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“Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie” by Hazel Barker


Review by Abigail Cobley.

This book is a true testament to his courage and convictions and I highly recommend it!

Too little is known about conscientious objectors’ roles in the Second World War and Hazel Barker does a terrific job of bringing the story of Clarence Dover to our eyes. To stand in front of a judge at the tender age of 20 in the midst of war and tell him that you will not fight is such a courageous decision. Clarence did so, and by joining the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, he went on to risk his life stretcher-bearing in the London Blitz. After this, he travelled to India and China where he helped transport medical supplies.

This book is a true testament to his courage and convictions and I highly recommend it!


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Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie by Hazel Barker

chocolatesoldieresHazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier will be released by Rhiza Press in October, 2016. Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind was released by Armour Books this month. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter  in Burma.

Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years in Burma, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.

Adults, especially those interested in history of World War Two, those with a strong stance on involvement in war versus conscientious objections, would be inspired by this book. There is a faith/beliefs struggle which some may identify with or be inspired.

‘Historical facts taken from diaries of a real person going through the trauma of war make this compelling and very impactful. Interesting historical and cultural information about Britain in war as well as aspects of war from Egypt, India and China. Captures the internal battle of a conscientious objector in war: the prejudice he faced as well as the questioning of his beliefs.’ CALEB unpublished Fiction Manuscript Report 12/4/2012



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More holidays in the UK and the Republic of Ireland

We could not keep away long from the land of Colin’s birth. We thought of the beauty of England, of the winding roads and hedgerows with its verdant fields and returned two years later.

I was enchanted with the green planes, buses and letter boxes. I had attended a school run by Irish nuns and loved their sense of humour. The speech of the Irish people I met, reminded me of my days with the missionary sisters.

We’ve always associated St. Patrick’s Day with green clothing, leprechauns and shamrocks. However, we never saw a leprechaun.

In a half-day tour of Dublin we viewed the Book of Kells at Trinity College, visited the crystal factory at Waterford and Kilkenny Castle, staying overnight at Killarney. In Cork we toured Blarney Castle, kissing the Blarney Stone and buying souvenirs from the Woollen Mills. Despite kissing the famous stone, neither of us obtained the gift of the gab, and we remained bashful and quiet as we always were.

‘Famine walls’ and ‘famine houses’, relics of the Potato Famine, were dotted all over Ireland.

The coach drive through the Ring of Kerry reminded us of the Snowy Mountains in Australia. We went on to Limerick, home of Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. Colin recalled his own poverty during his early days in Portland when his Dad worked for the Cockies and we lived in a shack with hessian bags as walls.

We travelled to Galway Bay and on to Knock, where we stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock.

We returned to Dublin after a week, and flew back to England.

Uncle Clarence looked slightly thinner, but still held himself tall and straight. He picked us up from our hotel and took us to meet my youngest cousin, Matthew, born since our last visit.

Using Nottingham as our base, we travelled to Matlock by rail and walked along the Limestone Trail to Abraham’s Heights. Returning via the Derwent Valley Walk on the Derbyshire Downs, we listened to the chatter of chaffinch. Bluetit and blackbirds regaled us.

While dining at the Magna Carta Hotel, Uncle Clarence, who was usually reserved about his past, spoke to us of his work in China during World War II.

‘When hostilities broke out in 1939, I registered as a conscientious objector and joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a Quaker organisation. I was based in the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province, near the Burmese border,’ he said.

He was still a pacifist and, although over eighty years old, he and his son, Paul, worked as ministers in the Church of Christ. The epitome of kindness, Clarence was always ready to do good for others. It was a pleasure to meet him each time we returned to England.

With regret, we said goodbye, little knowing he’d pass away in less than a year. Paul wrote, informing us of his death. In his e-mail, he attached the first few pages of Clarence’s unfinished memoir.

When I read it, I said, ‘I must complete his book for him.’

The result is my manuscript, The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie.

Our adventures took us to many points of interest in England before we boarded a plane at Heathrow to enjoy a wonderful week touring Italy.

I felt a tug at my heartstrings when we left for Brisbane, Australia. As the aircraft circled over the approach to the city I gave a contented sigh of relief and, looking down at the vast, open spaces, thought of our home—our Arcadia, our piece of heaven


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Excerpt from ‘Telegraph’, UK

Touching letters from WW2 soldier to his pacifist brother
One was a pacifist whose principles prevented him fighting in the Second World War, the other signed up took part in the gruelling campaigns to push the Germans out of North Africa and then Italy.

A letter from Douglas to Clarence Dover dated Sept 1 1943.
Now, letters between two brothers have emerged, almost 70 years after the conflict ended.
The correspondence was sent from Douglas Dover, serving in the Royal Army Service Corps, to his older brother Clarence, who had joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, a Quaker-run organisation with whom he was stationed in China.
The letters show the closeness of the pair, despite their different beliefs. Douglas, a driver, recounts his experiences in the heat of Africa coming under attack from the Germans, and then as his unit advances through Italy.
He described seeing an eruption of Vesuvius as “a marvellous sight with a column of smoke miles high with the base a mass of fire” and referred to Naples as “a city now famous for racketeers and filth.”
The brothers’ mother Ada died of a heart attack while both sons were overseas. Douglas wrote: “I know it will be a shock to you, I cannot believe it yet, or rather I can’t take it in yet. We lost the one who we all loved so much.”
When Douglas was granted a period of leave, in August 1945, he told his brother: “Only one thing is missing and that is that you will not be there, but maybe will we be together soon.”
On his arrival back home in Nottingham, he sent another letter telling Clarence: “Nottingham looks very much the same as when we left, but the girls seem to have lost all sense of moral control.”
The letters continue until May 1946, when Douglas was about to return to Nottingham again. The collection ends with the line: “Well C, I will not make this a very long one. For the folks do not know I’m coming … cheerio for now, my next letter will most likely be from home.”
Douglas died in 1989 and Clarence in 2001. The letters were found by Clarence’s daughter June Cobley, 61, from Beeston, Nottinghamshire. She said: “I am really proud of my dad for refusing to fight. I could not have done that at the age of 20.
“We never quite knew what his family’s reaction was at the time but I have a letter from his mother in which she said she was standing by him.
“She wrote to him: ‘I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that you have laboured for the benefit of peace’.
“My father did not talk about it much. In some ways, I think he was braver not to fight because of the pressure that was on him.”

See: The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie by Hazel Barker. Story based on Clarence Dover during World War Two.


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A Year in India

Clarence, a conscientious objector during World War Two, is stranded in India. He has volunteered to work for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in China, but dysentery holds him back. A year passes before he can fly over the ‘Hump’ via Japanese-occupied territory into China. Meanwhile, he experiences the changing seasons in India.

Calcutta 1943At first Clarence was dismayed at the sight of countless cesspools, drains teeming with rats, cow dung and human faeces on the roads. In time, however, he saw beyond the wretchedness and lost himself in a world of mystery where snake charmers kissed cobras, fire-eaters swallowed flames and sadus walked on live coals.
Around March, at the Hindu festival of Holi, Hindus in white clothes with bright red stains, danced and sang in a spirit of abandon. They threw coloured powder or water on others – their hair and clothes a mottled red.
As the year progressed, Clarence experienced the seasonal cycles within the vast continent. In March, a bank of dark clouds appeared. Violent winds tore up and tossed giant trees to the ground, stripping and carrying off top soil. Dust seeped through closed shutters, assaulting his eyes and mouth. His skin shrivelled and eyelids grew paper-thin. The earth became a breathless furnace. Perspiration beaded his forehead and ran in rivulets down his face. He consumed copious amounts of water with a teaspoon of salt, surprisingly refreshing on a hot day.
Even late in the evenings, the heat was stifling. Fans whirred above but he tossed in bed at nights. He slept beneath the fan and threw off his sheets. Perspiration drenched his pillow.
He found the dirt, dust and lust unbearable.
During the Unit’s first medical check in India, the doctor had warned, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get the clap,’ but needs outstripped caution and latent carnal cravings grew uncontrollable.
Some members of the unit visited the marketplace where pimps accosted likely customers.
‘You want boy? You want girl?’ the pimps asked. ‘Very beautiful. Very clean.’
Young Indian girls made themselves available.
At the end of the month, the sky turned to a pewter grey and trees appeared dark and solemn. Then a flash of lightning zigzagged across, followed by a clap of thunder. The first few raindrops sank into the dust, devoured by the thirsty earth.
‘Indra, the god of thunder, has loosened his arrows,’ Indians said.
The weather remained hot between bursts of rain, with humidity even more unbearable than the dry heat. The thermometer crept up and prickly heat covered everyone like a hair shirt. Soon, a dank odour arose in houses, shoes gathered mould overnight, and, in cupboards, clothes turned a mossy green.
One morning, a gale battered the windows and rain poured down in sheets during a coffee break at the office of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. Angus, a member of the unit, entered the room, holding a soggy newspaper. Wind swept papers off the desk, and his mackintosh shed pools of water on the floor.
‘The streets are like a torrent, and the basement has flooded,’ he explained, handing Clarence the mushy mess. ‘We’ll have to dry this before we can read it.’
Clarence relieved him of the papers. Painstakingly, he peeled off each page, laid them out on the carpet and, falling on his knees, he read the headlines:
Gusts of wind over a hundred and ten miles per hour tear down trees. Tidal waves break Hooghly River banks. Rice fields flood. Seawater flows into dams and rotting carcasses pollute them.
‘Well. Well. Get ready for emergencies, lads,’ Angus said. ‘We may soon be back on to ambulance duties doing the job we’ve been trained for.’

