To Win Just Once – story notes

German 77mm gun emplacement destroyed by New Zealand troops during the Battle of Messines, Belgium. Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders in June, 1917.

This Thursday, my first story for Commando Comics hits the newsstands and the Comixology app. I’m very proud of this story, titled “To Win Just Once”. I thought I’d put some notes here to give readers more information about the story.

The Struggle

The battle portrayed in this story is a real one. The assault on Messines Ridge was one of a series of battles fought around the town of Ypres. This was some of the most heavily contested territory of the war and the whole area was left devastated. You can read more about the battle in this article I wrote for War History Online.

The British Army in the First World War wasn’t just made up of people from Britain. Soldiers from across the empire and former imperial territories fought for the British. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand sent thousands of men to Europe. The Canadians were so feared by the Germans that the British created bluffs about where they were being fielded. Men from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) fought in some of Britain’s most difficult campaigns, including the disaster at Gallipoli.

One of the most dramatic details in this story is the explosion that destroys the German defences. This was also real. Engineers from the British Army dug twenty-one tunnels across no-man’s-land and filled the ends with a vast quantity of explosives. It’s the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in history. Two of the mines didn’t go off, and those bombs remained buried to this day.

The Soldiers

While the battle was real, the characters are not. I made up every single one, from frustrated infantryman Jimmy Wilson to Captain Chandler, the disdainful English officer. That said, they are meant as realistic portrayals of the soldiers present and their experiences. ANZACs really did suffer through the Gallipoli fiasco only to end up on the front lines. British officers were mostly from privileged backgrounds, and the respect they showed for their men, especially from the colonies, varied hugely.

I’ve based the general picture of the war on research I’ve done to write books and articles. Because of the bombardments, the area around Ypres was a hellish mess by 1917. The fighting was tough and brutal, bombardments heavy but ineffective. As a result, assaults were usually awful and futile for the attacking troops. Messines Ridge was one of the exceptions, as it was a success and the Germans suffered most of the awfulness.

I was inspired to write this story by reading about Messines Ridge for War History Online, and by Commando’s call for pitches about the ANZACs. I’ve written more scripts for Commando since, and am about to start writing for WHO again, so watch out for more announcements here. You can also get notice about upcoming comics, along with free fiction, but signing up to my mailing list.

The Song

And to end on an upbeat note, the title for this story is taken from a Saw Doctors song. I saw the Saw Doctors play live when I was seventeen, and it was one of the liveliest, most entertaining gigs I’ve ever seen. This song, with its positive message about enduring and finding your win, will be in my head forever. That’s no bad thing.