Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from the given photo prompt in around 75-150 words – give or take 25 words. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.
Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise. Thank you, Lou!
And this is my story:
An Inappropriate Reply
Quentin stormed into the morning room and thrust the letter into his wife’s hands. Amelia shifted in her chair, avoiding his outraged glare. The note-paper was all too familiar.
‘Where did you find it?’ Such a mundane question, yet she could think of nothing appropriate to say.
‘That’s irrelevant!’ Quentin snapped, pacing the floor. ‘After twenty-three years of marriage, you owe me a plausible explanation. I was bound to realise soon enough.’
Amelia stared at the letter, grasping for explanations. She’d never kept secrets from Quentin before. ‘James made me promise not to tell you until –’
‘Until it was too late for me to stop him…!’
‘At twenty-one, James has every right to enlist in Kitchener’s army, Quentin. Our son knows what he’s doing.’ Unshed tears suddenly welled. ‘But I can’t bear the thought of him in Normandy. He could be killed, or wounded and–’
Quentin knelt to comfort her. ‘We’ll need to be extremely brave for just a few months, my love. They say this war will be over by Christmas…’
Word Count: 174
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A Note about WW1 and Lord Kitchener’s Recruitment Campaigns:
When war broke out in August 1914, it became clear that the British Army needed far more men than the numbers already recruited in the regular army. The war minister at the time, Lord Kitchener, began a campaign to urge men aged between 19 and 30 to (voluntarily} join up. Three weeks later, the upper age limit was raised to 35. By mid-September, over 500,000 men had volunteered – and over a million by January 1915.
Many officials in both the military and the government initially believed that the war with Germany would be ‘over by Christmas’. But Lord Kitchener was unconvinced. Needless to say, as war dragged on, eventually to last four long years, concerns over the provision of manpower led to again altering the recruitment ages, this time for men between 18 and 50. During this time, many young men (250, 000 of them in Britain) found little difficulty in falsifying their age. There are stories of boys as young as 15 – a few even younger – joining up, until eventual conscription in March 1916 made it more difficult for them to do so.
Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages us to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.
Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Etol Bagam:
And this is my story:
No White Feather
Reg swigged back his ale and grinned at his wife, chuckling at the stand-up’s jokes. The music hall was packed, every table full. Ale was flowing and the noise from the audience was rising rapidly.
‘I knew you’d enjoy it,’ he said, taking her hand. Some good turns on – though I didn’t know Vesta Tilley’d be singing tonight.’
Agnes nodded. ‘I’ve heard of her. She dresses like a man to make people laugh – and to persuade men to recruit into Lord Kitchener’s Army. Not married ones, I hope . . .’
Cheers erupted as Vesta Tilley appeared on stage, dressed in a soldier’s uniform. Her first few songs had everyone singing along. Then all fell silent as she stepped down from the stage, wandering amongst the tables singing, ‘Oh, we don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go,’ touching men’s shoulders as she passed.
As most of the men, Reg rose and followed Vesta back to the stage. He’d fight the Hun for king and country. No white feather for him.
’Word Count: 175
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For anyone interested, here is a some information about music halls and a few things mentioned in my story that might be unfamiliar to people:
British Music Halls were originally tavern rooms which provided entertainment in the form of music and speciality acts such as short plays, comedy sketches, acrobats, minstrels, dancers, magicians, jugglers and even trick dogs. By the middle years of the nineteenth century the first purpose-built music halls were being constructed in London. Soon there were many around the country:
In effect, they were half pub, half theatre. The large halls had a stage but in the seating areas, tables were provided so that patrons could continue their drinking and socialising (generally noisily) while the ‘acts’ were on:
The halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs, many composed by professional song writers with their working class audiences in mind. Songs like ‘My Old man Said Follow theVan’ and ‘Waiting at the Church’ described situations which the urban poor would be familiar with.
‘Well oiled’ on cheap beer, the audience chorused songs they loved and abused acts they loathed. In some places audiences would throw things at dud acts, and the bottles carried by the waiters were chained to the trays to prevent them being used as missiles.
Music Hall’s support for the war effort is well documented – although no one can deny that owners, landlords and song writers made a lot of money out of it. By the end of 1914, 30 or more specially composed songs promoting recruitment had been written. Many music hall performers threw themselves into the effort, including, the most popular of all the singers, Marie Lloyd . . .
. . . and the singer most famous for her army recruitment success, Vesta Tilley:
Vesta Tilley had sung in music halls since she was 5 and generally dressed in men’s clothes (although during the day she took care to dress in her usual women’s wear to emphasise her femininity). One of her most popular songs was about a young swell, ‘Burlington Bertie‘. During the early years of WW1, along with many other music hall performers, she helped in the recruitment of thousands of men.. She dressed as a soldier and sang patriotic songs, including Jolly Good Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier and The Army of Today’s All Right. She was given the nickname of ‘Britain’s best recruiting sergeant’.
In 1914 Lord Kitchener introduced voluntary enlistment to increase British forces. It helped to create Britain’s first mass citizen army. Kitchener was one of the few British leaders to believe that this war would be long and difficult, and not ‘over by Christmas’. Within a year it became obvious that it was not possible to continue fighting by relying on voluntary recruits. Conscription was introduced in March 1916.
