Covenant with Death

  • by John Harris
  • Narrated by Mike Rogers
  • 14 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

They joined for their country. They fought for each other.
When war breaks out in 1914, Mark Fenner and his Sheffield friends immediately flock to Kitchener's call. Amid waving flags and boozy celebration, the three men - Fen, his best friend Locky, and self-assured Frank, rival for the woman Fen loves - enlist as volunteers to take on the Germans and win glory.
Through ramshackle training in sodden England and a stint in arid Egypt, rebellious but brave Fen proves himself to be a natural leader, only undermined by ongoing friction with Frank. Headed by terse, tough Sergeant Major Bold, this group of young men form steel-strong bonds, and yearn to face the great adventure of the Western Front.
Then, on one summer's day in 1916, Fen and his band of brothers are sent to the Somme, and this very ordinary hero discovers what it means to fight for your life.
Stirringly told from the down-to-earth view of everyday soldiers, Covenant with Death is acclaimed as one of the greatest novels about war ever written.

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A superb Great War historical novel

My grandmother was born in Sheffield. I can remember my great grandmother and grandmother telling me stories of what happened to the City of Sheffield after the battle of the Somme in World War I. My maternal great uncle was a member of the Sheffield City Battalion (12th Battalion) York Regiment 94th Brigade, 31 Division and died at the Somme. I have his regimental patch with the white rose on it. I grabbed this book “Covenant with Death” by John Harris because it was a historical novel about the Sheffield City Battalion. The book was first published in 1961 and has been reprinted several times since then. The audio book I read was released on September 4, 2014.

The book is a novel about Mark Fenner, a reporter from the Sheffield newspaper, some of his friends from work and other men of the city of Sheffield. The first half of the book is about signing up with great glee and anticipation when War was declared in 1914. Then the waiting to be called, while life went on normally, at last call came, the training, and finally the issuing of summer uniforms and being sent to defend the Suez Canal. Finally they are sent to Senne, France in April 1916. The story continues with the daily routine of the men who by now we have gotten to know well. The last half of the book deals with the battle of the Somme. The book shows us with unbearable actuality what happened to the Sheffield City battalion on that horrible day. In the Somme offensive they were on the extreme left of the 15 mile British front. At 7:20 a.m. they moved into No Man’s Land at 7:30 a.m. bombardment stopped and four waves of the battalion rose and advanced into a devastating hail of machine gun and artillery fire. After 10 minutes all of the 1131 officers of men of the battalion were dead. In the story our hero Mark Fenner is the only one alive. But in the real battle only Corporal Outram, a Signaler was the only one left alive. This was repeated up and down the line and at the end of the ten minutes over 70,000 British was dead. This was the deadliest ten minutes in the history of the British Army; at the end of the battle one million men were dead. The battle of the Somme was the costliest battle in British history. The minute by minute description as told by Fenner is gripping. It puts you right into the battle with him. There is a big difference in reading a story from a personal viewpoint of the battle of the Somme than the history book description.

My great grandmother told me that most of the young men of Sheffield died in that battle and it took a long time for the city to recover. Every house was in mourning. The book gave us the contrast between the years of preparation and the moment of destruction of a single generation of a cities’ population on 1 July 1916. If you can picture this scene in many towns and cities throughout England and the British Empire with all their young men dead or wounded you will then understand why they changed the rules and never again allow regiments of men from the same city.

This is a great book that personalized the Great War. I am sure there are many people that would not be able to read this book. But if you are able, you will learn in great detail what it was like to be an ordinary soldier in the Great War. Mike Rogers did an excellent job narrating the book.

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- Jean

The Somme

If you could sum up Covenant with Death in three words, what would they be?

Harrowing, precise and excellent.


What was one of the most memorable moments of Covenant with Death?

The description of the attack that July 1 morning is so well written - Harris does a great job of describing the chaos of that terrible day.


Have you listened to any of Mike Rogers’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

First listen - Rogers was outstanding.


Any additional comments?

Kudos all around!

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- Bobobirdiebuddy

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2014
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio UK