Thanks, Charlie, for hosting me today
No one really wins a war. Even if one side is ‘victorious’ over the other, it comes at a very high price for both sides. Often those who survive are left with not only physical injuries, but mental and emotional ones too.
During WWI post traumatic stress syndrome was not recognised or understood. Soldiers suffering from it were either sent back to the front lines or shot for desertion if they ran because they couldn’t face returning to the horrors that had already scarred them. Many who fought refused to talk about their experiences, even years later. Recurring nightmares were common. So was jumping at loud noises as it threw them back into the memories of the battlefield, and the sound of bombs and gunfire. Many men saw their friends die in front of them. Accounts of seeing men caught in the barbed wire between the trenches and no man’s land are common. I’ve read several stories of men caught in a bomb blast while climbing the wire, and the only thing left of them are an arm, or a leg.
In Wings of Song, Jochen and Aiden fight on opposite sides of the war, but neither of them escape unscathed. Six year later, when they meet in London, both men can see the difference in each other. Both have lost so much, and still have nightmares about what happened to them and those around them. Although I knew they were damaged, I didn’t realise just how much until I began writing their story. I had originally thought about giving them a series as I want to write a detective series set in the 1920s, but it soon began clear that it couldn’t happen. They’ll still be there, but as side characters, or appear as a cameo.
My grandfather fought in the trenches in WWI. My father spoke of how he never talked about it and how the family said his health was never the same afterwards. Sadly he died before I was born so I never had the opportunity to meet him. He was an artist, and from I’ve heard, very much like my dad in personality.
Many families grew up having lost loved ones, or had them return as a completely different person from who they were before. Often the psychological injuries were far worse than the physical, and much harder to heal. For many they never really did.
Yet, despite this, and with the memories of everything and everyone they’d lost still fresh in their minds, just over ten years later the world was at war again. People often ask me why I write stories set during WW1 and II. There’s a saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I think that’s why it’s important to remember those who fought in the war, and not whitewash their experiences.
Lest we forget.
Title: On Wings of Song
Author: Anne Barwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 110 Pages
Genre: Historical, Gay Romance, European
Release date: December 24, 2014
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.
The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.
“I’ve seen it,” Aiden said quietly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.” He looked directly at Jochen. Jochen met Aiden’s gaze. He’d seen an echo of Conrad’s fire in Aiden when he’d talked about his music earlier that afternoon.
“Don’t die on the wire, Aiden.”
“I’ll try not to.” Aiden’s words were an empty promise. They both knew it, but what else was he going to say?
The red-haired man Aiden had spoken to about arranging the burials walked over to him. He too held a shovel, and he wiped perspiration from his brow despite the cold. “There’s going to be a combined service for the dead,” he told them. “In about ten minutes in no man’s land in front of the French trenches.”
As they made their way over, men were already beginning to gather, soldiers from opposite sides sitting together, conversation dwindling to a respectful silence. A British chaplain stood in front of them, a Bible in his hand, a German beside him. Jochen recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The young man was only a few years older than Jochen and was studying for the ministry—would he ever get the chance to complete those studies?
Jochen and Aiden found somewhere to sit a few rows back from the front and joined the company of men. The German spoke first. “Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde dein Name.”
The British chaplain repeated the words in English. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”
They then spoke a few words each, some from the Bible, the rest from their hearts. Their congregation was silent apart from a few quiet “amens.” Jochen saw a couple of men wipe tears away. He was close to it himself.
Finally the chaplain bowed his head in prayer. When he’d finished, he spoke quietly to the man who had come to stand next to him. It was Captain Williams. He nodded and looked over the crowd, his gaze fixing on Aiden.
Aiden must have guessed what Williams wanted. He inclined his head in response and then stood. Jochen glanced between the two men, confused. What did Williams expect Aiden to do?
“Aiden?” Jochen asked softly.
Aiden smiled at him and began to sing. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining….” He lifted his head, his voice strong and clear, each note building on the last to create something truly beautiful, something angelic. Aiden’s eyes shone; his body swayed slightly in time with the music. He was the music.
His audience sat in awe. Jochen could feel the emotion rippling through the men around him, tangible, as though he could reach out and touch it. He felt something inside himself reach out, wanting to be a part of it, to be carried along the wave of pure music, to grab it and never let go.
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.