Rifleman Marksman Sniper is a novel by Ronald Cove, which explores the events leading up to, as well as the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. It follows the Boxer turned Soldier Bill Auger on his journey as he attempts to not only aid the Allied forces’ win, but also survive in the process.
It is clear when reading this book that it comes from a place of passion and interest. Cove is undoubtedly full of knowledge in regard to the subject, and he is able to, in turn, educate the reader. I went into this book as someone with some knowledge of the 1914-1918 conflict, but it seems an pitiful amount compared to what I learned from this book, especially in terms of the relationships developed between comrades – a relationship that all soldiers know can be fleeting as a result of the high loss of life during the war, and in particular, at the Somme.
The narrative emanates nostalgia, not only from the characters talking of home (with particular references to Bow), but from the way the story is written itself – from Cove. It is no surprise, then, to read that the inspiration for writing this novel came from Cove’s many interactions with World War One veterans, due to his father also fighting in the Great War. Indeed, even the central characters of rifleman Auger, Sunstroke and Sergeant Selby are real men that Cove met.
Normal men with normal lives won the war – this is the overwhelming message I got from this book. Auger uses his skills as a boxer in order to progress as a soldier and stay alive – skills which Cove himself also knows well as he previously was an amateur boxer. There are sections of the book which give you a glimpse into the home lives of the soldiers, particularly in mutual reminisce. Auger and a soldier called Quinn discuss their origins as they recognise an East Londoner accent in each other, and find that they are a stones’ throw away from each other in Bow and Mile End.
This adds a sense of humanity to the book’s depiction of war, especially with Cove highlighting the accents of the soldiers in the writing. It allows for a great balance between humour and seriousness, and doesn’t ignore the effects of the high-pressured situation the soldiers are in. Instead, it adds to the overwhelming appreciation that these events actually happened.
This story has its feet in truth. A truth which is soaked in fear and death.
The dealing with loss is something I found to be profound in this book. It is treated respectfully but Cove allows for the truth of human emotion to be fully explored in this moment. The sense of frustration, anger, and fear completely bubble to the surface, and soldiers are faced with the dilemma in keeping calm and carrying on, or completely losing themselves.
Ultimately, this book is one that surprised me in so many ways, and it is a book that I took a lot from. It is a story of adventure and comradery, and a reminder of the struggles of the Great War, and the hardships that were overcome as a result of the strength of character of the individuals who lived it.
If you like this, you might like our review of Kate Thompson’s The Allotment Girls.