Tag: historical fiction set in France

The Great War (1914-1918)

The Great War (1914-1918)

The Great War started on 14 August 1914 in response to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Serbia in the Balkans. Things had been brewing for some time in this part of the world. Once tensions reached a fever pitch, the fight was on. The Austro-Hungarian empire was a mighty one that included 14 countries many unknown in the popular domain. Ethnic diversities resented this take over and so there were many nationalist military groups fighting for independence. One such was The Black Hand.

The Black Hand and the Archduke

On hearing of the visit to Sarajevo by the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Black Hand planned his assassination. A bomb was thrown under the car carrying the Archduke and his wife, Sophie but missed the target injuring others in the motorcade instead. The Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip was one of the nationalists involved and along with his disappointed comrades he fled the scene.

But Franz Ferdinand was meant to die that day it seems. The motorcade diverted to backstreets was in the act of turning around near a delicatessen where Princip was eating a sandwich. Surprised, he ran out and shot the Archduke and Sophie at short range. These two shots sealed the fate of millions. They ignited a powder keg that fanned the flames of The Great War.

The fuse that started The Great War.

At the time this conflict started it was not called World War One as not many expected a skirmish in faraway Serbia to become global. Nor was the conflict ever expected to last long. But The Austro-Hungarians wanted to take revenge on troublesome Serbia and avert possible intervention by mighty Russia. During the following month post assassination, the powers in Europe took sides.

Taking sides

The Allies included Britain, France, Russia and were also called The Triple Entente. On the opposing side called the Axis were the Austro-Hungarians, Germany and Italy though Italy switched sides in 1915. Other countries became involved by association. As these key players were Empires, they had inbuilt support from their colonies. Britain had Australia, Canada, other British colonies and surprisingly Japan. The Axis had Turkey on their side and later Bulgaria. I discovered there is a boardgame based on the conflict, called Axis and Allies. If only the leaders of empires had fought a duel or played this board game. Not used 40 million people as their play pieces.

The Central Powers or Axis was disadvantaged from the start in terms of resources and fighting personnel. But such was their Teutonic pride and ambition that they were the ones to start the hostilities that once begun would inflate to involve the world.  Britain declared war in retaliation to the Axis advance into France.

Youthful enthusiasm for the war.

British soldiers and young civilian men were up for the fight. They looked upon it as a grand adventure, a way to serve their country and also see the world. No conscription needed they enlisted willingly and with much patriotic enthusiasm. After all they would be home by Christmas after eliminating the enemy. Wouldn’t they?

Gallipoli. It all went horribly wrong.

Similarly in the colonies, men signed up for the fight. A whole generation of men and boys who lied about their age. Some were only 14 years old. Young Australians and Canadians were eager to go to Europe and see the world while getting paid. Whole contingents of them would be dead shortly after. The Gallipoli campaign alone took 70, 000 of the young Allied soldiers and Turkey lost 60,000 men. Stalemate was the name of this deadly game. It was all about a planned British sea route through the Bosphorus  to seize the straits of the Dardanelles in Turkey. But it all went horribly wrong.

Horribly wrong. The best made plans of Churchill misfired and bogged troops down in nine months of hell on both sides. The same could be said for the trench warfare in the fields of France and Belgium. Bogged down in mud, not advancing at all. Stalemate that cost men their lives and sanity. Those who survived the onslaught were not the young men they were. Shell shock and other traumas took their toll. A Christmas truce gave hope but then the soldiers were forced to continue the pointless battle for territory.

The deadly weapons of The Great War

Never before had soldiers faced machine gun fire and coils of barbed wire. They were new weapons. Daylight fighting was pure suicide. Sending men over the top of the trenches into No man’s land was tantamount to murder yet in the early days that is what happened. Coils of barbed wire, designed to keep the enemy out, also ensnarled many a soldier trying to retreat to safety. It took a while for the commanders from their position of comfort and safety to realise the enormity and futility of the troop losses.

The theatre of The Great War

But the war waged on in the mud at the infamous Somme and Ypres battlefields. Germany pressed northeast in battle to Russia as well up to 1917 when Russia descended into its own civil revolution.  Trenches that were intended as temporary stages for war became the rat and lice infested homes of soldiers for years at a time. The theatre of war did not refresh its scenes. There was no advancement. Trenches filled with the dead and shattered. Families at home grieved their young sons and fathers.

There were stories of great bravery and cowardice. News abounded of flying aces of the air, spies like Mata Hari, intelligence and espionage from balloons aloft and messenger pigeons. These stories buoyed the spirits of all. Surely it would end soon, surely there would be peace.

The huge losses of The Great War

Once USA entered the fray it was all over. The Germans reluctantly admitted they were a spent force and outnumbered. Kaiser Wilhem abdicated, and an armistice signed on 11th November 1918. But this forced sudden end to the conflict left Germany feeling cheated of victory and this unfinished business sowed the seeds for another world war just twenty years later.

20 million lost their lives in this conflict. This includes the civilians caught up in the fight. Another 21 million were wounded and 8 million left permanently disabled. This does not include those who suffered mental trauma. On top of this carnage was the loss of more millions from the Spanish Flu epidemic which also went global due to returning soldiers.

TIme Heal my Heart

If you find all this interesting, you might like to read my WWI novel based on my grandparents lives during this war. Newly immigrated to Sydney and just newlywed, their lives are caught up in this global war. The novel is called Time Heal my Heart and shifts back and forwards from Australia and France as it tells the story of a family and their friends. Love and loss, courage and tragedy, this one has it all and it’s true.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels; Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel, Colour comes to Tangles and Time heal my Heart. Read about her books on https://joniscottauthor.com.

Post war Paris in the 1920s

Post war Paris in the 1920s

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns along the Western Front sputtered into silence. It was the end of The Great War.

Worldwide people rejoiced, waved flags, danced, and kissed strangers in the streets. But the mask of euphoria and laughter hid from view the broken lives of returned soldiers, grieving widows, and mothers. In truth, the world was hiding its pain beneath a veneer of gaiety that transmitted its energy forward into the Jazz Age. Although life on the surface returned to normal at a faster pace for the lucky ones, the undercurrent of tragedy changed life forever, defining the early part of the twentieth century as ‘before’ or after ‘the war’. The 1920s was a special era in post war Paris.

A Honeymoon in Post war Paris

My characters, Winnie and her sister, Francesca emerge from the war and from the end of the poignant story, Time, Heal my Heart (release date August 18) into a new chapter of their lives post war. Decades later, Winnie urges Francesca to write their story from her diaries so their children will know the life they had. Francesca decides to set the beginning of her story in the early 1920s, after the war in post war Paris, because she doesn’t want to recall wartime horrors. Here is the beginning of her story as written in the last novel in the Time Series, Last Time Forever.

‘I loved Paris at first sight. We visited this romantic of cities for a second honeymoon in April 1921, So, I will begin my story with Paris. What better place to start? What better place for a honeymoon? (If you too like the idea of a honeymoon in Paris, read my short story, A Honeymoon in Paris) Paris in the Twenties was so alive that a visit there after the war proved perfect. There I could also connect with my French friend, Lisbette.

The following is part of a letter Lisbette writes to her friends back home in Australia. It captures the Paris of the early 1920s.

Post war Paris, a City of music, love and art

‘Beautiful but war-damaged Paris is very lively now since the war. The city is full of music, love, and art, especially art. Many artists have flocked here to the Montparnasse area on La Rive Gauche where Gervais lives. They find accommodation more affordable here than in Montmartre and I suppose the construction of the Sacre Coeur church on the hill disturbed their bohemian lifestyle. You may be interested to learn that the beautiful church is nearly complete. I remember you frequented this area in your days in Paris. The artists are finishing the mosaic work now.

But for now, Montparnasse is quite the place to be for artists and writers alike. Unlike me Gervais has money, so he took me to some of the cafes and once to a cabaret. The jazz music imported from America is all the rage here. It is very lively with a frantic beat which has become the pulse of Paris. We went to a music hall and even the scandalous Folies Bergère. Women in this city are wearing less and less!

The flappers, a new way to dress

I feel very overdressed and matronly compared to les garçonnes, the boy girls or flappers as they are also called. These boyish young things with bobbed hair wear dresses with absolutely no shape. Gervais says I must buy a new wardrobe, but of course, I don’t have the money or inclination for such frivolity. I have a son to raise somehow, so cannot waste anything on my vanity. I wander about in my old brown coat and straw hat looking very plain and out of date, a stranger from the past in the new vibrant Paris.’

Then Francesca arrives from her long trip from Australia and sees Paris with her own eyes.

‘The city with its gracious buildings and lovely wide avenues was beautiful. There was music in the air, carried to us from a music hall on the soft breeze that wafted from the river Seine.

Beauty in the Air

The next morning, Paris in the sunlight was in full view and I adored everything. There was beauty everywhere, the river, the sidewalk cafes, the churches and the people. Not just the sights, but the sounds- of music, church bells and of course, the language spoken or sung all around me.

‘Oui, Madame…..S’il vous plait, Madame…. Merci, Madame’

Accordion players wearing neckties and berets sang quaint songs by the shaded banks of the Seine. Snatches of songs drifted our way.

‘Mon ami Pierrot, au clair de la lune…’

Near the famous Eiffel Tower, patriotic nationalism stirred in song,

Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de Gloire est arrive.’

Le Marseillaise is such a stirring anthem sung proudly and strongly’

I fell in love with the Eiffel Tower

‘I looked for the beautiful tower wherever we walked as I loved it from all angles and night and day.

Ah! Le tour Eiffel. Encore,’ I exclaimed to Seb, yet again as its now familiar grey lines peeped from behind a building or became visible down an alleyway.

He laughed at my fixation on the now-popular national landmark.

‘The French hated it at first, even protested when Eiffel built it for an exposition.( see the movie, Eiffel) But now they love it. They put it on all the postcards!’

Oh, how I loved Post war Paris!

‘Well, it is very tall and imposing close up. I guess nearby residents would have objected. But maybe when it was complete, they changed their minds, as for a tower, it has beautiful lines,’ I reasoned.

Indeed, its lines were even more gracious when silhouetted at night against the moonlight. We took a bateau mouche ride down the Seine and came across the tower as we passed downstream.

‘Your tower, darling. There it is, again!’ Seb whispered in my ear.

I laughed and snuggled closer, gazing up at the grey metal tower, glorious and proud in the moonlight.

Oh! How I loved Paris!’

If you like the idea of this story then you must start with my first book Whispers Through Time. Admittedly not my best work as it is my debut novel, it will introduce you to the sisters Winnie and Francesca in 1905. Then you will want to follow their journey through the next two books, Time Heal my Heart and Last Time Forever, finishing in the 1960s.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Time, Heal my Heart will be released August 18.

Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.


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