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||Sept 1, 2003
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A delightfully rare Historical Novel. 85% a biography of a spy, musician, mother and her neice trapped behind German lines in World War I. This background led to a diplomatic post in World War II. Aged 92, Vera disclosed her past life one year before she died. She was my godmother. I was priviledged to have heard her story then realised it was still being written and the evidence was in the Arbroath Lifeboat house. It's a story to warm the heart. Let it warm yours too.
Synopsis of Operation Oboe (82017 words) by Miller Caldwell. A Brahms concert in Hamburg in 1912 leads to romance. An escape behind enemy lines and a traumatic voyage follow. A second eventful voyage began a diplomatic career in the Second World War in West Africa and revealed a dark family secret. Throughout these decades of conflict and strife an oboe plays unaccompanied. Its notes would linger to entertain an independent Gold Coast In an era when a growing number of women were appointed diplomats in many parts of the world, they were not employed by the British and Commonwealth Office until 1946. Fleur was oblivious to this discrimation and relished the challenge her unusual background gave her.
Wish a signed gift of this book? Contact mhcaldwell.btopenworld.com Also you are welcome to visit:www.millercaldwell.org to read the Reviews.
Just occasionally, you find yourself in touch with history. Such opportunities often lurk in innocuous beginnings. Yet if the interest is nurtured and explored at a steady pace, an intricate tale often emerges. For some, it is mere history. A lesson learned. For others, it is a reawakening. A lesson to extol.
For more than two decades, my godmother Vera and her Wiltshire husband Tim, had joined my parents to celebrate a Christmas meal each year with us in the manse. These were Glasgow days, in the fifties and the sixties.
Troon had been our home since 1983 and it was now our turn to host this four-layered generational gathering. Lunch was over. All had retired to the lounge. Then the soporific warmth of the fire, generated by logs recently gathered from Fullarton woods, ensured twenty winks was enjoyed by the older generations. Fiona and Laura had respected their need for a nap, but impatiently awaited their stirrings. In time, eyes opened, limbs stretched, wristwatches were consulted and Fiona took centre stage.
‘Lets play a game.’
‘We’d rather hear you play your violin, Fiona,’ challenged Tim.
The tattered violin case was opened with little enthusiasm. Her younger sister released the bow from its lid, then tightened the horse hair bow. Fiona played 28 bars of Dvorak’s Largo from the New World Symphony only making two errors, which showed more on her face than in the listening ears. Mild applause rewarded her efforts, but that was all that the audience was to hear.
‘Ok. Now, let’s play Trivial Pursuit. I’ll be on Uncle Tim’s team. Laura you can go on Aunt Vera’s.’
‘All right’ replied Laura, keen to be involved in her big sister’s planning.
Mutterings of …not being sure how to play…. were overcome by Laura. She had played the game twice, since her mother had opened this Christmas present, though never winning. Her enthusiasm cautioned any other detractors. Soon chairs were positioned around a glass-topped Ghanaian bubinga coffee table and the board lay opened. Laura placed a cushion on the Queen Mother’s Ashanti stool, and sat on it.
Fiona clarified how the game was played. Coloured wheels were lined up. No effort was made to give a choice of colour to the players. She distributed the yellow to Nana and Papa; the brown to Vera and Laura; the pink to Jocelyn; the orange to Miller and the green to herself and Tim. The game was underway.
Vera landed on History. ‘What blew up at Lakehurst, New Jersey on 6th May 1937?’ I asked.
Vera had no hesitation in replying. ‘The Hindenburg. It was an Airship, Laura.’
Four on the dice took them to Geography. ‘Which British islands are the farthest north?’
‘That will be The Shetlands.’
‘Well done.’ A single spot on the dice took her to entertainment.
‘What’s tattooed on Popeye’s arm?’
‘Oh…. I know…’ shouted Laura. ‘Its …um…er….spinach.’
‘Sorry’ I answered compassionately, ‘it’s an Anchor. Good try though Laura.’
The game proceeded with coloured pies appearing within wheels and a welcomed cup of tea was served by rotating non-playing members. The game was proving to be a success, though it was clear to see that categories of entertainment and recent sport questions were left to the minds of the younger generation.
Tim rolled the dice and glided his wheel anticlockwise. ‘No,’ shouted Laura ‘go the other way. Land on Geography. It’s a pie.’
‘I see,’ Tim realised his mistake. ‘Let’s hope it’s an easy one.’
‘Which two countries span the Brenner Pass?’
Tim looked towards the ceiling for a moment. ‘I’ve been there you know. I was there in 1920. It’s Italy and Austria.’
‘Correct. That proves that travel broadens the mind, Tim.’
Laura reached for the blue pie and placed it alongside the previously won art & literature, maroon pie. Their duo was doing well.
Then taking a deeper interest in his reply, Fiona asked why Uncle Tim was at the Pass. Tim recalled he had crossed the border from Austria into Italy, by going through the Brenner Pass whilst cycling with a friend on holiday but told Fiona, ‘If you want to hear a real adventure, ask Vera where she was when the First World War was declared.’
All eyes turned to Vera. She was very aware that she was the focus of the family’s sudden attention. ‘Well,….as a matter of fact…. I was in Germany. I was in Hamburg, staying with Aunt Fleur and her husband, when war was declared. I remember on 4th August 1914, feeling sorry for Fleur, because she was married to a German doctor. She had a remarkable life. Her story would make a good book some day. But at that time, they were more worried about me, especially as I was suddenly an enemy, facing capture.’
