Last week, three-quarters of a century ago



Last week in Second World War history

Those who know their history know that the Eastern Front was by far the largest theatre of operations during the Second World War. The Soviet Union put more men and women into the fighting than all other Allies combined, and the countries of the Eastern Theatre suffered over 11 million casualties.

The Germans also put far more men and resources into the Eastern Front. The launch of the war in the east, Operation Barbarossa, sent nearly 4 million men across the Polish frontier, overwhelming—at first—a Soviet strength of under 3 million.

Source: Britannica.

In comparison, the western Allies sent 1.3 million men into Italy between 1942 and 1945, and 156,000 stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

On Facebook and Google+, I’ve been posting daily updates on “on this day in the history of the Eastern Front of the Second World War.” And here, I’ll post a summary of the previous week in history, three-quarters of a century ago.

September 25 – October 1

1939:

September 25:

  • Hitler arrives in Poland to observe the bombing in Warsaw.
  • Soviet troops capture Bialystock, Poland.
  • Stalin proposes to Germany that the USSR take over Lithuania, giving Germany areas near Warsaw in exchange.

September 26:

  • Insignia of the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa.

    The resistance Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, established in Warsaw.

September 27:

  • Polish government in exile sets up in Paris, France.
  • After a 2-week siege, Warsaw falls to Germans.
  • Soviets execute 150 Polish policemen.

September 28:

  • Estonia and USSR sign a 10-year mutual assistance pact, allowing Soviet troops to be stationed in Estonia.
  • Germans and Soviets sign agreement denoting common border in Poland.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop arrives in Moscow to announce joint Soviet-German negotiations for peace with Western powers.

September 29:

  • Hitler orders repatriation of ethnic Germans living in Estonia and Latvia to Germany, as he knows the USSR will soon demand control of the Baltic States.
  • Formal surrender of Poland and division between Germany and USSR

1940:

September 26:

  • German ambassador to the USSR tells Soviets that Japan would join alliance with Germany and Italy.

October 1, 1940:

  • Erich Hartmann in 1944.

    Erich Hartmann, greatest fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare, begins basic training in East Prussia. He would shoot down 345 Soviet planes and never be shot down himself. After the war, he was wrongfully convicted of war crimes and served 10 years at hard labour in Soviet prisons. After his release, he joined the air force of the Federal Republic of Germany.

  • Hitler orders Polish gentry exterminated and civilians’ living standards in Poland reduced, as they are now “workers” for the Reich.

1941:

Einsatzgruppen killing unarmed civilians in 1942. Wikipedia.

Karl Jager, commander of Einsatzkommando Group A, a Nazi death squad, begins keeping detailed records of numbers of Jews and other civilians his team murdered each day. These became known as the “Jager Reports.” The Einsatzgruppen were special detachments of the SS, specifically charged with killing civilians. For example, during this week in 1941, he reports killing:

  • September 25: 575 Jews in Lithuania
  • September 27: 3,446

September 25:

  • Hitler orders cease of attacks on Leningrad, in favour of starving the city.
  • German and Romanian troops reach Perekop Isthmus to cut off Crimean Peninsula

September 26:

  • German battleship Tirpitz joins naval manoeuvers in the Baltic Sea.
  • Free French sign alliance with the USSR

September 27:

  • German truck stuck in the mud in Russia. Pinterest.

    Rain begins on the Eastern Front, making mud a problem for German invaders.

  • Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. diplomat Averell Harriman arrive in Arkangelsk.
  • 23,000 Jews murdered at Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine.

September 28:

  • US and UK officials travel to Moscow to discuss western aid to USSR.
  • Soviet General Gregory Zhukov announces that family members of captured Red Army soldiers would be arrested and shot.

    Georgy Zhukov in 1944. Wikipedia.

  • Jews in Kyiv, Ukraine order to gather at Dorogozhitshay Street at 7:00 the next morning.

September 29, 1941:

  • Reinhard Heydrich named Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
  • Vyacheslav Molotov, Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. representative Averell Harriman discuss Western aid to the USSR.
  • Soviet submarine ShCh-319 attacks German ships off Latvia, then strikes a mine and sinks.
  • Hitler orders Leningrad wiped out by bombardment.

