Monday, November 26, 2018

War Gardens: A Journey Through Conflict in Search of Calm by Lalage Snow

A journey through the most unlikely of gardens: the oases of peace people create in the midst of war

War Gardens: A Journey Through Conflict in Search of Calm by Lalage Snow will be published by Hachette Australia on 28 August 2018, RRP $32.99


On 28 August Hachette Australia will publish Lalage Snow's WAR GARDENS. Journalist, photographer and filmmaker Lalage Snow takes us on a journey through Afghanistan, Gaza, The West Bank, Israel and The Ukraine exploring private gardens tended to by civilians caught up in conflict and the universal search for peace. The book will be released just in time for Lalage's photography to be featured as a part of Sydney Opera House's Antidote festival in September.


Working in the world's most dangerous war zones, freelance war correspondent and photographer Lally Snow has often chanced across a very moving sight, a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit in adversity, a celebration of hope and beauty: a war garden. In Kabul, the royal gardens are tended by a centenarian gardener, though the king is long gone; in Camp Bastion, bored soldiers improvise tiny gardens to give themselves a moment's peace; on both sides of the dividing line in Jerusalem families tend groves of olives and raise beautiful plants from the unforgiving, disputed landscape; in Ukraine, families tend their gardens in the middle of a surreal, frozen war.


You can see visuals from the book and some more information here, including a link to the documentary The Gardeners of Kabul:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Young Living Australia's 2018 Christmas collection

Merry Little Luxuries Gift Set - $141.75

Treat yourself to a little ‘me’ time with the moisturising and hydrating benefits of our popular skin care products, packaged in a limited-edition cosmetic bag featuring YL branded zippers, a waterproof interior and a compartment insert.

The Merry Little Luxuries Gift Set includes:

1 x Coconut Lime Replenishing Body Butter 80g
1 x Satin Facial Scrub™ - Mint 57g
1 x Grapefruit Lip Balm 4.5g
1 x YL Cosmetic Bag (Dimensions: 16 cm (H) x 28 cm (W) x 15 cm (D))

Holiday Lip Balm Trio - $26.95

Naughty or nice? Try this popular trio for sweet and soothing lip protection for everyone on your list!

The Lip Balm Trio includes:

1 x Grapefruit Lip Balm 4.5g
1 x Lavender Lip Balm 4.5g
1 x Cinnamint™ Lip Balm 4.5g
1 x FREE YL Lip Balm Pouch

Christmas Scents Gift Set - $140.40

Continue an enduring holiday tradition with precious, spiritually uplifting aromas. This set includes 5 ml bottles of Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils and Christmas Spirit™ essential oil blend, packaged in a collectible branded tin.

The Christmas Scents Gift Set includes:

1 x Christmas Spirit™ 5ml
1 x Frankincense 5ml
1 x Myrrh 5ml
1 x YL Collectible Tin

The Oils of Ancient Scripture™  - $418.90

Immerse yourself in the beautiful aromas and intriguing history of 10 pure essential oils featured in the Bible. Add a few drops to the unscented rattan sticks to create your ideal ambience and encourage spiritual grounding.

The Oils of Ancient Scripture Holiday Set includes:

1 x Oils of Ancient Scripture™ Collection (10 x 5 ml essential oils: Aloes (Royal Hawaiian™ Sandalwood), Cassia, Cedarwood, Cypress, Frankincense, Hyssop, Myrrh, Myrtle, Onycha, Rose of Sharon (Cistus))
20 x Unscented Rattan Sticks

Desert Lantern Diffuser - $183.55

The stunning Lantern Diffuser, exquisitely crafted and detailed from metal and glass, transforms any room by permeating the air with the aroma of your favourite essential oils. With run times of up to 10 hours and 11 light features, the Lantern Diffuser is the perfect complement to any festive gathering.

The Lantern Diffuser Pack includes:

1 x Lantern Diffuser
1 x FREE Lavender 5 ml
1 x FREE Lemon 5 ml

Young Living Breakfast Set - $65.65

Start the morning off right with the sweet crunch of Gary’s True Grit™ Einkorn Flakes Cereal. For a delicious and natural substitute to sugar and honey, top the flakes with a little Blue Agave Natural Sweetener. You can also add it to your morning tea or coffee, served in a YL ceramic mug!

