Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Arras novel is taking shape...

Edited extract from a draft section of the book I'm writing about Robert Gooding Henson and the Battle of Arras:

Thousands of Tommies, all together, were training for the battle that would soon come. Flagged courses were constructed over the rough terrain, where they would rehearse movements over and over again. The weather was cold, storms intermittently battering them in every way over and over again. The only relief was the resumption of the sporting tournament. One day, when the snow fell and obliterated the pitch, the officers decided they should forego football and a boxing tournament was organised. 

Whilst thousands of soldiers were accommodated in secret rough-hewn tunnels dug under the decimated city of Arras, Robert’s Battalion were shifted in buses to Dieval for Brigade exercises, then marched to Hermaville, a farming village just eight miles west of Arras. This day, 7th April, was an auspicious day for the Somerset regiment. This was Jellalabad Day, which celebrated the regiment’s successful escape from a trapped position in Jellalabad during the Afghan War in 1842. Celebrating one of Somerset’s greatest military victories on the eve of their greatest sacrifice was an irony that was yet to occur to most of them. Huts were set up with a piano, crates of beer, and a musical evening was provided for all the men. 

On 8th April, the men were settled into tents just outside a larger, more industrial village named Maroeuil, which was four miles closer to Arras. Unlike the twenty-four thousand soldiers who surged from the hidden tunnels in the city to take the Germans by surprise, Robert’s Battalion camped out. Whilst in a heavily wooded area, they were still more vulnerable and more likely to be spotted by German aerial reconnaissance. A party of officers, in an unusually intrepid operation, reconnoitred the trenches north of Arras ahead of the attack, and a plan was hatched.

They followed their orders but were not yet to know the full scope of what lay ahead of them. Troops from Australia, Canada, France, Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales were all defending the Ypres Salient and driving the Germans back long the line of the River Scarpe, and had been doing so for months that extended into years. The Fourth Division, of which the Somerset Light Infantry was a part, had orders to capture a section of the German trench system known as the Hyderabad Redoubt, north-east of the village of Fampoux...

Whilst this is taken from the book, it doesn't include anything to do with plot or characters. We'll save that for another day. I've taken the factual framework and constructed a fictional narrative that focuses on Robert's imagined experiences and later, how this relates to events after the war.

The 100th anniversary of the First Battle of Arras was recently commemorated on 9th April. Robert died on 22nd April. More on that soon...


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