Glory by Rachel Billington
|Glory by Rachel Billington|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: The ravages of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and the lives of those left behind at home are brought to us as a commemorative tribute. It works well overall, although it feels as if the passion has been poured into the campaign and auxiliary services, rather than the home front.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 544||Date: April 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
Sylvia Fitzpaine comes from a titled family with all the advantages of class that the aristocracy can offer in 1915. These are grossly troubled times though, with men including her father the Brigadier General and her fiancé Arthur away at war. The Brigadier General seems safe at the moment in Cairo but Arthur has been sent into the thick of it. He sits in a ship awaiting embarkation just off the coast of a little known Turkish region, the very name of which will one day summon images of terror and ill-thought-out tactics. Arthur is on his way to Gallipoli.
Celebrated British author Rachel Billington comes from an aristocratic family in the senses of both heritage and literature. Rachel is daughter of Lord Longford, sister to Antonia Fraser and her mother, Elizabeth Longford, has a historical fiction prize named after her. In the case of Glory ancestry is important to Rachel as the novel has been written in tribute to her grandfather, Brigadier General Thomas, Earl of Longford who died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
One hundred years ago the campaign itself was to be one of the allied strategists' greatest moments. Planned by people like Winston Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty) as the first step to seizing Constantinople, it became a blood bath for each of the nations present and a victory for the Turks and Germans. It's estimated that, overall, more than 353,600 people were injured or missing and a devastatingly conservative suggestion of over 117,800 dying.
It can't be easy to convey such horror and mounting hopelessness via the written word. However, where the battle scenes and characterising the military and auxiliary personnel are concerned, Rachel nails it. This contrasts with Rachel's portrayal of the home front which carries a level of predictability until the casualty numbers start increasing and then we encounter startling emotional truths from those who have merely philandered and tea-partied before.
Rachel's grandfather is included in a fictionalised form and so we soon realise what his parallel character's ultimate fate will be. However, being able to identify him as being based on reality also imbues the fictional Brigadier General with a poignant authenticity, including his wife's reaction afterwards echoing that of Rachel's own grandmother.
He's definitely one of the cornerstones of the novel together with the army he commands in a stiff upper lip, never say die way. This is illustrated in a marvellous moment during the action when, marching into enemy machine gun fire, he tells a fellow officer to stop ducking as the men don't like it. It may show a certain out-of-touchness with men who have other things to think about at that moment, but the humour to break the tension was welcome.
Sylvia's fiancé Arthur and country bloke Fred also stand out. They may be classes apart but mortal danger is a great leveller. Meanwhile the frustration at what lays ahead is voiced by Intelligence Officer Ralph Prideaux. This frustration is compounded when he realises that a rant in front of Churchill himself proves that apparent good sense is falling on deaf ears.
Sylvia's place in the book is to represent the strong women who found a role; nursing behind the lines in North Africa in her case. She's the total antithesis to central casting's fun, flirty Gussie, her sister back home but war can change outlooks – even central casting's - as well as lives.
Rachel, while helping us to understand more about the fierce geography, relentless foe and mistaken logistics of the Dardanelles, also demonstrates the levels of bravery that must have been required on the ground. In this way, it doesn't matter too much about whether those who stayed in England and waited have got the odd stereotype among them, it still does what it sets out to do. This is indeed a fitting tribute.
(Thank you Orion for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you would like to read further about Gallipoli, other campaigns of WWI and how they affected a particular family, we recommend Brothers in War by Michael Walsh. If you'd prefer to stick with fictionalised accounts, try Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, the first in a year-by-year WWI series.
You can read more book reviews or buy Glory by Rachel Billington at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Glory by Rachel Billington at Amazon.com.
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