A Distant Field: A Novel of World War I by RJ MacDonald

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MWSA Review

Living through the hell: bullets, bayonets and artillery

From the sinking of the Lusitania to the battlefield cauldron of Gallipoli, RJ MacDonald weaves an action-packed story that leaves the reader breathless. Meticulously researched, the author traces the lives of two brothers from the moment the Lusitania is struck by a torpedo in 1915 to their dramatic rescue at sea off the coast of Ireland by four teenage O’Connell friends who rowed eleven miles to help survivors to the hell of World War I.

The brothers are Scots-Americans—Stuart and Ross McReynolds—bent on getting revenge from the Germans who killed their parents, enlisting in the British Army along with the O’Connells. After a week of basic training, mostly in sharpshooting, their small unit leaves for France but the trip is interrupted by the worst rail disaster in Great Britain’s history. Hospitalized by injuries from the train wreck, they missed the boat to France, but are shipped instead to Gallipoli, a battle in faraway Turkey that is not going well for the Allies. Crammed on a small peninsula, the boys join waves of brave soldiers rushing to the jaws of murderous machine guns, the rain of deadly artillery shells, the stench of rotting corpses, and inept field commanders who send thousands to their deaths.

The author brings to life the horror of trench warfare, of devastating artillery barrages that wipe out brigades charging on open ground, of the life and death struggle of hand-to-hand combat, of the thirst and constant hunger, of the heat and flies, of seeing your friends killed and wounded without being able to help them. In vivid detail, MacDonald tells the story of a section of the Seaford Highlanders and their relationships with the Royal Scots, the Scottish Rifle Brigade, the 52th Lowland Division,  and the French, Australian, and New Zealander divisions, all suffering horrific casualties in one of the bloodiest and least successful campaigns of the First World War.

A Distant Field is not for the squeamish, but there are tender moments as Stuart and Ross meet young ladies who pine for them after they leave Scotland. The attention to detail of time and places, coupled with intimate understanding of soldiers in combat, makes me wait anxiously for its promised sequel. 

Review by Joe Epley (February 2019)

Author's Synopsis

 "Torpedo! Starboard side!" Scots-Americans Stuart and Ross McReynolds struggle for their lives as the RMS Lusitania rapidly sinks off the Irish coast in 1915. They only survive thanks to four young Irishmen who row to their rescue. Together, with a Canadian and a young English officer, they all go on to join the Seaforth Highlanders, the remotest of all Scottish regiments in the British Army. On the way Stuart falls deeply in love with Nell, a friend of his cousin who lives in a small coastal fishing village on the east coast of Scotland. Their initial training is hurried, and they set off for France, only to become ensnared in the Quintinshill Disaster, the worst train crash in British history, which kills or wounds hundreds of Scottish soldiers. After recuperating, they receive new orders to sail for Gallipoli, where they face their baptism of fire and must learn to fight and survive under the blazing Aegean sun against Turkish soldiers, Jihad-sworn to push them back into the sea.

ISBN/ASIN: ISBN-10: 1944353208, ISBN-13: 978-1944353209, ASIN: B07J1RPSPW
Book Format(s): Soft cover, Kindle
Review Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 324