A story of Gallipoli.
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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 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’ published by Orion in 2015, the centenary year of the landing of allied troops on Gallipoli.
‘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
‘Billington’s grandfather was killed at Suvla Bay in 1915,and this piece of family tragedy invests her epic and gripping novel with added poignancy.’ Daily Mail
‘Billington vividly creates the doomed [Gallipoli] campaign with its incompetent generals, bullish politicians and sacrificial soldiers … a clever, insightful and always readable book.’ The Times
‘Many lives were changed irrevocably by the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Inspired by her grandfather’s experiences, Billington focuses on the battle’s impact on a young woman and two soldiers in this heart-wrenching novel of loss, love and survival.’ Woman and Home
‘Meticulously researched, and written with elegance and sensitivity, the novel describes ‘the suicidal mission’ in which so many fought and died in vain.’ Good Book Guide
‘From the troops amidst the horrors of battle, to those at home forced to look on helplessly, people suffered but performed great deeds. Their stories, and the precious written legacy of Billington’s grandfather, are beautifully preserved in this fine and fresh evocation of British wartime spirit.’ The Lady
‘Glory stands out from the host of first World War books, fiction and non-fiction that have appeared this year. It tackles the horrors that were Gallipoli with realism and sympathy. The main characters, each one of whom is mutilated either physically or mentally, emerge to bear witness to a battle which should never be forgotten.’ The Tablet
‘Experienced novelist as she is, she is a clever plotter, and although most of her main characters survive, I doubt whether many readers will be able to guess how they end up. I did not want to enter that century-old horror story at all, but once inside it I couldn’t leave it until I knew how they did.’ The Hudson Review