STARRED FEATURE: The Dandelion Clock by Rebecca Bryn

Bill, a farm boy brought up in a village on the Duke of Buccleuch’s Northamptonshire estate, is plucking up his courage to ask his sweetheart, Florrie, to marry him. Florrie has given up her dream of being a dancer to bring up her siblings and protect them from their violent, sexually abusive widowed father. For her, marriage to Bill is love, escape, and protection: a dream to be clung to.

When war breaks out in August 1914, Bill and Florrie’s dreams are dashed – Bill is sent with the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars, a yeomanry cavalry regiment, to fight in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine taking with him a horse, Copper, volunteered for service by the 7th duke’s young daughter, Lady Alice. Bill makes promises before he leaves: to marry Florrie if he survives and to bring his beloved warhorse, Copper, home safe to Lady Alice.


While Bill fights Turks and Germans in appalling conditions, Florrie fights her own war with rationing, poverty, the loss of her menfolk, and her father’s drunken temper. As the war proceeds, fearful and with her resilience faltering, her feelings of self-worth plummet, and she turns to her dandelion clocks for reassurance. ‘He lives? He lives not? He loves me? He loves me not?’

When Bill returns to England six months after the armistice in 1918, both he and Florrie have been changed by their personal journeys. Has their love survived five years apart and the tragedies they’ve endured? Can Bill keep his promises to Florrie and Lady Alice?

A heartbreaking story of lovers torn apart by the Great War. An insight into the military history of the 1914 1918 war in Egypt as fought by the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars and the Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry – some of the ‘PALS brigades'. At first thought, ‘not real soldiers' by the regular army, the Royal Bucks and the Worcester Yeomanry fought with great courage and suffered huge losses. In fact, the Worcesters sustained more losses than any brigade in any war, and the PALS earnt the respect of all those who fought. Although Military Fiction 1914 1918, it is a story inspired by real people and based on real events that doesn't forget the role of women in the Great War or their need for a WW1 romance.

‘A man determined to keep his promises. A novel you will never forget.

Rebecca Bryn has a consistent flair for scouring out your heart with her painfully honest accounts of heartbreak, loss and courage in the face of unspeakable horror, as I first discovered when reading Touching the Wire. I therefore should have known I would read much of The Dandelion Clock in tears, held to the insistent narrative by an aching empathy for all the people who came so vividly alive within its pages – only for some of them to become even more memorable by their tragic deaths. So often it was impossible to know what the eventual outcome for Bill and Florrie might be.

My grandfather came back from the front at the end of the First World War a changed man, so I was told. He took to drink and regularly beat his wife when he was drunk – something for which some of his seven children never forgave him. He would never talk about his experiences and unfortunately died of lung disease related to having been gassed in the trenches when he was only 63. I was 8 then, too young to know the questions to ask to unlock his trauma.

Reading The Dandelion Clock answered some of those questions and renewed my connection with my grandfather, as well as bringing it home to me that many of those boys sent off to war were the same age as my three grandsons shortly going off to university.

Rebecca Bryn’s descriptions of place and of the appalling conditions suffered are masterful. Let me give you some examples: ‘September, and a crescent moon hung in a Turkish sky and shone on dead men.’ ‘He shivered. The moaning of the wind in the trenches wailed like the tortured souls of dead men.’ ‘Rolling, turf-covered downs bejewelled with wild flowers…’ ‘The sin of war spread out across the world to engulf him.’ There is page after page of descriptions that took my breath away, brought further tears, and made those foreign landscapes utterly real.

But not only is this a novel that focuses on the hardships, loss and love between comrades-in-arms in appalling circumstances. It also speaks of the experiences of the families left behind to wait, often in ignorance, for brothers, sons and sweethearts who might never return. Bill is a man determined to keep his promises – to Lady Alice whose horse, Copper is as precious to him as anyone, and who he is determined to bring back to England at the end of the war; and to the two very different women who capture his heart.

Poor Florrie – the woman he is promised to – suffers the fate typical of so many working class women at that time, locked into unrelenting servitude in a family with a brutish, abusive father, trying to survive and scrape a living while her brothers endure the terrors and wounds to mind and body inflicted by war. My heart felt full of sadness for her, and for the impossibility of her life. Would her relationship with Bill survive?

Towards the end of the novel Bill turns to the last remaining of his comrades and reflects on the experiences of the past four years. “Best not to dwell on it,” he says. “It’ll send you mad.” Rebecca Bryn has been brave enough to dwell on it, and to offer us the opportunity to immerse ourselves for a while on the shameful, pointless ‘sin of war’ as Bill describes it. Read this book because you will rarely read another that moves you in quite the same way. Some books are good. This one is great. The author’s best to date. Totally compelling and unmissable.' – Goodreads.