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Book details
  • Genre:FICTION
  • SubGenre:Romance / Historical / General
  • Language:English
  • Pages:198
  • eBook ISBN:9781483504667

Wounded: A Great War Novel

by Gary Lewis

Book Image Not Available Book Image Not Available
It’s World War One and Snow doesn't know why he’s there. Then he meets Cozette in a tiny French village and begins to understand. Ninety years late his son George travels to the same village and makes an astonishing discovery.
It’s World War One and Snow doesn’t know why he’s there. Then he meets Cozette in a tiny French village and begins to understand. Ninety years late his son George travels to the same village and makes an astonishing discovery. Northern France, April 1917, the Germans are retreating and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) is in hot pursuit. Snow’s battalion, the ‘Old Bat’, captures the village of Hermies and a Victoria Cross is won. But the Germans are not retreating, merely consolidating. Exhausted, the battalion is flung back into a bloody, drawn out and ultimately futile battle at Bullecourt. Depleted and demoralized the unit is rebuilt over summer and then rushed north to join an Allied assault in Belgium. Rain turns the battlefield into a quagmire and the Old Bat is sent for a long rest in Grand Sec Bois, a tiny French village in the heartland of the Flemish nationalist region. Billeted on a farm, Snow meets Cozette Vandenberghe, the daughter of a pro-German nationalist father and a patriotic French mother. A romance develops and the young couple spends a happy summer together. In autumn the Old Bat leaves again for Belgium and terrible battles at Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde Ridge. Only Snow’s love for Cozette and his hopes of seeing her again on leave sustain his will to live through these, the darkest days of war. After his best friend is killed and leave is refused, his morale plunges and his mental condition, deteriorates. Seriously wounded at Passchendaele, he is hospitalized in England and loses contact with Cozette. The following spring Snow rejoins the Old Bat in northern France. It's a ‘company of ghosts’ now, with most of his comrades, dead, mad or wounded. Rushing to meet head off a last-ditch German assault before the Americans arrive, the Old Bat passes French refugees and Snow and Cozette meet briefly. The Germans are halted, citizens begin returning to their homes and the lovers are reunited for one last time. The story cuts to Sydney in 1999. Snow’s son, George, finds a manuscript, written by his long deceased father relating his war experience and a letter, addressed to him: "My darling son, George The first thing I’m going to tell you is that I’m not going to tell you everything. There are things a father need not, should not, divulge to a son as you will know if you are fortunate enough to have a family of your own when you read this; things that have happened in our lives as men, too horrible or intimate for anyone else to know. There are things I did in the Great War and things which happened to me, of which I cannot speak to your mother or anyone else other than a few weeping Diggers on Anzac Day. My darling boy, after your mother and I have gone, I pray you read my story, which I begin on this day of your birth, and understand the miracle it is that we both exist, how much I love you and hope you will always remember me … lest we forget." A decade later George travels to Grand Sec Bois to find out more about Cozette Vandenberghe, his war hero, to whom he believes he owes his own life by inspiring his father to go on living. He is astonished by what he finds. A touching resolution brings the book to a satisfying conclusion.
About the author
Dr Gary Lewis is Australia’s preeminent co-operatives’ historian and has published and lectured extensively in the field. However, when it came to documenting his father’s Great War experience it was soon apparent that his stock in trade, historiography, was unsuited to the task. Lewis didn’t want simply to recount genealogical facts or sustain an argument, as for military history, and he certainly is not in the business of hagiography. Rather, he wanted to evoke his father’s spirit, to delve the inner world of a young man asking all the big questions about life in a situation where life might cease next heartbeat. Conventional historical non-fiction didn’t work for this. 'Wounded' is Lewis’ first excursion into historical fiction (or creative non-fiction?) and he didn’t choose the genre lightly. As a historian and a Digger’s son he was aware of the responsibility he bore to not distort, sensationalize or idealize real events and characters for literary effect, believing this to be disrespectful not only to service personnel and civilians in whose backyard the war was fought, but to his own dad. Wondering nontheless what it must have been like for his father caught up in the relentless horror of the Great War, he became as interested in exploring the inner life of the young man as he was in the actual events of the war. Why? Because Lewis grew up in a household where the Great War set the tone for just about everything happening in his family; always there, rumbling in the background: his father’s gas-affected lungs, the dermatitis, the trench-related rheumatism, the wounded shoulder, the sleeplessness, nightmares and dramatic mood swings – and the drinking. He wanted to understand more about the psychological and emotional injuries his dad carried from the war, decades after it – the wounds. Like so many who served, Lewis’ father seldom spoke of the war and, in writing 'Wounded', Lewis was conscious of that and the need to respect his silence. If he was to tell the story of his dad’s war experience, he concluded, he must invent a character existing independent of familial considerations. Ploughing through reams of primary sources, diaries and official war records, gradually an impression of the ‘dad’ character, Snow, emerged and a story line into which he could be situated. The perceptive reader will notice that the four close friends in the book are called Victor (aka ‘Snow’), John, Collin and Louis, redolent of the author’s dad’s name: Victor John Collin Lewis. ‘Somewhere in the combination of those four characters,’ Lewis writes, ‘I believed qualities akin to those of my young father might exist. Dad served in all the battles described and at the times mentioned, so it seems reasonable to suppose he actually witnessed and participated in those events. Essentially, 'Wounded' is the story of an ordinary man whose life was shaped – and very nearly ended – by extraordinary events and, though helpless to control them, who still managed to change the course of history. It was dad who made history; I merely paint a portrait of it.’ Lewis tells us that while 'Wounded' is neither anti-war nor pro-war, it is an emphatic reminder of the futility of war. The novel also rejects the tendency of some historical fiction to alter facts for literary effect or to foist contemporary values on past events. Neither does it peddle myths or stoke legends, important as these might be, for dubious patriotic or nationalistic reasons. ‘My book simply pays homage to my father and forms an attempt to connect with an important part of his life about which I knew nothing but which shaped my relationship with him. My hope is that readers, particularly a younger generation for whom the Great War now means little, might come away from the book and reflect upon the long, dark shadow which that human catastrophe still casts upon our ancestral memory.’