On the centenary year of the WWI Christmas Truce I just couldn't let this book pass me by. Anne has written a wonderful story that starts during the Christmas Truce of 1914 and carries a message of hope, peace and goodwill even when you are on opposing sides.
Anne is also with us today with a guest post on the historical background of the Christmas Truce and how it plays its part in her story.
Guest Post – Lest We Forget
Thanks for hosting me today.
The first chapter of my upcoming release On Wings of Song takes place during the Christmas Truce in 1914. I’d wanted to tell Jochen and Aiden’s story for a while, and with this month being the centenary of the truce it seemed the right time to tell it.
By December 1914, the war had been raging for five months, and people were losing hope that it would be over by Christmas. Along Europe’s Western Front, men in trenches on both sides of the conflict laid down their weapons and celebrated Christmas together. They shared food, gifts, and sang carols. Some exchanged belt buckles and uniform buttons. The English and German soldiers also played a football match in no man’s land.
Both sides took advantage of the truce to work together to bury the fallen, and hold a Christmas service.
After the truce, many of those involved protested about killing an enemy who now had a human face. They’d struck up a brief friendship with some of the men they were ordered to shoot at and it was difficult to continue to believe in the propaganda fed to them. Those in authority were not impressed, and many of the units were disbanded, and the men sent elsewhere, away from the influence of others who shared their views. There’s a very poignant scene in All Quiet on the Western Front—set later in the war—where a platoon of German soldiers are talking together and asking each other why they are fighting. If this question was asked by those who hadn’t been a part of the truce, how much more would it weigh on the minds of those who had been?
When I decided to write a story set during this time, I read everything I could find about the truce of 1914. The Forgotten Voices series about the Great War has many anecdotes of the truce, as does another I’d highly recommend, Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub. The library also had a copy—I’ve since purchased one—of the movie Joyeux Noël. If you have the opportunity to watch this movie, make sure you watch the interview with the director, Christian Carion. He talks about the research behind the movie and how much of what was originally thought unbelievable was found to be true. One story told of two men who had met during the truce. One had given the other his address, and told him to visit him after the war. The Englishman ended up settling in his former enemy’s village and meeting his wife there—the story was told by their daughter. If not for the truce she would have never been born. Another story had a sadder end. The cat that had crossed no man’s land between the trenches, carried notes and was fed on both sides, was executed for being a spy!
It was many years before the truth of what had happened came out. Letters home were censored, and many thought the truce, and the stories connected to it, was a myth. This was brought home to me just this week when I watched a news story on a local TV station about men playing football together to commemorate the truce. The reporter asked that very question—did the truce really happen or was it a myth?
Sadly reality often gets lost amongst the fiction, and one of the reasons why it’s important to remember this moment of humanity during the madness of war is so that people know it was a real event.
Lest we forget.
At this conjecture I thought I would like to share with everyone the Sainsbury's Christmas commercial to commemorate the Christmas Truce of 1914. I get a lump in my throat every time I watch this thinking about the message it carries, even if it has come in for a little criticism from some quarters about its appropriacy in using this historical event to promote a supermarket chain. However, it is an incredibly moving and emotionally charged three minutes which carries a message of hope, peace and goodwill for one day which for me was what the Christmas Truce was all about.
On Wings of Song by Anne Barwell
Title: On Wings of Song
Author: Anne Barwell
Release: 24th December 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M (Historical)
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.
The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.
This book is exactly the reason why I love my historical stories. A story that starts its course in one of the bleakest moments of European history. An event happens for one day that sheds a light of hope and humanity in the world; The Christmas Truce of 1914. This is where we start the story with Jochen and Aiden as they meet each other on Christmas day in the middle of no man’s land. This scenario was touching enough, but given Anne’s writing talents you feel immediately the connection that Jochen and Aiden feel for each other. An affinity for each other that transcends their surroundings, beliefs and situation they currently find themselves in. Aiden is a talented singer and worked in a music hall before being enlisted into the army. Jochen loves his books, especially the classics from English authors and in reading he finds his escape. This whole scene was just so touching, but as we know it didn’t last and after they were sent to different units to fight out and survive the rest of the war.
“Bloody war,” Aiden said suddenly. “I don’t want to fight you, Jochen.” His voice shook. “Survive this insanity, and have a good life.”
However, they exchanged gifts, uniform buttons to be exact and both wore them around their necks. The buttons became a symbol of hope and love for them both until the war was over. A talisman of hope that kept them going through all the atrocities of the war. What both boys went through was horrific as was WWI itself and here Anne spares the reader none of the horrors, doesn’t water down the suffering, fear, torment and anguish experienced in the trenches. I found this to be perfectly OK as it wasn’t a pretty time and would not be correct to make it anything else.
After the war is over Aiden goes back to London and stays with a relation becuase he has now lost both his parents to the Spanish Flu. He also has an injured leg and goes back to working in the theatre. Jochen returns to Berlin, but both of them can still never forget each other until one day Jochen comes to England after he finds out that he has an inheritance he didn’t know about from a long lost great aunt that married and Englishman many years before the war. Jochen is now determined to find Aiden.
When Jochen is in England you could feel the apprehension, prejudice and mistrust he would always be greeted with when people heard his accent and realised he was German. Of course the war is only just over and these things would be expected, but it was still quite painful to think that both sides lost so many and Jochen, along with thousands of others on both sides were only there because they had to be.
“He wasn’t personally responsible for the death of their loved ones – or at least he hoped he wasn’t. He hadn’t wanted to fight in the damn war, and he’d lost people he cared about too.”
Eventually Jochen tracks Aiden down and when they meet this was beautiful and I did have a lump in my throat. That connection they had several years before, for that brief moment, is still there. They both had never stopped wearing their buttons or thinking about each other. However, it’s a long way before they get to show how they feel about each other as this was a time that being gay would get you a stint in prison at the very best. Also Jochen not being sure whether he would stay in England or not made them both even more guarded of their emotions, both afraid of getting hurt too much once again.
When it becomes clear what Jochen and Aiden really want from each other then Jochen becomes the more pro-active one and decides to take a risk. In helping Aiden to get his voice back Jochen shows the love he is feels for Aiden is real and Aiden is able to let the defences drop.
This book for me was a beautiful story, especially for Christmas, superbly written and shows us that there are truly no winners of a war and love really does cross all cultural divides. It is also your traditional romance where the story ends with that very first passionate kiss, but the journey there was exquisite, magical and totally alluring. I suppose the HEA you can think for yourselves, but I would like to think that Jochen and Aiden spent the rest of their lives together even if under the guise of “confirmed bachelors” taking into account the historical period.
About The Author
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth.
Connect with the Author
Anne will be giving away one eBook copy of On Wings of Song to one lucky winner. Just enter the draw below. Good Luck X
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