BOOK REVIEW ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’

 

99.CHELSEA PENSIONERS

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose

Author: Stephen Wynn, Tanya Wynn

Total Number of Pages: 230

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

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In a note on this volume’s dustjacket, the authors state that that the book ‘…Looks at the hospital’s beginnings…goes on to look at some of the characters who have been Pensioners at the hospital over the centuries as well as some of the individuals who have been buried in the hospital’s grounds. There is also an in depth look at the hospital’s governors [and] a look in some detail at a few of those who currently live and work in the hospital’. It is an excellent precis’.

The book opens with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s well-known poem For the Fallen; the verse which begins: They shall not grow old… It is an appropriate Dedication. The Title and Contents pages follow in succession. An Introduction is next; while providing background to the book, it also summarises its content.  The 14 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to both the hospital itself and to noteworthy individuals and events which are associated with it. They may best be described as being the ‘Historical’ section of the volume. Where appropriate, subheadings within each Chapter detail both specific events and individuals. Chapters 5-to 12 may best be described as being ‘People’-focussed, the majority of their content being in the nature of biographical details for named individuals. Within this bloc, and where appropriate, specific individuals have been allocated a Chapter to themselves, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (Chapter 6 Margaret Thatcher) being one of several individuals accorded this honour. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a partly British Government-funded institution and Chapter 13 (Hansard Discussions) records the Hospital-related discussions which have occurred in the House of Commons since 1807. Such debates are recorded verbatim in Hansard (the official record of such discussions), with those records forming the basis of entries within the Chapter. Chapter 14 (Correspondence) contains both text and photographic copies of ‘…A few post cards and a letter connected to the Royal Hospital…’ The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Conclusion follows. This both summarises the volume and permits the authors to express their opinions on the institution’s present and possible future.  A biographical section titled About the Author follows. Again, its title is self-explanatory. Curiously, a 15-entry Subsection occurs within that section. Titled Sources, it is bibliographic in nature and function. A four-page Index completes the volume. It is not however the book’s final printed page, this honour being accorded to a final (albeit unnumbered) page placed behind page 229 on which  there is an advertisement for Pen and Sword-published titles which can be ordered from both the author and the Publisher. The volume contains 53 largely-unsourced monochrome images, defined as Figures. These are numbered sequentially and informatively captioned. Unsurprisingly, they are largely people-focussed but also include other items relevant to the narrative. For unknown reasons, the last image (on page 221) is not numbered. Although it would have helped readers to precisely-locate the Royal Hospital Chelsea the volume contains no Map.

Although this volume is well-written, for this reviewer it was badly let down by its Index, A random search within the Index for names and locations occurring within the volume found numerous examples where such names were omitted. These includes such entries as that for Michael Hurley (pages 204-205), and Patrick Johnson (page 146), while John Price, despite being the subject of a substantial entry on pages 202 and 203 was also absent from the Index. It was also noted that where some subjects were accorded an Index entry, these were incomplete; the Wren Chapel being but one such example: Although carrying Index entries for pages 18 and 20, that on page 86 was omitted. As other, similar, examples of the above were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably suffered, especially as the ommissions appear to be very numerous. There is no way to know the extent of the problem. The volume also contains numerous unsourced Quotes. In the absence of supporting citations, it is possible to suggest that these are imagined; there again being no way to know otherwise with certainty. The standard of proofreading was also disappointing, with several examples of incorrect entries being noted (page 85; 1918, not 2018), together with spelling mistakes. It was also noted that book titles, where appearing within the text, were not accorded acknowledgment through either a Footnote or an Endnote.

Although for this reviewer at least, it was let down by the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’, it is very evident that this volume is a labour of love. In the absence of any other contemporary volumes on the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is likely to become a standard work of reference for its subject. On that basis it may appeal to readers of all persuasions with an interest in British military history, while military historians with a similar interest may also find it worthy of their attention. Health and social historians and researchers may also find it worthy of perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

98. SUBMARINES

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations

Author: Erminio Bagnasco

No. of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ¾

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In what is effectively an introduction to what is to follow, the author states that ‘This book deals with thee submarines of the navies engaged in the Second World War and includes those boats or classes which had been laid down, but which never entered service, or which had not been completed until after hostilities had ceased’. As a summary it is clear and concise.

This volume was originally published in Italy in 1977, a detail which has a bearing on the way that it is laid out. It opens with a multi-columned Contents page, which is in turn followed by a multi-functional section titled Data Key / Abbreviations/ Bibliography. This clarifies the volume’s purpose and contains both a Glossary and a list of the abbreviations used throughout the book. Although what is described as a Bibliography also appears within this section, this is a somewhat-loose term to classify what a note accompanying it describes as a ‘…List of books [what] may be of value to the reader who wishes to pursue specific subjects further’ rather than a list of titles and sources used when writing the book. By way of explanation the same note states that ‘In the original Italian edition of this book the author did not furnish a bibliography’. A Preface follows. This elaborates on the statement made at the start of this review, with the author further stating that he has ‘…Endeavoured to furnish the reader with…enough material to compare the technical and operational histories of all the submarines that took part in the war’. It is an ambitious aim. The book’s Introduction is next. While primarily a highly-detailed history of both submarines and submarine warfare from the time the craft was invented, to the end of World War II, a sub-section within it details post World War 2 developments in both submarines and submerged warfare. The main part of the volume follows.  This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of eight named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to submarine users. Seven of the Sections are devoted to ‘major’ submarine users with the title of the final section (The Lesser Powers) being self-explanatory. According to the author each Section / Chapter’ is divided in turn subdivided into two sections. ‘The first treats of naval policy, preparations for undersea warfare, types of wartime operations undertaken and the characteristics’. The second section…gives a detailed description of the various classes of submarines…lists the names of the boats, description, principal technical characteristics, a brief history of their wartime careers and the fate of each member of the class’. It is an excellent precis. In most (but not all) instances, at least one photograph of the class under discussion is provided. Where appropriate, a profile drawing of the vessel may also (but not always) be provided; in some instances these being expanded to a three-view format. While these are not to a constant scale, the scale to which they are drawn appears alongside the individual drawing. Where there are significant differences between individual vessels within the class, smaller ‘thumbnail’ illustrations may also appear together with any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. Typically, these may include alterations made to armament, or structures. In addition to the previously-mentioned specifications etc., additional information is provided through the use of tables, technical diagrams, plans, graphs, charts and ‘detail’ photographs of equipment. The volume contains numerous unsourced photographs of individual submarines. Although all are captioned, the amount of information presented varies in quantity from image to image. Although submarines operated in a wide range of areas during World War II, no Maps are provided to indicate where these might have been.  An Index placed at the rear of the book is its last section. This lists all vessels mentioned within the volume.

For this reviewer this volume was let down by the very narrow focus of its Index. As previously-noted this section ostensibly lists all the vessels that appear within this book. In fact it doesn’t, and only lists the location of the vessel’s Class / Specifications entry, not the locations of relevant text or photographs outside that section. To use the French submarine Surcouf as but one example of this practice, that vessel’s Index entry indicates it appears on page 53; and, there is indeed an entry and technical specification for Surcouf on that page. That there are in fact other entries for that vessel on pages 42, 43, 54 and 55 is not however mentioned. As this was but one of several examples noted while reviewing this volume, this practice would seem to be widespread. In addition, the section contains no references to individuals, theatres of operation or geographical locations; ommissions which serve to limit its usefulness. Should a reader seek an individual submarine they will find at least a reference to it. However, should they wish to know why it was constructed, who commanded it, where it served or what it did, they will search the Index in vain. This is unfortunate, as it considerably reduces the volume’s usefulness and value as a research tool, removing it from the ‘Work of Standard Reference’ category as a result.

There is no doubt that this volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject, and, despite the ‘limitations’ listed above,  is, indeed, encyclopaedic in its coverage. On that basis it is likely to have wide appeal to readers interested in submarines, submarine warfare and general ‘things naval’. Military historians interested in submarine operations may find it of use, while warship modellers and war-gamers with an interest in submarines may find it to be a useful reference source.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

97. ALL THINGS GEORGIAN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century

Authors: Joanne Major, Sarah Murden

Total Number of Pages: 170

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

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When describing the contents of this volume, its Dustjacket notes that it is a ‘…Collection of twenty-five true tales‘…’In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era’. It also notes that within it, the reader will ‘Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals…’ It is an accurate summary of what follows.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents page. As would be expected, it thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted the authors in the preparation of the volume. This is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this, two sub-sections provide both historical background to the era and of the Hanoverian royal dynasty which so-dominated the United Kingdom during the time under discussion. A section titled Timeline of Events Relevant to the Long Eighteenth Century follows; its title is self-explanatory. The 25 Chapters which form the main part of the work now appear. As previously-noted these comprise 25 stories relating to the activities of various notorious and well-known individuals within Eighteenth Century Britain and Europe. It should be noted that of the 24 tales presented (Chapter 25 being a summary of the era) 19 could be described as ‘Female focussed’. The reasons for this are unknown. A section titled Notes and Sources follows Chapter 25. As indicated by its title, it is equivalent to a Bibliography. The final section of the volume is an oddity, and consists of three pages listing books written by the authors, together with accompanying reviews. The section is unashamedly self-promotional and whether it is appropriate for the volume is something that only the reader can decide. There is no Index. The volume is well illustrated with both monochrome and colour images including plans and other images relevant to the narrative. Where possible the individual being discussed within each Chapter, is also depicted. However, a lack of such images has meant that at times these are of the ‘supporting cast’ to the tale. Although the images are certainly captioned and carry the appropriate citations, for a large number, the captions are single-sentence in format and can best be described as being ‘adequate’. It should be noted that, in several instances, although there was no ‘cross-referencing’ between the two sections, (text and image) it appeared that the reader was expected to associate the image with the text they were reading. The volume contains numerous Quotes. However, these do not carry supporting citations and in the absence of the latter, the authenticity of said Quotes must inevitably be questioned, together with their value as a research tool.  The volume contains one Map. This is an outline of the British Isles, and carries the names of various locations that are apparently mentioned within the volume. It does not however have a formal title, leaving the reader to guess at its function and usefulness, while its existence does not rate a mention on the Contents page.

As previously-noted, the volume has several ‘mechanical’ shortcomings, including the lack of an Index, unsupported Quotes, an untitled Map and Captions which are, at best, ‘adequate’. These are not unexpected. However, when requesting this volume for review purposes, and on the basis of its title (All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century) this reviewer expected to find a social history of the period. To a limited degree that is what he received, with the qualification that such information was an adjunct to the narrative rather than its focus. He did not however expect to meet the ‘… Actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals’ previously mentioned, to the extent that the endless repletion of the activities of such individuals became monotonous and (eventually) boring. The writing and research was excellent, but the basic topic (humankind’s largely-sexual failings), when repeated over and over again, deprived the volume whatever literary charm it might have held.

Undoubtedly this volume will appeal to those with an interest of any kind in the lifestyles of the Eighteenth Century’s rich and famous. Social historians might also find it useful, while readers with an interest in the art and architecture of the era may also find it worthy of their perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’