"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard
Over By Christmas
Author: William Daysh
Publishers: Libros International
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
As the threat of war gathers like a storm over Europe in 1914, George Royal, a young gunner in the Royal Navy is at Portsmouth naval barracks waiting to be drafted to his next ship. At the same time, his naval gunnery officer father, Jack, has arrived home after a long spell at sea. All too briefly, the Royals are a family once again and George's mother, Emily, is doing her best to cope with the real prospect of being left alone at home in Gosport, Hampshire, when the two men in her life go back to sea and into war.
George's best friend, Bill Guy, who lives alone above the shop he owns in the small naval town of Gosport, falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Carrie, who enters his life quite by chance but in a state of distress. When she quickly makes herself a major part of his life Bill is not keen to probe too deeply into the few unspoken questions he has about her past. He is in love for the very first time and won't do anything to risk that. But then Carrie, after not liking George Royal when she first meets him, is gradually drawn to him, eventually placing her relationship with Bill and the friendship between the two men at risk as a love triangle closes in around them.
Then, at midnight on August 4, 1914, the sonorous tones of Big Ben echoing over London's rooftops announce the beginning of the Great War. Suddenly, Emily's brief happiness crumbles as Jack and George put to sea and head for different oceans.
Meanwhile, at much higher levels of British society, Britain's lack of war preparedness becomes evident and the leadership of the 69-year-old married Prime Minister is tested as never before. However, just when he needs to be particularly clear-headed and focused, his thoughts are preoccupied by the obsessive love he has for a close friend of his daughter. It drives him to write a constant stream of love letters to the 24-year-old woman even while he is presiding over his bickering warlords who are making momentous decisions - decisions that will ultimately set the fate of both Jack and George Royal as well as hundreds of thousands of other servicemen.
Jack is dispatched to the South Pacific in HMS GOOD HOPE to face the fleet of German Admiral von Spee while George sails for the North Sea in HMS INFLEXIBLE for his initiation into war. Later, George stands accused of murder when INFLEXIBLE's much-reviled Gunnery Officer disappears at sea one night. Things suddenly look bleak for George and his career. It is only then that he discovers a guardian angel watching over him in the form of Lieutenant Parker, a good friend of his father.
Over By Christmas is two stories set in parallel: George's coming-of-age as he lives through tragedy and love at home, and the comradeship and horrors of ferocious naval battles in the North Sea, the Falkland Islands and Gallipoli; the other is of the personal frailties, loves and machinations of the leaders at Whitehall, against which the first story unfolds.
Although worlds apart in social terms, these two stories are as inextricably linked as puppet-masters and their puppets, and they raise an important question:
Can it be that those responsible for directing the Great War allowed their personal emotions and machinations tothe course of the war and the lives of those caught up in it?
William Daysh MBE
Following a long career in the Fleet Air Arm, William retired from the Royal Navy in 1971. Although primarily an Aircraft Engineer Officer, he also flew a lot and was a qualified Ship's Diving Officer. After the navy he worked in London as a Financial Services Branch Manger. Combined, his naval travels and experiences on and under the sea and in the air, plus such hobbies as 'am-dram', skiing, squash, grass hockey and a Guildford University creative writing course, provide a good basis for his creative writing which began in 1969 with short stories, some of which are published.
Over by Christmas is William's first full-length novel.
This is a novel, however much of it is based on historical fact and as such it is a very absorbing read, which held my attention throughout. Since this review is for this website “Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews”, I hope I will be forgiven for not concentrating too much on the romantic and domestic aspect and the various love affairs. These concern HH Asquith, Venetia Stanley, George Royal (Royal Naval Gunner), Bill Guy and Carrie (Caroline Palmer), which may draw you away from great matters of state, as indeed it did to the Prime Minister when Britain was at war.
The book takes us through the years from March 1914 to January 1916 and since much of it is centred around Portsmouth and Gosport where I resided until I was twenty-seven and my family had lived since 1866, I naturally took a keen interest with familiar streets and locations. I have lived and worked both sides of the water. Unlike Carrie I am still to be convinced that 'the drab naval city that was Portsmouth was the most exciting place in England' - however it holds many memories for me as I still call it my home town and I share with her the view from Portsdown Hill, 'their view from the top of the hill took Carrie's breath away - a birds-eye view of fifty miles of Hampshire, Sussex coastline at her feet, Portsmouth and the Solent, Chichester, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. I lived on Portsdown Hill and take that view with me always.
This is the Naval History of those two tragic years for the Royal Navy and the story covers many losses and famous battles from the loss of HMS Amphion, an active class cruiser completed in 1912 and mined 4 August 1914. One of the crew of Amphion was in fact Edward SF Fegen later as Captain of HMS Jervis Bay in WWII he won the VC. See 'If the Gods are Good, The Sacrifice of HMS Jervis Bay', Gerald L Duskin & Ralph Segman, Crëcy Maritime, 2005. Our novel does not state that approximately 147 British and 24 German prisoners died when she sank. The book gives the impression that there was just 3.
An error appears on Page 63 where it states that HM ship Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy were sunk by U-29. All my sources tell me that it was U-9, Captain Otto Weddingen who actually perished with another boat - U-29 later in the war. U-9 was the first U-Boat ever to reload her torpedoes whilst still submerged.
We move through WWI and the story takes us through the battles of the Falklands and Coronel. Our hero George Royal spent a large part of his war in HMS Inflexible (an Invincible class battlecruiser) described in 'The Fleet at War', Hodder & Stoughton 1915 as 'A Cruiser edition of the dreadnought'. A good photograph of HMS Indomitable, a sister ship, can be found in 'The Royal Navy in Old Photographs', JM Dent & Sons Limited 1975 and it is easy to see why George would have felt so proud.
George's father served in HMS Good Hope, which was incidentally the first RN ship to be painted all grey instead of black and yellow with a pink water line. The story follows his life until that ship was lost.
As a story I really enjoyed the read. However certain other aspects need to be mentioned, such as why anybody would need fourteen attempts to get into a hammock. I slept in a hammock in my first two ships and I never knew any Boy Seaman take that long! Why Mrs J Royal received a Telegram (Page 123), which seems all jumbled up? How Gwen, when setting off for the nearest Naval Establishment in Gosport jumped ahead of her time and found HMS Vincent (HMS St Vincent) which in 1914 would still have been Forton Barracks home of the Royal Marine Light Infantry (Red Marines) who left Forton 5 September 1923 (Last man out takes the clock). The boys moved in as HMS St Vincent 17 May 1927. In 1914 HMS St Vincent was a dreadnought Battleship.
The Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth opened 30th Sept 1903. There was an Establishment called 'Haslar Gunboat Yard' and I believe a coastal motorboat base was operational beside Haslar Bridge during WWI and in 1925 it became HMS Hornet. Haslar Bridge, we called it Windy Bridge, was once my shortcut home from HMS Dolphin when I lived in Henry Street.
I must admire the spirit of Carrie and Bill who travelled from Gosport by Buggy to the top of Portsdown Hill - it must have been quite a return journey in those days.
None of this should detract from the fact that this is a very good read, books are written for the general public and not Reviewers such as I. As well as enjoying the book I learnt a lot along the way and I look forward to the author's next book because I understand he intends to continue the story with the minor players. Will George find happiness and will Carrie find whatever she is seeking?