BOOK REVIEW: ‘Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown’

124.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown

Author: Peter Duffell

Total Number of Pages: 290

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

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When explaining the reasons for writing this volume, the author states that, having ‘…Travelled with Gurkha soldiers in various guises for over fifty years….I thought I might be able to express a personal and distinctive view about the qualities and character of the Gurkha soldier and his service to the British Crown; as…one way of recognizing the generous people with whom I…so happily soldiered and led through a long military career’. It is an admirable sentiment and has resulted in a delightful book that is both a history lesson and an autobiography, and by being (to again quote the author) ‘…For the general reader’ is also largely free from the monotonous repetition of dry details which tend to be hallmarks of military memoirs.

The volume opens with a Dedication titled For all Goorkhas under-which a singularly-appropriate verse from Shakespeare’s King Henry V appears. This is followed in turn by the book’s Contents page and a page titled List of Maps; the title of the latter being self-explanatory. An Acknowledgements section follows. This is three and a quarter pages in length and thanks those who have contributed to the completed work. The twelve Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. Within these, the reader is regaled with a well-written and eminently-readable mixture of both personal reminiscences and Gurkha-related military history. The emphasis is, of course, on the author’s military career and events there-in, but as would be expected the activities of ‘The Regiment’ forms a backdrop to these; a backdrop that is necessary but which is not intrusive or overpowering. The result is both educational and entertaining. Where necessary within each Chapter, subsections are used to provide additional information about a specific subject mentioned within the larger narrative. The volume’s Index (its final section) appears after Chapter 12 (Into the Future), the title of the latter being self-explanatory. Two photographic sections appear within the volume. Curiously, the larger of these (16 pages in length) while containing numerous illustrations of both the author and Gurkha military activities, is exclusively monochrome in format; the smaller (Eight page) section, while also showing a similar content, being equally composed of only coloured images. The reasons for the disparity are unknown. The images are informatively captioned, although not all carry source-citations. Neither Contents nor Index sections carry references to the image’s existence.  The title page of each Chapter is also graced by images of both serving and retired Gurkha servicemen. Although originally created in a variety of media, these have been reproduced as monochrome images within the volume and help to ‘Humanise’ the narrative. As already implied (List of Maps), the volume contains several maps (actually eight). These appear in narrative-appropriate locations throughout the book and relate to specific locations / military actions that are important in Gurkha history.

While this volume is well-written and eminently-readable, it is not without fault and this reviewer found several areas of concern. Of these, the most obvious is in relation to the Index. While several single-word ommissions from the Index were found during initial random searching (that of for Peninsula War on page 12 being but one example of several encountered), the subsequent discovery that Index entries for Mesopotamia, Persia and Bolsheviks (all on page 122) were also missing raises questions concerning what other, similar, ommissions that might exist. There is no way to know.  It was also noted that despite the volume containing numerous examples of military rank (both Ghurkha and British Army) the lack of a Table of Equivalents renders such rankings unintelligible to the average reader. What, (for example) is a Jemadar, what does he do and what is his British Army equivalent? The lack of a Glossary of Terms also renders such words as Badged (page 12), Padang (page 162) and Sangars (page 198) meaningless. Quotes, where used within the volume, carry no authenticating citations, those on pages 58 and 219 being but two examples. In their absence there is no way of verifying their accuracy; they might just as well be imagined. A small number of spelling mistakes were also noted.

As previously-noted, this is a delightful book that is both a history lesson and an autobiography. The ‘imperfections’ noted above notwithstanding, it may appeal to a variety of readers. Historians with an interest in ‘Things Military’, ‘International Geopolitics’ and ‘British Imperial History’ may find it informative, as might readers with an interest in both British Military history in general and the Gurkhas in particular. Military modellers might find the uniforms illustrated in the coloured images section to be of interest, while a reader wishing for a militarily-flavoured autobiographical volume may also find it worthy of their attention.

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

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Art & Making of Fantasy Miniatures’

 

123.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Art & Making of Fantasy Miniatures

Author: Jamie Kendall

Total Number of Printed Pages: 238

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

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The author, when writing in the volume’s Introduction, notes that ‘…You should view this [volume] as an art museum exhibit in book form. You move through the gallery peering at the…figures in their display cases…and standing next to them, providing commentary and insight into their creation are your tour guides – the creators themselves’. It is an admirable precis’ of what is to follow.

The aforementioned Introduction is placed immediately behind the Contents page. As indicated by its full title (Introduction: Standing on the shoulders of (Miniature) Giants) what  the reader is about to view is based on what has gone before, a fact alluded-to within the section; the author referencing earlier games and figure creations as being the precursors of what is about to be revealed. The nine Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear, with each of these being dedicated to a specific fantasy-miniature manufacturer / game. In arrangement, the Chapters tend to follow a standard format; a Title page, followed by a second page listing the important individuals within each organisation, while a  third page of text provides a short company history and methods employed in the creation of the figures the organisation manufactures. Chapters IV (Guild Ball) and VII (Rumbleslam) do however carry additional pages of text, these being specifically-related to the creation and printing of 3-D models. With the credentials of the organisation thus-established, the pages of text are followed by the Chapter’s pictorial section. This is essentially a catalogue of the statuary and machinery that the individual organisation produces, with each group of models being sequentially numbered and  accompanied by a faux-parchment side-panel giving names to the numbers, and, if necessary, providing additional information about specific items or the series they are part of. Where appropriate to the narrative, concept drawings and art works of various sizes also appear. These are variously monochrome or coloured images and provide supporting and background visual effects to the models, while also placing them in context within the games for-which they were created. It must be noted however, that many of the images are of the ‘Blood and Guts and Gore’ genre which is seemingly de rigueur for the Fantasy Wargamer community, and as such may render the volume unsuitable for younger readers.  The volume’s final page (Acknowledgments and Additional Image Credits) is placed after Chapter XI (Kings of War (Mantic Games)). Its’ title is self-explanatory. Despite the numerous and varied miniatures with the volume, no Index is provided for either these, the games they represent or the organisations that manufacture them.

This reviewer found the volume’s lack of an Index frustrating and severely limiting, forcing him to search through its’ every page in pursuit of a figurine with a title possibly incorrectly recalled. In a work attempting to be a ‘Work of Reference’ it was a serious ommission and reduces its usefulness and ‘accessibility’.

This is a well-written, informative and visually-outstanding book which, despite its lack of an Index, may well find favour amongst the Fantasy-gaming community. Non-gamers may also find the art work and figurines etc. of interest, the previously-mentioned rider concerning image-suitability for younger readers notwithstanding.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Art & Making of Fantasy Miniatures’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

122.

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz

Author: Melody Foreman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 217

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

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When writing in this volume’s Foreword, Edward McManus (Historian and Committee Member Battle of Britain Monument London) states that ‘Probably the first person known to have embarked on researching and executing ‘digs’ is Terry Parsons’ and that ‘This book documents a selection of his most interesting…excavations over the years and the personalities , living and dead, that were drawn in’. It is an excellent summary of what is to follow.

The afore-mentioned Foreword is placed immediately behind the volume’s Contents page, and is followed by the book’s Introduction. Within this, the author details the both historical background to the wrecks described within the narrative and the current Governmental policies of care and protection which apply to both these unique items and their contents, with particular reference (in the latter case), to the human remains which are frequently found within such sites. The fourteen Chapters which comprise the largest part of the volume now appear. Chapter 1’s title (The First Wreck Hunters), while largely self-explanatory, does introduce the reader to the history of the recovery of crashed military aircraft (An ‘occupation’ dating back to World War I). It also introduces the volume’s ‘Hero’; Terry Parsons, and records the formative World War II events of his childhood; events which subsequently significantly affected his later life.  In Chapter 2 (Boy of the Battle) Terry Parsons himself elaborates on these events, while simultaneously using actual Air Combat Reports and reminiscences to provide authority and background to the events that he was personally effected by. Chapters 3 (My First Dig) to 14 (Flying Heroes and the Giant Teapot), while following a similar format, are autobiographical in nature (although with added eye-witness accounts which led to that particular aircraft excavation), and were (according to the author’s note on page 208) taken directly from Mr Parson’s personal notes and diaries. This gives them an immediacy which takes the reader into the at-times complex world of aircraft wreck recovery. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 14.Within this, the author thanks those who contributed towards its creation. A small (thirteen-entry) Bibliography section follows, and this is in turn followed by the book’s final section; its’ Index. The volume contains numerous Quotes, Reminiscences and reproductions of newspaper clippings, letters and various official documents in supportive of the narrative. As these items do not however carry any supporting citations, their authenticity inevitably comes into question. Each Chapter is accompanied by supporting Photographs.  These are monochrome in format and informatively captioned, but again, with only five exceptions, do not carry source citations. Neither the Contents Page nor the Index mentions the photographs’ existence. The volume contains no Maps.

For this reviewer, this was a ‘Muddle’ of a book; a volume trying to be several things at once and succeeding at none of them. It is simultaneously a biography, an autobiography, a reference work and (as shown in the first four sentences of Paragraph Four of Page 7), a work of uncritical adoration.  The Index is problematical, and could most politely be described as being ‘Patchy’ in its content. Random searching produced many examples where terms used within the  text were not to be found in the Index, those of Operation Nightingale, Richard Osgood, Stephen Macaulay and West Blatchington (all on page xiv) being but four examples. Curiously, the names of Harold Penketh and Vince Holyoak on the same page were accorded Index entries. The reasons for this contradiction on a single page is unknown, and as numerous other such ommissions were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably came into question. The already-noted lack of Source Citations for the numerous Quotes, Reminiscences, Letters and Official Documents together-with the book’s lack of Maps, further served to undermine such authority as the volume may have had. Is what is presented ‘true’, or imagined? In the absence of documentation to the contrary, there is no way to know! The caption A scene from Biggin Hill airfield in 1940 attached to the aircraft-related photograph appearing on page 22 also did nothing for the volume’s cause, the aircraft concerned being later model Spitfires and, on the presumption that the image is actually a genuine World War II image (rather than from a movie set) is one that was taken sometime after June 1944 (rather than as per the caption) as evidenced by the D-Day recognition stripes carried by the central machine. While it is possible that the original photograph might have been incorrectly captioned (and that a mistake made as a result), this discovery reduced confidence in the narrative still further. The author’s very-evident hero-worship and lack of objectivity was also unhelpful.

Despite its lack of authenticating documentation (Which diminishes its historical value substantially), this volume may be of interest to Archaeologists of all persuasions and aviation and military Historians, Readers with an interest in the Royal Air Force, the Battle of Britain and general military history and aviation, may also find it worthy of their attention. Despite the photographs being monochrome in format, aircraft modellers may find some of these useful for reference purposes.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’

121.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists

Author: Guild of Aviation Artists

Total Number of Printed Pages: 218

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

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A note appearing on this volume’s dustjacket states ‘This book celebrates 50 years of exhibitions [by the Guild of Aviation Artists] and includes paintings by…Guild artists, past and present, depicting aircraft from the earliest airborne activities through to the present day’. It is an accurate summary.

Within the volume itself, a section titled Introduction and Acknowledgements follows its’ Contents page. The title is self-explanatory. The section is in turn followed by a Foreword (by Michael Turner, President of the Guild of Aviation Artists), within-which a precis of the organisation’s history is presented. A five-page section titled The Guild of Aviation Artists follows. Within-this, sub-sections elaborate on the Guild’s aims its exhibitions, origins, history and current state. The Images section now follows. This comprises 195 pages and is divided into 13 Sections, these being analogous to Chapters. With the exception of Section 12 (Portraits) and 13 (Producing an Aviation Painting), each Section covers a specific era in aviation, from Early Aviation, Balloons, Airships (Section One) to Second World War (Section Four), Civil Aviation (Section Eight) and Museums (Section 11). With the exception of page 198 (Guild Sketching Days – Guild Artists at Work) which contains five small images), Sections 1-12 follow a similar format; namely a single (usually full-page) coloured image of a specific aircraft or aviation-themed event relating to the era being presented. Each image is accompanied by a caption which gives the work’s title, the aircraft or event which it depicts, the artist, and the medium used in its creation. Section 13 (Producing An Aviation Painting) does however follow a different format. It is the volume’s final section and as will ascertained from its title, takes the reader through the processes required to turn an original monochrome image into a full-coloured painting, taking eight pages to do so. The process is informative and uses both monochrome and coloured images to chart the development of a painting to meet a specific end result.

While this volume is full of beautiful and highly-coloured images, for this reviewer it was badly let down by the lack of an Index. According to its’ dustjacket, the book contains ‘…Some 200 illustrations…’ a fact which pre-supposes works by many different artists. In the absence of an Index, a reader seeking a specific artist has no choice but to laboriously peruse every page’s captions in the (perhaps forlorn) hope that they might somehow find the name of the individual they are seeking.

The same criticism can be levelled concerning the aircraft types and locations portrayed and for the same reasons; again, how can a specific aircraft type or location be found without having to view the whole volume. A significant failing! In addition, the paucity of caption information was such that this reviewer eventually started randomly counting the words of each caption to see how many words they contained; the shortest found was three, the longest, nine. Brevity has its place, but for this reviewer, this volume was not one of those places. It was also regrettable that an interpretive Glossary was not included within the wok; what (for example) do the letters GAvA, FGAvA, AGM or IWM mean? To a non-aviation, (possibly non-artistic) reader, they are meaningless. In addition, the absence of any biographical details about the contributing artists effectively dehumanises them, reducing them to mere names on a page, rather than providing possibly-inspirational details concerning their artistic-development and backgrounds.

Ultimately, this volume is a collection of pretty pictures of aeroplanes doing all sorts of interesting things. On that basis, buyers wanting beautiful pictures of all sorts of (mainly British) aeroplanes are likely to be well-pleased with this volume. However, readers seeking ‘technical’ details about said machines, or even how the individual images were created (Section 13 notwithstanding), will be disappointed by their lack, the book’s emphasis / focus being on the completed image rather than the ‘things technical / mechanical’ that got it to that stage.

That this volume contains spectacular artworks of beautiful aeroplanes and lighter than air machines is undeniable, but for this reviewer it lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, the Index being but one of these. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the Text: 2.

It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’