by Jacquie Underdown
To look at the pretty village of Fromelles, France, you wouldn’t be able see its devastating past hiding behind the abundance of ripe greenery and charm. You wouldn’t be able to tell that this village was once a torn-up wasteland littered with the murderous fragments of war and soaked in the blood of 5553 Australian soldiers either killed or wounded in a single day. And for nearly a century as the small community of Fromelles went about its daily life, they couldn’t see that buried within the fertile soil were 250 remnants of this gruesome past waiting to resurface. History wasn’t going to be laid to rest just yet.
On July 19-20, 1916, Fromelles was host to one of the bloodiest battles in Australian history. A battle, despite its gore and immense number of casualties, has stood in the shadows of its more famous World War I brothers, maybe because some have called this battle a disaster for the Allies, or because it goes down as the worst 24 hours in Australian military history.
250 Allied soldiers (173 were Australian) killed on that fateful day were buried by the Germans shortly after the battle in mass graves. These pits remained untouched, their whereabouts unknown, and their content lost to all until nearly a century later.
Guided by an amateur Australian historian, the Australian Government instigated geological surveys in 2007 to find the lost soldiers. By 2009 exhumations were taking place to recover the bodies and DNA samples were extracted from their bones in an attempt to identify each. The soldiers were then finally laid to rest, with full honours, in a new memorial cemetery located 120 metres from the original mass grave site.
So why did I want to write about this tragic slice of history? Reflecting on it now, I don’t believe I had a choice. When I first heard the reports about the discovery of the mass graves, I realised that despite the decades the soldiers were lost, their voices were still strong enough to demand we acknowledge them and demand we remember them. No author hearing these whispers from the past would be able to ignore them — myself included.
Though I anticipated many tears during the research of this aptly titled novel (and I’ll admit, I cried a river for these brave men and their families), I didn’t anticipate the coincidences that would occur.
My fictional character, Fredrick, reappears as a ghost 90 years after his death on the battlefield of Fromelles. He wants a name on his headstone so he will not be forgotten, and he needs Lucy to help him achieve this final wish by searching for his descendants.
I’ve never had to find descendants before, so some of my research for this novel was in this area. At first I didn’t even know where to start. So I began where most of my searches do and that was with Google. I entered the name of my soldier (whose name I plucked from thin air, a complete fabrication) and didn’t anticipate that the name I chose was the exact name of an actual Australian soldier of the Great War (though the real soldier was fortunate enough to make it home and live to a ripe old age). Through him alone, I learned the exact path to trace descendants of soldiers.
This was the first of many coincidences that occurred while writing Beyond Coincidence and it may merely be that — a coincidence. But I like to think it’s more. I like to think that if we listen closely enough, we just may hear whispers from the past, in our present, guiding us, teaching us, and making sure we remember those who should not be forgotten.
Mixing romance, history, and a touch of the unexplained in a new novel from Jacquie Underdown about love that needs to cross oceans and time before finding a place to come true.
In 2008, 250 Australian and British soldiers are uncovered in a mass grave in Fromelles, France, lost since the Great War. One soldier, bearing wounds of war so deep it scarred his soul, cannot be laid to rest just yet.
When Lucy bumps into the achingly sad soldier during a trip to France, she doesn’t, at first glance, realise what he is – a ghost who desperately needs her help. Lucy can’t turn away from someone who needs her, even someone non-corporeal, and they travel back together to Australia in search of answers and, hopefully, some peace.
This chance meeting and unexplainable relationship sets into motion a chain-reaction of delicate coincidences that affect the intertwined lives of family, friends, and lovers in unexpected, beautiful ways.
Beyond Coincidence is available for pre-order now.
This is such a wonderful book, Jacquie. You definitely capture the spirit of the soldiers and I must admit there were a few tears shed while reading it. All the best wishes for your release!