Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lance Ringel to Appear at Book Fest 2014

Lance Ringel, author of the acclaimed World War I saga Flower of Iowa, will participate in Book Fest 2014, a discussion between four LGBT authors, on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM at Queens Pride House, 76-11 37th Ave., Suite 206, Jackson Heights, NY 11372.

Ringel will be joined by his spouse, Chuck Muckle, who will participate in a dramatized reading of the pivotal scene in Flower of Iowa wherein American soldier Tommy Flowers and British soldier David Pearson fall in love.

Admission to Book Fest 2014 is free. For more information about the event, please call (718) 429-5309 or visit queenspridehouse.org.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Battle of Hamel

Americans & Australians in trenches at Battle of Hamel
For scholars of The Great War, this July 4 is not only Independence Day, but also the 96th anniversary of a small but noteworthy skirmish, the Battle of Hamel in France.

In my war novel, Flower of Iowa, the Battle of Hamel is the first military action for protagonist Tommy Flowers, a na├»ve young American soldier from Brooklyn, Iowa. Hamel was also the first attack in World War I that included American troops under non-American command.

Lt. General John Monash
By July 1918 – when a good share of the novel’s action takes place – Doughboys had seen action at the Battle of Cantigny, and the U.S. Marines already had made a name for themselves at Belleau Wood. But when the British high command decided to attack the German-held village of Le Hamel, they named Lieutenant General John Monash, head of the Australian Corps, to command. They also decided to reinforce the Australians, whose strength had been depleted by repeated losses, by adding Americans from the 33rd U.S. Division, Tommy’s division composed mostly of National Guard from the state of Illinois. (I make the character of Tommy’s Australian sergeant, the brash, swaggering Jamie Colbeck, a confidant of General Monash in the novel.)

General John Pershing
The Battle of Hamel was preceded by another, albeit smaller, struggle: U.S. General John “Black Jack” Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force, did not want his Doughboys mixed in with British Empire and French troops, but kept under separate American command. When Pershing found out on July 3, 1918, about the Battle of Hamel planned for the next day, July 4 – a date chosen by Monash as a nod to the Americans – he ordered that six of the ten American companies assigned to the action be withdrawn.

Pershing subsequently changed his order to include all of the Doughboys in question. But by then, it was too late. On July 4, the remaining Doughboys of the 33rd Division teamed up with the Aussies to successfully attack and retake Hamel. The skirmish began and ended in barely more than 90 minutes, in the kind of clear-cut success that was a rarity in the Great War. But as the novel depicts, in the physical struggles of the soldiers that day and in their psychological after-effects, even being on the winning side of such a battle could be a harrowing experience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Scars of Picardy

Ninety-eight years ago today, on 1 July 1916, an Allied force of British and French soldiers launched a huge attack over a stretch of the Western Front astride the River Somme in the Picardy region of northern France. This event would be known to military experts, historians – and millions of mourners – ever after as the first day of The Battle of the Somme.

For a week, Allied artillery had bombed the opposing German trenches, with an assumption that those trenches would be destroyed, their occupants decimated. Then, at 7:30 in the morning, as Martin Middlebrook recounts it in his pioneering history The First Day on the Somme, “an uncanny silence fell over the battlefield… It was eerie; the sun was shining out of a cloudless sky, birds hovered and swooped over the trenches, singing clearly.”

What happened next remains seared into popular memory, most especially in the UK. Wave after wave of young British volunteers emerged from their trenches and marched forward in the morning light toward the German trenches, only to be systematically mowed down, row after row, by the murderous rattle of the machine guns of an enemy who had, after all, survived the bombardment.  By the end of that fateful day, almost 60,000 sons of the Empire were casualties – still the worst day in the history of the British Army.

This awful image endures because it is so emblematic of the futility of war, and the Great War in particular. That first day was merely a monstrous prelude to a battle that would go on for months and result in one million men killed, wounded or missing from both sides.

My novel Flower of Iowa takes place in the same region two years after that day, when both the landscape of Picardy and the collective psyche of those fighting still bear the scars of that first day of July in 1916. Today’s visitors to the area can see that the landscape, dotted with beautifully tended cemeteries, has largely healed.

But almost a century later, the psychic wounds remain, particularly in Britain. They are evident in a lasting distrust of incompetent authorities, and in the photos of impossibly young men whose lives were cut tragically short. 

To cite but one example, at one of those cemeteries I found a handwritten note, next to just such a photograph and a wreath of paper poppies, addressed to a man who was 22 when he died that day. 
The note read, simply, “We love you, Great-Grandpa.”