Jeremy York's novel Uneasy Sleepers was inspired by his own experiences in the Cold War

Written by Tony Millett on .

Jeremy York at St Peter's Church with 'Uneasy Sleepers'Jeremy York at St Peter's Church with 'Uneasy Sleepers'Marlborough resident Jeremy York has published Uneasy Sleepers - a 'darkish Cold War novella' based on his experiences as an Army officer gathering military intelligence in communist eastern Europe.

Published under the pen name JH Jorvik, Uneasy Sleepers shows how the Cold War, besides threatening the extinction of mankind, went about insidiously destroying the lives of countless individuals of goodwill.  Against the background of Cold War cynicism, chicanery, attempted subversion and paranoia, it tells the story of Stephen Yates.  "Paranoia", Jeremy York told Marlborough.News, "is almost the main theme of my book."

As the blurb puts it: "He may not know it yet, but Stephen Yates has a secret that could destroy his career, his life, and maybe even his country..."  We must not spoil the ending for readers.

It was the age when fear of nuclear war dominated many lives in Europe and beyond - and it is a fear that is reflected in several ways through the book with references to CND, 'mutual assured destruction' (or, aptly, 'MAD' for short) and the 'regional seats of government' - the bunkers from where, after a nuclear winter, civil servants could emerge to re-organise the remains.

The book is based on his own experiences - topped up with some detailed research. During his 28 years of service as a regular soldier in the British Army, he was for three years a ground operations officer with the British Commander-in-Chief's Mission to the Soviet forces in (East) Germany.  

Then for four years he was a military attach√© at the British Embassy in Warsaw - he speaks Polish fluently.  He has fond memories of his time in Warsaw and he and his wife make an annual visit to Poland to keep up with friends they made during the posting there.

In writing this fictionalised account of his time in Cold War eastern Europe, Jeremy York has been very careful only to use information that has already been published.   Military intelligence has a long memory when it comes to revealing secrets -  however old they are.

Major York served with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and in later years was assiduous in supporting former members of that regiment especially looking after the welfare of those members who had fought in the Second World War.  

After he retired, he and his wife Hazel moved to Marlborough in 2005 and for many years he has been chairman of the Jubilee Centre's trustees.   

In his other main volunteer role he is Constable of the Tower of St Peter's Church - responsible for the daily change of flags and standards that fly from its tower.   He also runs the tours to the top of the tower - a successful way to raise funds for the church and also a notable tourist attraction for the town. He was chosen as Marlborough's Citizen of the Year in 2011.

As a boy Jeremy York got to know the Marlborough area well.  Between the age of three and thirteen, he and his mother, who was a war widow, lived in Wiltshire - including for a time in Maningford Bruce.   The villages of Pewsey, Wilsford and Manningford Bruce feature strongly in some of Uneasy Sleepers' early chapters.

Uneasy Sleepers carries a very moving dedication to Maria Matlak who as a fifteen year-old was sent to Auschwitz - and survived.  She arrived at the Nazi death camp on 2 April 1943 - alone.

Visiting Auschwitz, Jeremy York spotted the photo of this terrified-looking young girl among the thousands of identity photographs that still exist as reminders of those dreadful times.

"The photo caught my eye - she didn't look fifteen - she was only four feet five inches tall - and was there alone.  I decided to use her as a model for a central character in the book."

Her photo only includes the last letters of her ethnic category: 'OLE' for 'POLE'.  'UDE' would have indicated she was Jewish - as in 'JUDE'.  She may just never have been registered by the Nazis as a Jew.

After the war, Maria never married, but had six children.  She died in 1980.  Jeremy York has been in touch with her eldest daughter and she is delighted that he has dedicated his book to her mother.

Why, I asked, did he decide to publish under a pen name? "The late John Creasey - a prolific writer - used Jeremy York as one of his many pen names - and the publishers thought that would lead to confusion on websites.  And Jorvik is the Viking name for the City of York."

The publishers thought JH Jorvik had a good ring to it - and it certainly does.  Perhaps they also thought it fitted well with the current spate of Nordic noir writers!

Uneasy Sleepers is published by Silverwood Books at £9.99 and is available at the White Horse Bookshop - as well as through various online booksellers.

FOOTNOTE:  If you look very closely at the tie Jeremy York is wearing in the photo above, you will see tiny images of the warning notices the Russians put up to try and keep 'prying eyes' away from places that were not covered by the agreed restricted areas.  These signs were not allowed under the agreements on access and were widely ignored...or even removed.