Cursing the Darkness - the background
This book started off as something quite different, with the working title Distant Cousin. A later volume in the series may well have that title and theme, but for now I have written an account of life in the mid-1930s in Nazi Germany and the struggles of a small group of people to challenge the Nazi régime. However, I'd like to explain my reasons for becoming so involved in matters German and in Nuremberg, Bavaria in particular.
They had a daughter called Winifred, but as far as I can gather, there was little communication between the sisters or the rest of the family over the ensuing decades. Fast forward to the closing days of the Second World War.
My father, a professional soldier with the rank of Major, had spent the war years in charge of telecommunications in India and Ceylon (as it then was). He came back to Ipswich in 1945, when I was just five years old, but he was soon posted abroad again to Berlin to head up the telephone and other communications services, both military and civilian, in that devastated city.
'Is that you, Billy?'
A woman's voice said, 'Is that you, Billy?'
It turned out that somehow - I have no idea how she managed this - Winifred had found out about my father's posting. She told him about herself and her mother, who had both successfully survived the privations of war, and pleaded with him to help them escape to one of the western zones. One family anecdote relates that my father sent a letter to the two of them, and the envelope was also filled with tea leaves. Winifred's mother, who had not had a taste of tea for a very long time indeed, drank seventeen cups one after the other.
Smuggled to the West
Winifred married Rudolf Schmidt, who ran a clothing shop in the city called Der preiswerte Laden, the 'Value-for-Money Shop', and later he became a representative for Olympia swimwear and other clothing.
Dark blue Beetle
There must have been a great deal of persuasive discussion behind the scenes, because a year later, in 1952, I found myself travelling with my Aunt Burston(*) on the ferry to Venlo in Holland, where she stayed with the sisters who tended my Uncle John's grave. He had been a tail-end Charlie on a bomber raid and the plane had crashed over southern Holland. I recall visiting the cemetery with its neat row after row of white tombstones and seeing my uncle's neatly carved name (John Ratcliffe).
The Lorelei Express
Four years later, my grandfather became Mayor of Ipswich and on a later visit to Nuremberg he gave me a formal letter of friendship and reconciliation to hand personally to the Oberbürgermeister of Nuremberg. Those holidays were the trigger events which set me on my present path to where I find myself now, retired and put out to grass as a Professor Emeritus of German at the University of Dundee.
Oswald Wolff Publishers
A busy retirement
Academic books don't tend to end each chapter on a cliffhanger, and the audience for a work of fiction has quite different expectations from that for a specialised academic discipline. Still, after a long apprenticeship, I believe I have produced a work of modest merit.
If this novel turns out to be well received, a sequel is threatened in the next year or so.
(*) In case you were wondering about the unusual name Burston, my grandfather, as well as being a leading local Co-operative politician, was also an engine driver who was on the footplate of lines around Ipswich and the surrounding counties.
One line he travelled frequently had as one of its stops the village of Burston, where there was a famous teachers' strike between 1914-1939. As a local Co-operative politician, he decided to name his youngest daughter in honour of that event. Members of the family, it is alleged, are grateful that the strike did not take place in another village served by the railway and not far away, namely, Six Mile Bottom.