BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

 

116.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945

Author: Nigel West

Total Number of Pages: 290

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

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In his Introduction (and when detailing the reasons for the writing of this volume), the author notes that the book ‘…Is intended primarily as a detailed description of the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] and its operations during the last war [World War II]’, with the qualification that ‘…To do justice to the subject I have covered the events which led to the organization’s creation in 1909’ and that ‘It would also have been impossible to explain the MI6 of 1939 without describing the inter-war preoccupations of the Service…’ It is a clear summary of what is to follow.

Within the book itself, an Illustrations page placed immediately after its Contents page provides abbreviated captions for the images appearing within an eight-page Plates section placed in the centre of the volume. It is followed by an Acknowledgements page within which the author thanks those who contributed to the creation of the volume. A two-page Abbreviations section follows; within it appear explanations of the various abbreviations used throughout the volume. The volume’s Introduction is next. While acting as a synopsis of what is to follow, within it the author also elaborates on his reasons for writing the volume. A section titled The Wartime Organization Of The Secret Intelligence Service follows. Within this, and through the use of Maps and Tables, the author provides visual evidence of both the SIS’s organisational structure and its’ international operational network. The Table format has also been used within the volume proper to show Secret Intelligence Service Accounts for the period 1920-1921 and 1935-36. The 15 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. These are divided into two sections; the first (Part One: 1909-1940) dealing with British Intelligence operations during that time, with the second (Part Two: 1940-45) examining SIS activities during the latter period. Within each Part individual Chapters examine specific time periods (Part One) or operations, other intelligence groups or counter-espionage (Part Two). Chapter 15 (Soviet Penetration) is followed by the volume’s only Appendix. This is an English-language translation of Der Britische Nachrichtendienst described as being ‘A summary prepared by the Reich Security Agency early in 1940, in preparation for the German invasion of Britain…’ The description is self-explanatory. The Appendix is followed by a single-page Notes section. This gives source-citations for the 15 end-note-type and numerically-sequential citations that appear within the volume. The Notes page is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section. As previously- noted the volume contains an eight-page section of photographs (termed Plates). The images are all monochrome and are accompanied by informative captions, these being expanded versions of those contained in the previously-mentioned Illustrations section. Curiously, and although the captions on the Illustrations page carry source-citations, the actual images do not. The reasons for this are unknown. The volume contains numerous Quotes, with those on pages 42 and 43 being but two examples of the genre’. Such Quotes  are not however accompanied by authenticating citations, and in the absence of the latter, their authenticity becomes suspect.

While finding this volume to be well-researched and easy to read, this review had major problems with its Index; the absence of Index entries for numerous randomly-chosen entries raising severe doubts concerning its authority and veracity.  An example of this concerns randomly-chosen Index entries for Sandstetter, Asyut, Gaafar, Almasy and Haj Mohammed Amin-el-Husseini; all on page 204, all mentioned in the narrative yet none dignified with an Index entry. As numerous similar examples were also found within the book, the extent of the problem would seem to be significant. There is, of course, no way of knowing.

The ‘imperfections’ previously-noted notwithstanding, this book may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians may find its content informative, as may readers with an interest in military history, espionage and general military operations during World War II. Readers seeking a story of ‘Daring Do’, ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Spies and Counter Spies’ might also find it worthy of their attention.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

115. UNCOMMON VALOUR (VC)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross

Author: Granville Allen Mawer

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author makes the following observations: ‘…The VC [Victoria Cross] is the ultimate bravery award…’ and that ‘This book sets out to not only examine individual deeds with a view to understanding them, but to also align them collectively with the expectations of those who instituted the decoration and those who administered it thereafter’. As a precis of the book’s intent it cannot be bettered.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents pages. Within this the author pays tribute to those who assisted him in book’s creation. A list of Illustrations follows. The title is self-explanatory. Within the book the author has used a variety of graphs to provide visualisation of statistics relating to the awarding of the Decoration. These are listed as a subsection (titled Figures) within the list of Illustrations section. The 27 Chapters which form the bulk of the book now appear. Within these the reader is led from the ‘Cross’s origins to the Twenty-first Century, With the exception of the book’s final Chapter (Chapter 27; Rules and Exceptions) each Chapter within it presents a particular aspect of the larger narrative. To reinforce that aspect, the actions of VC recipients are presented as specific examples of that particular perspective. Curiously (and in an apparent attempt to assist readers in finding specific individuals sans Index), although the names of such individuals appear under each Chapter when the latter are listed on the Contents page, the self-same names are not placed at the head of the individual Chapters within the volume itself. Why this should be so is unknown. The previously-mentioned Chapter 27 focusses both on military protocols in respect of the award and on efforts made to have deserving individuals added to the list of recipients.  Three Appendices follow Chapter 27. Appendix 1 (The 1856 Victoria Cross Warrant) reproduces the ‘Founding Document’ on which the award is based. The title of Appendix 2 (The Who, When, Where, What, Why and How of the Awards) is self-explanatory, with the information-concerned being presented in Table format. Within the table however, the recipient names are presented in a First name, Surname sequence instead of the more-usual Surname-first sequence. As result trawling through the tables to find a specific individual can be both tedious and time consuming.  By way of contrast, Appendix 3 (How I Won the Victoria Cross) is an Australian-sourced humorous recitation best described as being ‘A tale of unintended consequences’. Where necessary within the individual Chapters, additional information is provided through the use of End-notes, these being numerically-sequential and Chapter-specific.  The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section placed after Appendix 3. The volume’s Bibliography now appears. It lists the printed sources used in its creation. The Bibliography is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains 49 Images that are ‘…Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise attributed’.  The source has resulted in a collection of pictures of varying quality, many excellent, but several seemingly from boys comics; those on pages 88, 118 and 173 being examples of the latter. There were several others. The volume contains numerous Quotes and while many carry supporting citations to verify their authenticity, others (such as those on pages 144 and 151 and 152 [for example]) do not. While wishing to believe that the latter are also authentic and accurate recitations of events, the absence of supporting citations does raise questions… The book contains no Maps.

For this reviewer poor proof-reading has served to reduce this book’s effectiveness and resultant usefulness. This is specifically evident in the Index where a lack of attention has served to destroy any pretentions of authority that that section (and, inter alia the entire book) might have had. The Index consists of 19 pages, numbered from 263 to 282. Random searching during the review process revealed that (for example) a written entry for Aaron, Arthur (incidentally the first entry in the Index itself; on page 263) could be found on page 266, and that one for Topham, Frederick (Index entry page 280) would be appearing on page 271; i.e. within the Index itself! These are but two of numerous similar examples. To find that one Index entry only leads to another Index entry raises serious doubts about what other ‘errors’ might exist. There is no way of knowing. It was also noted that at least one individual’s name (that of Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu) had been entered under M rather than his surname (Ngarimu) As the name is not ‘British’ this is perhaps understandable, although the name IS correctly given within the Appendix 2 table (Award No. 1238; page 238). Have other similar ‘mistakes’ been made? Again, there is no way to know.  In addition the Index is largely ‘People’-focussed, to the almost total exclusion of geographical locations or events. Notably (despite being active participants in the larger narrative and mentioned within the volume), Australia, New Zealand and Canada as geographical / political entities are not mentioned within the Index. When combined with the previously-noted issues with Images, Quotes, Maps and Award Tables the ‘Index-related’ difficulties serve to seriously-erode the volume’s usefulness as a serious work on its subject.

Although in this reviewer’s opinion the problems detailed above are of considerable magnitude, the volume is both well written and easy to read. Military Historians with a specific interest in the Victoria Cross may find it of interest, as could readers with a more ‘generalist’ interest in the British armed forces, and their awards for brave deeds. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘Feats of daring-do’ by ordinary individuals in unusual situations may also find it worth of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent I have given this volume a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956’

114.

Reviewer: Michael Keith Rimmer

Title: Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956

Authors: Bill Clements

Total Number of Printed Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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When writing within this volume’s Preface, and seeking to explain the raison d’être for what follows, the author notes that ‘The aim of this book has been to record the history and importance of a large number of British colonial fortifications’ with the intention being ‘…to bring to the reader’s attention this somewhat neglected area of historical research’. In this endeavour he has been largely successful.

Within the volume, a Preface placed immediately after the Contents page provides background to why it was written, while simultaneously acknowledging those individuals and organisations that assisted in its creation. It is followed by a 23-page Introduction. While this section summarises what appears within the nine Chapters which form the main part of the book, it also explores contemporary (Nineteenth Century) technical developments in the areas of warships, guns, fortifications and naval mining. The section also investigates the prevailing administrative structures associated with the defence of the military facilities described within the volume, although notably it gives no indication as to why the specific dates (1756-1956) appearing within the title were chosen. The main part of the book now appears. As previously-noted, this comprises nine Chapters, with each of these being focussed on a specific island within the (then) British Empire. Curiously (and for unexplained reasons), this list is not arranged alphabetically, with (for example) Antigua (Chapter 4) following St Helena (Chapter 3) instead in of the usual alphabetical order of ‘A’ preceding ‘S’. In a similar manner Singapore (Chapter 8) precedes Hong Kong (Chapter 9). It is an unusual arrangement which does not engender confidence in what is to follow. Within the individual Chapter, a standardised format is followed. This comprises a general history of the island followed in turn by a history and description of its defences and their history. Subsections within each Chapter provide more detailed information about a specific aspect of the larger narrative, their presence being indicated through the use of subheadings.  Where appropriate within the Chapter, Photos, Maps, Plans and Diagrams are used compliment the narrative. These are accompanied by informative captions and source-indicating citations. The existence of the Photographs, Maps etc. is not mentioned in either the volume’s Index or on its Contents page. Where necessary, End-note-type Citations are used within the Chapters to provide additional information. These are numeric in sequence and Chapter-specific, with the necessary entries being placed in a designated Notes section located towards the rear of the book.  Many of these citations are Quote-related, indicating the sources of the latter, yet it was noticeable that not all Quotes are referenced, with that appearing on page 221 being but one example of the latter. An Appendix (Artillery, Guns and Mortars) follows Chapter 9 (Hong Kong). It uses a Table format to describe the various artillery pieces mentioned within the volume, and is followed by the previously-mentioned Notes section. A Glossary follows. As the volume uses a variety of technical and military terms, acronyms and abbreviations to describe its subject, such a section is essential and informative. The Glossary is in turn followed by a Bibliography. Within this, the relevant titles have been grouped under the individual islands as they appear within the book; a helpful move. The Bibliography is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s last section.

While this volume is both informative and well-written, this reviewer found the Index to be problematical. Random searching revealed surprising ommissions, with the non-appearance of Index entries for entries for Shoeburyness (page 15) and Winnipeg Grenadiers, Stanley Mound, Chung Hum Kok and Tai Tam (all on page 245) being but five examples of what was found. There were others…! What else may be omitted cannot, of course, be known, and leads to doubts about the authority of the section, and ipso facto, the larger volume. In addition (and when selecting this volume for review), this reviewer was interested in learning why the specific date of 1956 appeared within its title. However (and as previously-noted), he searched its Introduction in vain for this information, and only when reading page 213 accidentally learnt that ‘On 31 December 1956 coast artillery in Britain and overseas ceased to exist’. That despite its prominence in the title, it took 213 pages to discover such a detail was surprising and when combined with the ‘difficulties’ with the Index did little to engender confidence in the volume’s veracity.

The ‘difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, this volume is well-researched, well written and very readable and begs fair to become a ‘Standard Reference Work’ on its subject. Historians with an interest in the British Empire, British Empire defence and World Wars I and II may find it of interest, while military enthusiasts and hobbyists with an interest in both unusual fortifications and military operations of the Sixteenth – Twentieth Centuries may find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain’

113.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain

Author: M C Bishop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 210

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

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According to this volume’s Author (When writing within its Preface and Introduction section), this work ‘…Is not a catalogue of roads…nor a detailed …analysis of the system in Roman times’ but rather it ‘…Offers a brief glimpse of the complexity of origins and destinations, where Roman roads came from and where they went and what they were for’. It is an admirable precis of what is to follow.

Within the volume, a Map titled Margary’s network of Roman roads in Britain is placed immediately after its Contents page. It apparently shows the network of Roman roads within Great Britain. A section titled List of Figures follows. This lists the 33 Maps, Graphs and Diagrams which appear within the work, and is followed in turn by a section titled List of Plates. The title is self-explanatory, and while confirming the existence of the images appearing in a dedicated photographic section placed in the centre of the book, also reproduces the captions (sans source citations) that accompany each one. An Acknowledgements section follows. Within it the author thanks those individuals and organisations who have assisted him in the volume’s creation. A section titled Preface and Introduction follows. While partly biographical in nature, (and as noted previously), it essentially details the reasons why the book was written. The seven Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Of these, Chapters 1 to 5 detail what is known about ‘British’ Roman roads (and their predecessors). When doing-so the author draws on both his own researches and that of acknowledged experts in the field of Roman Roads and archaeology within Great Britain. Sub-sections are used within each Chapter to discuss a specific topic within the larger narrative. These are delineated by both italicised and bold-printed sub-headings. Chapter 6 (Conclusions) summarises what has been presented, while noting that ‘…The study of the Roman road network in Great Britain is patently incomplete’, the unstated implication being that the work must be continued by others. The section is followed by Chapter 7 Further Reading. This discusses the various resources (both text and multimedia) available to readers who might wish to take their study of this subject further. The Chapter is followed by five Appendices. These use a Table format to present details of various Battlefields adjacent to Roman roads. Appendix 5 (Possible Roman Roads in North-East England and South-East Scotland) presents the case for possible Roman roads in these areas, again using Tables for the purpose. Where additional information is required, the book uses Endnote citations for the purpose. These are numbered sequentially and are Chapter-specific. The Citations appear within a dedicated Notes section placed after Appendix 5, with that section being followed in turn by an 11 page-long Bibliography. Within this (and where online resources have been used), the latter have not been placed in a separate, specific, section; the focus evidently being on author names rather than technology.

The book’s Index follows the Bibliography. It is the volume’s final section. As previously noted, the volume contains a photographic section; the images within it being monochrome in format, and accompanied by informative captions. These cover a wide variety of subjects relative to the narrative and referred-to within the latter. All are accompanied by source citations with the exception of Image 16. Curiously, although the previously-mentioned List of Plates contains a reference to Plate No. 19, no such plate appears to exist within the Images section per se’; Plate No.18 being the last image within that section. The reason for this anomaly is unknown. As previously-noted, 33 Maps, Charts and Graphs appear within the book. Collectively classified as Figures, they are informatively captioned and clear, and when based on sources other than the author, acknowledge that fact. For unknown reasons a Table titled Fort spacing from Iter I (and appearing on page 66) does not appear amongst the listed items. Despite the use of both Latin language and technical terminologies no quick-reference Glossary is provided. What (for example) are Diachronic (page 2) Dendrochronology (page 4) or Alfred Watkins’ Straight Track Theory’ (page 1). In the absence of a Glossary-type explanation, a reader cannot be expected to know.

While this reviewer found this volume to be extremely well-researched and illustrated, the level of research, the author’s writing-style, the language used and the specialised nature of the topic has resulted in what can be best-described as an Academic Dissertation in search of a home. As such it is likely to appeal to Historians and Archaeologists interested in both Roman History and Roman Britain. Amateur Archaeologists and Historians interested in the subject may also find it worthy of their attention and despite the academic writing-style it might also be of interest to members of the General Public.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges’

112. British bridges

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges

Author: David McFetrich

Total Number of Printed Pages: 444

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

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When writing in thus volume’s Introduction, the author states that ‘The purpose of this book is to give some outline facts about as many interesting bridges and types of bridges as possible’. It is a reasonable summation of what is to follow and has resulted in a work that is remarkable in the depth of its coverage of its subject.

It should be noted that this is a second edition of a work believed to have been previously published in approximately 2011.

