BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Turbomotive Stanier’s Advanced Pacific’

52. DSCF9573 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Turbomotive Stanier’s Advanced Pacific

Author: Tim Hillier-Graves

Total Number of Pages:  206

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


Technology advances in various ways and enroute to its final ‘success’ can sometimes follow paths that are ultimately fruitless. Such was the fate of the subject of this monograph; the London Midland and Scottish Railway’s (LMS) ‘Turbomotive’. The “Turbomotive’ was the physical form of an idea that, in theory, had lots to offer, yet which, due to circumstances outside the control of its proponents, ultimately proved a technological dead-end.

The motivation behind what became known as the ‘Turbomotive’ was a simple one: economy and simplicity. Its premise was that, by incorporating a miniaturised version of a highly-successful maritime propulsion system (the steam turbine), costs could be reduced, greater efficiency achieved, and money saved. The idea was not a new one, but the way that the LMS dealt with it was. This volume records what was designed and why, the results of actual ‘in service’ experience, and, ultimately, what happened to the chief participant: LMS locomotive No. 6202; the ‘Turbomotive’. It is a very interesting tale.

An Acknowledgements section follows the Contents page. Within it the author thanks those who contributed to the volume. Curiously, the sources of the volume’s photographs are also indicated within this section, rather than in a ‘Sources’ section as might be expected. For ease of use, when notating the photographs, the author has used abbreviations to indicate their sources.  He has placed the abbreviations in brackets after each ‘source’ that is named within the Acknowledgements section. Where photographs appear within the volume, these abbreviations appear below the individual captions. An Introduction section follows. Within it, the author details his reasons for writing the volume and his familial relationship with the locomotive. The Introduction is followed by the 10 Chapters comprising the main part of the volume.  The locomotive which is the subject of this volume was involved in a major three-train railway accident (known as The Harrow Railway Disaster) at Harrow on 8 October 1952; an accident which ultimately led to its scrapping. The scale of the disaster prompted an Official Enquiry, and Chapter 1 is devoted to this, with particular reference to the actions of its crew during the accident. Chapters 2-8 detail the reasons for the creation of the locomotive and its ‘in service’ history. Chapter 9 returns once more to the accident, discussing it in greater detail, and describing the circumstances which ultimately led to the subject locomotive’s withdrawal from service and scrapping. Chapter 10 discusses the locomotive’s historical relevance. Eight Appendices follow.  These cover a wide variety of topics relevant to the larger narrative. They include The Science of Steam Turbines (Appendix 2) and 6202 – Evolution of a Locomotive (1935-1952) (Appendix 7) amongst their subjects. The latter uses plans to depict the evolution of the locomotive throughout its life. A single-page Reference Sources section is placed behind the Appendices. This lists the sources of non-photographic material used within the volume. A three-page Index completes the volume. Numerous monochrome photographs and plans appear within the book, together with two half-tone advertisements.  There is however no indication of their existence on the Contents page. An eight page ‘colour’ section is also provided. This contains illustrations relevant to the narrative, but again, its existence is not acknowledged on the Contents page.

This reviewer found this volume to be both informative and well-written. It was however let down by the ‘small details’. Of these the most obvious concerned punctuation. Although the spines of both the dust jacket and the volume itself have the title correctly written as The Turbomotive, Staniers Advanced Pacific, inexplicably the comma following Turbomotive omitted from both the ‘face’ of the dust jacket and the volume’s two title pages, In addition, the apostrophe is omitted from Stanier’s on the same two title pages. The absence of both the comma’s and apostrophe’s from such important locations implied (perhaps unfairly), that similar ‘carelessness’ might be found within the work. It was not a good introduction to a volume purporting to be an ‘authoritative’ narrative. That the Contents page carried no indication of the existence of photographs etc. did not help. It was also noticeable that although the word ‘Pacific’ was used frequently throughout the volume, no explanation was given as to exactly what a ‘Pacific’ might be. As non-railway readers might not know that, at its most basic, the term refers to a steam locomotive with a 4-6-2 wheel arrangement, an explanation would have been helpful. A Glossary to explain technical terms could also have been of value.  .

This volume is likely to appeal to several different groups. These could include devotees of the LMS and those with an interest in both British Railways (the LMS successor) specifically, and British rail transport in general. Railway modellers and artists interested in ‘trains’ are likely to find the images and diagrams informative. Transport historians interested in British transport history and the machines that were employed could also find it worthy of their attention. Engineers with an interest in turbines and turbine development vis-à-vis rail transportation might also find the volume of interest.

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


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Turbomotive Stanier’s Advanced Pacific’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

51. DSCF0680 (2)


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Maginot Line: History and Guide

Author:  J.E. Kaufmann, H.W. Kaufmann, Aleksander Jankovič-Potočnik and Patrice Lang

Total Number of Pages: 308

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


This volume narrates the story of the Maginot Line; a series of fortifications constructed along the Franco-German border after World War I. In concept, the ‘Line was well-thought-out and constructed. It was built on the premise that should hostilities ever resume between France and Germany recommence, the German invader would be contained by the supposedly-impregnable fortifications and would be unable to enter La Belle Francoise. Unfortunately for the French, when the Germans did eventually re-enter (during World War II), they did so through an area of the border which the French considered to be impenetrable and through which the ‘Line did not extend.  The much-vaunted and highly-expensive Maginot Line was thus neutralised and ineffective. Despite this, the Maginot Line did subsequently see combat, although this was between German and American forces and did not occur until the latter period of World War II,  The  Maginot Line continued to play an ever-decreasing  role in French defence plans, although it had been overtaken by technology (especially with the development of nuclear weapons). In 1968 it was deemed surplus to French military requirements, with such structures as remained being sold-off to non-military organisations and individuals. This well-written and researched book is the Maginot Line’s story, and is a reprint of a volume originally published in 2011.

A two page Contents section appears at the front of the volume. Unusually, this is followed by a single-sentence Dedication. Why this should be placed where it is, instead of in the more-usual front of the book (and ahead of the Contents pages) is not explained. An Acknowledgements page then thanks those who contributed to the volume. A Glossary of Terms section is next. It provides English-language interpretation for the numerous French-language terms that the book contains, The Glossary is followed by the eight Chapters which form the main part of the book. These are divided into two sections, The first (titled ‘Part I : the Maginot Line) consists of Chapters 1-5 and provides historical and technical ‘background. The second (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today), consists of Chapters 6-8 and is intended as a ‘guide book’ for use by interested visitors. Where necessary, sub-headings appear within each chapter. Additional information is provided within each chapter by chapter-specific end-notes. These are arranged sequentially within each chapter; the citations being placed at chapter-end. To assist visitors to what remains of the Maginot defences, the second section (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today) contains ‘… A list of sites that can be visited today and that we recommend’ [Author’s italics]. Associated with this is a star-based system that ‘… Indicates accessibility in the main tourist season’. Six Appendices are placed after Chapter 8. They information they contain supplements that appearing within the main part of the volume. A Bibliography then details the printed and electronic sources which were used when the volume was being written. A six-page Index completes the book. In addition to the above, this volume contains numerous Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables from a variety of sources. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents pages or within the Index.

Military historians with a specific interest in either static fortifications or the Maginot Line itself, are likely to find this volume of interest. It may also appeal to both military and ‘civilian’ historians with a more generalist perspective. Readers interested in World War II’s European Theatre may also find it worthy of inspection Part II of the volume may also be useful to holiday-makers with an interest in the Maginot Line, while war-gamers and military modellers could find the volume’s diagrams and photographs of use.

This volume is impressively well-researched and full of information. As previously noted however, there is no mention of the existence of Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables on either the Contents pages or within the Index. This absence makes searching for specific information time-consuming, with no guarantee that the information being sought will even be found. Although this reviewer found such omissions frustrating, how important they are will depend on the individual reader.

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


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

50. DSCF0678 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Severn Valley Railway

Author:  Michael A. Vanns

Total Number of Pages: 104

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½


According to its author ‘This book provides a brief history of the Severn Valley Railway, from its earliest days through to the twenty-first [sic] century, providing a guide for all those who love the sight and sound of steam engines making their way through a particularly beautiful part of the midland landscape’. It is a fair summation.

The volume is prefaced by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow. Although not specifically defined as such, four Chapters follow the Introduction and form the main (and central) part of the volume. They cover specific periods of the railway’s history from its Eighteenth Century origins to its state in 2017. They also introduce the reader to the various industries which sparked the Severn Valley Railway’s (SVR) creation and the economic and social factors which contributed to both its existence and its demise. The events which resulted in its passing into preservation are also covered as are events and experiences on the ‘Preservation’ journey. The narrative is well written, the facts both well-researched and presented, and the over-all story an engaging one. A Bibliography follows the final Chapter (Preservation) and is, according to the author, ‘…A list of those [books] used as references in the compilation of this book’. An Index completes the volume. The book is copiously illustrated with well-captioned photographs, the colour images in particular being a delight to view. While the majority of those taken in the railway’s industrial heyday are monochrome, a small number of colour images are also present within those sections (Chapters 1-3) In contrast (and with only two exceptions) all the ‘Preserved’ images  (Chapter 4) are in full colour. The volume contains but one map. This dates from before World War I. As it shows all the railways in the vicinity of the SVR rather than just that line itself, its usefulness is questionable. There is neither a large-scale ‘General’ Ordinance-Survey Map of Great Britain nor maps relating specifically to the SVR. As a result, unless they are personally acquainted with the SVR, the reader can have no idea of its location. While for some, this will not be a problem, this reviewer believes otherwise, since if one does not know where the SVR is located, how can one visit and support it by doing-so? International readers in particular are also likely to find the absence of maps frustrating and may question why it is necessary to consult an atlas when the information should be readily available within the volume.

The matter of maps notwithstanding, the combination of information and photographs is such that this book could well become an authoritative volume on its subject. While definitely a ‘souvenir’ volume; suitable for taking home after a visit to the SVR, it also has value as a provider of historical and social information for those interested in such matters. Railway modellers and members of the railway enthusiast community may also find it worthy of their attention.

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


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

49. DSCF0674 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

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


In wartime, the impossible tends to become commonplace, with previously-insurmountable obstacles suddenly being overcome. Such was the case with the merchant vessels of all shapes, sizes and varieties used by the combatants during both the First and Second World Wars. Large numbers of such craft were needed, quickly and at low cost. This is their story. As it was the Allies who had the greatest need for such ships (to carry all sorts of materials essential to the war effort), the main focus of this volume is inevitably on vessels produced to meet their need. Axis merchant-vessel production is not however ignored. Although primarily concerned with the ships themselves, the volume also provides the ‘…Political and military background’ that resulted in the creation of these vessels; something not previously attempted’. The result is a well-written, exhaustively researched and very readable volume about a hitherto-neglected area of maritime history.

A Preface opens the volume. It briefly summarises what follows, while also relating the reasons that this book was written. A Foreword elaborates on what has gone before, and is in turn followed by the 16 Chapters which form the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken in logical steps through the history and development of mass-produced wartime merchant vessels. As they epitomise the success of wartime shipbuilding (at least by the Allies) specific reference is made to the Liberty and Victory ships; arguably the best known of all the many types that were produced by any side. Chapters devoted to German and Japanese efforts to build similar cargo vessels are also included. The volume includes numerous clear, informatively-captioned and clearly-sourced monochrome photographs,. However, the Contents page carries no acknowledgment of their existence, while the Index states that ‘Page numbers in italic refer to illustrations’. Tables and half-tone illustrations also appear where necessary, but again, neither the Contents page nor the Index, acknowledge that they exist. Within some Chapters, clearly-delineated subsections contain reprinted articles that provide additional information relevant to that specific Chapter. A single-page References section is placed after Chapter 16. This acts a Bibliography and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Despite mentioning many shipbuilding locations, the volume provides no maps to show where these might be.

For this reviewer this volume was let down in two areas: article sources and the explanation of freely-used technical terms. Of these, the most important was the absence of source citations and, (specifically) page numbers, for the numerous articles that are quoted within the text.  Although when quoting an article, the author refers the reader to its source volume, when the latter is many pages in length, the futility of searching for a small paragraph within it becomes evident.  Provision of specific page numbers within the source volume would have been of considerable assistance. The absence of any Glossary of the nautical terms used within the volume was also surprising, the author evidently believing that he was writing to an already technically-familiar audience. Unfortunately, not all potential purchasers will be so-equipped. What, (for example), is a ‘Scantling’ (p.68) or ‘Deadweight’ (p.102)? In the absence of any definition and without recourse to a dictionary, a reader with no maritime knowledge can but guess, and, baffled by jargon, could well decline to purchase.

Although aimed primarily at those interested in wartime shipping, this book could well be of value to any merchant-shipping enthusiast. Modellers of ‘Emergency’ cargo ships could also find it of use. Finally (and despite the previously-mentioned ‘limitations’), for this reviewer it is in his (very rare), ‘Must have’ category.

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




BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

48. DSCF0692 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities

Author: Melvyn Jones

Total Number of Printed Pages: 150

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


Historians rarely focus on communities, preferring instead to write about outstanding individuals or important events. When they are actually mentioned, ‘Communities’, whether large or small, are merely ‘background’ to a larger and more focussed narrative. In this volume however, it is the ‘Communities’ which are the focus, with the important events or people, where they occur being adjuncts to the story rather than its focus.

In his Epilogue, the author notes ‘Mining migrants came from every country in England, from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and even from overseas to populate the mining villages of South Yorkshire; it is this migration which forms the basis of this volume’. The author does this via ‘…In-depth case studies of examples of six very different types of mining settlement in South Yorkshire…’ noting that ‘…Many … survive to this day, although now there is little sign of the collieries that were their raison d’être’. The result is a volume of social history that examines life in the now-former mining settlements of South Yorkshire.

The author is of Welsh descent and ‘…Grew up in a mining family’.  Unsurprisingly he notes that he ‘…Has been writing about it [mining] ever since I left school’. His dissertations for his university qualifications were mining-based, with particular emphasis on migration to, and settlements on, the Yorkshire coalfields. These were subsequently followed by articles on the migration of Welsh miners onto the Yorkshire coalfields. With such a background he then decided ‘…That it was time to bring all these studies together in one comprehensive volume’. This book is the result.

Within this volume a Forward follows the Contents page. In it, the author narrates his family connection with the Yorkshire coalfields and his reason this book was written. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who assisted in its creation. The book’s main part follows; it consists of seven Chapters. The first of these (titled General Considerations) outlines the factors which the author considers influenced the development of the villages that appear within the Chapters that follow.  Each Chapter relates to settlements within a specific section of the South Yorkshire coalfield, each settlement being allocated a subheading with the specific chapter. An Epilogue placed after the last chapter precis’ what has gone before and details what remains of the settlements and industries previously-described. This is in turn followed by a section titled Sources, References and Further Reading, which acts as a Bibliography. An Index completes the work.

Most chapters contain maps and photographs. Collectively termed Figures, each is captioned and is numbered sequentially within the specific chapter in which it appears. Although some are sourced, many are not. There is no reference to their existence on the Contents page or in the Index. Surprisingly (and despite its extensive use of mining terminology), the volume contains no Glossary for those unfamiliar with the industry. That such a section is necessary is shown by this reviewer’s inability to find an explanation for the terms Exposed Coalfield and Concealed Coalfield that are in widespread use throughout this book. As it is probable that many purchasers or readers of this volume will live outside South Yorkshire, such an omission is of some consequence. Curiously, and despite their prominence, these terms also do not appear within the Index. Few citations are provided, and where these occur, they are minimal in detail.

Due to its ‘Academic’ origins this volume is well-researched and highly detailed. As a result those seeking ‘facts and figures’ about specific localities are likely to find it very useful. Residents of settlements described within this book may also find its historical information of interest.

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














BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

47. DSCF0686 (3)

Reviewer:  Michael  Keith

Title: The Great Houdini; His British Tours

Author: Derek Tait

No. of Pages: 296

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


In an age where film stars are treated like royalty and thousands of ordinary people come to merely look at them, it is easy to forget that there was a time when entertainers who were NOT film stars were also accorded the same adoration. One such was Harry Houdini; escapologist extraordinaire. Although an American who was well-known in his homeland, Houdini also toured internationally, making many visits to Great Britain while doing-so. This volume is the story of his ‘British’ visits.

In the Introduction to this volume, the author summarises its purpose. He states ‘I have always been fascinated by Houdini and the more I have read about him, the more I’ve discovered about all the many venues that he played at all over Great Britain. There have been many books written about Houdini but none cover his tours of Britain in their entirety. In this book I have tried to collect together as many stories, newspaper cuttings, adverts [sic] and photos of his visits to the UK’. He also notes that ‘I have tried to include the complete account of the show as it was reported in the local newspaper. This not only gives a good impression of what Houdini’s act was like but also gives a feel of the time by including other performers who appeared on the bill,,,’ However, lest a reader think that the result of these endeavours could be boring, they are definitely not. The result is an eminently readable and thoroughly-entertaining book.

An Introduction placed behind the Contents page provides background to what follows and traces Houdini’s origins and his entry into show business. The main part of the volume follows. This consists of 16 Chapters, 15 of which detail the tours that Houdini undertook in Great Britain between 1900 and 1920. The final Chapter (Number 16) carries the self-explanatory title Timeline of Appearances and Events. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 16. In it, the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s creation. This is in turn followed by a Bibliography which records the books, newspapers and websites which provided information to assist the writer. A 10-page Index completes the work. As already noted, the volume contains numerous photographs, reproductions of relevant postcards and advertisements, together with contemporary line drawings. These are clearly captioned, although only some are sourced,. There is no reference to their existence in either the Index or on the Contents page. It must also be noted that although the body of the volume contains numerous quotes from contemporary newspapers, there are no ‘formal’ indications of their sources nor supporting citations. This must inevitably reduce the usefulness of the volume as a research document. The volume contains no maps. As a result, without consulting an atlas, the reader has no way of knowing where the locations referred-to actually are. This could be particularly problematical for ‘off-shore’ readers not familiar with the geography of the British Isles.

This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed this volume, and believes that it will probably appeal to a variety of readers. As it relates to their hero and records a little-known part of his life, ‘Houdini-enthusiasts’ will no-doubt find it of value. Historians and social-science researchers interested in British entertainment and social conditions for the 1900-1920 period could also find it of use. ‘Generalist’ readers seeking an entertaining and informative story may also find it worthy of their attention.

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



BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Villager Jim’s Garden Wildlife’

45. DSCF0697 (2)

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title: Villager Jim’s Garden Wildlife

Author: ‘Villager Jim’

Total Number of Printed Pages: Unknown; Pages are not numbered.

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 8, Text: 3_


Rudyard Kipling once observed that ‘… A man cannot a day sit still before the wild things run over him as though he were a rock…’ Kipling was referring to the wildlife of India, yet the statement could equally apply to the author of this volume: he sat, he waited, and ‘wild things’ did indeed ‘Run over him as though he were a rock’.  In payment, he took their photographs. Villager Jim’s Garden Wildlife is the result.

This is a volume of photographs; and while some will inevitably appeal more than others (with that assessment being totally subjective), they are all a delight to view. The images are of the ‘wild things’ that inhabit one man’s garden and which, when he ‘Sat like a rock’, came to visit , kept him company, and in many cases, interacted with him as if he was one of their own.  As a result, the reader is introduced to the insects, birds and animals which form part of the author’s extended family. He has named many of them, and while perusing  the volume’s pages,  the reader becomes acquainted with such interesting and endearing individuals as Bobbin, Deidre, Georgie, Wellington and Barnaby (although who these creatures are must remain a mystery; revealing them would spoil the story).

The photographs are, of course, the focus of this work and comprise the majority of its contents. They are preceded by an Introduction. This comprises two pages and within it the author presents background to what follows. Helpfully, he also provides useful information as to how wildlife photographs may be taken.. The photographs themselves are both numerous and, in their subjects, very varied. Most pages comprise a single image, although multiple images also appear. Single ‘thumbnail’ images are also superimposed on larger photographs. A caption accompanies each image. These vary in length, are frequently humorous, and often provide additional information concerning the photograph’s subject. Although the volume contains neither Chapters, Maps, Index, or page numbers, its last page does carry an advertisement for the author’s website shop and the products which may be purchased from it.

Put simply, this volume is a collection of pretty animal, insect and bird photographs. It is likely to appeal to readers who like such pictures (especially as they are of ‘British’ creatures), and who aren’t interested in the ‘technical’ details concerning them. Fans of specific bird and animal species may also find the photographs worthy of perusal. Expatriates wishing to recall the ‘creatures’ of their childhoods (or to show their children or grandchildren) may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I have given the Photographs an 8, the Text: 3.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Villager Jim’s Garden Wildlife’