It’s my pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for The Very White of Love by Simon Worrall. It is a nostalgic ode to Nancy and Martin, and of course to their love and a relationship that took place across many miles through the medium of pen and paper.
About the Author
S.C. Worrall was born in Wellington, England and spent his childhood in Eritrea, Paris an Singapore. Since 1984, he has been a full-time, freelance journalist and book author. He has written for National Geographic, GQ, The London Times and The Guardian. He has also made frequent appearances on Radio and TV, including the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent: NPR and PBS. He speaks six languages and has lived in or visited more than 70 countries. The Very White of Love is his debut novel.
About the book
Torn apart by war, their letters mean everything…
‘My love. I am writing to you without knowing where you are but I will find you after all these long months…’
3rd September September 1938. Martin Preston is in his second year of Oxford when his world is split in two by a beautiful redhead, Nancy Whelan. A whirlwind romance blossoms in the Buckinghamshire countryside as dark clouds begin to gather in Europe.
3rd September 1939. Britain declares war on Germany. Martin is sent to the battlefields of France, but as their letters cross the channel, he tells Nancy their love will keep him safe. Then, one day, his letters stop.
3rd September 1940. It’s four months since Nancy last heard from Martin. She knows he is still alive. And she’ll do anything to find him. But what she discovers will change her life forever.
This story of romance, first love and the tragedy of war is based on the correspondence between Martin Preston and Nancy Whelan. Her son found the letters and a picture of Martin after the death of his mother, and decided to tell the world about this forgotten blip in time instead of letting it fall into the deep hole of unknown stories.
Unfortunately none or not many of her letters exist, but the author has been able to give the reader a good idea what they would have looked like based on Martin’s emotional and honest letters to Nancy.
Aside from the romantic element of the story, the author also highlights the tragedy of war. In this case both World Wars, during which whole generations of young men were annihilated, and damaged both mentally and physically. Even the men lucky enough to return home were never the same again. You don’t just bury trauma like that without it leaving some kind of mark.
One of the things I think is important to note when discussing the events of both the Great War and World War 2, is the military hierarchy and how it influenced the process of decision-making and number of fatalities. In fact it is probably also the case in other war conflicts and so-called skirmishes. There is this automatic assumption that academic learning and higher socio-economic status in life equates to good leadership skills in the military hierarchy.
This meant that inexperienced, and often very young men were made officers and therefore put in charge of the lives of all men beneath them in the hierarchy. The irony of the fact these boys had lower ranking men with prior war and military experience working beneath them and giving them advice, and yet not in charge, is just tragic in every sense of the word.
Men who have no clue what the situation is on the ground are making decisions that will ultimately kill many innocent men, because they are playing games of strategy in their office. Officers not suited to their positions are leading hundreds of men into traps. Is it any wonder the majority of lower ranking soldiers speak of the same frustration when it comes to the reality of war.
Anyway I digress, although in a way it is pertinent to how Martin ended up where he was and perhaps ultimately decided his fate and that of many others. Although the information was hard to gather, put together and the exact truth will never be known, it is fair to say he was a brave man.
I believe Simon Worrall has made the best of a double-edged sword. He found a secret that determined the inner emotional stability and/or turmoil of his mother and her marriage to his father. She kept the torch burning for Martin throughout her life. Their love was romanticised in her head, especially because it was never physical, and the dreams of a wedding and children were never fulfilled.
It’s the not knowing that makes the brutally interrupted first love something she dwells on in moments of unhappiness or frustration. The trauma of not knowing the truth, and perhaps never quite believing it, stayed with her forever.
It’s a beautiful story, probably one of very many during that particular era, but this one provided the author with enough physical evidence to be able to replicate the events. Obviously he has filled in certain scenes with fictional dialogues and descriptions, but he does so with the greatest respect towards his own family and the family of Martin Preston.
It is a nostalgic ode to Nancy and Martin, and of course to their love and a relationship that took place across many miles through the medium of pen and paper.