Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Beginning today I will write and post weekly notes about Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War. Some will be comments about the book, some comments by writers about it, accounts of decisions I made, obstacles that imagination overcame, and often a photograph.

Please follow, if you will, and share with friends and encourage them to read and share, too. Let me know what thoughts what I write brings to mind. I write stories because I want readers to pass a few hours enjoying a world of imagination that reading brings to the mind’s eye and ear. Without looking for too strict a definition, I would call Bellicourt Tunnel a fantasia. It blends fact, fiction, and fantasy (if help from the revenant—souls returned from the dead—and angels and demons can be considered fantasy.)

To begin

The book begins with an epigraph, a quotation from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book Adventures and Memories.

Doyle often visited the war as official correspondent for the government. He was its chief propagandist.

 “I had not expected to see any more actual operations of the war, but early in September 1918 I had an intimation from the Australian Government that I might visit their section of the line. Little did I think that this would lead me to see the crowning battle of the war.”

Here’s the behind the scenes story.

Once I decided that I would write Bellicourt Tunnel as a sequel to The Angel of Mons it meant that I would bring several characters forward. Tommy Atkins, St. George, Joan d’Arc, angels, and Sherlock Holmes are fictional creations who I would write about again. Since Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, also characters in the Angel, were real people, I intended to find out where they were around the time of the battle. I expected to need to create a pretext for Doyle to have something to do with this story, as I had to with Winston Churchill. At the University of South Carolina Thomas Cooper Library I went to the shelves of Conan Doyle material and read along the spines. I came to a book entitled Adventures and Memories, looked at the copyright date—1924—after the War. Maybe here I could find out where he was around the time of the battle.

I read down the chapter titles and came to “Breaking the Hindenburg Line.” This was the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel! Doyle wrote: “I had not expected to see any more actual operations of the war, but early in September 1918 I had an intimation from the Australian Government that I might visit their section of the line. Little did I think that this would lead me to see the crowning battle of the war.”

That he was present at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, actually making his way, guided, onto the field of battle I took as an auspicious sign for my story .

Then he wrote: Under our very eyes, was even now being fought a part of that great fight where at last the children of light were beating down into the earth the forces of darkness. It was there. We could see it. And yet how little there was to see! This passage is perhaps as significant as the first for the novel. Because in the Angle of Mons Doyle was initiated into the “Golden Arrows of God,” he experiences and sees the divine battle taking place along with the human battle. The above passage hints at that.

In Chapter 18, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Tommy Atkins” Doyle testifies to what happened when he was at the battle, now that he is free to explain.

More and different to come next week. Please, if you have questions or would like to have me write about particular problems I encountered (these are always a surprise, and the solutions even more of a surprise, let me know. You can go directly to the book title or my name on Amazon and buy the book there. If you would like an inscribed copy, send a request to singingbonepress@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Lexington County Museum December 6 6:30 p.m. Free

Hazelius House   231 Fox Street Lexington, SC

Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War and the South Carolina Soldiers who Fought in It

Front cover

Jerred Metz, author and speaker

The United Stated declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. After training for nearly a year at Camp Sevier near Greenville, the Thirtieth Division—along with the Twenty-Seventh, which trained at Camp Wadsworth—were the first two Divisions of American soldiers to sail to Europe.

Jerred Metz will describe the Thirtieth Division’s—soldiers from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee, who fought in the World War I Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel—role in the fight and the battle’s significance in the war.

Metz will lay out the plans and reasoning that led up to the battle on September 29, 1918. The Division retired from the field on October 20, fighting Germans, pushing them further back each day for twenty-one days.

Metz will show these three miles the Hindenburg line, the officers and soldiers who fought, the fight, and its role in bringing about Germany’s willingness to end the war.

The author of eleven books, Jerred Metz’s two recent novels are “The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend” and its sequel, Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War.

 

From the Kitchen Drawer and Cupboard: Manufacturers’ Recipe and Advertisement Booklets

From the Kitchen Drawer and Cupboard:

A Phantasmagoria

of Manufacturers’ Recipe and Advertisement Booklets 1902 – 1950

Noon to 1:00 April 7

From the Jerred Metz collection, an exhibit of Covers, Pictures, Themes, Advertising, and Recipes

Pineapple Recipes

Pineapple Recipes

Pineapple Recipes

Pineapple Recipes

Selection on display at the Barrow Room, Irwin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Thomas Cooper Library

A talk by Jerred Metz introducing the collection. Please come for a fascinating, nostalgic, humorous, and insightful event. Feast your eyes, but not your stomach, on the sumptuous  food products and the way these companies and their booklets promoted it.

 

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings

In The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, I credit Sherlock Holmes with being led to the plans by Joan of Arc. They both appear in the companion novel, The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend.

The soldier who actually found the plans was Ernest Rollings. Having “killed Germans by the score” as he led his men on a daring raid nine miles behind enemy lines in northern France, that August 1918 morning Rollings and his men attacked the German Corps headquarters in a farmhouse in Framerville.

He found a sheaf of documents, hastily torn but not burnt containing details of “every machine gun post, trench mortar battery and fortified position” of Germany’s impregnable Hindenburg defensive line.

Headlines called him “the man who ended the war” and now an exhibition honouring his valiant efforts is taking centre stage as part of the Firing Line display at Cardiff Castle Museum.

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

I want to give proper honor to the soldier and his men whose deed earned him the praise and recognition.

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings was awarded a second Military Cross after the Battle of Amiens. I don’t know what the first one was for or when it was awarded.

Words in Praise of “Butter in a Jar: Days in the Life of Iola Thomas”

I want to share with you comments on Butter in a Jar: Days in the Life of Iola Thomas. Butter-In-a-Jar-Cover-658x1024

Jerred Metz’s narrative of an African-American newlywed and business genius making her way through the trickster-laden world of early 20th century Georgia addresses the subtle dangers of that ‘almost slavery’ era with delightful ironic humor. Metz’s sense of vernacular diction and rhythm is masterful: a plain-speak so convincing you can’t tell where the irony begins or ends: you just understand it’s necessary for the survival of this admirably gutsy protagonist and her marriage, a sort of linguistic underground railroad to her happiness, delightfully sneaky and hilariously true. Iola is a timeless heroine, yet also very much of her time, and so authentically Southern you can practically taste the moonshine burning down your throat, the watermelon juices dripping from your chin. In this highly entertaining narrative sequence, you can hear the music of Iola’s voice as clearly as a store-bell, but you still long to hear the whole thing spoken by Iola herself: to meet her in person. Iola’s truths are hidden from the characters who would exploit and cheat her, but offered in glorious confessional technicolor for the reader’s pleasure and enlightenment, and the resulting dramatic irony is delicious. There’s little figuration here to stand in the way of the protagonist’s voice, which carries each poem, and drips with delicious detail like fat from one of Iola’s barbeque hogs. As Iola says: ‘You talk about something good!’

These are the comments of a poet who teaches creative writing at the University of South Carolina, Nicola Waldron. If I hadn’t written the book, but read these comments I would want to read it. You can, too. Available from Amazon. I also have copies I would be happy to sign and send to you.

A New Book of Poems

Butter-In-a-Jar-Cover-658x1024

My book of poems, Butter in a Jar: Days in the Life of Iola Thomas has just been published. In its twenty-six narrative poems in the voice of Iola Thomas she tells the story of her family’s fall from prosperity to share-crop farming and there escape—“it was near slavery”—to St. Louis two years later. I have copies that I will happily sign. The book is also available on Amazon.

 

A Brief Change of Subject

For about thirty years I have been collecting Manufacturers’ Recipe and Advertisement Cookbook Pamphlets at antique malls from St. Louis to Baltimore and Columbia to St. Louis when we moved here. Last December I donated the collection of 600 of them to the Irwin Rare Books Library at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina. I am now not only the donor, but the curator of the collection.

Pineapple Recipes

Pineapple Recipes

For about thirty years I have been collecting Manufacturers’ Recipe and Advertisement Cookbook Pamphlets at antique malls from St. Louis to Baltimore and Columbia to St. Louis when we moved here. Last December I donated the collection of 600 of them to the Irwin Rare Books Library at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina. I am now not only the donor, but the curator of the collection. It is called the Jerred Metz Manufacturers’ Recipe and Advertisement Cookbook Pamphlets Collection.

Library staff are scanning all the covers and contents I have designated—text and illustrations. There what is called a metadata base being developed. This will take at least a year to finish. I will occasionally write about the collection. There will be scholars and students attracted to it, and I might do some teaching about the industrialization of food in America.

I will lecture on the collection next spring at the library. There will be an exhibit of some of the booklets. I don’t yet know the date, but I will notify people when the date is set. It should be worth a trip to Columbia.

Many years ago I wrote about some of the items. When I finish writing The Crowning Battle of the Great War and the next novel, a comic novel about Gracie Allen’s run for the presidency in 1940, I will devote my writing and research to the collection.

If you have any of these recipe pamphlets I would like to know about them. People are welcome to add to the collection. I would need to see them first, since I want to add only items that are not already in it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dole_Food_Company

An interesting sidelight: Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon

Steve burnett photo

I discovered this article recently and reproduce it completely.

As it turns out, Owen and Sassoon will play a role in my new novel, The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. They are two of the most important poets of the War. I have read deeply in the poetry of both of them.

More of them in future blogs.

When Sarah and I were on a tour with seven British folk and the Bird brothers we visited the spot, a canal, in France where Owen was killed. We also visited the grave of Sassoon’s companion.

The Wilfred Owen violin played by Thoren Ferguson seated in the Craiglockhart sycamore, and the newly completed Siegfried Sassoon violin played by Lewis Kelly, standing

Luthier Steve Burnett has created a violin in the name of poet Siegfried Sassoon from the branch of a sycamore tree still standing in the grounds of the Craiglockhart building, a former first world war shell shock hospital in Edinburgh. It forms a pair with a violin created in 2014 from the same branch in honour of Wilfred Owen, a fellow poet and patient at the hospital.

On 15 August the instruments will be played together in public for the first time, to mark the occasion of the poets’ first meeting at the hospital 100 years ago. Owen had been sent to Craiglockhart in June 1917 to recover from shell shock after serving on the front line in France, and contemporary sources suggest that he met the then already decorated war hero and published poet Sassoon between 15 and 19 August. The centenary is being marked by a week of celebrations and commemorations, entitled ‘Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh 1917-2017’

Burnett, whose violin workshop is in Edinburgh, adopted a method of using green wood to make the first instrument, taking the branch in winter before the sap started to rise.

‘The Sassoon violin was made in a more traditional way, using seasoned wood,’ he said, ‘but like the Owen violin it was created as a symbol of peace and reconciliation through the power of music and it will be played as a tribute to two great poets and a lost generation.

‘The Wilfred Owen has travelled widely over the last three years, being played in schools and at many First World War commemoration events,’ he said. Maxim Vengerov and Nigel Kennedy are among those to have played it.

The instruments will be played at Craiglockhart at a Royal Society of Edinburgh lecture by Neil McLennan, author of a forthcoming book about Owen’s time in Edinburgh. They will also be heard on BBC Radio 4’s ‘World War One: The Cultural Front’ at 10.30am on 19 August.

Catherine Walker, curator of the Craiglockhart-based War Poets Collection, said: ‘Both Owen and Sassoon loved and appreciated music, so the two violins are a wonderful and fitting tribute.

 

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Thirtieth Division in the World War

It has been quite some time since I’ve written a blog. The main reason is that I have been concentrating on the next novel, which I mentioned a while ago: The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel: A Novel.

As soon as The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend was published, I began looking for a battle that would 1) take place in the last days of the war (so I would have the time to write a book and get it published.) The climactic day of the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel was September 29, 1918, less than two months before the Armistice. 2) The book had to involve soldiers from South Carolina, where I have lived for twenty years. Sure enough, I discovered that soldiers from the Second Army, American Expeditionary Force, 30th Division, made up of soldiers from South and North Carolina and Tennessee fought at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. My friend Mitch Yockelson, of the National Archives, wrote about these soldiers in his book Borrowed Soldiers.

As is always the case, there were many surprises. I though there might be a way to bring some of the characters from the Angel of Mons into this one. The character who is the narrator of the last chapter of the story, Tommy Atkins, was still alive and fighting until the last days. He is a major character. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears in a major role, and in smaller roles are Winston Churchill, Sherlock Holmes, (now a spy for the British), and even smaller roles for two of the major “war poets”, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

While I am far from finished, I am far enough along to know that the book should be published in December, 2017 or January, 2018.

From now until then I will regularly write about the book, the battle, the location, characters, and whatever else I think might interest you.

Feel welcome to share my blog with friends. When the book is ready, you will be ready for it.

World War I Soldier Slang

imagesMuch of what I read is directly related to the historical novels I write. I read The Long Trail: What Soldiers and Sailors Sang and Said in the Great War, learned a lot that was useful to my writing. It is filled with definitions of the vast number of phrases the soldiers developed to talk with each other. It gave me words and phrases to use–and to avoid–since the descriptions often had a date or event when the phrase came into use. Since The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend appeared on the very first day of the war, all the phrases and words I took had to be in use by then. Nothing later. The lexicon even has a bizarre reference to The Angel of Mons. By Eric Partridge and John Brophy.

Eric Partridge, later in life.

Eric Partridge, later in life.

I just read it again, since The Crowning Battle of The Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel takes place on September 29, 1918, I will find many more terms and phrases to consider giving my characters to say.

My friend and expert in the 30th Division and the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, Jim Legg, a military archaeologist, told me about Lingo of No Man’s Land: A World War I Slang Dictionary (Originally subtitled The War Time Lexicon) by Lorenzo Napoleon Smith, a soldier in the Canadian Army. The book has many terms that are not in The Long Trail and additional defining terms for the ones the two books share. It has many phrases, for example, that the soldiers used for lice beyond cootie.

Author: Lorenzo Napoleon

Author: Lorenzo Napoleon

It is wonderful to see the attitude or view the phrase expressed. Many ridicule officers and the enemy. Many, too difficult for me to use, are Cockney slang, a complicated set of word changes. An example, though not precisely accurate, is why Columbia, South Carolina is known locally as Soda City. Columbia is often shortened to Cola, which is a soda. Hence, Soda City.