Scene of bloody battle inspires historical tale

Bill McDonald and his book.
Bill McDonald and his book.

Standing at the top of a large hill in South Africa, looking out over the graves of around 300 soldiers who were killed in a bloody battle.

It was this poignant moment which helped inspire Embleton man Bill McDonald to write his first novel.

Inspired by real-life events, The Lost Victory – Battle of Spion Kop is a historical novel based on the British army’s defeat at the hilltop against the Boers in 1900.

The 66-year-old put in three winters of research to ensure that it was factually accurate, relating true events through the experiences of fictitious soldiers and real generals.

The seed for the story was sown when Bill and his wife Dawn were returning to England, having worked for humanitarian aid organisation Cord in central and southern Africa for seven years. He said: “We drove across South Africa and I couldn’t pass the opportunity to visit the battlefields of Natal and we drove to Spion Kop. I first learnt of this hill and its battle when, at the age of 15, I joined the Rochdale Detachment of the Army Cadet Force, which was affiliated to the local infantry regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers.

“This regiment took a leading part in the battle and suffered the most casualties.

“Forty-five years were to pass before I stood on the crest of that hill. I looked along a 400metre line of piled rocks painted white, which serves as a mass grave for approximately 300 soldiers.

“As I stood surveying an area no larger than Trafalgar Square where 4,000 British soldiers struggled to survive a hellish onslaught, I felt a compelling conviction to tell the story.

“This was to be not only from the Generals’ viewpoints, but also from the grassroots perspective and experience – ex-cotton workers and young Dutch farmers.”

The book is available on Amazon. The White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, is hosting a book signing on Monday, July 1, from 3pm to 6pm. The book will be available and proceeds from the book will be donated to Cord.