In the spring of 2015, having just completed the first draft of my historical/thriller novel, Spilt Wine, I headed skütsje Zonder Zorg northward up the rivers and canals from the Burgundy. I was too close yet to the story to begin rewriting and editing it, but I was still in a creative mood. I looked for inspiration for another story, and as I followed the Meuse, I paused in Verdun to work on the idea of a story set in World War One.
Verdun was the site of the largest and longest battle of the War, fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916. Estimates of casualties range from over seven hundred thousand to nearly a million. Among these, more than three hundred thousand were killed. Ninety-nine years later, I enjoyed the peaceful free moorage in the centre of the city as I explored the area looking for inspiration.
Still having a blank mind, I spotted in a weekly online auction by All Nations Stamp and Coin, an envelope rubber-stamped Return to Sender, and showing the addressed soldier had been posted as missing in 1915. Though it wasn't related to Verdun, this was the inspiration I was looking for. I submitted a winning bid and began researching the information on the envelope. The missing soldier was from the British Columbia Regiment in Vancouver, so I felt a strong connection, particularly since I had been an honorary member of the Officers' Mess there in the early 1980s, after I had retired from the Navy. I have fond memories sharing drinks and stories with World War One veterans.
The historical records show the soldier had been involved in the first chlorine gas attacks at Ypres, Flanders in April 1915, and that he had been reported as missing during in the battle. Further records show the young soldier had been captured, and that he had spent most of the war as a prisoner. I wanted a better outcome for him, and this is the luxury with fiction; we can paint the picture differently. With Photoshop, I restored the envelope and modified my new hero's name. DB Merry became DM Berry, and I called him David.
During the battle, John McCrae wrote his famous poem, In Flanders Fields, and this was the origin of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Since I was bored with blood-and-guts war novels, I decided to write one which examines the human condition and looks at the war and its effects beyond the battlefields. Of course, there's a woman involved, and now as I begin drafting the fourth volume of this series, David has not yet returned to the trenches. He's found far more effective ways to fight the German war machine.
Posted As Missing was recently published by Dark Ink Press, and it's available as a paperback and as an e-book on Amazon. http://viewbook.at/PostedAsMissing
Volumes two and three of the series are scheduled to be published in the coming months.