    Leningraders during the siege. Source: Daily Chronicles of World War II.

  • Einsatzgruppen death squads murder 50,000 – 96,000 Ukrainians at Babi Yar near Kyiv.
  • Red Army prevents German forces from entering Crimea.

September 30, 1941:

  • Military photographer and long-time Nazi Johannes Hahle turns over some photos in a folder marked “in the East” to his superiors, but keeps photos of the Babi Yar massacre a secret.
  • Soviet Black Sea fleet begins considering transferring from Odessa to Crimea.
  • German Operation Typhoon begins with early assault on Moscow.

October 1, 1941:

  • US-UK-USSR aid conference produces protocol for immediate, long-term aid deliveries to the USSR.
  • Finnish troops reach Petrozavodsk, capital of Soviet Karelia, further isolating Leningrad.
  • Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland begins operations.
  • Soviets release over 50,000 Polish POWs to form a Polish unit of the Red Army to fight Germany.
  • Soviet POWs in 1941.

    Germans launch Operation Typhoon, attack on Moscow.

  • Panzergruppe 2 splits into two to advance on Orel and Bryansk, Russia.

1942:

September 25:

  • Hitler sacks Colonel-General Halder as Chief of the Army General Staff and replaces him with General Zeitzler

September 26:

  • Soviet ace Lydia Lytvyak, the first female ace. She made as many as 14 kills.

    Red Army launches offensive in Tuapse region in the Caucasus.

  • German forces begin new offensive in Stalingrad.
  • Soviet ace Lydia Litvyak shoots down German bomber over Stalingrad, and shares credit for downing a second.

September 27:

  • Sgt. Jacob Pavlov and three other Soviet soldiers attack an apartment block in Stalingrad with hand grenades, expelling occupying Germans and freeing wounded Soviet soldiers. This building became the iconic “Pavlov’s House.” The men defended it for 58 days against infantry, artillery and tank attacks.

    “Pavlov’s House” in Stalingrad, where a handful of men under Sgt. Jabo Pavlov defended the building against repeated attacks for two months.

September 29, 1942:

  • Sigmund Freud’s sister Esther Adolphine dies in Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia.

September 30, 1942:

  • Soviet forces cross the Volga River near Moscow.
  • Due to a typhus epidemic in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Commandant Rudoph Hoss forbids guards from consuming any raw foods.
  • 610 Jews arrive at Auschwitz from the Netherlands. 454 gassed immediately.

1943

September 25:

  • Red Army captures Roslavl and Smolensk.

September 27:

  • German forces in Ukraine begin withdrawal to western bank of Dnipro River.

    An iconic war photo of the Red Army preparing to cross the Dnipro River in 1943, chasing the retreating Germans. From Bill Downs, War Correspondent.

  • Red Army captures Temryuk, Russia, the last Black Sea port held by Germans.

September 28:

  • Germans recapture Split, Yugoslavia from partisans

September 28:

  • Minesweeper USS Aspire transferred to the USSR under the lend-lease agreements.

September 30, 1943:

  • Red Army expands is bridgehead over the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine to 500 km.
  • U-boat “wolfpack” in the Kara Sea north of Russia sink freighter Arhangelsk.

October 1, 1943:

  • German U-boat, circa 1942. Pinterest.

    German u-boats sink Soviet freighter and escort ship in the Kara Sea, off northern Russia.

1944:

September 25:

  • Soviets trick Slovakian Captain Frantisek Urban to visit Moscow, then arrest him, sending him to Lubyanka Prison.

September 26:

  • Red Army completes occupation of Estonia.

September 27:

  • 2000 soldiers of Armia Krajowa, Poland’s resistance army, surrender in Warsaw

September 28:

  • Germans begin transferring 18,000 prisoners from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland.
  • Josip Tito authorizes Soviet troops to enter Yugoslavia. Red 57th Army begins moving toward Belgrade.

September 29:

  • US OSS agents parachute into Bucharest to liberate 1,888 Allied POWs, and take Romanian diplomatic documents to prevent their capture by Soviets.

October 1, 1944:

  • Slovak resistance fighters name themselves the Czechoslovakian 1st Army.
  • Hungarian delegation comes to Moscow to discuss armistice separate from Germany.
  • Red Army crosses Danube into Yugoslavia.

October 2, 1944:

  • Boy Scouts in the Armija Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, during the Warsaw Uprising. Wikimedia Commons.

    Warsaw Uprising ends after 63 unsuccessful days of fighting. 15,200 Armia Krajowa insurgents and 200,000 civilians killed, along with 16,000 German forces.

This is the history that I cover in the Eastern Front trilogy, through the eyes of a man who was there: my father-in-law, the late Maurice Bury.

Check out the books from their page on this website, or on Amazon.

Have anything to add about last week in history? Leave a Comment!

 

Army of Worn Soles: Battle of Poltava



On this day, September 18, 1941, the German forces invading the USSR captured the city of Poltava, Ukraine. My father-in-law, Maurice Bury, was in that battle. I wrote what he saw and experienced in Chapter 10 of Army of Worn Soles, the first book in the Eastern Front trilogy. Here’s a sample. 

 

Source: Wikipedia.

Chapter 10: Panzers

Kyiv was gone.

The rumours arrived well before the official news. On September 17, 1941, Stalin finally gave permission to General Kirponov, head of the Soviet 5th Army, to withdraw from Kyiv. Once the orders went out to withdraw behind the Dnipro River, the Germans pounced and took control of the city in less than twenty-four hours.

But the withdrawal order had come too late. “Hurrying Heinz” Guderian, the great Panzer general, had already crossed the Dnipro in Belorussia in late August and had penetrated far east of the Ukrainian capital, to the area around Romny. General Ewald von Kleist blasted past the Dnipro south of Kyiv by September 10. On the September 14, the two generals shook hands a hundred miles east of Kyiv—having trapped five Soviet armies, more than half a million men, in the huge pocket between their forces.

It had not been the first time, nor would it be the last. The Soviet 6th and 12th armies had been encircled and trapped near Uman in mid-August. And after the Wehrmacht’s capture of Minsk in July, they had captured another five Soviet armies.

General Kirponos had fought hard against the encirclement in September, but a landmine killed him. Only a few in his army managed to break out.

Part of the 38th Army under newly appointed Major-General Vladimir Tsiganov managed to escape the Kyiv encirclement. Maurice and his men joined the retreat, heading southeast to defend the bridgeheads between Cherkassy and Kremenchuk. The Germans sent more Panzer divisions, and in October, the remnants of the Red Army pulled back another one hundred kilometres. Soldiers dug into the eastern banks of the shallow Psyol River to protect Poltava, where Marshall Timoshenko had his headquarters.

Maurice’s unit took shelter in trenches built by the locals, but there were no bunkers this time. Food delivery became sporadic and the men griped continually about the autumn rain. The soft soil of the trench walls crumbled. The food was bad or there wasn’t enough. But they could not complain for long. The Panzers kept coming.

They stayed awake all night, squinting west across the Psyol River to the invisible, continuous rumble of heavy vehicles. Some of the men prayed. Commissars and officers moved up and down the lines, inspecting and admonishing the soldiers to vigilance and readiness. “At the first sign of the Germans, we counterattack,” they said.

Maurice doubted it.

That first sign came at dawn. As the sky greyed behind the Soviets, the early light picked out German tanks advancing along the roads, cautious yet swift.

Maurice’s fingers tingled as the rising sun revealed columns of armoured vehicles and marching men, officers’ staff cars and motorized cannons. The lines stretched for miles. The German army moved in unison, fast, alert and fearless like a predator.

Two Panzers ventured onto a small wooden bridge. They weren’t even fazed when the bridge collapsed under their weight. The water didn’t reach over the tops of their treads. The drivers down-shifted and continued on.

An officer shouted to Maurice’s right and anti-tank guns fired. Shells burst on the lead Panzer and flames erupted around the turret, but didn’t damage the tank. Its machine gun fired and then its cannon barked. Maurice saw Red soldiers’ bodies fling up out of destroyed trenches.

“Fire!” Andrei and Orest pulled their triggers and the kick-back of the rifles geysered dirt into the air. Damn, Maurice thought. If that doesn’t draw the Germans’ attention, nothing will.

