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The Fighting Mascot

The Fighting Mascot is a book my mother often talked about as I was growing up. It was a hardback book that her favorite uncle supposedly wrote in 1918 and published in New York. However, since he and his brothers were impoverished and more importantly, illiterate Liverpool boys from Everton Brow, it all seemed highly unlikely. Along with the fact he would be just seventeen at the time of this publication, I’d just joyfully listen to her sprouting stories as she cooked the tea or did the washing. As I grew up, I dismissed the issue as more of her ramblings.

That was until 1996, when I discovered my great-uncles book in a Chicago bookshop.

His personal account as a child-soldier in World War 1, was published in New York in 1918 – ten years before the most famous account, All Quiet on the Western Front, was published. Today, it still remains one of the only real-life accounts published before the end of the war. What later transpired was that my great uncle, aged fifteen when he enrolled, was one of the youngest soldiers to fight at Ypres.

Following injury, convalescence and an emotional meeting with King George V, my great-uncle in early 1918 joined the crew of a cargo liner sailing from Liverpool to New York. It was at the time that Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks were holding vast rallies raising money for the war effort. Fearlessly, my great-uncle joined in the fundraising by giving impromptu speeches on street corners alongside the Suffragettes about the war still raging away in Europe. It was also here that Ed Bacon, a writer for hire, heard his story and asked if he would ever write it as a book. My great uncle’s embarrassment lead him to ask Mr. Bacon to write while he dictated it. It became a book that an author could not even read. The Fighting Mascot, published under his own name, was dictated in New York in early 1918 as he turned seventeen, and published later that year.

Following injury, convalescence and an emotional meeting with King George V, my great-uncle in early 1918 joined the crew of a cargo liner sailing from Liverpool to New York

But he never got to see a copy of his book and my mother went through her life as the only person knowing and believing his story. Fostered-out aged twelve during WWII as the bombs fell on North Liverpool and families were routinely dispersed, she eventually shared a house with her uncle Tommy and his mother in Amelia Street near to Everton Brow. It was here that he filled in the blanks of the real story to his young niece. It was also at this house, during the 1941 May Blitz, that he remained in the house during the sirens and was killed by a direct hit from a parachute bomb. The following day my mother identified him within the rubble. He was  just 40 years old.

Our family story reads that my great-uncle Tommy was illiterate, my mother (his Niece) taught herself to read and write as the schools she attended were continually shelled, and myself as a product of the social policy after the war had a free education which took me to a Masters Degree. I constantly remind myself of the sacrifices by our ancestors within horrendous conditions that brought the working class both the welfare state and this wide-spread education. Eventually, I began teaching at universities in both England and the United States. It was while I was teaching that I came across The Fighting Mascot, that rainy day in a Chicago bookstore.

Tommy Kehoe

Since the internet arrived, I’ve discovered his book in some of the worlds most prestigious libraries – The British Library, The Widener Library at Harvard University, the Universities of Yale, Princeton as well as The New York Public Library – the steps of which he once told his stories and where I completed a novel of my own bringing the truth of our three generations into focus. Later, I returned to the Library of Congress in Washington where The Fighting Mascot was first registered in 1918 and recently digitized following a request by Microsoft archives.

That original, verbatim story that my great-uncle shouted from the steps of the grand New York Public Library was published as an adventure propaganda novel, glossing over the reality of a sixteen year old soldier in the final stages of The Great War. I thought it cried out for a deeper and more realistic version – to scrape further into the truth using his published book and my mothers fading memories. My version now lies with my agent in New York while I flit between the two cities attending to my mum who is now in her eighties. Last year she featured in a news story about the book and her incredible story of relaying the truth.

Carl Oprey and his mother at his great-uncles grave in Liverpool