The buses that went to war evoked in new novel by Chichester author

A couple of years ago there was the play. But the novel came first and now the novel is in print.

Wednesday, 3rd October 2018, 10:30 am

Carol Godsmark is the author of All Change, a historical tale born of her fascination with the hundreds of red London buses which went to the western front during the First World War.

Carol, who lives in Chichester and is in charge of PR and marketing for the Chichester Cinema at New Park, said: “I saw an article in the London Evening Standard in 2013 about the money awarded by the lottery, I think, quite a considerable sum to restore one of the iconic red double-decker buses that went to war.

“I found it really fascinating, this untold story of World War One that nobody knew about. I asked people if they had ever heard of it, but no one seemed to know about these buses, more than a thousand that were taken from the streets of London from August 1914 onwards.


“Once they got to France, they were painted khaki, and they served several purposes in the war. One was for troop transport. One was for carrying POWs and also as an ambulance and some were also made into pigeon lofts. And they did make a difference to the war.”

She delved further into the story to see if it merited a novel and decided that it did: “I did a year’s research at the Imperial War Museum and also at the London Transport Museum and I also saw the bus which had been restored and it looked magnificent. But tiny! The soldiers would have had to go sideways up the steps to get to the top in their boots and with the ridiculous amount of equipment they had to carry.”

The novel which emerged is the tale of Ted, a middle-aged bus driver, tempted to go off on the promise that the war would be over by Christmas: “He signs up because he wants a big adventure in his life.”

But Carol also explores the home front, in chapters which alternate between the two: “I was talking to Greg Mosse, the MA tutor at West Dean, about the history that I had found out and he said ‘Let’s write a play together’, and it became Number 60 to the Somme which was presented in 2015 in Chichester and Bognor. But the play became a completely-different story and bears no resemblance to the novel apart from the historical details.

“By then I had written the first draft of the book and I was figuring out that what I didn’t want to do was to write purely from the war point of view. There are so many books out there already that cover that admirably. I also wanted to look at what happened to the women during the war, and the natural way to do that was to follow what happened to Ted’s wife and daughter, Norah and Ruby. Ruby is on the cusp of womanhood as the war breaks out. I wanted to look at how Norah, the older woman, adjusts to life without Ted and how Ruby adjusts to having more freedom in her life. I wanted to look at how their lives changed forever and then had to change back again.”

All Change –in both paperback and hardback – is available online and in store from Waterstones and also from Amazon. It is published by New Generation Publishing, with illustrations by Hugh Ribbans.