The Nearly Man, Mark Bridgeman

The Nearly Man, Mark Bridgeman

This is an unusual biography, in that its subject never quite achieved greatness. However he still had an interesting life, serving in both World Wars, ending up fighting in Russia in 1918-19, experienced terrorist violence in Ireland, and saw the inside of two prison systems.

Francis Metcalfe’s First World War service was without reproach. He volunteered at the outbreak of war, and was still fighting well after the armistice. After serving on the Western Front he volunteered for a special service, which turned out to mean being sent to Russia, so he ended up fighting well into 1919, in truly terrible conditions. In Russia he also came into contact with Ernest Shackleton, and they do appear to have become reasonably close.

His fall from grace came in the years immediately after the First World War. As the author says in the introduction, he can be an infuriating character, although to say more feels like I’d be spoiling some of the surprises!

Some of his misfortunes weren’t entirely his own fault. He took a job on an estate in the west of Ireland just at the high of the murderous Republican campaign for independence, and fled after his employer was murdered as they were both on their way to church. It is also possible that he wasn’t entirely at fault in the events that led to his first fraud trial (although I doubt it!).

His misdeeds do provide us with some memorable scenes, in particular the time he spent in a French prison, which if his own account is entirely to be trusted seems like something out of pre-Revolutionary times!

This is a fascinating biography of someone who lived a very varied life, taking part in many of the most significant events of his times, but never quite reaching the top, and often reaching rock bottom!


1 – The thirst of youth
2 – Sunsets and sunrises
3 – Once I sought the grail
4 – Grown old before my day
5 – The waste land
6 – This side of paradise
7 – Metcalfe’s curse
8 – A great or little thing?
9 – The moving finger writes
10 – A tangled web
11 – Another day, another chance
12 – Blown by changing winds
13 – At the end of the earth I stand
14 – Brave new world
15 – Because you died
16 – Journey’s end

Author: Mark Bridgeman
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Whittles

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