The name ‘Hun’ was a derogatory term for German soldiers. It resulted from a remark made by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in 1900, when he sent his armies to deal with the Boxer Rebellion in China. He told his troops to show no mercy – just as the Huns, 1000 years earlier, had exhibited wanton destruction as they swept through Europe.
The White Feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice, used within the British Army and countries associated with the British Empire since the 18th century. It aimed to humiliate men who were not soldiers.
The White Feather Movement was a propaganda campaign in England during WWI to encourage men to enlist in the army. White feathers were distributed by women of the Order of the White Feather to any man they deemed capable of joining the army who was out of uniform. They aimed to make men realise that women viewed them as cowards. Other men would therefore be so afraid of receiving a feather they would join the army. Conscientious objectors were seen as cowards and received white feathers if their stance became known.
This poster was not one printed for this movement, but a part of the Parliamentary campaign:
Last Sunday, July 19, we headed off to Derbyshire with our 16-year-old grandson to visit the Crich Tramway Museum (the letter i in Crich is pronounced like the word ‘eye’). The museum is situated in the Crich Tramway Village, close to the town of Matlock and is an hour-and-a-half drive from where we live:
We specifically picked this weekend because it was a World War One weekend, and the event was attended by a number of people in period costume or WW1 army uniform. A re-enactment group were also in uniform or other Edwardian dress. Shop windows displayed WW1 foods and there were various recruitment posters about:
It’s thirteen years since we last visited Crich, when Kieran was only three. On that occasion, it was a Thomas the Tank Engine weekend, and Kieran was mad about all the different, colourful engines. His love of Thomas and friends dwindled very soon afterwards, when real steam engines took over. His passion for those has never waned. In fact, trams fall a long way short for him, but he enjoyed the day well enough.
The heart of the village is Tramway Street, a cobbled street with a shiny ‘lacework’of metal running along it, flanked by period buildings. Above, the overhead wire has been described as ‘a mad woman’s knitting’. Both the tracks and wires have been retrieved from towns and cities all over the country…
… as have the buildings and street furniture, some of which were moved stone by stone from their original destinations. There is a pub – the Red Lion Pub, a cafe (Rita’s Tearooms) an old-style sweetshop, the Yorkshire Penny Bank and the impressive Derby Assembly Rooms with its grand Georgian frontage (originally built between 1765 and 1774). It now houses the video theatre and other displays about Britain’s tramways. There is a bandstand in a little park area, and a number of old gas lamps and a couple of telephone boxes. The village is also home to the Eagle Press, a small museum dedicated to letterpress printing, including an 1859 Columbian printing press:
The Bowes-Lyon Bridge (seen above) crosses the road. From up there we could watch the trams going underneath us. These pictures give a good view of the ‘mad woman’s knitting’ design of the wires, with the tracks beneath:
There are fifty trams on display at Crich, both single and double-deckers, some from places abroad, including France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa and the U.S. The idea is to portray each of the significant stages in the evolution of the British tramcar. The gaps have been filled in with tramcars from outside the U.K.
Several trams run through the village and visitors can ride up and down the one-mile track along the edge of the beautiful Derwent Valley.
Visitors can get on and off a variety of trams at different spots to view the sites. These include a lead mine, with the rails for the trolleys, a woodland walk with some unusual wooden sculptures (several of the Green Man) and views of the quarry:
The Derwent Valley was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its historical importance. The valley can rightly be described as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The village of Cromford, only a mile away, was where Richard Arkwright built his new mill in 1771. George Stevenson, the great railway pioneer, had a close connection with Crich and the present tramway follows part of the mineral railway he built to link the quarry with the village of Ambergate.
On their arrival in Britain in 1860 from the US (where they were developed) trams were welcomed as a means of transport that gave a far smoother ride than previous horse drawn buses. They also provided a far cheaper form of urban transport for the masses. When the electric tram arrived in 1900, it was a wonder of the age. By the 1920s there were 14,000 electric trams in Britain. The trams at Crich mostly ran along the streets of cities in United Kingdom before the 1960s, with some trams rescued and restored (even from other countries) as the systems closed.
Besides the trams constantly rumbling along the streets, there are many inside the exhibition halls to be brought out on different days, and some in the workshop undergoing restoration:
Decline of the trams came after WW1, notably when the internal combustion engine was developed. Vehicles powered that way offered reliability and perceived low cost, and were not restricted to rails. However, it took many years before buses became swifter and carried more passengers than trams. Even when the motor car was developed, public transport still thrived. But few towns invested in new trams and the cheaper buses eventually took over. By the 1950s only a handful of tramway systems were left. Blackpool closed before the 60s and Glasgow Corporation Tramways in 1962.
There has been a recent revival with new networks such as the Croydon Tramlink, Sheffield Supertram, Midland Metro, Edinburgh Trams, Manchester Metrolink, and Nottingham Express Transit being built and extended. Whether or not other cities will follow remains to be seen.
Here’s a smile inducing piece of information to end with, complete with illustration, from inside the Discovery Centre: