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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #133

Dear Reader,

Written by my youngest son 🙂

Christmas at the Front by Rhys age 14.

My direct ancestor, Jeanne de Valois, c1294 – 7 March 1352), Countess consort of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland. She married William I, Count of Hainault. A skilled mediator, she brokered peace between many warring factions during the first half of the fourteenth century.

My direct ancestor, Eleanor of Castile, (1241 – 1290), wife of Edward I, a political match that developed into love. Well educated, Eleanor was a keen patron of literature and encouraged the use of tapestries and carpets in the Spanish style. She was also a keen businesswoman.

While tracing the Stradling branch of my family tree, I discovered a direct connection to Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.

Born Katherine de Roet, Katherine is thought to be the youngest child of Paon (aka Payn) de Roet, a herald and later a knight. Her birthdate is uncertain, although some sources place it on 25 November 1350 in Hainaut, Belgium.

Katherine Swynford

Around 1366 at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine married Sir Hugh Swynford. From Lincolnshire, Sir Hugh was in the service of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III and arguably the most powerful man of his age. For Katherine, this was a political not a love match and we can only imagine her feelings as she embarked upon a new life with Sir Hugh.

As Lady Swynford, Katherine gave birth to the following children: 

Blanche (born 1 May 1367)

Sir Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432)

And possibly Margaret Swynford (born c1369), later recorded as a nun in Barking Abbey

Katherine served John of Gaunt, a charismatic, chivalric knight, as governess to his daughters, Phillippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. In turn, John of Gaunt was named as the godfather of Katherine’s daughter, Blanche. At this stage it was evident that Katherine and John of Gaunt were close. In due course, that relationship became more intimate.

John of Gaunt’s wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died on 12 September 1368 of the plague. A few years later, after the death of Sir Hugh on 13 November 1371, Katherine and John of Gaunt embarked upon a love affair that produced four children out of wedlock. The children were:

John, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373 – 1410)

Henry, Cardinal Beaufort (1375 – 1447) My direct ancestor.

Thomas, Duke of Exeter (1377 – 1426)

Joan, Countess of Westmorland (1379 – 1440)

The illicit relationship continued until 1381 when it was truncated for political reasons. The ensuing scandal damaged Katherine’s reputation, and we can only imagine her feelings at losing John of Gaunt, the man she truly loved, and the gossip around court.

John of Gaunt

Another union for political reasons followed: John of Gaunt’s marriage to Constance of Castile (1354 – 24 March 1394). On 13 January 1396, two years after Constance’s death, Katherine and John of Gaunt were married at Lincoln Cathedral. Subsequently, the Pope legitimised their four children.

Katherine lived through many of the major events of the fourteenth century including the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War and the Peasants’ Revolt. At the royal courts she met the greatest personalities of her age. While the London courts were often flamboyant and licentious she was also familiar with the pastoral aspects of Lincolnshire. Both locations must have offered a sharp contrast to her childhood in Hainaut.

When John of Gaunt died on 3 February 1399, Katherine was then styled as ‘Dowager, Duchess of Lancaster’. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403 in her early fifties.

Katherine’s descendants were members of the Beaufort family, the name assigned to her children. This family played a major role in the Wars of the Roses when Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, derived his claim to the throne from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a great-granddaughter of Katherine and John of Gaunt. Furthermore, five American presidents are descended from Katherine.

Katherine has been the subject of numerous novels, including Anya Seton’s Katherine, published in 1954, and non-fiction works including Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess by Alison Weir.

Geoffrey Chaucer

A footnote to Katherine’s story. Her sister, Phillipa, married Geoffrey Chaucer, thus placing the great poet on my family tree.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #37

Dear Reader,

My top ten this week, which features Sam, Ann and Grace. Many thanks to everyone who supports my books.

Sam now has readers in Latvia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

To date, I have readers in America, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, El Salvador, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland. Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Wales.

My aim is to reach more of these readers, in as many languages as possible. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this quest.

Following the career of SOE agent Pearl Witherington, a truly remarkable woman and an inspiration for my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series.

From Pearl’s SOE file, her training notes on codes and cyphers.

Pearl’s keywords ‘fou tez moi la paix’ sound very much like her personal selection and offer a direct plea to her instructors to accept her as an agent…’give me a break’.

Read more about Pearl at the SOE here https://hannah-howe.com/eves-war/pearl-witherington-soe-reports/

In association with Mom’s Favorite Reads and NeoLeaf Press I’m delighted to feature in the Strong Women anthology.

The anthology features many fabulous authors along with my Sam Smith short story Over the Edge.

The anthology is currently available for pre-order at the offer price of 0.99. More details via this universal link.

https://books2read.com/u/bwv7A0

A modern picture of Eve and Michel Beringar’s penthouse apartment at the Canebiere, Marseille, one of several homes owned or rented by the couple.

Chapter One of Operation Zigzag takes place in this apartment when a member of the Resistance asks Eve to assist them in springing Zigzag from a Gestapo prison before escorting him to the relative safety of Spain.

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

With the first draft of Operation Zigzag complete, this afternoon I created the character profiles for book two, Operation Locksmith. In Locksmith, the SOE recruit Eve and she undergoes training. Her training is based on the SOE manual of 1943 and includes how to fire hand guns and machine guns, plant bombs, martial arts, climb mountains, run cross country, overcome obstacle courses and pick locks.

During her training, Eve meets Guy Samson and Mimi Duchamp, two agents who will play significant roles in her life, plus Major-General Cunningham and Vera Penrose, the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ of SOE. She also encounters a psychiatrist, who probes her mind, and Major McAllister, an SOE instructor whom she takes an instant dislike to.

There’s a fair amount of humour in this story, which will make it even more fun to write.

The sort of people I’m writing about right now.

Meet me at the station underneath the clock

Carry an umbrella, no need to talk

The man in the homburg, hiding in the fog
Will be watching

Get yourself a ticket, go through the gate

At seven forty-five precisely, don’t be late

If anybody follows don’t hesitate

Keep on walking

And take the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

When you get the paper take a look inside

On page twenty-seven there’s a photo of a bride

Underneath the story of a man who died

In Morocco

Memorize the article word for word

The man in the homburg understands the code

Make sure the conversation isn’t overheard

They’re around you

And take the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

I really wouldn’t ask if there was anybody else

But I now you’ve got the knack of taking care of yourself

And they don’t know your face so there won’t be anyone

Looking for you

When you get to Munich we’ll be waiting in the car

Don’t look around, just walk straight out

If you don’t show, I’m sorry for the pain

I caused you

Upon the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

A selection of my audiobooks. More to follow 🙂

https://books.apple.com/gb/author/hannah-howe/id1017374616

Story ideas come from multiple sources, including songs. This song helped to shape Snow in August, Sam Smith Mystery Series book sixteen.

Goylake Publishing is named after a local river, which is flowing fast on this stormy day.

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE 

Described by fellow agent Peter Churchill as ‘a woman full of humour and common sense’, Marie-Thérèse Le Chêne was born on 20 April 1890 in Sedan, France. A small woman, she possessed grey hair and sharp determined features.

Aged 52, Marie-Thérèse was the oldest female SOE agent sent to France where she served from 31 October 1942 until 19 August 1943 as a courier working alongside her husband, Henri Le Chêne, and her brother-in-law, Pierre Le Chêne.

Early in World War Two, Marie-Thérèse fled France for London with her husband,Henri. In London, Marie-Thérèse worked as a cook and manager of a hotel. Henri, a British citizen despite his French birth, had previously managed a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

Interestingly, the Le Chêne family decided to join the SOE, and not Charles de Gaulle’s Resistance movement. There was great rivalry between the SOE and de Gaulle’s Resistance movement, and a lot of in-fighting, mainly based on rival political beliefs.

On the night of 3/4 November 1942, Marie-Thérèse landed at Port Miou, near Cassis. She arrived with fellow agents George Starr, Mary Herbert and Odette Sansom and worked alongside her husband as a courier and later as a distributor of political pamphlets and anti-German leaflets. Towards the end of her period in France, she also conducted a sabotage mission on a canal and railway line.

During a visit to Clermont-Ferrand, a town that strongly favoured the Resistance, Marie-Thérèse discovered that the workers at the Michelin Rubber Works were sabotaging production and delivering inferior tyres to the Germans. This not only disrupted the Germans, but also kept the workers in constant employment.