The Sweet & Simple Breakfast Set includes:

2 x Gary’s True Grit™ Einkorn Flakes Cereal 369g
1 x Blue Agave Natural Sweetener 237ml
2 x FREE YL ceramic mugs

Aroma Wooden Case Set - $128.95

Show off your essential oil collection with this beautifully crafted, 3-tier case made of pine wood and emblazoned with YL branding. Easily access and store up 17 roll-ons and 45 (5 ml or 15 ml) oils - including a FREE Christmas Spirit™ 5 ml. It also serves as a charming display case for presentations and workshops!

The Aroma Wooden Case Set includes:

1 x 3-Tier Wooden Essential Oil Case (Dimensions: 217mm (L) x 247mm (W) x 185mm (H))
1 x FREE Christmas Spirit™ 5ml

Frankincense - $65.45

Frankincense essential oil has an earthy, uplifting aroma that’s perfect for grounding and spiritual connectedness. Create a safe and comforting environment when you diffuse or inhale this empowering oil—a perfect opportunity to collect your thoughts.

When you seek purpose, or engage in prayer or meditation, use this oil to enhance your experience.

Myrrh - $144.00

Myrrh oil comes from the steam distillation of the red-brown resin of trees in the genus Commiphora. Because of its earthy, sweet aroma and luxurious properties, Myrrh oil uses include skin care and aromatic applications. Its calming, complex aroma brings a deeper sense of spirituality to practices such as yoga and meditation, and its moisturising and cleansing properties have made it popular in high-end skin care and beauty products.

Christmas Spirit - $22.30

With some of our most popular Christmas essential oils, Christmas Spirit™ taps into the happiness, joy, and comfort associated with the holiday season. It combines Orange, Cinnamon Bark, and Spruce to create a warm, spicy, and sweet Christmas essential oil blend that’s sure to be loved by everyone in the family.
Thanks to its familiar notes and timeless aroma, Christmas Spirit essential oil blend helps evoke feelings and memories tied to the joy of Christmas and simpler, more peaceful moments. It’s a great gift for the holidays, and it can easily become an important part of your family traditions.

Dolphin Reef / Dino Land Holiday Collections

Let your little ones enjoy the calming aroma of Stress Away™ with the captivating Dolphin Reef or Dino Land Ultrasonic Diffuser. Plus, for those tougher school days, add a few drops of Stress Away™ to a handy KidScents® Slap Bracelet for a soothing lime and vanilla scent.

The Dolphin Reef Holiday Collection includes:

1 x Dolphin Reef Ultrasonic Diffuser
1 x FREE KidScents® Diffusing Slap Bracelet
1 x FREE Stress Away™ 5 ml
3 x Reusable Cotton Pads

                               - RRP - $205.90

The Dino Land Holiday Collection includes:

1 x Dino Land Ultrasonic Diffuser
1 x FREE KidScents® Diffusing Slap Bracelet
1 x FREE Stress Away™ 5 ml
3 x Reusable Cotton Pads

                             - RRP - $2212.50

Refresh with Citrus Set - $52.55
Give your H2O a burst of citrusy flavour! Featuring a colourful silicone sleeve, this glass water bottle is the perfect solution if you’re looking to ditch plastic disposable bottles and stay hydrated during the hot summer months!

The Refresh with Citrus Set includes:

1 x Slique™ Glass Water Bottle 700ml
1 x Grapefruit 15ml

Summer Sidekick Pack - $108.10

Keep your cooler bag stocked with skin-protecting products! With SPF 50 broad-spectrum protection, our lightweight mineral sunscreen protects from UVA and UVB rays without the intrusion of toxic chemicals. To enjoy the outdoors annoyance free, dilute and apply a few drops of Citronella’s bright, pleasant scent!

The Summer Sidekick Pack includes:

1 x Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 85g
1 x Citronella 15ml

1 x FREE YL Cooler Bag (Dimensions: 32cm (H) x 44 cm (W) x 16cm (D))

Luscious Lips Collection - $156.90

From prep to party, this collection includes everything you need for flawless lips. Gently exfoliate and cleanse lips with Poppy Seed Lip Scrub before finishing your look with I Dare You Lipstick. For a little more sparkle and shine, top off your lips with Anchors Aweigh Lip Gloss.

The Luscious Lips Collection includes these Savvy Minerals by Young Living products:

1 x Poppy Seed Lip Scrub 12g
1 x Lipstick - I Dare You (Coral Orange) 3.8g
1 x Lip Gloss - Anchors Aweigh (Orangey Pink) 6g
1 x Standing Mirror

For more information on stockists and product descriptions,
please visit

Monday, November 12, 2018

Christmas Techie Treats from LG

LG WK7 ThinQ™ Smart Speaker

LG’s first smart speaker, the LG WK7 ThinQ™, features Meridian Audio to give you premium sound quality when playing your favourite Christmas jingles. As well, with LG AI ThinQ and Google Assistant you can get the answers on recipes, weather, finance, calculations, translations and more – or even challenge the family to a game of trivia or musical chairs this Christmas!

Product link:

RRP: $299

LG CordZero Handstick A9

Witness your own Christmas miracle –the LG CordZero handstick ensures a spotless home for the entire silly season. The LG CordZero features freedom from tangled cords, a powerful LG Inverter Motor and a five-step filtration system to make cleaning up on Christmas Day that much easier.

Product link:

RRP: starting from $699
LG G7 ThinQ

The LG G7 ThinQ™ helps you become the photographer you always aspired to be; the AI-powered camera analyses the frame and optimises the settings for the perfect shot every time. You can also crank up the holiday tunes with the Powerful Boombox feature, which turns the phone into a portable speaker.

Product link:

RRP: $1099

LG SK85 Super UHD AI ThinQ™ TV

The LG SK85 Super UHD AI ThinQ™ TV with Nano Cell technology invites the whole family to gather around to watch a favourite holiday flick with the TV’s wide viewing angles. And what’s more? With the integration of AI ThinQ™ and Google Assistant, your TV can recommend a variety of holiday movies – or even help you book your dream destination!

Product link:

RRP 55-inch: $2699
RRP 65-inch: $3999
LG SK10Y Sound Bar

The LG SK10Y sound bar is the perfect companion for every TV viewing experience and an excellent addition to the man cave or family home entertainment set-up. Amplify your TV viewing or gaming experience with immersive three-dimensional surround sound and premium cinema quality audio technology from Dolby Atmos and Meridian Audio.

Product link:

RRP: $1699

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Merry Tech-mas: The best gadget gifts that sleigh

With all kinds of work and personal commitments filling up your end-of-year calendar like a game of Tetris, Christmas shopping is probably the last thing on your mind. Don’t sweat it, we’ve all been there. That’s why we have invited Aussie tech brand EFM to share their killer line-up of last-minute gift ideas to help you score some major brownie points this Christmas.

The hard-to-buy-for pal

Know someone who enjoys the finer things in life? Good news is you don’t need to break the bank to impress them this year! The Monaco Leather Case Armour is constructed from high-quality genuine leather and features multiple storage options, aluminium accents and side keys, and a RFID blocking layer to keep their cards safe. It has also exceeded the military grade drop test standard by five times, all thanks to the D3O® impact protection material in the shell.
Monaco Leather Case Armour for iPhone Xs / Xs Max / XR, RRP $79.95
(Available in Black/Space Grey and Mulberry/Gold)

The flatlay artist

Whoever thought power banks are all the same clearly hasn’t met this rose gold fellow from EFM. Equipped with Device Sensing Technology, this bad boy automatically determines the power requirement for your device and optimises the output to suit. Plus, it never hurts when a power bank is this pretty. Holiday flatlay, anyone?
10,000mAH Power Bank in Rose Gold, RRP $79.95

The practical mind

For those who love to put their credit cards in their phone cases, look no further than the Aspen Card Case Armour. Not only does this tough but slim phone case feature a 3-layer impact dispersion structure that delivers ultimate device protection, but it also includes a hidden card slot to offer even more versatility and functionality.
Aspen Card Case Armour for iPhone Xs / Xs Max / XR, RRP $49.95
(Available in black)

The minimalist

What better way to delight your minimalist friend than with a gift that will help them declutter their desk? With this super sleek wireless charge pad, they can finally say goodbye to the hassle of tangled wires and missing charger cables. This smart charge pad also allows them to charge their Qi-compatible devices 1.4 times faster than most standard 5W wireless chargers.
Wireless Charge Pad, RRP $69.95

The fashionista

The Cayman Case Armour is the slimmest, lightest and toughest case in the EFM range. This stylish crowd-pleaser combines a UV resistant PC back plate with revolutionary impact protection material D3O® to keep your loved one’s phone in mint condition, whilst the aluminium accents add a touch of elegance to the case. Now who is ready for those pre-party mirror #OOTD shots?

Cayman Case Armour for iPhone Xs / Xs Max / XR, RRP $59.95
(Available in Black/Space Grey, Black/Copper, Mulberry/Gold, Gold Trim, Metallic Silver Trim, Black Marble/Gold, and Black Gemstone/Gold)

The tech guru

Use this handy power bank unit separately for convenient on-the-go charging or place it on the desktop stand to charge both the power bank and their Qi-enabled device simultaneously. This is a great gadget your tech-savvy pal will truly enjoy.

Wireless Power Bank with Desktop Stand, RRP $129.95

Tech out these must-have gadgets for Christmas

Eight tech gift ideas to woo those difficult-to-buy-for people in your life

As if Christmas shopping isn’t stressful enough, there is always an impossible to please member in the family (you know the type; they seem to have everything so you usually get them a gift card). This year, there is no need to panic as we have asked Logitech, Logitech G, Jaybird and Ultimate Ears to share their ultimate gift selection that suits every budget. Here’s your holy grail to winning everyone’s heart this holiday season.

Under $100

For less than $100, you can give someone the gift of painless Netflix searching with the K600 TV Keyboard this Christmas. Enter their password, browse the Internet, or play, pause and rewind/fast forward their favourite show. This keyboard can do it all.

Logitech K600 TV Keyboard, RRP $99.95

Under $200

Whoever said bigger is better clearly wasn’t very well acquainted with the pint-sized Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM, which packs a surprisingly big sound and 10-hour battery life. Available in a wide range of exciting colours, this super-portable and waterproof Bluetooth speaker is a true crowd pleaser.

Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM, RRP $129.95

The best way to win over an avid gamer’s heart is to give them some shiny new gear that they can show off to their peers. The award-winning Logitech G502 Gaming Mouse has recently got an upgrade with the new HERO 16k sensor, boasting a better and more accurate performance. #mymouseisbetterthanyours

Logitech G G502 Hero High Performance Gaming Mouse, RRP $129.95

Designed for all sorts of adventures, these supper rugged, waterproof and sweat-proof headphones will have your loved one covered rain or shine.

Jaybird Tarah Wireless Sport Headphones, RRP $149.95

Whether your loved one is a (self-confessed) online shopping queen or a workaholic who is always on the go, the ergonomic design of this mouse will prevent your loved one’s hand from cramping after spending hours on their computer. The best part, it tracks on any surface including bedsheets. Netflix and Excel in bed, anyone?

Logitech MX Master 2S, RRP $149.95

Under $300

For the health conscious fitspo in the family, these sweat-proof and completely wireless sport earphones will be their new best friend on those post holiday runs. They also come with a sleek carrier case that will keep them juiced up on the go.

Jaybird RUN True Wireless Sport Headphones, RRP $249.95

Who doesn’t love a powerful, portable wireless speaker? Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3 is here to kick start all sorts of parties this season. It blasts loud, clear, and immersive 360° sound with deep thundering bass, all whilst being insanely waterproof, dustproof and drop proof.

Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3, RRP $299.95

Under $500

Know someone who has every gaming gadget? This combo is going to be a welcome addition to their collection. With the latest RGB gaming speakers and gaming keyboard from Logitech G, they can now synchronise brilliant RGB lighting and powerful audio in real-time to match their on-screen action across games, music and movies.

Logitech G G560 Lightsync PC Gaming Speakers, RRP $279.95
Logitech G G512 Lightsync RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, RRP $179.95

First edition Playboy Magazine with Marilyn Monroe cover up for auction

RAUNCHY for its time, the cover of the first-ever Playboy magazine
featuring sex symbol actress Marilyn Monroe, who also appeared in a two-page inside
spread advertised by publisher Hugh Hefner as "Marilyn Monroe with nothing on but the radio."


David Ellis

A BOUND collection of a copy from every issue of Playboy magazine from its first-ever in 1953 until the death of its founder and owner Hugh Hefner last year – something like 700 copies – is to go to auction in Los Angeles at the end of this month, with estimates it could fetch up to US$40,000 (AU$55,400.)

And a separate copy Hefner kept personally from the first print run for the first-issue, is expected could raise as much as US$5000 alone.

Marilyn Monroe: "nothing on but the radio"

With sex symbol Marilyn Monroe featuring both on the cover and as its 2-page centrefold (Hefner advertised it as "Marilyn Monroe with nothing on but the radio,") that December 1953 first-issue sold 54,000 copies at US$0.50c each, with Playboy sales going on to peak in the early-1970s at 7,000,000 an issue world-wide.

They've since slumped to a little over 800,000 annually now, with publication down to just six issues a year, and plans to reduce it to a quarterly from 2019.

In his first issue, for which Hefner had cobbled together $8000 from family and friends to pay the print bill, he wrote in an Introduction that Playboy was for men between 18 and 80… and "is not a 'family magazine'."

"(So) if you are somebody's sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life, and get back to your Ladies Home Companion…" he wrote.

Hefner's privately-owned individual and bound sets of the magazine will be auctioned with hundreds of other personal possessions on November 30 and December 1, through Los Angeles' Julien's Auctions live and online (

FOOTNOTE: Hugh Hefner died in September last year aged 91, and is laid to rest next to Marilyn Monroe in a crypt he'd bought in 1992 for $75,000 in Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles. Monroe had died in 1962 aged 36 from a self-administered barbiturate overdose.

A Mother's Lullaby

Australians advance under fire. Western front. (AWM)
The men crouch in the pit of the trench, their bayonets fixed and pointing skyward where, above them in misty pre-dawn gloom, shells burst like angry thunderclaps, each monstrous detonation shaking their flesh and blood to the very core.

Privates Alex Wilkins and Rodney Burnside stare at each other, wincing in terrified unison as the lethal explosions creep ever closer. Incoming artillery from the Germans, entrenched in similar fashion several hundred yards to the east, howl like a banshee before thudding into the earth and, in a nerve-shattering eruption, shower the men with heavy clods of mud and occasionally the body parts of their disintegrated comrades.

Utter terror sweeps through their ranks like a wild fever. Men cry like colical infants, soil themselves helplessly, vomit violently or just stare like a rabbit caught in the beam of a spotlight.

Behind them, not nearly far enough away, are the answering British howitzers, spewing diabolical fusillades in return. Until they suddenly fall silent to a gun.

British troops fix bayonets in preparation for an attack.

Sargeant Penfold, an old man of 34 with the complexion of a windblown prune, fumbles for his whistle, wiping it with a handkerchief even filthier than the tiny instrument itself. His trembling hand holds a plain pocket watch, the attached chain vibrating like an F-string. His dry tongue vainly tries to moisten parched lips as he slowly draws the little brass object closer.

Both Burnside and Wilkins look to their NCO just as he draws that fateful breath. At that same instant, a line of intensely bright white phosphorus flares shoot up into the smoke-filled sky to a height of 50 to 100 yards, hanging like macabre fairy lights from tiny parachutes and trailing away into the distance. And like the kick-off for Satan's own grand final, a hundred whistles blow all down the line, followed by the roar of ten thousand men as they clamber up their rough ladders and 'over the top'.

