I have to admit I cheated over this book, because I began by trawling back into my own family history, not because I wanted to search out all my long-lost relations but because of three of the people I grew up with. All three of them had very interesting tales to tell and I sat at their feet as a very young child with my ears flapping and afterwards and in secret wrote up everything I could remember of what they said in my well hidden, very secret, diary.
One of them whose name was Jesse Garnsworthy, had been a soldier in the First World War and served in the trenches for the full four years, I heard things from him that I’d never heard before and have never seen in any history book. One of them was the ‘morning hate’ which I’ve described in the book exactly as it was described to me but he also told me about the food, the rats, the lice and the general filth of the trenches. Respec’ Jesse.
The second one was Jesse’s wife who’s name was Minnie but whom I always called Dardy because Garnsworthy was too difficult for my infant tongue and the nickname stuck. She told me almost casually that she had been sent out to work the day after her twelfth birthday, I was absolutely horrified to hear it and thought how cruel it was, but she said that was the way things were in the old days and they all had to put up with it. I loved her to bits. She was the most hardworking and loving woman I’ve ever met, she worked every day of her life, from twelve years old until the day before she died when she was in her eighties. And she became my heroine as she always was. Respec’ Dardy.
The third, was an Aunt called Vera Dawson and she (Respec’ again!) was a Suffragette who chained herself to the railings in Parliament Square and of course was arrested, she told me how Suffragettes were despised and openly abused especially by what she called ‘rough-necks’, so there’s another thread for my book and again it was verbatim.