Today I am absolutely thrilled to have Dee Yates on the blog as part of her blog tour for the release of her wonderful (and super heartbreaking) new novel, A Last Goodbye. Honestly, I cannot recommend this book highly enough so please do check it out.
The story starts in 1913 and continues to 1919. It is therefore set against the background of World War 1. Before this war there was a regular army in which men served for seven years, following which they were put on the National Reserve for a further five years and called back if the situation required. Following the declaration of war there was a call for volunteers to enlist to increase the size of the army. These volunteers would be between 18 and 38 and would only have to enlist for the duration of the war. At first there was a big response to the appeal but this gradually died down and it became clear over the following months that voluntary recruitment was not going to bring sufficient men to fight the enemy.
On 27th January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced. British males between 18 and 41 were conscripted if they were unmarried or a widower on 2nd November 1915. The act was extended to married men on 25th May 1016. Some trades were considered vital to the war economy and some but not all of men in these trades were exempt from conscription. This included farm workers.
East of Crawford in South Lanarkshire lay the peaceful and remote Camps Valley. Through its base the Camps Water flowed east to west to join the upper reaches of the Clyde. In the valley floor a few cattle were to be found but the hills were suitable only for the grazing of sheep. It was these hill sheep and the harsh weather in which the farming families lived that governed the farmers’ year.
In the second decade of the 20th century the towns of Motherwell and Hamilton and their surroundings were expanding rapidly. More water was needed, both for the growing population and for industry. It was decided that either a new reservoir or expansion of existing ones would be needed. After consultation it was decided to build a new reservoir in the Camps Valley. The period for completion of the project was to be ten years from when the site was chosen in 1913. Some of the farms in the base of the valley would be lost when the reservoir was filled. The owners of these farms would be given other land on which to farm.
As plans got underway, World War 1 began. This increased demands on the water supply because the production of munitions, begun in the aforementioned towns, needed extra water. At the same time many of the available young men who might otherwise be engaged in building work, enlisted.
In May 1916, with work falling way behind schedule, it was arranged with the government that Prisoners of War would be employed on the project. One hundred German POWs arrived on 22nd August 1916 and a further one hundred and twenty on 7th September. They were paid the standard rate of wages. At first they lived in tents erected midway along the valley. As winter approached and, with it, harsh weather, they were put to building huts for themselves near to where the reservoir embankment would be. These huts contained sleeping quarters for more than two hundred men, dining and recreational facilities, a kitchen, wash houses, bathrooms and a hospital. The complex was surrounded by a high, closely fixed barbed wire fence and had a military guard.
The POWs were not allowed to work on the main road or to handle explosives. Instead they were employed in building the combined road and railway through the valley (these would carry all materials needed for the work) and in the construction of the huge embankment. One of the POWs was killed during construction work. Shortly after the Armistice was signed, POW labour was dispensed with and work continued by British workmen.
Such industry necessarily brought change, much of it unwelcome, to this peaceful and unspoilt valley, where little had changed since the time of the Roman invasion. The novel seeks to explore the effect of the changes on the local population and the relationships between the farming communities and the German ‘invaders’ who are brought in to help with the building work.
Be sure to follow Dee on the rest of her blog tour!