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Megiddo’s Shadow

by Arthur Slade

Devastated by the death of his older brother in France in September 1917, 16-year-old Edward Bathe defies his father by joining Saskatchewan’s Bull Moose Boys to fight “the Huns.” Edward wants to ensure that his brother’s death wasn’t in vain, but the realities of war become apparent all too soon. He also discovers that when you’re in the army, you belong to the army; he’s plucked out of his regiment and transferred first into a squadron where he trains horses for battle, and then into the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, who fight on the ground as infantry or on horseback as cavalry. Edward expects to see action in France, but his regiment is sent instead to Palestine, where British troops are fighting the Turks. Small brutal skirmishes combine with endless heat, dust, and malaria to plague the British troops until a random scouting expedition changes Edward’s life forever in the final days of the war.

What is most powerful in Megiddo’s Shadow is the overwhelming sense of drudgery at the core of the lives of ordinary soldiers in the First World War. Slade makes us truly feel how these men were just pawns, waiting to be put into play in someone else’s game of chess. The author subtly marks Edward’s transition from a wide-eyed innocent with deeply ingrained ideals about Empire, King, and Country to a battlefield veteran.

The book fails to show, however, just how different warfare in the Middle East was from that in Europe. Slade takes us through Edward’s daily life but doesn’t provide enough context to make us aware of what was unique about this campaign. A connection between Edward and a fellow Canadian soldier early in the novel provides a good opportunity to contrast their disparate experiences of war, but Slade doesn’t take advantage of it. It’s also disconcerting that after creating such a powerful bond between Edward and his horse, Slade downplays the horse’s death in battle in the book’s concluding pages. A choppy ending further undermines the power of Edward’s wartime experiences.

Megiddo’s Shadow is based on Arthur Slade’s grandfather’s wartime experience. Like John Wilson’s And in the Morning and Sharon McKay’s Charlie Wilcox, it offers a uniquely Canadian take on the First World War.