Feature Articles - The Iron Harvest

Front cover of "The Iron Harvest" by Diane Wilson The Iron Harvest published by Biscuit Publishing Ltd, is available from the author, Diane Wilson, at 40 Burstall Hill, Bridlington, East Yorkshire, YO16 7GA, UK (see bottom of article for further order details).  Diane writes below how her book came to be written.

I suppose this book began its life in October 2000.  Mike, my husband, and I joined a group of writers and friends from Tyne and Wear and 15 of us clambered into a mini-bus for a trip to Belgium.

Mike had discovered that his grandfather's name was on the Menin Gate.  The Menin Gate is the impressive monument in Ypres inscribed with names of war dead who have no known grave.  There are 54,000 names on the monument.

The trip was an opportunity for Mike to find out more about his grandfather.  As for me, I knew nothing about the Great War, just mere snippets.  So what did I expect from the trip at that time?  I honestly don't know.  It was a holiday I suppose.  It was somewhere I had never been.  I knew my great grandfather had fought in France and so too had his two brothers.  They all came home but suffered from the ravages of gas inhalation.  But that was as much as I knew.

We duly arrived at Calais and began our journey through France and into Belgium, finally to Poperinghe.  As we moved further into the countryside we began to notice the cemeteries.  Some were quite large, but there were many that consisted of maybe twenty, fifteen or even fewer.  Just small walled places with a few white headstones.

Some were just off the side of the road, others seemingly in the middle of a field, but they all had an access path.  Every cemetery, no matter how large or how small, is immaculate, thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The moment we arrived at Talbot House in Poperinghe I was captivated.  The beauty, the history and atmosphere just worked its way into me.  The more I learned about The House and Poperinghe the more engrossed I became.

We visited several cemeteries, including Tyne Cot.  We went to the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony, which takes place every night at eight o'clock, come rain, shine, hail, thunder or blizzard.  All traffic is stopped and at eight on the dot buglers march to the centre.  A silence falls on the crowd, the notes of the Last Post sound out and finish.

The exhortation is read: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."  The crowd repeats "We will remember them."  Then the buglers play Reveille.  The ceremony is so very moving.  I've probably been eight or ten times and it still brings on the tears.

I felt bombarded with so many new emotions and discoveries that it began to come out through my pen.

Just three of us returned to Talbot House in 2001 and four of us went in October 2002.  On our third trip, I asked Mike if he would be happy if I put our names down as wardens.  He agreed.  We were told that our names would go on the list but we probably wouldn't be required until 2004.

We had only been home five weeks when we were asked if we could be wardens for the first fortnight of March 2003.  Of course we said yes.  In 2005 we completed our third run.  Each time we go we make new friends, strengthen existing friendships and learn something new.

During our time there we met Australians, Canadians, Americans, French, Dutch, Germans, English and others.  They have been people staying at The House or visitors looking round, because Talbot House is a living museum.

I realise that World War One wasn't just fought in the Ypres Salient.  I know that places such as the Somme, the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia and many others saw terrible fighting and loss of life, and that the sacrifice of the many men should never be forgotten.

But the places and people I have written about are the ones that have captured my heart and I hope that my words do them justice.

My book of poetry and prose, "The Iron Harvest," was commissioned by Brian Lister, of Biscuit Publishing Ltd, of Washington, Tyne & Wear.  Copies were made available to Talbot House and all revenue was donated for the care and upkeep of The House.

The Iron Harvest, published by Biscuit Publishing Ltd. (www.biscuitpublishing.com) in paperback (A5, 60 pages), is available from the author, Diane Wilson, at 40 Burstall Hill, Bridlington, East Yorkshire, YO16 7GA, U.K. (cheques payable to D. Wilson please).  ISBN 1-903914-20-5.

Flak was a term used to describe anti-aircraft fire.

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