‘Many years after the deaths of my parents, my aunt handed me a box filled with letters that my father had written to my mother over the period from 1940 to 1945. This was the starting point of a journey for me to rediscover the father I had never really known...’
This is the story of John Searancke’s parents, told mostly from the side of his father, Eddie Searancke, from the time of his calling up in early 1940 to his release from a prisoner of war camp in Germany in 1945, thence his return to England to try to pick up the pieces of his old life. Nothing could ever be quite the same afterwards.
The letters take readers through five captivating years, telling of the ups and downs, the plots and counterplots, as Eddie rose through the ranks to end his war as a captain, elevated to that rank in the field as his troops faced the formidable might of the SS Panzers. The letters also reveal where his battle came to an abrupt end, in an orchard surrounded by the enemy and captured after a series of bloody skirmishes as the British army spearheaded its way from the beaches of Normandy. The journey as a prisoner across France and Germany in a truck, with comrades dying each day, may be as hard to read as it is to tell, particularly when a new life and new harsh rules had to be learned and rigidly enforced in a prison camp in northern Germany, the final destination.
This is written as part memoir, part fictionalised retelling and partly in letter format; John draws together all sources to recreate the five years of war and hardship that the letters span.
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“Reading John Searancke's superlative debut, Dog Days in The Fortunate Islands, about relocating to northern Tenerife brought back memories of my own emigration to neighbouring Gran Canaria. The only worry for John is that he risks endangering his unspoilt patch of Tenerife by being so effusive in his praise. Readers won't be able to help but follow his lead." Matthew Hirtes, author, Going Local in Gran Canaria: How to Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home
5.0 out of 5 stars
Exceptional. An outstanding achievement.
11 November 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Wow! For those of you who don't normally read prologues, (I always read them), you need to read this one! There’s so much information, it makes you eager to get into the book and is emotional in parts. I love the diary and letter formats-I love the authenticity of it (how he's left the letters as was, even if there were any slight errors). What a beginning! (And that's just the prologue!!!) It’s very skilfully written and I love the author’s word choices; languishing/trundled etc. What a valuable piece of history-thank heaven people write their experiences down and they're not lost forever. This is such an interesting, informative and enthralling work. I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary paperback copy from the publisher. (I later bought the kindle edition as well from amazon.) This is a quality presentation with a matt cover which has a lovely feel to it. The paper thickness and quality again is immaculate. This looks and feels a real treat to read. I love my Kindle Fires but it's a bit of luxury to have a quality print book such as this in my hands for a change. A sparkling achievement, a marvellous tribute to his father and a family memento to hand down. I thought it was a great idea to include the short section on military references; it’s conveniently placed near the beginning so you can easily flick back there if you need to. It's just info like what's a Battalion/Division etc. (useful-as I didn't know). It might not be needed by some but it's there if you do. It would be easy to keep clicking back here in the kindle edition also. The book chronicles the author’s father's story right from his birth in 1912, following his own father into the family building business before being suddenly uprooted to go into the Army at the age of 27. This was SO good-and certainly not just a man's book! (If that's what you're thinking!) There's something for everyone and I found it really very moving. I think he's done a great job of translating his father's letters to make this flow into book form-I could actually picture this as a TV miniseries! Nostalgia-Ind Coope brewery-I'd not heard that name for a while-also, my own granddad must have taken a similar journey into the Army for the first world war-so this read was affecting me, I was making connections and feeling emotions about what it must have been like for my own grandparents. I found this exceptionally interesting. My partner's dad was in the Army, also at Leicester; I kept discussing with him about things in the book, there were lots of the places he knew etc. I didn't just speed through this, I savoured it, looked up things, and asked more about things. John Searancke captures the time perfectly. There's also those little threads of intrigue running through-obviously, there are things the author will never know about his parents, he's cleverly put this together through letters and some things are missing-this makes it all the more interesting. It was real ‘edge of your seat stuff’ vivid portrayal at the closing chapters with the mentions of the terrible conditions and the men dying around them. In the midst of all this, I even chuckled occasionally at some of his father's expressions. A truly immaculate book. Exceptional. Outstanding.
by Julie Haigh
5.0 out of 5 stars
22 October 2015
Torn from his cosy well-to-do life as a (very) young company director in Burton on Trent, with its all-pervading smell of roasted hops from the breweries, Private Edward Searancke (the author’s father) is dumped from the back of a removals van into a far less cosy life in the British army. There’s a war on, Hitler is at the gate, and Edward is determined to do his duty – even if it means endless square bashing (torture to his fallen arches), separation from his new bride Elizabeth, and nowhere to park his golf clubs. Yet it is through a combination of golf and grit that he rises rapidly up through the ranks to become a captain, one of the brave many who stormed the beaches at Normandy in 1944.
The skill of this marvellous book is the combination of real-life letters, written to and from ‘Eddie’ and Elizabeth, and straight ‘imagined’ narrative as meticulously crafted by their son, John (aka “JE”). The frustration of the two lovers, as Eddie is shunted from pillar to post, from the Isle of Man to St Albans, from Ireland to Kent, and finally to France is brilliantly evoked: what marriage could have had a harder start, when every time they try to meet, a last minute extra duty or a politically important game of golf (I laughed at this, Elizabeth didn’t!) manages to keep them apart. I scanned the letters a few times to work out how they managed to conceive young John!
I also scratched my head over where the Prunes for Breakfast of the title might be – halfway through the book and not a prune in sight – but then Eddie gets captured by the Nazis and banged up in a POW holding camp for officers. What’s for breakfast? Oh yes, it’s prunes, and Eddie becomes a very regular soldier indeed. How glad, however, he is to exchange this meagre repast for steak and chips upon his release by the Yanks – he hasn’t seen a chip in years!
At times hilarious, at others a stern reminder of how Britain kept the great in Great Britain, this is not just the story of how an ordinary man performed extraordinary things in times of war. It is a paean to the virtues of hope, courage and the love of two people whose pens were mightier than the sword. Kudos, John, for interpreting their love and penmanship so beautifully – this is a wonderful read.
by To Be Frank...
5 stars INCREDIBLE MEMOIRS
By ELIZABETH HARDING on 14 December 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Such an entertaining book for youngsters who are learning about the Second World War, for those of us who were fortunate enough to be born just after the last shots had been fired over Europe and for those who actually experienced life in wartime. I fear "educational" is perhaps rather too starchy a word to describe this brilliant book, but I have certainly learned so much more about the war and I hope that others will experience the same gamut of emotions I felt right to the last "bowl of prunes!" Please read about John's father's harrowing and amusing experiences in the 1940's.
by Elizabeth Harding