Category Archives: world war 1

A CASUALTY OF WAR by Charles Todd 2017 … A Bess Crawford Mystery

World War 1 Fiction    Historical Mystery Fiction

casualty

 

The Bess Crawford mystery series follows the activities of a first world war British nursing sister, and in this entry – the ninth in the series – Bess is still at the front but it appears as though the war is coming to a close.  Shortly before the armistice, she encounters a British Captain during a rare tea break and he proceeds to tell her about the home he is dearly missing in Barbados.  It sounds idyllic.  He leaves in a hurry because he is anxious to return to his men.  Despite the rumours of peace, the fighting continues and Bess is dismayed to discover the Captain in her medical station being treated for a head wound.  He returns to the fighting but he is shot in the back.  Even more disturbing than the injuries is his insistence that he was shot twice by a British Lieutenant – a distant cousin no less.  The medical personnel quickly attribute his ravings to his head wound and he is sent to a clinic, in England, that specializes in “shell shock”.   He begs Bess for her assistance and she agrees to help him.  The war is now over but Bess – along with her close friend Simon Brandon – investigate the strange circumstances of his case.  

At this point the novel resembles a traditional English village mystery. There is the vicar, his wife, the country doctor, the pub owner, the solicitor, the village tea room hostess and the wealthy landowner.  The villagers are suspicious of outsiders and the outsiders (Bess and Simon) have difficulty unraveling their mystery because the townspeople circle their wagons and refuse to cooperate.  They are distrustful of strangers and protective of their “boys” who have perished in the war.

I have followed this series diligently since the first entry (A Duty to the Dead, 2009) and I hope it continues now that Bess Crawford’s WWI is finished.  Bess’s father has an undetermined role in the peace negotiations and it is clear that there will be many war-related messes that require attention.  I cannot help but to think of Maisie Dobbs (Jaqueline Winspear 2003) since her story began in 1929 but most of her early cases had roots in WW1. (She was also a battlefield nurse).  Bess is constantly sticking her nose in other people’s business so I imagine there could be many cases to come to keep her busy.

Now for a few notes on the author.  Charles Todd is actually the pen name for a mother/son writing team and they are also responsible for the Ian Rutledge mysteries.  I will confess that I have not yet read the Rutledge books but someday… The Bess Crawford books have an obvious lack of sex so – I don’t know – maybe it’s because of the mother/son thing or maybe it is by design. (When I say no sex I mean none – not real , not implied, not any).   I can’t say I mind much but I am a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. Bess has had a few kisses.

The novel addresses many issues of war but in the forefront is the matter of shell shock (battle fatigue, PTSD) . It is an issue that needs to be addressed more so everyone can have a better understanding.  The conditions that these men and woman endured are hard to imagine and we do owe them everything. Everything.

This is a terrific series that I hope will continue for many years.

A CASUALTY OF WAR  by Charles Todd (2017) Harper Collins 377 pages

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Treaty of Versailles

Nonfiction
My daughter recently did a school project on The Treaty of Versailles and I helped her source some of the books from the local library. She had many more sources from her school library and, of course, her research was much more intense than mine but a strange thing happened – I learned a few things. I won’t even try to claim that I read all these books cover to cover but, by golly, I did absorb a few details. I now have a better understanding of the players involved and a pretty clear understanding why the treaty might have failed. In fact, if you ask some people when World War 2 started  they may reply “June 28, 1919” — the day that the Treaty of Versailles was signed.paris 1919
These are some of the books from our local library;
Paris 1919 Six Months that Changed the World by MacMillan, Margaret, 2002, Random House

The Guardians –  The League of nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pederson, 2015 ,Oxford University Press

With Our Back Against the Wall –  Victory and Defeat in 1918 by Stevenson, D., 2011, Belknap Press of Harvard

A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin 1989. Holt

A Shattered Peace by David Andelman 2014, Wiley, John Wiley and sons

The Long Shadow by David Reynolds, 2014, W. W. Norton and co.

The Lights That Failed by Zara Steiner, 2005, Oxford University Press

The Deluge by Adam Tooze, 2014, Viking

The Fall of The Ottomans by Rogan, Eugene, 2015, Perseus Books

The Wilsonian Moment by Erez Manela, 2007, Oxford University press

Laurence In Arabia by Anderson, Scott, 2013, Signal

These books have lots of information on the Paris Peace Treaties and The Treaty of Versailles in Particular. I am not an academic yet I found some information that fascinated me. Here are a few points that fascinated me.

  • The Germans agreed to surrender based on Wilson’s “fourteen points for peace” yet these were pretty much ignored once the negotiations began
  • In fact The United States Of America opted out of “The League of Nations”
  • It seemed each country had their own agenda.
  • France suffered the most casualties and damage during the war and they demanded reparations from Germany resulting in a hungry and impoverished and unhappy Germany. This led to the groundwork for an upstart named Adolph Hitler and his Fascists to improve the conditions in Germany and become a hero.
  • They league of nation had no muscle and the treaty was broken at various times by various countries with few consequences
  • Boundaries all through Europe were redrawn willy nilly, especially in the Middle East
  • Eventually several nations withdrew from the league of nations.

I usually like to write about fiction. novels but this subject peaked my interest so I thought I would include this biblioghraphy on my blog. Of course, I have only touched the surface on this topic.

 

 

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World War 1 Fiction…continued… um, again

 my dearsomewhere rivertonwalnut tree heroNecessity is the mother of invention     …unknown

There is no great loss without some small gain …Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on The Prairie

MY DEAR, I WANTED TO TELL YOU ..by Louisa Young (The Borough Press, 2012). THE HEROES’ WELCOME….by Louisa Young (The Borough Press, 2014)  These two novels introduce the stories of two very different couples during and after WWI ; we learn how they coped during the war and how they adapted after the war. (both couples are in both novels). These are well researched and informative books.  The nature of war creates change,  advancements and innovations in many areas including aviation, agriculture, armaments, food storage and   medicine. I once read that we can thank the front line WWI nurses for our modern-day feminine napkins after they discovered that the absorbent bandages, distributed to the medical stations , were perfect for their needs. Another area that made huge advances during WWI was Plastic Surgery. The author of this book researched the hospitals and doctors that catered to facial injuries during and after WWI.  She even had a relative who worked with these inventive doctors, by designing plaster casts of the faces. There was a duty to make injured soldiers as ready for the civilian world as possible. On a personal note, when I read I tend to binge-read but that’s probably not the best way to approach these books — they just spend so much time in the characters’ heads. These two novels leave the reader with plenty to think about and would work well in a book club.

SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE..by Jennifer Robson (William Morris Paperbacks, 2013) Romance …A titled young lady defies her parents and trains to be an ambulance driver during WWI . She also has an interest in a hunky young Scotsman, working on the front as a doctor. Decent romance.

THE WALNUT TREE…by Charles Todd (Avon, 2013)  A holiday romance and mystery by the author responsible for the Bess Crawford series (and  Bess even makes a appearance in this book). An aristocratic lady trains as a battlefield nurse and falls in love with a soldier. This is a short book but a rewarding read.

BEREFT…..by Chris Womersley (Scribe Publications, 2010) An Australian man returns to his home town, after serving in WWI , and 10 years after he left because he was accused of a terrible crime.

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON…….by Kate Morton (Macmillion Pan Books, 2007) In the winter of 1999, Grace Bradley, a former maid at Riverton House, is sharing her memories of working in an English Estate. At 98 years of age, Grace has much to share and she knows all the secrets.  WWI figures prominently in this novel. I like all Kate Morton’s work.

These are just a handful of fiction novels set during or after The Great War.

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World War 1 Fiction…….continued

I still have a handful of WW1 fiction titles that I would like to introduce in my blog before I move away from this topic (for now but not forever) and again I will emphasize that these novels could be set during and/or after the war.

