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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Mrs McDougall & the legacy of #WW1

I wrote recently about a WW1 legacy within my own family - the injuries my great uncle Tom sustained which dogged him for the rest of his life (see Remembering two of my WW1 ancestors).

The legacy of the First World War on a personal level is explored in a book I read recently by genealogy mystery writer, Nathan Dylan Goodwin, whose protagonist is usually forensic genealogist Morton Farrier. On this occasion, however, Goodwin has created a new, very different character in Mrs Harriet McDougall.

Entitled, Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and a Red Star (you'll have to read it to discover the significance of the title), it is set in 1919 and concerns Harriet's investigative journey to discover the truth surrounding the death of her son Malcolm, one of three sons who went off to war, two of whom never came home.

Her search takes her to Ypres in Belgium and throughout the story we learn much about the legacy of war on both sides of the channel.

Here's the review I posted on Goodreads.


While old film footage of the first Armistice Day shows thousands of people cheering in the streets to celebrate the end of the First World War, for many the date represented only partial closure. For those families who had lost loved ones it meant the start of a painful period of adjustment, made worse if the circumstances of their husband's, brother's, father's or son's death on the battlefield were clouded in mystery. Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Star is a poignant tale of Mrs Harriet McDougall's determined post-war search for the truth, after two of her three sons are killed in action. With the assistance of her eldest son, Fraser, who survived (and is wary of returning to the place which still holds such traumas for him), Mrs McDougall sets off in search of answers concerning Fraser's younger brother Malcolm who died in a field hospital near Ypres in Belgium. During Harriet's mission we learn much about the state of post-war Britain - the food shortages, the attitude to those who'd sought refuge in England during the conflict, the struggles faced by returning soldiers and the subtle changes happening to social norms - all of it woven seamlessly into the story. We also learn about the fate of the battle-scarred towns and villages of France and Belgium, and their stoic attempts to rebuild their communities and rise from the devastation of war. Subtitled "A Mrs McDougall Investigation" (implying there are more to come), Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Star is a heart-warming read and I very much look forward to meeting this endearing amateur sleuth again before too long.


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