Necessary Background Info

When I was a teenager, I was close to my maternal grandfather, Milton M. Brown. I was fascinated by the time he spent as a "delegate" in Herbert Hoover's WWI Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). He was one of only 185 American supervisors who ever worked for the CRB. After he died in 1979, I inherited all his diaries, correspondence and photographs from that period (1916-1917).

From 1986 through 1989, I worked full time researching the time period, WWI, the CRB, and numerous delegates. From those efforts, I wrote an 850-page historical novel, Honor Bound. I had a few nibbles -- agents and publishers who asked for the entire manuscript -- but no one offered a contract. In the late 1990s, I made a half-hearted attempt to rewrite the novel, but it didn't go far.

After my second book, Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health came out in 2002 (and was included in Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2002), my agent looked at Honor Bound. He suggested the topic would do well -- and fit my writing strengths -- if it was a history book written in novel-like style.

At the end of 2012, as I turned 60 years old, I came to the conclusion that it was time to take up this incredible humanitarian story again and see if I could make it work.

After more than a year of researching and writing, and with the help of a talented book team, I published Behind the Lines: WWI's little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance, and the band of Yanks who helped save millions from starvation. 1914. It detailed the complex and chaotic beginnings of the CRB and CN during the critical first five months of the war (August to December, 1914). It was released in October 2014 in time for the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and the CRB.

Since then, I'm happy to report that Behind the Lines has garnered national recognitions and reviews that include a Kirkus Starred Review (only 750 out of 10,000 books annually reviewed by Kirkus are awarded a Starred Review) and inclusion in Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014. The last sentence of the review states: "An excellent history that should catapult Miller to the top tier of popular historians." You can read all the reviews at the book's website, which can be reached by clicking here.

Below are my blog posts about re-immersing myself in this important humanitarian topic. The posts start in Dec. 2012 and come up to the present. The posts are laid out with the most recent first. A "List of All My Posts" is on the bottom right of this page. I start each post with a quick snippet of history. I used to call this item "A Spot of History," but now it's titled "Don't-Forget-WWI Project."

My main forcus now is to finish researching and writing WWI Crusaders, which tells the riveting full story of the American CRB delegates from August, 1914 to April, 1917, when America entered the war and the CRB delegates had to leave Belgium and Northern France.

I hope you find something of interest within this blog. For more information about Behind the Lines and/or WWI Crusaders, please go to the books' website by clicking here.

Post #29: "Panic in Some of The Wards"

May 21, 2015

An excerpt from Behind the Lines, chapter 12, “The Fall of Antwerp”:

For the Bunges, on the morning of October 7, 1914, as the shells “continued to rain into the city, whistling over our heads, and filling the air with the roar of frightful explosions . . . it needed a good deal of will-power to go into the street . . . my daughters to return to the hospital established in the old German school, and I to repair to the Hotel de Ville.” The three sisters kissed their father good-bye and hoped they would all still be alive by nightfall.

When Erica and her sisters reached their hospital, they were shocked at what they found. In the hospitals all around the city, many of the wounded had been evacuated. Unfortunately, the most severely wounded were left behind because moving them might have killed them, and it would have slowed down the retreat. But this meant that those who remained were left to the mercy of the Germans. Every Belgian had heard stories of German “mercy,” so it was understandable that some of those left behind became extremely agitated. “There was panic in some of the wards. Mutilated men dragged themselves from their beds and pulled on what garments they could; they screamed and implored the nurses not to let them fall into the hands of the Germans. Some begged revolvers so they might shoot themselves.”
Unidentified nurses and wounded at the makeshift hospital where Erica Bunge worked. (The family archives.)
At the hospital where the Bunge sisters worked, fifty severely wounded men had been left behind. The Bunges weren’t too surprised by that. What they were shocked about was the fact that all “the regular nurses, the stretcher-bearers, the director, even the doctor . . . the entire male
personnel of the hospital had fled.” The only staff left were the directress, one Belgian nurse, and two English nurses who had refused to go with the retreating English soldiers. 

With shells still flying overhead, the seven women got to work calming the patients, cleaning festering wounds, rebandaging where necessary, making comfortable where possible, and tidying up from the hurried exit of the others. Most importantly, though, they wanted to find the best place for the wounded to ride out the bombardment. They agreed upon the basement. It took tremendous effort and no small amount of brute strength, but they somehow managed to get all fifty badly wounded men—twenty of whom were British soldiers—down to the relative safety of the cellar.

End of excerpt.

My Post: Somehow another month has passed since I wrote last. I am perpetually stunned—as you probably are—at how fast time can sometimes travel.

But, of course, we know the true reality is that time never speeds up or slows down, it just moves at its own pace—never changing, never judging, never committing to anything, except itself and its job to keep moving at the same rate.

One of my favorite expressions is: You can never save time, you can only spend it wisely or foolishly.

It’s one of my favorite expressions because I aspire to spend time only wisely, and yet I end up many times spending it soooooo badly! Watching TV. Cruising the Internet. Doing busy, unimportant work to avoid the important jobs I need to do. Reading People magazine. Etc., etc., etc.

All of which means that I have NOT followed my own advice from Post #28. During the last month I’ve ended up dicking around with PR/marketing efforts for Behind the Lines, when I should have walked away from those jobs and focused on writing Book Two (still no title).

I did take a few days in late April and sat down and began outlining Book Two. I even started writing the opening scene of the new book. Because Book Two will cover from January 1915 until January 1916, the first scene is a description of the first aerial bombardment of England by the Germans. What I’ve done on Book Two is pretty good, I believe, but just as I was really getting into it, I got pulled back into the promotion and marketing of Behind the Lines.

And, sadly, on May 8th, at the wonderful evening banquet of the Colorado Authors League, my name was NOT called when they announced the winner of the general nonfiction award for 2014. The winner was the excellent book, Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years by Mary Taylor Young (Farcountry Press). Congrats to Mary!

I have to admit it was a difficult loss. My book has had such good national success (Kirkus Best Books of 2014, a Kirkus Starred Review, Finalist in the international Foreword magazine’s Book of the Year Awards) that I’m struggling with the concept that I can’t win in my own backyard!

And, to compound my frustration, I am still berating myself for simply forgetting to enter the Colorado Book Awards. While I might not have won, or even made it to the finals, it would have been nice if my book had at least been entered.

The only thing I’m SURE I could win is an Olympic medal for “Getting Down on Yourself.”  

Sorry, I’m whining—or as the Aussies say, whinging (what a GREAT word!).

It’s time to cut out the self-pity, remind myself of all the great things that have happened to me and my book, settle down into the wonderful grind of writing Book Two, and hope that somehow I’ll find a way to make the project work financially.

Easier said than done, of course, but a worthy goal to work towards.

One positive note in this last month has been that I’ve finished my powerpoint presentation for an upcoming speech. Thanks to archivist Matt Schaefer, I’ve been invited with three other historians to participate in an upcoming conference at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, on June 20. The conference title is “WWI and the Humanitarian Awakening.” My speech is titled “Early Days of the War and Tales of Some First Responders.”

The three other speakers—who I admire and respect—are: Dr. Branden Little, Assistant Professor of History at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah; Dr. Tammy Proctor, History Department Chair at Utah State University; and Dr. Tom Westerman, who is currently teaching high school history in Charleston, S.C. I look forward to seeing them in Iowa next month and listening to their presentations.

In the meantime, I need to stop writing this post and get back to work. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings.  

End of Post.

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