‘‘Glory’ is as near to a British War and Peace as any contemporary novelist is likely to come.’
Bevis Hillier The Spectator Books of the Year
My grandfather died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli on August 21st 1915. He led his men across a dried salt lake towards a well-armed, well led enemy who held all the upper ground, including Scimitar Hill where my grandfather was killed. His body was never found and my grandmother who had six young children, continued to believe that he would emerge from a Turkish hospital or prison camp. Most probably he was burned, dead or alive, in the fires all around.
I was born during the Second World War and grew up in its aftermath and later lived in New York during the Vietnam War. War was always an important part of my consciousness. But this family loss in the First World War is the inspiration for my new novel, ‘Glory’. I have archive letters and diaries to bring the events alive. But when I travelled to Gallipoli and walked the jagged cliffs and gullies for myself, I soon realised that my grandfather’s experience was a very small part of that tragic and pointless campaign.
In ‘Glory’, as well as basing the older soldier on my grandfather’s military history, I have created other characters, young soldiers who endured all the misery and horror of the campaign. It has taken me from Gallipoli to England where wives and lovers have their own struggles, and to Egypt and Malta where men were held in reserve or lay in hastily commandeered hospitals. The dream of snatching Constantinople and opening the gateway to Russia was a powerful one. But as I continued to research and write the story, I became more and more clear that it really had been only a fantastical dream, hatched up by politicians in London with no real understanding of the enormous difficulties. Unfortunately, it had to be fought by brave men like my grandfather, Brigadier-General Thomas, Earl of Longford, who gave their lives out of duty or patriotism. If there is any glory, it is all theirs. Sometimes I find the waste of lives almost unbearable.
‘Glory’ was published by Orion in 2015, the centenary year of the landing of allied troops on Gallipoli.
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Last days at Gallipoli
W Beach, Helles, on 7 January 1916
A century ago in January 1916 Gallipoli was finally evacuated by the Allied Forces.
In my novel, Glory, I focus on this last phase of the exodus from Helles. Still holding the trenches were thousands of British soldiers some of whom, like my young private, Fred Chaffey, had been there from the first landings in April. If any-one were to make a new film about the Gallipoli campaign, I would recommend climaxing with this extraordinarily dramatic finale. When withdrawal was first considered, the war cabinet was advised by its commanders that they would lose 50% of their men.
The French, Australia, New Zealanders and some of the British had left their positions at the end of the year before. They had got away, seemingly miraculously, without the enemy of Turks and some German officers being aware of their departure. Elaborate charades - logs drawn about to replicate gun movements, soldiers pretending to full strength and normal routines, self-firing guns and other stratagems - were apparently enough to disguise their purpose.
But would the enemy be taken in by the same trickery for the third time? Would thousands of soldiers creeping away even if with their boots bound in sacking, cigarettes extinguished and talking strictly forbidden, really go unnoticed yet again? Not much fun to be patrolling a trench alone with no friend in earshot and the enemy only meter away at full strength.
Although I knew the sequence of events, I found myself sharing Fred ‘s nervousness, particularly after I realised the sappers had arranged a huge bonfire of explosives for 3am and at 2.30am a general ordered a small party of soldiers to retrace their steps and collect a suit-case he’d left behind. Then there was the worsening weather so that the boats sent to pick up the soldiers, could hardly put in to shore. As the winds raged, smashing landing points, the men picked their way past crosses marking the graves of their comrades and rows of dead mules for whom there was no place on the boats. Very few looked behind them.
- Jan 12
St. George’s Church, Aubrey Walk, London W8 7JG
R.B. In conversation with the Rev.Peter Wolton about her novel Gallipoli.
Commerative Service 6:30pm Drinks 7.0 Talk 7:30pm January 12th
- March 8-12
R.B. Will be appearing at the Festival. Dates TBC.
- April 12
R.B. Speaks at Oxford Literary Society 2pm.