Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pigeon Power by Janet Woods

Pigeon Power

During WW11, pigeon extraordinaire number 139 was based at Madang in New Guinea.
               Along with the rest of his attachment, number 139 served with the Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service. Their members were a hush-hush unit with superior navigation skills. They were able to fly at a moment’s notice and at a high altitude.
               Usually, the birds went about their business silently and mostly they remained undetected as they breasted the tough and muddy trails and high mountains of Papua New Guinea. Their main job was to send and receive messages and maps that reported the position and movement of enemy troops. Sometimes the Pigeon Postmen were detected and brought down by enemy fire - sometimes killed. There were those who were intercepted by the enemy and used for counter espionage by sending false messages back.
               One of the drawbacks of being a pigeon: Quite a few would have been posted as lost while serving their country – but alas, some of those would have been dished up as a tasty meal for hungry allied soldiers and enemy soldiers alike! Not many survived to pass on the tale of the cooking pot I would imagine.
               Several thousand homing pigeons served with the British in WW1. Far fewer were needed during WW11 due to the improvements made in radar, radio and telephone communications, approximately a quarter of the amount.
               Still, it was a lot of pigeon power, and it would be fair to say that, generally, the pigeon postmen were a brave and fearless unit that made a significant contribution to winning the war. Reports show that the birds flew with bullets lodged in their bodies and wings, trying to complete the tasks they were trained to do until they could go no further and fell out of the sky. 
               Pigeon 139’s unit was especially suited for marathon flights since Australia and its war zone had wide open spaces of sea and land that need to be covered quickly. They are truly power-packed birds. Pigeons can manage a mile a minute and sustain the pace for hours on end, apparently without any stress. Previous to his award winning dash, pigeon139 had clocked up over a thousand miles during 23 operational flights without fraying a feather.

Pigeon 139 joined the army in 1943. Bred by pigeon expert, Gordon Whittle, he was one of several birds recruited by George Adams from the Yarraville pigeon club and donated to the Australian fighting services, where he shared mobile quarters in an uncomfortable, but portable bamboo cage when he wasn’t as base or on the wing. This was probably carried on a man’s back. It was a far cry from the spacious loft accommodation with views over the rooftops that he’d left behind in Yarraville.

So how did pigeon number 139 win his medal? He was in a boat running much needed stores. The weather in the South Pacific was unpredictable on his tour of duty and there was a heavy tropical storm brewing. The boat’s crew was dismayed when in heavy seas the engine failed and their craft was washed ashore on Wadou beach in the Huon Gulf, leaving them in a vulnerable position.
               Pigeon 39 did his utmost to carry out his duty to the letter. Taking to the air he flew through the storm, travelling the 50 miles back to base in 40 minutes, the mayday message secured in the little canister attached to his leg. It advised the recipient that the boat was carrying ammunition, stores and much needed equipment. The engine had failed in heavy seas and they desperately needed help. The boat and its crew survived to deliver their cargo safely, and it was all due to one little pigeon.
               For his valiant rescue effort in 1943, Pigeon 139 was honoured with the
 * “Dickin” medal. This medal is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was one of two awarded to Australian Pigeons.

I can find only limited information about the second awarded pigeon, Q879. He was bred in Elwood, Victoria by A.J. Flavell and donated for war duty. It appears he was attached to the US forces.

Q879’s brave feat of endurance took place in 1944 and his story was similar to that of 139, I imagine. The award was made for gallantry after the plucky little Aussie bird carried a message through heavy gunfire to fetch help for his beleaguered human compatriots. Surrounded by enemy fire they had no other means of communication to draw on at the time.

Both medals were awarded in 1947 and the heroic birds’ bodies returned to Australia, where they now have a special place of honour in the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra.

 *The Dickin Medal is a British award supported by The People’s Dispensary for sick animals. The citation advises that it is awarded to “animals that display conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving or associated with a branch of the armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.”

Janet Woods

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thank you.

On behalf of my fellow authors, I'd just like to say a big thank you to all our readers of this blog. We've received over two and half thousand page views last month alone. We obviously have a faithful band of followers and regular readers of this blog, and although not all our authors are regular contributors, we must be doing something right with what we do post.

So thank you for reading, and hopefully buying our stories. We appreciate it very much.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inspiration for the book For All Our Tomorrows

Why did the Yanks come? The river valley and creeks of Fowey were well defended, as they provided a relatively secure place to hide munitions which the enemy would more likely expect to find in Plymouth, surely never thinking to look in this secret, wooded hideaway.

 The docks, from where the ammunition was shipped and the china clay dispatched, were guarded around the clock, with nobody allowed in without a pass. There were guards stationed in the Pillbox at Whitehouse, and Albert Quay had tank traps across the centre with barbed wire along the seaward edge, as did many of the beaches. In addition, at St. Catherine’s, closer to the mouth of the river, there was a gun point, and one on the opposite side at Polruan.

The navy came first with their minesweepers and Z boats, armed trawlers and motor gunboats, swiftly followed by the RAF, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, plus many units doing jobs nobody quite understood or dared question. Situated as the town was, relatively close to the Channel Islands and to France, the movement of the French fishing fleet within these waters was common place, and who knew what they were up to half the time? Hush-hush boats, they called them.

All my interviewees remembered the American soldiers with great affection, how they were great at throwing a party for the children, and Santa Claus would arrive in an army truck loaded with sacks full of presents, one for each child. The local girls clamoured to get to know them, as do the two sisters in my story. For fun, they went dancing to the Armoury, up near the doctor’s surgery, or to the flicks, which was near Berrill’s yard. So many lovely memories were told to me.

Sara is asked if she would help organise the school children into collecting bagfuls of seaweed. This was a special commodity which the coastal towns of Cornwall could provide, being a variety known as gonothyraea, used in the making of penicillin. Janet, one of my interviewees remembers doing this as a girl – I think she quite enjoyed the excuse to miss school.

By December Sara has been co-opted onto the War Weapons Week committee where plans are in progress for a major fund-raising event the following year. They also had something called Salute the Soldier Week. In reality the town raised tens of thousands of pounds to buy boats and equipment although they had no real idea what operation was being carried out in Cornwall before their very eyes. They collected vast amounts of salvage, old magazines, letters, books and paper of every sort. Tin and other scrap metal, rags and bones. Jam jars, bottle tops and old iron bedsteads. Apparently the pavements were piled high with the stuff. The council paid 10 shillings a ton to the St John Ambulance for each ton of salvage they received. And all this from a population of no more than 2,000 living in 600 houses.

They put up a sign outside the Council offices as the salvage collected increased: ‘Hitler sank into a barrel.’ Even the children were involved, saving for Tommy Guns. What would our education officials think of that today?

So what was all in aid of? Operation Overlord. This was to be the master plan for an Allied invasion of Europe. Everyone knew that something was going on, but nobody dared speak of what they saw or knew. Edna, another of my interviewees, remembers being brought from her bed as a young girl, and told this was a moment in history that she must see.

‘Ships filled the River Fowey, so many that you could have walked from one shore to the other without getting your feet wet. A living mass of men and machines, seething with activity and noise: a throbbing, whining, whirring and rattling; a clattering of gas masks, canteens and weapons, and the endless chatter of hundreds, packed tightly into every corner, waiting for the order to leave. 

Hour upon hour they waited, cold and damp, sick to their stomachs with apprehension and fear, in full combat gear, weighed down with equipment. 

The loading had been done chiefly at night, scores of vehicles driving straight onto the LSTs; thousands of foot soldiers directed up the gangway and counted on board. 

It was June 4 and they left later that night but by the following day were driven back by the weather to spend yet another night in harbour. After all these months of preparation, all the careful planning and organising, the fate of Operation Overlord appeared to be at the mercy of the elements. There was a storm brewing and if the weather did not improve, there would be further delays. 

Twenty-four hours later the decision finally came. This time for real. On the night of June 5 they left the safe waters of Fowey, Falmouth and the Helford River, and all the other ports along the south coast for the last time and headed out to sea. Operation Overlord was underway at last.’ 

We all know the heavy toll of their victory in reality. What it brings to the lives of my characters I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves.

So many memories, of rationing and making do; colour prejudice, fights and love affairs; Fowey Home Guard who once sank the boat they were towing upstream; French Fishing boats and Secret Operations; the huge camp up at Windmill; the wounded being brought home on soiled and stinking mattresses and nursed back to health in lovely quiet Fowey; school children competing to collect the most salvage and being told off for straying under the coils of barbed wire.

There were tragedies, of course, much pain and suffering, fear and trauma, and no one will ever forget those brave men. But most of all we like to remember the good times, and the spirit that is essentially Fowey.

Buy it now or download a sample - Amazon

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Values of Newsletters, Google+, FB and Twitter

Why the title, "The Values of Newsletters, Google+, FB, Twitter"? Well, because the value is in the connection. Great ways for writers to get to know more about their readers. And even more so now after the publication of my recent first Newsletter - the next will be in summer when my new book Lizzie of Langley Street is published. Social media such as Google+, FB and Twitter, are perfect vehicles for learning more about your lives and what you enjoy reading. These little pearls of information help me to know where you're coming from and how I can improve in delivering my stories to you. Almost everyone has a computer in the house and I'm happy to say that my books are gathering great reviews. Giant online retailers like Amazon invite readers to discover the best Family Saga Fiction in the Best Sellers lists and find the top 100 most popular items. And I've accepted this offer many times and count myself lucky to have my sagas featured. One click for an instant ebook, or just a day or two’s wait for a paperback by post. How I love to receive a paperback in the post wrapped in its trendy parcel! Paperbacks are still hot and my readers tell me that just the smell of the pages transports them into another world. Audio versions of my Best Sellers are available for those who want a laid-back form of reading or enjoy browsing the libraries. So it's a big hurrah for books of all shapes and sizes in 2015 and just as big a cheer to the social media platforms supporting them! I'll be waiting to hear more from you in response to my next Newsletter, complete with a competition, pics, prizes and hot gossip. Meanwhile, if you haven't received my Newsletter already, go to this link, subscribe - and read all about it. With love and very much more to follow! CAROL'S NEWSLETTER

Monday, March 2, 2015

Great Recipes ...

During the wartime era we were slim! Housewives dreamed up recipes from the basics. Austerity recipes? I hear you gasp. Well, yes, but great recipes all the same. 40's recipes avoided the more harmful fat and preservatives we eat today. Here's a pic of a 1944 mutton and mash recipe, ingredients used from the weekly basic allowance for one. I've added celery as a 2015 treat! It would more likely have been carrots, cheaper and easier to source unless you grew your own. (Which everyone was urged to do!) Coupons were a way of life during the 40's and 50's. Rationing didn't completely end until the mid fifties. In those 15 years, we changed our shapes and our stomachs grew accustomed to smaller proportions. We appreciated the coveted treats of tea, coffee, chocolate and tinned fruit - to mention just a few. Enter the 60's and sex, drugs, and rock n' roll kicked off. With affluence, we started to pile on the pounds. (Or ounces as they were in those days.) In came the slimming fads and the dietary meals, the G5 slimming machines and the appetite suppressants. No wonder the previous generation were astonished! They'd only had a world war to contend with to maintain a slim figure! So, if you'd like to know more about all things 40's and 50's, why not try some of my novels as well as the nosh? I love writing about these eras. And I can heartily recommend the corned beef and lentil hotpot illustrated here as I cooked it only yesterday! The ingredients are included in my March newsletter. So if you are keen to know more, please click on this link carol rivers.com 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Normanby Hall my inspiration

After a three year break from writing new work, I've had thoughts to get back into it. More than thoughts really, as I've gone as far as opening an old, unfinished manuscript and reading it. Naturally, reading led to editing and fiddling with sentences. It's been so long since I started writing this story, I found that the characters jumped from the page, as if to say, hey here I am, you've forgotten me, but once I started reading, I knew I hadn't forgotten them -- life had just sidelined them and my writing ambitions for a while.

So now I thought to make a promise to myself. I'm going to try and finish the story. Write the novel. Not think ahead to the agonies of promoting it. Just write. I'm hoping this will help me to keep opening the manuscript and plugging away at it.

Also, to help this process I've been looking at historical research, since the book I'm writing is set in the Edwardian era, starting at 1912, and research is very important to me.

Harry, the male character, owns an estate, and much of the surrounding village and the local coal mine. For his home I found inspiration from Normanby Hall, a local grand estate near where I work.
Visiting places like this helps the imagination, fills the creative well, so to speak.

I've decided to share the some of my research. Obviously, Harry's home isn't Normanby Hall, but I can create something similar in my story to make it lifelike and more true to the times.

If you wish to learn more about Normanby Hall please visit this link.

Friday, February 13, 2015

To Take Her Pride is only £2.99!

I love all my novels, but one of my favourites is To Take Her Pride and it's currently on Amazon Kindle at £2.99!

Back blurb:
Aurora Pettigrew has it all, a loving family, a nice home, a comfortable life. She’s waiting for the right man to offer her marriage, and the man for her is Reid Sinclair, heir to the Sinclair fortune and the love of her life.
But, Reid’s mother, Julia, is against the match and her ruthlessness unearths a family secret that will tear Aurora’s world apart.
Unwilling to bring shame on her family and needing answers to the allegations brought to light by Reid’s mother, Aurora begins a long journey away from home. She leaves behind all that is familiar and safe to enter a world of mean streets and poor working class.
Living in the tenements of York, surrounded by people of a class she’d never mixed with before, Aurora struggles to come to terms with the way her life has changed. By chance, she reconnects with a man from her past and before he leaves with the army to war in South Africa, he offers her security through marriage.
Aurora knows she should be happy, but the memory of her love for Reid threatens her future.
When tragedy strikes, can Aurora find the strength to accept her life and forget the past?
You can view it here. To Take Her Pride

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Life as a Governess in Russia

Imperial Royal Family - 1912

Hiring a British governess was quite fashionable among Russian aristocracy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They loved English style and wished their sons to turn into little Lord Fauntleroys. Being able to speak English was considered to be a necessary social accomplishment. French too was fashionable among the upper classes so employing an English governess who could speak the language was ideal. A tutor might also be hired to provide instruction in Russian and history, and perhaps someone to teach the piano or violin, but the governess was in charge of everything else. Lessons would take place in the mornings with the afternoons devoted to teaching drawing, painting and sewing for the girls. Boys spent the afternoons taking part in field sports and fishing. Very much in the style of British aristocracy.

Books were hard to find. Those brought into the country were often assumed to be politically suspect and not allowed in, a situation which worsened once the revolution started. Education was seen by the Bolsheviks as a problem since it gave people ideas and tended to make them difficult to rule. Families who owned precious books learned to keep them hidden away, along with their jewels and personal treasures.

Children were expected to take afternoon tea and dinner with their parents, and the governess must accompany them. This requirement differed very much from the situation in England where a governess was held in something of a limbo between servants and master. Millie was thankful that she’d learned about aristocratic etiquette from her former employer. The children, however, were quite capable of embarrassing her.

Discipline was an important part of a governess’s job. Not always easy with children who had led sheltered, spoiled lives. Some governesses lost patience and made them stand on a table, or put sticky paper over their mouth. Millie did not approve of such punishment.

A governess was also expected to attend church with the family most Sundays. The congregation would stand throughout the long service, even the Tsar and Tsarina, and all servants of the household must wear their best clothes. A fine hat was essential, the more flamboyant the better.

She could also visit the British and American Chapel in St. Petersburg on her day off, which Millie did, once she had convinced the Countess that she was entitled to some free time of her own. After the service the governesses would get together to chat as this wasn’t simply a place of worship, but also a social club. It provided evening classes, a library, chess club, choir, amateur dramatics and jolly picnics. It was the place to make friends, and hear of new jobs on the chapel grape-vine. Very much a home from home for ex-pats. It was here that Millie met the love of her life, but did he feel the same way about her?

Set against the backdrop of revolutionary Russia, The Amber Keeper is a sweeping tale of jealousy and revenge, reconciliation and forgiveness. 

English Lake District, 1960s: A young Abbie Myers returns home after learning of her mother’s death. Estranged from her turbulent family for many years, Abbie is heartbroken to hear that they blame her for the tragedy. 

Determined to uncover her mother’s past, Abbie approaches her beloved grandmother, Millie, in search of answers. As the old woman recounts her own past, Abbie is transported back to the grandeur of the Russian Empire in 1911 with tales of her grandmother’s life as a governess and the revolution that exploded around her. 

As Abbie struggles to reconcile with her family, and to support herself and her child, she realizes that those long-ago events created aftershocks that threaten to upset the fragile peace she longs to create. 


