An evocative and moving novel set in the landscape of South Africa, 1914, where a story of courage and bloodlust unravels 'between the mimosa shrubs and the thin pepper trees'; this is a story which began with fervent patriotism and ended in more bloodshed than anyone ever meant to spill. This is the story of the Battle of Sheba.
Author's Note: When the Great War broke out in Europe on 4 August, 1914, the new Union of South Africa, formed out of the old defeated Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and the English colonies of Cape Province and Natal, found itself threatened in the West by the enemy colony of German South-West Africa.
To many of the Boer South Africans, many of them leaders of great distinction in the war of 1899-1902, this immediately seemed an opportunity to recoup their losses and regain a free and independent country. Men like Generals Beyers, De la Rey and Christian de Wet, leaders of great skill in the earlier war, were vigorous and still active, but thrust by defeat and the passing of years among their memories.
Like Napoleon and his marshals before the Hundred Days, they were still smarting under the not-far-distant collapse of their armies; and though many of them had tried to settle in peace, they had too recently been in arms against Britain and the transition in 1914 from the role of enemy to that of champion was too violent. Egged on by the young and the hotheads, they felt they could cleanse their hearts of the corroding bitterness.
De la Rey was very soon removed from the scene. Driving through Johannesburg on 15 September, with Beyers, his car was shot at in mistake for that of a gang of bank-robber-murderers, for whom, by sheer coincidence, the police had thrown a cordon round the city, and De la Rey was killed instantly.
Beyers and De Wet managed eventually to get the rebellion going in the Western Transvaal and the Northern Free State; and Jan Smuts and Botha, the Prime Minister of the Union, former Boer leaders who had remained loyal to the new state, were obliged to take the field against their old comrades.
This is a story about events after the beginning of the rebellion and before its collapse, which culminated in an incident that became known as the Battle at Sheba.
The Author: John Harris, wrote under his own name and also the pen names of Mark Hebden and Max Hennessy.
He was born in 1916 and educated at Rotherham Grammar School before becoming a journalist on the staff of the local paper. A short period freelancing preceded World War II, during which he served as a corporal attached to the South African Air Force. Moving to the Sheffield Telegraph after the war, he also became known as an accomplished writer and cartoonist. Other 'part time' careers followed.
He started writing novels in 1951 and in 1953 had considerable success when his best-selling The Sea Shall Not Have Them was filmed. He went on to write many more war and modern adventure novels under his own name, and also some authoritative non-fiction, such as Dunkirk. Using the name Max Hennessy, he wrote some very accomplished historical fiction and as Mark Hebden, the 'Chief Inspector' Pel novels which feature a quirky Burgundian policeman.
Harris was a sailor, an airman, a journalist, a travel courier, a cartoonist and a history teacher, who also managed to squeeze in over eighty books. A master of war and crime fiction, his enduring novels are versatile and entertaining.