PUTTING a different perspective on the first world war, a Chichester novelist has written about the conflict from an army chaplain’s point of view.
Julia Lee Dean’s book And I Shall Be Healed was published earlier this year, to coincide with the centenary year of the start of the war.
Her book is initially set in Singleton, from the point of view of a priest.
He goes on to become an army chaplain after ‘a traumatic event’ in his life.
His new role takes him to the front line and gives a new perspective on the horrors which happened there.
Julia said army chaplains were always given a hard time in the war, but her research told a different story.
“The famous criticism of specifically Anglican chaplains as shirking cowards comes from Robert Graves, writing in the 1920s,” she said
“He was shell-shocked, very disillusioned and, perhaps most significantly, writing to be popular. The book was published in 1929 and significantly, in the first edition, Graves attacked all chaplains. In later editions he amended that to specify Anglicans. It was undeserved.
“Going through the diaries of army chaplains, you get a sense of how hard they worked,” she said. “They were organising concert parties, they had to go out and get bodies, recording who was who.
“Once I started my research about army chaplains, I found out about the bad press they had received and also how hard they worked and the extent of the work they did – fetching the bodies from the battlefield is one thing that really stuck in my mind. There was then a conscious effort to reflect that, to get across the sheer exhaustion many of them felt.”
Their job was not only to be there for spiritual guidance, but to write home to soldiers’ families if they were killed, and look after them when they were injured.
And although they were not fighting in the war, there is no doubt they shared the experience of many soldiers – something highlighted in Julia’s novel.
The story was not intended to be a war novel at first, but evolved, and as Julia had envisaged the novel being set from around 1900, it fitted in with the war.
On why she chose Singleton as the setting, she said: “My parents are Londoners which meant both sets of grandparents lived in London and so when we were children, we spent a lot of time in the car, driving from Chichester to south-east London.
“Singleton is the village I remember most vividly, particularly the pub, the Horse and Groom apparently, on the corner – more or less opposite the turning to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. It stuck in the mind.
“I remember going into the church once – just a touristy visiting sort of thing, and really being struck by the sense of awe within so, when I decided to write about Anglican clergy, that seemed the obvious choice.”
And I Shall Be Healed is available to by online at www.amazon.co.uk