A young soldier right next to me

When Nick Emery’s wife phoned me on 1 May 2018 to say that he’d died,  she sang to me on the phone; it was the same song she sang to him as he was dying. I’d met him twice. His wife had told me on the phone that he might speak about his war if I come to the house. The first visit he was waiting for me, reaching for me at their door, and was straight into it: Let’s start with Alamein, he said.

In May 2017, I spoke about my Shooting Through book project to the group of 30 authors gathered for ACT Writers Hardcopy professional development program. I spoke about how it felt to meet veterans and to be invited to sit with them and to hear their stories. I spoke about a visit with Nick.

Did I plan to include myself in the book in some way, several of the authors wondered, did I plan to write about being a daughter to a former POW and also a graduate historian? No, I replied, I  think that my intrusion would slow the narrative.

Find a way, they said, you need to be in this book. I looked at history books by writers of war history, and read prologues and epilogues with authors writing  from their own voice. I liked these book-ends to the narrative. I loved writing from my gut. My editor read my draft and encouraged me to dig further into my memories about my father and his peers, like Nick.

Here’s a snippet from my prologue in which I tell you what it felt like when a young blond soldier barely out of his teens was right there next to me, bringing me alongside him on mountain goat tracks in the autumn of 1943: