In Love and War is set in Flanders in 1919, just after the end of the First World War. It tells the story of three women from different countries and backgrounds, with different perspectives of the war, who undertake a pilgrimage to the battlefields, searching for their lost loved once. All three bear their own burdens of sorrow and guilt, and their searches seem almost impossibly daunting. While initially regarding each other with suspicion what they eventually discover, together, is greater than any of them could have imagined.
Battlefield tours are commonplace today, but it is not so well known that within months of the end of the war organisations and companies like Thomas Cook were already taking thousands of visitors to Flanders and The Somme. These tours were controversial and there were furious arguments in the press about the way in which these ‘sacred places’, where so many died, were being ‘desecrated by commercial tourism’.
It is almost impossible to imagine the level of devastation: hundreds of towns and villages destroyed, roads churned up into mud, land littered with, trenches, hastily-erected graves, barbed wire and unexploded ordnance. Yet it is easy to sympathise with those who undertook such perilous pilgrimages, seeking the places where their loved ones died, or desperate for news of those who had disappeared in the chaos of war.
The bodies of one in four casualties were never recovered and this tragedy is close to home. The novel is dedicated to my husband’s uncle Lt Geoffrey Trenow MC, who was killed at Passchendaele, and never found. He is commemorated at the Menin Gate.
I wanted this to be a story of reconciliation although as I wrote the final chapter it was depressing to realise that the world would face a further terrible war just a couple of decades later.