Anguish on First World War Home Front gives inspiration to Pirton author Derek

Pirton, pictured in 1919.

Pirton, pictured in 1919. - Credit: Archant

The fallen warriors on the front line rightly receive most of our attention on Armistice Day, but what about the loved ones left at home? That’s the question that prompted a Pirton author to pen his latest book.

Pirton author Derek Jarrett.

Pirton author Derek Jarrett. - Credit: Archant

Derek Jarrett was inspired to write the novel – Regret to Inform You... – by the responses he received while carrying out research for his earlier work Pirton – A Village in Anguish, which tells the stories of the 30 soldiers from the village listed on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church.

“I’m told on good authority that there are about 100,000 war memorials in the UK,” Derek said.

“But there’s nothing recognising the suffering of the loved ones left at home while their husbands, fathers and sons went off to war.

“Take Albert and Elizabeth Baines, whose grief was made worse as they never knew where their son, killed in the carnage of the Somme, was buried.

Regret to Inform You... by Derek Jarrett

Regret to Inform You... by Derek Jarrett - Credit: Archant

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“Phyllis Pearce, born in 1915, lost two brothers who she would love to have known.

“And then there was young Elsie Titmuss, who only spent three weeks with her husband Albert before he went off to war.

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“She was married for 17 months, then a widow for 53 years. That was a not uncommon situation, I’m sure.

“We went to Northern France and Flanders to photograph a lot of the memorials to the men in the book. But I also used to go around the village and see the houses where these men used to live.

“That really brings it home. And of the 30, 26 went to our village school.”

Derek is originally from London, but he’s lived in Herts for most of his life, migrating from Stevenage to Letchworth and then finally to Pirton. He also spent two years in Malaysia during the 1960s.

During a career in education, Derek was headteacher at Pixmore Junior School in Letchworth and also worked at a school in Luton.

The 80-year-old’s experiences while researching Pirton – A Village in Anguish, which was published in 2009, convinced him that the Great War’s impact on wives, sweethearts and families deserved greater attention, so he began work on a novel examining those issues four years ago.

Derek says the book is set “in a recognisable, albeit fictitious Suffolk village” and focuses on the attempts of locals to maintain some semblance of normality amid the growing tragedy.

The phrase ‘regret to inform you’ often opened dreaded War Office telegrams informing loved ones that a family member had been killed.

“I certainly did not want the novel to be simply another war story,” said Derek. “It is essentially about the response that the people make to their loved ones being away at war. It is this that provides an ultimately uplifting story.”

Regret to Inform You... is published by Troubador and is available for £7.99.

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