DEAFENING…….by Frances Itani (2003) It has been several years since I read this novel but I think of the story and the characters often. That has to be a sign of a good novel. It is primarily the story of a girl, Grania who becomes deaf at age five after a bout with scarlet fever. She lives in a small town in Canada.  The book addresses her education and her close family ties and much more as she is growing up. Eventually she meets a nice man and they marry but soon after the wedding, World War 1 breaks out and Grania’s dear husband signs up as a stretcher bearer with the Canadian army  and heads to France. I have written about this book in more detail in an earlier posting because this little blurb  could not possible do justice to such a special novel. A wonderful novel that just may send the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was like that for me.

THE CRIMSON ROOMS….by Katharine McMahon (2009)  This is a novel that expertly illustrates that a war isn’t really over simply because the fighting has stopped. Evelyn Gifford is a young woman in her 30’s trying to become a lawyer at a time when women were not expected to be lawyers. She lives in a household of women (mostly relatives) and they are grieving for Evelyns’ brother–his hat still hangs on the hook near the door where he left it on his last leave.  Evelyn has some interesting cases including a war veteran who refuses to defend himself from a murder charge.I really like this novel and I think it tackles some issues that were in the forefront at the time. deafeningcrimson room It is a stand-alone and a mystery.More next blog.

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World War One Fiction set on Scottish Islands.

LETTERS FROM SKYE…..by Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine books, 2013) Wonderful novel told entirely through letters (epistolary style) encouraging comparisons to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY…by Mary Ann Shaffer.  In the  Spring of 1912 an American college student is lying in bed recovering from a dorm prank gone wrong. A friend gives him a small volume of poetry. On a whim he sends the author (Elspeth) a fan letter, and she replies from her home on the Scottish Island of Skye.  They correspond  back and forth, sharing their dreams and disappointments. I have reviewed this book in greater detail in an earlier posting but I will say that the plot takes them through World War One and beyond. There is also a second narrative involving Elspeth’s daughter and a World War 2 romance. I loved this novel!

THE ROAD DANCE……by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2002). The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys to leave the Island (Lewis)  for WWI. The author is a Scottish journalist/tv personality who spent his childhood summers on Lewis with his Grandmother. The book is published by a Scottish independent publisher but please do NOT read the back cover…all the major plot points are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. This book is beautifully written and very sad. A quote….”Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry. And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home and be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched.  It was God’s will some said” (page 71)  I have reviewed this book with more detail in a past post.

The sinking of the Iolaire was mentioned in  Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy ( sorry but I can’t remember which book) but one of the characters discovers that he is related to the Iolaire hero and it has a profound effect on his life.

 

letterroad dance

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Scottish Islands during World War 1

IolaireI am drawn to novels set on Scottish Islands; for years now I have tried  to get my hands on any and every novel featuring a Scottish Island setting.  Skye, Orkney, Lewis and Harris, Iona, Shetland, Barra,—well it could be a long list because there are over 90 inhabited Islands (although in some  cases the population may consist of a single caretaker or family). Of course two famous writers (Ann Cleeves and Peter May) have made it easier, each by setting a series on a Scottish Island.   I have reviewed many of these novels in greater detail in past blogs (and explained some of the reasons why they attracted me).

And….I have been presenting an overview of some  impressive World War 1 novels in my past few blogs and now I am going to continue with the war theme and add the Scottish Island theme. I hope my next few blogs might offer some choices and possibilities to readers who enjoy this type of fiction.

I have stated that my main interest is fiction–well this blog is about fiction—BUT right now, in this posting, I am going to indulge in some NON-fiction. I think the narrative I am about to present will give the reader some perspective with respect to the Islanders’ involvement in World War 1.  So I will break with form to tell…..

