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

124.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown

Author: Peter Duffell

Total Number of Pages: 290

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘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: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

86. a soldier's kipling

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms

Author: Edward J. Erickson

Total Number of Pages: 204

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

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When writing in this volume’s Preface, the author notes that the book ‘…Explores a selection of Rudyard Kipling’ military poetry relating to how the British Army waged its campaigns during what are called ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. He also notes that  ‘Kipling’s military poetry offers insights into the profession of arms’  and that his ‘…Intent for the reader is…to generate an appreciation for Rudyard Kipling’s military poetry and for the timeless themes about the nature of soldiering and the profession of arms contained in these verses’. In all these endeavours, the author has been successful.

As would be expected, the volume opens with a Contents section. This is three pages in length and within in it each poem is listed under the relevant Chapter. This provides a quick reference for a specific work and obviates the need to search the Index for a specific title. In a reversal of usual practice, a Dedication is placed immediately after the Contents section, and is itself followed by an Acknowledgements section. Within this, thanks are tendered for the organisations and individuals who contributed to the volume, and the reader is introduced to Kipling’s poetry through ‘When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre…’ a selection appropriate for the location. A List of Maps follows, the title being self-explanatory, and this is, in turn followed by a List of Plates. This summarises the captions found under the 20 colour images appearing within a designated section at the centre of the volume. The existence of that section is not however mentioned on the Contents page. A Foreword appears next and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned Preface. This summarises what is to follow, and, through the use of subsections, presents the author’s viewpoint concerning his subject and outlines the volume’s themes. It also offers the author’s thoughts as to how it should be read.  The Preface is followed by the eleven Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume. As previously noted, the volume follows a specific theme; summarised as the development of a soldier from a raw, untrained recruit (Chapter 1 Becoming Tommy Atkins – Learning to Soldier), to being a professional in his field. This is not however merely a recital of military service, and there is much, much more, all examined through the lens of Kipling’s poetry. The experiences of returning veterans are investigated, as is patriotism (both real and imagined) and, in Chapter 11 a non-military section titled Kipling for Fun. The title is self-explanatory and includes many of Kipling’s well-known, non-military verses. Within each Chapter, a designated Introduction sets the scene for what is to follow. Several poems relevant to the Chapter then appear. These are presented as subsections within the Chapter and are accompanied by relevant explanatory notes and interpretation of the verses from a military perspective. Where applicable, page-specific Footnotes are provided to clarify terminology or expand / interpret words appearing within a specific poem. Two Appendices follow Chapter 11. The titles (Britain’s Wars, Campaigns and Expeditions (and covering the period 1701-1939) and Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling) are self-explanatory. A section titled Further Reading follows Appendix 2. This is bibliographical in nature and function and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. The volume contains 10 Maps, and, as already noted, a 20-image colour section. Although well and informatively captioned, the images in the latter section are unsourced, and not referred-to within the Index.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index problematical. While undertaking a random search in the course of his review, he found numerous examples where events he considered worthy of inclusion within the narrative were not to be found within the Index. To take page 79 as an example; references to The Jacobite Rebellion, Williamites and the Treaty of Limerick on that page do not appear within the Index. Equally, the Index-entry to the Charge of the Light Brigade contains no reference to the evocative image that is listed as Plate 3. It would also be reasonable for the Index to record the names of the various publications in which the poems first appeared (the English Illustrated Magazine on page 101 being but one example), or even the names of collections (The Seven Seas on the same page), yet these are also missing. Such absences serve to reduce the authority and reliability of the Index, and inevitably raise questions concerning what else may be missing. There is no way to know.

The matters referred-to above notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume a delightful, well written, informative and (above all), memorable, volume, to the extent that it bids fair to become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Such is the universality and appeal of Kipling’s work, this volume is likely to have a wide range of readers; from literary and military scholars and students, to members of the armed forces, to both military, political and ‘generalist’ historians and those interested in ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. Military modellers may also find the colour plates useful as research tools, while readers seeking merely to be entertained on a wet Sunday afternoon could do well to peruse its content, if only to laugh at the accents and marvel at the genius of the poetry and the way things were when ‘Britannia ruled the World’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

73. DSCF3141 (2)

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient

Author: Jon Bursey

No. of Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½

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In the Author’s Note at the front of this volume, the author, when alluding to the establishment of Hong Kong, notes that ‘…I have been struck…both by the critical nature of [Charles] Elliot’s role and by the comparative lack of recognition accorded him subsequently as a person and for his work. I have sought in this book to describe his life…the challenges that faced him, and to set them in historical context’. He also states that ‘It has been my intention to cover the whole of Elliot’s career as thoroughly as sources permit’. It is an effective summary.

An Acknowledgements section placed after the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. It is followed by the previously mentioned Author’s Note. Within that section (and in addition to the statements already noted), the author also details the efforts he made to ensure accuracy of the narrative and to provide modern-day equivalent-values for mid-Nineteenth Century currency. A Maps section follows. This contains four full-page maps relevant to the narrative. A List of Illustrations appears next. This replicates the captions for the 36 images appearing within a 16 page section placed at the centre of the volume. A Prologue section then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the work then follows. Consisting of nineteen Chapters, these are in turn sub-divided to three Parts. These trace Charles Elliot’s life, with Chapter One (Forbears, Father and Family) providing ancestral background. The remaining Chapters detail Elliot’s career, while simultaneously providing background to the various events in which he played a part. Such is their detail, these ‘backgrounds’ are in themselves worthy of scrutiny. An Epilogue placed after Chapter 19 summarises and reviews Elliot’s life and his accomplishments. Three Appendices follow that Chapter. Where appropriate, the book uses End-notes to provide addition information. These are numeric, sequential and Chapter-specific, with the relevant citations being placed in a dedicated Notes and References section after the Appendices. A Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by an eight-page Index; the volume’s final section. As already noted, the book contains both Illustrations and Maps.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent and well-researched volume. For this reviewer however it was let down by inconsistencies in its Index. Random Index searching during the reviewing process for items such as Pax Britannica (page xvii) and Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew (both on page 213), found entries for neither. What else may also have been omitted is not known. In addition, the English East India Company (page xviii)  appears within the Index as East India Company. Which title is correct?  There is no way of knowing. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. Some are referenced, some are not (the quotes on page 165 being but two examples of such practices). In the absence of relevant citations to prove their authenticity, unreferenced quotes have little research value, a detail which may reduce the volume’s value as a research tool. Curiously, many quotes do not commence with a capital letter. In apparent defence of this practice the author states that ‘For the sake of authenticity I have reproduced spelling punctuation and syntax…as they appear in the original odd though they may sometimes seem including the apparently random use of capital letters’.  Whether this statement applies to the aforementioned quotes is unclear, but the presence of capitalised and non-capitalised quotes within the volume, does the narrative no favours.

This volume is well written and researched. Being biographical in nature it may appeal to readers seeking a straight ‘adventure’ story. It may also be useful to historians interested in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy.  Historians researching British Imperial Policies and actions during the same century may well find it worthy of their attentions, while those seeking in-depth historical data on locations such as China, the ‘British’ Caribbean and the Republic of Texas may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’