In January 1943, with the Gestapo closing in and Pierre captured, Henri fled France via the Pyrenees, the most popular land escape route at the time. Too tired to join him, Marie-Thérèse hid in friends’ houses until an SOE Hudson evacuated her from a field in Angers on 19 August 1943. Back in Britain, she rejoined her husband who added wryly that he had joined the SOE to get away from his wife, but that she had followed him into the service.

After the war, Marie-Thérèse, Henri and Pierre, who’d managed to escape, returned to France where they opened a hotel in Sainte-Menehould. 

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Eve’s War

Pearl Witherington

I hold all the women in my Heroines of the SOE series in the greatest respect, but I must admit that I hold a special admiration for Pearl Witherington possibly because her upbringing mirrored that of my modern-day detective, Sam Smith. Also, Pearl is the main inspiration for my character Mimi Duchamp in Eve’s War. As such, I feel that she deserves a blog post of her own.

Cecile Pearl Witherington Cornioley was born on 24 June 1914. She served the SOE under the code names Marie and Pauline. Born in Paris to British parents, she parachuted into France in September 1943 as a courier for the Stationer network. However, due to circumstances and her immense ability by May 1944 she was head of the Wrestler network in central France. She was the only woman to lead an SOE network in France.

Pearl’s network, which expanded to over 2,000 Maquisard fighters after D-Day, was especially efficient in sabotaging railroads and telephone lines. 

Pearl’s father, born into money, succumbed to alcohol and lost his way. Her mother, who was partially deaf and possessed a limited range of French, relied on Pearl to negotiate with tradesmen and creditors – without her father’s income the family slid into debt. She did this at an early age, forgoing most of her schooling. Indeed, she only enjoyed four years in school. Often, she walked miles across Paris to deal with family business and scavenge food then studied in the evenings.

After school, Pearl found employment at the British Embassy, where she impressed and excelled. She fell in love with Henri Cornioley (1910–1999), the son of well-to-do parents. Initially, Henri’s parents rejected Pearl because of her impoverished background. The loving couple couldn’t enjoy each other’s company at home, so they met in cinemas and parks. In February 1940, Henri joined the British Army and Pearl did not see him again for three and a half years.

Henri and Pearl

Pearl escaped from occupied France with her mother and three sisters in December 1940. After a long and perilous journey, the family arrived in London in July 1941. Through her Embassy contacts, she found work in the Air Ministry.

Determined to fight back against Hitler’s occupation of France, Pearl joined the SOE on 8 June 1943. In training she emerged as the ‘best shot’ the service had ever seen, male or female.

When Pearl parachuted into occupied France on 22 September 1943, she joined Maurice Southgate, leader of the Stationer network, and courier Jacqueline Nearne. Southgate also reunited Pearl with her fiancé, Henri, who had escaped from a Nazi prisoner of war camp.

Over the next eight months, posing as a cosmetics saleswoman, Pearl performed her duties as a courier. Covering a vast area, she was constantly on the move, sleeping on trains when the opportunity arose. Frequently, she encountered Gestapo checkpoints where the French police examined her (false) identity papers. Her cover was based on Marie Jeanne Marthe Verges, a woman who had disappeared.

The Gestapo arrested Maurice Southgate on 1 May 1944. With Southgate a Gestapo prisoner, Pearl formed and became leader of a new SOE network, Wrestler. With the help of her fiancé, Henri, and a neighbouring network, Pearl’s group attacked the railway infrastructure 800 times in June 1944 alone. Their main focal points were the railway lines between Paris and Bordeaux. By disrupting these lines, Pearl hindered the Nazis efforts to transport men and artillery to the battle front in Normandy.

On the morning of 11 June 1944, Nazi soldiers attacked Pearl at the Les Souches chateau, her headquarters near the village of Dun-le-Poëlier. Under fire, Pearl hid the tin where she kept a large amount of money and fled to a wheat field where she hid until nightfall. Henri also hid in the wheat field where he counted fifty-six truckloads of Nazi soldiers participating in the operation. By this time, the towns and countryside were full of ‘Wanted’ posters with Pearl carrying a million franc reward on her head.

The Nazis destroyed everything of value to the SOE in the chateau, including their weapons and radio. Therefore, through a neighbouring network, Pearl requested fresh supplies from Britain, which duly arrived on her birthday, 24 June, via a three-plane air-drop. 

Henri and Pearl

Rearmed and reconnected, Pearl went from strength-to-strength. The number of Maquis in her region doubled to nearly 4,000 as the D-Day invasion took effect. Pearl and Henri organised their men into four subsections. Sixty planeloads of arms also arrived, along with Captain Francis Perdiset who, on Pearl’s request, assisted in the military operations. Throughout, Pearl’s men held her in the highest respect, often referring to her as ‘Lieutenant Pauline’.

In late August 1944, Pearl’s men moved to the Forest of Gatines near Valencay. Their objective was to stop the Nazi army in southern France from linking up with battalions in northern France. 

After a battle on September 9-10, more than 19,000 Nazis surrendered.   They surrendered to the advancing Americans; they were too frightened to surrender to Pearl’s men.

On 21 September 1944, Pearl returned to Britain. There, she offered an extraordinary and unique breakdown of her expenditure in the field, which amounted to several million francs. Her accounts listed everything, from cigarettes to razor blades.

Pearl married Henri Cornioley in Kensington Register Office on 26 October 1944. The couple remained together for life and produced a daughter, Claire. Pearl published her autobiography, Code Name Pauline, in 1997. 

After the war, Pearl worked for the World Bank. In 1991, with Henri’s assistance, she established the Valencay SOE memorial, which commemorates the 104 SOE agents who died in the line of duty. The couple retired to Valencay, one of the places she frequented during the war.

One of the most extraordinary women of her age, Pearl died, in the Loire Valley, aged 93.

Categories
Sam Smith Mystery Series Sam's Sunday Supplement

Sam’s Sunday Supplement #13

Welcome to Sam’s Sunday Supplement #13, a weekly digest of news from Sam’s World.

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Mind Games is published today, as a paperback and eBook. This story centres on Sasha Pryce, a young chess player. Chess is featured in the book, but the story is about family relationships and the many aspects of love. Amazon Link

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Digging in the Dirt starts with Sam and Faye sitting outside their office houseboat on a hot August day. They are looking towards Cardiff Bay, known in the Victorian era and throughout the twentieth century as Tiger Bay. Much of the land around Tiger Bay was owned by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (pictured). In the late Victorian era John Crichton-Stuart was regarded as the richest man in the world. That wealth came from exploiting the great mineral wealth of the South Wales Valleys and exporting it via Cardiff Docks. Through their business acumen and philanthropy the Butes are rightly regarded as the founding fathers of modern Cardiff.

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Ann’s War is a mystery series set against the social history backdrop of the Second World War. Ann Morgan, the reluctant detective in the series, is fictitious. However, she is loosely based on real women of the period. For example, in the 1940s Melodie Walsh established herself as a private detective. Melodie Walsh’s father was a close friend of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Initially, Melodie worked as an actress – along with modelling, a middle-class career path for young women in the 1930s – before establishing her agency. Her bread and butter tasks included divorces and writ-serving, although glamorous assignments also presented themselves – on one occasion, Melodie went undercover as a model to foil a series of fur thefts. With her father’s social connections, Melodie was in demand, hired by people who wished to gain information while avoiding a scandal. In the 1940s, private detective work was still predominantly a male profession. However, through the likes of Melodie Walsh women were beginning to assert themselves.

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Betrayal, the first story in Ann’s War, starts on Friday, 24th March 1944. On that night this remarkable event occurred. Twenty-one-year-old Flight Sergeant Nicholas Stephen Alkemade survived – without a parachute – a fall of 18,000 feet when his Avro Lancaster aircraft was shot down over Schmallenberg (pictured). Alkemade’s fall was broken by pine trees and soft snow. Despite the fall of 18,000 feet he only suffered a sprained leg.
The Gestapo captured Alkemade and interviewed him. Initially, they refused to believe his story. However, after examining the remains of the Lancaster they realized that he was telling the truth.
Alkemade spent the rest of the war as a celebrated prisoner of war. He was repatriated in May 1945.