Blood Ties

Liz Coward, a Singapore based author and scriptwriter, co-wrote Blood and Bandages; fighting for life in the RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-46, with 103-year-old William Earl, who served with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in WW2.

Where is home? 
Home is the south coast of England, just outside Brighton. We’ve lived in Singapore for nearly 18 months. My husband Richard was offered a full-time job with Airbus Asia Training Centre, based in Seletar. We are here with our 13-year-old son, Tom.

How did you become the author of Blood & Bandages? 
Purely by chance. My parents-in-law live a few houses down from William Earl, the book’s star. They’ve been friends for years and as he got older, they started to look after him. William was at their house one Remembrance Sunday when I popped in. As the Veterans March Past began, William started reminiscing about his time in the RAMC during WW2.

Who is William Earl?
William is an independent and bright 103-year-old former dispensing chemist. He’s a sports fan and lifelong supporter of Arsenal football team. He’s engaging and gregarious and has a keen eye for a pretty face. He’ll never turn down an adventure and sees each day as a blessing.

What’s the book about? 
It focuses on the period 1939-1946 when William met his first wife Mary, was called up to serve in the RAMC as a nursing orderly, and his service in North Africa and Italy. His story is set in the context of the wider conflict and reveals the stories of his comrades, equally brave and selfless men who fought to save lives on the frontline at battles such as Enfidaville, Salerno and Anzio. It’s a unique and compelling story.

How long did this project take? 
We started in January 2009 and worked right up until the publisher’s deadline in September 2016. It was hard work and at times the only thing that kept me going was my promise to tell William’s story.

Did you worry about finishing the book in time, given William’s advanced years?
We started when he was 96, so it was always in the back of my mind. I needed to gather his evidence quickly and accurately so our interviews were recorded. I also felt that William’s testimony should be captured on film, so I have several hours of film footage. Once I had that, I knew I had enough material to work with should he pass away before the project was finished.

How much did you learn about WW2?
A huge amount. I was starting from scratch and to pull this off I had to acquire a general knowledge of WW2 in northern and southern Europe; a good knowledge of the Italian campaign, the operation of the RAMC and the 56th London Division and an expert knowledge of a Field Ambulance and the 214th in particular.

How did you research?
I started with general textbooks on WW2 and moved onto books about the Italian campaign. I tracked down rare books on the RAMC’s operation published in 1943-4, but most importantly I trawled through hundreds of original documents at the National Archives in Kew, London. Eventually, I knew more about William’s war than he did himself. The book includes extracts from his letters home, original photographs, training manuals, and official war diaries.

What relationship did you form with William? 
We formed a relationship based on honesty, love, respect and support, which still exists today. We like each other and the warmth of our relationship can be felt in the prose. He trusted me with memories that he had never shared and I trusted him to disclose the truth, warts and all. He gave up his privacy and I put my beloved screenwriting on hold to complete this project.

How excited was he to see the completed book? 
Very excited. For the first few minutes, he just kept turning it over saying; “This book. This is the book.” There were times when we thought it would never be finished.

What events did you do together? 
William and I are a double-act, so after it was launched in April 2017, we appeared on BBC TV news and Forces TV; we were interviewed on the radio; we gave book talks and attended local fairs. In 2018, we were invited to sign books at the Imperial War Museum in London and appear at the War and Peace Revival in Kent. This year, we will be returning to War and Peace and William will no doubt woo the audience again with his stories and passion. I am definitely an ‘also ran’ when William is around.

What’s your next writing project? 
To complete my full-length stage play called Shakespeare’s Sister. It’s set in 1920s England and is about a passionate kitchen maid who is determined to become an author despite her sex, family, class, and societal pressures.

Would you take on another biography?
Yes, if it was a unique story with good supporting evidence and I fell in love with it. You must love the story because it will take over your life for years.

Find out more about Liz at her website: lifeon-shorehambeach.blogspot.co.uk