First, in February, there is the tragic loss of the Parliament Buildings’ Centre Block by a suspicious fire. Then, in May, Lieutenant-General Alderson’s leaked memo damning the Ross Rifle ignites a political firestorm. After the Canadian Corps’ disaster at the St. Eloi carters, it doesn’t take long for Major-General Sam Hughes to replace Alderson with Lieutenant-General Julian Byng. Within days, the Corps is struck by a devastating blow at Mount Sorrel. In October, Sir Robert Borden tires of crossing swords with his mercurial minister of Militia and Defence issues a do what you are told ultimatum! A defiant Hughes quits.
At the sharp end, Major Llewellyn and his men continue to learn the use of the hand grenade, the rifle, and the bayonet as they are grounded in the terrible carnage at St. Eloi, Mount Sorrel, and the maw of the Somme. Gunner Paul Ryan will have to live with the tragic mistake as his shells decimate his own countrymen. Matron Samantha Lonsdale continues to use all her skills to put back the pieces of men torn apart by devastating new weapons. In the fall, Lonsdale is sent to Russia, where she is soon plunged into the Russian Revolution.
By the year’s end, they have been sharpened to a razor’s edge.
On the home front, Sir Robert Borden’s government is being rocked by scandals. First it was the soldiers’ bad boots, then charges of graft and corruption in the militia department’s contracts, followed by the shell crisis. With an election in the air and the opposition pounding his minister of Militia and Defence, Major-General Sam Hughes, Borden is fighting desperately to save his government.
On the western front, after six months of constant harsh training, the CEF finally enter the trenches in France. Infantry Captain Llewellyn struggles to keep his men alive as snipers take their toll, and the Ross rifle fails its first combat test. Nothing prepares him for the chlorine gas attack at Ypres. A frustrated Gunner Paul Ryan watches helplessly as his comrades-in-arms suffer. He can’t help, since artillery shells are in short supply. As the battles rage, nursing sister Samantha Lonsdale is nearly overwhelmed as she cares for the sick, the wounded, and the dying.As the hammer blows fall, the blade is being tempered into cold steel.
Certainly not the British! All they wanted was a sharp salute as the men did what they were told. Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and his Minister of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, had different ideas. Borden had no choice! When England declared war, Canada was automatically at war too. Hughes, however, was eager to get his boys bloodied before the war was over. He would do anything in his power to get the Canadians into the fight.
As the guns sounded in August, the first contingent gathered at Valcartier. Corps of Guide Captain James Llewellyn had trained for this moment, and he was not about to miss out. Gunner Paul Ryan had volunteered to escape his family and to impress a girl. Nursing Sister Samantha Lonsdale had answered the call because she needed a job, and going to war was an adventure.
As the months rolled by, it was at Valcartier and Salisbury Plain that they helped forge the Canadian Expeditionary Force into one of the most formidable weapons of the First World War.
What really happened on the night of February 3, 1916, when a fire destroyed the centre block of the Canadian Parliament buildings?
Inspector Andrew MacNutt of the Dominion Police's Secret Service, his wife Katherine, and Count Jaggi know, since they were there in the reading room when the fire started.
Ever since the war began MacNutt has been struggling to secure Canada's borders against acts of sabotage organized by German military attaches based in New York City. The good news is that the Americans have finally ordered them back to Germany. The bad news is that Berlin has sent one of their best operatives, Count Jaggi, to replace them.
Using his cover as a Belgian Relief representative, Count Jaggi visits Ottawa, where he meets and is attracted to Katherine, who is helping him organize a local fundraiser.
Unaware that Inspector MacNutt has intercepted his secret messages and is hot on his trail, Count Jaggi takes a final trip to Ottawa to see Katherine, with tragic consequences.