STILL battling the overwhelming grief of losing his mother, Simon Worrall was undertaking the painful but necessary task of going through her belongings when he encountered the box.
It was in the attic; a small cardboard box decorated with roses and inside, in tightly-knotted bundles indicating a treasured possession, were a series of letters telling a story of the love between his mother and a soldier from Beaconsfield who went to France in January 1940 and never came back.
At that time, the Nazis were sweeping all before them and 2nd Lieutenant Martin Preston’s regiment, the Ox and Bucks, had the task of forming a perimeter around Dunkirk in an attempt to hold back German troops while the evacuation was completed.
A few months after embarkation, Martin’s letters to his true love suddenly stopped and he was never heard of again. In those dark days of wartime censorship and the painstaking process of establishing facts about individual casualties, Simon’s mother found it impossible to discover Martin’s fate.
Now Simon, a freelance journalist living in Longtown, Abergavenny has written a book about the epic search to discover the fate of the man whose picture stood on his mother’s dressing table for the rest of her life.
The Very White of Love, published by HQ on June 14th, tells the story of the discovery of the letters and Simon’s detective work in tracking down Lieutenant Preston’s final days.
While Simon had always been aware of Lieutenant Preston’s existence, just how much he had meant to his mother had remained what he describes as ‘A secret hiding in plain sight’.
A nephew of the war poet, Robert Graves, Martin Preston had apparently spent much of his childhood with his Aunt Dorothy. At the age of ten, Simon’s mother took him to meet the lady at her home, Whichert House, near Beaconsfield and he recalls the ‘vibe’ of that meeting.
‘There was an atmosphere, lots of emotion was crackling around as if we were all bathed in this glow of love.’
Multi-lingual Simon has travelled to more than seventy countries during a journalistic career which has seen him filing for the Guardian, The Times, GQ and National Geographic, The Very White of Love is his first fact-based novel.
He is keen for his home town to get an early taste of the story and is planning a local reading at the end of June. He told the Chronicle, ‘Abergavenny is now the centre of my world, I play tennis for the local club and I am always in and out of town.’
Anyone wanting to hear more of Simon’s moving story of lost love can meet him at the reading on Saturday, June 30th at noon in Waterstones, High Street, Abergavenny.