Narrator Paul Christy's mature voice provides a calm and steady pace to this story set in early 20th-century Canada. Law student Tom Macrae has been falsely accused of a crime, and given a choice between going to jail or off to the trenches of the Great War, Tom reluctantly chooses to fight. Just before he is shipped out to England, he meets the love of his life, only to be torn away from her. Christy's performance is moving and realistic, and he portrays the gamut of Tom's emotions - from hopeful joy to horror and bleak resignation - with sensitivity.
Tom Macrae is working on his law degree and enjoying the company of his sweetheart, Ellen. When the call to arms comes, both Tom and Ellen are torn from their secure, settled lives in the prairie city. Tom finds himself hunched in the trenches, amid the mud and horror of the Great War, while Ellen faces an uncertain future in Tom’s absence.
His prospects bleak, Tom serves with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, in the thick of the stalemated struggles on the Western Front. In addition to the soldiers’ comradeship, Tom discovers the strong bonds of trust between the soldiers and their horses. With his own horse as his closest companion, he dodges a hurricane of shells, machine guns and swords, and in the clamour, faces his finest hour.Inspired by his own father’s story and letters about fighting in Picardy, France, Robert W. Mackay has written a novel that brings to life the great military history and traditions of the Canadian Cavalry.
Hopefully the title of review doesn’t put people off, as many things considered “Canadian” get passed over immediately. Living in the shadow of the US has it’s downside.
I had a hard time rating this book. I wanted to give the story 3 stars for the fact that it was predictable and without any real surprises and twists. The “surprise” in the story centres on the reason the hero signs up (to avoid jail) and the subsequent resolution of the one sided feud that resulted from the crime that lead him to the army.
Why I did give the story 4 stars was for the solid writing style and the unique topic covered. There aren’t a lot of fictional books out there covering WWI and Canada’s part in the War. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say this novel rose from a family research project the author was working on. The name of the hero is one syllable removed from the author, and much of the information on Canadian soldiers in WWI is easily researched. Enrolment and service records, as well as unit war diaries, are all available online now through Library Archive Canada. It is from this information that I believe the author shaped a novel.
In this regard, he did a good job. Lot’s of little details were included, such as equipment, as well as accurate portrayals of the class structure and societal attitudes of the period. There was one area, however, where I think the author applied current Canadian attitudes to the story, and that was fabricating the line that the only reason a white male Canadian of good societal standing would join is if he were forced to by the law. The other members of the book in the army were predominately English immigrants (this is historically accurate, as most English immigrants signed up for the “Motherland”), Métis, and other “undesirables” of the period. Of course, this reflects current Canadian attitudes as Canadians have a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that the profession of arms can be an honourable calling.
So, in summary I do recommend this novel, especially if you are Canadian and even more so if you have an interest in WWI or had ancestors involved in that conflict. This book will assist in gaining a greater understanding of that period and the impact of the War in our country, all while providing a satisfactory background story as a vehicle for this information.