Margaret Tanner is an award winning multi-published Australian author. She loves delving into the pages of history as she carries out research for her historical romance novels, and prides herself on being historically correct. No book is too old or tattered for her to trawl through, no museum too dusty. Many of her novels have been inspired by true events, with one being written around the hardships and triumphs of her pioneering ancestors in frontier Australia. She once spent a couple of hours in an old goal cell so she could feel the chilling cold and fear. She has also visited the 1st World War battlefields and cemeteries of France as she researched her novel, Wild Oats.
|Grave of |
Unknown Australian Soldier
Some of the scenes in Wild Oats are set on the Somme battlefields of France in 1916.
In the town of Albert the troops saw a church called Notre Dame des Brebieres. It had been damaged by German shells in 1915, and a golden Madonna lay at an angle across it, ready to topple off at any moment. Somehow she managed to cling on and this caused a lot of superstitious talk amongst the troops. The English soldiers said the war would end when she fell, while the Germans thought that whoever knocked her down would win the war.
My husband and I actually visited this church when were in France a couple of years ago, and the golden Madonna has been restored to her former glory.
|1st Australian Division Memorial|
nr Albert, France
English aristocrat, Phillip Ashfield, comes to Australia to sow some “Wild Oats”. After seducing Allison Waverley, he decides to marry an heiress to consolidate the family fortunes. Phillip has made a fatal choice, that will not only ruin his own life, but the repercussions will be felt by the next generation.
|Vimy Ridge trenches|
On the twenty-seventh of July, 1916, after three full days and nights of one of the bloodiest and most heroic advances in France, the remnants of the first Australian Division was relieved at Pozieres after losing over five thousand men.
Captain Phillip Ashfield, being driven by his corporal to see the Commander of the Second Division, was appalled at the losses sustained. He had been in France since 1915 but was fortunately attached to British Headquarters because of the powerful friends his father had.
Those poor devils looked as if they had been to hell and back he observed as he waited on the main Amiens Bapaume road for them to pass. The Australians were so casual in their treatment of Officers as to be almost insolent. Time and again he saw it on leave in London. They caused fights wherever they went, yet he still held a soft spot for them because of Allison. He would always regret the loss of his golden girl.
Bitterness overwhelmed him as he thought of his own empty marriage. Isobel was cold and frigid. Not that he particularly worried about that, as he could relieve his pent-up feelings in the arms of pretty, willing mistresses, of whom there had been a score. But she couldn’t give him an heir. Because of this he was filled with such loathing he could barely look at her.
The town of Pozieres lay in ruins. When a machine gun opened up on them from somewhere close by, he leapt from the truck and sought shelter behind the only wall left standing of a farm house. There had been recent vicious fighting here. Scores of bodies, both German and Australian, lay strewn about, most of them blackened with flies.
The firing stopped as suddenly as it began. “See if the way is clear now, corporal.”
“Yes, sir. All clear.”
Phillip stood up and adjusted his uniform jacket.
“Would you mind if I collected a couple of German helmets, sir, to send home to my two boys?”
As far as Phillip knew, the man wasn’t even married. “Just don’t let me see you taking them.” Strictly speaking, it could be construed as looting, but sunk in the misery of his marital dilemma, he didn’t care one way or the other.
“Cor, blimey, someone’s alive.”
“What! That’s impossible.” Phillip strode over to where his corporal had started pushing bodies aside.
“One of ours, by the sounds of him, sir.”
“Well, get him out. Put on a field dressing, and we can report it to the nearest casualty clearing station.”
“Field dressings won’t do this bloke no good. He’s copped it in the chest and the guts.”
“Water.” The voice sounded feeble. “Come on, mate, give me some water.”
Phillip went over, and the blood froze in his veins as he recognised the white-blond hair of Tommy Calvert.
“Here.” He shoved the corporal aside, took a silver flask from his own pocket and pressed it to the boy’s lips. Not a vestige of colour remained in his face—even his lips were white. Only the eyes stood out, vividly blue, and even now starting to glaze.
“Do you remember me, Calvert? Phillip Ashfield.”
“Ashfield.” He muttered something and tried to get up.
“Lie still. Are you in pain?”
“No.” His voice though low, sounded quite coherent. “I was before, but not now. I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
Phillip didn’t know whether to lie or tell the truth. “Well, if we could get you to a doctor, maybe not.”
“I don’t want to go back to Allison crippled. I’d rather die.”
“How is Allison?”
“She married me.”
The corporal came back. “We can go now, sir.”
“No, we can’t leave the boy here.”
“Ashfield, Jim’s dead. She’ll have no one now, and with the baby...”
“Baby?” Allison had a baby. Phillip stared down at this boy, not even twenty years old, whose lifeblood flowed into the ground, and he envied him.
“There’s a letter in my pocket. Get it out.” He moaned so loudly when Phillip went to get it, that he snatched his hand away. “Promise me you’ll look after things for Allison. Don’t let her think I suffered, will you?”
He started to mutter and his eyes became even more glazed, because the end was near, but life still flowed through his body. “Tell Allison I’m sorry. He’s buried in the bush near my place.”
“What’s he raving about, sir?”
“I don’t know.”
“He was going to hurt her, and I couldn’t let him.” The hand gripping Phillip’s wrist felt icy cold, even though the sun shone.
“I’ll tell her, Calvert, but who are you talking about?”
“Old Jack...her dad. I just wanted to scare him. I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“He’s dead, sir. What was he raving about, killing someone?”
“Forget about that for the moment. Get a shovel and bury him.”
“Get a shovel. That’s an order. I want him buried over there in what’s left of the rose garden. I want something with his name and number to mark the spot, and hurry, man. If we don’t get out of here soon, we’ll end up being killed ourselves.”
Phillip searched Tommy’s pockets and found a few loose pieces of change, a pay book and the letter from Allison. He put these things in his own pocket.
They said no prayers over this fallen warrior but buried him and marked the spot with a plank of wood before driving away.
Later, back in his own quarters at H.Q., Phillip gathered the earthly possessions of Tommy Calvert together and started putting them in an envelope. The letter from Allison fluttered to the ground and he bent over to pick it up.
It was crumpled and fingered from being read many times over. He clenched his hand into a fist. She had married young Calvert, and they had what he craved above all else. A son. Something started to churn inside him as he scanned the neatly written lines. There it was. He felt as if he had been kicked in the guts.
It’s uncanny, Tommy. He’s a little miniature Phillip Ashfield.
He’s Mine. Sweet little Allison had born him a son.