BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956’

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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: ‘HORSES IN THE BRITISH ARMY; 1790 TO 1950’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Horses in the British Army 1750-1950

Author: Janet Macdonald

Total Number of Printed Pages: 208

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 5

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One thing must be made very clear from the start. Despite its title, this volume is largely-concerned with the acquisition, training, care and general maintenance of the horse (as well other creatures when they occurred), within the British army. It does not cover actual military operations in any depth, with those that are mentioned, being adjuncts to the greater ‘care’ narrative.

To quote the dustcover ‘…This book encompasses the whole spectrum of horses in the British army over a 200 year period, from their acquisition and training, through their care and feeding and their transportation to theatres of war overseas. It also covers the selection and training of their riders and has a brief chapter on other animals used by the British army’.

Within the volume itself, a List of Plates is placed after the Contents page. This repeats the captions of images appearing in an eight-page section placed at the centre of the volume. Of these images, only one contains an indication of its source. That list is in turn followed by a short three-entry explanatory section titled Author’s Note, together with an Acknowledgments section. The latter thanks those who assisted the author in creating the volume. A Glossary is next. This is three pages in length and clarifies many of the terms used throughout the book. An Introduction follows. In it, the author sets the scene for the 15 Chapters which form the largest part of the volume. Each Chapter is devoted to one aspect of the military use of horses as practiced by the British army, with particular emphasis on their care and maintenance.  Where necessary, subsections within the Chapter provide additional information relevant to the matter under discussion within the larger Chapter. A 12-page Appendix follows. Within it, subsections are again used to provide additional information not covered within the previously-mentioned Chapters. The volume uses Endnotes to provide additional information within the chapters. These are sequentially-numbered within each Chapter, their citations appearing in a designated Notes section placed behind the Appendix. A four-page Bibliography placed after the Notes section, records the resources used during the preparation of the volume. An Index completes the work.

This reviewer was interested in learning why the title’s very specific 1950 cut-off date was chosen, this volume being requested on that basis. In that expectation he was disappointed!   Despite repeated perusals of the volume, he still has no idea why 1950 was chosen; or why it couldn’t equally have been 1955, 1975; or 2017!  The absence of such information suggests that the date was a convenient number of the author’s own choosing. There is nothing to indicate otherwise. That this reviewer found only one section within the volume that was even remotely near the title’s 1950 date would seem to confirm that hypothesis. Titled After the Second World War, and appearing as a sub-section within Chapter 3 (Getting the Horses), this single-page subsection was concerned with the disposal of surplus animals. It had no relevance to the title.  As previously noted, within the individual Chapters, Endnote-type citations are used to provide additional information. Their use is not however widespread, and the volume contains many instances where this reviewer believes they should have been used but were not. These include both quotes (those on pages 11 and 12 being but two examples) and sentences. On page 181, an uncited example of the latter (and when referring to the use of porters to carry military equipment, states  ‘…Numerous humans…in some countries including …New Zealand [were used]…to carry supplies and munitions’  With no citations to establish / prove the accuracy of such statements, they might just as well be imagined. Difficulties also arose with ‘terminology’. What (for example) is a Mallein test (pages 23 and 110)? No explanation is given, and the reader is none-the-wiser. Military rank and unit abbreviations are similarly treated, and a list of commonly used military abbreviations and ranks would have been beneficial. A peculiar use of tenses was also evident, with the subsection Yaks in Chapter 14 being but one such example, The Index is also problematic. While reviewing this volume, this writer had occasion to randomly search the Index for several words. Amongst these were Shabraque (used on pages 133, 144 and xiii), with a search finding only a single Index entry (that for page.133), the other two entries being evidently overlooked or ignored by the Indexer. Similarly, the words Otago and Otago Saddle, despite being mentioned on page 142, were also not found within the Index. New Zealand itself (mentioned twice on page 142 and again on page181), garnered no mention. As these are the results of random searches, there is no way of knowing what else might be missing.

Because of its emphasis on ‘horse care’ this volume will probably appeal to readers who are primarily ‘horse-enthusiasts’. Readers seeking information about the care of horses within a very specific military environment may also find it worthy of their attention. Readers interested in combat use of the horse within the British army are certainly likely to find some information relating to that use. However, as already noted, this is as an adjunct to the larger narrative. The 1945-1950 period in particular is not covered with any degree of adequacy.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘HORSES IN THE BRITISH ARMY; 1790 TO 1950’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ghandi, Smuts and Race in the British Empire’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Ghandi, Smuts and Race in the British Empire

Author: Peter Baxter

Total Number of Printed Pages: 280

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

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The well-known proverb states that ‘Great Oaks from little acorns grow’. This is the story of two such Oaks – Jan Smuts and Mohandas Ghandi and the encounters that they had with each other as they grew; encounters that were at times tests of wills, yet encounters that were, ultimately respectful, if only for the abilities that each possessed.  This is a multi-level tale that moves from South Africa, to Great Britain, to India, and again to South Africa, and does so over several decades and for a variety of reasons.

This book is essentially two biographies running in parallel, and is well-researched and written. Understandably, the narrative is primarily concerned with the main protagonists (Ghandi and Smuts). However, it also acquaints the reader with those who influenced, encouraged and worked with both men, and provides historical background for the countries and events that formed them.  Although at times some of the ‘background narrative’ appears to owe more to the  stream of consciousness writing-style than verifiable-fact (the description of Dadabhai Naoroji’s receiving of Ghandi’s petition being but one of several examples), the overall story is well-written and holds the reader’s attention.

A two-sentence Acknowledgments section follows the two pages comprising the Contents section. In it, the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s development and publication. This is in turn followed by a List of Illustrations which replicates the captions applied to the 30 Photographs and single cartoon appearing in a 16-page section near the centre of the volume.  An Introduction follows. This focuses on events in Great Britain that are pertinent to the narrative that follows, and introduces the reader to Mohandas Ghandi and his associates. The 31 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume then follow. An Epilogue provides closure to the narrative. It details the protagonist’s actions subsequent to going their separate ways. Endnotes are used throughout the book to provide additional information; their citations appearing in a dedicated Notes section placed after the Epilogue. A Further Reading section follows. This acts as a Bibliography and lists the literature used during the volume’s preparation. An Index completes the work.  No Maps are provided.

Although this volume is well-written and researched, this reviewer believes that it is very badly let down in two key areas; Quotes and the Index. Numerous quotes appear within the book. However, these have not been provided with verifiable source-citations. As a result, (and in the absence of such information), their authority and accuracy must inevitably be questioned, irrespective of their relevance to the narrative being presented. The Index is also disappointing. While examining it, this reviewer randomly looked for references to Australia, New Zealand (p.14) and Canada as well as for the British Aboriginal Protection Society (p.56), and for Hottentots and Ireland. These items appear within the volume’s pages as part of the narrative, yet this reviewer looked in vain for them, eventually giving-up the search. If these items could not be found, then what else may be missing? There is no way to know, and the authority of the Index suffered accordingly. Whether such matters are important will depend on the reader.

This volume may appeal to several groups of readers. Those with a specific interest in the history of ‘White’ South Africa are likely to find it of great interest. As it provides a detailed background to what subsequently occurred in India, readers with an interest in the British Empire, ‘British’ India, Imperialism and Colonialism may also find it of worthy of their attention. Readers specifically interested in either Ghandi or Smuts may also learn more about these individuals. As it covers the various conflicts that occurred within South Africa, the military aspect of the narrative may also be of interest to military historians.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ghandi, Smuts and Race in the British Empire’