In Ancasta, one of Harriet’s sons worked in a bicycle shop before WW1. I knew there was a bicycle shop in Woolston having discovered a wonderful book of collected memories, of people in Woolston and the surrounding area, in Southampton Library about ten years ago. It just goes to show how a snippet of information gleaned many years before can pop into your head when planning a new novel.
Well,Tom, that’s the name of this young man, led me a merry dance and I’ll explain why:
I had found a list of the Hampshire Regiments on the internet and was pleased to discover the 9th (Cyclist) Battalion. Perfect, I thought, and I began to scribe ideas for possible chapters. My immediate thought was that he could be a messenger on the Front, until I found to my horror that men fought on bicycles during the Great War much like charging on horseback. I was beginning to feel out of my depth here and so the best way forward was to seek an expert, so I turned to the Regiment Museum in Winchester.
Firstly I spoke to a helpful lady, the assistant curator Rachel Holmes, who kindly photocopied the most detailed account they had of the Battalion’s movements. I had already discovered a limited amount on the internet. (I quickly learnt never rely on the internet for research, unless you can find at least two sites to back up your findings, and even then it’s best to find hard evidence) I soon realised that my man never set foot in France at all, or even in Europe for that matter. It took a while before he was even posted, but in the end he went much further afield than that. I won’t spoil the story by telling you the details, but he travelled to a much more exotic part of the world, and being a timid sort of a chap, it was quite a harrowing experience.
Anyway, once I had drafted my couple of chapters I telephoned Rachel again, and thanked her for her help, asking if she would mind reading my chapters through and giving me feedback. It was at this point that she introduced me to Lt Colonel Colin Bulleid, the curator of the museum, who read the part of my manuscript, picking me up on valuable points like, ‘Tom would not have been able to carry a full pack on his back whilst cycling,’ the correct usage of the terms ‘unit’, ‘section’ and ‘battalion’, suggestions that I refer to the censored details of letters…..
There was one point though, which would have changed the whole direction of several chapters of the story, so I gave him a call and asked him what he thought. His reply was,
‘You know Diana, I had to let you know what I thought about it, but since you probably now know as much if not more about the 9th Regiment than anyone else, then I’d take a lot of my comments with a pinch of salt if I were you.’
I laughed and thanked him again, claiming poetic licence. After all, when all is said and done,
Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home is fiction.
However real the characters are to me now!