Authors: Douglas Reeman
|The Horizon (1993)|
|Blackwood Family |
World War I, 1915, Jonathan Blackwood fights from the sea, supported by the Royal Navy in the battlefields of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, watching the slaughter mounting around him, helpless to save either himself or his men. The days of the scarlet-coated marines of his forefathers are gone, giving way to a new warfare of grim trenches and ruthlessly efficient machine-guns.
"'One of our foremost writers of naval fiction' Sunday Times" "Mastery storytelling." The Times
Douglas Edward Reeman, a contemporary British writer, joined the British Navy at 16, serving on destroyers and small craft during World War II and eventually rising to lieutenant. He also has taught navigation to yachtsmen, and has served as a script adviser for television and films. Under the pseudonym Alexander Kent, Reeman is the author of the best-selling 25-volume "Richard Bolitho Novels." His books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages.
1914 – 1918. For three generations, members of the Blackwood family served the Royal Marines with distinction. With the Outbreak of World War I, at last comes Jonathan Blackwood’s turn to carry the family name into battle.
But as the young marines embark for the Dardanelles, and a new kind of warfare, it dawns on them that the days of scarlet coats and an unchanging tradition of honour and glory have gone for ever. First in Gallipoli, and two years later at Flanders, comes their horrifying initiation into a wholesale slaughter for which no training could ever have prepared them.
Caught up in the savagery of a conflict beyond any officer’s control, Blackwood’s future rests on the ‘horizon’ – the dark lip of the trench which was the last fateful sight for so many.
The third in the Blackwood Royal Marine saga
Douglas Reeman joined the Navy in 1941. He did convoy duty in the Atlantic, the Arctic, and the North Sea, and later served in motor torpedo boats.
As he says, ‘I am always asked to account for the perennial appeal of the sea story, and its enduring interest for the people of so many nationalities and cultures. It would seem that the eternal and sometimes elusive triangle of man, ship and ocean, particularly under the stress of war, produces the best qualities of courage and compassion, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict . . . The sea has no understanding of righteous or unjust causes. It is the common enemy, respected by all who serve on it, ignored at their peril.’
Apart from the many novels he has written under his own name, he has also written more than twenty historical novels featuring Richard Bolitho, under the pseudonym of Alexander Kent.
A Prayer for the Ship
Send a Gunboat
Dive in the Sun
The Hostile Shore
The Last Raider
With Blood and Iron
The Deep Silence
Path of the Storm
The Pride and the Anguish
To Risks Unknown
The Greatest Enemy
Rendezvous – South Atlantic
Go In and Sink!
Surface with Daring
Strike from the Sea
A Ship Must Die
Badge of Glory
The First to Land
The Iron Pirate
Against the Sea
In Danger’s Hour
The White Guns
A Dawn Like Thunder
Dust on the Sea
Twelve Seconds to Live
The Glory Boys
the girl with a fan,
with my love.
We have built a house that is not for Time’s throwing.
We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever.
War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour;
Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
It was as
long ago as the Sixties, when I was writing the book called H.M.S.
, that my late father really began to talk of his own experiences at Gallipoli and on the Somme. As a boy I had sometimes listened to him speaking about them to his close friends, who had shared the same nightmare of trench warfare, but he never mentioned them directly to me.
The first half of H.M.S.
, which I read to him during the course of its writing, dealt with the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign, and it was that which encouraged him to speak openly about the Great War. He had served as a major with the Royal Engineers, as well as the famous Gurkha Rifles, but it was in his first experience as a very junior subaltern that he was to feel the true and brutal impact of war. Little more than a boy, he found himself in complete command of the remnants of a battalion at Gallipoli, and later, on the Somme with the youth of Britain dying in countless thousands on every front, he endured things which never left him. In his own way he passed some of his experiences on to me, and for that I am grateful.
The smart two-wheeled trap stopped on the brow of the last hill, the sturdy pony steaming in the bitter winter air, irritated no doubt, knowing that a warm stable was so close to hand.
The groom held the reins lightly and glanced at his passenger. ‘Here, sir?’
