Writer sets out to follow footsteps of her soldier grandfather

Writer sets out to follow footsteps of her soldier grandfather Written by Val Sweeney Vee Walker with her grandfather's spectacles. ON November 11 1918, Major Tom Westmacott wrote in his diary that he woke up to receiving a wire that hostilities would cease at 11am. "There were no great demonstrations by the troops," he noted. "I think because it was hard to realise that the war was really over." But the conflict was truly at an end after more than four years of ferocious warfare and at a cost of 40 million casualties. Just days previously, Major Westmacott, a cavalry officer, had received a rapturous ovation from the residents of the small northern French town of Bavay which he helped to liberate. His granddaughter, Black Isle writer Verity Walker, is now preparing to walk in his footsteps as she plays a key part in the town’s centenary commemorations to mark the end of World War I. "It will be a pilgrimage for me," said Ms Walker, of Fortrose. "I have been there before on November 11 but nothing will be like this time." Ms Walker will deliver lectures at local schools as well as taking part in the Armistice Parade and service at the Bavay war memorial where the Flower of Scotland will be sung in her honour along with the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, and God Save The Queen. She will also lay a wreath at the graves of some North Staffords soldiers whose dead bodies were still warm when they were discovered by her grandfather three days before the ceasefire. Ms Walker has regularly visited Bavay in recent years to discover more about her grandfather, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre, resulting in her recently-published debut novel, Major Tom’s War, written under the name Vee Walker. Although a work of fiction, it is based on real people, places and events drawn from her grandfather’s unpublished war diary. It comprises meticulously-detailed accounts, photographs, letters, postcards and posters put together in a scrapbook by his wife but in an intriguing twist, Ms Walker discovered a secret entry. "I noticed one page was thicker than the others and I did what you really shouldn’t do with something which is getting on for 100 years old – I steamed it apart," she admitted. "I found a secret entry which told an extraordinary tale which must have so shocked my grandmother that she didn’t destroy it but she covered it up." Although Ms Walker does not divulge what it was so as not to spoil the plot, it prompted her to rewrite the non-fiction book as a novel which was snapped up by the niche publisher, Kashi House, which specialises in books about Indian life and culture. Launched at the National Army Museum in London, the story is set against the background of events in India, England, Wales, Scotland, Belgium, Germany and France including the suffragette movement, executions by firing squad and the retreat from the Somme in March 1918. During her research trips to Bavay, Ms Walker has formed a bond with the town and its people and was thrilled during her last visit to be given access to the private diary of the town’s wartime mayor, Gaston Derome, who knew her grandfather. It included an order dated November 11 1918 relating to the ceasefire. As she prepares for her forthcoming visit to mark the occasion 100 years on, Ms Walker reflected: "Here, we commemorate the Armistice as victors. We grieve over those who died but it is from a position of being the victors we were and so was France. "But in France, people’s lives were made a living hell for the duration of the war. "We cannot imagine what occupations was like. It was so bad they couldn’t talk about it. "I don’t think anyone has written in detail about the occupation in France during World War I and it is my honour to do that."

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