Video about the project

Thursday, 9 May 2013

To the trenches

Here we go with the imagination. I’m thinking about the cold and damp. The lice and trench foot. Constant hunger. Constant fear. The trauma of seeing comrades killed. The adrenalin rush as they go over the top.  But also the live and let live policy. The Christmas truce. The thought that just sixty metres away there were men just like themselves, with the same concerns about their daily lives and the lives they’d left behind but fighting for the other side.   
I’ve had to include some of Leo’s First World War scenes. They offer some explanation about why he is the way he is in the early 1920s. About why he is disappointed with the world and why he seeks something more spiritual. Can I make Clara understand? Did she ever know what her son went through - even though she eventually goes through something even worse? I have to constantly paint her as a glass half-full type of person.
I’m including three extracts from Leo’s diary, a letter to Clara and a reaction from her.
And I need to do some more research. Probably in the area of repeated experience. I’d like to enrol for a trench experience but preferably one where you feel the cold, the mud under your feet and the fear.  How can we recreate the fear?
We’ve recently had an MA day at the university where I teach. Several of our creative writing students were clear about the symbiotic relationship between fact and fiction in biographical writing. They were a little less clear on the necessity for writers to submerge themselves in repeatable experiences and to understand their characters settings completely.  Might my reflection on that process here help them?                   


  1. My grandfather was in the trenches - and from what I discovered, was a cook. He survived from the beginning until the end of the war, but when he went home to his wife and children he couldn't relate to them any more. He died of bowel cancer a few years later, leaving my grandmother with those children - 7 of them - one of whom was probably severely autistic. Not surprisingly, she had a nervous breakdown. My own mother then became her carer, leaving school at the age of 12. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, the fact that I helped my mother to spell all those years later is actually a direct result of the tragedy of war.

  2. Yes, war touches for a long time. My husband and I both had parents directly and severely affected by World War II. My mother lost her first husband, my father had to help clear out Belsen, my mother-in-law was partly Jewish and came to England form Nuremberg on the Kindertransport. All of them were affected by this. "Clara" is my husband's great-grandmother.