The challenge posed at our creative writing class: write a piece from the point of view of a minor character in a story or film. The character I decided on was a German soldier from the novel The Collaborator by Margaret Leroy. The story is set in Guernsey during the German occupation. It is told in first person by the central character, Vivienne de la Mare.
I read this book a few years ago and despite the woeful cover graphics I thought the story powerful and the writing excellent. The narrative contains wonderful imagery of the island scenery juxtaposed with the intensity of the occupation; the tension and emotional turmoil. It is one of the only books that have felt compelled, when only three quarters of the way through, to read the epilogue. I just had to find out the fate of the main characters!
While pondering on how to write my piece I was watching a TV quiz show. One of the questions posed was what an Epistolary was. I had no idea. The answer: a story written in the form of letters. An example is Dracula. This inspired me to write my piece in the form of a letter from the soldier to Vivienne de la Mare. I have tried to write the letter in character, using phrasing that I imagine someone would use writing in a second language.
6 May 1956
Dear Frau de la Mare
I am Hans Schmidt, the soldier who was under the command of Hauptmann Lehmann in Guernsey during the occupation. You may recall we once conversed in your garden; talked of the flowers, the weather, my cat at home in Hamburg; normal things in the midst of war. Then, at that time I was a young boy soldier of little experience of life.
Recently, I met, by chance, Hauptmann Richter, who is now a doktor at a hospital, local to me in Hamburg. He remembered me. He told me of his visit in 1946 to meet you in Guernsey to bring you the news that your friend Gunther Lehmann had died on the Eastern Front. He told me that it was you who had been sheltering the escaped prisoner Kirill in your house.
He said also that he explained to you that it was I, not Gunther, that betrayed Kirill to the OT after seeing the forced labourer in your garden. Knowing now that he had been, in his homeland Belorussia, a craftsman, a maker of violins, and that he was shot because of my actions fills me with sorrow.
Understand, please. As a fourteen year old boy I was, like many, a member of the Hitler Youth. At a rally in Hamburg I met the Führer. He stopped in front of me to remark on something, some neatness of my uniform perhaps. He looked at me and his eyes were mesmeric. From that moment I would have followed him anywhere. As we all foolishly did. We sowed a wind and harvested a terrible whirlwind. Only my cat was alive to greet me on my return, Frau de la Mare. The cat, only. Now, please believe me, I am a more enlightened man. And so, this letter has been most difficult to compose.
I write to seek your forgiveness. You were a friend to this man Kirill. A good friend when he had none.
My kind regards