I have long been interested in history and, as a former naval officer, in military and naval history. As a result, I have read several history books, but most of the books I have read on naval history seemed to dwell on the Napoleonic Wars or WWII, with little on WWI except with respect to the Battle of Jutland. That, of course, was a battle between battleships and cruisers. As a former submariner, I couldn’t have that! On the approach of the centenary of WWI, I started to think about bringing to life some of the many other contributions the Royal Navy made to the war. Who knows, for example, that the RN was instrumental in setting up what is now known as MI6 and GCHQ? How many people are aware that sailors fought in the trenches on the Western Front, or that the supremacy of the skies above were won by the Royal Naval Air Service? Lo, an idea was born.
As one of four brothers myself, I came up with the concept of four brothers (the Millers) each contributing to the war effort in different arms of the service. In my research on the RN in WWI, I have come across many true and fascinating tales of daring and heroism. When the real history is so thrilling, it seemed pointless to reinvent a fictional version and, accordingly, all my books are based on or inspired by actual events. Naturally, I have skewed matters a little by melding together the characters of several people or playing with the time of events to suit my plot. After all, I am writing historical fiction and not a text book. However, I try to be as faithful to the facts as I can and hope that my readers will be inspired by a tale to read the real history afterwards. My mentor in this has been Bernard Cornwell with his tales of Richard Sharpe.
My first book is based on life in early submarines and, in particular, the very successful submarine campaign in the Dardanelles, where four submarine VCs were won. So successful was the campaign that when the Allies withdrew from the beaches, the Turks had only one week’s worth of ammunition left. The second novel focuses on the early days of naval intelligence and the Secret Service prior to the outbreak of WWI. It is perfectly true that the Admiralty persuaded the Treasury to invest in Persian oil fields to safeguard the navy’s oil supplies. There was, indeed, a German plot to foment a holy war against the British, but it actually took place after the war had started. John Buchan, himself a former MI6 agent, based his novel Greenmantle on these events.
The plot for my third novel concerns the Royal Naval Air Service and its Armoured Car Division. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was a great proponent of new technology and quickly latched onto the benefits of naval aviation. Whilst the War Office was buying most of its aircraft from a single source, the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough, the RN had the freedom to buy from private contractors considered the best in their class. As a result, several types of Sopwith fighter aircraft could be commissioned quickly and the RNAS was called in to protect the RFC’s reconnaissance aeroplanes. Similarly, the RN had the independence to develop mobile machine gun platforms and armoured fighting vehicles in place of cavalry.
I have several novels ahead of me to chart the progress of WWI, including some fascinating exploits in the Baltic leading all the way up to 1919. So please keep reading!
Check out the first book in Shaun’s ‘For Those in Peril’ series HERE!