Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday

Author: Neil Matthews

Total Number of Pages: 135

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7


The concept of package holidays is a familiar one as are the advertisements reminding us of the desirability of ‘Two sun-filled weeks in Ibiza’, or Greece or even in the Caribbean. We also think nothing of flying immense distances to, ‘soak up the rays’.  But where did it all start?  This well-written and researched book attempts to answer that question.

The British are no strangers to the concept of ‘holidays’, both at home and abroad and were sufficiently adept at it by the middle of the Eighteenth Century to create what was known as ‘The Grand Tour’. Intended as ‘… A means of education and particularly social finishing’,   the ‘Tour was effectively a journey around both Britain and Europe by the upper classes, with the added bonus that it ‘…Also came to acquire a reputation for one specific benefit; it could improve your health’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lower orders’ were not encouraged to participate in such ventures. The rise of the British Middle Class and the development of reliable railway transport systems radically changed the situation. Prompted by the perceived health-benefits of both sea and salt air, Middle Class Britain increasingly patronised the seaside towns. Some brave souls even ventured across the English Channel into Europe. It was however Thomas Cook’s railway-based day excursions that really revolutionised British holiday-travel. They enabled the average worker to visit places hitherto reserved for those with money, while his  subsequent development of package holidays gave the British populace access to Europe. However, and although he is probably the best known, Thomas Cook was not alone in developing such concepts. Others were doing similar things and the activities of both Cook and his contemporaries are examined within this work. They are not, however, its main focus. That is reserved for an organisation called the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA).

The Polytechnic Touring association was a natural development of a larger organisation known simply as ‘The Polytechnic’. Privately-funded and developed to provide educational ‘improvement’ for the increasing numbers of ‘White Collar’ workers within the City of London, the Polytechnic was formed in 1888 and was described as being ‘… A blend of club and classroom’.  At the time this concept was revolutionary. The Polytechnic’s founder and (initially) chief financier was a seasoned traveller, and, naturally, travel came to be part of the new school’s ethos. The PTA was the result, becoming an organisation which the author suggests was ‘One of the most enduring and successful travel agencies of the latte Victorian and Edwardian era’. Whether this statement is correct or not will be for the reader to decide.

An Acknowledgements  section at the front of the volume thanks those involved in its creation, and this is followed by an Introduction which provides a general historical background to both British holiday practices, the origins of the original Polytechnic and the PTA itself . The Introduction is followed by 10 Chapters which form the main body of the work. These are essentially detailed elaborations on the information provided in the Introduction. A section titled A Note about Money gives a small amount of information concerning currency-values and invites interested readers to peruse a website for additional calculations. This section is in turn followed by a Select Bibliography, while a two-page Index completes the work. Within the volume, two separate photographic sections provide images of persons and documents important to the narrative together-with examples of postcards relevant to the PTA story. The latter are largely uncaptioned, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. No maps are provided.

This volume is ‘specialist’ in nature and this reviewer believes that it is likely to be of most interest and use to historians specialising in British social history, the history of British education (especially the development of ‘technical’ education), and the British Industrial Revolution. As it details the rise of British mass-travel, social-history researchers with an interest in that subject may also find this work useful, while those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in Britain may well find something to interest them.

For this reviewer, the absence of maps, captions for many of the images, and an indication of the latter’s existence on the Contents page, reduces this volume’s research value. As a result, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 7. It could have been higher.


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Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

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Reviewer:  nzrownmines

Title: Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945

Author: John Fidler

Total Number of Printed Pages:  145

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7


Although the large and heavily armed naval vessel known as a Battleship is now only seen in museums, and then only rarely, there was a time when they were symbol of national pride and a yard-stick by-which international importance was measured.  This volume tells their story.