The Heartbreaking and True story of the HMY Iolaire,

The young men of Isle of Lewis had a long record of coming to the aid of king and country, and true to form, during World War One, Lewis contributed 6,200 servicemen to the cause, and that  from a population of 30,000.  When the  guns  went  quiet after the armistice had been signed….1,000 Lewis men had succumbed to the war. One thousand young men would never come home.  Six weeks after the armistice, Lewis servicemen (survivors of a hell on earth), were still being demobbed and preparing to return home to their Island . On New Years Eve, 9:30 p.m., the HMY Iolaire (Gaelic for Eagle) left the Kyle of Lochalsh and  set sail for Stornaway Harbour on the Isle of Lewis. These men had survived the obscenities of war….and they were going home. Families on Lewis were preparing to have their sons/fathers/brothers/cousins/husbands/sweethearts home for the new year. The ship had a maximum capacity for 100 persons yet 280 men were onboard that night. Just outside Stornaway harbour, the Iolaire hit a rocky outcropping known as “The Beasts of Holm” These rocks had long been known as challenging to navigate (even in daylight with a familiar crew….and even today). On January 1, 1919 the Iolaire sank. Many men drowned immediately with their heavy boots and full uniforms weighing them down and others were able to hang on to the masts for hours. Of the seven men gripping the masts, only one was able to hold on until rescued. And there was a hero……  A man named John F. McLeod managed to swim ashore with a rope. He secured it to a rock on the shore and it is believed that 40 men were saved by using this life line.  In the final count 205 men of the 280 onboard perished in the sea that night…….174 Lewis men,  7 Harris men and the rest were crew.  The entire Island was in mourning.

The first time I heard this story it was like a kick in the gut. They survived the war, only to die within sight of their home.

My next blog will feature Scottish Island fiction set during the First World War. I hope my readers can understand why I chose to  reveal this true story before I began the next stage of my WWI fiction blogs.

 

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World War 1 Mystery Series part 3

Capturewent waterafterlionMy last few blog entries have revolved around mystery series set during (or in the aftermath) of World War 1.  I would like to continue that theme with this post about three mystery series that may be of interest to anyone who appreciates historical mystery fiction of this era. All three of these mystery series take place after the war  but they all incorporate elements of he war, and in some cases the actual answer to the mystery can be found directly in something that happened during the war. All of the novels on this page feature strong, intelligent women as the main characters

Daisy Dalrymple is a character created by Carola Dunn with her first adventure being “DEATH AT WENTWATER COURT” (1994) and then followed by 20 more entries. The reader will learn early in the first novel that Daisy was the privileged child of an Earl but after the war (and because of the war) her circumstances changed dramatically.  Her beloved brother Gervais died during the fighting and was buried somewhere in France. Her father died immediately following the war from the Spanish Flu. The Dalrymple money and estate were entailed and thus it was left to a distant cousin. Daisy’s fiance was a Quaker and a “conscientious objector” but he worked as an ambulance driver near the front and he was also killed. To keep busy (and to make money) Daisy began to write successful magazine articles.  Her stories on the” Grand Old Estates” allowed for her to travel. In the first novel Daisy meets an interesting fellow – DCI Fletcher, himself a widower after his wife died from the Spanish Flu. Oh yeah…..and there’s a murder. These novels, although the subject matter can be intense, tend to be more like a cozy and less gritty than some other series of this era.

The next series is actually one of my favourites during this era–the DANDY GILVER series by Catriona McPherson  with the first entry being “After the Armistice Ball (2005). This  first novel is set among the struggling upper classes, in the aftermath of World War 1. We meet a character named Alex who has just inherited an estate , even though he was a second son. His older brother died in the war. A lot of things just aren’t the way they were meant to be. Dandy and Alex become WORK partners and I just love their witty banter, and the droll insight. They are at their absolute best when their  investigations bring them to areas of Scotland where the superstitions and customs may seem ridiculous but they’re brilliant at separating the chaff from the wheat. And the war does figure directly in some of the entries, for example, they have a case that involved a “conchie”–that would be slang for conscientious objector. In one telling but simple scene, Dandy is talking to a woman about her  own school age sons and, without thinking she asks the woman if she has sons. She realised her mistake immediately as the woman’s face crumpled in on itself.  After the war a person NEVER asked a stranger about their sons. This series has 10 titles.

Jade del Cameron is  another strong female character written by Suzanne Arruda with the first entry of the series called “THE MARK OF THE LION”(2006) Jade was an ambulance driver during WW1 where her pilot boyfriend downed his plane very near to where she was working. His dying wish was for her to travel to Africa and find his illegitimate brother. In truth I found this to be more of an “African Adventure series ” rather than a “WW1” series but an interesting read all the same.

I am very excited about my next blog post–I will be combining two of my favourite elements of fiction.  I love fiction about Scottish Islands, I have written many blogs about this subject in past posts.  And I also love World War 1 fiction so I am going present some Scottish Island fiction set during World War1.

 

 

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World War 1 Fiction—–Mystery Series (Part two)

spellerIn World War 1 they called it “shell shock” in Wold War ll they called it “battle fatigue”, and now they refer to it as” PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)” but whatever the label it was definitely clear after WWI that not all wounds were physical. I bet there were more than a few traumatized soldiers who would have liked to punch Friedrich Nietzsche in the nose — that would be the pinhead who came up with “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”  um, I don’t think so. (actually Nietzsche died in1900) My point is that a lot of men came home from this war at a time when mental problems were considered weaknesses and instead of receiving much needed support they were shunned and stigmatized. Some men left for the war as strong, self-sufficient, family breadwinners—-and returned as broken versions of themselves and a burden to their loved ones. Many of the survivors returned with missing limbs and many had compromised lungs from the  mustard gas. At times it was a sad “welcome home” after 5 years of hell to find no job vacancies. Many of the novels that grace these pages cover some of these atrocities and more. These pages are my tribute to mystery series set  during WW1 and its aftermath. Many of these mysteries have their roots in WW1, even if they are being investigated many years later.

“THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN JOHN EMMETT” by Elizabeth Speller (Houghton, Miffin, Harcourt 2012)  Lawrence Bertram series #1. .  Lawrence Bertram is having difficulty adjusting  to a “normal” life after the war especially since he has recently lost his wife and infant son.  Into his life comes the sister of his childhood  friend asking him to look into her brother’s suicide. His investigation leads him to his old friend’s army buddies and he finds things more complicated than he originally imagined. This is an interesting mystery with a likable main character.  I would like to mention the sad but lovely prologue featuring the wives, mothers, children, sweethearts and relatatives of lost soldiers watching the train carrying “The Unknown Soldier” to his final resting place in London.The crowds were silent or quietly sobbing , each person wondering if that could be my boy!!! The second book in the series is called “The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton” (Houton, Miffin, Harcourt 2013)  In this book Lawrence finds himself in a village that has been totally wiped out of young, able bodied men. So far there are only two books in the series  but Elizabeth Speller released a stand-alone novel about WW1 this year called ‘THE FIRST OF JULY’. (Pegasus, 2014) and this novel is set in the trenches. I will not comment on this novel because I have not read it.

I had hoped to cover more series in this post but I kind of yammered on a bit. I have more so I will release a new post in the next couple of days.  It will be Part 3!

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World War 1 and Mystery Fiction Series

maisie I love mystery series – I suppose that started with Nancy Drew – but I still watch closely to see when my favourite authors are ready to release the next entry in their series. I will stalk them on the internet and the new release section of my library hoping to get near the beginning of the queue. I like to see the characters grow and change and develop and sometimes they even encounter set-backs. (It has just crossed my mind that Nancy Drew is not at all like that – she was always 18, dating Ned Nickerson and palling around with Bess.)

The first series is MAISIE DOBBS …By Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press, 2003) Maisie is a woman who is easy to admire. She spent many of her early years “in service ” until one day she was caught by the lady of the house using the library.  This transgression might have resulted in immediate dismissal but instead the lady took an interest in Maisie and her informal education had begun.  She went on to a more formal education but at the onset of WW 1 she trained to be a nurse (lying about her age). She saw many years service at the front lines in France. The novel actually begins in 1929 as Maisie is opening her office as an “Inquiry agent and Psychologist” but her cases constantly bring her back to the war and her earlier years are usually recounted as a flashback memory.. She deals with shell-shocked soldiers and many injustices that still stem from the war. She also manages to straddle the world of the upper and lower classes . Personal grief, depression, anxiety are all examined in the books. The Maisie Dobbs books now number 10—-in order MAISIE DOBBS 2003, BIRDS OF A FEATHER 2004, PARDONABLE LIES 2005, MESSENGER OF TRUTH  2006, AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE 2008, AMONG THE MAD 2009, THE MAPPING OF LOVE AND DEATH 2010, A LESSON IN SECRETS 2011, ELEGY FOR EDDIE 2012, LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED 2013. I highly recommend these novels. In a side note—-Jacqueline Winspear did not write a Maisie Dobbs book this year but instead she came out with s stand-alone (also about WW1) but I didn’t like it. Unfortunately I can not tell you why because it would be a spoiler. But rest assured Jacqueline Winspear fans, it was well reviewed by the REAL press. It is called THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES 2014.

Another series I like also features a WWI . nurse.  The books are by Charles Todd and feature a British nurse–Sister Bess Crawford. The first novel begins on Tuesday 21 November, 1916, 8:00 am aboard the HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic. Britannic had been requisitioned as a hospital ship with the onset of WWI and was travelling to collect wounded from Greek Macedonia, Palestine, and Mesopotania. The time and the date are important because 12 minutes later, at 8:12 a.m. an explosion rocked the ship. (Probably a mine)  Fifty five minutes later the Britanic was lost beneath the sea. The Britannic had been the sister ship of the Titanic and many improvements had been undertaken so this ship could avoid the fate of the Titanic. Unfortunately simply human error was probably responsible for the quick sinking; the nurses had opened all the portholes on the fresh and breezy day to air out the chambers. There were adequate lifeboats (unlike the Titanic) and the final death toll was 30 lives. Even these  lives could have been spared but several lifeboats left before the captain called”abandon ship” and they were swept into the propellor. This is a fairly accurate account of the sinking of the Britannic – I know , I researched it–(Okay, okay I googled it)   And then the fiction…..Our heroine Bess is sent home to recover from a broken arm and she uncovers a mystery. I almost did not read this novel because of the author. Charles Todd—-I just had to wonder what a man could know about the emotions of a frontline nurse. Well guess what…Charles Todd is the pen name of a MOTHER and SON writing team.The first book is A DUTY TO THE DEAD 2009, AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS 2010, A BITTER TRUTH 2011, AN UNMARKED GRAVE 2012, A QUESTION OF HONOUR 2013, AN UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE 2014. One of the books deals pretty heavily with that other enemy–the spanish flu.

Charles Todd also writes a series featuring WWl veteran Inspector Ian Rutlege. I have read some good reviews BUT I have not read themduty to the

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World War 1 and Fiction Novels

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WW 1 and in recognition of that fact I would like to present some of my choices for WW 1 fiction novels. These novels are set during, or in the aftermath of this war. Many would argue that nonfiction would be a greater use of one’s time and provide a more accurate picture of historical events. I can’t argue with that logic, I can only say that I prefer fiction. I like to get to know a character. enter his or her thoughts, follow them through their story, and in the case of a series, I can follow them through many adventures.  I have reviewed many of these books in earlier blogs and I now intend to do more of an overview. I will be including books that are set in the aftermath of the war because the repercussions of WW1 were enormous. In Great Britain a good portion of a generation of young men were wiped out, and in consequence, women found themselves with more options in the workplace. Until then women had few choices; they were wives(and mothers), they were “in service”  or they joined a religious order (with exceptions, of course) But so many of the men were gone, and women had gained experience in the workforce. There was change. It might also be said that WW 1 Caused a blurring of class lines. More change!

My next blog will feature some of my favourite authors and their WW 1 series.

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