The Skylarks' War- The Background Behind the Story

Clarry's Sovereign
Peter's Book, Clarry's Sovereign and the key to the cricket pavilion.

Peter, Clarry and Vanessa. Simon the Bony One. Rupert, Odysseus, Mrs Morgan. Violet and Miss Vane. Mr King the rag-and-bone man. They came so alive for me writing this
I think that was because their world was true. It gave them
such a solid background that they could stand out against it as real people.
The time is the very beginning of the twentieth century: 1902. Queen Victoria has recently died, and her eldest son, Edward VII, is surprising everyone by turning out to be not quite as useless as his mother had predicted he would be. There are bicycles (nearly all for men and boys, though), steam trains, a very few cars and a great many horses. There are no aeroplanes or antibiotics, Everest has not yet been climbed and the South Pole has not been reached. There is no plastic. Einstein is beginning to have ideas about relativity, but hardly anyone knows about this yet. Probably a good thing; the general public is only just getting used to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. People are reading books (although not paperbacks yet), and education is no longer just for those who can pay for it. Poor children can still leave school at nine or ten, but now they often stay on until thirteen. After that, for most students, their formal education is over. But for some there are boarding schools, as there have been for centuries, and the new secondary schools are beginning to open. Once again, these are mostly for boys: there are three or four schools for boys to every one school for girls. Clarry and Vanessa are lucky.
Money is different. Money is real. The coins are made of copper, silver and gold. Top quality silver and twenty-two carat gold! There are twelve big copper pennies to a shilling. Twenty silver shillings to a pound. A pound is a gold sovereign, a very beautiful coin. Clarry has one from her father for her birthday one summer. I don’t think it is a planned present: I think Peter has just hissed at him, last minute, on the railway station platform, ‘Of course, you’ve forgotten her birthday again!’
The background to the second half of The Skylark’s War is the First World War. This terrible war began in the summer of 1914 and carried on until late in 1918. The suffering of those fighting, the occupied countries and the families left behind who sent the soldiers off to war is beyond my ability to describe. So I will stick to plain facts.
Where Simon and Rupert fight, on the Western Front, more than four million men and more than a million horses died. (As Michael Morpurgo wrote about in War Horse.) Soldiers were supposed to be nineteen years old to serve
overseas, but it was easy to get around that. Birth certificates were not required to sign up. Simon is eighteen when he goes to France, but some were much younger. There are records of thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds fighting in the trenches.
While so many men were abroad, workers were needed at home. For the first time girls and women were given a chance to show what they could achieve. They made weapons, drove trains and buses and trams, farmed the land, ran the hospitals, worked in factories and offices. Sally Nicholls’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do describes the growing freedom of young women at this time.
When I am working on a story it helps me to have some ‘real’ things about me as I write. That is why on my desk I kept Clarry’s gold sovereign, Peter’s star book and the key to the cricket pavilion.