The Battleship (and its associate, the Battlecruiser) was the end-result of an evolutionary process by which sail-powered warships had become progressively larger and larger. This occurred over several centuries, with such vessels reaching their zenith in the mighty ‘Ships of the Line’ which were built in the early years of the Nineteenth Century.  Sail-power might have ‘peaked’ with such vessels, but the advent of  metal hulls and reliable mechanical propulsion, ensured that naval development did not, and over time, the ‘big-gun’ naval vessels became ever larger.   This work chronicles this growth and is well-written and easy to read. Logically, it commences with the introduction of steam-power into naval vessels and concludes with the advent of the aircraft carrier – the battleship’s nemesis and, ultimately, its replacement. Between these two events, the development of metal hulls, mechanical propulsion machinery, guns of increasing size and political machinations are covered in impartial detail.  Unsurprisingly, and as it was the largest user of the type, there is a preponderance of information about the battleships and battlecruisers used by the Royal Navy. The end of World War II was also the end of the battleship as a viable military unit, and although the work nominally ends in 1945, a final chapter provides a postscript beyond that date. It outlines the fates of those vessels which managed to survive that conflict, and provides details those that ultimately made it into preservation.

The volume consists of 13 Chapters, with these being prefaced by an Introduction which gives a two-page precis of both the Royal Navy’s large warship history and of the battleship type in general. A Bibliography lists additional titles which a reader might find of interest, while an Index provides details of Admirals, ships, and events. The work is profusely illustrated, with images appearing on most pages, where they frequently illustrate the text on the same page. However, with few exceptions, the images are not sourced. There is also no reference to their existence on the Contents page, although the inside page of the volume’s dust-jacket does state that it is ‘Illustrated with over 100 images and an eight page colour section…’

The dust-jacket reference to ‘…An eight page colour section…’ concerns a group of images which can only be described as being ‘Magnificent’ and which depict various battleships of the Royal Navy in all their Imperial splendour. Those appearing opposite page 56 are especially impressive.  However, with no prior indication of their existence, this reviewer literally found them ‘by accident’, a situation which he finds unacceptable in a volume purporting to be a serious and authoritative history of its subject.

The matter of the un-notated images notwithstanding, this volume is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those with a specific interest in ‘Battlewagons’ and very large heavily-armed warships, naval history; the various navies which used such vessels, and general military history. Warship modellers may also find the photographs a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.


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Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War

Author: Roland, Lyell, Munro

Total Number of Pages: 276

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9


In war, necessity is frequently the mother of invention, a fact attested-to by this volume. It records the origins of that arm of aviation now commonly-known as ‘Battlefield support’ and the author’s role in applying the concept while in Europe during World War II.

At its most basic, this volume is a family’s homage to a now-deceased soldier (the author having died in 2002). However, it is much more than that.  The introduction to the narrative notes that the author ‘…First wrote about his experiences… partly for his children and partly … to make sure that what he and his comrades… achieved would not be forgotten’. As such it is both autobiographical, and a reminiscence, the manuscript being finally published through the joint efforts of the author’s children, a nephew and an unnamed editor. As the work covers a largely unknown area of military endeavour, historians have cause to be thankful for their efforts. There is however even more, as the work is also a history of the development of the Air Observation Post concept of artillery support for the British Army. In that context, it details the evolutionary steps which ultimately led to the establishment of the Army Air Corps as a separate and stand-alone part of the British Defence Forces.

The main part of this book consists of nine Chapters, together with four Appendices. Maps, a Bibliography and an Index are also provided.  An introduction and Forward to the Original Manuscript give background and provide detail of the some-what convoluted path that the volume followed to its eventual publication. Where relevant to the narrative, parts of romantic correspondence between the author, and the lady whom he subsequently married appears within the volume. The work is well-illustrated, and includes two of the author’s ‘in-field’ sketches. Numerous photographs are provided, although these are small in size. Several of the photographs are noted as being from the Imperial War Museum, but the majority appear to have been from the authors own collection, although this cannot be stated with certainty.  No mention of either photographs or sketches appears on the Contents page. Where necessary, Source Notes appear within each chapter. These are of the Endnote variety, are numbered sequentially, with the appropriate reference appearing at the end of each chapter. Curiously, asterisks are used on several pages to provide additional detail; this information appearing as footnotes on the relevant page.

The author has an understated sense of humour and tells his tale well, with the various sketches and images contributing to the over-all enjoyment. The insertion of additional detail by the volume’s editor provides background information, and adds to the reader’s understanding.

