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Ulster Log: Nurse's tale of wartime horrors they tried to ban

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The Backwash Of War, first published in 1916

The Backwash Of War, first published in 1916

Second thoughts: Amanda Peet did a u-turn on Game of Thrones

Second thoughts: Amanda Peet did a u-turn on Game of Thrones

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The Backwash Of War, first published in 1916

If every writer had to put up with the obstacles that were in the way of Ellen La Motte's book, The Backwash Of War, to prevent it being read, they might have given up in despair. First published in 1916 as a detailed account of the horror of a field hospital in the First World War, it scared the top brass in the Army and the Government, too, in case it depressed the soldiers and their loved ones back home.

So they looked for every excuse for it to be banned.

Now the book that inspired the forthcoming BBC TV drama, The Crimson War - a no-holds barred account of Ellen, a nurse in a French First World War field hospital just behind the lines in Belgium - is now available again after being suppressed as it was looked on as undesirable. It was last on the bookshelves in 1934.

It was kept out of England and France while the First World War was rumbling on, but did well in the US. Then in 1918 an issue of a magazine called The Liberator was delayed because it was telling people to buy The Backwash. The Liberator wasn't released until this reference to the tome the authorities hated, was inked out.

It is in her use of the words "human wreckage" that Ellen really conveys the magnitude of her first-hand experiences - including coming face-to-face with a deserter, his skull mangled from a failed suicide bid and who, even if he were nursed back to health, would face a firing squad.

Or the surgeon trying to make a name for himself prolonging the lives of injured men when it would have been kinder to let them die.

Ellen La Motte (1873-1961) was an American nurse, journalist and author. She began her nursing career as a tuberculosis nurse in Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1915 volunteered as one of the first American war nurses to go to Europe and treat soldiers. In Belgium she served in a French field hospital, keeping that bitter diary detailing the horrors that she witnessed daily. Back in America, she turned her diary into a book, The Backwash of War (1916), containing 14 vignettes of horrific scenes.

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The Backwash of War, Conway, £8.99

When Amanda succumbed to fantasy 

There was one Doubting Thomas when writer David Benioff was creating his hugely successful fantasy drama series, Game of Thrones — his film star wife, Amanda Peet.

She told David his idea just wouldn’t work and, of course, was so wrong, as she acknowledges now after accompanying him to Belfast to see some scenes being shot here.

She’s a New Yorker, a graduate of Columbia University who made her film debut in 1995 and got instant recognition in the 2000 comedy, The Whole Nine Yards. Amanda has also appeared in the comedy Saving Silverman, the thriller Identity and the romantic comedy The Ex.

She’s looking forward to her next visit to Belfast with David.

Ivan in tune with all the things that you are...

Pianist Ivan Black plays all kinds of melodies and songs on a mighty range of instruments, but there is one popular piece that he prefers beyond all other — All The Things You Are, written by Jerome Kern in 1939.

“The perfect example of popular music and my favourite,” he says. “It was written for a show called Very Warm For May which folded within three days. All The Things survived and has emerged as a classic of its kind.”

Ivan, my old schoolmate at Ballyclare High Grammar, played it last Saturday at a Donaghadee Male Voice Choir concert at the Mossley Mill complex.

He is celebrating 10 years with conductor Robert Wilson and his voices.

Among the many stars who recorded the song was Frank Sinatra.

Ivan, whose party piece is Pride Of The County Down, made his first public appearance at the age of five, and his professional debut at the age of 11. And he’s been going strong ever since, even finding time to be an adjudicator and an examiner at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

A bad trip down memory lane

My story last week about the love ballad I'll Be Your Sweetheart reminds Marie Montgomery of Glengormley about the time she walked up the aisle with her husband Jack nearly 40 years ago.

"At the reception we were having the first waltz when I tripped on my gown and fell awkwardly, breaking my shin bone," she says. "Know what the band was playing at the time? I'll Be Your Sweetheart. I've hated that song ever since. I ended up in hospital and spent my honeymoon in plaster in Portugal. But Jack looked after me and we are still married.

"My favourite ballad now is Be Sure It's True When You Say I Love You."

That, by the way, is correctly entitled It's A Sin to Tell a Lie.

True love's bewitching brew

Do you believe in witches?

In about 1876, there was an old girl called Mary Butters who was strongly believed to be one. The shack she lived in at Carnmoney was only demolished a few years ago.

When I was little and was bold, my mother threatened to call Mary's spirit down upon me. There's a folksy tale that if a girl wants to find out who she should marry, she should boil an egg, fast for a day, then take out the yolk and fill the cavity with salt before eating the lot, including the shell, and her suitor's name will dawn on her - as long as she doesn't take a drink before sunrise or the spell will be broken. Today, Valentine's Day, would be ideal to try it ...

Singer Conor has it all figured out

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Conor O'Brien has done just that - the pop world has come a long way since Catch A Falling Star and I'm In The Mood For Love. The Villagers, formed in 2008, have performed at several music festivals and toured with Grizzly Bear, Tracy Chapman, Bell X1, Tindersticks and Elbow. Their previous two albums were Awayland and Becoming A Jackal.

I hope Conor, who fronts The Villagers, can count. He wrote Darling Arithmetic at home - in a loft of a converted farmhouse down in Malahide, Co Dublin. It's a love song, he tells me.

That figures ...


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