As a Dr Who fan and someone obsessed by the First World War, I’m absolutely delighted to be part of the celebrations of The Wraiths of War by Mark Morris. The Wraiths of War, the third and final part of the Obsidian Heart time-travel series was published on 14th October 2016 by Titan Books. The Wraiths of War is available in e-book and paperback for purchase here and on Amazon.
I have great pleasure in welcoming Mark to Linda’s Book Bag today with a guest post all about WW1 as a setting and how we must not forget or repeat the experiences of those involved.
The Wraiths of War
Alex Locke is desperately trying to hold onto the disparate threads of the complex web of time he has created.
He travels to the First World War, living through the horrors of trench warfare in order to befriend a young soldier crucial to his story; then to the 1930s to uncover the secrets of a mysterious stage magician.
He moves back and forth in time, always with the strange and terrifying Dark Man on his heels, gradually getting closer to uncovering the true nature of his destiny with the obsidian heart.
World War One As A Fictional Setting
We’ve all seen movies and TV dramas set in the trenches. We’ve all seen how muddy and miserable it was. We’ve all heard about the full-scale slaughter at the Battle of the Somme. We all know about the ‘lost generation’ of British youth who went off to fight for their country and never came back.
We’ve all thought how terrible and terrifying that time must have been.
But we really don’t know the half of it.
Awful as the trenches always appear onscreen, research for my new novel The Wraiths Of War has taught me that TV and movie depictions of one of the darkest periods in human history are almost anodyne when compared to the awful reality of the situation. Onscreen, soldiers might be shown in the trenches with muddy boots, even sometimes with mud-spattered uniforms and faces, but in truth they were coated in mud twenty-four hours a day; there was no respite from it. There was nowhere to wash it off, not even from their hands, because water was in limited supply and was needed for drinking, not washing. As a result, as one survivor says in his memoirs, the boys in the trenches lived in mud, slept in mud, and even ate mud. Their heavy uniforms were filthy and invariably wet right through to the skin twenty-four hours a day, and there were many occasions, due to lack of facilities, when they wouldn’t change their clothes or unlace their boots for weeks on end.
Their rations – consisting largely of army biscuits, cheese and tins of bully beef – were often eaten hurriedly, and held in hands that were gloved in mud. Because of transportation problems (supplies to the front line had to be hauled through miles of communication tunnels, which were often impassable due to heavy rain and subsidence), the food often went rotten – but the men ate it anyway, because they had no other choice.
Much of the time the trenches were also swarming with flies (and fleas) and crawling with rats, which were so bold they would scamper over the bodies of the men at night, and even nibble on them if they weren’t careful. This lack of hygiene meant that sickness was rife, which resulted in a fighting force not of highly trained warriors, but of young men suffering from almost perpetual colds and flu, from dysentery, starvation, and sheer exhaustion due to sleeplessness – not to mention the psychological effects of constant trauma.
First-hand reports claim that the stench too was unbelievable. Imagine the sulpherous smell of poison gas drifting constantly across the battlefield. Imagine sharing a small space with a couple of dozen unwashed men, many of them suffering from diarrhea in a place with no plumbing and inadequate toilet facilities. Imagine living right next to a wasteland of mud into which numerous bodies, many ripped apart by explosions or gunfire, were decomposing.
This was really was life in the trenches was like, and not only for the allies, but for the enemy too. In fact, many of the accounts written by ordinary Tommies who survived the war emphasise the fact that for much of the time the Germans in their trenches on the far side of the battlefield were a secondary, even distant, consideration. The real enemy was the weather, the deprivation, and the sheer grinding boredom and misery of trench life, all of it underpinned by a constant, low-level sense of sheer mortal terror.
What those boys endured in pursuit of peace and the maintenance of liberty was terrible, shameful and heroic. Reading their accounts has made me realise that we should never forget them, not simply because they deserve to be remembered, but also because by remembering we will hopefully be more determined to ensure that such a terrible thing can never happen again.
(I couldn’t agree more Mark. My own grandfather was only 19 when he was blinded in one eye during the Battle of the Somme and had shrapnel wounds in his leg and side. He suffered pain from these for the next 68 years until his death at 87, but was never able to discuss the horrors he’d seen.)
About Mark Morris
Mark Morris has written over twenty-five novels, including four books in the popular Doctor Who range. He is also the author of two short story collections and several novellas. His short fiction, articles and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and he is editor of Cinema Macabre, a book of horror movie essays for which he won the 2007 British Fantasy Award.