Q; Does the story continue from where we left off in ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’
A: Yes, but there is a ten year lag from the end of that book. ‘Long Way home’ starts in 1915, with Dafydd returning to Aberystwyth. After ten years, he has worked his way up to being a passed fireman and managed to get a transfer back to Aberystwyth shed.
Q: Passed fireman?
A: Yes, a passed fireman was a man who had mastered his job so well, that he was approved for driving light engines or shunting engines or even small freight trains.
It is all part of the progression to becoming a driver. The career of the loco crew would tend to start as a cleaner of the engines and fire raiser. This was deemed the most comprehensive learning method and also involved written and practical examinations and attending ‘night schools’ run by more senior loco men . It meant that qualified drivers had many years of experience with the railway.
Q: It’s 1915, why hasn’t he been called up?
A: Conscription in the UK did not start until 1916, following an Act of Parliament. Railway workers were also deemed a reserved occupation. By which, their roles were thought too important to the war effort and exempt from service. This was brought in, as many railwaymen joined up early on and there were concerns as to whether there would be enough men left to run the railways – the most important method of bulk transport on land at that time. Of course, this dilemma also forced the establishment to acknowledge the fact that women could do these jobs too! Railwaymen wore an enamel badge to show this, in the hope it would deter harassments’, especially from the ‘white feather’ women . In time, Dafydd does join up and becomes a driver.
Q: How is he promoted?
A: Miscommunications were common in the confusion of war and everything was paper based, so the chance of making a mistake was much higher than today. Dafydd was lucky.
Q: Does Gwen feature in this story?
Very much! At first Dafydd feels time has healed his feelings for her, but he soon finds that he has been fooling himself. Even when he is sent to Flanders, her influence on him is still there. He receives letters and even manages to see her on leave.
Q: Are there any other known characters returning?
A: Yes, Dafydd’s family is still part of the story and there will be a few new characters to meet along the way.
Q: How do you keep the characters not in Flanders still in the story?
A: One of the aspects of the war period is that correspondence was rife. The letters of Vera Brittain are quite famous examples and ‘Testament of Youth ‘ is highly recommended.
Q: So, what or who has influenced your book?
A: There have been many references and stories that have either provided a backdrop or an inspiration for the scenes that have been created in this tale. I have tried to make it as plausible as possible, so everything that occurs comes from reports of something similar. Like a few people, I also wanted to find out wat happened to Dafydd and Gwen!|
Q: Have you any particular examples that spring to mind?
A: It’s very difficult to find first hand memoirs about the railways at the front. Jim Hill provided some tantalising glimpses of how it was, in his memoir. Bill Aves has written some excellent histories of the ROD. I also found inspiration from unlikely sources. I lost two Uncles in that war – one in Flanders. However, there were two other brothers. One was an engine driver at Aberystwyth shed and the other had already emigrated to Canada. Some of his experiences are taken on board with the Canadian character – although to my knowledge, he never went near a Tin Turtle!
I also found inspiration in places, the sadness of the trench recreation at Paschendaele museum and the serenity of the garden at Talbot House in Popeinge.
Q: Why choose this aspect of the war – behind the lines?
A: It is something you don’t really see much in literature. The heroic sacrifices of the men at the front are not to be taken lightly, but other aspects of the war were important.
Q: What made it not just another mundane aspect?
You need to get men and ordinance to the front and resting men and wounded back. You need the shell cases to reuse on new ammunition. You need numerous other things and at the time, the roads were haphazard. The only way of bulk transport was by rail.
The problem in 1915 was the whole thing was in a log jam and it took Lloyd George to employ a competent man, Geddes, to sort it out. Before this time, there were long waits in the supply chain.
Also, the men involved has first hand experience of the aftermath of battles and these would have scarred them greatly.
So, all in all, I thought there were a few things that made good drama and added to Dafydd’s story.
Q: Why does Dafydd not get demobbed until 1920?
A: After the armistice, the railwaymen were still needed to run the trains in Belgium, France and Germany. The war had decimated the number of their own men and the army needed to help run trains for a long time afterwards, to ensure supplies got through and the countries could begin to get back to normal.
Q: You end the story in 1921. Is there any reason that you chose there?
A: The events of this particular tale reached a natural conclusion then.
Q: So what happens next?
A: I am not sure yet. I have yet to see if there is a further story to write! However, this was the same when I published Forest Brothers and my imagination soon worked out a prequel and a sequel to go with it!
The Long Way Home is now available in bookshops, online, via Amazon or ebay, or via this website.