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11th November 1915

In some ways this was the most difficult and yet easiest episode to write.

 

There has always been a paradox at the core of TOMMIES. War gives us comradeship, purpose, meaning and excitement, as well as the traditional negative aspects: death and destruction.

 

I'll come onto that in a moment. First, the military story. I based the Paddonphone on the multiple semi-amateur attempts to come up with tech devices of all sorts during WW1, particularly the Fullerphone which was a private patent device invented by Fuller of the Signal Service. He fought a battle though the Patent Office to defend his rights as its inventor.

 

The idea that such devices and the Stirling set would filter into the front line is mapped in Priestley's official HISTORY which you can find here. The overhearing examples are extracted from genuine Signal Service memos. The notion that Signals being represented at planning levels - a truly vital development but a blighter to dramatise, let me tell you - came on stream in 1916, but I always think that any large system has a run-up time for major changes and although it is not recorded in the history, they must have got going on this sooner at the lower levels.

 

Day-to-day War Diaries show that the handover officers (quite a recent innovation) like Mickey would have stayed in the line after the departure of the Lahore, and the Guards were indeed in the La Gorgue sector on that day.

 

I have had the great good fortune to have spent a lot of time with addicts of all types - drugs, alcohol, food and so on - so I was interested in having a character who was addicted to war. That any person misses the bonding of combat is a given: just ask my parents who were civilian children growing up in WW2 about their experiences and they remember the fellowship and extraordinary sense of vitality that common endeavour gave them – as well as the boredom of the food and lack of sweets. And the bombing.

 

It seems, however, that we have a cultural block to understanding just how thrilling and exciting combat is, and we have a real difficulty in letting our veterans share about this. Let's think about firemen for a moment. They go into blazing buildings and rescue people and by their actions, the lives of their fellow firefighters. The most important day in their lives will be the one where they did the best job: saved the most folks.

 

Now think of a soldier. The best day of his career may well be the day he killed large numbers of the enemy, thereby saving the lives of his friends. And he probably did it with awesome firepower and with the adrenalin of risk pounding through his body. But we don't want to hear how vital and exciting and thrilling that was, because people had to die to make it so. Therefore the thrill of combat becomes something they must conceal from us: and that's not fair. They went to wherever they went as an expression of our will through the ballot box. We can't pick and choose which bits of war we then want to find acceptable.

 

War is a major thrill. It's our job to adapt to that, not theirs. Then perhaps the ranks of mercenaries and warzone journalists and photographers might not be so full of those who cannot adapt to us and need to get back to the fray under any circumstances.

 

It's tempting to say that this only applies to men. But it doesn't. Vera Brittain is brilliant on this: how women young and old were liberated from their daily lives to be participants in a national adventure, not in combat but so life-changing as to be profoundly missed.

 

So I decided that our war-addicted character should be Celestine, a woman doctor who while suffering from the addiction would be doubly-cursed with a doctor's understanding of what has gripped her. As I understand it, there are few days worse for an addict than the one where they realise the addiction has a hold on them and that they nonetheless are currently getting so much from the addiction they don't want, or can't conceive of, a life without the addictive behaviour.