The War to End All Wars: Falling Into Battle
© 2020 Andrew Wareham
Christopher Sturton and Richard Baker are two young midshipmen who have come to the end of their day as mids: Christopher is moving on greater things as a sublieutenant aboard His Majesty’s Ship Sheldrake, while Richard is being shown the door – politely. Out of the service and back home to dear old dad, who shows Rich the door rather more forcefully and tells him to join the Territorials so as not to further disgrace the family. But war is coming, and both young men will soon distinguish themselves. Falling into Battle is a novel of the opening months of the War, witnessed primarily at sea (the Live Bait Squadron loss is portrayed) but with an increasingly strong land portion, following Richard as he discovers reserves in the trenches he never suspected he had at sea. Chris is also an interesting character, as he’s the orphaned product of a mixed (Christian/Jewish) marriage and effectively disowned by both sets of grandparents, aside from a small trust that gives him financial support. The book is extremely detailed, making it of great interest for those who want to learn more about the workings of ships of this transitional era (coal was giving way to diesel, and some of the older Navy men began their careers in the last days of sail), but a lot of the exposition is carried by dialogue. This creates a funny little dynamic between scenes where characters are lecturing each other, or engaging in spats of very dry humor about the brass and the like. I liked the gist of the story, especially Baker’s arc, but I suspect the sometimes mechanical dialogue could get wearisome if one read several of these close together. It’s nothing on the level of Max Hennessy, but if you want something like a technical thriller set during the early war, it may be of interest.
The Austro-Hungarians wish to unify their fissiparous Empire with a war. That’s a good word, by the way – Captain D was very proud of it; I didn’t ask him what it meant.
“Right, sir. As far as Sheldrake is concerned, submarines are mythical. No consideration is to be given to countering them. Given that, sir, what are we to do about submarines?”
“What’s happening in France and Belgium, sir?”
“A damned good question, Sturton. Something.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“My pleasure. I am always happy to enlighten the ignorance of my junior officers.”
“Excellent! I foresee a great future for you, young man. Provided you can clearly demonstrate fundamental stupidity in the presence of your elders, you will undoubtedly be promoted far beyond your merits.”
“They’re bloody daft, sir!” “A discovery that we all make at an early stage in our careers, Mr Sturton. Carry on.”
The Lion at Sea, Max Hennessey/John Harris. A young officer is forced into command at the Battle of Jutland. Much better WW1 naval reading in the balance, with equal strengths in description, detail, and characters.
I keep meaning to schedule in some World War reading as I have several stacks……… [muses]