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’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

120. GRIMY BRITAIN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century

Author: Andre’ Gren

Number of Pages: 117

Rating Scale (1: Very poor, 10 Excellent): 4

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author notes that ‘Thus book does not attempt to offer an authoritative account of the reasons for the growth in  Britain’s population in the nineteenth century [sic] but concentrates instead on the consequences of that growth and the increasing need for what was called ‘nuisance control’. The result is a ‘…Series of snapshots from Britain, which was struggling to cope with rampant population growth and urbanization…’ It is a fair summary of what is to follow.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents pages thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted in this book’s creation. The volume’s Introduction follows and précis the 14 Chapters which form its largest section. These now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (Nuisance Control and Removal in NineteenthCentury Britain), which provides a general background concerning the legislation which is about to be discussed, each of these is devoted to a specific subject. The subjects are diverse and range from Grime: Wells, Drains and Discharges (Chapter 3), to Human Waste: Water Closets and Shrimps (Chapter 8) to Burial Grounds (Chapter 14). Essentially, if it involved ‘Dirt’ in any form it will be discussed. The Chapters themselves follow an interesting format, and, for this reviewer, reveal a major flaw.  In respect of the format, within each Chapter, several specific Bills relevant to the subject under discussion are presented. These relate to specific locations. As part of the legislative process, the sites to which specific Bill related were visited by a Committee of Review; the intention being to obtain local feedback to what was proposed by the legislation. The volume is essentially a collection of the responses by local officials to that process. A small Table placed below each Bill subheading, shows the population growth of the area concerned. A section titled Conclusion follows Chapter 14 (Burial Grounds), and as the title suggests, acts as a summary of what has gone before. This is followed by three Appendices. These are variously of Table and Column format and cover Population Growth (Appendix 1), Occupations of  the Witnesses (Appendix 2) and Locations to Which the Evidence Secessions Relate (Appendix 3). Appendix 3 is followed by the Index; the volume’s last section. Eight pages of images appear in a dedicated section in the centre of the volume. These are monochrome in format and accompanied by informative captions. None carry Source Citations, although the author does note (On the Acknowledgements page) that ‘The selection of illustrations was eased by assistance from Rav Gopal at Newbury Library’.  neither the Contents nor Index sections carry reference to the existence of these images. The volume contains neither Maps or Bibliography, and where Quotes appear within the work, they are not supported by authenticating citations. They might just as well be imagined.

Although this volume is well-written and easy to read, for this reviewer the complete lack of authenticating and supporting documentation in the form of Citations and reference material raises severe concerns about its authority. Put simply, there is no way of knowing if what is presented as ‘fact’ is actually ‘true’ and an authentic record, or just a convenient ‘imagining’ to fit a predetermined narrative. For a volume purporting to be a ‘Work of historical significance’ this is a major failing, and on that basis (the complete lack of any authenticating documentation), this reviewer found it difficult to not conclude that the result is, at best, a highly-imaginative work of fiction. Failings in the volume’s Index only serve to compound the problem, with random checking finding numerous situations where items appearing within the narrative were not accorded the courtesy of an Index entry. The discovery that (for example) there were no  Index entries for Playfair, Museum of Geology, Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Bill, House of Commons and Department of Woods and Forests (all on page 37) raised additional questions about what else may have been omitted from the Index, and, inter alia, about its authority and veracity. There is no way to know, but as subsequent random checking for other entries produced a similar result, the problem would seem to be widespread.  The above, when combined with the previously-noted lack of verification for the Quotes appearing within the work, has resulted in what could at best be described as ‘A collection of interesting stories.’

As previously-noted, this volume is well-written and easy to read. As a result, it may well appeal to readers who are seeking a ‘once over lightly’ view of life in Nineteenth-Century Britain\, with the qualification that there  is no way of knowing if any of what is written is actually true or accurate. This complete lack of supporting, authenticating, citations also means that, for Historians, the work has little value and is very definitely not to be considered ‘Authoritative’ in any way.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very poor, 10 Excellent, I have given this volume a 4.

Were that that was not the case.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’

117.

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  The Hindenburg Line

Author:  Peter Oldham

Total Number of Pages: 208

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

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A note on the rear cover of this volume states that this book forms part of a series titled Battleground Europe and is ‘…Designed for both the battlefield visitor and the armchair traveller’. It provides ‘Extensive guidance on how to make the most of [a] battlefield visit and describes ‘The historical significance of each site…in detail with the aid of maps and photographs’.  In this volume specifically, ‘Peter Oldham [the book’s author] looks at the area under discussion, dividing it into manageable sections and explains its importance’. It is an accurate precis of the volume.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who have assisted in the preparation of the volume. This is followed in turn by a section titled Series Introduction; the title being self-explanatory. The volume’s actual Introduction follows. This summarises the book’s content while also reinforcing its purpose; namely to be ‘…A general guide to the region in which…British troops had some major trials and tribulations’. This is in turn followed by a section titled Advice to Travellers, the title of which is also self-explanatory.  The four Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Chapters 1-3 are devoted to military activities around, under and over the line of defence commonly known as the Hindenburg Line during the 1917-1918 period. Chapter 4 however is intended for the visitor. Titled Driving The Hindenburg Line and described as a ‘Sectioned guide to the location of the Hindenburg Line and actions and battles in every sector’, it consists of 20 subsections (titled A-T) each of which is devoted to a particular section of the Hindenburg line. It should however be noted that Sections S and T have been combined, the nominal Section T consisting of a single Map without any supporting, section-specific and clearly-defined text. Within each section, a standardised format is followed, and consists of two clearly-defined subsections. Within the first, several pages of historical notes are provided, together with at least one contemporary area-specific map and photographs of various military fortifications, both as they were when in military use and as they currently appear. Within the section, bracketed numeric references direct the reader toward specific locations within the adjacent map. These numbers are however Volume rather than Chapter sequential. Noticeably, these Maps do not carry titles; it being evidently assumed that the reader will know to what they refer. Where appropriate, portraits of individuals mentioned within the adjacent narrative are provided. As with all images within the volume, these are monochrome in format.With the exception of that of that of Citation-winner Second Lieutenant Rambo on page 162, these are all Victoria Cross Winners. Where appropriate, additional subsections provide more detail concerning significant military operations within the specific area. The historical background thus defined, the second section (titled variously The Area Today or XX Area Today) describes what military-based remains can be seen within the area under discussion. As already noted, the volume contains both Maps and Photographs and in addition Plans and Diagrams also appear within its pages. However, neither the Contents nor Index sections carry references to the existence of any of these items.  While informatively captioned, no source-related information is provided. Where necessary, additional information is provided through end-note citations. These are volume-sequential, with the citations themselves appearing in a References section placed towards the rear of the volume. A small section titled Further Reading follows Chapter 4’s Section S/T and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned References section. The book’s Index follows; it is the volume’s last section.

Although this volume is well-written and researched, for this this reviewer it was let down by its Index. Random searching for Index entries for (for example), Canal du Nord Line (page 94); Francilly-Selency (page 78) and Battle Nomenclature Committee (page 142) found nothing, while that for  Mt Metier, although indicating that pages 79 and 83 contained the necessary information, omitted an entry on page 80. Why this should be is unknown, but when combined with the previously-mentioned omitted entries (and others of a similar nature) did nothing to engender confidence in the Index’s authority or veracity. The lack of a large-scale general-ordnance map of France was also unfortunate as without it, it is difficult to determine the Hindenburg Line’s geographical relationship with the rest of France.

Due to its nature, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians and readers with an interest In World War I may find it of interest. The ‘military’ images may also be of interest to military modellers, while wargamers with an interest in World War I may find the fortification details both useful and informative.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’

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’

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