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 ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’

 

99.CHELSEA PENSIONERS

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose

Author: Stephen Wynn, Tanya Wynn

Total Number of Pages: 230

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

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In a note on this volume’s dustjacket, the authors state that that the book ‘…Looks at the hospital’s beginnings…goes on to look at some of the characters who have been Pensioners at the hospital over the centuries as well as some of the individuals who have been buried in the hospital’s grounds. There is also an in depth look at the hospital’s governors [and] a look in some detail at a few of those who currently live and work in the hospital’. It is an excellent precis’.

The book opens with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s well-known poem For the Fallen; the verse which begins: They shall not grow old… It is an appropriate Dedication. The Title and Contents pages follow in succession. An Introduction is next; while providing background to the book, it also summarises its content.  The 14 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to both the hospital itself and to noteworthy individuals and events which are associated with it. They may best be described as being the ‘Historical’ section of the volume. Where appropriate, subheadings within each Chapter detail both specific events and individuals. Chapters 5-to 12 may best be described as being ‘People’-focussed, the majority of their content being in the nature of biographical details for named individuals. Within this bloc, and where appropriate, specific individuals have been allocated a Chapter to themselves, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (Chapter 6 Margaret Thatcher) being one of several individuals accorded this honour. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a partly British Government-funded institution and Chapter 13 (Hansard Discussions) records the Hospital-related discussions which have occurred in the House of Commons since 1807. Such debates are recorded verbatim in Hansard (the official record of such discussions), with those records forming the basis of entries within the Chapter. Chapter 14 (Correspondence) contains both text and photographic copies of ‘…A few post cards and a letter connected to the Royal Hospital…’ The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Conclusion follows. This both summarises the volume and permits the authors to express their opinions on the institution’s present and possible future.  A biographical section titled About the Author follows. Again, its title is self-explanatory. Curiously, a 15-entry Subsection occurs within that section. Titled Sources, it is bibliographic in nature and function. A four-page Index completes the volume. It is not however the book’s final printed page, this honour being accorded to a final (albeit unnumbered) page placed behind page 229 on which  there is an advertisement for Pen and Sword-published titles which can be ordered from both the author and the Publisher. The volume contains 53 largely-unsourced monochrome images, defined as Figures. These are numbered sequentially and informatively captioned. Unsurprisingly, they are largely people-focussed but also include other items relevant to the narrative. For unknown reasons, the last image (on page 221) is not numbered. Although it would have helped readers to precisely-locate the Royal Hospital Chelsea the volume contains no Map.

Although this volume is well-written, for this reviewer it was badly let down by its Index, A random search within the Index for names and locations occurring within the volume found numerous examples where such names were omitted. These includes such entries as that for Michael Hurley (pages 204-205), and Patrick Johnson (page 146), while John Price, despite being the subject of a substantial entry on pages 202 and 203 was also absent from the Index. It was also noted that where some subjects were accorded an Index entry, these were incomplete; the Wren Chapel being but one such example: Although carrying Index entries for pages 18 and 20, that on page 86 was omitted. As other, similar, examples of the above were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably suffered, especially as the ommissions appear to be very numerous. There is no way to know the extent of the problem. The volume also contains numerous unsourced Quotes. In the absence of supporting citations, it is possible to suggest that these are imagined; there again being no way to know otherwise with certainty. The standard of proofreading was also disappointing, with several examples of incorrect entries being noted (page 85; 1918, not 2018), together with spelling mistakes. It was also noted that book titles, where appearing within the text, were not accorded acknowledgment through either a Footnote or an Endnote.

Although for this reviewer at least, it was let down by the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’, it is very evident that this volume is a labour of love. In the absence of any other contemporary volumes on the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is likely to become a standard work of reference for its subject. On that basis it may appeal to readers of all persuasions with an interest in British military history, while military historians with a similar interest may also find it worthy of their attention. Health and social historians and researchers may also find it worthy of perusal.

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

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’