The Brother Keepers


The most comprehensive, true-to-life, historical novel ever written about the First World War. A weaving of history with a solid and captivating story.

The Brother Keepers is a creative-non-fiction saga of brothers who were swept up into the vortex of European militarism as members of the Great War Canadian Expeditionary Force and who experienced the major battles of World War I, a war that disrupted the bonds of a brotherhood forged in bucolic Nova Scotia. The saga is told in the sweeping Michener tradition including an accurate account of historical events and what men endured in the trenches of Belgium and France in 1915 to 1918. And it reflects a juxtaposition of God and war that begs contemplation.

The Brother Keepers is an epic that conveys:

What it meant to experience and endure the major battles of The Great War as volunteer soldiers of the Canadian Corps, a relatively-unknown, elite corps of shock troops second to none on the Western Front and a corps that endured the great battles of human attrition.

What it meant to be a sniper in the First World War and live on the edge when the profession of military sniping, the sine qua non of which was “one shot, one kill,” was in its formative years.

What it meant to be a bagpiper who solidified “pride of regiment” in soldiers, led men “over the top,” and instilled in them the “Mir Cath” or “frenzy of battle” while piping them forward against the enemy during terrifying charges across no man’s land.

What it meant to be a stretcher-bearer facing the most horrible aspects of war, often forced to choose who lived and who remained to die alone on the battlefield.

What it meant to witness the world’s greatest non-atomic, man-made explosion in Halifax Harbour – the Halifax Explosion.

And what it meant to survive the bloody bog of Passchendaele, embodying the very worst conditions experienced in any war on any front,  where each mile of cold, rainy advance resulted in over 50,000 casualties, where the mud of the tortured terrain swallowed soldiers, artillery pieces and horses, and where, with the ensuing spring, the corruption would ooze up out of the mud in the form of bloated corpses and body parts that would mingle with the debris of war before the remains of those who had taken the fall could eventually be carted away for decent burial.



Did you have an ancestor in World War I? Do you have any idea what he endured?

     This work of creative war-history is primarily non-fiction, yet the saga is based on the World War I fictional experiences of five MacInnes brothers superimposed upon the details of history. The tale has its roots in idyllic, pre-war Atlantic Canada (the Annapolis Valley, Cape Sable Island and Pictou County, Nova Scotia) and Grand Manan in New Brunswick). The epic sweeps the reader into the vortex of the horrendous World War I battles of human attrition in Belgium and France. It will entertain you, move you emotionally and provide you with an insightful history of World War I and the Highland military tradition as seen through the adventures and experiences of these brother keepers.

     What begins as a glorious crusade against the invading Huns devolves into a colossal struggle for survival. Brought up in the parsonage of a Baptist minister fondly referred to as “The Old Gent,” sons Sable, Ian, and Fraser are taught to be “brother keepers.” They bond fiercely through a multitude of reckless endeavors and escapades of tomfoolery and danger on both water and land as they learn to handle firearms while growing up in rural Nova Scotia along with brothers Dugald and Murdoch.

   Intertwined in this free-wheeling lifestyle is their grandfather Asa, who makes it his duty to instill in the boys a pride in their Celtic heritage. Sable, the ringleader of the brotherhood, becomes a crack shot early on, earning his rite of passage when he kills a buck and faces down a bear. Enlisting in the CEF, he becomes a sniper. Ian learns to play the Highland bagpipes and becomes entangled with two girls whom he meets in the Highland heart of Nova Scotia. Although horrified at the atrocities of war, Ian enlists as a piper when assured that he will be able to play in the pipe band and not have to kill. Fraser, the lighthearted one, occupies himself with girls until he joins his brothers in their army adventures.

   The contingents of the CEF sent to England are referred to as the “comedian contingents” by Imperial Army officers who proceed to forge the intrepid Canucks into effective soldiers. Shipped to the Western Front, Sable and his brothers experience bombardments, trench raids, entombment, mine explosions, sniping, bayonet fighting, firefights, loss of comrades, barroom brawls, bloody disasters, mud and mayhem while in the ranks of the 25th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles (The MacKenzie Highlanders) of Halifax, as well as the 31st Battalion of Calgary. Sable undergoes intensive sniper training and takes his toll on the enemy. Ian becomes a stretcher-bearer and a brother keeper of his battalion mates.

     This saga of military tragedy and heroism explores the Scottish military tradition and the role of bagpipes as an instrument of war, and it reveals resonances to modern day wars. Out of this searing odyssey on European soil, the most significant event in Canadian history, emerged worldwide recognition of the Canadian Corps as an elite fighting unit and Canada as a nation unto itself.

   Told with detailed attention to verisimilitude, this didactic, military, morality tale is a comprehensive work of literary fiction based on a framework of intensively-researched, actual, historical facts. This “living history” provides a vivid insight into the life of a soldier on the Western Front from 1915 to 1919 while placing Canada’s role in the Great War in proper context with that of United States.





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