WW2 has been declared. A strange find on the beach gives Mary Rosie the chance to fulfil her dreams and contribute to her country, but all is not what she imagined.
After witnessing the first bomb to be dropped on mainland Britain, Mary watches her friends leave to join the forces and longs to be with them, but is held back by loyalty to her widowed mother.
France has capitulated. Johnny Allan’s regiment has been annihilated by German troops north of Paris. Johnny has to find a way to get home and to the girl who no longer waits for him.
Leisel is a German Jew who lost her family to the Nazis and has to make her way in Britain, a strange new country, while harbouring a desire for revenge.
Their lives become entangled in a way that no one could have envisaged.
A story about war, family ties, love, loyalty and loss.
WW2 Johnny Allan’s platoon have been fighting in France. This is a scene from the first time they engaged with the enemy.
The remaining men dug in and waited for the attack to stop. It seemed to last forever. Every now and then, Johnny touched the pocket where he kept Mary’s photograph and, in a whispering,, shaking voice he chanted the Lord’s Prayer.
After it was over and silence reigned, the men slowly emerged to inspect the carnage. All their trucks had been hit and damaged beyond repair if not destroyed totally.
‘We’ll withdraw to the Brussels-Charleroi Canal,’ said the sergeant major. ‘Now fall in.’ Clutching their weapons, the men regrouped and waited silently.
With no transport, they had to march. They passed bands of civilian refugees with their possessions laden on carts of all shapes and sizes, old horses pulling farm carts, dogs pulling dog carts, bicycles piled high with possessions, adults carrying loads on their backs, children plodding along behind them. Old people, labouring under heavy, anonymous bundles, often collapsed on the road and had to be loaded onto a cart among remains of a once happy life. The lines of pathetic humanity seemed to go on for miles. A Persian cat, grooming its coat, sat in an armchair, part of a mish-mash of possessions piled on a cart. Something about that cat, its act of normality, released something in Johnny and silent tears began to trickle down his cheeks.
In order to avoid the stream of human misery, the company had to break ranks and march in single file, often being stopped by a desperate refugee pleading for help the soldiers were unable to give. They filled the roads, mile after mile.
Eventually the sergeant ordered the men to take to the fields to avoid them. They had no sooner left the road than the now familiar drone of enemy planes filled the sky like a swarm of bees. The planes swooped low. The refugees ran for the ditches. The planes opened fire. From the safety of their hiding places, the soldiers watched in horrifying fascination. Horses, carts and bodies were blown sky high. Women, children and old men thrown up in the air, falling back down in pieces.
Once the planes had gone, the soldiers ran back across the field to offer what help they could, but apart from shooting badly wounded animals there was little they could do. They could not offer the wounded first aid or food. They had nothing themselves. A horse lay screaming by the side of the road, his stomach torn open, his entrails lying in the dust. It was then that Johnny’s numb horror disintegrated and his gorge rose.
A cold anger worse than before, now seethed within him. All those people, hungry and tired with fear on their faces, fleeing the enemy, shot down for no reason, unless it was simple sport.
‘What kind of mentality do these people have,’ shouted Johnny, tears growing cold on his skin. ‘Why did they need to shoot innocent people? Children, old men and women?’
‘It’s not just propaganda, the stuff we heard back home. This is pure murder,’ said Matt Wilson, who served with him.
A baby still wrapped in its dead mother’s arms started crying. Johnny picked it up. He felt the small body squirm against him, the mouth opening like a baby bird as it searched for food.
‘Leave it,’ said Matt. ‘There’s nothing we can do.’
‘I can’t just leave it.’ He looked around desperately for someone who would take the child, but all he saw were the seriously wounded, broken bodies and pieces of limbs.
A few survivors clambered out of the ditch. A young woman stared at the scene before her, her face vacant with shock. She turned slowly until she saw Johnny. The first thing he noticed was the amazing colour of her eyes. They were so pale, like water to which one drop of blue ink had been added.
‘Can’t you help us? Where are your planes?’ She spoke perfect English.
‘We’ve no transport, barely enough food for ourselves.’ Johnny handed the baby to her. ‘Where are you going?’
‘We’re trying to get to the coast. They say there are boats that will take us out of Europe to the Middle East. I have friends who have settled in Syria. But before we get there I am afraid that, even if the Germans don’t kill us, we’ll die of hunger. All we have is hope and that’s fading fast. Every town we come to has already been destroyed.’ She looked down at the whimpering child in her arms. ‘I’m afraid he’ll die soon. We’ve no milk for him. We’ve nothing for ourselves. The first wave of the German Army destroyed everything they couldn’t eat. Crops are rotting on ground covered by abandoned corpses of men and animals. France is a land of the dead.’
Johnny could hardly bear the despair on her face.
‘Private Allan,’ fall in,’ shouted his sergeant.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked quickly.
‘I won’t forget you. You speak good English.’
‘I am English.’
Surprised, he opened his mouth to reply, but she had turned away.
‘Come on,’ Matt grabbed his arm. ‘We need to move.’
Together, the regiment began to march again.
Three days later, with very little sleep, they were still marching. They marched until their feet were blistered and stinging; they marched past forests where all the trees were uprooted blasted and dead; they marched past many more bands of starving refugees, all trying to reach the coast where they hoped to find boats that would take them to safety.
Johnny discovered that despite blistered feet and empty stomachs it was possible for men to fall asleep while marching. The only time they woke up was when they bumped into the man in front or the man behind bumped into them. At times he imagined he’d died. He envisaged an army of dead men, still marching on, because that was what they had been ordered to do.
Catherine Byrne always wanted to be a writer. She began at the age of eight by drawing comic strips with added dialogue and later, as a teenager, graduated to poetry. Her professional life however, took a very different path. She first studied glass engraving with Caithness Glass where she worked for fourteen years. During that time she also worked as a foster parent. After the birth of her youngest child she changed direction, studying and becoming a chiropodist with her own private practice. At the same time she did all the administration work for her husband’s two businesses, and this continued until the death of her husband in 2005. However she still maintained her love of writing, and has had several short stories published in women’s magazines. Her main ambition was to write novels and she has now retired in order to write full time.
Born and brought up until the age of nine on the Island of Stroma, she heard many stories from her grandparents about the island life of a different generation. Her family moved to the mainland at a time when the island was being depopulated, although it took another ten years before the last family left.
An interest in geology, history and her strong ties to island life have influenced her choice of genre for her novels.
Since first attending the AGM of the Scottish Association of Writers in 1999, Catherine has won several prizes, commendations and has been short-listed both for short stories and chapters of her novels. In 2009, she won second prize in the general novel category for ‘Follow The Dove’
In 2016 The Road to Nowhere won second prize in the Barbara Hammond competition for Best Self-Published novel. The follow up, Isa’s Daughter won 1st prize in the same competition the following year.
Although the books follow the fortunes of the same family, they are all stand-alone.
The fifth book in the Raumsey series is Mary Rosie’s War.
Catherine Byrne lives in Wick, Caithness.
Social Media Links
G I V E A W A Y
1st Prize – all 4 of Catherine Byrne’s previous books in paperback.
6 x Runners Up Prizes – Print copy of Broken Horizon (UK Only)
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries only. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organizer and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.