her love of writing and travel. She has two children and lives near Maitland, New South Wales.