Today is my stop on the A Cellist Soldier blog tour and I am here today with an extract for you all.
Title: A Cellist Soldier Author: Robert J Fanshawe Publisher: Clink Street Publishing Published: 9th June 2020 Format: Paperback Source:: N/A Add It:Amazon. Goodreads. Summary: A British Battalion moves up ready for the World War One 1917 battle of Arras. A much loved Regimental Sergeant Major is blown up, the man taking his place intensely disliked. A patrol is sent into No Man’s Land to rescue a casualty crying for help.
One soldier, a cello player, throws his rifle away when the wrong casualty is shot in frustration. Threatened with Court Martial, he walks alone to find the real one, imagining playing his cello. He finds him, legs impossibly injured, pulls him from the mud and carries him towards a German medical station.
The casualty, Sergeant John Wall, a real soldier shot for desertion in 1917, dies and the cello player is taken prisoner. He runs from the medical station wearing a red cross apron. On returning to his own line he is arrested.
Witness a flawed Court Martial and a bizarre final ‘victory’ which is to have a profound effect on Ben the cellist’s friend and the fundamental question of justice in war.
A cancer of bitterness spread through the Battalion on realising that it was a photograph that caused the death of the Old Man. Those who had waved their helmets and laughed along felt it the most as they saw the falsehood in it. Soldiers will always see through something like that.
The Old Man might not have seen it at the time.
The turning point came before they heard that the photograph had been published in a newspaper under some headline about how good the morale of the troops was, and then made into a postcard. That sealed it. But the bitterness started when the new RSM arrived.
The Battalion had been on its way to the front, redeploying after a night’s rest. There was some joking amongst them, as they had heard that a push was coming. The photographer noticed this. “I want to capture the smiles and the humour of these men. They look happy, RSM.”
“They have a good morale about them, I’ll give you that.” The ‘Old Man,’ the Regimental Sergeant Major, the Battalion’s most Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, stood fully six inches over the photographer. His words were strained out through a vast moustache which twitched with pride. He was proud of the morale. It was his battalion. He owned the men and their morale.
He loved and was loved by almost every one of them, from the oldest hardest Senior Non-Commissioned Officer to the newest, palest, shaking recruit, to whom any harsh words were tempered with a whispered encouragement such as; ‘don’t worry son, you’ll soon get the hang of things. Remember the parade ground. React to sounds as you would to my voice. Look after yourself always and those around you.’ Sometimes he even put his arm around their shoulders.
He had gathered the men in a wide, dry crater which was strangely clear of war rubbish, and big enough to accommodate the whole Battalion. They shouldn’t have been there, all grouped together. But the RSM took the risk in order to have a private word with the men and get the best setting for the photograph.
“I trust you all had a good sleep last night,” he said in his deep resonating voice which he hardly had to raise to address all five hundred men. “You will separate into your companies over the edge of the crater and move into your own areas. We move up after last light to relieve the; ahh humm.” He never disparaged another battalion by name in public. “They are a tired and dispirited lot. You will want to be like that many times in the future, as you have in the past…Try to resist those feelings. Try to maintain your self-respect and your spirit. Believe in yourselves… and look after each other.” He paused and searched the faces of the men, his men.
“Now we have an unusual event, a photograph, for posterity. I want you to make the best of this, to show the people back home that we are up for this fight, any fight. Some of you have been here before. Some of you are first timers. Good luck to all of you.”
He walked back to where the photographer had set up his stand, with the black box on top. “Now are we all set, sir?”
“Yes, could they just move forward as groups from the other side over there and perhaps they could demonstrate their morale?” The photographer smiled at the energy in their movement and anticipation. He knew he could make a good picture.
About the Author
As a writer you never accept things as they are. You always ask, why is this and what is my part in it?
I chose this ‘strapline’ for my facebook profile as it encapsulates my philosophy as a writer; to be curious and questioning over everything. Certain passions guide and direct my writing. For those I chose another principle;
Live (and write) by what is in your heart.
So my writing, all of it, comes from the heart, as all art must. Otherwise how can it be truth?
One of my passions is war and conflict, its sufferings and injustices, its contradictions and the nature of mankind that accepts it. I spent thirty-two years in the British Royal Marines. Early on I was fortunate to read Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the greatest war novels. Having an uncle killed in 1917 and the poetry of the war, contrived to set my goal of writing about WW1. But it wasn’t until the centenary of the war that I found my voice, despite writing much in the intervening years. My initial work was a play; All About the Boys, the last days of Wilfred Owen. This was performed in 2014/16 and published in 2018. After that I embarked on another play; The Cellist. Afterwards I realised that story of the Cellist’s friend would make a novel. I had always wanted to write novels so I wrote The Cellist’s Friend. It was published in 2018. Then I went back to the play about the cellist and wrote it as a novel and prequel calling it; A Cellist Soldier and this is my latest work.
I have also written another two plays, so far not staged and as a member of a SE London arts group, Global Fusion Music and Arts, I have written other multi-media pieces for stage, one of which, A Tribute to Martin Luther King, was performed at The Greenwich Theatre in October 2019.
Apart from a career in the Marines, I have worked in Railway Management and now run my own business, a large pub/restaurant with my wife. Over two families I have five children and four grandchildren.