Saturday 7 November 2020

Excellent reading for Remembrance Day


As we are nearing Remembrance Day once again an excellent choice of reading would be Dr Karen Ette’s Don’t Be Late in the Morning, a vivid portrayal of a rural working class community before and during the First World War. The warmth and the hardships are evocatively conveyed through vivid domestic detail - paraffin lamps and outside ‘lavvies,’ smells of lavender polish and soot in the parlour ‘kept for best.’ There are also lesser known stories such as the personal and social cost of laudanum addiction fuelled by unscrupulous pharmacists. 

When Emily’s mother dies she is forced, at eleven, to leave her four beloved brothers and live with her cruel, resentful aunt; at twelve she is old enough to leave school and go into service. As war breaks out and the recruiting drive swings into action the young men in the village join up with brothers, cousins, school mates, boys they played football with, and friends from the Sunday School. While the novel is set in Leicestershire, it was a familiar pattern all over the country. 

 David is accused by an army Major of being a ‘shirker’ because he is not in uniform, despite the fact he works in the boot and shoe industry, a reserved occupation. Leicester factories at that time were producing military footwear, including boots for the Russian army. Not wanting to be seen as a coward, he volunteers. When Emily agrees to become David’s fiancĂ© before he leaves for the war, local gossips are scandalised. David Adcock and Emily Jane Wade are the author’s grandparents. 

As she writes in the Afterword: ‘The novel ‘Don’t be Late in the Morning ‘is a work of fiction but it is founded upon a detailed reading of military history, official documents, and most significantly, unpublished primary sources, which reveal the human and personal cost of the conflict.’ 

Postcards, birthday cards, letters, diary entries and photographs are reproduced in the novel. The context of the war is conveyed through family debates around the kitchen table, newspaper articles discussed in the pub, and political meetings talked about after football matches. Ernest, Emily’s brother joins up because he is ‘sick of skiving leather... I’ll get regular meals, free uniform, no board to pay and a regular wage.’ That and the chance to travel was ‘everything I’ve always wanted.’ Those who volunteered were proud to see their names appear in the Roll of Honour printed each week in the Leicester Mercury. The pace of the novel increases with descriptions of Leicester ‘taken over by the military,’ with patriotic parades, marching bands, barracks life and square bashing, banter and camaraderie. 

Girls and young women saw brothers, cousins, neighbours and sweethearts go to war. Some, like Emily’s colleague were left to cope with unwanted pregnancies. Emily now works in the Post Office and delivers mail; new opportunities meant she could leave service, as many young women did at that time. Middle class women bemoaned the lack of domestic servants. 

Dr Ette is unsparing in her descriptions of the brutality of trench warfare. That the reader knows the names, faces and families of the young volunteers adds to the horror. She describes events on 13th October 1915, in what she calls the ’forgotten Battle,’ the Battle of Hohenzollern Redoubt. This action took place during the final stage of the Battle of Loos, a battle that does not receive the same coverage as later battles on the Somme and Third Ypres. On that one day over 500 young men were killed, many from the 1st/4th Battalion of the Leicester Regiment. Most were between the ages of 17 and 23. It was said that in some parts of Leicester there was such a density of casualties that distraught families could be heard grieving from house to house. 

 Obituaries from the Syston Parish Magazines are reproduced, often with photographs posed for so proudly at the outset of the war. ‘Captain of the Football club and one of the most regular boys in Mr Pain’s Bible Class,’ ‘...formerly a member of our Church Sunday School..., ‘Our sympathy goes forth to his widowed mother and relatives and we trust that the sense that the boy did his duty will be a consoling thought to them in their sorrow...’ 

The excellent bibliography gives an opportunity to learn more about events and individuals briefly referred to in the novel, for example Ramsay Macdonald, MP for Leicester and first leader of the Labour Party who opposed the war and ridiculed those who said it would be over by Christmas. His meetings in Leicester were disrupted by mob violence and on more than one occasion the police had to get him into a car before he was physically attacked. In August 1914 he wrote in the Leicester Daily Post. ‘Peace, if it is to be anything more than a patched up affair, is to raise anew some of the questions which have given Europe most trouble, as for instance the position of Poland.’ 

Other less well known stories include that of Kulbir Thapa, a Gurkha soldier awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a Leicestershire Regiment soldier from behind enemy lines, and then going back to save two men from his own battalion. 

Another tantalising reference in the novel is to John Manners, son of the 8th Duke and Duchess of Rutland. His mother, Violet Manners, used her influence to obtain a fraudulent medical discharge for him before he saw any action with his regiment, the 4th Battalion Leicestershires. She did not want to lose the heir to Belvoir Castle. The full story was published in Catherine Bailey’s ‘The Secret Rooms,’ Viking 2012.

Sue Mackrell 
5.0 out of 5 stars 

Saturday 25 April 2020

ANZAC Day – 25 April

Railway Dugouts Cemetery

(Transport Farm)

Photograph: Creative Commons

On the 25th April 1917 the 1st Australian Tunnelling Coy, whilst at Hill 60, Belgium, suffered their biggest loss in one day during the war whilst testing detonators in a dugout. 

During this process there was an explosion in the dugout killing and burying the occupants. Ten men were killed in the incident. Eight lie buried in Railway Dugouts Cemetery close to Hill 60. Seven are buried together in plot IV, row C (pictured below) and one, Second Lieutenant Evans, in plot VII, row G.* The other two are buried in Poperinge New Military Cemetery next to each other in plot I, row E1.

Particularly poignant given the date.

May they rest in peace.

Words and photograph by Roger Steward, Ypres Battlefield Tours

Second Lieutenant





2nd Corporal












*Lieutenant Glyndwr David Evans was thirty-three when he died. He was the son of John and Martha Evans of Craigie Lea, Gilderthorpe Avenue, Randwick, New South Wales. The family was originally from Treorchy, Rhondda, Wales.

From Wales to New South Wales, a life cut short on 25 April 1917.

We will remember them.

Friday 24 January 2020

Leicestershire in the Great War

First and only novel about Leicestershire Regiment in First World War launches in Leicestershire
The author signing copies of the book.
Photograph by Lynne Dyer (

Saturday 21 December 2019 saw the launch of ‘Don’t Be Late in the Morning’ – the first and only novel to be written about the Leicestershire Regiment in the First World War.

The two launch events were held at the Hub cafe in Syston in the morning, and the Carillon Tower and War Memorial Loughborough in the afternoon, where there was opportunity to speak to the author, Dr Karen Ette, buy a discounted and signed copy of the book and even sample a ‘rum ration’. The borough Carillonneur, Caroline Sharpe, played the clavier and familiar tunes, such as ‘Pack up your troubles’ ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘Keep the home fires burning’ rang out across Queens Park.

Set in Syston, and culminating at the Battle of Loos in October 1915, this flagship novel tells the previously untold story of David Adcock, a Leicester Tiger, who fights alongside friends from his hometown of Syston and other town and villages across our historic county.

Based on research carried out during her PhD at Loughborough University, this unique work of fiction uses exclusive private sources along with published accounts and Dr Ette weaves together truth and fiction to illuminate what has become a forgotten battle, fought by men from a town often overlooked in considerations of the Great War – Leicester.

Importantly, these unpublished primary sources reveal the human and personal cost of the conflict and this is very important to author, Dr Karen Ette who says:
“My intention is that writing a novel using original, previously unseen documents, and real people, will rightfully establish the second offensive of the Battle of Loos in literature as one of the recognised battles rather than a forgotten one.”

Publisher, Sarah Houldcroft ­– Goldcrest Books, also said:
My interest was piqued when Karen explained to me that her story was based on original letters and diaries. When I heard more about the content, how could I not want to get involved with the book! So many brave men lost their lives for us in that awful war. I don’t usually get emotional when typesetting a manuscript but when I saw and read the magazine articles included in the book it did bring tears to my eyes. It is a wonderful testimony to all those young men.

If you missed the launches, Dr Ette will be at Church View Nursery, Barkby’s Food and Craft Fair on Sunday, 23 February, where you will be able, once again, to enjoy discounted copies of the book plus the ‘rum ration’.

Available to buy from Amazon, the publisher, Charnwood Museum, plus a number of other local outlets, this exceptional novel is already receiving great reviews, Clive Curtis said:

“Very engaging and accessible. An excellent account of the life of ordinary people at the beginning of the twentieth century”.

"A well-researched, engaging book. The author has clearly worked hard to weave many sources of information together to produce this vivid account, and is to be applauded. Value for money - recommended."

"Coming from the area where this book was set, I found it extremely interesting. The details of the soldiers life during training and the in battle were sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking. It was also good to hear the stories of the families left at home while the young men of the village went off to war."

Synopsis of Don’t Be Late in the Morning.

David Adcock, grows up in the Leicestershire village of Syston. Popular and respected by his friends, they later become his pals on the Western Front where, as a ‘fighting Leicester Tiger’, he experiences one of the most catastrophic and overlooked battles of the First World War.
Emily Jane Wade, is the only girl in a family of five children who is sent to live with a cruel aunt and uncle after her mother’s death.
In 1911 David's widowed mother, Mary Adcock, and Emily's father, Alfred Wade, marry and they become step-brother and -sister. When war is declared in August 1914 David is working at the local shoe factory. After a village recruitment meeting he knows that at twenty he is old enough to serve abroad and volunteers to join the army, along with his pals, when there is still a sense of adventure and excitement about going to fight ‘the Hun’. 
Emily is in domestic service, but moves back home where she takes over the running of the village post office after her fiancĂ© is killed in action. Here she receives the ‘real’ letters from serving soldiers, which are shared with the vicar. 
Realising that he will be sent to the Front very soon, David comes home on leave and asks Emily to marry him and scandal shrouds their relationship.
 In March 1915 the theatre of war in France and Flanders is the setting. The 1/4 battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment are mobilised and strong bonds are formed between the ‘Leicester Lads’, culminating in the little-known battle: Loos, 13th October 1915. Many of David's pals are killed and he is left for dead in a cellar after being badly wounded, whilst Emily waits for news.
Don't Be Late in the Morning is written about real people from original, unpublished letters and diaries, filling a lacuna in British Great War fiction.