Jonathan Doering has now contributed three stories from his series about a German invasion of Britain in WW2, so it’s about time we heard a bit more about him. His story Battalion 202: Rotten Parchment Bonds appeared in Alt Hist Issue 5, and the previous stories appeared in Alt Hist Issue 4. Here’s some more from Jonathan.
Three stories from your series Battalion 202 have now appeared in Alt Hist. Can you tell us what’s next in store for the people of Pontefract?
Unfortunately, things are going to get far worse before they start getting better. The Nazis have been gradually consolidating their power, as they would have done in reality had they successfully landed in Britain. The next story, “The Sheep and the Goats”, again focuses on the local police officer Harold Storey and his growing awareness of the sinister aspects of the Nazi project, and how he reacts to this. The next story that I’m working on now deals again with the local Auxiliary Unit which has a traitor in its midst.
What’s the historical background for your story? Was there really an organisation called Battalion 202?
Yes, there really was an organisation called Battalion 202. In 1941 there was a growing realisation in Britain that Hitler intended to invade Britain. Churchill ordered for a nascent resistance movement to be organised against that possibility, with the umbrella title of ‘The British Resistance Organisation’. The spine of this organisation was to be dozens of Auxiliary Units, teams of between four and eight men who had been trained in clandestine warfare and who were to go to ground as the Nazis swept over Britain. They were actually supposed to focus on sabotage and interference rather than fighting and assassination, but there is little doubt that there would have been a lot of violence, both on their parts and that of the German occupiers. Administratively, they were organised into three battalions: 201 covered Scotland, 202 the North of England, 203 the South of England. AUs were established in Wales, but were not organised under an overarching title as in other parts of Britain. Their uniforms were ordinary Home Guard uniforms, apart from the shoulder patches which identified their Battalions – although the numbers would have been meaningless to anyone not in the know. George Orwell, with his experience of front line warfare in Spain, was involved in training AU volunteers in London. Many of these men served from D-Day onwards in the regular army.
There were also “observers”, civilians who had been trained to gather intelligence which they would then pass on via intermediaries to radio operators. These operators would transmit the intelligence to AUs in the locale, which would then plan attacks. Finally, there were deep-level agents, members of local and national government and the civil service, primed to apparently collaborate with the Nazis, who would also be sending intelligence out to the Resistance and doing what they could to frustrate the Occupation. These people were known as “the other side” and would have walked a daily knife edge as well. Although some members of the AUs have been identified, as far as I know no one in the “the other side” has ever been made known to the public. They would have all been taking appalling risks for their communities and their country, and in researching and writing these stories, I’ve heaved several sighs of relief that history spared us the horror of occupation. So, yes, there was such an organisation, and they really were told that in the event of the Nazis arriving that they could expect to live for fourteen days.
For our readers not familiar with Pontefract, can you tell us a bit more about your home town?
Truth to tell, I’m a bit of an interloper, not being a native of Pontefract. I was born in Stockport and as a child lived just South of Manchester. My father was an engineer, so we moved with his job. When I was eight we went to North Berwick, near Edinburgh, and when I was thirteen we moved to Southport, near Liverpool. Since leaving home and taking my degrees, I’ve lived and worked in Japan, France, Norwich, Oxford, London,… and now Ponte! Pontefract is ace! It’s a market town of about 30,000 inhabitants. Previously it relied heavily on mining, and retains quite a bit of farming. There is still a sweet factory (one of its products is the world-famous liquorice Pontefract Cake). Pontefract is a fairly tightly-knit community which has weathered a lot over the years. Its castle was where Richard II was imprisoned and died, and where Richard III was declared king. It was also besieged during the Civil War by Cromwell’s Roundhead forces (if you look at the town crest that I use on the Resistance newspaper, it includes the town’s motto: Post mortem patris pro filio – Latin for “After the death of the father [Charles I] we are for the son [Charles II]”). It occupies a central position, being fairly central in the island of Britain if you look at the map, as well as central to the North and to Yorkshire, which means that although it was and is relatively small; its strategic significance has led to its involvement in several historical developments. It also meant that I could imagine the Nazis being keen to establish themselves here.
I met my wife whilst I was teaching in North London, which is another lovely place, but my wife prefers to visit London rather than live there, so being a Northerner I started to look for teaching jobs in quieter, leafier climes North of Watford Gap. The job I have now came up, so we moved here. Pontefract is a hard-working, good-humoured place to have fetched up in and I think we’ll be here for quite some time to come.
How did you get into writing?
I think many writers are similar in that they have always felt an urge to write. When I was young (five or so), one of my aunts visited us from Canada. I was already making up little stories in my head and playing around with words, and one day she had me tell her a story, which she wrote down and then read back to me. That sense of pleasure from making up stories stuck with me and I carried on doodling away. In school I wrote Science Fiction stories for fanzines that some friends were printing, and at university got involved in the campus newspapers and magazines, and so on.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Be with my family, day dream, teach English at a sixth form college, read as much as possible, listen to music (Folk, Jazz and Classical mainly), watch films (just watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid again for the first time in twenty years, and it’s still brilliant!), attend my local Quaker Meeting, dig over our allotment, go walking….
Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?
Beyond Battalion 202, I’m mulling over a story set during the witchcraft trials in Seventeenth Century Scotland, which I first heard about when I was growing up there, so that would be interesting to return to. I’m also thinking over a short comic play about allotment holders, just for a bit of a change! I used to write comic sketches for my friends to act in at school, so it would be good to have another go at that kind of writing. On top of that I’m hoping to write about Quaker communities in Prague and Budapest for the national Quaker magazine, The Friend.
What are your ambitions as a writer?
To keep writing and getting my work read! I enjoy writing short stories and articles, so that’s where a lot of my energy goes. I have an ambition to communicate with other people about the things that I find exciting, interesting and important. If someone enjoys reading something I’ve written, and also gets something useful from it, that’s fantastic. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed developing a series of interlinked short stories in Battalion 202 – it’s been very challenging and rewarding. I hope that people who have read the stories have enjoyed them and are looking forward to more – please do keep reading!