Megiddo's Shadow by Arthur Slade, Wendy Lamb Books, 2006
Arthur Slade dedicates this novel to the memory of the five Slade men who served in World War I, his great grandfather, grandfather and great uncles. The dates of the youngest one jump out at the reader, "Private Percy James Slade, 1897-1918 (KIA.)
If my memory serves, I do not think there is a village or town in France and England that does not have a memorial to the fallen of The Great War. World War I does not loom as large in the memory of Americans. In Megiddo's Shadow, Slade takes the reader to a lesser known front of that war, to Palestine in the Middle East.
Sixteen-year-old Edward Bathe leaves his farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and joins the army after receiving the news that his beloved older brother Hector has been killed in France. All he wants to do is get to the front and kill the Hun who took his brother's life but upon arrival in England he is transfered to the Fifth Imperial Remount unit to break horses. He chafes at the assignment but does meet a horse who will be part of his future when he is reassigned to the Lincolnshire Yeomanry. Slade describes the role of these units on his website :
Yeomanry were different than cavalry--they were trained to be foot soldiers and mounted soldiers. The idea was that they could ride quickly to their destination and dismount and fight. Or they could charge. They were even taught to get their horses to lay down, so they could use them as cover. The regiment was also trained to use the sword or lance in a charge.
Edward and his horse, Buke become part of the British Expeditionary Force in Palestine. The description of desert warfare is unforgettable.
A month later, in July, I was sent to hell...
...We fed and watered our horses, working through the night because the day would be too hot for us to lift a finger. As the sun rose, it revealed a desolation only the Devil could've dreamed up: a low, flat valley of white marl and salt, spotted with swamp, stony plain, patches of dense scrub, and a thin layer of dry grass. The land had never know rain. Lumps of dried flesh--dead camels--lay here and there as though dropped from the sky, a sky that had never seen a cloud. A hot breath of wind drove the salty dust into my eyes. Occasionally, a thirteen-pounder gun would roar just to let the Turks know that His Majesty's troops were still here.
Very much a classic boy-goes-to-war novel in the tradition of The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front or Fallen Angels, Edward experiences the comradeship of soldiers, a first love and the grim reality of warfare. He faces the loss of those he loves and his faith in God as he struggles to find meaning and survive.
Slade relates his grandfather and great uncles' true stories on his website. They are as gripping and heartfelt as the novel and are very much the inspiration for this book. The letter Edward and his father receive about Hector is taken almost verbatim from the real letter the Slade family received about Percy Slade.
Moving, emotional and wrenching at times, this is historical fiction at its finest. I will be reading more of Arthur Slade's writing in the future.
Arthur Slade blogs at Arthur Slade: Writing for Young Adults.