Nearly fifteen thousand people and two hundred thousand head of cattle perished in the floods and cholera epidemic that followed. India had already been short of rice when Japan occupied Burma. Soon after, the price doubled from its pre-war level and, by the middle of 1943, famine gripped the State of Bengal. The starving population moved from rural areas to urban centres, increasing the multitude of beggars already clamouring for aid.
His heart sinking at the sight of such suffering, Clarence joined four others from the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. They boarded a launch with medical supplies for the sick, and sped down the Hooghly River, hoping to bring some relief to the starving.
Normally half a mile broad, the river had broken its banks and flooded low-lying fields and villages. Families had taken shelter on the roofs but even these could be covered if the water continued to rise. Villagers shouted and clasped their hands together, begging for succour.
With a little toot in reply, the launch swept past.
A wave of pity overcame Clarence, but he realised that he was powerless to help. Stocked as they were with essentials, there was no room for anything or anyone else.
Corpses of cattle and men drifted towards the ocean. Flocks of vultures tore at the carrion. ‘They won’t starve from the famine,’ Angus said.
Clarence’s mind went back to his journey on SS Strategist, when bodies of his fellow countrymen had floated among the debris of torpedoed ships.

In October, when the golden hues of autumn turned into a fairyland of falling leaves in shades of red, orange and yellow, the famine was over. His thoughts flew home. It pained him to think of how well he ate while his family lived on meagre rations. A sense of guilt overcame him at first, but in his heart he knew his mother would never begrudge him the luxuries he could obtain.
He posted home some tins of butter and a dozen eggs that had been preserved in lime to prevent them from going off in transit.

At Ramadan, Muslims kept the strict Ramadan fast. Winter ushered in Dewali, the Hindu Festival of Lights dedicated to the goddess Kali. Clarence and his friends visited her temple, curious to know more about Hinduism. He marvelled at the differences between the two major religions. No wonder Muslims and Hindus often fought among themselves.
The atmosphere in the temple reeked with the stench of blood from animal sacrifices. Pilgrims queued before a half-naked sadu who held a bowl containing saffron-coloured powder and imprinted their foreheads with it.
Clarence paused before the black-faced deity who held a severed human head dripping with blood.
‘It’s not uncommon for humans to be sacrificed to Kali, even though the practise has been banned,’ his friend informed him. He’d been stationed in India for several years.
Clarence shuddered and turned green. ‘Their god is more like a devil, with her bloated tongue and ravenous mouth. This place gives me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.’
They left, revolted by the stench of blood.
That evening, Clarence only had a bowl of soup for dinner. The sight and smell of blood had made him lose every vestige of appetite.
At nights, during the five-day festival, buildings were illuminated, firecrackers spluttered, rockets streaked across the night sky and Hindus celebrated. They devoured rosgullas, a speciality of the city. Mixed with milk, wheat and lentils, the dessert was shaped into balls and fried, then drenched in sweet syrup.
Clarence indulged his palate and developed an instant liking for them. They slid down his throat. He loved the cloying sweetness of the reddish brown balls. As he bit into them, he recalled the high teas he had enjoyed on a visit to Scotland.
Would England ever return to normal?

Excerpt from The Chocolate Soldier:story of a conchie by Hazel Barker
Published in Carindale Writers’ Group ‘Seasons Anthology’ 2013

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