BOOK REVIEW: ‘Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942

Author: Anthony Rogers

Total Number of Printed Pages: 220

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

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Before the advent of nuclear weapons negated its importance and relevance, the small Mediterranean island of Malta was of vital military importance to whomever would exercise military control over the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Because whomever controlled Malta controlled the region, it was frequently fought-over by prevailing and would-be empires. The last (and arguably the most fierce) of these conflicts occurred during World War II. Within that conflict Malta was the centre of concerted attacks between Italian and German forces. These attacks were almost exclusively from the air, and Great Britain, Malta’s ‘owner’ responded in kind. The results were aerial combats between the opposing forces; combats which invariably resulted in the destruction of the aircraft involved. Many of these landed or crash-landed on Malta itself or in the sea nearby. This volume records the locations of such sites (where known) and the combats in which they were involved.

The main part of this book consists of 10 Chapters. Each of these records the air combats that occurred over a specific period. Although some of these are for a single month, the majority cover a time frame of between two and eight months. Within the volume the author ‘…Describes the circumstances of some 200 final sorties flown during 1940-42 by those who served in and with the Royal Air Force and also by their opponents…’. The result is an impressive list which is both well-researched and readable.. A two page Contents section is followed in turn by an Illustrations section which is also two pages in length. This reproduces the captions of the images which appear within a 16-page photographic section placed in the centre of the book. Curiously, the Illustrations section is actually titled List of Illustrations on the Contents page, An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the book and is in turn followed by the Introduction. While this section provides an overview to the volume’s content it also details both the author’s relationship with Malta and the current (2017) state of aviation-related preservation efforts on the island. The 10 Chapters which comprise the main body of the book then follow. Five Appendices appear behind the Chapters. These cover such topics as aircraft losses (in which the losses are presented in a Table format numerically-keyed to maps placed at the front of that Appendix); the abbreviations used within the book and the equivalent ranks of the combatant air arms.

Within each Chapter, the individual dates on which combat occurred appear as highlighted subsections. These contain details relating to that day’s events and their outcomes. Endnotes are used to provide additional information. These are numeric in format and sequential within each chapter. The appropriate citations appear in a separate Notes section following the Appendices. A Bibliography then lists the resources which contributed to the volume. The final section of the book consists of two Indexes. These are titled an Index of Personnel and an Index of Places respectively and relate directly to Malta itself. There is however no ‘General’ Index to cover such things as convoys, warships, army units etc. As a result, readers seeking such information are forced to search through the volume with no certainty of finding what they are seeking. The lack of such a section limits the volume’s usefulness to a wider audience. Within the volume itself, an apparent printing fault has meant that the page numbers between pages 133 and 191 of have been omitted, while page 211 suffers the same fate. Curiously however, the ‘omitted’ numbers appear alongside entries in both the Index of Personnel and the Index of Places. Five Maps are provided, but instead of being listed on the Contents page, they have been placed within and under the Illustrations section. A ‘technical’ section providing the specifications of the aircraft involved would have been useful to enable comparisons to be made between the equipment used by each combatant air arm.

As already noted, this is a well-researched and readable volume. It is likely to appeal to those with a general interest in WW II and those with a particular interest in military operations in the Mediterranean section theatre of that conflict. Aviation enthusiasts with a particular interest in the Battle of Malta are likely to find it of interest, while the photographs could be useful to aero-modellers.

This reviewer found this volume is a pleasure to read, It is a credit to the author’s penmanship, and it will probably become an ‘authoritative’ text on its subject. However, the absence of a ‘General’ Index and the small ‘detail’ errors concerning page numbers etc. have served to both reduce its value and limit its potential audience.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it an 8. It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Joseph of Arimathea

Editor: Glyn S. Lewis

No. of Pages: 120

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 5

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On page xii of this volume, the author makes the following comment: ‘Joseph of Arimathea is…perhaps someone of whom people know only fragments of his life and the traditions that surround him. The aim of this book is to bring these fragments together in order to provide as full as is possible a biography of Joseph of Arimathea’. It is an accurate summation.

The result? A work based on an unsubstantiated (but well-held) hypothesis. This states that  Joseph of Arimathea (He who donated the tomb in which Jesus Christ was placed after his crucifixion), subsequently fled from Palestine / Israel  and, after landing in Europe, came to Great Britain,  resided there and was eventually buried in a (perhaps conveniently?) unmarked grave. In this reviewer’s opinion, what has resulted could at best be described as a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘Facts combined with Fiction’) where very limited ‘actual’ facts and large amounts of legend, tradition, circumstantial evidence and imagination have been combined. The story that results is one that could have been, might have been, but which equally may not have been. It is neither fish nor fowl; an idea looking for a home; dressed up as fact and presented as the same. It is an unusual and most-curious little volume.

A List of Illustrations appears immediately behind the Contents page. That section’s title is however misleading. and rather than referring to ‘pictures’ actually refers to the two maps, a pen and ink illustration and a church plan which appear at various places within the volume. The expected images are instead listed under a subsection on the same page. Titled Unnumbered Gallery Following page 56, the list replicates the captions appearing within the eight pages which comprise that section.  An Introduction follows. Within it, the author, by using scene–setting methods more-usually found in works of fiction, introduces the reader to his subject. That such methods have been used is perhaps prescient for what is to follow. The author then proceeds to create what he terms as ‘…As full as is possible a biography of Joseph of Arimathea’. This is done by means of five sections which function as Chapters. Within each section, subheadings provide additional information relevant to the section’s narrative. A single–page Bibliography placed after the last section lists books accessed while writing this volume, and is in turn followed by the Index, the volume’s final section. As previously-noted, the volume contains two maps (one of the reputed location of ‘Arimathea’ in Roman Palestine and the other of ‘Lake villages with respect to the flooded area of Somerset, and the Mendips’). There is however no large-area map of either the Roman Empire at the time of Christ (to show the journey that ultimately led Joseph of Arimathea to Britain), or a modern Ordinance Survey map of Great Britain to show where the various locations within the narrative are placed. Where (for instance) is Glastonbury (or even Somerset) in modern Britain?  Without such a map, the reader (especially those living outside Great Britain) is ‘flying blind’, and if wishing to visit the sites mentioned in the narrative, may have no idea where to look. Foreign readers / visitors especially, may find this problematical. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. They are however without citations as proof of their authenticity, and as a result, could possibly be imaginary. There is no way to know. The authority of the Bibliography is also questionable. Titles are mentioned in the text (that by Émile Mâle on page 77 being but one such example), yet the Bibliography carries no reference to either the author or the work. The example quoted is but one of several found by this reviewer. If such details are missing from the Bibliography, what else may also be missing, and from where; an entry in the Index perhaps? Again, there is no way of knowing.

This volume bases itself on legends, traditions, circumstantial evidence and hypothesis to reach a foregone conclusion, namely that, according to the author ‘…We owe Joseph of Arimathea a great debt of gratitude’. As previously-noted, for this reviewer, it is a work of ‘Faction’, a view that he retains.

This volume ultimately asks its reader to believe; to believe that the legends and traditions and imagined conversations that exist about Joseph of Arimathea (and, inter alia the ‘Arthurian/Avalon’ narratives, as they are intertwined), actually occurred. If these are held to be ‘true’, then the reader is likely to find this volume of considerable interest. If considered to be merely ‘myths’, then this volume is, at best, a rather-long fairy story.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’

Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies

Editor: Philip Kaplan

No. of Pages: 234

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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According to its author, this volume: ‘…Looks at both the magnificent restoration of a AR213 [A specific aircraft], and at the Spitfire generally. It considers the mystique and charisma associated with the type, its principle designer R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfires of the pre-war years, the Spitfire in the battle of Britain, flying the aeroplane, the roles of the Spitfire in the Second World War, the amazing career of Alex Henshaw as Chief Test Pilot…the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine…some of the motion picture and television performances of the Spitfire, and the phenomenal evolution of the warbird movement’. It is an excellent precis.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters. These cover the subjects described above and are accompanied by numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are of both aircraft and individuals; all are relevant to the narrative. However, the image sources are not included with the images, but are instead listed in a separate Picture Credits section placed at the back of the book (of which more anon). Art works, along with images from both print media and philately, also appear, together with numerous personal reminiscences.

Regrettably, for this reviewer, this volume has several significant faults. Of these (and the most curious and serious; at least for this reviewer),  concerns the Contents page. On it there is a complete absence of reference to the volume’s ‘support services’. That the Acknowledgements. Bibliography, Picture Credits and Index sections appear within the book is easily verifiable, yet the Contents page contains no reference to their existence. Why this is so is unknown. In addition, an un-named (but two-page) section has been placed immediately after the Contents page. Exactly what it is, and why it has been placed where it is, is unexplained. To this reviewer, that section appears to be a ‘grab-bag’ of the material that will later appear within the body of the volume, but in the absence of a title, its function is uncertain. Regrettably, the authority of the Index is also doubtful, with a random search for ‘Park, Keith within it indicating that an entry to Park Keith would be found on page 99. No such entry was found. Have other, similar, omissions occurred? There is no way to know. As previously-noted, this book contains numerous personal reminiscences and quotes from those personally involved with the aircraft. Regrettably, little effort has been made to indicate when one individual’s quotes end and another’s starts, or of their sources (whether published, personal documents, or conversations). Page 35 is but one example, with the absence of quotation marks and citations making it initially difficult for this reviewer to determine where the ‘Beurling’ section ended and the ‘Lacy’ one commenced. Similar examples appear elsewhere. Readers seeking further information about the origins of such quotes will also have no idea where to look as no citations are provided to indicate their sources. The author certainly uses the Acknowledgements section to thank those who helped him by providing ‘…Quoted and other material’.

However, this is a ‘blanket’ thanks and in the absence of specific sources for specific quotes it likely to be of little use to a researcher.  A list of the abbreviations used throughout the volume would also have been useful. No maps appear within the volume.

The volume can be considered a ‘Potted History’ of the Spitfire and its military and civilian service, with particular emphasis being placed on the restoration of AR213. On that basis it will probably appeal to Spitfire aficionados in particular and to aviation and war-bird enthusiasts in general. Aviation historians may find it worthy of their perusal, while ‘generalist’ military historians may also find it of interest. Pilots and ‘Aviation buffs’ of all persuasions may also find it worth a look. Aeromodellers specifically interested in the Spitfire (especially the early marks as exemplified by AR213) are also likely to find the colour images useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume a 7.

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Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group

Author: Chris Jagger

No. of Pages: 156

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

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In his in introduction to this volume the author writes the following: ‘The Special Escort Group (SEG) has been honing its skills for over six decades. Developing an unequivocal team culture dedicated to absolute precision, it has a reputation for excellence amongst its peers, of delivering its passengers (and cargo) on time, safely, in a  great deal of style, and without fuss or mishap…From queens, kings, presidents and emperors, to priceless works of art, terrorists and high-risk prisoners, SEG escorts them all. The skill required to protect them demands a world-class team’. This is that team’s story. It is a fair summation of the volume.

The Contents section is three pages in length and is followed by an Acknowledgements section in which all those who assisted the author are thanked. This is in turn followed by a Preface which details the reasons for the volume’s existence. An Introduction by the longest- serving Chief of SEG follows that section and is in turn followed by a Forward by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. An Introduction from the Author then talks the reader on an imaginary (but typical) journey on a typical SEG mission. The main part of the volume consists of   five Chapters. Titled sequentially (The 1950s. The 1960s etc.), these cover events in their respective decades and illustrate the development of the SEG through the 1952-199 period. Within each chapter, subheadings relate SEG-related events that occurred in that specific decade.  They make for fascinating reading. Regrettably, the volume does not cover SEG operations in the Twenty-first Century. A final chapter (The Future) is largely a multi-page (but imagined) advertisement for recruits for the SEG. However, it also contains the texts of two SEG-related letters, a list of SEG Chiefs and a list of SEG Motorcycles (approximate dates deployed to the SEG), the contents of these latter sections being self-evident from their titles. A five-page Index completes the volume. The volume is illustrated in a variety of media. Pencil sketches appear in various locations, as do pen and ink images of the various motorcycles that have been used by SEG over the years. Curiously (and although the volume does not itself cover the majority of the period), one drawing (BMW R1100RS (1997-2012) is of a motorcycle used from 1997-2012. Why this should be so, is not recorded. A sixteen page Plates’ section in the volume’s centre contains descriptively-captioned images of motorcycles, personnel, correspondence and cartoons relevant to the larger narrative. Although the sources of some of these are given, the origins of the majority are unknown. There is no mention of the section’s existence on either the Contents pages or in the Index. within the individual Chapters, Footnotes are used to provide additional information. However, their use is somewhat piecemeal and does not extend to the numerous personal quotes that appear within the chapters. Boxes containing additional quotes also appear within the Chapters. While providing extra information helpful to the narrative, for unexplained reasons their sources are not cited. It is also not known why these particular quotes have been displayed in this specific manner.  The volume also contains two untitled and uncaptioned maps, evidently related to the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, although this is not stated, together with a half-tone rendition of the official SEG Coat of Arms.

The author’s style is readable and it is evident that he knows his subject. As a result, this volume may appeal to the general reader who is seeking an undemanding tale that gives a ‘Once over lightly’ introduction to a hitherto unknown organisation.  Because of its subject, this book is likely to also appeal to both Motorcycle and Police ‘enthusiasts’. The descriptions within this volume might also be of interest to both political and social historians researching Post-WWII Great Britain.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2017

To my surprise, since 31 December 2016 I have placed 46 book reviews onto this site. As those who follow me will be aware, these 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. (I have never given a 10 by the way, although it has at times been very tempting to do so).

On the basis of the gradings / ratings received, I thought that it would fun to list the Top Ten Titles  of 2017. They appear below:

Famous Brand Names (Martin)

  Fighters over the Fleet (N. Freidmann)

Above the Battle (Munro)

The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory 1935-1942  (Boyd)

The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation (Jackson)

British Armoured Car Operations in WW I  (Perrett)

Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist (Jackson)

British Warship Recognition Vol. 3. Cruisers (1)1865-1939 (Perkins)

Lady Lucy Houston:The Mother of the Spitfire (MacNair)

Severn Valley Railway (Vanns)

Note: Although the heading of this post refers to my Top Ten Titles for 2017, there were two additional titles which, while receiving high rating for one of their component parts, equally received poor ratings for another. They are included on the list on the strength of the ‘High’ component they contained and appear below. I will leave the reader to decide the reasons for their inclusion:

Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years of Change and Colour (Cable)

Storm Chaser (Olbinski)

Out of respect to both the titles and the authors, I will not be listing those titles 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 HAPPY NEW YEAR  TO YOU ALL and thanks for visiting this site.

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AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2017

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour

Author: Ashley Jackson

No. of Pages: 156

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In this volume’s Introduction, the author writes the following: ’The Yorkshire moors have always pulled at my inner world …I can honestly say I have grown deeper in love with her. For she is a woman to me; with her soft and wild nature, the perfumed scent of heather blowing around you and her voice; the wind blowing in your face. How can you not paint her beauty when she enthrals you?’ A beautiful book, about a beautiful part of England, by an artist who is in totally besotted with his subject. As a visual declaration of his adoration, it can have few peers.

The work opens with a Forward, this being placed behind the Contents page. A Dedication follows, and is in turn followed by a Preface by the author’s daughter who has acted as complier and motivator for the volume. An Introduction follows. Within it the author sets-out his rationale for the book. The 62 colour plates which comprise the bulk of the volume then follow. Although they are originally watercolour, they have reproduced well and convey the many moods of the moors and their environs. These images are placed on the odd-numbered pages within the section, with the image’s title, description and several lines of interpretative text appearing on the opposite (even numbered) page of the work. Where necessary, photographs also accompany this narrative. The author is rightly considered to be a local treasure and unsurprisingly, the object of media attention. Within this volume, this takes the form of two pages of colour photographs in the centre of the book where-in three photographs show the artist at work while being photographed by a television crew. All concerned are in wet weather gear and sheltering under umbrellas, reinforcing the narrative that only the most ardent lover would pursue such a path in his adoration for his subject. A four-page Biography that commences on page 140 uses both photographs and text to provide background to the author’s life and artistic endeavours. It is followed by a section titled  Final Words from Ashley, within which the author pays tribute to his wife, accompanying this with a painting which above all the others holds special significance in that relationship. An Index of Paintings is place after that section. Surprisingly, this is not a list of the paintings appearing within the volume (the latter appearing on the Contents page). It is rather a list of pieces that are ‘Available to View in the Gallery’, and which may presumably be purchased at that location. The final section of this volume is titled Appendix. Within it are listed various important dates in the artist’s career, Television programmes which have featured or included him and  lists of books that he has either published or which are concerned with his art. The Appendix also includes n awards sub-section (termed Accolades). This lists academic and social awards bestowed upon the author in recognition of his status as an artist of the Yorkshire moors. A separate list appears on the final page. Titled Photograph Credits, its title is self-explanatory.

