Tuesday, 13 September 2011

“History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.”

I shall draw a discrete veil over Mark Yost, who said this, due to the fact that he is spending 6½ years behind bars for defrauding investors and banks out of $10.8 million. (Well, look on the bright side; you'll have plenty of time to think up some more quotes, won't you, Mr. Yost?)

His views about history are mine. Or mine are his, whichever way you like to look at it.

I hated history at school and gave it up at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Here are the only two facts I can remember:

1. We used to call our history teacher Prehistoric Bunny.


The poor woman (Miss Smith) had buck teeth and a twitchy nose. Her expression was often one of 'rabbit caught in the headlights', too, when faced by hordes of merciless little girls like me.

 It wasn't until I became a teacher myself that I realised how cruel we had been. Sorry, Miss Smith.

2. I got into dreadful trouble for defiling a text book. Each year we were issued with our new volume then we were expected to cover it. To protect it. On this occasion, while cutting the brown paper I accidentally hacked through the book at the same time. If you've never seen a Prehistoric Bunny get Very Angry, then Don't Bother. It was scary. It must have been, because I still remember it.

So...that was history at school....

But now, my main main job as a writer - one that I'm paid for, that is - is all about history and I love it.

I love it because it's about people. Ordinary people who found themselves caught up in a world war and displayed extraordinary courage, sacrificing their lives for their country.

I work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, producing their educational material for them. Yesterday, I was researching the story of Indian mule companies being evacuated from Dunkirk. The distraught men, who had accompanied their mules safely all the way from Bombay, had to leave them behind on the beaches. My heart bled.

I love history! If only I had known it was about ordinary people (and animals) when I was at school. I thought it was about dates and battles and kings and queens...

Perhaps Prehistoric Bunny has something to answer for after all?