I was offered the chance to post an excerpt of Last Christmas in Paris and even though I haven’t read it, yet (I can’t wait!) the excerpt made me want to read more. Pretty much anything set during WWI is going to get my attention! Before you read, here’s a little bit about the book:
LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS shares the story of a spirited young journalist and a bookish soldier headed off to war. As the months of war slip into years, Evie Elliot and Lieutenant Thomas Harding’s lives become bound together by the letters and stories that travel between them.
Last Christmas In Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor, Heather Webb
Published by William Morrow on October 3, 2017
August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.
But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…
Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?
Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…
From Thomas Harding to his father
10th September, 1914
I write to you from the Officers’ Training Corps at Oxford. I’ve done it—I’ve joined the army—so I might serve our country in these great times and prove myself an honourable citizen, just as you did during the South African War. You returned as a hero, and I wish to live up to your legacy, at least in this way. There is a real sense of adventure here, a feeling that enlisting is the right thing to do. So many men have applied for a commission with the old Bugshooters that they’ve had to speed up the application process. No more aiming at flies on Christ Church Meadow! This is serious business now.
I am troubled by how we left things the last time I saw you. Two grown men, especially family, shouldn’t shout at each other to settle things. I know you want me to take the helm at the newspaper, but we are different people, Father. I hope one day you will understand my passion for scholarship. To become a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world is nothing to scoff at, though I know you disagree. At least by taking an active role in the war I won’t disappoint you. War makes equals of us all. Isn’t that what you once said?
Will Elliott signed up as well. In fact, we’ll be in the same regiment. I thought you would be glad to see me placed with my closest friend. All believe the war will come to a speedy end, so you might expect me home by Christmas, and we can talk again then. I’m certainly looking forward to a swift victory and yuletide cheer.
Sending good wishes, Father. I will be thinking of you in battle.
From Evelyn Elliott to Will Elliott
12th September, 1914
Mama told me about your enlisting. I expected nothing less, and wanted to send a few lines to let you know how incredibly proud we all are. The British Army will be lucky to have you. Finally, you’ll have a chance to bring back some medals of your own to add to the family collection. Papa is all puffed up with pride, as I’m sure you can imagine, although I’m afraid he doesn’t expect you to see much action. He expects it will be over before you’ve even got to your training camp. While I know you will be eager to do your bit, I hope Papa is right.
I hear Tom Harding also enlisted. You two always were inseparable, and if you must go to war then I am glad to know that your greatest friend will be with you. If this were a battle of wits and intellect, the British Army could not wish for two finer recruits, although I can hardly imagine Tom Harding rushing into battle with a rifle and bayonet. I suspect he would far rather write a thesis about it than participate in it. Keep an eye on him. You know how stubborn he can be at times.
Papa is still livid about the suspension of the last two matches of the County cricket championships, especially with Surrey on course to win again. He says September without cricket is
like December without snow—it just doesn’t feel right. Poor Papa. I think he feels rather left behind with all the younger men heading off to war.
Write a few lines now and again, would you? You know how Mama fusses.
From Will Elliott to Evelyn Elliott
15th September, 1914
Many thanks for the vote of confidence—Tom and I are bristling with something like excitement, though that isn’t quite the word. Josh and Dean are here, too, and Bill Spry; the whole College almost, off to vanquish the enemy. The bloody Krauts won’t know what hit them.
Be good to Mama and Papa while I’m away. None of that mischief you’re so fond of stirring up, do you hear me? I won’t be there to bail you out.
With all good wishes,
From Evelyn Elliott to Thomas Harding
1st October, 1914
Dear Thomas Archibald Harding,
(I’m sorry—I couldn’t resist the opportunity to poke a little more fun at your recently discovered middle name. How on earth did you keep that a secret all these years?)
I am really quite hopeless. You, Will, and the rest of the boys are gone less than an hour and already I find myself bored and restless. So much so that I am at Will’s writing desk, penning my first letter to you. After all, I did promise to write soon, and you know how much I hate to break a promise (you may yet regret complaining of having no female relations to write to you). You know I have a dreadful tendency for overenthusiasm and I’m afraid this war may bring out my very worst best intentions. Can you ever forgive me for sending you into the Cherwell with my overzealous punting? If I catch the post this afternoon, it is entirely possible my letter will arrive at your training camp before you do (and I give you full permission to claim it is from your sweetheart and be the envy of everyone there).
You won’t be surprised to know that I envy you and Will, heading off on your grand adventure, just as I envied you when you returned to Oxford after the long vacation. It seems I must always be the one to wave you off and stay behind but I live in hope that one day I’ll be the one heading off somewhere exciting. I suppose a girl can dream.
It was a lovely crowd to see you off, wasn’t it? Some of the women were inconsolable, but I retained my composure, as did Mama. We are terribly proud of you all and can’t wait for you to return as heroes—although, in all honesty, you looked more like a group of nervous bachelors heading to their first tea dance than a troop of soldiers heading to war. No doubt you’ll look the part once you have a rifle in your hand. Send a photograph if you can. I should like to see what Thomas Archibald Harding looks like as a proper soldier.
Alice says I’ll have to find a way to divert myself while you’re gone. I have a mind to take up a new hobby. Golf, perhaps. Or maybe I’ll dust off Will’s bicycle and join the local ladies’ bicycling club. In any event, they say the war will be over by Christmas and then all I’ll have to worry about is how to survive another weary afternoon of cribbage with Mama and her friends.
If you have time to respond between drills and polishing your boots, it would be nice to know where you are and what you are doing. If I cannot go with you both to France, you will have to transport me there with your words.
Evelyn Maria Constance Elliott