In Wounded: a Great War novel, Snow is wondering how it came to be that he ended up in the war. He thinks about Connie, ‘… she who vowed undying love and showed me the white feather of cowardice when I didn’t enlist immediately, marrying Tom the electrician practically the minute the troop ship cleared Sydney Heads. … Now, there’s Connie, starting a family back home and here’s me stuck in a khaki column marching to battle in France.’
The idea for this came from a letter to my mother from ‘Tom’, which I found inside an embroidered card in dad’s shed. I believe Tom and my mother were engaged but she broke off the relationship and soon after met and married my father (in 1921). As George tells Gilles in 2009 in Wounded: ‘… Lily peeked through a crack in a paling fence and saw him, “bright as a brass button with a beer in his hand” …. Her sisters warned her not to get involved. Certainly, break off the engagement with the plumber who’d returned mentally ill from the war, but getting in with another returned serviceman was “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.” Lily didn’t care, she loved dad at first sight ….’
Here is an abridged version of the letter from Tom to my mother I found inside the card.
My Dearest Doris
Just a line to let you know I am still in the land of the living and am keeping in the best of health. We are out having a good rest and am not having too bad a time of it but I am full up of it all. …The weather over here is very cold and one cannot get his feet warm. It is only about five o’clock now and I am laying in bed writing this note and am shivering and my feet are like a block of ice. I only wish I had someone to keep me warm. … A lot of the boys think the French girls lovely. They can all think for mine as I think they are not a patch on the dear old Aussie girls…. I suppose you are having lovely weather in Sydney about this time. I only wish I was over there having some of the good old times we use to all have down the beach. Doris, do you remember that last Sunday you were over at Mosman before I left and how I tormented you while we were waiting for the boat down at the wharf. Well, that will be nothing to what you will get if god spares me to return to the old home again. You may think I have got use to being away after being over here so long but I will tell you the gospel truth. There is not a night that I lay down to sleep and I am not thinking of you all and wondering how long it will be before we shall be together again ….Well, my dear, I don’t think I have any more news to tell you this time so will close with love to all out home and heaps of love and kisses to your own dear self.
This is the original photograph from which the cover for Wounded: a Great War novel was extracted. It shows my father, Victor John Collin Lewis (b 1895) and his half-brother, my uncle, Albert Edward Worsley ( b 1884), on Salisbury Plain, England, in 1917. Readers of Wounded will note that Snow’s (Victor’s) best friends are named John, Collin and Louis. The reason is not entirely arbitrary. Because I did not know my young father, the thinking was that perhaps a composite of the four friends might give some indication of his true character as an infantryman. The truth is, I have no idea whether it does or it doesn’t; the reader can decide. Certainly, the fact of Victor having a half-brother stirred the imagination and this photograph watched over me throughout the entire preparation of the book, spurring me on when the going was tough and the motivation, flagging.
You may need to magnify this copy of a letter to my father penned by an affectionate admirer in 1918 from 4 Richmond Hill, Bournemouth, England, while he was recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound, but it illustrates well the many thousands of romances that blossomed through the Great War, indeed, one might argue, in spite of it, and of course, triggered in my mind the romance between Snow and Cozette, which forms such an important element of Wounded: a Great War novel.
Bearing in mind that all characters in Wounded are fictitious except for a few senior military personnel, this is a photograph of dad’s mother, my grandmother, May Robinson (c. 1868-1941). Snow stares at a photograph which has arrived from home along with a parcel of goodies just before leaving for battle at Bullecourt and thinks, ‘That’s mother all right; red, white and blue as the Union Jack, brazen Lancashire eyes accosting me, the intimation of a smile on her lips but more obdurate than warm.’
Here’s a card sent by dad’s half-brother, Albert, to their mother May (Robinson) from ‘somewhere in France’. Dad is second from the right, standing, and Albert is on his right, arm around dad’s shoulder. It looks like they’re outside a boot-maker workshop. Dad doesn’t look too well and I think he was about to undergo an operation for appendicitis, which wasn’t entirely successful. Of course in my writer’s mind, this group became the ‘gang’: lanky Collin on Snow’s left, John with his arm around Snow’s shoulder, next to Horrie and Big Louis and, kneeling in front of Snow, Siddy (Snow’s hand on his shoulder) and Badge. In Wounded, Snow survives a serious gunshot wound at Passchedaele only to almost die from complications attending an appendix operation..
My Darling son, trusting you will find some little comfort in this parcel. These few flowers are Pansies and Canterbury Bells. The Pansies are out of Aunty Bella’s garden.
With tons of love and kisses from Mother xxxxxxxx
PS: Flannel Flowers, Boronia, Kangaroo Paw, Gumleaf enclosed.
Love from Dad.
In Wounded, between terrible battles in the Ypres Salient, Snow and his mates go wandering around Poperinghe looking for souvenirs and postcards, ‘fair dinkum six-bob a day tourists’. Silk postcards are expensive and he is saving money for leave in Paris where he plans to meet Cozette again ‘ … but a favourite with mothers so I lash out and buy two, one for Mother and another for Maman Vandenberghe.’