Wednesday, June 25, 2014

War and Games

Despite what many people believe, Allied troops spent relatively little time in the deadly front line trenches. One example showed that an officer and his men spent a total of 65 days in front line and 36 in nearby support trenches during 1916. They also moved to 80 different locations that year. So there were long periods when the men were safely (if not all that comfortably) behind the lines, working, training, resting, and playing games to keep fit and busy. Tennis and polo matches, soccer and baseball games, dances and entertainments were all part of the military experience in France.

British 15th Division, Sports Day 1917 - From collection of the Imperial War Museum, © IWM (Q 2360)
On July 1, 1918 (Dominion Day - now called Canada Day), 50,000 Canadian troops gathered at Tincques France for the Corps sports championships. The event was attended by Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, former Canadian Governor-General His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, and American General John Pershing, among others.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hell's Bells, Slang is Fun!

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is not only understanding the mindset of people from a different era, but also having them speak the lingo of their time. Many slang words and colloquialisms survive decades, but others are fleeting, and colourfully help to define the age.

Something good is surely more fun when it’s “crackerjack”. If you “talked wet” in 1914, someone might have responded with “Applesauce!” or “Flapdoodle!”, as my characters do to what they consider nonsense.

A fly boy and his bus
In WW1 military slang, a “fly boy” often got the “wind up” when he flew missions over the front lines in his “bus”, because the “Huns’” “archie” would be out to get him. Pilots had to contend with these “ack-ack” guns from the ground as well as machine-gun fire from enemy aircraft, including the Red Baron’s “flying circus”. Being a bit “windy” or scared might actually have helped a pilot make better choices to survive.

Traumatized by the horrors of trench warfare, many men hoped for a “Blighty” that would get them shipped back to England without being too badly wounded. But those who “copped a packet” often ended up “going west”, sometimes into an unmarked grave. The men in the trenches feared the usual morning and evening “hate” when they were bombarded by “blind or flying pigs”, “moaning minnies”, “whizz-bangs”, or other artillery. For soldiers, “chatting” meant de-lousing, while “swinging the lead” could land them in serious trouble with “brass hats” for shirking their duty.

“Tommies” and American “Doughboys” appreciated a good bottle of French “plonk”, but too much could result in becoming “squiffy”, “pie-eyed”, or “spifflicated”.

Words are such fun, aren’t they? I use several sources in my research, but the Oxford Dictionary of Slang is “the cat’s pajamas”!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All Aboard the Dippy!

The skiff on the cover of  The Summer Before the Storm is a Disappearing Propeller Boat, also known as a Dispro, or more affectionately, “Dippy”. It’s basically a motorized rowboat with a cleverly designed propeller that works in very shallow water. If the protective skeg hits an obstruction, like a log or a sandbar, the prop automatically retracts into the housing – handy when you want to beach the boat for a picnic or a swim.

18 men in a Dippy
The Dippy was the brainchild of Wm. J. Johnson, a boat builder in Port Carling, Muskoka, in 1914. These sturdy wooden boats were roomy, as you can see in the ad above, apparently unsinkable, so easy to use that a child could drive one, and relatively inexpensive, starting at $300. By the early 1920s, the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company was the largest manufacturer of motorboats in Canada.

People still putt-putt around the lakes in these lovely vintage craft - at about 6 to 9.5 mph – as you can see in this video. Of course some of my characters own Dippies.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Summer Before the Storm Begins 100 Years Ago

“It was the whisper that started their war. That’s how many at the table that evening would recall the summer of 1914.” Thus begins The Summer Before the Storm, 100 years ago this weekend.

The dining room of the "Grand" Muskoka Hotel, where the novel begins
Naturally, Victoria hadn't even noticed the waiter until then.  In their black uniforms, the resort staff slipped about unobtrusively, meeting one’s needs without being obvious. Without really existing. It wasn't until he boldly bent over her grandmother's right shoulder and whispered in her ear that Victoria thought how handsome he was. And then realized with a shock that he was the trespasser who had spied her swimming naked yesterday.

With temperatures already soaring over 30° Celsius, it was little wonder that Victoria had abandoned her encompassing and suffocating wool bathing costume - which included black stockings, slippers, and cap - for the freedom of “skinny dipping” in a secluded bay on her family’s Muskoka island. She hadn’t expected an intruder in her privileged world, especially one who seemed to be the catalyst for dramatic changes.

Lake Rosseau, Muskoka - photo © Melanie Wills
That languid, sultry June day presaged a memorably hot summer punctuated by tempestuous storms. In the novel, it was also ruptured by turbulent emotions and events, including the outbreak of war in August.

You can read the first two chapters of The Summer Before the Storm on my website, where there are also reviews and other info.