HOW MUCH WOULD YOU SACRIFICE FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN?

DEVOTION – Louisa Young

Devotion is the third book in the trilogy that began with My Dear I Wanted To Tell You… and was followed by The Heroes Welcome. The novels trace the lives of Riley, Nadine Waveney, Peter Locke and their families through the First World War and its aftermath, and on to the gathering war-clouds of the 1930s. Young has a worthwhile story to tell and tells it with thought-provoking honesty and a lyricism that evokes the period beautifully.

Devotion opens in 1928 and takes up the story of the next generation ­– those born at the close of the First World War who will be approaching adulthood as the next war begins. We follow Tom Locke as he grows into adolescence and begins to holiday in Rome with an Italian branch of his adopted family. He is captivated by Italy and by Aldo, Susanna, and their childrDevotion coveren – Vittoria, Stefano and Nenna.
As the years pass by, Tom watches with growing awareness and, ultimately, horror as Mussolini leads the people of Italy towards his shining vision. Aldo is fiercely patriotic and believes in Il Duce’s plans for Italy with such fervour that he refuses to believe his family’s Jewish heritage will, in the eyes of his countrymen, mark them as enemies of the State and put their lives at risk. Wanting to save his beloved cousins from their inevitable fate, Tom risks his own life to make them see the truth of their situation.

Back in London meanwhile, Tom’s father Peter – badly traumatised during the First World War – is finally  beginning to rebuild his life and renews his relationship with coloured American jazz singer Mabel Zachary; a talented and independent woman with a secret that will turn Peter’s world upside down. Realising he is falling in love with Mabel, Peter negotiates his way through the engrained attitudes of racial and class bigotry that were endemic in 1930s Britain.

Louisa Young weaves together these two narratives with skill, drawing parallels along the way ­– some obvious, others not so. She presents a worldview while simultaneously exploring how that world affects the lives of individuals. Devotion is a novel of crumbling ideals and blind faith; of awakenings, acceptance and of love. It exposes the lies we are told by those in power and the lies we tell ourselves in order to live.

 

Devotion is published by The Borough Press – thanks are due for the ARC.

 

 

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

A foreboding asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors seems an unlikely place for a ballroom, and an even less likely setting for a love story of extraordinary tenderness and innocence, yet this is the remarkable achievement of Anna Hope in The Ballroom.

The novel opens in Spring 1911, with Ella Fay being dragged through the The Ballroom
doors of Sharston Asylum; struggling and disoriented, she has no idea what fate lies in store. Her incarceration is treatment for supposed ‘hysteria’, manifested by her smashing a window in the mill where she has worked since childhood. Sharston is a strangely egalitarian institution where the class divide between ladies and millworkers is non-existent; all are cooped up and bound by the same strict rules until they are considered ‘cured’ and fit for release.

John Mulligan arrived at Sharston years ago and resides in the entirely separate men’s section of the asylum. Having grown used to a life in captivity, John is trusted to work outdoors in the fields or digging graves and, through being allowed outside the asylum walls, he manages to cling to his sense of self. On Friday evening each week, the best-behaved inmates of both sexes are allowed to mingle in the extravagant ballroom, the single point at which the male and female sections of Sharston join. Here, music is played by an orchestra led by the young and impressionable Dr Charles Fuller, who believes that music has a calming and restorative effect on troubled minds. It is in this ballroom that the taut, almost impossible courtship of Ella and John begins.

The summer of 1911 was notoriously long and hot, and Hope exploits this sultry oppression to perfection. The growing emotional tension practically hums with energy as Ella and John negotiate their way around seemingly insurmountable obstacles to find one other. Through the character of Charles Fuller, Hope also deftly investigates the theory of eugenics, which was prominent during the period. Rather than sterilising the ‘weaker’ members of society to prevent procreation, Fuller believes that with support and therapy, individuals can be improved and rehabilitated. His idealism is turned on its head as he confronts truths about his own life – a shift in perception that Hope neatly signals by his move from the tradition of classical music to the flamboyance of ragtime jazz.

The Ballroom is populated by well-written, fully-fleshed characters struggling to break free of the restrictions imposed upon them by society. The harshness of life in an asylum is juxtaposed with tantalizing glimpses of the freedom and beauty of the Yorkshire countryside and, through the central relationship of Ella and John, Hope captures this tension as beautifully, and cruelly, as a butterfly in a glass jar.

A book that will live in your memory for a long time after the last page has been turned.

 

The Ballroom is published by Transworld Books on February 11. Many thanks to Alison Barrow for sending an ARC.

The Silent Room – Mari Hannah

TSRMari Hannah is best known for her series of crime novels featuring DCI Kate Daniels, set against the sometimes beautiful, sometimes gritty, backdrop of the North East of England. Kate Daniels and her sidekick DS Hank Gormley are a winning combination and are responsible for Hannah’s growing base of dedicated fans.

So what does a successful crime writer do when she hits on a brilliant idea that doesn’t quite ‘fit’ into her existing creative mould? Any writer wThe Silent Room.

Long-serving and well-respected Special Branch Officer Jack Fenwick is arrested; he is in disgrace, his reputation in tatters. Those who have known him and worked with him for years know he is innocent of the charges against him, but when the van transportinorth their salt grabs that idea and hits the ground running, which is exactly what Hannah has done with g Fenwick to prison is hijacked en-route, it looks suspiciously like he has played a part in his own escape.

Determined to prove Fenwick’s innocence, old friend and colleague DS Matthew Ryan teams up with Grace Ellis, recently retired from the Force, and they begin an investigation of their own. When Ryan is suspended from duty under suspicion of aiding and abetting Fenwick, he is more determined than ever to find those responsible for fitting-up his friend.

What follows is a tense race against time as Ryan and Ellis try to identify and track down Fenwick’s hijackers before Fenwick comes to harm. They soon realise that they are on to something much, much bigger than they had ever imagined. As they begin to uncover conspiracy and corruption dating back many years, they realise that Fenwick is not the only one whose life is in danger.

Remaining true to her roots, Hannah has set The Silent Room in the North East and makes full use of the drama that this landscape can unleash. The pace is, at times, as breathtaking as the scenery that frames it and the suspense builds steadily right up to the final few pages. There are some neat twists and turns along the way that will confound your expectations and force you to re-think what you already know.

The Silent Room is an accomplished psychological thriller that deals with both the strengths and the limitations of ‘official’ police work. Matthew Ryan and Grace Ellis make a great team and I hope they find their way into another of Hannah’s books in the future. A cracking good read for a long, dark winter evening.

The Silent Room will be published by Pan Macmillan on November 19th

Nursing Through Shot & Shell – A Great War Nurse’s Story

Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a great interest in the role of women during the First World War and have read widely on the subject. The most interesting and informative bNursing throughooks are those based on personal memoir because it’s like looking into the past through a different window each time. Dr Vivien Newman’s latest book: Nursing Through Shot And Shell, A Great War Nurse’s Story, published by Pen and Sword Books is one such gem. Based on the previously unpublished memoirs of Beatrice Hopkinson, a member of the author’s family, Nursing Through Shot and Shell gives a vivid, and often uncompromising, account of what life was like for a member of the Territorial Forces Nursing Service (TFNS).

In the first section of the book, Newman provides the reader with historical background to Beatrice’s diary and this section really is invaluable. Newman’s research is impeccable and her concise, informative style gives readers all the context necessary about Beatrice, her background and nursing during wartime. By the time I started on Beatrice’s diary, I knew enough about her world to become quickly immersed in her recollections.

Despite having read several other memoirs and narratives on nursing during the Great War, I discovered perspectives and experiences here that I haven’t come across before. For example, while stationed in France, Beatrice belonged to an elite group of nurses who were effectively ‘rapid response’ teams. These six person teams would be sent out to provide support where needed, usually at Casualty Clearing Stations close to the front line. Their life was demanding, arduous and often dangerous; only the most competent and skilled nurses were selected. Beatrice’s account of this time are gripping and revelatory.

Another perspective we don’t often get is what life was like as the war
came to an end. During the closing weeks of the war, the German front lines were being pushed further back and inevitably, as allied forces advanced, so the nursing teams moved with them. This meant that Beatrice found herself in the middle of newly abandoned battlefields which had, just a week or so earlier, been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. She was faced with desolation on an apocalyptic scale – a land of water-filled craters, deserted trenches and acres of barbed wire. Towns and villages reduced to little more than the sign that marked their boundaries. Her account of entering the recently captured seven-mile-long Bellicourt Tunnel is so astounding that it deserved to be read twice. Beatrice remained in France and Belgium until she was demobilised in October 1919, almost a year after the armistice. Her diary for this post-war period is no less engaging because, despite being kept busy with influenza patients, she also records travelling through the newly liberated towns and cities of Belgium.

For anyone interested in the experience of women on the Western Front, Beatrice’s diary is self-deprecating, pragmatic and utterly compelling. Highly recommended.

Nursing Through Shot & Shell can be bought here:

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Nursing-Through-Shot-Shell-Hardback/p/9338

International Conscientious Objectors Day – May 15th.

Telling the stories in their own words

It’s great that the conscientious objectors of the First World War are finally being heard and their stories told. While researching for The Courage Of Cowards, I was privileged to read some remarkable hand-written accounts of life as a conscientious objector. Reading stories of beatings, torture and imprisonment is hard enough, but when you realiBook Cover

This wasn’t the case for all men though. Some struggled for many years to come to terms with their experiences and some never did.

These personal accounts and the personalities of the men involved lie at the heart of The Courage of Cowards. It’s what drives it, what makes it different from other books on conscientious objection. I felt as though I had known some of the men and I wanted readers to know them too; to understand how difficult their decisions were and to realise that they were anything but cowards. I have strayed into the realms of fictional narrative, but every last date, experience and outcome were firmly grounded in fact. I wanted to do these men justice and, in two cases, I know I definitely got it right because descendants of the men contacted me to tell me how much they appreciated my telling their stories.

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Courage-of-Cowards-Hardback/p/6104Internat

Disclaimer – Renee Knight knows how to deliver her punches

I try to avoid the hype that surrounds the publication of a new book. There is so much talk about how it’s the book of the year/decade/century that, as readers, our expectations are elevated beyond reason. There are sample chapters available, reviews and blogs, all whetting our appetite, making our fingers itch and persuading us to pre-order. For me, the problem with this is that by the time I get to read the book, I am expecting to find one of the greatest works of literature in English – which is a lot to lay on any book! Inevitably, this ends in a sinking disappointment, which is rarely anything to do with the quality of the writing or the talent of the author. I like to begin a book knowing as little about it as possible and invariably, I end up enjoying it much more.

Addicted as I am to Twitter, this attempt to avoid the hype of publication is futile. My Twitter feed is filled with literary related content because it’s the thing I am most interested in. So, when the publication of a new book begins to pepper my timeline, it registers with me and I spend weeks trying not to read too much about it until I can get my hands on a copy and decide for myself. All this brings me to the rather stunning debut novel Disclaimer by Renee Knight. Disclaimer popped up on Twitter a while back and the premise struck me as unique and intriguing so I desperately tried to ignore all the tired Gone Girl and slightly fresher Girlhero-portrait-disclaimer-renee-knight On The Train references until I could get my hands on a copy. I was not disappointed.

The protagonist, Catherine Ravenscroft, appears to have it all: a successful career and a solid marriage to a loving husband. Disclaimer opens as Catherine and her husband move to a smaller property now their grown son has left home. Amongst the chaos of half un-packed boxes, Catherine discovers a book entitled ‘The Perfect Stranger’ which she doesn’t recall having bought or being given. Inside the front cover, there is a disclaimer: ‘Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’ Intriguingly, this has been crossed out in red pen.

As Catherine begins to read, her life is quickly unravelled about her. ‘The Perfect Stranger’ is her story. Not the Catherine that the rest of the world knows, but a story that no-one knows – or so she thought. In chillingly intimate detail, the author of ‘The Perfect Stranger’ has written a damning account of an event in Catherine’s life that she has kept buried for twenty years. The implications of the book are horrifying, particularly when she discovers that a copy has also been given to her son.

The cracks in the facade that is Catherine’s life quickly become evident and Renee Knight handles the pacing with aplomb. The art of thriller writing comes in knowing when to deliver the punches. Make the reader wait too long and momentum is lost, deliver it too early and the tension is lost. Knight delivers her first punch at exactly the right moment and she goes on punching, each one perfectly timed. Using two different narrative perspectives, Knight creates characters and voices that are human, fallible and sometimes downright frightening. The switch between past and present tense enhances the novel’s pace where, in less capable hands, it could simply have confused.

I am a notoriously slow reader, but I could not put Disclaimer down. I read it while standing in a queue, I read it while cooking dinner – I even read it while walking up stairs (not recommended). Each punch spurring me on for the next one. By the time I turned the last page, I was reeling from it. If there’s one thing that will stay with me above all else though, it’s that truth is a difficult thing to get at and everyone has their own version of it.

I’m aware that I am now contributing to the hype, but for what it’s worth, Disclaimer is a book that deserves its hype and one that will stay with you for a good while after you finish it

Letters From The Trenches

Like many people, I have read a great deal of books concerning the First World War over the last year or so. There are thousands of stories to be told and almLetters

Letters From The Trenches by Jacqueline Wadsworth is one such book. The title alone was enough to excite my interest; letters sent to and from the trenches between families and loved ones give us perhaps the best insight into trench life, and Wadsworth has certainly done her research here. She covers a whole breadth of experience from the declaration of war, the early days of excitement, through to the increasing mechanisation of war, the unimaginable sense of loss and on into to the aftermath. She has drawn on a wealth of previously unpublished material to paint a vivid picture of life not just in the trenches of the western front, but from theatres of war as far flung as Mesopotania and South Africa.

The letters are simple, not great works of prose from respected literary figures, but they are all the more heartfelt for that. Charles Alderton writes to tell his family that he realises how much had been done for him at home, and now he was learning to be thankful for it. Another man writes asking his wife to send a brief letter explaining that her Mother is ‘much worse’ in the hope that it might earn him a brief, much needed, leave. The reader also gets a sense of the way war can shift perceptions of normality with matter of fact accounts of ‘good meals porridge &c’ casually sitting two lines below the discovery of the ‘remains of one or two Boche’ in a recently won dugout.

Letters From The Trenches is a thoroughly researched, well written book that allows those who were involved in the First World War to speak for themselves within an informative and engaging factual framework. It gives the reader a fresh insight into the lives of ordinary Tommies and will have you digging about in your family archives in the hope of uncovering stories of your own.

Why Not VCs for Women?

The above is a quote from the Daily Sketch and appears on the back cover of We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War by Vivien Newman and, having just read the book, I echo the sentiment wholeheartedly. We Also Served is a gem. I was going to say ‘a gem for anyone interested in the role of women during the First World War, but that doesn’t do it justice. It is a gem. Full Stop.

As it happens, I have more than a passWe also serveding interest in the subject and so already had a broad knowledge of the role of women during the Great War. Or so I thought. Newman doesn’t just consider the role of nurses or ambulance drivers or munition workers – she considers them all and many others besides. The sheer scope of research that has gone into this book is to be admired as Newman takes on the task of exploring women’s experience of war from August 4th 1914 right the way into the aftermath – and succeeds in telling a compelling story.

At the beginning of the war, women were not expected to play any role other than to persuade their menfolk to join up while sitting quietly at home, patriotically knitting socks. As the war progressed, expectations changed and Britain needed her womenfolk in a way she never had before. Nursing was the most obvious support role for women at the time, both professionally and, increasingly, as volunteers. Unlike the men who volunteered for the army however, those women who volunteered as nurses were expected to purchase their own uniforms and pay their own expenses. Newman explores a whole breadth of nursing experiences from hospital trains, hospital ships and barges to Casualty Clearing Stations and Field Hospitals encompassing the stories of nurses from across the British Empire.

I think the thing that sets We Also Served apart from other similar books is the many and varied first hand accounts, diary entries and memoir extracts that are deftly women throughout the text. I was particularly gripped by the account of Dorothy Lawrence who, after a dozen unsuccessful attempts to undertake some form of voluntary work, decided to pack herself off to France as a war-correspondent. Investing £2 in a bicycle, Dorothy cycled her way into the proscribed zone, where no civilians were allowed to enter, before disguising herself as a Tommy (Sapper Dennis Smith) to make it all the way to the Front Line.

Then there was the indomitable Flora Sandes. An unconventional middle-class rebel, Flora was a young woman with a reputation for smoking, drinking and being a crack shot with a service revolver. Initially joining the Red Cross, Flora went on to join the Serbian Army – as a woman – where she fought shoulder to shoulder with her male comrades and was promoted through the ranks.

Other accounts that moved me were those of Gabrielle Petit and Lady May Bradford. Gabrielle Petit was a young Belgian shop assistant whose endeavours as a spy for the Allies resulted in her facing death by firing squad – a duty that some of the German soldiers involved simply could not discharge. Fulfilling a very different role, Lady May Bradford wrote letters home on behalf of the young men, maimed and dying in hospital beds. Lady May had a way with words and managed to write letters that honestly, but gently, broke the very worst of news to anxious wives and mothers at home, while also providing succour to the men who were unable to write for themselves. So important was her work that, in 1916, she was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’.

There are far too many stories for me to do justice to here – you really need to read We Also Served for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Newman encompasses not just women’s experience of war, but the human experience of war. Her writing is intuitive, informative and always absorbing; this is a book I will return to again and again.

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/We-Also-Served-Hardback/p/7883

On why DH Lawrence should leave sex alone

It’s been a long time since I read any DH Lawrence, probably twenty years or more. I don’t have fond memories of him, I just recall clumsy, repetitive prose and a pervasive air of misery and depression. But maybe that was just me…

Anyway, I was not a fan of his work and had no plans to read anything of his again. Until, that is, a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled upon the opening paragraph of Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

This chimed with me because I have been doing a lot of research into life in Britain in the years immediately followingChatterlyLady Chatterley’s Lover. Because of my pledge never to read Lawrence again, I didn’t have a copy on my bookshelves, but a quick scour of the local charity shops turned up a battered and rather grubby Penguin paperback from 1960 – the first edition after the trial which overturned the ban on publication.

So I began to read. And there it was, as I remembered it: the clumsy, repetitive prose of a man struggling to find the right vocabulary to express human emotion. A man, in my opinion, who really does not understand women at all, yet is convinced he does and who writes obsessively about sex in a way that makes me laugh out loud. It’s all about wombs and loins and heaving and swelling and soft plunging. I mean, wombs? Really? Seriously man, get a grip! Who are you trying to convince here? If there had been a ‘Bad Sex’ award back in 1928, this would have been at the top of my list.

But. There is so much more to Lady Chatterley’s Lover than just the sex that everyone links it with. So much more than I remember from my first reading all those years ago. There is a rich, multi-textured narrative about a country that has lost its way; about loss of identity, the blurring of class boundaries, modernity trumping tradition. It is an incomparable commentary on the consequences of a world war upon the British psyche.

Take Constance Chatterley; she nurses her husband Clifford who is paralysed from the waist down after being injured during the war. She cares for him and encourages his career in writing. This she does without bitterness or regret, but as time marches on Constance becomes bored to tears with the endless ennui of life in the stifling, hermetically sealed Wragby Hall. She is cut off from society, from excitement, from life. Her only consolation is to wander alone in the woods on the Wragby estate as she grows increasingly dissatisfied with life. As she succumbs to depression, she is advised by more than one acquaintance to take a lover – even Clifford accepts that this may happen, as long as it doesn’t affect the ‘ideal’ of their marriage. Constance is a lost soul, lonely, isolated and confused by her role and the expectations placed on her as Lady Chatterley; she is unable to make a real emotional connection with anyone.

Then there is Clifford; seemingly accepting of the injuries that confine him to a wheelchair and render him impotent. Having inherited Wragby and a secure income, he cares nothing for the coal mines under his ownership, the mines that created the wealth he takes for granted. Clifford turns his attentions instead to the Arts; he makes a name for himself in the smart social circles of modernity. Clifford Chatterley is an impotent man on many levels, he is stranded between the past and present, literally unable to move. Wragby is both his home and his gaol. The relationship between Clifford and Mrs Bolton, a working class woman from the nearest town is beautifully, tenderly drawn. Initially resistant to ‘outside’ help, Clifford grows to accept Mrs Bolton’s care. Paradoxically, he is more at ease in her company than with his own wife. Holding Constance in the high regard and affection that his class dictates, he keeps her at arms length; yet with Mrs Bolton, who is paid to attend to his needs, he develops the very kind of connection that should exist between man and wife. Mrs Bolton puts Clifford back in touch with life outside the walls of Wragby Hall, fills him with the enthusiasm to engage with business, to invest in his mines, develop them. The working class woman is on intimate, albeit non-sexual, terms with the upper class man, bringing him back to life in a way that his wife cannot.

Then there is the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Perhaps the most complex character of all. A man well and truly stranded in the hinterland of the class system. The son of a working man, Mellors is intelligent and educated but, until the war, lacks the opportunity to progress. Joining the army as a private, he is promoted through the ranks to Lieutenant – a ‘temporary gentleman’ in the parlance of the day; living and working among other gentleman whilst knowing he doesn’t really ‘belong’. Returning home after the war, he is peculiarly wedged between classes, so returns to what he knows best – the working life. Tellingly, he slips between broad Derbyshire vernacular and clear, concise English; he knows which class he ‘belongs’ to, but also knows he is more than equal to those who consider themselves better than him. Symbolically, Mellors lives in solitude, in his beloved woods where he hopes to be bothered by no-one. His solitude is punctuated by the sound of the mines; of traffic on the roads, of the electric lights of industry at night. Everywhere around him, the old world is being encroached upon by the new; centuries old stately homes are demolished with their parkland given over to the urban sprawl of redbrick houses for working families.

Obviously, the relationship between Constance and Mellors is central to the story, but it is about more than just a salacious sexual liaison; it is the embodiment of the social tensions that gripped Britain after the First World War. Although the class system remained rigid, cracks were already visible and growing. Four years of war had made working men question their traditional ‘place’ in society and demand more, while the landed gentry were finding themselves increasingly impotent and outmoded.

If only Lawrence hadn’t been so hung up about sex, so determined to proselytise on the nature of sexual relationships – if only he had left sex the hell alone! Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so widely read? Perhaps, even, he would have disappeared into literary obscurity, which would have been a great shame because Lady Chatterley’s Lover has so much more to recommend it than just the graphic (badly written) sex that earned its notoriety. I have been astounded by my re-reading of Lady Chatterley, and a little ashamed that I missed all this the first time round. Maybe I just have more experience of life now, and certainly a greater awareness of the social history of the period. Lawrence’s prose is at its most potent when describing the Derbyshire landscape, the old and the new, the crumbling stately homes being overtaken by the march of industrialisation. The desire to be left alone versus the need for progress; the soot, the dirt and the grime of the mines making its presence felt across the surrounding countryside. A feeling of loss and confusion as individuals struggled with their identity in the rapid changes of post-war Britain.

I’m not sure I’ve added anything at all to the literary criticism of Lawrence here, but I have felt more excited about Lady Chatterley’s Lover than about any book for quite a while and just had to write about it. If you’ve never read it, you should. If you’ve read it once simply because of it’s notoriety, then wondered what all the fuss was about – read it again and ignore the sex. It’s brilliant.

The Mechanisation of War

Over the last 100 years, warfare has become increasingly remote. Missiles can be fired from hundreds of miles away; drones can target a vehicle or building with pinpoint accuracy and aircraft can disappear over the horizon before the bombs they have dropped even hit the ground. When we look back at the trench warfare of the First World War it may seem archaic but already military forces were devising ways of moving further and further away from one another.

A severe shortage of shells during the spring of 1915 caused a crisis of catastrophic proportions on the front lines with 11,600 lives being lost at Aubers Ridge on 9 May alone. The British government recognised the short comings of its munitions production plans and formed the Ministry of Munitions, headed up by David Lloyd George who ensured a cohesive alliance between government and businesses. By September 1915, the effects of this alliance were being felt right the way across Europe as shell production stepped up and the nature of warfare began to change.

War Correspondent F. A. McKenzie, reported that fighting during the spring and summer of 1915 had involved 24 or 48 hours of heavy bombardment followed by an infantry ground attack which would attempt to storm and capture enemy trenches. During the shell crisis, the allies had been the weaker side, unable to retaliate against the might of the German artillery. When an allied bombardment ceased and infantry were sent over on a ground attack, enemy artillery simply opened fire and destroyed them wholesale. The newly formed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry lost 75 per cent of their men in just such an episode in spring 1915, being decimated to 500 bewildered men and one junior officer.

By the autumn, however, the campaign had been transformed into one long artillery duel which often lasted for weeks at a time. Day and night, seven days a week, the guns fired remorselessly; hundreds and thousands of shells were being used.

This was modern warfare in its infancy. Soldiers lay in wait without seeing their enemy nor even their positions; just the barren, cratered, quagmire of no-mans-land. It was impossible to underestimate the vital importance of shell supplies at this stage of the war; the side who could fire the most shells would win the battle. McKenzie makes a reference to industrial action at the Woolwich Arsenal where some workers boycotted those who produced more shells than was required of them and suggests that those men should visit the trenches and see for themselves that it was not possible to have too many shells. There were also concerns about America joining the war. Undoubtedly, she would be a powerful and valuable boost to allied efforts, but for as long as America remained neutral, she was manufacturing and supplying shells to the allies on a massive scale. If America joined in the fray too soon, she would need the shells for her own troops and the supply would dry up.

The nature of warfare developed so quickly during the years 1914 – 1918 that changes could be charted on a monthly basis. The innovation on all sides was constant, with the drive always being to have maximum impact on the enemy with minimal damage to your own troops. The governments involved plunged their countries deeper and deeper into debt in order to meet the voracious demands of an increasingly mechanised war, while civilian war workers put their lives at risk in the hazardous work of munitions manufacture. The success, or failure, of these innovations; this debt and this danger was almost always measured by the loss of human life, both civilian and military.