On several pages, and in addition to the explanatory texts, the author has included personal thoughts relating to the specific painting being viewed. It should be noted that the volume contains no maps of either Yorkshire itself or Great Britain. This is an omission which this reviewer finds odd, believing that it may limit the volume’s usefulness and confine sales to only those who know the area intimately. Foreign readers (and even those within the greater United Kingdom), looking to find the location of the paintings (and perhaps to even visit them), may find the lack frustrating. Finally, only the odd-numbered pages of the volume have been allocated numbers. The reasons for this are not known.

As previously noted, this is a beautiful book. The details listed above notwithstanding, this volume will undoubtedly appeal to all and any native of Yorkshire, irrespective of where they may be located; it says ‘Home’ in a way that only they will understand. The quality of the images may also appeal to those who appreciate fine art and unique water-colours. Students of meteorology may also find the depictions of Moor weather to be of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching

Author: Gareth David

Total No. of Pages: 330

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

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On 27 March 1963, Dr. Richard Beeching presented to the British Railways Board (the group ultimately responsible for running that county’s railways) what the author of this volume describes as ‘…His draconian solution to spiralling losses on Britain’s outdated railway network, a plan which was…to spell isolation and economic stagnation for scores of communities across England, Scotland and Wales’.  This volume presents the reasons for that report and the results of its implementation. The author is quite clear about his intentions in writing this volume. He states that ‘This book will outline the dramatic changes to the [British] railway network brought about by implementation of closures planned in that 1963 report, and consider how lines which had been slated for closure have fared since they managed to escape the [Beeching] axe’. He also states that he ‘…Hope[s] to be able to convey the scale and future potential of the railway revival which has taken place since….the publication of Beeching’s original report…’ He is on a mission, and this volume is the result.

The volume’s first section (the Introduction), is placed behind the Contents page. Within it, the author provides biographical details concerning his interest in ‘Things railway’, while elaborating on his theme and providing background to his efforts in the railway preservation field.  The introduction is followed by 10 Chapters. Of these, the first nine are related to the directly closure of uneconomic sections of the British railway network and the subsequent reopening of sections closed as result of Dr. Beeching’s actions. Included within these are reproductions of letters relevant to the narrative and interviews with policymakers.  Regrettably, and despite the best efforts of all concerned, not all railways mentioned within this volume will reopen. The author lists and discusses these in Chapter 9 (titled Longer Shots). While so-doing he provides betting odds as to the likelihood that the individual line under discussion will reopen. While a reader familiar with British ‘Betting’ practice will undoubtedly find this both entertaining and educational, non-British readers unfamiliar with such matters may wonder why they have been included. Chapter 10 (titled On Reflection) .presents the author’s views on what has past, the current situation for railways in Great Britain and his thoughts about what the future could possibly hold for the re-emerging national railway network. Within each Chapter subheadings refer to specific sections of railway relevant to that chapter’s over-all narrative. Four Appendices follow Chapter 10. Two of these use a table format to record ‘Lines opened or re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix I) and ‘Stations opened or Re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix II). Within each Table, additional information is provided through the use of chapter-specific end-notes. These are sequentially numbered with their relevant citations appear at the end of each Appendix. Although there is no designated ‘stand-alone’ Bibliography, Appendix III carries the Bibliography subheading and acts in that capacity. It records the printed titles accessed during the preparation of this book.  Appendix IV lists ‘Campaign and Promotional Groups’ involved in railway and transport activism throughout the United Kingdom. The volume contains numerous photographs; both coloured and monochrome. Of these, some are sourced, some are not. In addition it also contains reproductions of schematic maps, tickets and a map of North Wales. There is however, no reference to either maps, tickets or photographs on the Contents page or within the Index. Curiously, the volume contains no maps/s of either Great Britain or its past or present national railway network/s in their entirety.

That the author is extremely-passionate about his subject is very evident, although the end-result (at least for this reviewer), is a volume best-described as being ‘Intense’.  That detail notwithstanding (and due to  the quantity and quality of the information it contains), this book has the potential to become  an authoritative work on its subject  It is likely to be of  use to individuals and organisations involved in the reopening of railways closed as a result of Doctor Beeching’ Report. In addition, groups and Councils involved in regional development within the United Kingdom may also find it informative and useful. Due to the photographs it contains, modellers of Twenty-first Century British railways may also find that it has use as a source book for rolling stock, infrastructure and land-forms.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’