(Great War Great Love #1)
by Ellen Gable
As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will her naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.
December 17, 1917
The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights, heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.
Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this “Great War.” The gentlemen that Julia knew seemed anxious to join, and Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.
In a few short weeks, it would be 1918. All of her father’s friends and acquaintances expected the war to end soon, hopefully before the middle of the year. But 1918 held far more significance for Julia. This would be the year that she would turn 21.
She approached Lit Brothers department store, admiring the display windows that were outlined with colored electric lights. Julia was thankful that it was Monday. If it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights (in support of the war effort) would mean the windows would be dark.
Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal. Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.
After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”
“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”
His eyebrows lifted. “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece. Don’t you agree?”
“Well, yes, I imagine he would. But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”
The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered. “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand. You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”
Julia sighed. She shouldn’t have said anything.
“Please just use the words I gave you.”
The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.
“How long will it take?”
“For the engraving? Ten days. Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”
“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman mumble, “Now there’s an odd girl. Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”
Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop. If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. streetcar, she would be waiting half an hour.
This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. Why hadn’t she met him yet? Some of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him. Yes, 1918 would also be the year that she would meet her beloved.
Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a delicate leaf embossed on the cover. The year before, she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic.
That first year, her mother suggested that she begin praying for her future husband. After a few weeks of doing so, Julia felt inspired to do more. It had been the week before Christmas, so she decided that she would buy or make him a Christmas gift each year until they met. With no job and no money that year, Julia knit him two pairs of socks, one blue-green and one green-brown, with finely-made yarn that her mother had given her.
The fact that she had made or bought gifts, and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband, had not pleased her father as he thought it too impractical and sentimental. Her mother, however, had declared that it was a beautiful gesture. Of course, if Mother knew how much she had spent on the most recent gift, she was pretty certain her mother wouldn’t be happy.
Q&A About Julia’s Gifts
What was the inspiration for Julia’s Gifts?
When I was a teenager, I yearned to meet my future spouse. It was difficult because most of my friends (and all of my siblings) had boyfriends. Since I looked very young, boys weren’t interested in me. I felt lonely, especially on Friday nights when all my siblings and friends were on dates, and I was home watching the Donny and Marie Show.
I began praying that God would “send me a man.” Until then, I prayed for my future husband. While I never actually bought a gift for him, I did write letters to him.
A few years ago, it occurred to me that it would be a beautiful gesture for a young woman to buy Christmas gifts for her future spouse. From that small seed, Julia’s Gifts was born.
Why World War 1?
I’ve always been interested in history and I knew very little about this war. I decided to focus the bulk of my research on the last year of the War (after the United States entered). Because I am American and my husband is Canadian, Julia is American and her future spouse (Peter) is Canadian. I read and studied many books and researched online for three years before actually sitting down to write the novel.
Why is the name of the series Great War Great Love?
I owe my gratitude to the son of a friend of mine, Ian, for coming up with the title. The reason for the title is that World War 1 was called the “Great War” by the Allies before the USA entered the war, and is still often called the “Great War,” by British, Canadians and Australians. And Great Love because there are many examples of how couples met and fell in love during times of war.
The sonnets/poems in this story are beautifully written. Tell us a bit about them.
Well, I’m not a poet, but my husband has written songs and poems. So I asked him if he would be willing to write sonnets for my book. I explained in detail what I needed the sonnet to express and he took it from there. The sonnets are a beautiful addition to this novel, especially because my husband wrote them.
Can you tell us about the next two books of the series?
Yes. Charlotte’s Honor is Book #2 and takes place at approximately the same time as Julia’s Gifts, but focuses on a different female protagonist, Charlotte, who finds her purpose in life when she begins working in the death ward and holding men’s hands as they die. She is attracted to Canadian Dr. Paul Kilgallen. During an advance by the enemy, everyone at the field hospital evacuates, except for Charlotte and Dr. K. They remain hidden in the basement of the chateau to take care of the terminally ill men and those soldiers who can’t be moved. Charlotte becomes convinced that Paul is her own “beloved.” But when she loses contact with Paul, she fears not only for his safety, but begins to doubt his love for her. Charlotte’s Honor will be released in late 2018.
Ella’s Promise is Book #3 in the series. It is about the daughter of German immigrants, Ella, an American nurse who (because of the time period) was discouraged from continuing on in her studies to be a doctor. She works as a nurse for three years in Philadelphia but reads medical books every opportunity she gets. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own beloved in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.
This is very different from your other books in that it is a very clean romance and can be read by young teens to elderly women to middle-aged men. Was that a conscious choice?
Yes, it is very different and no, it wasn’t a conscious choice, at first. When I came up with the story and as I was gradually developing the characters and plotlines, it made the most sense to keep this a “sweet” and “clean” love story that anyone can enjoy. It is, however, a war novel, so there are descriptions of war injuries.
How do you find time to write?
The question really is: when do I feel inspired to write? I work for a non-profit organization, and I run a micro-press publishing company. I also write articles for various websites. Some authors can force themselves to write a short novel (say, during November, national novel writing month). However, for me, I need to be inspired. For some strange reason, January is always a rich writing month for me. When I’m inspired, writing comes easily.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
My favorite Catholic author is Dena Hunt (author of Treason and The Lion’s Heart), but I also enjoy reading Willa Cather’s books (Death Comes For the Archbishop). Dena’s books are incredibly well-written and moving. Cather’s books are well-written and rich in meaning.
And while this may seem biased, I enjoy reading books by all the Full Quiver Authors. I also enjoy the books of the authors who are fellow members of the Catholic Writers Guild.
One of my favorite secular authors is Nelson DeMille (author of the John Corey series). I also enjoy reading Kathleen Morgan’s Christian historical novels.
About Ellen Gable
Ellen Gable is an award-winning author, Marketing Director for Live the Fast, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. However, the roles she loves the most are being wife to her husband and mother to their five sons, ages 18-30. Originally from New Jersey, Ellen lives with her husband of 35 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario Canada.
Find Ellen at: