BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years

Author:  Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 188

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

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In the opening sentence of this volume’s Afterword, the author writes the following: ‘In this book we have looked at the strange myth which has been sedulously propagated over the last few years by baby boomers about the idyllic nature of their childhood’, He then adds  ‘That they should … half believe this nonsense is perfectly understandable’ . There is more in the same vein within the chapter and these statements summarise what is ultimately a very sour and unpleasant little book.

As can be seen by the subtitle, the focus of this this book is on the ‘Not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’, and the possibility that the well-held viewpoints of the ‘Baby Boomers’ of the title (defined by the author as being those born between 1946 and 1964) may be incorrect, This is a reasonable possibility and one would expect a reasoned and well-presented discourse as a result. What one finds instead is that the author’ is of the viewpoint that all the ‘Boomers say is exaggerated and viewed through increasingly rose-tinted glasses. It is a hypothesis looking for a home.  To prove (or perhaps justify) the correctness his hypothesis, the author then proceeds to locate, record and then destroy (largely, it should be noted, through use of derision),  all and any stories which might just suggest that there was an element of truth in what Boomer’s might be saying.  The result is unpleasant, derisory, bitter and resentful. It rapidly becomes evident that the author is determined to find incidents to support his preconceived ideas, while coming from a curious position of both moral superiority and self-justification. If there is a fault to be found, he will find it and expose it to the light of the Twenty-first Century values, where it can be derided and ridiculed. There is no objectivity.  The result does not make for good reading.

The main part of this volume consists of nine Chapters. These cover those aspects of British society which the author has chosen to investigate in support of his hypothesis. They are preceded by a List of Plates section. This repeats the captions placed under the 15 images appearing in a dedicated 8-page section within the volume. An Introduction then records both the reasons the work was written and summarises its narrative. An Afterword placed behind the last chapter justifies the author’s stance for what he has written, and is followed by a two-page Bibliography.  An Index completes the volume.

Due to the preconceived ideas of its author, this reviewer would suggest that this volume’s value as an ‘authoritative’ work should be treated with some caution. However, those seeking confirmation of similar ideas concerning Baby Boomers and their views, will no doubt find it useful. Baby Boomers themselves might find it of interest in respect of their younger years, although with the qualification that they might find the author’s viewpoint difficult to reconcile with their known realities. The photographs might also trigger reminiscences.

Due to the author’s very evident bias against his subject, this was not a pleasant volume to read. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  History of British European Airways: 1946-1972

Author: Charles Woodley

Total Number of Pages: 206

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

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Formed to take over ‘…Most UK domestic and European routes under the British government\s nationalisation policy’, during the 26 years of its existence British European Airways (BEA) expanded, experimented and diversified, before being amalgamated with a sister organisation in 1972, ostensibly ‘To avoid waste and duplication’. This is its story.

Originally published in 2006, this well-researched and eminently readable volume traces the history of  British European Airways from its creation in 1946 to its demise (through amalgamation with British Overseas Airways; BOAC) in 1972; the merger resulting in the creation of British Airways. In the process the reader is introduced to such topics as mail-carrying helicopters, beach landings, air ambulances and aircraft of many types from a variety of manufacturers. Where they relate to BEA, many other topics are also detailed. Although it is possible to read this volume from cover to cover in one sitting (as this reviewer did) he believes that it is more suited for a ‘dipping’ search, an approach that proved especially useful when referring to Appendix 4 (Details of Major Aircraft Types). A chapter is devoted to the circumstances resulting in the formation of British Airways.

An Acknowledgements section placed at the front of the book, thanks those who have contributed to its creation. An Introduction follows, providing a two-page precis of BEA’s history. The volume’s main section consists of 20 Chapters. Of these, 10 relate directly to the ‘flying’ side of the Company, while 10 describe such things as Company corporate structure, finances, crew training, and personnel. Five Appendices follow, and cover such things as BEA Chairmen, Route Maps illustrating the Development of the Networks and Technical Details of Major Aircraft Types. A Bibliography and an Index complete the volume. Numerous photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appear throughout the book, with a 16-page block of colour images being placed in its centre. These latter are numbered1-26, but as no complimentary numbers were found within the book itself, the reason for this is  unknown. No reference to the existence of any of the aforementioned photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appears on either the Contents page or within the Index.

For this reviewer, the History of British European Airways: 1946-1972 was something of a ‘mixed bag’. It is certainly well-written and researched. However, the previously mentioned lack of reference to the volume’s numerous photographs, plans and half-tone images within either the Content or Index sections made searching for specific items both difficult and tedious. In addition, by displaying very-evident pixels, several of the images within the centrally-placed ‘colour’ section (including No.’s 9, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23, although there were others) were disappointing. While appreciating that they were possibly ‘computerised’ in origin, for this reviewer they were not of the quality he expected to find within a volume of this nature.

As BEA has a substantial ‘fan following’ such enthusiasts are likely to find this work of great interest, while those with a more ‘general’ aviation interest may also find it useful. Aviation modellers with an interest in either BEA, British aviation or airliners in general could also find this book to be a useful resource.

As it is well written and researched, and despite the limitations noted above, this volume is likely to become a standard reference work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  British Armoured Car Operations In World War One

Author: Bryan Perrett

Total Number of Pages: 157

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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It easy to focus on the ‘Big Picture’ and ignore the small things; those details which, contribute-to and ultimately comprise the larger image. World War I is no exception, there being a tendency to focus on events in Europe to the exclusion of the smaller alarums and excursions which played a part in the larger conflict. This book, in the course of the narrative about its specific subject, deals with the ‘smaller things’, and does it well.

This is a well-written and very readable volume. It details the origins, development and operations of armoured cars used by British forces during World War I. A detailed background gives insight into the origins of the armoured-car genre. The majority of British armoured car operations during World War I occurred in obscure locations far removed from Europe and the Western Front.  As a result, the reader is taken into Russia, the Balkans, Iran, the Levant and Africa; into small places and small wars. The relevant details are well-narrated. This reviewer found the chapters relating to the Russian / Balkan experiences of the British armoured car units particularly interesting, but was left with the impression that many of the non-British participants viewed the World War as being totally irrelevant to their own particular machinations. By their free-roaming, almost piratical nature, armoured cars attracted some interesting ‘personalities’. When these individuals make their appearance within the volume, they are treated with sympathy, although their foibles are not overlooked. The volume contains a selection of contemporary and informative photographs.  Disappointingly, one of these (No.15) although notated as being ‘A rare coloured photograph…’, appears only in a monochrome format.

The book consists of 11 Chapters. Maps are provided. Photographic captions are placed alongside their respective images and also appear in a separate List of Plates section in the front of the volume.  A Foreword relates the volume to a previously-published work by the author.  A Bibliography and Index are provided. No Source Notes are provided for the various quotations appearing within the work.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include military historians and those with a particular interest in land-based warfare and military vehicles. Military modellers specialising in World War I would probably find the photographs of use. It may also appeal to those who simply like an enjoyable read about an unusual subject.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Author: Jim Wilson OBE

Total Number of Pages: 200

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

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‘When ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise’, is a well-known and oft-repeated phrase that indicates that there are times when a lack of knowledge can be advantageous. It is also an effective summation of the events described within this volume, with the subtext that ‘Those with the political power’ are not necessarily those who are in in control.

On the weekend of 27/28 October 1962, in what became known as ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, the United States of America, NATO and Great Britain faced off against their mutual enemy the Soviet Union. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and this event was the closest that the protagonists ever came to direct, nuclear weapon-using. confrontation; an event which would probably have seen the extinction of mankind. Incredibly, the political leaders of one of the protagonist countries (Great Britain) knew almost nothing about what was occurring.  How this came-about is the focus of this volume. It details and describes the political events surrounding the event, revealing both the Russian and Western Allies actions which ultimately led to the confrontation.   While this in itself is of interest, the revelation that the British participation in the conflict was ultimately in the hands of a single member of the Royal Air Force is more so. Most astonishing of all is evidence that contemporary British politicians were largely unaware of the seriousness of events occurring around them, and acted accordingly.  ‘When ignorance is bliss’, indeed!  There are two stories within this volume; while usually running in parallel, they sometimes intersect. One story is of British, American and Russian political activity at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The other is of the use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the nuclear-equipped (and American-built) ‘Thor’ Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), a weapon loaned to Britain by the United States of America at a time when Great Britain had no viable nuclear weapons of its own.  As they were (at least nominally) the owner/operators of the missile, the RAF’s story is the larger of the two, and is enhanced by personal reminiscences which give insights into the realities of  life and thoughts at a time of international uncertainty. Details of the interaction between the RAF and the United States Air Force are also given, and make for interesting reading. The technical development of both ‘Thor’ and the long-range, nuclear-armed missile, is also covered in depth.

The largest section of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. They are preceded by an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to the finished work. Two Appendices are included. One provides technical details of the missile itself, the other a list of the RAF units which operated it. Included in this section are details of Unit Numbers, Base (Station) locations, deployment periods and Commanding Officers. A Bibliography details reference sources, while an Index completes the volume. Sixteen pages of captioned photographs appear in the centre of the work; these are from a variety of sources.

Although this book is both well written and illustrated, no mention of its photographs appears within the Contents section. The Contents sections also contains no reference to the existence of a map (Thor and Jupiter Sites in Europe and their effective range) on page 32 or of technical diagrams on pages 36 and 37. The absence of these details was a disappointment.

In this Reviewer’s opinion, this volume is likely to be of greatest use to historians specialising in the geo-political events of the ‘Cold-War’ era (of which the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ was the apex), although more generalist historians may also find it of use.  It could well become a valued resource.  Aside from historians (and due to the breadth of its subject), this work may well be of interest to other groups. These could include those interested in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force and the equipment and history of those organisations. Readers interested in military aviation, ‘rocketry’ space exploration and Twentieth Century technology may also find it informative.

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

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Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages

Author: Malcolm Hislop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 264

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

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In British mythology, castles are synonymous with Brave Knights, Distressed Damsels (always ‘Fair’ and ‘Comely’), Dragons and the Round Table. Yet these structures were so much more. They were variously symbols of power, of ownership and yet, curiously of family, protectiveness and community; by their very existence they were contradictions.

The volume covers both British and French castles of the 900AD-1500AD period. The author knows his subject well, writing about it with very-evident enthusiasm. As would be expected, the work contains chapters on Earthworks, Great Towers, and Military Engineering. However, chapters on domestic engineering and castle aesthetics also appear. As this reviewer, had never considered that a castle could be worthy of embellishment, beauty, or that colour might be used to decorate the walls, learning about that aspect of castle construction was a revelation.  By virtue of the knowledge it contains, the work is more encyclopaedia than general narrative, and has great value because of that.  In this reviewer’s opinion, it may well become a standard reference work on the subject.

The volume contains 10 Chapters; these forming  the largest section of this work. They are preceded by Preface and Acknowledgements sections. An Afterword, a Glossary and a Referenced Works sections also appear, the latter being effectively a Bibliography. Where source citations are required, these are end-note in format, the citations themselves appearing in a separate Notes section at the rear of the work. An Index also is also provided.  Maps, Photographs, Etchings and Plans appear throughout the work.  They are clear, well-notated, and collectively grouped as Figures (notated as ‘Figs.’) within each chapter. They are numbered in sequence within that chapter. There is however no reference to their existence within the volume’s Contents section.

In precis:  This encyclopaedic work provides a comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the Medieval Castle and is likely to become a standard reference work on the subject.  It will appeal to anyone with an interest in both castles per se and the ‘Medieval era’ / ‘Middle Ages’ in general. For this reviewer however, comprehensive and separate lists of the images that appeared within its covers would have been a welcome addition. It has been rated accordingly.

Although it deserved better, on a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), it has been given a 7.

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Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

BOOK REVIEW ‘The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956

Author: Bill Clements

Total Number of Printed Pages: 199

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

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According to well-held popular opinion, the fall of the British possession of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was largely the result of ‘The guns facing the wrong way; out to sea, when thy should have faced ‘inland’; towards the (then) British colony of Malaya (now Malaysia)’. But was this in fact the case?

In this well-written and exhaustively-researched volume, Bill Clements seeks to clarify the situation. His narrative consists of two parallel themes; ‘Political’ and ‘Military’; the former providing ‘the reasons why’, the latter, the military response.. The tale that results is one of conflicting orders, evolving and changing international policies, self-important experts, technological development and unnecessary expense. An inability to think beyond very fixed perceptions, also contributed to what eventuated.  The miracle is that despite all the foregoing, some of the heavy artillery on Singapore was in fact able to contribute to its defence. The unfortunate aspect is that these guns could have done so much more. The facts are presented objectively and in impressive detail. The post-World War II era is also covered. A subsection in the final chapter lists what remains of the fortifications in 2016 and would be a useful guide for any visitor wishing to view what little is left.

The main part of this work consists of 11 Chapters, and three Appendices.  Several chapters contain subsections which relate to specific topics within the larger chapter. End-notes are used throughout the book and these are listed in a separate Notes section at the back of the book.  A  Glossary, Bibliography and Index are also provided. Although Maps and Photographs appear throughout the volume, the Contents page carries no indication of their existence.

For this reviewer, this volume was something of a mixed bag. As already noted, it is well written and researched, the author’s enthusiasm for his subject being very evident. The facts are presented in an objective way and the technical details are both comprehensive and informative. There are however some serious omissions in respect of the volume’s format. Several chapters contain subsections intended to provide additional information not covered within the main body of that chapter. Their existence (and that of both maps and photographs) is not noted in the Contents section. As a result, should a specific subsection, map or photograph be required, frustrating and time-consuming searching has to be undertaken. As this Reviewer expects the Contents page of a work to accurately reflect what is within its pages, such omissions are unacceptable.

There can be no doubt that this work is authoritative, the quality of the information it contains being such that it may become the standard reference on the subject of Singapore’s defences between 1819 and 1956.  Purchasers seeking details about the ordnance used during this period will no doubt find it very useful. Military historians seeking a more generalist overview of the island and the battle which resulted in its surrender, are also find likely to find it helpful. Students of World War II, Japanese military history and the history of British South East Asia are also likely to find it informative.

In precis, this work is a well-researched and written history of both Singapore Island and the guns that were intended to defend it when it formed part of the British Empire. As such, it is of high historical value.  Unfortunately, the omission of important information from the Contents page, together with the existence of unrecorded maps and photographs within the work itself, serves to reduce the volume’s value. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I would give it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW ‘The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Lady Lucy Houston DBE: Aviation Champion and Mother of the Spitfire

Author: Miles Macnair

Total Number of Pages: 248

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

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When delivering his famous monologue in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, Lord Jacque states: ‘All the World’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts…’ The  monologue  effectively summarises the life of Lucy, Lady Houston DBE. It could indeed be a fitting epitaph, although, after reading her biography, this reviewer suspects that the Lady’s response would be both unprintable and perhaps a little more abbreviated.

In the Twenty-first Century, Lady Lucy Houston is little known. Her name, if recalled, is invariably linked to the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft via her financing of the British entries 1930’s-era  Schneider trophy seaplane races; events which  resulted, eventually,  in the development of internationally-renowned aircraft and aircraft engines.  This contribution is acknowledged in the volume’s sub-title ‘…Mother of the Spitfire’. Yet there is so much more. Lady Houston was the epitome of contradiction.  She was a very strong-willed and determined woman, who literally rose from rags to riches via a set of carefully planned marriages and conquests. She was obsessively patriotic, passionate about aviation and contributed large quantities of money to its development. Yet equally, Lady Houston could be simultaneously bossy, manipulative and incredibly loyal. She could also be wilfully-blind about human frailty and became completely besotted by a member of the British Royal family. Yet these were only some small facets of her remarkable life. . There were many, many others. Contradictory certainly, infuriating, definitely, and ‘Eccentric’ in the best ‘English’ tradition. Despite (or perhaps because of) these traits, the subject of this work is ultimately, quite endearing. We will never see her like again.

The author has undertaken extensive research on his subject and has produced a well-written and very readable biography of a remarkable woman. Yet the work is not just about a single individual.  The reader is also introduced to other notables of the subject’s era,. Contemporary history is included to both ‘frame’ the larger narrative, and to add colour to it, with the chapter devoted to King Edward VIII being especially interesting. Colour and Monochrome photographs, together with reproductions of relevant documents and cartoons, provide visual assistance to the narrative. Where additional Reference Notes are used, these are End-note in format.

The work contains 21 Chapters and four Appendices, together with a Foreword, an Acknowledgements section and an Introduction. As previously-noted, a List of Illustrations is provided, and within this, separate sections (FiguresPlates-Black and White and Plates-Colour) detail the images that the book contains.  A Bibliography, an Index and a Notes section are also provided.

This reviewer was disappointed to find that despite the Mother of the Spitfire subtitle, the Schneider Trophy Races from which the Supermarine Spitfire evolved, form only one chapter of this volume, although their connection with the later aircraft is acknowledged. The races, together with the Mount Everest flights which she also financed, are presented purely in the context of Lady Houston’s life.  The numbering of the photographs within the work, (where ([B] for Black and White; [C] was for Colour]), was initially disconcerting, while this reviewer would also have liked to have seen better definition of both the Lowe cartoons and the various printed documents that appear within the work.

This reviewer believes this volume will be of value to those who are interested in both the British aristocracy and the British Monarchy (especially King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson).  Historians interested in both European and British politics of the 1930’s, together with those with a more-general interest in that era should also find it of use. Readers seeking additional information about the Schneider Trophy seaplanes and the Supermarine Spitfire may not however, find what they are looking for within its pages.   Were that that was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.