In common with many such encyclopaedic works, this volume contains no Contents page, with the first formal section being a Foreword placed after its Title Page. This is followed by a section titled Introduction. This section is a multi-faceted and contains three subsections. Included in these is a Preface to Second Edition [sic], a Brief History of Britain’s Transport Infrastructure and How Bridges Work. The titles are self-explanatory. The Introduction is followed by a comprehensive and very informative Glossary and a section titled List of Abbreviations to Common References. The section’s sub-title is Books and pamphlets (see the Bibliography for full details) and while the title of the Glossary is again self-explanatory, the latter is anything but. Numerous published resources were used in the preparation of this book, and to save readers the need to constantly refer to the Bibliography, the titles of said resources have been reduced to multi-letter abbreviations and placed after each individual ‘Bridge’ entry within the volume. The section titled List of Abbreviations to Common References is the result and contains the majority of the abbreviations appearing within the volume. The section is followed by one titled The Bridges, which, although containing no text itself, carries a subsection bearing the title Notes. Within this, the format used for the individual bridge entries is defined. The 311 pages comprising the bulk of the volume now appear. According to the author, the section contains 1,600 individual entries, and ‘Allowing for entries that give details of predecessor bridges or several co-related bridges at one site, there is information describing more than 2,200 different structures.’ In that context, it should be noted that structures such as piers have also been included in the list, the rationale for such inclusions being that they are ‘…Effectively one-ended bridges.’ As would be expected, the individual entries are arranged alphabetically, with the majority of the entries being accompanied by a monochrome or colour image of the structure being discussed. The entries are informative and follow a standard format. This consists of a history of the site and, if replaced, the structure as it currently exists and, where known, its dimensions. One or more of the previously-mentioned abbreviations appears at the end of each entry. The section is followed by another titled Bridge Miscellany. This is a 52-page section best summarised as being ‘All the things you might need to know about Bridges and never thought to ask’; a catch-all of information about bridges in general and British bridges in particular.. Within it, the subjects range from Aesthetics of bridges to Pageantry on bridges to Zigzag bridges, with each entry, after defining its subject, and where applicable, giving examples of where the item may be found within the British Isles. A section titled Record Breaking Bridges follows the ‘Miscellany; its title being self-explanatory. This section contains 50 sub-sections and is largely United Kingdom-focussed. However, and due to the paucity of such bridges in Britain, the majority of entries in Subsection 49 (World’s longest single spans) consists of entries from Europe, Asia and North America. A four-page Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by a 30-page Geographic Index. Amongst other things, this comprehensive section enables readers to locate the structure, its geographical location, and historical status. It is followed by the volume’s General Index. Within this and ’To save space…names and words appearing within the Bridge Miscellany are not repeated within this index, which is limited to the main bridge entries on pages 23 to 234.’ The Index entries are divided into subsections, a detail which pre-supposes that a reader actually knows the type of bridge he is looking for; many may not. An Acknowledgements section follows the Index; it is the volume’s final section. Within it the author provides reprints the biographical details relating to his interest in bridges which appeared in the book’s first edition, acknowledges those who assisted in the upgrading and publication of the second edition, and provides sources for the images that appear within it. Where appropriate to the narrative, the volume uses Tables, Diagrams, Plans and Drawings to clarify technical terms or provide additional information. Curiously, it contains no Maps.

This volume is well-written and researched and eminently readable, to the extent that this reviewer could find little to fault it. The comments made previously about the use of subheadings within the Index do however still stand, while the absence of any Maps would seem to impose unnecessary limitations on those wishing to view the structures mentioned within the volume; if a reader can’t locate an item they will be unable to visit it should they so desire. The use of Grid References pre-supposes an ability to know what they are and how to use them; many readers may not have that ability or inclination.

Because of the ubiquity of bridges throughout Great Britain, this volume should have wide appeal. Being an encyclopaedia, it is eminently suitable for random ‘dipping-type’ subject- searching and would be entertaining on that basis alone. Historians and those interested in bridges in both civil-engineering and general interest areas may find it of interest, while readers seeking information about a local bridge-type structure may also find it worthy of their attention.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges’