by M.L. Doyle
As a kid, I had little patience for listening to the stories my parents and grandparents told about their histories. Their childhoods and adult adventures held little interest for me.
Yes, I realize now, I wasn’t too bright.
Sure, I still remember some of what I heard, bits and pieces of WWII, things my father experienced. Things my mother went through during her service in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in WWII, but I frankly didn’t have any appreciation for the significance of the things they told me. Their stories, regrettably, are lost to me and to the world.
Luckily for us, Scott Bury, a Canadian-born writer, was much smarter than me and understood the stories he heard from his father-in-law weren’t just worth hearing, but were the kind of extraordinary tales custom made for books, movies and legend to be handed down for generations.
Bury’s Army of Worn Soles is the first book in a three book Eastern Front trilogy which chronicles the life and journeys of Bury’s father-in-law, Maurice Bury. I learned that in Canada, they have the completely civilized practice of making it possible for the husband to take his wife’s family name, which is what Scott Bury did. Who knew?
Told in historical novel format, Army of Worn Soles begins as Maurice Bury, a Canadian citizen who keeps his passport secreted in the lining of his Russian greatcoat, sits lice ridden, starving, thirsty and sick in a German prisoner of war camp. He has come to grips with the reality of his own imminent death but it is the hopeless state of his men, members of his Red Army odalenye, that weighs heaviest on his mind.
To be honest, I had this book in my Kindle library for some time before I read it. The main reason it sat ignored was because of the cover. As a veteran, I’m a bit snobbish about military accuracy, and the slouchy, felt boots on the cover did not look authentic to me. What soldier would wear such inappropriate footwear onto a battlefield?
There’s a reason why Soles is spelled the way it is in the title. Slouchy felt boots are, in fact, what Red Army soldiers wore and Bury reveals just how inappropriate they were. The pages are full of jaw dropping facts and coincidences that will make any reader sit back and think—that didn’t really happen. Did it?
Maurice, born in Montreal to Ukrainian parents, travels to Poland in with his mother in 1937 to wait out an economic downturn in Canada. Poland is not exactly welcoming to the family. Ukrainians are only allowed to attend specific schools and live in specific neighborhoods at the whims of the Polish government. At the time, even speaking Ukrainian was not allowed. Luckily Maurice has a knack for languages that will save his life on more than one occasion.
Two years later, in 1939, Germany invades Poland and Maurice and his mother live under German occupation until Stalin’s forces fight back. The Russians retake much of the territory they lost, sweeping their gains into the USSR, including the Bury family farm. By 1941, Maurice has been living under Soviet rule for several years, continuing his education and working toward his goal to become a teacher. All is seemingly fine until the draft letter arrives.
Maurice thinks his Canadian citizen status will protect him from being drafted, but of course, it doesn’t, and the incredible journey is just beginning.
The author provides gripping accounts of the training, the propaganda the soldiers are fed and the battles where every Red Army soldier is well aware that they are being used as cannon fodder. As an officer, Maurice thinks men are needlessly sacrificed for some minor goal which could have been achieved in smarter ways and with far less loss of life.
This is not the World War II American soldiers fought. There are no beach landings and no parachuting into French villages as part of a grand plan to liberate Europe. This is airplanes strafing columns of troops helpless to fight back, soldiers fighting tanks with rifles and grenades and honest to goodness cavalry charges and the brutal slaughter of the animals the soldiers rode. Is it possible the Red Army got its name for the amount of blood they were willing to shed for their cause?
They say war is chaos, that despite the chaos, your training kicks in and you go into battle knowing that you have to trust the people to the left and right of you to make it through. What if you’ve only met those people a couple of days before? What if you have no idea what the objective is or even where you are?
Bury fills in some of the historic facts, attempting to make sense of the maneuvers made and the positions held, but the realities of an Army in retreat are methodical and merciless. Maurice and his troops trudge hundreds of miles, no vehicles or even horses to carry them. In their wake, the Army leaves behind empty farmhouses, empty silos and empty pens where every chicken, cow, pig or sheep is rounded up to feed the massive horde, devouring as they go.
Army of Worn Soles is a page-turner that provides insights into the world of the Red Army during WWII in ways I’ve not read before. Perhaps it’s because the story is told through the eyes of Maurice Bury, Canadian born and always hopeful that somehow his citizenship will save him. In many ways, it doesn’t.
Army of Worn Soles from The Eastern Front trilogy is followed by Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. Each book is just under 200 pages which can be gobbled up in a sprint. I’m sure the next two will be read while my toes are buried in beach sand.
About the Author:
Scott Bury is the genre-jumping author of The Bones of the Earth, One Shade of Red, Army of Worn Soles, and a children’s book called “Sam, the Srawb Part,” from which he donated all proceeds to a children’s autism charity.
In between writing books and blog posts, Scott helped found an author’s cooperative publishing venture, Independent Authors International. He is also President of author’s professional association BestSelling Reads.
He lives in Ottawa with his two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a very understanding wife.
You can find more about Scott Bury, and contact him through his website, http://www.writtenword.ca, and on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.
About the Reviewer:
M.L. Doyle has served in the US Army at home and abroad for more than three decades as both a soldier and civilian. She calls on those experiences in her mystery, urban fantasy, erotic romance and non-fiction writing. She is the author of The Peacekeeper’s Photograph, The Sapper’s Plot, The General’s Ambition, The Bonding Spell and the recently released, The Bonding Blade. She has also authored an erotic romance series and two coauthored memoirs which feature women who wear combat boots.