The shells went wide.

“Reload.”

Machine guns erupted from behind and a German armoured car carrying dozens of soldiers exploded, throwing bodies high into the air.

Maurice’s men fired again, and this time one shell hit a tank front-on. The shell stuck, burned into the metal plate and burst, but did not penetrate the armour. The tank reversed gears and drew back from the riverbank. The Panzers halted on the west bank, waiting.

All at once, shells began falling behind the Soviet lines, bursting and burning among the men. The Germans had turned their heavy artillery guns on the Red Army.

“Down, boys,” Maurice said, pulling his helmet as low as he could. It’s hopeless. If a shell doesn’t land in this trench and kill us all, it’ll only be sheer luck.

Soviet guns answered, sporadic and uncoordinated. They were aimed generally westward, in contrast to the German shells, which seemed demonically guided to Red Army targets.

When the heavy fire relented, Maurice chanced a look over the trench. The German tanks were advancing again. Somewhere, a heavy anti-tank gun fired, hitting the lead Panzer square on. The explosion blew its treads off and it lurched sideways into the river, crippled, smoke pouring from its front plate.

But more Panzers splashed through the river. Behind them came soldiers, running from cover to cover, firing their fast submachine guns. As they climbed onto the near bank, some hit landmines and fell, crippled, but more Panzers drove around them.

To his right, eastward, came a deep rumble. Maurice saw hulking Soviet KV heavy tanks, looking twice as high as a man, crawled forward on their wide treads, firing cannons and machine guns.

Why are they moving so slowly, he wondered. He saw their tracks moving, churning the earth and sinking into it. They’re too heavy for the soft ground. They were impervious to enemy fire unless it was point-blank on, but they were soon immobile. The Panzers just went around them.

“Pull back,” Maurice yelled, and the boys picked up the guns and ammunition and ran, crouching low as they could to the next trench, where they joined several other odalenje. Maurice’s boys hurriedly set up the guns and aimed at the Panzers.

They were too late.

The tanks swept past them, crushing wounded men under their treads. Andrei and Nikolai swung their gun around. “Aim at its back,” Maurice said. “FIRE!”

The gun whooshed and the shell hit the Panzer’s cylindrical fuel tank, oddly exposed on its rear deck behind the turret. The tank’s rear end lifted high and Maurice thought it would flip over. Shards of metal flew in every direction and the tank’s hull split and burned. The explosion rang in Maurice’s ears for minutes.

“Let’s get them, Lieutenant,” Orest said. He stood to pick up the gun, and Viktor, his loader, looked at Maurice wide-eyed. “We killed one tank. Let’s get more of the bastards.”

Big Eugene stood too, submachine gun at the ready. “Get down,” Maurice said. He grabbed Orest’s uniform and pulled him to the ground. Big Eugene dropped as a shell burst thirty metres away. Maurice saw him crawl back to the trench, flat on his belly.

Army of Worn Soles

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Army of Worn Soles is the first book in the Eastern Front trilogy, which tells the true story of Maurice Bury’s experiences in the Second World War.

Find it on Amazon.

Book launch: Under the Nazi Heel



IMG_0020.jpg

It’s book launch day for the follow-up to Army of Worn Soles: Under the Nazi Heel tells the true story of Maurice Bury, the Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, as he joins the struggle for Ukrainian independence.

The book has a terrific cover designed by David C. Cassidy and was edited by the matchless Gary Henry and proofread by the Typo Detective, Joy Lorton. Thanks for all the help!

What’s it about?

Under the Nazi Heel

Walking Out of War, Book 2

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds Ukraine faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

It’s available on Amazon for just $2.99. And if you buy it by March 5, send me an email and I’ll send you a bonus e-book, Jet: Stealth.

Get previews

Want to read a few preview? Some very gracious book bloggers are hosting excerpts.

Kristos Razdayetsya: A Ukrainian Christmas present



Ukrainian Christmas Eve Paska and candle.

January 6, as everyone knows, is “Ukrainian Christmas Eve.” Actually, it’s Christmas Eve according to the old Julian calendar.

 
So my Ukrainian Christmas present to readers, and to Ukrainians around the world, is an excerpt from my upcoming book, still unnamed, the sequel to Army of Worn Soles. This is the story of my late father-in-law, Maurice Bury, and his experience on the eastern front in World War II as a Red Army soldier.
 
This section is set in the autumn of 1944, when the Red Army was pushing the Germans out of the Baltics, and meeting stiff resistance.

 
Niemen River (Border between Lithuania and East Prussia)
October 10, 1944
The sun shone into Maurice’s eyes as the sergeant called a halt. He leaned back and let his pack slide off his shoulders, then sat down, grateful for a minute’s rest. The temperature had been dropping all day, and Maurice’s nerves were pulled taught from the sounds of machine-guns and bombs that grew ever closer as they marched. The Germans had retreated, but the boys knew they were marching toward an enemy defensive position.
 
Niemen River, Lithuania. Image: Creative Commons
The flatland of Lithuania continued as far as they could see, but maybe two hundred metres to the south, a shallow, broad river valley across the plain. That was the source of occasional gun- and cannon-fire.
 
“The Niemen. Across that is East Prussia. Germany,” said a young officer, passing by. “Don’t get too comfortable. That’s where we’re heading.”
 
By sunset, the gunfire died down. The two armies were stalemated, facing each other across the valley of the Nieman River, also known as the Neman and, in local Lithuanian, the Nemaunus. When the sky was dark, the officers quietly ordered the men in Maurice’s troop to move to the fortifications the Red Army had already dug, fifty metres from the bank.
 
No one knew, no one told them, but Stavka, the Soviet high command, had already tried to penetrate into East Prussia and take the strategic fortress of Konigsberg. The Baltic Offensive had succeeded in driving the Germans out of most of Estonia and Latvia and had finally taken Riga back from the Germans. Soviet General Bagramyan had pushed the Third Panzer Army down the Baltic coast, where they holed up in the town of Klaipeda, which the Germans had renamed Memel in 1939.
 
With the town surrounded, the Soviets then committed four armies to attack into East Prussia, driving for a line from Gumbinnen to Konigsberg, fifty kilometres further south.
 
General Erhard Raus’s Third Panzer Army stopped the Red Army, though, and held it at the Neman River. The Stavka decided to hold that position until it could bring in more reinforcements to allow it to use its deep operations strategy. Maurice’s unit was just one part of that strategy.
 
The soldiers already at the river had dug trenches and made fortifications a few metres back from the banks. Maurice’s unit found a place to set up camp. The next morning, they settled into a new routine: patrolling the fortifications, watching the enemy across the broad river, firing a few shots across just to let the enemy know they were watching. When their watch was over, they went back for food and snatched what sleep they could.
 
At night, Maurice did not sleep much. He knew he should have made the most of this break in the fighting, but he couldn’t relax. Something big is going to happen soon. One day near the end of October, Maurice thought the officers seemed to be stirring more than usual. In the evening, as the sun hit the horizon, the major called the junior officers into a circle; then the lieutenant of Maurice’s unit, Vasilyev, gathered the men. “We’re going to do some reconnaissance across the river,” he said. “Find out where Fritz has his cannons, tanks, and most important, supplies. Get the directions back to our gunners. You’ll have to be smart, quiet, and you can’t lose your head, or we’re all done for. The Major’s looking for four men.”
 
The sergeant, a tough old communist named Nikolai Nikolaev, stepped in front of the unit. “Okay, with me, it will be Oleh, Maurice and Mykhailo—it’s your turn, comrades.” Maurice suddenly felt as though his guts were wide, hollow and empty at the sound of his name. Numbly he followed the sergeant and the other boys to the quartermaster’s wagon. He felt another cold shock when he saw German uniforms lying on the ground.
 
“Get dressed, boys,” said the quartermaster, leering.

Getting back to writing



Writing the first paragraph of anything is always difficult, because there’s so much pressure. That first paragraph, even more so, the first sentence, has to do so much: set the scene, get the story moving and grab the reader’s attention.
 
But I took a lot of pleasure from that pressure last week and wrote an opening for my next book, after a long period of spending my writing time doing other things. Things that are rewarding and worthwhile, but aren’t writing.
 

What have I been doing?

