A Hundred Years To Arras

By Jason Cobley

From a Somerset farm to the trenches of France: one man's coming of age through land, love and blood

History
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This historical novel is based on real events. On a painful, freezing Easter Monday in 1917, over twenty thousand allied troops emerged from underneath the French town of Arras to mount a surprise attack on German positions outside Arras and up to Vimy Ridge. Private Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry is stationed outside of Arras with his brigade and is launched into the battle, where he is separated from his company and ends the day defending Hervin Farm at St Laurent Blangy. Robert is twenty-three years old, a farmer’s boy from Somerset, and the novel tracks his journey from joining up against his father’s wishes in 1915 to that Easter Monday in April 1917.

Robert forms fast friendships with Stanley, who lied about his age to go to war, and Ernest, whose own slippery account of his life betrays a life on the streets. Their story together follows accounts of the real movements of the Somerset Light Infantry throughout the Great War, through gas attacks, trench warfare, freezing in trenches, hunting rats and chasing down kidnapped regimental dogs. Their life is one of mud and mayhem but also love and laughs. Whilst billeted in a battle-strewn French village, Robert meets the daughter of a local baker, Camile. The memory of their one afternoon together sustains him through the horrors that he faces on the front.

A parallel story is that of Flora Stuckey, a nurse of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, naively defying her own parents to come to France to help, and her own journey to realising how she needs to change.

A Hundred Years to Arras is a story of how a time and place reaches down through the generations to connect the past with the present through land and blood

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  • Jason Cobley avatar

    Jason Cobley

    Jason Cobley was born in Devon of Welsh parents and now lives in Warwickshire with his wife, daughter and two intrepid rabbits intent on escaping. The central character of A Hundred Years to Arras is based on his relative Robert Gooding Henson. Jason studied English Language and Literature at university and has now taught English to teenagers in various schools across the country for 26 years. He is currently Head of Faculty at a secondary school in Solihull.


    Jason is otherwise known for his work writing scripts for the long-running Commando comic and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as Frankenstein and An Inspector Calls, as well as the children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift. Jason also hosts a weekly show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, where he indulges his passion for classic and progressive rock.

  • One cheek lay in the mud, cold and caked to his skin. He drooled into the dirt and tasted the bitterness of the earth that had spattered on to his tongue and lips. Behind his closed eyes, dark shapes fluttered and swam, whispering voices of nausea drawing him down into something deep and heavy. His limbs ached from the fall. His legs lay in a puddle, one foot tucked behind him as if running. His weight was restricting the circulation in his left arm and he felt his fingers tingle. His other arm hung limply, with his remaining grip weak and loose around the stock of his rifle.

    The ground’s cold embrace surrounded him. Robert lay in a shell hole, a crater punched into the French soil. He had fallen, and the fall had begun even as the sun rose. The August morning was fine and warm. The previous night’s sunset had bled into the grey rain. Sleep was fitful at best as the battalion took its place in a trench along what was laughingly called the British front line but was in fact just a staggered set of carved holes in the ground. At least, that was the way it seemed to Robert as he had settled down on a dry duckboard for the long night into morning.

    On their subterranean shelves in the trench, Robert and the other men from the Somerset Light Infantry knew only the basics of their orders. Set for just after dawn, a short assault was to begin. The infantry in the line in front of them were to surge forward first, and they were to await the signal to race to the parapet after them. Once through the German barbed wire, they were to leap heroically into the enemy trenches and open fire on them as they dragged themselves wearily from their beds in the ground. This had been a tactic employed regularly since the first day of July, when all along the Somme, thousands of men had died in an attack that nobody spoke of now in the trench. The last phase of the Battle of the Somme was tailing off, and Robert was there at its last few shakes. Robert’s specific order was to join in the attempt to reclaim some old trenches on ground in No Man’s Land that had been conceded to the Germans earlier in the year.

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  • Jason Cobley has written 2 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    28th September 2019 Roll up! Roll up! Comic Cons, Radio Stations and Theatres.

    The crowdfunding wagon trundles on. In a near-last minute decision, I've taken a table at Leamington Comic Con on Saturday 5th October. I'll be there selling some of my comics, including my adaptation with the wonderful David Hitchcock of Charles Dickens' 'The Signal-Man' and my original graphic novel with James Gray, 'Amnesia Agents'. There'll be other sundries there too, but my main reason for having…

    15th September 2019 I've got merch! And a plan...

    Welcome to my new supporters who reported to the Regimental HQ this weekend! September has kicked into life with some new opportunities to get the word out. I spent a very pleasant afternoon at The Treehouse Bookshop in Kenilworth, with my merch (yes, I know the lingo now) set up (pictures below) and an even more pleasant time having a long chat with a couple of ladies, one of whom pledged for the…

    10th September 2019 Open Mic shenanigans

    You are all beautiful people. Whenever I feel a bit despondent, I think of the 135 people who have faith in this project. We'll get there, by hook or by crook! (Well, hopefully not by crooked means but you know what I mean).

    In Kenilworth where I live, we have two totally wonderful bookshops: Kenilworth Books and The Treehouse Bookshop. Both have been fantastically supportive of me and of the book…

    30th August 2019 Down the Rabbit Hole

    I fell down a rabbit hole today. Fellow Unbound author posted a link on social media to a TED Talk by the musician Amanda Palmer (more on that some other time maybe), which led to a bit of a click chain. I watched a number of TED talks on the now-ubiquitous YouTube whilst I was typing away on something else – it’s the advantage of having a large enough PC screen to be able to have two things open…

    15th August 2019 Readings on the radio

    Thanks for your continued support, folks. We are growing in supporters all the time, although there's the inevitable slowdown during August as we all enjoy the rain - I mean, the sun -  and jet off here and there. For us, we've acquired a dog from Dog's Trust, and she's taking up all our time!

    I've just completed a script for Commando, and you're the first to know the title: it's called 'Red Snow…

    29th July 2019 The Pitch Video

    I'm not sure this uploaded properly last time...

    Anyway, here's my ugly mug with the original pitch video.

    27th July 2019 If you can't take the heat... get a dog.

    It's been hot. Too hot for me. Forunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I've been somewhat tied to the house this week. We adopted a dog from The Dog's Trust last week, and she's settling in nicely, although slightly nervous. She still doesn't quite have to confidence to venture any further than she can see out of the window. We tried walking her around the block, but as soon…

    25th July 2019 Pitch video

    24th July 2019 The return of the video with my ugly mug

    The official 'landing' video of the project has been replaced, but I thought it would be useful to put the original back in as an update for anyone who has yet to see me waffling on about the book...

    18th July 2019 A video...

    10th July 2019 Radio interview and readings!

    A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest on Brunch With the Bradleys on Radio Abbey. The show is in two parts. The interview with me starts at about 30 minutes into Part 1 and continues into Part 2. I talk about the background to the novel and do a couple of readings of extracts from the novel. Listen here on Mixcloud:

    https://www.mixcloud.com/RadioAbbey/brunch-with-the-bradleys-23-june-2019-music…

    28th June 2019 An extract... barbed wire and banter.

     

    I promised another extract. This is taken from later in the novel, where the friends Robert, Stanley and Ernest are following orders to break through the enemy barbed wire...

    “What are you doing?” It was Ernest, beside him, ducking, half crouching, bayonet forward, ready to press on.

    “I fell,” began Robert.

    “Fall in then! Come on! Stand still and you’re target practice!” Ernest replied…

    23rd June 2019 On the radio!

    Good afternoon everyone (or good morning, or evening, or brunchtime, whenever you're reading this),

    As of today, we've reached 15% of our target with 75 backers. It's been wonderful to see a whole range of people pre-ordering the book: old schoolfriends; Facebook friends; family; work colleagues; fellow creatives (including rock musicians, writers, artists); and complete strangers! It's been hard…

    18th June 2019 Flashback to research

    Thanks so much to all of you who have backed so far. It means a lot to know that you're there encouraging the project. We're at 13% as I write, and I thought I'd flash back to a blogpost I wrote near the beginning of the drafting of the novel, when I was still researching:

    July 2016:

    Reading up on the Battle of Arras has been interesting. I'm into the end of the first week of my summer holiday…

    12th June 2019 A Hundred Years to Arras: And we're launched!

    This is where it all began:

    The attack began at 5.30 a.m on 9th April 1917. It was a Monday. Depending on your attitude to work, Monday mornings are full of either expectation or trepidation. Knowing what faced them, many having already lived through the Somme earlier in the Great War, trepidation was the least the young men of the British and Canadian regiments were feeling as they prepared to…

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  • Elfego Baca
    Elfego Baca asked:

    I would be interested in receiving a copy of Ian Gibson's poster of the WWl Doughboy. Thank you... Elfego Baca

    Jason Cobley
    Jason Cobley replied:

    Hi Elfego. Of course. All you have to do is let me have your postal address. You can email me at jmcobley AT gmail.com.