‘Just for a minute.’ Captain Jonathan Blackwood removed his hand from the man’s arm and thrust it back into his greatcoat pocket. For these few moments he needed to get a glimpse of the great estate: Hawks Hill, where he had been born and had grown up with his brothers. There was an icy haze above the red-brick walls by the gatehouse; like a sequence in a dream, he thought vaguely. The distance helped to remind him of what it had once been like, when as children they had played and explored the old house and its maze of cellars and attics. It had been built originally as a fortified Tudor farmhouse, but had been added to considerably over the
years. There was still part of a moat to one side of the wall, now a home for geese and swans.
Jonathan looked down at his uniform, that of a captain in the Royal Marine Artillery. The badges and marks of rank were the only things that distinguished himself and other marines from a regiment of the line.
For this was mid-January, 1915. He felt his body stiffen as he saw a tree bare of leaves standing alone by the roadside. Another memory. Did anyone here in Hampshire, or anywhere else in the country, know or guess what was happening out there across the English Channel? The war, which had already raged for five months; the war that would, it was confidently predicted, be over by Christmas, which had already ground to a bloody stalemate of unbelievable and horrific proportions. It was certainly no nearer to finishing than when the might of the German armies had crushed the first resistance of the French and then their allies, British regular troops commanded by the legendary General Kitchener.
The groom watched him curiously. He had been working only a short while at Hawks Hill but had heard stories of the Blackwoods. All had served in the Royal Marines except the first in the family to own this house and estate: Major-General Samuel Blackwood, still spoken of by the locals as ‘the last soldier’, even though they knew little but rumour about him, as it had happened in the eighteenth century. All the Blackwoods had gone into the Corps after that, although even members of the family did not quite understand the reason.
This was not much of a job, he thought; but the food was plentiful and he was with horses, something he knew well. He smiled grimly. Anything was better than being over there where this officer in the creased greatcoat had been.
Blackwood did not even notice the scrutiny. He was still staring at the solitary tree, almost black in this light, and shining in the last flurry of January rain.
He had seen a forest like that, but every tree had been blasted by fire and explosives. Stripped of branches and life, cut through by mortar and howitzer until there had been nothing, except the endless patterns of trenches which now stretched right across Europe from the Channel to the Swiss border. How
they know what it was like? How could anyone?
He cleared his throat. ‘All right, carry on, Marker. Let’s go down.’ He heard the man’s intake of breath, doubtless surprised that this youthful-looking officer should have taken the trouble to discover his name.
Closer to, the neglect and decay were more evident. Sagging gates, rusty and unpainted for years, weeds sprouting in the curving drive. Jonathan Blackwood bit his lip. Had all the childhood memories been another dream? There was a feeling about the house now, as if it were brooding, waiting for him. Parts of the estate and small-holdings had been sold off to pay the debts of Hawks Hill’s last lord and master, Major-General Harry Blackwood, whose extravagances, grand dinners and balls had been the talk of the county and further. He had long been master of the local hunt, and to preserve its standards and impress others, he had spent more money than he could properly afford.
The wheels came to rest below the imposing entrance. He thought of his cousin Ralf, who had also lived here after the death of his father. They were about the same age, although Ralf was in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, a ‘red’ marine as opposed to the blues of the artillery. But as one testy staff colonel had snapped, ‘There are only
marines until this lot’s over, so don’t you forget it!’
His mind returned reluctantly to David, his oldest brother. How quickly life had all gone, from youths to men with only brief leaves in which to know and understand one another. His middle brother Neil had been killed by a Boer sniper in South Africa. David, like his father before him, had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Two in one family, everyone said. Now both were dead. Jonathan tried to contain the sudden twist of anguish. It had all shown such promise. David had met and married Sarah, who had been betrothed to Neil before his death. She had been a happy, lively girl, the perfect foil for David’s seriousness, and those experiences of his which she could never share.
The old General had also had an eye for the ladies, and as he had aged, the need to impress them had never faltered. Jonathan did not know how it had come about. It was said that the old man had challenged Sarah to a race. She was a good horsewoman, but the mount must have been too strong for her; she had been thrown at a ditch and was dead when the doctor reached Hawks Hill.