  • editing three excellent and very different books for colleagues, including David C. Cassidy, author of Velvet Rain and the upcoming The Dark
  • traveling with my lovely and very tolerant wife to France (well, that was just a week, but still)
  • finalizing the print version of my latest book, Army of Worn Soles—print is much less tolerant of mistakes than e-books are
  • working on revamping my website, which sad to say, still isn’t done.
 
In fact, my attempts to improve my website have so far had the opposite effect: they’ve rendered it unviewable by any browser. Oh, I still have the files, but I’ve done something in the coding that creates a looping redirect. So for the past couple of weeks, my spare home-office time has been taken up with researching cheap or free, yet easy-to-use HTML editors for the Mac.
 
Now, there are some excellent inexpensive programs, but I found one that’s free, and that does (or purports to do) all the things I want to have in my website. There’s something in me that just won’t let me shell out 80 buck US for something when I can almost the same thing for free. The downside is that I had to start all over again to rebuild the site.
 
Anyway, the revamped site is close to being done, and when it is, this blog will look very different.
 

This is a blog about writing, not about being a cheapskate

Clio by Pierre Mignard.
Source: Wikipedia
Thank you, muse of writing. 
 
The writing. Well, last week, I pushed the website and the book formatting aside for a while to return to writing. I know that I said in June that I would have the sequel to Army of Worn Soles out by December, and we all know that’s not going to happen.
 
I have had this nagging feeling that comes from knowing that I have been putting off finishing the story of Maurice Bury, my late father-in-law, and his experiences in the Second World War. Now, I feel so much better that I have started to make progress again.
 
This is a very early draft, but here’s an opening:

Ukraine, January 1942Wind blew the snow smooth, polishing surface of the lake to a dull sheen under the full moon, and pushing drifts higher than a man along a rough fence that shielded the railway. Beyond the rails, more snow weighed down the boughs of close-growing fir trees and covered their trunks more than six feet high.

The moonlight made steam sparkle as a train emerged from the forest to puff and groan slowly along the edge of the frozen lake. The engineer squinted through the small forward window, which gave only an obstructed view. Periodically, he would lean out the side window to peer at the track ahead, but he could only bear the frigid air, the wind from the train’s forward motion, and the smoke and cinders from the engine, for less than a minute before he had to come back inside.

He kept the train’s speed low and one hand on the brake lever, despite the commands of the Wehrmachtofficers in the cars behind him. He knew the risks of going too fast in this country. Besides snowdrifts over the tracks that could derail the train despite the plows welded onto the front of the engine, the men he knew hid under the dark boughs posed worse threats.

Army of Worn Soleschronicled Maurice’s drafting into the Red Army, his service as an officer as the army retreated across Ukraine and his capture along with half a million other men, his imprisonment and his escape along with the men in his command from the POW camp. The second story is about his experiences after that:
  • fighting in the underground resistance against Nazi Germany
  • being re-drafted by the Red Army
  • fighting across the Baltic states and then eastern Germany, up to Berlin in May, 1945
  • and finally, his narrow escape from the Red Army and Stalin’s NKVD to return home to Canada, where he was born.
I think I’ve got it all mapped out now, and about 80 percent of it is written. But I am having one problem, dear readers: the title. So I’m turning to you. In the Comments section below, tell me which of the following possible titles you think is the most grabbing:
 
  • Walking Out of War
  • Walking Away from War
  • Slipping Through Stalin’s Net
  • The Four-Sided War
  • Worn Soles Home
I’m looking forward to your comments!

On Remembrance Day, in honour of all who served: Chapter 1, free



Today, November 11, 2014, is Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans’ Day in the US, Armistice Day in the UK. It’s a day recognized under many names in countries around the world, marking the end of the First World War, called the “defining calamity of the 20th century.”

That calamity, which took millions of lives and changed the perception of war, began 100 years ago.

In honour of all who served, I offer the first chapter of Army of Worn Soles, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army just in time to face Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1941.

Chapter 1:Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941
Maurice put the bottle on the ground beside him and took off his uniform shirt. He spread it on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, then laid the bottle near the officer’s insignia on the collar and pushed down. He rolled the bottle over tattered, light-brown material until the lice cracked under the glass. Back and forth, twice, three times. He felt a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.
 
The effort was exhausting. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.
He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.
 
“Maurice? Is it you?”
 
Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform. 
 
“Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?”
 
He couldn’t swallow. His mouth held no moisture. “Dying. I’m starving to death.” Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.
 
Bohdan crouched beside him. “You got drafted?”
 
Maurice made the effort to look up at his old friend. “The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here, and in a German uniform, Bohdan?”
 
“The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldn’t do. Why shouldn’t I join the winning side? And it’s ‘Daniel’ now, not Bohdan.” He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. “I’m glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.”
 
“I know. I was there.”
 
Bohdan looked around again. “How did you get here?”
 
“Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.”
 
Bohdan shook his head. “Are you all right? I’ll see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.”
 
Maurice looked into his friend’s eyes. “Get me out of here.”
 
“Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?”
 
“Bohdan—sorry, Daniel, you’re my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.”
 
Daniel—Bohdan, looked left and right again. “I cannot let Red soldiers go,” he whispered.
 
Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. “You’re an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys.
Daniel shook his head and stood. “Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. We’ll all be free. Ukraine will be free.”
 
Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. “I can’t wait six months. I can’t wait two days. If you wait, you’ll find a corpse. We’ll all be dead. You have to get us out now.”
 
Daniel hesitated. He looked around the camp again, but no one paid attention. “So the Reds made you an officer, did they? Where are your men? All dead?”
Somewhere, Maurice found the strength to stand up again. He staggered to the barracks door, went in and called his odalenye, the unit he commanded. “Step over here, boys.”
 
Daniel followed Maurice inside, and Maurice wondered if Daniel wasn’t breaking some regulation by entering prisoners’ quarters unaccompanied by at least one guard.
 
Daniel scanned the room, taking in the defeated, injured and starving men. No one threatened him. They did not even move. Maurice realized when they saw Daniel, they saw their captor.
 
Daniel stepped out of the barracks and waited outside the door. “I’ll see what I can do, Maurice. But you’re on the wrong fucking side.”
 
Maurice picked up the bottle and returned to crushing the lice out of his uniform shirt. It was the only thing he could do to reduce his misery.
 
He thought about the last time he had seen Bohdan, before he became Daniel.
 
It was in the gymnasium, the pre-university school in Peremyshl. What used to be Poland. What a long, strange, twisted path my life has followed. 
 
____
 
For more from Army of Worn Soles, click the cover image at the top of this blog.
 
Visit the Worn Soles page on Facebook.

Back to the beginning



Photo via NewsbiePix (creative commons)
The book launch tour comes to an end at the blog where it all began two weeks ago.

It’s been a whirlwind—well, a virtual one, anyway. Keeping up with the daily posts, as 15 different bloggers posted excerpts from the book, checking the page for the comments and entries to the giveaway.

I have said it before, but I will repeat: thank you all for your support—all the busy people who posted the excerpts, left comments and sent encouragement.

Now, to be completely honest, the pick-up on the giveaway contest wasn’t what I hoped it would be. While I appreciate those who did leave comments, there were not many of you.

So, here’s one more chance at winning a signed paperback. All you have to do is visit the blogs who participated in the tour, scroll to the end of the excerpt, past the blurb about the book, past my brief biographical note, and you’ll find a one-word clue. Write it down. Then go to the next blog on the tour and collect the clue there.

When you have all 15, unscramble them into a sentence. Leave the sentence in the Comments section below, and make sure you sign in so that I know who you are. I’ll draw the winner’s name from a hat (or maybe a mug or a bowl) and send a signed copy of the paperback PLUS a $50 Amazon gift card.

And tell your friends about it!

The blogs

Dawn Torrens’ My Books& I… 
Gary Henry’s Honest Indie

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa’s Indie Authors You Want to Read

Frederick Lee Brooke’s Author Unplugged

RS Guthrie’s Rob onWriting

Rebekah Lynn’s Books blog

Michael Lorde’s Fantastical Reads

BestSelling Reads’ Focus Friday

Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read blog


Michelle Chiapetta’s Chipper Muse

Gae-Lynn Woods’ TheBig Heat

Good luck!