Epic. Enthralling. Evocative.

Book 2 of
"The Muskoka Novels"

by Gabriele Wills

 Elusive Dawn by Gabriele Wills
Cover photo by Melanie Wills
Cover design by dubs&dash

Elusive Dawn

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The author and her daughter enjoying May sunshine on the Riviera. That's what I call research! But look what we found....

... It's Cousin Bea's private cove on Cap D'Antibes!

These are the dunes near Calais where the WATS camp is located. They're higher than they look in the photo. And I can attest to the power of the wind!

The beach at Cap Blanc-Nez. This is where Ria rides, and where the Cavalry races were held in Chapter 3.

The tide's out at Wimereux. See page 124 in Elusive Dawn.

Ria watches John McCrae ride along this river valley, under the arches of the viaduct. See page 125.

It was an appropriately grey day when we visited the impressive Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae's grave in the Wimereux cemetery is deeply moving to visit. His funeral is described on page 489.

This Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Etaples is the largest in France with 10,773 WWI graves. One can't walk through these cemeteries without being awed and saddened and humbled by the enormity of the sacrifice that these mostly very young people made for King and Country.

Another view of the same cemetery. Those who died in the hospital bombings in May 1918 are buried here. The grave of one of the Canadian Nursing Sisters is at the right, with a doctor from the same hospital beside her, in the middle.

Like the characters, we always come back to the healing powers of our beautiful lakes.

To me this is the quintessential picture of veranda life at the cottage - grandmother reading to the women and children. This photo was taken in Muskoka in 1905 by renowned photographer Frank W. Micklethwaite.

And when you wanted something less sedate, you indulged in water sports with your friends. Here's another Micklethwaite photo from 1909.

Click on the links on the left to visit websites relevant to the novel, and explained on the right. Note that each link opens a new browser window.


The former home of the Astors is now a luxury hotel. If anyone has stayed there, I'd love to hear about the experience! Notice the painting of Nancy Astor on the far wall beside the fireplace in the drawing room. It was painted by John Singer Sargent in 1909.

Nancy Astor

Here's a closer look at that painting. Although American, Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in British Parliament - something that I'm sure will come out in Book 3! She sometimes had heated discussions with Winston Churchill, one of the most famous quotes being, "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee." Whereupon Winston replied, "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

The Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Cliveden in WWI

This hospital began in the Astors' indoor tennis court and bowling alley, but was soon expanded. It was popularly known as "Taplow" for the nearby village. Nancy Astor (who didn't become Lady Astor until 1919) was renowned for visiting the men and cajoling them into getting well. Taplow was used in WWII as well, and remained a hospital after that war until recently. My grandfather-in-law was treated there once.

Cherkley Court

Picture yourself enjoying a country house weekend at Max Aitken / Lord Beaverbrook's country estate, along with the Kiplings, the Churchills....

The Randolph

You can stay at the Randolph in Oxford, like Ria and Chas did.

Hotel du Cap / Eden Roc

Or here, if you have pots of money. It's a fabulous setting on Cap D'Antibes, and caters to the rich and famous. People like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Picasso stayed here in the 1920s. It wasn't until that time, when the Americans discovered it, that this hotel was open in the summers. The south of France was considered too hot, so the Riviera had been only a winter destination. Ironically, this hotel now closes for the winter!

Kurhaus Hotel

Rafe stayed at the Kurhaus Hotel on the beach in Scheveningen, Holland. It's still an impressive place.

The Royal Muskoka Hotel and Muskoka History

This wonderful Ontario Visual Heritage Project explores the history and mystique of Muskoka. For pictures and information about The Royal Muskoka Hotel - the model for my Grand Muskoka - see Chapter 13, "The End of an Era", under "Stories". Lots to see here when you have the time to enjoy it.


The FANY is still an active volunteer organization. As mentioned in my Notes, the WATS are heavily based on the FANYs and their experiences in the Great War, including the ammunition dump explosion at Audruicq, the dive off the Calais pier, horse races on the sands, teas, dances, and theatricals. One FANY, seriously injured in a bombing, crawled to get help for the men in her ambulance, receiving several medals for her bravery.

For a first-hand account of life as a FANY, read Fanny Goes to War, by Pat Beauchamp - she was the one who lost her leg in a crash with a train, and also encountered the Prince of Wales sauntering along a Boulogne street. She was also offered a flight by an Ace pilot - which was defintely against the rules - but he was killed in a crash the following day. Another FANY (the equivalent of Boss) disguised herself as a pilot and socialized for several hours in an officers' mess without being detected as a woman.

Ria's Car

Here is a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

Ria's Ambulance

Scroll down the page to the Rolls Royce Ambulance to see what Ria was driving. It's the first one shown under "Motor Ambulances".

Chu Chin Chow

In London, pretty well all the troops saw the astonishingly successful musical "Chu Chin Chou" at least once. It ran for 5 years, and my husband's grandfather mentions seeing it, in his memoirs. Daring costumes for the day!

Brontë Moors

Top Withens is thought to be the model for Wuthering Heights. This scene is described on page 215.

Avro 504

This is the aeroplane in which Ria learned to fly.


Here is Chas's S.E.5 .


Rafe was still flying the Nieuport, which Chas flew in Book 1.

Lt. Col. Billy Bishop

Canadian pilot Billy Bishop was Britain's top ace with 72 victories.

Lt. Col. John McCrae

Here is the renowned doctor-soldier-poet who is the author of the famous poem "In Flanders Fields". During our visit to Ypres (now Ieper), Belgium, I was astonished at how well known he is there - probably even more so than in his home-town of Guelph, Ontario.

McCrae House Museum

John McCrae's birthplace in Guelph, Ontario is now a small museum dedicated to him. Many Europeans visit here.

Lady Diana Manners

(TIME sometimes throws in an ad first, but you should eventually see a TIME cover depicting Lady Diana.)

The Lady Di of her day, Diana Manners was considered to be the most beautiful young woman in England. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, hoped that she would marry the Prince of Wales. She worked as a VAD nurse during the war, which she wrote about in her memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. Her mother in particular was very much against that, as Diana reported, "She explained in words suitable to my innocent ears that wounded soldiers, so long starved of women, inflamed with wine and battle, ravish and leave half-dead the young nurses who wish only to tend them." The Duchess gave in, but "knew, as I did, that my emancipation was at hand." Diana goes on to admit, "I seemed to have done nothing practical in all my twenty years." Nursing plunged her and other young women - like Zoë - into a life-altering adventure.

Boat and Heritage Centre

You can see classic boats anytime at this wonderful museum in Gravenhurst. You can also go for a cruise on a restored steamship, the Segwun, or on the Wenonah II, a modern replica. You'll experience just what the characters did when they arrived at Gravenhurst by train and took a steamer to their islands, including dining aboard, if you choose. I've often thought it would be fabulous to have a "book launch" cruise on one of these!

Antique & Classic Boat Society

If you want to see some of the wonderful old boats, like Ditchburns, Minetts, Greavettes, Dippys, and so forth, be sure to visit the annual Antique and Classic Boat Show in Gravenhurst, Muskoka. I'll be there, too, selling books, so stop by for a visit!

Canadian War Memorials Fund

See some of Lord Beaverbrook's collection of over 1000 pieces of war art from WWI.

Film Footage

This film depicts the mass burials for those killed in the hospital bombings of Etaples on May 19, 1918.

WWI Film Clips

Other WWI films can be seen on this National Film Board site.

VC Aviator

I find this story so incredible and tragic that I think everyone should read it. I came across Alan McLeod while doing research at the War Museum Resource Centre and read through his papers and letters. His ordeal still haunts me. If I had used his story, no one would believe it!

Canadian Letters & Images Project

A great way to learn about the past is through letters and diaries. There's no one like the person who lived through an experience like WWI to enlighten us.

Love and War

These letters from Dr. Harold McGill to his sweetheart, who became his wife during the war, make fascinating reading. His journal is also interesting, and included in my bibliography.

Oral Histories

Listening to people's stories gives us an even more immediate connection to the past.

Nursing Sisters

Discover more about Canadian nurses' contributions to the war.

More About Nurses

See more about Canadian nurses on this British website.

Halifax Explosion

Canada experienced the full horror of war on home turf with that tragic explosion. Despite four years of bombings in England, more civilians died in Halifax than in Britain.

Canadian Aviation Museum

You can see some of these planes at the museum in Ottawa - a great place to go if you're interested in aviation.

Canadian War Museum

The new War Museum in Ottawa is well worth a visit.

War Medals

Check out the various British war medals.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

If you have relatives who died overseas during the war, you can find the exact location of his or her grave on this site. We visited my husband's great uncle's grave. He died in the Battle of Loos, aged 21. In his photo, clad in his officer's uniform, he looks heartbreakingly young.

Great War Forum

If you're really interested in the Great War, you can become a member of this forum. Lots of very knowledgable people participate. Be forewarned that it's addictive! I finally had to stop reading the new posts every day or this novel would never have been finished! My sincerest thanks to all those "Pals" who so readily offered their expertise on obscure bits of information.

During my four years of work on the first two Muskoka Novels, I did so much research on the Great War that I feel I just can't leave it all behind without sharing some of the more intriguing and surprising facts. Visit my website 4yearsofWW1 for more information on WW1.

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Thanks for dropping in!
Gabriele Wills


Copyright © 2008 Gabriele Wills, Photos Copyright © 2008 Melanie Wills and Copyright © 2008 Gabriele Wills