Megan was becoming excited on the run up to Christmas day itself. It really thrilled her to see people coming into the tea room carrying gaily wrapped presents, their cheeks pinched and flushed from the frosty air. She’d hear them chatter about their plans for the festive season to one another and to her employer.
“Yes, Peggy, we’ll be spending Christmas with Alf’s folk in the country. They came to us last year, so it’s our turn to go there this year. It won’t be such hard work for me…”
“Oooh Peggy, I’ve bought my little Winifred this beautiful china doll, when I saw it in Edmonds’ Bazaar I knew she just had to have it. Won’t her face be a picture on the big day itself?”
“Could we order a couple of your miniature Christmas cakes to have with our tea, Peggy? They look ever so nice.”
Megan loved all the chatter, but at times her mind drifted back to the workhouse, though she knew that was the one day of the year the inmates looked forward to as the food was heaps better and they could see their relatives also interned at the workhouse. Usually, visits to one another were sparse. They were allowed a visit on a Sunday and sometimes for particular occasions like birthdays or if their relative were unwell. The workhouse divided families—that fact Megan knew all too well. Her family was still divided in a way but at least they got to meet occasionally at Mr and Mrs Evans’s home in Twynyrodyn, and she knew all were well cared for, including herself.
She was becoming increasingly concerned about Griff, he’d been practising hard at the Temperance Hall for a special show during Christmas week. He hadn’t called to the shop nor to Mrs Mathias’s house for the past two days.
She vowed to herself if he did not call tomorrow, she would seek him out herself, even though she hated setting foot in the China district of Merthyr. Mrs Mathias had warned her that young ladies had set foot in that place never to return home again. She said there were bad people there known as, ‘bullies’, who ran gangs of pickpockets and prostitutes. Megan still wasn’t sure what a prostitute was mind you. Though she had a fair idea that maybe the man who had accosted her that time was one of those bullies himself.
As Megan went about her business at the tea room that day, she noticed Peggy had a strange gleam in her eye and kept humming to herself. That was odd, she seemed so pleased with herself, but that was nice as she had worried so much about Eli of late. At the end of the working day, when it had grown dark and the last customers departed, wishing them both a ‘Merry Christmas’ as they left, Peggy locked the door and sat at one of the tables.
“Megan, please sit down, I have something to tell you…”
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Heartwarming Historical Fiction by Lynette Rees: perfect for fans of Dilly Court and Nadine Dorries.
Available from Amazon: https://lnkd.in/dP8qfCH
Eleven-year-old, Megan Hopkins, is an inmate at Merthyr Tydfil Union Workhouse. Megan’s family has fallen on hard times. Her hardworking collier father, was killed in a mining accident at Castle Pit Troedyrhiw, and her mother has six mouths to feed, besides her own, so they all find themselves interned at the local workhouse. One day, Megan has been asked by the matron to fetch some shopping as there’s a Board of Guardians meeting that afternoon, she is skipping past the Temperance Hall holding a wicker basket in her hand, when she’s stopped in her tracks by the most melodious voice she has ever heard in her life. It’s the voice of an angel, called, Kathleen O’Hara. Megan doesn’t realise it, but their paths are about to cross and maybe a little magic is about to occur…
The Winds of Fortune Series: 1. The Workhouse Waif 2. The Matchgirl’s Dilemma 3. The Harlot’s Promise [due for publication in 2018] 4. The Cobbler’s Wife [due for publication in 2018]
My historical fiction novel, The Matchgirl’s Dilemma, was published on Kindle yesterday. I plan to bring out the paperback edition within the next month or so. I am so excited about this book. I undertook a lot of research for it, which was quite harrowing in parts, to say the least. Those matchgirls were treated badly by their bosses at Bryant and May, and some even met their deaths by having encountered the dangerous white phosphorous employed at the factory that the government of the time refused to ban. When they were of no further use to the company, they were tossed away like spent matches, but those fierce flames forged ahead with the help of social activist, Annie Besant, to address their concerns about conditions at the factory. They brought about a revolution for the workers of this land, helping to form the trades unions we know of today.
A shiver coursed Lottie’s spine. She was just about to tell Oliver this was the woman she had met outside the factory, then thought better of it.
Annie Besant stood firm on the wooden podium, the red ribbon in her hair that was her trademark, fluttering in the summer breeze, her knuckles white, as she began, “The people have been silenced. I will be the advocate of this silence. I will speak for those who aren’t able to speak. I will be the Word of the People…”
There was a tremendous ripple of applause, and for the first time, Lottie noted there were a lot of women in the crowd and one or two she recognised from the factory.
“Go on, give it to them, Annie!” a man shouted from the back of the crowd.
“There is one factory in this area where the young girls and women are battered into silence. They aren’t allowed a voice, but I am. This is the same factory where they work long hours for little pay. They work with a chemical called phosphorous that is so dangerous it can eat away at your bone and believe me, there have been deaths!”
There was a huge collective gasp from the crowd and Lottie turned to look at Oliver who was staring intently ahead, his eyes fixated on Annie Besant, but his glare was hard and unflinching. It was obvious he was no fan of the woman or her politics.
“That’s terrible!” a woman shouted.
“These poor girls if they even drop a box of matches on the floor they’re forced to pay for it from their own money!” Annie Besant continued. “Those young girls and women can’t speak for themselves, so I propose that there is safety in numbers and that soon there will be a walk out at the Bryant and May factory!” she shouted as people cheered, some threw their hats in the air.
Oliver remained stone-faced. “I think it’s time we left before unrest breaks out,” he said firmly, and although Lottie yearned to stay, she guessed there might be truth in his words. In any case, her mother would be worried about her. He took her by the arm and guided her through the jostling crowd, who were listening with avid interest, but how she longed to stay behind and hear more of what Mrs Besant had to say on the matter.
“That woman is a trouble maker,” he said, once they were well away from the throng. “She was involved in that demonstration at Trafalgar Square last November when all that unrest broke out. Two thousand police and four hundred troops were brought in to halt the demonstration…”
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There was talk that maybe this war was coming to an end. It had been going on for three long years, but Adele dismissed it as rumour-mongering—no such luck, she expected. Though people said the arrival of the Americans would hasten the defeat of the German army.
To the North East of Ypres, things weren’t going too well. At Passchendaele in October 1917, it did little but rain for the entire month, so that many soldiers went down with trench foot, such were the conditions they had to endure from the cold, rain and mud. It really was a hell on earth for them. The Third battle of Ypres had been launched on the 31st of July, 1917 and continued until the fall of the village of Passchendaele on the 6th of November. Adele prayed for the day when it would all come to an end.
She had become increasingly concerned about Belinda, after discovering she’d joined the Suffragette Movement back home. They were the women, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst, who fought for women’s rights. But they were sometimes inclined to violence and only in 1913 had blown up David Lloyd George’s house, and all this whilst he was thought to be a supporter of the right of women to vote. It made Adele wonder if they could do that to someone who supported their cause, what would they do to someone who didn’t?
Though Belinda had informed Adele in one of her very long letters that Miss Pankhurst had instructed the Suffragettes to stop their campaign of violence and to support the government and its war effort, so that demonstrations were more peaceable, but Adele still remembered the buildings the women had set on fire and the letter bombs. She hoped Belinda would not get herself involved in anything like that.
Adele’s thoughts jarred back to the present moment as a man was brought into the tent by two stretcher bearers, shivering and shaking so badly that he almost toppled off it.
“Shell shock!” The bearer, whose name was Arthur, said.
Of course, she’d immediately recognised the condition. “Between me and you,” Arthur carried on, “I hope for his sake whilst he’s over here he doesn’t get discharged as they’ll send him straight back out to The Front. Only a few months ago this happened, they got sent to that hospital that takes the overflow from ‘ere, and the poor bastard was sent back to his death. He just couldn’t take the noise of the explosions.”
“Ssh!” Adele warned. “I don’t want us to disturb this man’s mind any more than it already is.”
Arthur nodded. “Sorry, Doctor Owen. It’s just it makes me feel so angry.” She noticed a tear in his eye and patted his arm.
“I know you are, Arthur. I dislike it myself the way the men get treated, and sometimes it’s by their own superiors who should be taking care of them.”
He nodded. “Very well, Doc, we’ll leave him here. But please try to put some kind of word in for him, send a message to the hospital when he gets there. This man can take no more. His name is Donald by the way.”
A lump arose in Adele’s throat. How she wished she had the authority to do what she could with the men when they were due for discharge. Even some who had been sent to British hospitals had been despatched back to The Front instead of returning home to the families who loved them. What kind of war was this?
She leant close to the man and whispered in his ear, “Donald, we’re going to get you fit and well again, I promise you that.”
He shivered uncontrollably as his limbs made sharp jerky movements. “Nurse, a strong sedative, please!” She called out to Morag.
Morag returned a couple of minutes later with an injection which Adele administered to the man, within ten minutes he was asleep and his muscles had ceased jerking.
“This is awful,” Adele complained to Morag. “Arthur told me that some of the men are this way due to the trauma of being told to take no prisoners. He explained to me that one young man had to bayonet a couple of German soldiers in the face, and as a result, developed facial tics. It’s a psychosomatic thing, almost as if the men take on the injuries of the men they have wounded or killed.”
Morag grimaced. “The ones who are going back to Britain, where are they being sent to?”
“Some have been sent to the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital. But Mr. Bellingham has told me that a psychiatrist will be at his hospital soon to try a talking cure with the men.”
“A talking cure?” Morag furrowed her brow. “Never heard of that before. How can that possibly help?”
“Well, the psychiatrist, Doctor John Bowden, says that it’s cathartic for the men to relive traumatic events. Some are having severe nightmares where they wake up screaming and shouting, it’s very scary, Mr. Bellingham says it disturbs the whole ward.”
“Yes, I can well imagine that happening…”
“Anyhow, Mr. Bellingham says that he’d like me to be involved in this talking cure thing and he’ll bring someone here to replace me.”
Morag frowned. “Och no. I’d hate to lose you here, Adele. I cannae be thinking of you leaving us all! You’re a brilliant surgeon, you’ve saved so many lives.”
“And lost a lot too along the way,” she replied sardonically.
“Ye cannae save everyone! What shall I do without you? You understand the nursing staff so well as you were once one of us.”
Adele looked her colleague firmly in the eye. “Well, this is what I was going to tell you…Mr. Bellingham has informed me that I can bring one person from the nursing team with me and I’ve chosen you, if you don’t mind?”
Morag’s eyes lit up. “Mind? I’m absolutely over the moon! I’m ginna afta give ye a big hug, hen!” She embraced Adele so tightly, she could hardly breathe, but it was nice to see her colleague so happy.
If they could just help one soldier like Donald, it would be something, Adele supposed.
I’m going to have to post a response to this article so that I can put it out of my head.
You have to forget writing for a living.
The assertion that self-published authors ‘are going to be marketing for a living’, the inference being that they’ll do this instead of writing, is one I must disagree with. As a self-published author, I spent 95% of my work time writing. It was, and remains, the absolute bulk of what I did. I am a writer – writers write. However, I appreciate this isn’t always the norm. Self-publishing, like traditional publishing, has authors of all different types. To play devil’s advocate, marketing is an essential part of all business. I have many writer friends who spend a greater portion of their time marketing themselves and their books than I do – the thing is, the traditionally published authors are just as…
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Adele had to admit, she’d shed more than just a tear that night and fallen onto her bed thoroughly exhausted. The bed itself was little more than a narrow camp bed, with a couple of army blankets to keep her warm, but it was a better condition to sleep in than those who slept on the floor on pallets who were at risk of being woken by rats that often found their way to the encampment. Though the relative few she saw, were nothing compared to the ones the soldiers themselves described in the trenches as being as ‘fat as cats’.
She had drifted into a deep sleep of dreams of her homeland and family when she heard a soft female voice beckon her.
“Och, Adele, wake up. We’re expecting another few ambulances full of injured men. I’ve brought ye a cup of tea before they arrive.”
For a moment, she thought she was still dreaming, until she opened her eyes and saw Morag, a young Scottish nurse from Dundee, holding out a tin mug of tea in her hand. Adele sat up and took it gratefully from her, it would be many more hours before she’d have the chance of another.
“Thanks so much, you’re very thoughtful.”
Morag smiled. Even in the dimly lit tent, where there were only a couple of lanterns lit, she could see the young woman’s dazzling smile. She was the sort of person who lit up a room with her presence, always positive, forever cheerful, an asset to be around.
Morag sat in a chair sipping her own tea, it would be hard work for her too later. Harder in some respects as she had to run hither and thither, looking for this and that for the medical team, whilst they only had to attend to the task-in-hand.
The nurses, though, sometimes did the doctors’ jobs if they were not around and were well-experienced. She knew that herself from the time she’d spent as a nurse back in Merthyr. The ward sister there could diagnose as well as any of the doctors, and more often than not, was correct with her diagnoses.
At first light, the ambulances arrived and the stretcher bearers brought in the casualties to the clearing station. Adele had had hardly any time to draw a breath for the first half hour or so, the large tent was in chaos as the injured were sorted into those requiring immediate surgery and those that could afford to wait. All the other casualties were in another tent. Some could wait, others were already dead by the time of arrival or else on the brink. Often Adele heard one or another of the men cry out with delirium, their limbs shivering, lips trembling. Shell shock, they called it. Some of the poor men would never be the same again. Fortunately, for some, with the right help, support and guidance, they became physically whole again, though they’d never forget the mental anguish, ever.
Worst of all were the firing squads—who on the command of a senior officer would shoot a deserting soldier, as they brought shame on the army and could prove a security risk if they fell into enemy hands. Adele often wondered if those poor men were just shell-shocked and refusing to take any more, their bodies shutting down, their need to escape, their only outlet from a hell on earth. Life in the trenches was arduous. Often they were stuck in inches of wet muck with no means of washing, changing or drying their clothing. Although they were told to change into clean socks and dry their feet, it didn’t always happen that way and as a result, many soldiers developed something known as ‘trench foot’, a painful condition. The constant mud and rain had exacerbated the condition for many. Often the foot would crack and change colour, then swell up as blood vessels and nerves were damaged in the process. If untreated, then gangrene could set in resulting in amputation to save the soldier’s life. One soldier arrived at the clearing station and his toes fell away when his socks were removed, the stench being unbearable. Adele had to inform him that his limbs had to be removed as soon as possible.
The sounds and smells they endured as they worked at the encampment was like nothing she’d ever witnessed before. Here, there wasn’t much cleaning up of areas, like at the hospital. It was very rough and ready, often a quick sweep and mop of the floor were all they had time for. No time to disinfect operating tables as time was of the essence, a delay could mean the difference between life and death. Often wounds were already infected from mud and manure from the fields, the medical staff were really up against it.
One young man lay on a gurney whimpering in the corner of the tent. There was no time to attend to him. Adele wished she could split herself in two, realising that a lot of her decisions meant the difference between life or death. She was in the midst of suturing a wound when the young lad cried out, “Mam! Where are you?”
Morag left the operating table as Adele was able to manage alone for a while. She knelt beside the gurney and took the lad’s hand. He wanted and needed his mother, but she was in a distant land. Adele watched Morag stroke the soldier’s head and softly kiss his cheek. A smile appeared on his face, he held out his arms as if he was embracing someone, and then he was gone, in the belief his mother was him. If there’d have been time, Adele would have wept, but there were many more casualties to attend to and she just didn’t have the time to spare. No time to ponder her decision on whether she’d have saved the lad if she’d operated on him first. Only God knew the answer to that.
Adele didn’t have the time either to dwell on her dry mouth, aching back and limbs, and her growling stomach. Something spurred her on, propelling her to get through the day’s work. James Bellingham was beginning to leave more and more cases in her capable hands to work at another hospital over the Belgian border in Northern France. That one was in a large château that had been taken over for the war effort. The men were transported there by ambulance and even trucks after their operations. If then found to be chronically unwell, they were shipped back to Britain, where special hospitals were set up to deal with the aftermath of burns, amputations and shell shock.
At that time, there was also pioneering plastic surgery being carried out at various British hospitals. Some of the men had received horrific burns to their faces and other parts of their bodies, making them barely recognisable to their families and friends.
The first time James had left her alone with the nursing team, she had trembled from top-to-toe, but a professionalism had taken over, along with a comforting word from Morag. After a couple of minutes of adrenaline coursing through her veins, she had calmed down, realising she was doing the best she could under the circumstances. James, who checked out her work when the casualties arrived at the hospital, informed her he was very pleased with her work indeed, which gave Adele an immense feeling of satisfaction.
It wasn’t planned that she would head a surgical team but there was little choice as one of the senior surgeons had fallen ill, so it was either in at the deep end or let the men die. There was no other choice.
Apart from a quick cup of tea and a small corned beef sandwich, it was 4.30 p.m. before Adele got to go off duty, when another surgeon, who had rested most of the day, took over for another long shift.
The cost of this war was high and seemed totally futile to Adele.
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