This reviewer enjoyed reading this work, and believes that it is likely to appeal to a variety of interests. These could include military historians; and those with a specific interest in British Army history. Aviation enthusiasts are also likely to find the information it contains of interest, while ‘generalist’ students of World War II, and especially the D-Day landings and the Invasion of Europe will probably find it informative. Military and aviation modellers may also find it useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.


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Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear’


Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear

Author: Jim Crossley

Total No. of Printed Pages: 232

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 5


Within naval circles, Monitors were a small and odd group of ships that carried very large-calibre guns and were used for the bombardment of land-based targets.   They were of an unusual design, at variance with well-established naval practice, and with idiosyncrasies that did not endear them to those used to more conventional vessels.  The type was however extremely effective in its role and contributed significantly to Allied successes during both World Wars.  Due to advances in technology, the monitor-type warship is now obsolete.

The author of this volume is an enthusiast on his subject and has written a highly detailed account of the type’s activities with the Royal Navy. While so-doing he describes the origins of the ‘Monitor’ type vessel, events relating to its development and construction, and Monitor service with the Royal Navy during the World Wars. Their post WWI activities in support of ‘White’ Russian forces makes especially interesting reading. Because of such detail and information, this work is likely to be of value to students of the Royal Navy, sea-going artillery, general military history and European inter-war politics. Twelve maps are included. These depict the areas where the Royal Navy’s monitor-type ships served.

Despite being well-researched and informative, the volume is not without its faults.  For clarity these will be dealt with under individual headings:

Photographs: Although it contains 10 photographs (located in the centre of the work), there is no ‘Photographic’ section listed in the Table of Contents.  To this reviewer, this omission limits the work’s usefulness, and reduces the authority of the Table of Contents. As the latter can influence a purchase decision, not listing this section could result in lost sales. The photographs themselves are sourced from the Imperial War Museum, and although this source is acknowledged, the location where the acknowledgement appears is remote from the images, rather than underneath them in conformance with contemporary practice

Drawings / Figures: A section designated Line Drawings appears within the Table of Contents. This contains 10 ‘Drawings’, seven of which depict the various classes of vessels appearing within the volume.  These are excellent and detailed. However, the names of vessels within each class are not listed below these drawings, somewhat negating their usefulness, As a result, the reader is required to continually move between image and text when attempting to determine which class or vessel is being referred-to.

Three other ‘Drawings’ are also included.   These depict respectively a hull cross-section, a proposed modification to be used for landing troops onto a beach and a system for finding targets at night.  The images within the Line Drawings section are numbered 1-10 with no differentiation between ships and ‘technical’. Regrettably two of the drawings (9, 10) are in reverse order and image No.2 is variously a ‘Drawing’ (p.24) and a ‘Figure’ (p.9).

Glossary: The volume contains no Glossary, the writer evidently believing that purchasers of this work would be familiar with nautical and naval terminology. For those who are not (this reviewer included), the presence of a Glossary, with simple explanations of the terminology used, would have been appreciated, and could possibly have widened the potential audience.

Sources /Bibliography: Although containing an Index, and an Acknowledgements section, the volume contains neither bibliography nor sources. and indeed states that ‘There are many other useful source books… on the First World War and… on the Second World War’. To this reviewer this is sloppy and reduces the volume’s value and usefulness still further.

Appendix: The volume contains a single Appendix. This is in a very small font, making reading difficult. In addition, several of the section’s columns are located close-to or actually on the centre binding. For some readers, accessing this information could require the breaking of the binding itself; an undesirable outcome for a recently-purchased volume.

Proof-Reading / Editing: Regrettably, the work abounds with extremely long sentences, into which the author sometimes introduces additional information or concepts. The reading of these becomes both tedious and an act of endurance, a fact not helped by spelling inconsistencies.  For this reviewer, better proof-reading and editing would have considerably improved his reading experience.

In precis, this work is admirably researched and records the activities of a little known (and now extinct) type of naval vessel. As already noted, it is likely to be of value to those interested in the Royal Navy, sea-going artillery, general military history and European politics between the two World Wars. Unfortunately it is badly let down by the faults previously described, especially in regard to the photographs. In this reviewer’s opinion, had more care and attention to detail been exercised, this volume could have been so much better. In its current form, it is, at best, mediocre.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I give it a 5.


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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear’