On a spring morning in 1903, Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald, one of Britain's greatest military heroes, took his life in a hotel room in Paris. A few days later he was buried hastily in an Edinburgh cemetery as his fellow countrymen tried to come to terms with the fact that one of Scotland's most famous soldiers had ended his life rather than face charges against his character. The suicide and its aftermath created a national scandal and one which still reverberates long after those dramatic events - it is now clear that the official files dealing with his case, the papers of the Judge Advocate, have been destroyed. Macdonald, or "Fighting Mac" as he was known to an adoring public, was no ordinary soldier. A crofter's son who had risen from the ranks in the Victorian army, he covered himself with glory during a long and successful military career and in 1898 was widely acknowledged as the true hero of the Battle of Omdurman, which cemented British imperial rule in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
Everything lay at his feet - a knighthood, honours, the respect of fellow generals such as Roberts and Kitchener - but Macdonald's career came to a shocking full stop when he stood accused of homosexuality and was ordered to face a court martial. Unable to come to terms with the disgrace, he committed suicide. That should have been the end of his story but so powerful was the myth created by Fighting Mac that people refused to believe that he was dead. Soon rumours were circulating that Macdonald had faked his death and had adopted the persona of a prominent Prussian officer, the future Field Marshal August von Mackensen, one of Germany's great leaders during World War I. "Fighting Mac" tells the true story behind his disgrace and sheds new light on the myths and legends which grew up after his death. It also provides a compelling insight into what it was like for a ranker like Macdonald to enter the privileged territory of the officers mess in an elite Highland regiment, The Gordon Highlanders. Finally it examines the political and military background to Queen Victoria's little wars of empire and the conditions facing the ordinary soldier at home and abroad.
Trevor Royle has built up an outstanding reputation as an historian of war and empire. His recent books include bestselling accounts of the end of the empire in Africa and India, a controversial biography of the Chindit leader Orde Wingate and CRIMEA- THE GREAT CRIMEAN WAD 1854-1856, a groundbreaking history of the war in the Crimea. He lives in Edinburgh.