Today’s post on The Chipper Muse brings us almost to the end of the blog tour to launch Army of Worn Soles. Publishing a book is always — at least for me — a long journey.
This particular journey began for me over thirty years ago, when I first met the protagonist of the story, the man who would become my father-in-law, Maurice Bury. I realized he had a fascinating life story when his daughter, then my girlfriend and now my wife, told me he had served in the Soviet Red Army in World War II and had escaped from a German POW camp.
But even if she hadn’t mentioned that, it would have come out because Maurice, like all parents, would dismiss his daughter’s (and mine) complaints by comparing them to the deprivations he faced. “You don’t like the food in the cafeteria? You know what I got to eat in the army? Fish head soup. Hot water with fish heads floating in it. And we ate it because that’s all there was.”
“When I was in college, we used to make a little extra money by cutting firewood on the weekends. That was hard work.”
He also scoffed at war movies, particularly The Great Escape, the story of airmen escaping from a Luftwaffe POW camp. “That’s ridiculous,” he said when the prisoners were digging tunnels. “You couldn’t do anything like that! The guards would shoot you if you moved!”
I decided to write a book based on Maurice’s story, but it took a long time. Beyond his admonishments, Maurice did not talk much about the war. I had to coax the stories from him. And he liked to concentrate on the more human aspects, like the food and particularly human interactions.
Maurice told me about the friends he made in that time, including one very important friendship with an officer in the German forces. And some enemies among the Red Army forces, including a particularly nasty Russian that Maurice dumped into a barrel.
He told me about how, during his training or quieter periods, the young officers would go into the towns and impress the local girls with their sharp uniforms. “We would have a lot of fun,” he would say, smiling, but refused to give more details about what kind of fun he meant. “You know, a lot of fun.” A sign of different values in those days, I think.
His mother selling home-made vodka to the occupying forces was one of Maurice’s favourite stories.
Excerpt fourteen from Army of Worn Soles
Chapter 16: Fighting in their own way
Nastaciv, December 1941
One evening, Tekla took Maurice to the shed beside the barn for a chore he would find much more enjoyable.
“Is that a still?” he asked. “Mama, are you making vodka?”
“It’s not very good, but the German officers like it,” she said. She set him to work.
Maurice liked the opportunity to concentrate on a task, drawing a spoonful of clear liquor, carefully closing the valve then setting fire to the spoon. If the liquor burned with a blue flame, it was “proof,” good enough for sale.
One evening, Maurice filled six four-litre jugs and put them on a small wagon.
“Good boy,” Tekla said and buttoned her coat. “I’ll take this to the village.”
“To sell to anyone who wants it, of course. But mostly it goes to German officers.”
“It’s getting too late to go out, Mama,” Maurice said. “It’s almost curfew.”
“That’s the time men want to buy vodka,” she said, buttoning her coat.
“It’s too dangerous for a woman out in the evening. Let me go.”
She shook her head. “Maurice, you strong men don’t know how things work in wartime,” she said, patting his cheek. “An old lady out in the evening is much safer than a man. What would the patrols do if they caught you out after curfew?”
“Throw me in jail.”
“They would probably shoot you on the spot, sweetie. But they see an old lady struggling with a heavy wagon, they think of their own mothers.”
“Some of these bastards would just as soon shoot their own mothers.”
“That’s when I sell them some vodka.” She smiled and kissed him.
Maurice watched her pull the wagon to the road until she vanished into the evening gloom.
About the book:
1941: Their retreat across Ukraine wore their boots out—and they kept going.
Three months after drafting him, the Soviet Red Army throws Maurice Bury, along with millions of other under-trained men, against the juggernaut of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, the assault on the USSR.
Army of Worn Soles tells the true story of a Canadian who had to find in himself a way to keep himself alive—and the men who followed him.
It is available in e-book form exclusively on Amazon.
The blog tour giveaway!
Read to the end for the clue that will help you win the Grand Prize of a signed paperback copy of Army of Worn Soles plus a $50 Amazon gift card. If you collect all the clues and put them in the right order, they’ll make a sentence. Send the sentence to the author for a chance to win and autographed paperback copy of Army of Worn Soles plus a gift certificate from Amazon.
For a chance to enter the early-bird draw, enter the clue at the bottom of the post in the Comments section.
To see where the blog tour stops next, and to find the next clue, visit the author’s blog, Written Words.
About the author:
a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.
Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.
Today’s clue: first