The cover of Into the Flames, Book Two of my By the Hands of Men series is, like the first book, designed and executed by the ridiculously talented Kia Heavey. No, I’m not exaggerating about her talents. She plays the bagpipes, she’s a wicked graphics artist, and she’s a hell of a writer (I highly recommend her YA novel Underlake).
Kia was the one who recommended looking for an image to represent Robert Fitzgerald. In her opinion, having a central image to tie the cover together would make it more effective. I have to admit, I was hesitant…finding the photo of Nurse Florence Ethel Spalding, a strikingly beautiful woman (who actually worked in a field hospital at Gallopoli in WWI) was such a stroke of luck, I thought it would be a fool’s errand to even try to repeat the process. I was forgetting, however, that coincidence and luck are God’s way of remaining anonymous.
The day job had just recently become “the graveyard shift,” which meant my “days” off, in fact, left me awake in the middle of the night with only the cats for company. So I began to wander through Google images looking for “World War One Veterans.” That was a melancholy search, as it tended to either show historical photos of the devastation of the Great War or the aftermath. I kept at it, though, and was led to “Discovering Anzacs,” a project of the National Archives of Australia.
It’s a wonderful site: over a 1000 images, most of them cotemporary photos of the young men (and some women) who went off to war. Even better (and more worthy of praise), in many cases you can read the digitized service record of the soldier. For any person interested in history, that alone would make it worth trip.
I, however, was just looking for a photograp. A few of the posed, studio photos (the kind typically taken in America while the young recruit is still in boot camp) caught my eye, but they weren’t quite it. Most of the young men were putting on brave, jaunty faces. Having presumably read By the Hands of Men, you know that jaunty is not an attitude that the young lieutenant assumes very often.
But there was another type of image, as well, one that struck me very powerfully. Relatives of these veterans had also submitted photos of their graves. And most of them, from the simplest flat marker on the ground to the most ornate mini-mausoleum, almost every one of them included the notation “…buried with his wife.”
Maybe it was the lateness of the hour, working alone in my attic office in the early fall chill, but I found those photos of marble and cement and brass slabs incredibly moving. After surviving the crucible of the Great War, these men had returned to pick up their lives, get married, create families. And at the end of their life, they would not be parted from those they loved. I had to stop my research for a while.
There were hours of the night yet to fill, so after a time I returned to the Internet, scrolling through page upon page of the “Discovering Anzacs” website.
And then, after viewing more than 900 images, there he was. Alexander Chalmers. A handsome young man, to be sure, but a thoughtful one. He wasn’t grinning at the camera. It’s my guess this photo was taken after he had seen some service, and maybe he realized that war and what it required of you was nothing to take lightly. It was the kind of expression I imagined would rest on the face of a man who’s beheld what Robert Fitzgerald has seen and the journey he’s undergone.
Like Lt. Fitzgerald, Chalmers saw action from 1914 – 1917. Alex was part of the 3rd Light Horse Infantry before he was wounded and removed from active warfare, according to his service records. It gave me a chill when I found that he and my fictional Robert served the same terms of service and were both wounded in the same year.
With some more research, I was even able to locate Mr. Chalmer’s gravesite, but, alas, almost nothing about his life after the service, except for the fact he married a woman named Maud, who died in 1964. Alex Chalmers followed her in death almost exactly five years later.
They are, of course, buried side by side.