That evening in Berlin, the British Ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen, presented the ultimatum in an historic interview with the Chancellor. Hardly noticing the phrase that was to resound round the world, Goschen included it in his report of the interview. He concluded, that if for strategical reasons it was a matter of life or death for Germany to advance through Belgium, it was, so to speak, a matter of life or death for Britain to keep her solemn pact.
Britain’s declaration of war, coming immediately after Italy’s declaration, was seen as the last act of treason and infuriated the Germans. A large number surrounded the British Embassy, some began stoning the windows. Britain became over night, the most hated enemy. ‘Rassen –verrat’ – Race Treason was the favourite hate slogan heard that evening in the streets of Berlin.
‘So did you escape?’ Fiona asked excitedly. Laura sought the security of her mother’s lap. Vera began to recall the events 77 years ago.
‘I suppose I featured early in Fleure’s story. ….Let me tell you both stories……where should I begin? ……. It was such a long time ago.’
She sat up, repositioned the cushion which had slipped down her back, smiled at the girls and gave them the age-old preamble, ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ Both girls nodded silently. ‘Then I’ll begin.’
Vera was once again, a girl of 18.
OFF THE SHELF
At First glance, Operation Oboe would appear an historical novel. Delving deeper, however, it is much more: it is validation of the past.
It is a window through which we can view a time when ordinary people had the courage to do extraordinary things in exceptional circumstances.
It is a story that Miller Caldwell always felt that he should tell, about his brave Aunt Fleur and her niece Vera, in order to record forever their courage and heroism during the two Great Wars.
Miller skilfully recaptures events in 1914 when, in Germany at the outset of the First World War, a young Scottish girl who happened to be visiting relatives when the war was declared, is smuggled out of the country by courageous sympathisers.
Vera flees for her life but what of the fate of her Aunt Fleur and her other German relatives?
Aunt Fleur survives the experience of war in Germany under house arrest and goes on to give birth to a son.
During traumatic times in her life, not least the death of her husband, her love of music sustains her and her precious Oboe is always her trusty companion.
With her son grown up and absorbed into Hitler’s Nazi youth, Fleur finds that she is offered both a challenge and an exciting opportunity to travel.
This venture leads her on a fervent journey to the African Gold Coast, where she finds herself in the midst of the Second World War acting undercover as an anthropologist.
Her assignment is named “Operation Oboe”, thus initiating what will become an incredible mission of both diplomatic importance and personal enlightenment.
To record historic events and the lives of people that have shaped history for future generations, is a wonderful thing to do and Caldwell has recounted this particular story with an attention to detail that has obviously come from extensive research.
His prose and descriptions of colourful places are delightful and poignant moments are so sensitively expressed that I have to admit to at times being moved to tears.
So as I close the covers of Operation Oboe and heartily recommend it to you as an exciting, edifying read, I am left with this one thought: If Operation Oboe was to be made into a film then I wonder who would play Fleur? Perhaps Kate Beckinsale or Kate Winslett?
JH. Standard & Universal Newspapers.
Review of Operation Oboe
(82017 words) by Miller Caldwell
A family game of trivial pursuit was the conception of this absolutely brilliant historical novel.
One of the geography questions opens a flood gate of memories for Vera. The family sit round with silent enchantment as she recalls her own experiences and those of her aunt, Fleur.
Fleur is a music lover and an accomplished oboe player. She meets her German husband at one of the musical concerts and moves to live in Germany. The first part of the story tells of how Vera goes to stay with Fleur and the First World War breaks out. They all know that Vera is in severe danger and try to get her out of Germany and to safety. A series of traumatic journeys are explained with vivid attention to detail and suspense mounts.
The second part of the story dwells on Fleur’s experiences of war, her music and the birth of her son. Just prior to the Second World War, she is invited to take up a post in Africa. The boat trip alone is hair raising, a murder on board leads to much suspense
She is invited to play her oboe along with members of the ship’s company and some of the most wonderful strains of music are mentioned.
The research into this work has been painstaking and extensive, but well worth the obvious detailed effort. We learn of the Ashanti and the Twi language and many proverbs, we would do well to practice today.
World War Two sees Fleur on a mission, where she learns of many mysteries surrounding her family.
Her assignment acknowledges her flair for the oboe.
The whole book is steeped in historical events and I found it difficult to put down. My hope is that Miller Caldwell digs his heels in and treats us to another helping of such splendour.
Wendy Anne Lake – Novelist and Writer
Have You Seen My ..umm...Memory?
A bevy of excellent tips and advice is contained in this book.
We knew Miller Caldwell was a remarkable author, but he has now shown us a more than remarkable MAN.
Finding himself in the middle of such a dreadful condition, he has managed to deal with it in admirable fashion and even thought of the other poor victims. I know he has a wonderful family around him, but to share such a condition is so very thoughtful and downright selfless.
Do pick up a copy of this amazing story, peppered with a strong sense of humour, there is something for everyone whether suffering with this condition, or indeed any set of symptoms alien to everyday life. A story to help and humble and thank God for our own memories.
Wendy Anne Lake
Reviews for "Operation Oboe"
|Reviewed by Mohammed Atabo
|Operation Oboe reminds me of my grandfather's story in the Ethiopia and Burma during World War II. It touched not only the agression but the flipside of it entailing the subtlety and mortality of man. Very touching.|
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