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’

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2019

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2019

Since 1 January 2019 I have placed 23 book reviews onto this site. Due to a period of ‘enforced idleness’ (Heart-related hospitalisation) there have not been as many reviews as in 2018, but there was still an interesting range and variety. As those who follow me will be aware, the titles reviewed cover a wide range of subjects and receive varying ratings out of a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent.

On the basis of the gradings / ratings received,(and continuing the tradition established in 2017) I thought that it would be fun to list the Top Ten Titles of 2019. They appear below:

Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller (Chatham, Weston)

The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow (Jellicoe)

Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire (Kaufmann)

A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms (Erickson)

Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations (Bagnasco)

Vietnam’s Final Air Campaign: Operation Linebacker I & II May-December 1972 (Emerson)

Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways (Shooter)

The National Rifle Association Its Tramways And The London And South Western Railway Targets And Tramways (Bunch)

The Railway Haters: Opposition To Railways From The 19th To 21st Centuries (Brandon, Brooke)

Fittest of the Fit: Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945 (Brown)

As with previous compilations (and tempting though it might be), out of respect to both the titles and the authors, I will not be listing those books which received the poorest ratings. Should you wish to know what these might be, you are, of course, quite welcome to trawl through the individual entries.

A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR  TO YOU ALL and thanks for visiting this site.

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2019

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’

111. SECTION 'D'

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE

Author: Malcolm Atkin

Total Number of Printed Pages: 258

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

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Sir Walter Scott’s famous quote from Marmion; ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’ is an appropriate precis for this volume.  The story narrated within this book is indeed a ‘tangled web’, with deceit and deception on almost every page, and a cast of characters that range from the highest levels of the British Government, to the lowest depths of European and Middle Eastern society. It is both a ‘Ripping Yarn’ and an insight into the machinations that accompanied Great Britain’s early World War II-era unconventional-warfare forays into Nazi-controlled Europe. It is also a long-overdue tribute to Laurence Grand; the little-known genius who successfully created the whole ‘Amateurs at irregular war’ concept.

A List of Plates follows the Contents page and reproduces the captions of the 33 images which form the ‘plates’ section of the volume; this latter being placed at the centre of the volume. A List of Figures section follows. This lists the various Tables and single Map which appear within the volume. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. It is in turn followed by a two page Abbreviations and Acronyms section; a necessity in a volume abounding with military abbreviations. A Preface then relates the difficulties encountered when interpreting documentation rewritten to push particular political and personal viewpoints. An Introduction then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the volume consists of 11 Chapters. These trace the evolution of Section D from its 1938 creation to its absorption into the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) in 1941.While the first three Chapters deal with the organisational and technical aspects of its subject, those remaining, narrate Section D’s military activities. Frequently innovative and original in concept, such activities occurred where Section D’s controllers believed that British interests could be best served.  That these might be in places hitherto ‘friendly’ towards Great Britain was largely irrelevant, but never random.  The volume’s ‘action’ Chapters are divided into geographical sections; The Balkans (Chapter 6) and Scandinavia (Chapter 9), being but two examples of this practice. Individual nations appear as subsections within the specific Chapter, their political, cultural and ethnic make-up at the time of World War II being described in depth. Such information provides background to Section D’s activities both within the nation itself and (as they were invariably interconnected), in those countries within its immediate vicinity.  A Conclusion follows Chapter 11 (Into SOE); in it the author provides an assessment of the effectiveness of Section D. An entry on the Contents page then indicates that two Appendices are to follow the previously-mentioned Conclusion. Curiously, these do not appear within the volume but have to be accessed at the author’s online address. Why this has been done is not explained. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations.  These are end-note in format and appear in a designated Notes section placed after the Conclusions section. A Bibliography follows the Notes section and is in turn followed by an Index; the final section in the volume. The previously-mentioned Plates section contains 33 black and white images relevant to the narrative. These range from individuals, to locations, to the equipment used when undertaking the ‘unconventional’ warfare described within the volume.  As previously noted (and despite Section D being active throughout Europe and the Middle East), the volume contains only one map (of the Balkans, on page 85). Why this should be, is unknown. At minimum, a map of Europe would have been a valuable aide memoire, if only to show the theatre of operations being discussed. An additional ‘Regional’ map at the start of each Chapter would have been even better.  In the absence of such devices, the value of this volume as a research source is inevitably reduced.

This is a well-written and very readable volume that is likely to become the authoritative work on its subject. As such it is likely to have wide appeal. Military personnel and Historians with an interest in either World War II or ‘unconventional warfare’ may well find its contents of interest. Readers with a ‘generalist’ view of World War II are likely to find it informative, as are with those with an interest in the more unusual forms of warfare and the weapons which are employed in such situations. Those looking for ‘real life’ James Bonds’ and ‘spies’, could also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’