Category: Time Heal my Heart

Fashionable Discomfit

Fashionable Discomfit


For many centuries women lived in a state of fashionable discomfit. Restricted physically as well as socially, women wore strangling whalebone corsets (see

The feminine corset became popular for women in the French court of the 1500s but originated in Italy. Catherine de Medici is credited as the designer. The idea was to fine tune a woman’s attractiveness by making her waist as small as possible and flatten her stomach.

These undergarments choked their waists into tiny unnatural measurements to achieve the desired hourglass figure and fashionable discomfit.

For centuries, a woman walked in beauty but also in pain, just like the Japanese women who for centuries had bound feet so they would look dainty. Never mind that walking was torture. Hence the shuffled gait of traditional Japanese women. Victorian corsets were the Western equivalent of this Eastern fashionable discomfit.

The corset evolves

From the 16th century to the 19th, the corset became firmer in its vice like grip on the female form. Whale bones hardened the original firm fabric sleeve encasing the midriff. Corsets forced ribs down and compressed stomachs. Another word for a corset became ‘stays’ as the middle of a woman’s body was not allowed to move.

Gradually by Edwardian times, the corset became more of a support for the bust and was a shorter version of its predecessors. By then steel as well as whalebone provided the support of the corset fabric.

Layers of Fashionable Discomfit

In the Edwardian years of the early 1900s, a British woman needed time to dress. She had to plan the event and needed a maid to help. First there were layers of undergarments, a petticoat, chemise, and drawers or pantaloons.

Then the dreaded corset that would cinch her middle in its whalebone vice-like grip. Countless whales gave their lives so women worldwide could achieve a 55 cm or 21-inch waist measurement. The corset did not just clamp a woman’s middle section as it was laced but propelled the bust forward to balance the bunched bustle of the dress over the buttocks.

This bustle padded out the derriere to a shapely but large bump, something akin to the present Kardashian penchant for a large bottom.

The health effect of corsets

Long-term wearing of a corset deformed the ribs and misaligned the spine. All in order to have a more ‘civilized form’. The constriction also led women to have breathing issues, causing a woman to feel faint or swoon. Certainly, she could not overexert herself while wearing one as the ribs could not move to inflate her lungs for a deep breath. Such enforced shallow breathing can affect all organs and their supply of oxygen. An imprint of the corset could be found on the liver and kidneys on autopsy of females of that time period.

One woman jokingly wrote, “It is important to note, that pregnancy has a similar effect on displacing a woman’s internal organs.” Women loosened their corset during later pregnancy but this apart from sleeping was the only time in a fashionable woman’s lifetime. Even when corsetry went out of fashion during the Roaring Twenties or Jazz Age, most older women retained them as an essential undergarment.

But that was not the end of the fashionable discomfit. There’s more to come.

Garters and Hatpins Complete Fashionable Discomfit

Elastic garters burnt into a woman’s thigh to keep stockings in place. Tight high-heeled boots, often laced, encased her feet making walking painful. Just to add to the long process of dressing. Then ladies added a large wide-brimmed hat with lots of fluffy feathers, flowers or artificial fruit and a deadly hat pin to keep the decorations or accompanying veil and scarf in place.

Now, hat pins were dangerous, a hazard to passing pedestrians. Often people in crowds scored a hatpin when least expecting an aerial attack. A device called an acorn became fashionable to have on the end of the point of the pin to protect other people.

For fashionable ladies, readymade clothes were not available to buy in the shops. Most women ordered their outfits from dressmakers who required 18 personal body measurements, plus height and weight to fashion an outfit.

Handbags and Hankies

And what about handbags you might ask? Where did a woman keep her small change and hanky? Apparently, men kept coins in their watches which popped open at the back and women wore a muff chain that fastened around their neck. This chain extended through a furry sleeve or glove, called a muff into which the wearer could insert both hands. Inside was a small pocket where such items as coins and hankies could lodge. Mystery solved.

But I just have to share this fascinating snippet about the origins of the hanky or handkerchief. Bobby Pin Blog at Vintage cites Marie Antoinette as the inventor of the lady’s hanky. Marie, an Austrian princess was so upset on the long trip from her homeland to France to marry Louis XVI, that she tore a strip of lacy petticoat to dab her tears. And oh, poor Marie how, years later, did she stem her tears as she climbed the scaffold of the guillotine in 1793, as a victim of the French Revolution?

However, the vintage style blogger though, as rapt as me in this story, does admit that upon further research the hanky dates to Roman times when it was a multi-functional piece of rag to dab not just tears but sweat and well, whatever. Say no more. But apparently Marie’s royal husband decreed that hankies should be square, as wide as they are long, probably the most useful shape. Can’t imagine round or triangular ones.

Liberation from fashionable discomfit

The change in women’s corsetry reflects the changing status of women in society, so fashion is a part of our history. During WWI metal was in short supply. The steel casing of corsets was part of the drive for metal meltdown to make much needed weapons. The corset of the post WWI era evolved again to cater for the straight form fashion of the Jazz Age flappers. Suddenly a small waist was not desirable, nor a shapely bosom. However, corsets were stiff still to flatten a woman’s natural curves. Then due to women’s involvement in the workforce and fighting of WWII, such garments became less and less a staple of women’s undergarment fashion. Eventually, the corset evolved into the brassiere and a woman’s waist was finally freed.

But according to corsets are still fashionable for occasional wear. Brides like to wear one under their wedding gown or later as a tantalizing bedroom outfit. They certainly are sexy and accentuate a woman’s shape. Without the tight lacing at the back, they can even be comfortable.


Do you like Victorian or Edwardian history? Stories about real women? Then try my historical novel series about two sisters based on a true story. Whispers Through Time, Time Heal my Heart and Last Time Forever tell the story of the lives and loves of Francesca and Winnie in the era of The Titanic sinking, World War One and Two and beyond to 1950. Set in Sydney, Australia and Europe.

Before a woman could have a voice, she had to free her body. Every woman deserves a voice, and each voice is unique. Find your voice and use it for good. Many women through century have defied a man’s world to add their voice for changes to patriarchal society. I feature some on this blog. See website link below.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels; Whispers through Time, Time Heal my Heart, Colour comes to Tangles and The Last Hotel. See website


The young Anzacs

The young Anzacs

Who were the young Anzacs who gave their lives for king and country? The answer is they were the ‘everyman’ and sadly the ‘every boy.’ Together the enlisted men and boys would make up The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZACS for short.  Some were as young as fourteen, most were in their late teens or early twenties. There was no checking of birth certificates as men enlisted. The armies of Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand were eager to send as many troops as possible to help Britain defend itself and half of Europe.

These young Anzacs from the distant colonies of Mother England answered the call to duty. Fuelled by the spirit of adventure and patriotism, they enlisted early in the 1914 war, The Great War as it was first called. Most had never been overseas and so the prospect of a paid ‘holiday’ abroad with macho mates was exciting. Plus being part of a war would be something to talk about for the rest of their lives. And didn’t the young girls love a fellow in uniform!

But all too soon they found themselves on the tragic beaches of Gallipoli. After just a few months of training in Egypt, they were sent to the slaughter. Gallipoli is a peninsular not a town and is near the ancient ruins of Troy.

Not how they imagined war

The young Anzacs first deployment to active service was not how they imagined. It was not the grand glorious adventure that they enlisted for. It was a hopeless situation and many young lads expecting to be home for Christmas would never return to Australia. It was 25 April 1915. Numbering 16,000, the Australian and New Zealanders tried to disembark from the ships under a hail of munition fire from the enemy.

The young Anzacs were literally sitting ducks. Before they even made it to shore after disembarking the boats, they were mown down by the gunfire from the Turks above. Those who managed to reach the beach had no shelter still. There was little overhang from the steep cliffs, so safety was a fair distance from shore. It was 25 April 1915. Numbering 16,000, the Australian and New Zealanders tried to disembark from the ships under a hail of munition fire from the enemy.

Did the young Anzacs regret coming to war?

How many of these young Anzacs then wished they were home with their parents or still working as a jackeroo on the outback sheep station? Despite their hardiness acquired from work in the harsh environment of Australia and New Zealand, nothing could prepare them for this situation. The Turks who were meant to be unaware of the beach landings and also poorly armed with weapons were quite simply not. On the rugged steep cliffs, they were well positioned above the newcomers, and despite the rumours, had machine guns.

A plan that went terribly wrong

The plan went terribly wrong. It was both poorly thought through and poorly executed. The troop numbers were less than planned and they landed at the wrong cove where the terrain was impossibly steep. Plus, the Turks were well armed and in position waiting. There was no element of surprise as originally intended. No minor scuffle and victory.Instead it became one of the most costly campaigns of the war, in terms of men killed and reputations in tatters.

Winston Churchill had been the instigator of the plan. He foresaw establishing a sea route from the Mediterranean to Russia. This mighty empire was the third and strongest part of the allied Entente along with France and Britain. This intended sea route could only be secured if the Allies could secure the Gallipoli peninsula which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Once achieved by a brief scuffle with the Turks, The Dardanelles strait would be under Allied control and a way onwards to Russia established.

The dead are remembered

But it didn’t go that way at all. After nine months of ghastly hostilities, the Allies finally had to concede defeat and admit their loss. They withdrew in December 1915 leaving behind 70000 dead. The Turks did not fare much better with 60000 dead. Today these men lay in the cemetery at Lone Pine where a ceremony is still held each year to remember their sacrifice. Since the tragedy April 25 has been called Anzac Day and is a date of remembrance both at home in Australia and New Zealand and in Gallipoli in modern day Turkey.

The day is remembered with a dawn service in many parts of the world but certainly in Australia and Turkey. It is held at dawn because this was when the troops first tried to land on the beaches. The holiday is not a celebration of war at all. Rather it is a day to hope that never again will so many fine young men die for so little. Nothing was achieved by the costly campaign. Turkey did not get ousted from the war, neither did the British clear a ship route to Russia.

Origin of the word ANZAC

The acronym is attributed to Major General William Birdwood and dates to Cairo in 1915 before the troops sailed to Gallipoli. The last true Anzac soldier was Alexander Campbell who died in 2002 aged 103. At just 16, he joined the army straight from school. Arriving October 1915 at Gallipoli he became a stores carrier. Young and agile, he ran up and down the rugged cliffs. Invalided home after the troop evacuation, he was discharged in 1916. The Australian War Memorial website has much information on men who served. The war memorial in our capital Canberra is also an amazing and moving place to visit.

The young Anzacs were volunteers

The men and boy Anzacs were volunteers. Conscription did not exist for WWI because so many were happy to go willingly to war. There was no need. Although Billy Hughes, the prime minister, made two attempts to introduce it via referendum. Both times in 1916 and 1917 the public voted a decided ‘No’. These men and boys gave their tomorrow for our today. Snuffed out in their youth so we could be free. How few are those who appreciate this sacrifice.

Aboriginal Australians legally were barred from enlisting. However, about a thousand of them did. If light skinned their presence in the ranks was undetected. It took many years before their service became recognised.

The Anzac Biscuit

On a lighter note, is the interesting origin of the Anzac biscuit. A staple in supermarkets and a standard recipe in cookbooks, it is made with butter, oats, coconut, sugar, flour and golden syrup. The original version was less sweet, much harder and square not round. Men accidentally broke their teeth on them. An army ration, they were suitable more for making porridge or thickening stew or even fried as fritters. Later, mums and sisters back home modified the recipe to be more biscuit like. They sent the biscuits in tins to their loved ones. The ingredients especially the sugar content made the biscuits travel well.

If you like stories about this time in history, you will enjoy my WWI novel based on a true story. Time heal my Heart is such a story of love, loss and sacrifice.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer with an interest in history. She has four published books, two historical, two contemporary. Meet Joni and her books on her website,



A railway journey through time

A railway journey through time

From the 19th century on the achievements and inventions of the human race transformed the world. Suddenly there were new ways to communicate and move around. So began a railway journey through time. Up until the age of steam engines, most people lived in the area where they had been born and rarely went further than a day’s journey from home.

The first railway journey

Steam was first used in engines for the emerging factories of the Industrial Revolution. Then later it was used to power boats. But only when the engines became smaller could they be used on wheels and the idea of railways developed. George Stephenson engineered a railway from Liverpool to Manchester using his son, Robert’s engine called The Rocket. It opened in 1830.

The Stephenson’s then built a longer line connecting London and Birmingham. The excitement caught on and soon the pair were helping other countries develop railways. This led the chairman of the modern British Rail to comment that the whole world travels on a branch line of the Liverpool to Manchester original.

No stopping the railway

Once the railways came, there was no stopping their momentum. They carried goods to and from factories and eventually displaced the canal system of transport. They carried people to cities for work and business and the ordinary folk to seaside locations for recreation. The countryside was linked by the networks and huge viaducts built to span gullies and rivers. Railways brought prosperity to isolated towns and scenic coastlines. Everyone wanted to take a railway journey.

An ode to the railways

Another son of a Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island book fame penned a poem, an ode to railways. It is called From a railway carriage and starts like this.

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches.
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

I love the pace and the rhyme. Quite catchy as poems used to be before free verse. I used part of this as a header for one of my chapters in my historical series novel, Time Heal my Heart. It seemed apt for the time of the early 20th century when railways moved to the suburbs. Before people had cars they moved around on bicycle, tram, bus and train.

Railways take priority

Let’s continue our railway journey through time. Once railway networks extended anything in their way had to move. They seemed to have priority. The whole of the St Pancras cemetery had to move and be relocated for the Northern London line. Thomas Hardy before he was a famous novelist worked on this project. he positioned all the gravestones around a giant oak tree that is now known as The Hardy Tree. This story features in my novel Whispers through Time.

Likewise, when Sydney some years later had to build a suburban network, the Devonshire Street cemetery had to be moved to allow for the Central Station. Today many bodies still lie below the bustling station. The moving of a cemetery is very disrespectful. Corpses in various stages of decay are hauled from their resting places to a new site of mass burial. Headstones were left behind.

So, as you see there was no progress like rail progress. Today we see a similar process as green energy transmission lines take precedence and crush all in their path as they proceed through farmland and towns. I wonder what history will make of this in years to come.

Railways in America and Europe

The railway journey craze spread to America and Europe.  Following the example of Britain, they forged ahead with steam driven rail networks. The American pioneer Colonel John Stevens (another son of Stephen!) oversaw the first rail carriages pulled by horse and wagon. A faster and wider form of transport was sorely needed in such a vast country as America.

Europe was not far behind. France, by 1832, had a line between St Etienne and Lyon. Originally intended to transport coal it turned to passenger transport as well. Belgium and Germany followed with industry then passenger transport as the rage caught on. Politics and commerce spurred on even greater railway building projects. The vast continents of Africa and Russia benefited like America from this new form of transport. Ports could be linked to cities and one end of an empire connected to another. So developed the Trans-Siberian network and parts of the trans-Africa network. Terrain and colonial acquisitions stopped this latter vast project from succeeding.

The famous Orient Express

Europe being smaller concentrated more on passenger services. The idea of linking Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) resulted in The Orient Express. It was the baby of a Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers who had already launched an international line from Ostend to Brindisi in Italy. But for the orient line the railway had to cross six nations. Not so easy plus the line was nearly 3000km long. It would cross Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria on the way to where east meets west, Constantinople.

It first left Le Gare de l’Est on October 4, 1883 on its way east. The last part of the journey was by boat though because the line was yet unfinished. Six years later it finally made the whole trip in three and a half days. That was marvellous in itself but what captivated the public was the sheer opulence of the train. Its sleeping compartments panelled with teak had marquetry inlays and water faucets. Guards for each compartment saw to all their passenger’s needs. Hot showers were available in a rear coach. There were also dining cars serving cocktails and fine cuisine, a smoking room and even a library.

The trip was very popular as it was much quicker than the boat alternative. The Orient added other routes to Milan and Venice plus from Constantinople you could connect to transport to Syria and Baghdad. Agatha Christie took this trip in 1928 after her traumatic marrige ending. She ran off and had a fantastic adventure which fuelled a few novels like Death on the Nile and Death in Mesopotamia. She met her second husband, Max Mallowan on a dig on a second trip there.

The Blue Train to the Riviera

Another glamorous train in France was Le Train Bleu which linked the port Calais with Paris then to the Riviera. In the early 1900s this was a favourite with socialites who would disppear to the Riviera for the season. Coco Chanel loved this train. It had blue sleeper cars with gold trim, hence its name. Only during the war years did it stop the night service to Marseilles, Nice and Menton.

Eventually with the desire for fast travel, trains grew out of vogue and air travel was the go.  But some services like The Orient Express are so popular for romance and nostalgia reasons that they are making a comeback. The Orient Express is due to travel again this year.  

Everything old is new again! If you love the Riviera, read my novel, The Last Hotel set there. A modern tale with old fashioned glamour and romance. Trains feature in all my books. I love trains so have my characters moving around on them. In my historical novels they have no choice.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. See more on her

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Whilst at a book signing recently a customer browsing books nearby approached me with a book in hand. Unexpectedly, he asked what the title Philoxenia, a seat at my table. meant. Maybe he thought seeing as I was an author, I would know the meaning of the obviously foreign word in the title.

I eyed the attractive cover which featured a bowl of olives and a plate of rustic bread.”It looks like it is a Greek cookbook,” I commented. This was confirmed by the nature of the author’s names, Kon and Sia Karapanagiotidis. Delightfully long Greek names. The man smiled but still hovered. I had not answered his question. What does the word Philoxenia mean?

What does philoxenia mean?

I looked at the word again and recognised within it two smaller Greek words. They are ‘philos’ meaning friend and ‘xenos’ meaning stranger. “I think it means ‘the love of strangers'” I said, “but as it is obviously a cookbook, not sure if I am right.”

“I will google it,” he offered. Why he didn’t do this in the first place, I did wonder. Maybe he just wanted company or a chat with a ‘xenos’, a stranger like me. Or was I starting to look like a Miss Marple in my autumn years? No, that can’t be it, surely not, he is too young to be an Agatha Christie fan like me.

“It means hospitality or kindness to strangers,” he announced, flashing his phone towards me. “Ah!” I replied, “That makes sense. What a lovely word with a special meaning. We have both learnt something today. Thank you!” The stranger now a little less of a stranger, smiled. he had a lovely smile that further brightened my morning. Smiles are like that, aren’t they. So much better than frowns or blank stares! You feel less invisible.

Becoming more visible thanks to philoxenia

At book events, even though you are meant to be increasing your visibility as an author, you can feel very invisible. Folk wander by immersed in their own world, fair enough, I guess. But I always smile and say ‘good morning’ but many just give me a blank stare or grunt in return. Not practising philoxenia obviously. My new word.

The stranger stayed. His name was Brad. We chatted about food which made me a tad hungry as I had rushed to get here and not had breakfast. Then we chatted about travels another wonderful engaging topic. He like me had travelled widely and now we had our word, we extolled on the hospitality or philoxenia we had both experienced abroad. We had both been adopted for meals by Greek and Italian families we had randomly met. Yes, these lovely Europeans like to share their wonderful earthy cuisines with strangers. Meals made from the most basic of ingredients, fresh from the market and transformed into luscious comforting and delicious dishes for all to share. I remembered that I had included a chapter about this phenomenon in my latest book, Time Heal my Heart. 

Philoxenia and the English man

In Chapter 27, I think it is, the characters Oscar and Luigi retire from the exhausting Giro d’Italia bike race of 1914 (the most difficult race ever) They visit Luigi’s uncle and aunt in nearby Florence. There in the courtyard garden, they are plied with plates of steaming spaghetti to reinvigorate their stiff aching limbs. There in the garden, Oscar the Englishman marvels at the ‘philoxenia’ of Luigi’s family. Estranged from his own family in London, he has been a runaway for years and not even informed his parents where he is. How different is this happy, loving family sharing a splendid meal under a splendid tree in beautiful Florence.

Oscar will remember his sojourn in Florence for years to come. His time there with this family and their philoxenia prefaces the horror of the years to come. Even though Oscar and Luigi have no idea at this time, the world is about to erupt into war. In a few weeks’ time as they travel to Sarajevo, they will coincide with its outbreak, the opening shots fired by Gavrilo Princip that will echo around the world.

How a sandwich led to the outbreak of WWI

And this is another foodie story because Gavrilo would not have shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie if he hadn’t stopped for a sandwich at Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen! Now that’s a story in itself. See above link to Gavrilo Princip to read about this amazing coincidence that changed the lives of millions. I could not resist having my boys Oscar and Luigi also eating a salami sandwich nearby. A sort of Forest Gump moment. They become firsthand witnesses of the shot that lights the powder keg and boom! we have a world war. The first one ever. They called it The Great War. But it was not so great if you became embroiled in it as millions worldwide did. Oscar escapes the rising tensions by taking off to Argentina, but Luigi stays and takes the confusing consequences of his country changes sides during the war.

Philoxenia rules the day!

Now I have come a long way off topic and away from my chance meeting in the bookshop. What happened, you might ask if you made it this far? (having survived my digressions and rants) Well done you. My stranger now not a stranger stayed to chat as I said and this led, I believe to other people thinking I was worth talking to and maybe not so invisible, so a few people hovered. They picked up and turned over my books to read the blurb on the back cover. Two wondered off to the counter with copies of The Last Hotel, my bestseller. Not everyone wants a signature and mine is not flash since I have CRPS in my right hand.

Thanks to the kindness of a stranger and later a few more strangers who stopped by, I had a lovely afternoon in Rosetta’s Bookshop, Maleny in the lovely hinterland of Queensland, Australia where I live. If you are ever here in our great southern land make sure to visit the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where you can view from a distance The (stunning) Glasshouse Mountains to the south. In Maleny and nearby Montville you can experience the hospitality or philoxenia of Queenslanders! There are many cafes, cheeseries and wineries where you can share a bowl of olives and some rustic bread just like the Greeks do.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer. See website to read her history blog and find her books.

Why do we run away from trauma?

Why do we run away from trauma?

Characters that run away from trauma

As I write this, I realize that all of my five novels have characters, mostly women that run away from their current lives. They run away from trauma. Maybe it is a coincidence I choose this theme or is it because I myself am a runaway? Mind you, history is full of examples of women running away. I never realized until I started researching the matter. The correct term for this response to trauma is called ‘dissociative fugue.’

In my first novel, Whispers through Time, set in early 1900s, two sisters, Francesca and Winifred run away from London to Australia to escape their unhappiness. The characters were inspired by me reflecting why my grandmother ran off from her large family of siblings in London. Then later in life she runs away again from her new family and that is why I barely knew her. Why do we run away from trauma?  She shut herself off from her loved ones.

Why does a woman run away? It is the subject of today’s blog, The runaway response to trauma.

Then in my best seller, The Last Hotel, my character Jenny escapes her abusive marriage for a holiday in France with her ballet dancer son. Unwittingly, I’m at it again, in Colour Comes to Tangles, my next book. One of the characters is missing in action somewhere and her friends mount a search. In Time Heal my Heart, another historical, it is a minor character but a mysterious one who leaves her native France to come to Australia. To tell you more would contain spoilers. Find more plot details on my website or Amazon books.

Agatha Christie, the runaway

So let me start exploring this runaway phenomenon as it is a recurring theme and true to life, not just the stuff of fiction. Did you know that Agatha Christie, the famous mystery writer ran away? In 1926, she disappeared for ten days and the police from two counties were looking for her. It was as sensational as her best seller of a few years previous, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the book that made her famous.  After a quarrel with her cheating husband, Archie, Agatha drives off and parks her car precariously overlooking a Surrey quarry and plain disappears. She leaves behind her fur coat and driver’s license and also leaves the car headlights on.

What are the police to presume from this? Yes, of course, it looks suspicious, and Archie is the prime suspect. Agatha is missing presumed the victim of foul play. But in reality, she just wandered off and caught public transport to Harrogate where she booked into a hotel under the name of her husband’s mistress. Curious and curiouser as Alice would say. Finally, after an exhaustive police hunt and public newspaper appeals someone at the hotel recognizes Agatha and she is found.

Public opinion is mixed. Was it a staged disappearance to gain publicity or a desperate appeal to her husband to rethink his request for a divorce. Or was it neither of these and just amnesia? This seems more likely as Agatha was a shy woman not one to invite attention. Indeed, although today the answer to her strange disappearance is not any of these for sure, it makes sense that she was so distressed by the recent death of her mother and infidelity of Archie, that she just ran away. It was all too much.

Fugue or running away from trauma

I can relate to this myself as I did just that twenty odd years ago. Like Agatha it was out of character and surprised everyone even me. This condition is called ‘dissociative fugue’ and is a way of avoiding a situation because the trauma is too much to process at the time. This all makes sense but was not a known condition at the time. Nor is it today. I had never heard of it until I was researching Agatha Christie for my blog and a U3A talk.

This fugue state is one of four reactions to trauma that all start with the letter ‘f’. They are freeze, fight, fawn or flee. Fugue is the equivalent of the flee version. The others involve doing nothing, fighting, submitting in that order. These are common responses seen in domestic violence situations. Often the woman abused is too afraid to do anything and so ultimately submits and tries to please or appease her abuser. Fighting is not often a viable method especially if the other person is much bigger or stronger. Fleeing can work if you have somewhere safe to go. Agatha had a car and money to stay at a hotel, but many women cannot just run away especially if children are involved.

Historical cases of women running away from trauma

Decades ago, many women had unwanted pregnancies and had nowhere to turn. The shame of their situation led them to be dismissed from their domestic service and shunned by the father. This terrible situation is the plot for many a historical novel ie beautiful young servant impregnated by rogue son of the manor. Thomas Hardy was the master of such tales. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a tragedy due to the Victorian morals that set one rule for men and another for women. Tess is seduced and shamed by a bad man and suffers the damnation of society.

Women who cannot run away from trauma

Fortunately, in Western countries this is not such an issue. Governments now support unwed mothers to be. But in many African and Arabic cultures the shame is still there, and fathers or brothers still murder female family members that dishonor the family name. It is very difficult for these women to run away and start again. Women instead often stay and submit to the penalty. Most times it is not even their fault that they shame the family. Many are victims of rape or incest. It is a sad world where this still happens.

Despite progress, it is still a patriarchal world where women and girls suffer. The suffragettes fought for women’s rights, women gained the right to vote but they are still often the victims of men’s aggression.

If you like to read books about real women, then try one of my novels. I have three historical and two contemporary and all are based on real lives and situations.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website;


The Rivalry of Sisters

The Rivalry of Sisters

‘Of all the gifts great and small, a sister is the greatest of them all.’ So, the saying goes and for many of us, this rings true. But history abounds with famous sisters who don’t exactly get along. First up, there are the famous biblical sisters like Rachel and Leah. These two exemplify the problem of sibling rivalry so often part of biblical stories. Rachel and Leah both have to share the man they love, Jacob. He first loved and married Rachel but she was unable to have children, so he took Leah to bed as well to bear his children. Imagine Rachel’s pain at this development. It is an untenable position.

The rivalry of the Boleyn Sisters

Moving forward, there are the beautiful Boleyn sisters who both wanted to marry the same man, Henry VIII. Quite a bad choice really as Anne literally lost her head in 1536 over that man. She lives on as one of Britain’s most famous ghosts while Mary sleeps on peacefully in her grave. Anne’s ghost is reportedly seen in many places around London and beyond including the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Hever castle. She was not ready to die and especially in not such a horrible way, deceived by her love. Her sister was a more reliable support to her despite the jealousy.

The rivalry of the Queen and Princess Margaret

Other royal sisters, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret shared a special sister bond but for Margaret the younger, it was not all plain sailing. Having a big sister who is also the queen of England was not easy. Margaret could not marry the man she wanted because he was divorced. She needed the Church of England’s and Elizabeth’s approval and it was not at first given. But in fact, the Queen and Eden drew up a plan in 1955 under which Princess Margaret could marry Peter Townsend while keeping her royal title and her civil list allowance. She could live in this country and even continue with public duties but she had to renounce succession as a royal princess. Read all about this here. 

Margaret ultimately, after much thought, decided to not marry Peter and married Anthony Armstrong Jones instead.  She did not have a happy marriage or life but kept the close bond to her older sister, Queen Elizabeth.

Though they had issues when Margaret wanted to marry a divorced commoner, they put this aside to maintain their special bond through life. After all it cannot be easy being the younger sister of a queen. So great was the love of Margaret for her big sister that she opted for her own cremation so there would be room in the family vault for Elizabeth and Philip one day and so she could be near her parents. Her ashes lie in the King George VI Memorial Chapel alongside her sister and the Duke of Edinburgh and her parents.

The Romanov Sisters

Recently, I have posted about the Romanov sisters. They were also royalty and suffered a terrible fate because of their status. Read about these beautiful young grand duchesses in my recent posts on the Russian royal family and these tragic sisters. They seemed to get along well but Anastasia the youngest may have been a bit of a brat. She was the naughtiest of the mostly very well behaved and family orientated sisters.

Rivalry between writing sisters

The arts abounds with famous sisters. The Bronte sisters, Anne, Charlotte and Emily shared a love of writing. maybe they shared a sense of rivalry as to who could write the best story? I know it was Agatha Christie’s big sister madge who challenged Agatha to write a crime novel. She did well, didn’t she. Writing over 80 novels and stories as well as plays, Agatha Christie became the most read and published novelist of all time.

I love the fictional sisters of Little Women and how they mostly got along just fine for four sisters with different temperaments. There are hints at jealousy and competitiveness but nothing too savage happens. maybe because it is fiction. But not all sisters have happy relationships. No one can be more annoying than a little sister trying to take the limelight or steal your boyfriend. Jealousy is a big issue that often ignites a lifetime of rivalry.

Movie Star rival sisters

In the case of movie star sisters, Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland, the enmity was fierce. They competed at star level and never softened their fierce jealousy of each other.

The Olsen twins, Mary Kate and Ashley made their acting debut while babies. They share an even more special sister bond, that of twins. Venus and Serena Williams are sisters at a unique competitive level, that of gold medals. They mostly leave their rivalry on the courts. Then there’s the Kardashian sisters competing for the best curves.

Have you heard of Zsa Zsa  and Eva Gabor? They were two sisters out of a trio of Hungarian born sisters. Magda is lesser known though she married actor, George Sanders, her little sister’s cast-off husband. Zsa Zsa, the middle sister competed with Eva for men, money and beauty. Though the sisters married multiple times, Zsa Zsa was the only one to have a child. The Gabor sister act was an act to follow in the 1940’s and 50’s. They were always in the news, a bit like the Kardashians of today.

In the 1930s, The Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxene and Laverne were another sister trio, a singing group famous for ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other swing hits during WWII. They rated as the best-selling of all female vocal groups. Despite singing beautifully together and selling 75 million records, they started a fight in 1937 though they stayed as an act until 1967 when Laverne died.

Birth order and rivalry of sisters

Birth order does seem to have an effect on how sisters get along. The order of birth also is said to determine the personality of a child. First born children are usually more sensible, calm and conservative compared to their younger sisters. This is because their parents often spend more time on the discipline side of parenting. Later children meet laxer parenting as the parents run out of puff with a larger brood to control. Little sisters often get to do things their older sisters could not at the same age. this explains the claim that little sisters are spoilt.

As a a younger sister, I can see this. My sister claims I was spoilt and she had a tougher time. However, I have always looked up to my big sister and listened to her advice. I even wrote her into my first book as a character! Whispers Through Time also tells the story of two sisters, my grandmother and great aunt who emigrated to Australia in 1912. They had a special bond through life though their lives took different directions. One married an itinerant worker and the other a rich doctor, but they stayed connected through their shared ordeals during World War One and Two.

In the third book in this series, Last Time Forever, a sense of rivalry that must always have been there, rises to the fore. The sisters have a falling out later in life. Watch out for this last book in the sister trilogy. It’s at the publishers now. But meanwhile if you like stories of sisters and historical fiction, read the others, Whispers through Time and Time, heal my Heart. 

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website;

Photo from Unsplash.



Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Queen Victoria of Britain had nine children and most of them married into the royal families of Europe. This was normal in the 1800s as marriage with commoners was not allowed so the royal families interbred. But such inbreeding led to the persistence or magnification of bad genetic traits. One such genetic defect in Victoria’s line was the gene part (called an allele) that codes for hemophilia, a rare blood clotting condition. This inherited disease passed through her descendants either via female carriers or affected males. The incidence of hemophilia in the Romanov royal family was one of the contributing factors to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Let’s examine this fascinating topic of Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution. It has a lot to do with hemophilia which will be explained below so keep reading.

Hemophilia and the Romanovs

Alexei, the tsarevitch and only son of Romanov tsar Nicholas II of Russia had this game changing hemophilia gene defect. Because of this he was destined to a short life of restricted activity lest he bleed to death from an injury. His four older sisters, the grand duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia being girls, did not have the disease though they possibly were carriers of it. Historian, Helen Rappaport eludes to this in her brilliant books. Modern DNA analysis of the duchesses remains reveal that only Anastatia was a carrier. The gene lottery was more kind to the daughters than the son. The chance of being a carrier if your mother is one is 50% yet three of the girls escaped being carriers purely by chance.

It all started with Victoria it seems. It is important to know that females have two X chromosomes to determine gender and males have an X and a Y. Therefore, females are denoted by XX and males by XY. Variations to this pattern are very rare.

Hemophilia is caused by a gene mutation

Victoria carried a gene mutation on one of her X chromosomes that can cause hemophilia to be expressed. A gene mutation is an accidental change in the genetic code of an individual. It can occur during the copying of genes as the cells multiply and most of the time these small changes do not affect anything adversely. However, if a mutation affects the coding or instructions for an enzyme or metabolic factor this mutation can be deadly for the person who has or inherits the mutated gene code. In the case of hemophilia, the gene alteration prevented adequate production of clotting factor 8 and 9 which are essential for the body’s response to a hemorrhage of any magnitude.

The gene mutation for hemophilia is on the X chromosome

Such was the case for Queen Victoria’s mutation. How it occurred no one knows. She may have inherited this genetic alteration from a parent or happened first in her gene code. It was only noticed after the event when one of her sons, Prince Frederick started having blood clotting issues. Because the defect for the gene determining the clotting factor 8 was on one of her two X chromosomes and is a recessive ie not dominant allele, her other normal X chromosome masked the defect. Queen Victoria consequently did not suffer from the disease. Females with the defective X chromosome do not have hemophilia.

In the late 19th century, genetic science was in its infancy. The occurrence of this gene mutation had been noticed because it was in the royal family. From then on the royal families of Europe were watchful for its appearance in their sons. With the line of succession usually via the male descendants this was a worry. Victoria only became queen because there were no male descendants to take the throne.

The need for a male heir for the Romanovs

Male gender-based succession has led to many lives lost throughout history. There are those who killed to get the throne or kings like Henry VIII who killed his wives because they could not give him a male heir. Then there was the War of the Roses where everyone killed everyone for hundreds of years just to secure royal succession. Much blood was shed. But for one small boy in Russia last century, no blood could be shed. Alexei’s blood could not clot and allow the smallest wound to heal. Yet he was the boy who was destined to inherit his father’s tsardom.

Clotting factor 8 is the essential factor which allows wounds to heal so if it can’t be made by the body, the individual’s wounds no matter how small cannot heal. As well, any falls or bumps can cause internal bleeding which also can be fatal. Such was the fate of little Alexei the heir to the Russian throne.

It is doubly tragic that his parents anguished about not having a male heir for many years before he was finally born. Alexandra his mother had four normal healthy daughters over a ten year interval before he was finally born. A boy! The whole of Russia celebrated. The Imperial dynasty of 300 years could continue now. Nicholas’s brother the standing heir stood aside now Nicholas finally had a son.

But it was only days before Nicholas and Alexandra knew their new baby had health issues. His umbilical cord was still bleeding days after the birth. The dreaded royal disease had raised its head again. Already the two young sons of King Alfonso of Spain had inherited hemophilia. Alexandra realized she had passed the fatal gene onto her son. She was a carrier through her mother, Princess Alice of Hesse. Alexandra’s brother had the disease.

Hemophilia occurs in the Romanov male heir

The hemophilia gene mutation is recessive and only expressed if there is no other normal X chromosome to mask it. As males have  an XY chromosome make up not XX as females do, the faulty X chromosome from their mother Victoria expressed itself in Victoria’s sons not her daughters. Prince Leopold inherited this fault and had hemophilia and Princess Alice and Beatrice inherited the faulty X trait but because they had another X chromosome from their father that was normal the hemophilia was masked, and they were carriers not affected by hemophilia themselves.

The defect in their beautiful baby son had to be hidden. If the Russian population knew then the tsardom was in peril. Already there was trouble brewing. The people were poor and hungry, and Nicholas and Alexandra were distant, autocratic and lacking in empathy with their citizens. Alexandra as a German princess bride had been unpopular from the start. But Nicholas had married for love not politics. But politics can be ugly and turn on unpopular monarchs. The Russian people did not like Alexandra, the tsar’s wife. This and the poor health of the tsarevitch contributed to the failure to save the Romanovs.

The hemophilia of the Romanov son had to be kept a secret

Alexandra was an introverted, cold woman in public yet at home she was an adoring mother and wife. Really both Nicholas and Alexandra were unsuited for their royal roles. They were homely, family orientated couple wrapped up in each other and their children but negligent of their duties in the royal dynasty.

Alexandra withdrew more from public life as she protected her little son and hid his defect from the world. Even other royal cousins did not know as Russia could not know. She must have realized that even if she could by chance have another son, he too could be affected by the disease. The chance of another son being affected was 50%. Hemophilia had struck twice in Spain’s royal family. There was no certainty that the genetic lottery would spare any future Romanov sons. Besides, Alexandra had already born five children and was not a well woman herself. She suffered sciatica, circulation issues and heart problems. Often she would stay in bed for days or weeks. Her mauve boudoir at the Summer Palace in Petrograd was the centre of her existence.

Rasputin, the infamous monk

The family rarely left the palace grounds to mix with the people or travel abroad. When WWI erupted life became more difficult. She was of German origin and Russia was at war with Germany. Plus, her little son was often ill from bruising due to falls. In desperation for help she sought the services of Grigory Rasputin, the mystical monk with healing powers. His inclusion in the royal household made her even less popular with the Russian people.

Russian Revolution

In 1917, while the war raged, the Russian people had enough of their autocratic, uncaring tsar and his wife. There was a revolt and Nicholas reluctantly abdicated. Alexandra was furious. She was not there when he signed the papers and would have stopped him. Stronger than him mentally, she believed in the dynasty and their rights of succession. Nicholas was weak and not a born ruler. His focus was on his family not his country. But because of his abdication and the ensuing politics, his family would pay the ultimate price.

If their little son had not been so delicate, would the Romanov dynasty been able to survive? The occurrence of hemophilia in the one Romanov child who needed to be robust was a tragedy. It was one of the factors in the dynastic and family tragedy of the Romanovs.

To learn more read my linked Romanov article just above or on my blog Helen Rappaport’s books on the Romanovs are also wonderful informative reading.

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

The Romanovs were the last of the Imperial royal family of Russia. They were most cruelly assassinated in July 1918 and their bodies thrown into a ditch. If you didn’t already know, the family consisted of the former Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their five children. The oldest four children were all girls named in order of birth Olga, Tatiana, maria and Anastasia. The youngest child was the heir or Tsarevich, Alexey just fourteen at the time of his murder by the then Bolshevik government. Mowed down in a hail of bullets, their bodies thrown without reverence or ceremony into a ditch to rot. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Helen Rappaport explores this in her fascinating book, The Race to Save the Romanovs. 

Since I am enjoying this book, I thought to share the read with you. I know it is a little off topic to my usual but not so far from my latest WWI novel, Time Heal my Heart. the Russian Revolution happened during WWI.

Deposed from 300 years of Royalty.

Noone deserves this fate, especially those born into royalty who had served their country whether adequately or not. This last Imperial family represented 300 years of glorious dynastic rule over vast lands and palaces. But the politics turned against the Tsar and the Tsarina particularly. She was a German princess of Hesse married to Nicholas to secure European alliances. When WWI broke out in 1914 her German connections were not as appreciated by Russians as Russia was on the side of Britain and France and Germany the enemy.

Alexandra the unpopular Tsarina

Adding to this unpopularity was the fact that Alexandra had become obsessed with Rasputin the monk. He was moved into the royal palace to supposedly cure her son of his hemophilia. This genetically transmitted disease was the blight of the family’s happiness. As the only son and promised heir of Russia, this disease made life difficult and precarious. Alexey at any time could bleed to death from any injury that drew blood. His body could not produce the clotting factor necessary to stop a flow of blood like normal people. Hence, he spent his childhood almost literally wrapped in cotton wool. His mother Alexandra fussed and cosseted over him to the neglect of her more robust daughters.

Four daughters and a sickly heir

As a result, these four young girls lived a protected and seemingly dull domestic life within the golden Alexander palace in Petrograd. It was not only their brother who was often ill and poorly but in time their mother too. She suffered from heart issues, sciatica and other health problems that took her to bed for weeks at a time. So, despite her youth, she was an absent mother and perhaps wife as well.

Nicholas II in contrast was slim and reasonably healthy and of a gentle kindly disposition. He was not an aggressive nor militant man so was not a born leader. he preferred the domestic life, loved his family and nature. A quiet life in the countryside would have suited him fine. But he was born into royalty so had to be seen to be active in the affairs of his country. Behind their impressive facade of grandeur, the Imperial family of Russia was like any other loving family with five children. They wanted to enjoy each other’s company and live a quiet and happy life.

Revolution and abdication

When civil revolution erupted during WWI, he seemed too easily convinced to abdicate. But by signing the waver to his royal position he unwittingly signed the death penalty for himself and his beloved family. If any of the two, Alexandra had more ambitions. She was born into an autocratic German family and was not one to embrace the common people. As such she was as distant a royal as she was a mother. The Russian people did not like her.

Royal cousins

Tsar Nicholas however was a royal grandson of Queen Victoria. he had grown up with his royal cousins in a less grand atmosphere.  He was close to his British cousins, especially the boy who would become King George V of Britain. They even looked alike and were often mistaken as brothers. Another cousin who was not as well liked was Wilhem of Germany who would become Kaiser Wilhem and a thorn in their sides over the years to come. His ambition and militarism would feed into the progress of the two world wars.

In contrast George V and Nicholas were gentler souls, perhaps ill-suited for their adult roles pitted against the might of Germany and their royal cousin. With regards to possible saviours for the Tsar and his family, history indicates that George V was best positioned for this role. But there were others. Supporters or monarchists within Russia, Alfonso of Spain, Chritian of Denmark and even Wilhem II himself. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Politics is a deadly game

The simplest answer to this question is that politics is a deadly game. All the people who could help the Tsar were enmeshed in a web of politics that made any rescue attempt either deadly or suicidal politically. The timing of the revolution in 1917 could not have been worse. Europe was in the grip of war. Britain and France needed Russia on their side to win against Germany. If either of these two countries appeared to be on the side of the old Russian regime then the new Russia could withdraw support. This is mainly why both Britain and France decided not to help. Added to this was their concern over revolt within their population. Fascists and socialists abounded and assisting the old Russian regime would inflame tensions within Britain and France.

Neutral Spain to the rescue?

Then what about King Alfonso of Spain? His country was neutral, could not he have intervened? After all he was another royal cousin descended from Queen Victoria and besides his two young sons also had hemophilia. They must have had an affinity over this royal disease that affected male progeny. But though Alfonso thought long and hard over this issue, he too settled for inaction. His concerns were similar. The socialists and fascists who could turn nasty (and they did in the later Civil War in 1936) could affect his popularity and destabilize the government.

Failure to act

Meanwhile while cousins failed to act, The Tsar and his family were moved further away from the rest of Europe into Western Siberia to a dismal place called Tobolsk. The time to act had passed. From Petrograd especially soon after the abdication would have been best. The Russian people had not yet turned their backs on the family, nor had the new government. Rescue was talked about. There was a way by sea to Finland if the family could be transported by rail past Petrograd. But water exits had to be before ice set in and this chance was missed as the months passed and winter set in.

Britain made a tentative offer via George V in these early days of 1917 but then later took it back due to the British government pressure. The German Alexandra would not be welcome in Britain, tensions would flare, and various other excuses swayed George’s mind. By then forces within the new government were in place to move the family west to Siberia. Out of sight, out of mind mentality.

Escape Options

There, in a rundown government house, the family of seven resided until July 1918 under guard watch. From this location, there was also chances of escape. Roads were mostly impassable, and a rail head was 132 miles away, so water was a better route. A boat down river towards ports that could lead to the sea and a number of possible destinations. The Arctic Ocean and Archangel lay beyond. Bergen in Norway was another option as there was a Norwegian shipper who was willing to help.

A Bergen to Aberdeen escape route had been under British consideration in 1917 before the offer to help was withdrawn. Some Bergen ships operated under British control, so this could have worked once the family were free of Russia. But getting out of Russia was the problem as then, in 1917, the family were near Petrograd which was heavily under government control. Any rail link connection entailed passing through the city first.  Another port often considered was that of Murmansk. But this too was a fantasy as this supposedly ice-free port is not really always ice free. Also, its fleet of ships was not exactly a fleet but an old battleship, a cruiser and some fishing trawlers. Plus, German submarines patrolled the waterways and icebergs also abounded to add to the danger.

Why didn’t Kaiser Wilhelm save his cousin?

Of all the royal cousins who could have helped, the one with most power was Wilhelm himself. Word from him in his immense position of power could have saved the family. Why did he not act in sympathy? They were family after all. Wilhelm was even Alexey’s godfather. But no, help was not forthcoming in 1918 either. By then Russia had conceded to Germany in a peace pact and this involved the division of Russia into four governance regions that would serve industrial Germany. Any concessions to a previous monarchy would contravene this treaty. Monarchists could raise the Tsar or his son back to power.

No, Wilhelm did not help. By mid 1918 it was too late anyway. The Russian government with all its powerful bodies, lenin included did not care to meddle with saving the old regime in any way. Turning their back on humanity, they let the status quo sign the death warrants for the ill-fated family, children and all. Nobody helped the once loved royal Romanovs. In July 1918, they were beyond hope.

Joni Scott is an Australian author who blogs about history on her website Her books are historical and contemporary and based on true stories.

The Spontaneous Christmas Ceasefire of 1914.

The Spontaneous Christmas Ceasefire of 1914.

A ceasefire is a situation where both sides in a conflict down their weapons and cease hostilities. Ceasefires can be short or long. The recent Gaza/ Israel ceasefire was a short one as was the Christmas ceasefire of the 1914 Great War conflict. However, unlike the Middle Eastern ceasefire, the 1914 one was spontaneous not prearranged. The spontaneous Christmas ceasefire of 1914 was an act of daring but also one of humanity.

Christmas Truce

Christmas Truce Photo from Brittanica.
World War One
 WWI started as a war confined to Europe but later would involve more countries as they took sides and sent troops to the conflict. It lasted from the summer of 1914 to late 1918 when Germany reluctantly admitted defeat. Many millions of civilians and soldiers died and many more would die after the war as The Spanish Flu outbreak spread worldwide with repatriating troops.
But by December 1914, it all was all just a few months into this brutal war that was promised to end all wars. Women had waved goodbye to sons, brothers and husbands in a wave of patriotism. ‘Don’t worry, I will be home for Christmas’ the men and boys had promised. There was no age check. Some lads were only fourteen. They like all the others would be lucky to survive the horrors ahead. Read such a story based on true lives in my historical fiction family saga Time Heal my Heart.
It was not over by Christmas

However, by this December in 1914, the reality of trench warfare had already descended on the troops. Weeks of heavy rain had turned the trenches and the No Man’s Land between them into mud. For the men on the Western Front, daily life was miserable for soldiers of both sides in the war.  Troops and their enemies were separated by only the small distance called No Man’s Land . This was only about 50 metres. It was called No Man’s Land because usually no man would dare go there for fear of his life. Even raising your head above the parapet of the trench could be fatal.The men in the trenches had seen battle, seen their friends die in front of them. It was not what they thought war would be like. It was not going to be over by Christmas as they had been promised. 

The ceasefire on Christmas Eve 1914

It all started five months after war’s outbreak on Christmas Eve 1914 along two thirds of a 30 km stretch of The Western Front. British troops in their trench heard the nearby German troops in their trench singing a Christmas carol in German. But the tune, whatever the language, is often the same so it was recognisable. To add to the spirit of this unexpected event, there were fir trees and lanterns visible along the German trench edge. In a midst of this brutal war how did this happen?

The spirit of Christmas cheer encouraged soldiers from both sides to call out to each other. No one dared raise their heads above the trench parapet for fear of death. Normally, stepping out of the trench was pure suicide. But one German soldier dared to suggest this.

Tomorrow, we no shoot, you no shoot,’

‘Tomorrow, we no shoot, you no shoot,’ he called out in English. Someone on the British side agreed. Tomorrow was Christmas after all. Why not, we could all be dead the day after. Life was fleeting in times of war and although everyone had promised the war would be over by Christmas, that now seemed a hollow promise.

There had been brief ceasefires before for each side to retrieve their fallen comrades from No-man’s land between the trenches. But this was different and lasted two days not just a few hours. This was a while considering the brutality of this war. On that long ago Christmas morning, the Germans emerged from their squalid muddy trench singing and bearing small gifts such as food and cigarettes. The British trusting this was not trickery, slowly raised their heads and then tentatively crawled from their trench too.

A miracle at Christmas

Hands were outstretched in friendship, gifts exchanged. It was a miracle at Christmas. The enemy were just like us. Human. Then from the German trench someone threw a football, and the game was on. Not a serious one, just a kick around in the thirty-yard space called No-man’s land. This incredible time of comradery was documented by soldiers from both sides and the photos live on as a witness to the event.

The soldiers, a few hundred in total, might have hoped that this was war end. Could this act of humanity end the war and create a permanent ceasefire. Then everyone could go home to their families and celebrate New Year.

But it was not to be. The pause in fighting was not planned nor universally observed. It had been pure spontaneous humanity at work in the hearts of men.  No commanders on either side had sanctioned such an act nor would they. Once the authorities heard of this event, they were furious and ordered a resumption of fighting. Those who refused would be shot. This news was tough to hear. It meant the soldiers had no choice. Shoot or be shot.

What carol did they sing?

Reports identify Silent Night as the carol initially sung by the German soldier in the trench. In his book on the truce, historian Stanley Weintraub identifies the singer as Walter Kirchhoff, a German Officer and sometime member of the Berlin Opera. Kirchhoff’s singing of the carol in both German and English is credited with encouraging the exchange of songs, greetings and gifts between the opposing soldiers.

Other ceasefires of WWI

There were other ceasefires during World War I, but none became famous like the Christmas ceasefire of 1914. In 1915 there was a brief one on the Eastern Front between German and Russian troops.

Ceasefires in wars allow for the retrieval of dead and wounded men. Also, in 1916 there was one on the Macedonian front to allow for the exchange of prisoners. Then again in 1917 a ceasefire was declared on the Italian front for similar reasons of retrieval of dead and wounded. There were also a few attempts at Easter ceasefires as well but they were short lived as not all troops dropped their weapons. Ceasefires have to be bilateral otherwise it is suicide for soldiers. None of these ceasefires however were for as long or as widespread as the Christmas ceasefire of 1914.

If you like real stories of families of this time in history, you may like my historical novels based on the true experiences of my grandfather, great uncle and their families set prior and during these WWI years. Whispers through Time and Time Heal my Heart tell their story. Discover these and others on my website. I also write weekly history blogs which are posted there.

Thank you for reading.



Agatha, Queen of mysteries.

Agatha, Queen of mysteries.

She is the queen of mysteries, the best-selling novelist of all times and one of the most prolific writers with 66 detective novels and 14 short story anthologies to her name. She wrote the longest running play, The Mousetrap which has played in London since 1952 and my mystery guest also wrote under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Did you pick up on the clues? Who is she?

The Queen of Mysteries

Yes, She’s Agatha Christie, the world famous, most celebrated detective-story writer. Agatha, the queen of mysteries and I have been one of her fans since a teenager. My daughter as a young teen also became a fan. Together, we collected 75 of her novels from markets and bookstores. We subscribed to the Poirot DVD collection and magazines and watched all the film versions of her books. They are still popular, so new versions keep being made, competing with each other to include famous stars. I am a self-confessed Agatha tragic (as well as a Titanic tragic.)

What I love about Agatha, apart from her delicious mysteries, is the woman herself. Having read everything about her and her autobiography countless times, I can tell you that she was a very humble, natural, unpretentious person, unaffected by her world-wide fame.

Agatha, a Natural Writer

When asked about her writing space and tools of the trade, Agatha laughed. ‘Why, I just need a little table somewhere, some paper, my old, battered typewriter and off I go.’ Apparently, her stories with their twists and turns, sprinkle of clues and trail of red herrings are already there in her head, bursting to come out and be put on paper. She’s a natural. No writer’s block, no hesitancy, two or three books a year, no worries.

When one of her books was first made into film and she went to the premiere, she asked why there was such a crowd. ‘It’s for you, Ma’am.’

Agatha, a Famous yet Humble woman

‘No, it couldn’t be,’ she protested. Agatha snuck away into the crowd and queued up with the patrons. When asked about her absent ticket, she told the usher she was the writer, could she go in free? Disbelieving her, he barred her entry and called the manager. They were amazed to discover that this plain little lady was the great queen of mystery herself.

Indeed, as Agatha aged, she resembled anyone’s granny. By then she was married to Sir Max Mallowan, the archaeologist, and travelled the world to his digs in Mesopotamia, now part of modern Iraq. She was an adventurous, no-frills woman, not one for glamour or the bright lights, nor interested in her fame. She wrote because she loved writing and puzzles. How good is that.

Agatha and the Modern Reader

Some modern readers admittedly may find her stories xenophobic but that is how the world was in the 1920’s up until 1976, the year of her death. She was a woman of her time, reflecting its attitudes and values, like we all are. In post-war England, people were wary of the influx of refugees flocking into their country.

Yet despite her now cringe-worthy comments about foreigners, she made one of them her most loved character, Hercule Poirot, the little dapper Belgian refugee detective. In fact, Agatha was a champion for the marginalized. Both Poirot and Miss Marple existed at the margins of society. A rotund foreigner and an elderly spinster were not on the A lists of society.

But Poirot and Marple infiltrate society and meet some well to do folk. Unsuspectedly, quietly working their little grey cells, they outsmart the police constables, even Scotland Yard. It’s a victory for the small man, the foreigner and the little old lady. In Agatha’s world there would have been many spinsters and maiden aunts. The Great War and later World War II took the flower of British manhood leaving many girls unable to marry. Jane Marple hints at a long-lost love lost in the war as does Poirot. He too, has a past. He too has a heart.

Agatha and Beatrix Potter

Agatha Miller was born in Torquay in 1890 to older, well-off parents. Like Beatrix Potter, she was home schooled in her nursery and had lots of pets running about in a rambling house and garden. Agatha had imaginary friends called the kittens that she talked to and wrote stories about. It was her sister Madge that challenged her to write a novel, as she was dabbling in writing herself. But this older sister lost interest in books and found men and left home to marry. Agatha as an only child for years, occupied herself. She had a vivid imagination, again like Beatrix Potter.

Eventually Agatha who was a very pretty, blonde child grew into an attractive, slim young woman. She went to local dances and caught the eye of Archie Christie a dashing young fellow. They became engaged in the gathering clouds of World War One, hesitated a few times, but eventually married on Christmas Eve 1914. He served his country in The Great War and luckily survived.

Dark Days for Agatha

During the dark years of the war, Agatha volunteered as a nurse and worked in the hospital dispensary. It was here that she learnt about poisons and had the idea for her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles where the victim succumbs to poison. It was the beginning of a seemingly never-ending flow of writing for young Agatha. I could not resist inserting Agatha in my latest WWI novel, Time, Heal my Heart. She becomes the friend of my character Dorothy who works in the dispensary with her. They have a marvellous time making suppositories and mixing potions. Dorothy is enthralled by Agatha’s writing.

Agatha, rejected by publishers

Agatha’s first attempt at writing pre-dated the success of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Agatha wrote a novel called Snow Upon the Desert. It was rejected by six publishers. Today, the novel is still unpublished though it exists as a manuscript in the archives of her estate.

Agatha kept writing despite this rejection (as we all should.) She kept trying even after becoming a mother to a daughter, Rosalind, her only child. Agatha and husband, Archie were happy enough until her mother died. Agatha went into deep mourning and took herself off to her childhood home for weeks, while she sorted through the old house and grieved for her mother, probably her lost childhood as well.

It was during this time, 1926, that Archie had an affair with his secretary and decided he didn’t love his wife anymore. He told a startled Agatha that their marriage was over. She was still mourning her mother and now had to mourn her marriage as well.

It was a dark time for the writer. She disappeared for ten days, and no one could find her. Her car was found abandoned in a quarry. Unwittingly, she created a real-life mystery with herself in the star role. Strangely, she was located at a small hotel in Harrogate registered under the name of Archie’s mistress. This is one episode of her life that Agatha passes over in her autobiography. She must have wanted to mentally erase the traumatic incident.

Agatha Sets Off for Adventure

Afterwards, divorce papers filed, she left her daughter in care and took off further afield. She went to Paris and boarded the train to Istanbul, then onto Mesopotamia. The train was The Orient Express. At the end of her second journey to these parts she met, by chance through friends, her next husband, the archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan. Though he was 13 years younger, they hit it off. Agatha was most interested in his work (and men love that.) He was unaware of her writing, and knowing her, she probably dismissed it as a little hobby of hers, despite the fact that she was earning well from her books by then.

In fact, even her first novel sold well. Not many debut authors can claim that success! During the 1920s and her stress over a failed marriage, she turned to thrillers, James Bond style stories with dark villains and political intriguing plots. These novels, The Big Four and The Secret Adversary, 1922 are not as well received as her classic detective stories. The 1920s was the time of the Flappers but Agatha continued to do her own thing. It was good she had an income to fall back on after her marriage failed. Many women of that time had no chance if their man left them. She forged on and became the queen of mysteries. I wonder what Archie felt about his name becoming so famous because of his ex-wife’s talent not his own.

Agatha had not quite realized her literary strengths and was no doubt experimenting with other genres. Her few later attempts at thrillers in the 1950’s again were not hailed as brilliant, The Pale Horse, 1961 and N or M, 1941. Her six novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott offer a different style. They are partly autobiographical and sweet love stories. She wrote a number of plays as well and ten short story collections.

Agatha and the Cosy Mystery

Finally, thankfully, she settled into the cosy mystery genre set in the ubiquitous English village with the inevitable vicar and cast of landed gentry and their servants. She later interspersed these with murder stories set in Mesopotamia, Murder in Mesopotamia,1936, in Egypt, Death on the Nile,1937, in Europe, Murder on the Orient Express, 1934 and The Mystery of the Blue Train,1928, and South Africa, The Man in the Brown Suit, 1924.

Agatha’s one regret was creating Hercule Poirot as past middle-aged. She didn’t anticipate that he would have to last many decades, along with the already aged Miss Marple. It constrained her to a time. She couldn’t use these characters in novels set too much later in the century. Eventually Poirot dies off in Curtain,1975, shortly before her own death.

Agatha borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle to create a sidekick for Poirot in the form of Captain Hastings, just as Sherlock had in Watson. These sidekicks are not as smart and ask questions as the reader would mentally. It is a successful way of revealing how the detective is thinking as he chats with his curious sidekick. Captain Hastings and Poirot present a comic duo and add fun to the novels.

Agatha is everywhere as the queen of mysteries

At any airport or train station anywhere in the world, you used to be able to spot someone reading an Agatha Christie novel, no matter their nationality. Maybe not so much now, as everyone has their nose in a phone, in what is called ‘Phubbing’. A combination of the word phone and snubbing!

Using my detective skills, I can spot an Agatha Christe novel at twenty paces, as I know all the titles! Even translated, they are mostly recognizable. Her most popular novel, at over a million sales, is And There Were None, 1939, also called Ten Little Niggers in USA, (possibly not anymore though.)

Agatha in Film

Many of her novels have made excellent films, Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun and Murder on the Orient Express being probably most popular and revisited with modern re-makes. Agatha Christie novels have been translated into every language under the sun. Over thirty films are based on her works.

Recently, some writers have attempted to copy her work and write in her style, re-establishing the cosy mystery genre. This is encouraging! But they will never trump Agatha, the queen of mysteries.

Recognition for the Queen of Mysteries

Agatha was awarded many accolades for her services to literature and entertainment. She became a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature in 1950 and appointed a CBE in 1956. She was later promoted to Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971, making her Dame Agatha Christie, three years after Max Mallowan was knighted. Therefore, she could also call herself Lady Mallowan, though I doubt she did.

In later years of their mostly happy marriage Max took a mistress who was also an archaeologist and friend. They married soon after Agatha’s death just as Archie married his secretary a week after he and Agatha divorced. Men behaving badly again.

Agatha hated crowds and was a shy, modest woman, despite her talents. She loved animals and gardens. Her last home, Greenaway in Dartmouth now resides with The National Trust. She is remembered as an amazing woman who leaves a legacy of literature and film.


Photo Source: Unsplash

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel, Colour comes to Tangles and her latest, Time Heal my Heart.  Joni has her own website;


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