Excerpt from The Amber Keeper 

And there they all were, a dozen or so young women gathered in the vestibule area, all welcoming me with smiles, and lots of hugs and kisses. As they quickly took my coat and settled me into a chair with a cup of tea and a bun, I instantly felt as if I was among friends. ‘No picnics at this time of year, sadly, but there are one or two concerts lined up. Even the odd bridge night. And the Christmas party, of course. Plenty of fun to look forward to,’ a blonde-haired young woman who introduced herself as Ivy, assured me.
     ‘Are you musical? If so then don’t bother to join the choir as it seems to be a requirement that members should not be able to sing,’ another warned.
      Everyone laughed, seeming to think this highly amusing.
     ‘I doubt I shall have much time to join anything. The Countess and the children keep me pretty busy.’
     ‘Oh, do make sure you get it written down what time off you are to be allowed.’
     ‘And when you are to be paid,’ another girl added. ‘Employers in financial difficulties can put off paying your wages, which isn’t right at all.
     ‘The Belinskys are definitely not in any financial difficulties,’ I hastened to assure them. ‘I’m sure everything will fine, once I’ve settled into a routine. But first I have to organise the refurbishment of the schoolroom.’ I went on to explain how the Countess wanted it to be in English style, so more advice followed on how best to achieve this in Russia. The most useful information came from Ruth.
     ‘I can certainly recommend a good carpenter to build the toy cupboard and everything you need. Stefan attends here regularly as his own mother came over last century to work as a governess herself for a Russian factory owner. She eventually married one of the employees. He’s bilingual and feels very much a part of the English community. He might well be around this afternoon. We’ll go and look for him after we’ve had tea.’
     I set down my cup and saucer. ‘Perhaps we should look now as I really should be getting back.’
     We found the young man in question and Ruth quickly explained my need for a good carpenter. He was tall and lean with well-muscled shoulders, red-brown hair and only the finest bristle of a moustache on his upper lip, rather than the heavy beard that was considered fashionable. I thought him rather good looking.
     ‘So you work for Count Belinsky? Interesting. He is said to have considerable influence with the Tsar.’
     ‘That’s not what I’ve heard.’ I remembered the conversation over afternoon tea when the Count had spoken of the bullying uncles.
     ‘Oh, so he tells you his secrets, does he?’
     ‘That’s not what I meant.’
     ‘Ah, so you were listening in to a conversation? That’s interesting too.’ My cheeks grew warm, and, noticing my embarrassment he laughed out loud. But I could hardly deny it to be true.
     ‘Stop teasing her, Stefan.’ Ruth chided him. ‘We all hear things we shouldn’t. It’s part of life in service, as you well know. And Count Belinsky is a very important minister.’
     ‘He’s certainly that,’ he agreed.
     ‘Although whether I’m prepared to work for a member of the rich aristocracy is open to question.’ The man was beginning to irritate me but, stiffening my resolve, I looked him straight in the eye. They were a fascinating greeny-blue, sparkling brightly as if he was finding this entire conversation hugely entertaining.
     ‘It’s the Countess who has ordered this work, but if you’re not interested then I’m sure I can find another carpenter, equally good.’
     ‘I very much doubt that. I’m the best there is.’
     ‘Oh, and do you have any references to that effect?’ I must have sounded rather haughty for he laughed all the more. ‘I can provide any number, should they be necessary.’
     ‘It is not I who will require it, but her ladyship may well demand assurance of your …’
     ‘… competence? Can it even be in doubt?’
     I almost wanted to slap his arrogant face, and was grateful when Ruth again intervened with a chuckle. ‘Do behave, Stefan. Millie is only doing her job as well as she can, otherwise she might lose it.’
     He sobered instantly, and giving a little bow of the head agreed to come round to the Belinsky’s flat the very next day to discuss what was required. I was glad to make my escape. But there was something about the way his eyes followed me as I left the building that set my heart beating just a little faster.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Free Short Stories

My publisher has 5 short stories of mine, which are completely free.

Apart from A New Dawn (based on the Titanic, written under old pen name Anne Whitfield), the other four stories are all linked, starting with The Lieutenant's Lady, A Most Serious Gentleman, A Most Damaged Gentleman & An Adventurous Lady. All written during the Edwardian Era, 1914, then through to 1922.

The link to download the stories - http://www.knoxrobinsonpublishing.com/authors/anne-brear/

Saturday, November 1, 2014

100 years on: Armistice and Remembrance

My husband and I sit on a quiet Sunday afternoon, collecting the images for a YouTube video available to watch on my website www.carolrivers.comhttp://www.carolrivers.com/together-for-christmas-youtube/
As we work, the trees in the garden sway softly in a mild November breeze. Somewhere church bells are ringing, so faintly we hardly notice them. Crisp, dry leaves scuttle along the garden path and swirl by the garage doors. Life is perfectly normal and yet as we study the faces of the Fallen, young boys and men, who a hundred years ago were losing their lives in the hell of war, the moments stop still. Fathers, husbands, sons; these men all had hope of a future before 1914. But the Great War machine ripped apart millions of families worldwide. So we chose the most poignant image of all to begin our trailer. The Christmas Truce of 1914. There were  just a few hours when troops on both sides put aside their weapons and played football. The conflict could have ended there if it had been up to those men. And millions of lives saved. But sadly history tells another story.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”