The real Brigsie Paterson was a wartime friend of my mother’s. She wasn’t a Land Girl, she was a VAD. I remember her as a strong and independent woman. When I was creating Brigsie for A Dangerous Act of Kindness, hers was the face I had in mind.
The real Brigsie didn’t have a secret like the one in my book. My Mum met her at Boyce Barracks where they were both being trained to serve overseas. They instantly clicked and stayed chums all through the war and for the rest of their lives.
When they were out in Graz, Brigsie fell in love with a doctor called Mike Sutton. He was in charge of the Blood Transfusion Service and was known as ‘Blood Sutton’. They shared a love of riding. One Christmas, Mike rode his horse through the hospital, blasting away on his hunting horn to wish Brigsie a very Happy Christmas.
Unfortunately for Brigsie, Mike had a wife waiting at home. One evening in Graz, my Mum was in her bedroom and she heard a hunting horn playing Gone Away. She rushed off to find Brigsie and said, ‘Isn’t that Mike out there at the edge of the forest?’ Brigsie said, ‘Yes. He’s playing Gone Away. It means he’s leaving.’ He was demobbed the next day and she never saw him again.
Brigsie didn’t marry. After the war, she found a new life, farming in Limuru, Kenya. In many ways, she became the Land Girl of my story. I rather think my fictional Brigsie would have done the same sort of thing when the war was over.
My mother and father married and settled in Hereford. They named their first boxer dog Graz, after the town where they’d fallen in love. In 1949, Graz had a litter and one of the puppies, Ranee, was sent out to Brigsie.
When Brigsie retired, she came back to England and settled in Southampton. I visited her during the 1980s and remember that her house was filled with exotic pottery and carvings from her time abroad. I wanted to pay homage to her in A Dangerous Act of Kindness as a thank you for all the wonderful stories and wartime adventures that she had with my Mum.