AND SUCH GREAT NAMES AS THESE
TRUTH, RUMOUR, FICTION
That’s the trouble with the study of history. It’s too rigid. You cannot play around - at least you oughtn’t to play around - with the evidence. Interpret the events as you will but you mustn’t invent or distort. Be true to the facts.
But fiction, that’s different. Create. Be imaginative. As the journalists say, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
So having had a lifetime’s interest in history and literature – or should I say Fact and Fiction? – I was faced with this difficulty when I came to write And Such Great Names as These.
Over the years I’d heard the odd tale from the Great War. One of these tales was that there were some unofficial and unrecorded military executions of deserters. I have no evidence for this assertion and so in the interests of historical truth such suggestions ought to be ignored. On the other hand, as the journalists say…
So an unofficial military execution is related in the book and the truth hidden so that even the parents never know what has happened to their son. They have simply been told of his death in action.
But just imagine, the parents who have lost their son in this way, come to see one of his former comrades. Dolly’s brother Rob knows how Ernie Grayson died and his mother and father arrive unexpectedly at her house to find out more.
The Graysons, intent on every word made no movement, no sound.
'I met him one afternoon. We were out of the line. And he saw me. We were in a village about twenty miles back.'
They were respectable, timid, narrow. And they would never forget their son. They loved him. Always would.
'We had a drink, I remember.'
Mrs Grayson's mouth was pursed.
'Not too much, I hope.'
Even in death, Ernest was not to be allowed to have forgotten that he was from a respectable home.
'No,' Rob told them. 'Just a couple. Special circumstances,' he added. 'We were under a bit of strain. Ye know, fightin'.'
Mrs Grayson's severe look relaxed slightly as she acknowledged that perhaps in those special circumstances, Ernest might be allowed one drink. But no more than that. The restriction was etched in her face.
'He'd had a hard time, Mrs Grayson.'
It was true. He had. Every day since he had joined the army had been tough. It was difficult to know who his worst enemies were. Those in his own company or the Germans. As they had sat in the bar ‑ and as Ernie had couple after couple after couple though there was no need for the Graysons to know that ‑ Ernie had told Rob what it was like for him.
'I'm frightened,' he had admitted without shame. 'I'm frightened I'm goin' to get killed or maimed. Lose a limb. Me face. Me balls.'
And Rob had told him that was what they were all afraid of.
'You're not,' Little Ernie had told Rob. 'You've been decorated. You proved you're not frightened.'
And Rob had told him how frightened he was every day on whatever side of the wire he found himself.
'And the lads. They hate me,' Little Ernie had confided, ignoring Rob's admission. 'Ye know what they do?' And he had told Rob every instance of minor cruelty to which he had been subjected, to which he was subjected every day. If it wasn't the Germans, it was the Geordies, his own people.
'We'll get out of it eventually,' Rob had reassured him. He had wondered about Ernie. He was harmless. He was everybody's victim. Both sides of the wire.
'I never will,' Little Ernie had wept into his wine. 'I'll never get away from here.'
They were almost the last words Rob heard for Little Ernie had sobbed himself to sleep at the table.
But where did the character of Ernie come from? Well, really, much of Ernie came from two people I knew. Tell you about them next time though it won’t be for a couple of weeks.
And Such Great Names as These by Allen Makepeace
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75% of the book’s profits go to the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association