Over the top

Burnside and Wilkins were just two young men, not yet 21 and like so many all through the ranks, they were really just boys. Blooded and traumatised by months of violent, futile combat in the so-called 'sausage grinder', they operated like soulless machines, programmed to function to their masters' whim who cared not the slightest if they perished or prevailed, as long as the immediate objective was met.

The two brotherless boys had grown up in the suburbs of Adelaide on the fringe of the bush. They went to the local schools together, played football and cricket together and, as their teens faded, courted the prettiest girls while evading their quarry's outraged fathers.

When war was declared in 1914, they waited impatiently to reach the age where they could volunteer without a parent's consent and fronted the recruitment lines with the same naive excitement of a couple of lads who'd just perpetrated a successful prank on a wicked classmate. Little did they know how that satisfying jubilation would soon be replaced by the all-consuming horror of The Great War. The war to end all wars.

Just after the sun had finally come up on that tumultuous morning on the Somme, Burnside found himself gasping for air, his mouth half filled with a lumpy poultice of mud and blood. Choking like a man on his last breath, he managed to half spit, half cough out the evil mixture which contained several of his teeth. His helmet was gone and his Lee Enfield 303 rifle, bayonet still fixed, was cradled beneath him, caked in the same dark, heavy mud.

As the grit slowly worked free from his face, he could see all around him the shapes of contorted khaki corpses, some piled on top of each other like a collapsed scrum, others missing various vital segments that held clues to their form.

Cordite smoke penetrated his muddy nostrils while at a distance he could not determine, random rifle shots and machine gun bursts rang out. Men called out from behind and in front of him. Some groaned that guttural dirge as death took them in a final act of mercy while others cried pitifully for their mothers. Burnside tried to right himself and immediately collapsed into the mud again like a drunken sailor crawling out of a gutter. The arm he needed to complete the action was gone, the bloodied bone stump protruding from his tattered tunic bearing witness to the most cruel injury.

In defeat, Burnside let himself fall back into an awkward repose, eyes skyward, chest heaving. He could neither shriek, nor whimper, much less complain.

In the neat sandstone cottage in outer Adelaide, the silence was only broken by the chorus of Magpies from the garden and the unsympathetic tick-tock of the old mantle clock. August Wilkins stood hands clenched behind him with his back to his wife, Genevieve, who sat as if struck by a palsy. In her hand was a crumpled telegram, delivered just minutes ago by a panting boy who was clearly having the busiest day of his life.

Thousands of pink telegrams like this were delivered to grieving families. (AWM)

Amid the fluff of words on the official letterhead supposed to soothe a mortified mother was the ominous phrase, " .... missing presumed killed."

In the weeks that followed, nothing further could be learned from War Office about the fate of their only son. The day of his supposed death saw more young Australian men and boys killed, wounded or go missing than on any other single day of the entire war. The newspapers heralded a brave and courageous offensive that was sure to bring an end to the conflict that had already denuded the fledgling Commonwealth of so many of its finest young heirs. In truth, it was a shambolic bloodbath of unimaginable horror. A scheme only Beelzebub himself could contrive.

The following year, the returning troopships unloaded their ever-increasing cargo of broken and shattered men. The macabre cavalcade of debilitated youth who should be in their prime and building the nation instead hobbled, limped and staggered along the wharf. Various aids from wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetic limbs or just the helpful shoulder of a mate were employed in this most pathetic of parades.

Amid the solemn crowd at the dock in Port Adelaide, August and Genevieve Wilkins stood stoically beside their neighbours, the Burnsides in anticipation of their son Rodney's arrival. The once-strapping lad had completed a lengthy convalescence in England and was deemed fit enough to return home to a life of uncertainty. Meanwhile back in France, the war continued and the death toll mounted.

The shuffling mass of broken men and their bearers began to dwindle when the four, their heads craning and bobbing, caught sight of young private Burnside, now just 22. He was walking at least, albeit with a labouring gate. The right sleeve of his uniform was neatly pinned at the elbow and his face bore the telltale marks of corrective surgery to his lower jaw. Both parents embraced the unresponsive stranger, but as the loving clinch lingered, a glistening could eventually be seen around the boy's empty eyes.

Back at the Burnside's cottage, tea and cake is being served. The young private, still looking dazed and detached despite several months away from the fighting and returned to the familiar surroundings of leafy Adelaide, sits staring at the opposite wall, making only the most perfunctory responses to each delicate enquiry. Finally, her curiosity bursting, Mrs Wilkins can not contain herself any longer.

"Rodney, please tell us what you know about our dear Alex. Could he possibly have survived? Could he be sitting mute and shell-shocked in some asylum not knowing his own name?"

Private Burnside slowly met her intense, inquiring gaze. His face barely hinted at any emotion.

"To be 'onest, me memories of that morning are a bit 'azy Missus Wilkins," said the Private with some effort, his speech slurring slightly, "but let me tell youse what I can remember."

"It was the biggest bloody mess we ever was in. Alex were right next t' me the 'ole time and when ol' Penfold blew his whistle the 'ole flippin' lot of us went over the top and ran like buggery at the Hun."

"That's when the rest gets real fuzzy. I remember being flat on me back on a cart with a mob of other blokes all moanin' and groanin' an' I tried real hard to see if any were Alex but we was all in such a state I couldna recognised me mum the way we was all chucked in."

"Arfta 'bout a week or so in the 'ospital, I started to git about the wards trying to find 'im and asking the other blokes if they'd seen 'im either. One bloke, Newlands, reckons he saw us both get 'it by a shell. He sure were surprised to see me on me feet. 'fraid I can't ask 'im no more. He died next day."

"Gotta be 'onest Missus Wilkins," he said, clearly coming to the end of his exertion, "I reckon 'e were killed outright. Blown t' bits. A lot of blokes were just gone like that."

The two sat at the old kitchen table amid a deathly silence. Young Burnside's empty stare had returned, fixed on Mrs Wilkins face which had frozen into an incredulous gasp. Two torrents of tears issued from her red-tinged eyes, leaving a most discernible residue on the bare wood of the table.

Against the pleas of her heartbroken husband, Genevieve Wilkins is determined to go to France and find out what she can about her missing son. She resolves to scour every hospital and infirmary if that is what it takes. By the grace of God, or by any other means, she will find him.

Even after the sale of the house and much of their belongings, there is only enough money for one of them to travel. August Wilkins, now resident with his own ageing mother, farewells his sombre wife as she sets out on her mission from Outer Harbour with a modest suitcase packed with grim determination.

After a gruelling month-long journey aboard a returning troopship, the foul odours of tobacco and gangrene still permeating every deck, Mrs Wilkins eventually checks in to a dour London guest house in Shoreditch to begin her melancholy mission.

The weeks turn to months as the exhausted woman interrogates hospitals from Cambridge to Cornwall and Blackpool to Bradford. She traipses the corridors and wards of countless houses of horror where men with faces and bodies so grotesquely disfigured by shrapnel and shell, that they look more like flailed carcasses strewn in a slaughterhouse than living flesh and blood. Sometimes they cried out, while other times they just moaned and mumbled trying to deliver mute messages. On one occasion, a faceless young man whose once handsome features had been brutally carved from his head grabbed her so tightly with his remaining hand, the orderly hand to strike him several times with a crop before he would release his grip.

Men suffered - and survived - the most distressing injuries.

The thought that her beautiful boy could be among these mangled monstrosities ripped at her heart, causing her many fitful and sleepless nights. She wailed for the mothers whose cherished sons had been reduced to such a pitiful state by the savage tools of war. She cursed the uncaring, soulless brutes who had inflicted such barbarity onto an entire generation. Yet there was no sign of her Alex.

Her funds dwindling alarmingly, the near-traumatised Missus Wilkins shifted her attention to France to see what could be learned closer to the former front lines. Her meagre funds only permitted lodging in a dingy back alley in Pigalle which she shared with prostitutes, gypsies and shell-shocked returned soldiers in a constant state of putrid alcoholic paralysis.

One chilly evening while stepping over the urban detritus, she heard a raspy voice call out in English.

"Madame, I know what you seek!'

It was most unusual to hear her native tongue and with that, the startled Mrs Wilkins spun around to see a slightly hunchbacked old woman sitting on a stool in a narrow alcove. Through the damp, misty air she could make out a tattered shawl framing the old gypsy’s face.

“Yes, madame, come closer. I have news of your son.”

As if shards of ice suddenly perforate her veins, Mrs Wilkins tries to gasp, but instead utters merely the faint croak of a tiny frog.

She approaches the old woman in slow measured steps until the gypsy extends her hand, beckoning her to proffer her own. She grasps both hands tightly and stares imploring into Mrs Wilkins gaze before her eyes roll eerily backward into their sockets revealing thick, dark purple veins.

“Your son waits by the river. He calls out every night for you to go to him. He is in much torment and begs your succour.”

Mrs Wilkins flinches as if struck by a bolt of lightning but the old woman’s grasp is too strong and pulls her back, mumbling words in an indistinct tongue.

“You must go to the battlefield at midnight on a full moon and sing your son's favourite lullaby. By the will of God, he will come.”

And at that moment, the old gypsy released her grasp, nearly causing Mrs Wilkins to topple backwards, such was the force at which she sought to withdraw.

Notwithstanding her macabre instructions, she makes for the banks of the Somme near where Rodney had described his last vision of Alex Wilkins before the pair were engulfed by the shellburst. The ground is still churned and uneven with fragments of metal occasionally striking her boot and as the sun falls low in the sky, a chill sets in.

A mist gradually accumulates among the skeletal remains of trees, creating a swirling gossamer that embraces the denuded branches. As midnight approaches, the faint glow of the moon can still be seen through the clouds that sweep slowly past overhead. She clears her throat and begins her eery refrain.

“I see the moon, The moon sees me, God bless the moon and God bless me”

Despite her parched throat and quivering anxiety, the sweet lyrics caress the air and disappear into the darkness. A gentle breeze that once propelled the mist is suddenly still.

“I know an angel watches over me. God bless the angels, and God bless me.”

As she is about to repeat the delicate chorus, a faint silhouette begins to take shape amid the haze. The shape of a limping soldier can soon be made out.

Frightened, she stops singing momentarily and the indistinct figure fades, but when she resumes, so too does the apparition with its tortured gait move silently toward her.

The mist thickens, occasionally obscuring the figure until it becomes so thick she can barely make out her surroundings.

She stops singing and calls out in a faltering stammer. "Alex, if that's you come to me my dear boy, I want to take you home."

At that moment the struggling soldier suddenly appears almost within arm's reach, standing dead still in front of her. Again, she tries to scream, but her chords refuse to oblige.

At such an intimate distance, every horrid detail is suddenly revealed. The uniform is more mud than khaki and great holes are ripped in it so vast they admit light from behind the torso. Beneath the circular peak of the battered tin helmet is a face so disfigured even a mother would not recognise her own son. The entire lower jaw is violently ripped asunder leaving an unholy jumble of teeth, bone and flailed tongue exposed to the horrified onlooker. One eye clings to its socket by little more than a sinew, while the other stares out like that of a Halloween ghoul. All the while the most stomach-churning odour of rotting flesh permeates the scene.

Mrs Wilkins teeters on the edge of consciousness, her heart beating like a runaway steam pump, her arms and hands trembling as if excited by electrocution.

The pathetic figure takes another half step, raising one arm and the hollow sleeve of the other. While apparently trying to form speech, a blood-curdling noise begins to emanate from what is left of the mutilated throat. Just as the tattered hand is placed on the apoplectic Mrs Wilkins’ shoulder, the wretched soldier utters a sound more like a laboured raspy, gurgle. Small chunks of putrefying flesh dislodge from the facial cavity as, finally, that ungodly stutter forms just one discernable word:


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