BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’


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


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.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation: The Commonwealth’s Wars 1948-1966’


Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation: The Commonwealth’s Wars 1948-1966

Author: Robert Jackson

No. of Pages: 156

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9


Ask the average person what they know about Britain’s ‘Small Wars’ and they will invariably mention India and Africa, perhaps even the Falklands. Ask them if they know anything about the Malayan Emergency and they may say that they had heard of it (perhaps from a relative serving there) but beyond that, they know little.  Ask about ‘Confrontation’ and the response will usually be; ’Never heard of it’.  This book goes a long way to remedying that oversight.

The Preface of this volume summarises its contents succinctly: ‘Between 1948 and 1966, British Commonwealth forces fought two campaigns in South-East Asia; the first against Communist terrorists in Malaya, the second against Indonesian forces in Borneo’. As they both occurred within the same geographical area and within 18 months of each other, it has suited this author to group these two conflicts together  They were however two separate and largely-unrelated entities, with what became known as the Malayan Emergency occupying the larger part of the narrative. it is on that basis that this volume will be reviewed. Despite that minor detail, the volume is an excellent narration of the ‘Malayan’ wars. It could become a standard reference work on its subject.

When describing the Malayan Emergency, the author introduces the reader to the various causes of the conflict, the protagonists and the military actions that were taken. These are presented clearly and in a well-written and readable style. The ‘Emergency was the first time after World War II in which the British military machine made serious use of aircraft in its military operations. Due to its uniqueness, several chapters have been devoted to both describing and analysing this aspect of the operation. A chapter on Psychological warfare as it was applied to the ‘Emergency is also provided, Conversely the British Commonwealth-Indonesian military conflict now known as the Confrontation is the subject of only a single chapter.

A Preface at the beginning of the volume summarises its subject. This is followed by 15 Chapters. To provide an all-important background, Chapter One introduces the reader to ‘Malaya: The land and the people’. This is followed in turn by seven Chapters (No.’s 2-8) which outline the causes of the conflict, its development, the various military operations which occurred and  the circumstances which contributed to its final outcome. Chapters 9-12 provide details of how air power was used in the conflict, while Chapter 13 is devoted specifically to Psychological Warfare as it was applied to the ‘Emergency. Chapter 14 presents the author’s conclusions about that conflict and its place in history, while Chapter 15 is devoted entirely to the Indonesian Confrontation of 1962-1966. Two Appendices follow. The first records naval operations that occurred during both the ‘Emergency and Confrontation.  The second, the various Commonwealth military and aviation units deployed during the ‘Emergency. A Bibliography follows the Appendices, while an Index concludes the volume.  Two Maps are provided. These show the relevant ‘combat areas’ discussed within the book. The volume contains no photographs.

This reviewer could find little to fault in this volume, although some photographs showing the terrain being fought through could perhaps have provided context for the narrative. He wonders though, if the author’s description of the Avro Lincoln as a ‘Medium Bomber’ (P.69) might raise some eyebrows amongst former Lincoln aircrew who were told that their aeroplane was in fact a ‘Heavy’.

Those with an interest in either Post-World War II British military history, Royal Air Force operations in Asia, or military operations in the (British) ‘Far East’ may find this volume of value, as could former service personnel who participated in the conflicts it describes.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.




BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation: The Commonwealth’s Wars 1948-1966’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942

Author: Andrew Boyd

Total Number of Printed Pages: 538

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


When writing history, it is frequently a case of ‘First up, best dressed’, with the first narrative to be published becoming the established and accepted story.  Although subsequent research may find that the initial story is incorrect, ‘Public Perception’ may be such that even the most scholarly and well-presented work will ultimately fail to alter well-held beliefs. This Reviewer suspects that this volume, despite its scholarship and authoritative and excellent content, may ultimately fall into this category; that the original narrative will remain, the ‘General Public’ being unmoved by its revelations and caring little for what is presented.

This volume is primarily concerned with the events which lead to the sinking of both HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941. However, it also investigates and details British and Japanese naval activities in the Indian Ocean near Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Well-held British popular opinion has it that these events (especially the former), were both failures of naval ability and examples of military incompetence, a viewpoint reinforced by the writings of professional historians since 1945. The author of this publication would argue otherwise.

In his Introduction, The author states that: ‘The starting point for this book…is that the established view of Britain’s eastern naval strategy from the 1930’ is not satisfactory. It provides a one-dimensional account of the Royal Navy’s effort to counter a specific threat from Japan’. A statement in the volume’s ‘Conclusion reinforces this point. It states: ‘Three arguments lie in the heart of this book. Together they represent a fundamental reassessment of the part played by Britain’s eastern empire (defined as those British-held territories between the Suez Canal and Australia) in the Second World War and how we think about the overall contribution of the Royal Navy. Indeed, in some respects we need to view the whole first half of Britain’s war in a different way’. In the pages between these two statements the author carefully and clearly presents his case, using an impressive array of archival material while doing-so. Curiously, the actual details of the action in which HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk is not covered in depth. Rather, that event provides the ‘platform’ upon-which this volume is supported.

A List of Tables and Maps is the first section to appear in this book. It is followed in turn by a List of Illustrations, which repeats the captions appearing under the 30 monochrome images that appear in a dedicated Plate Section within the volume. A Foreword by one ‘N A M Roger’ follows the List of Illustrations. However, while well-written, a lack of information concerning that individual’s qualifications and experience vis-a-vis this title makes their contribution largely meaningless. Certainly the name N A M Roger appears in the Acknowledgements section which follows the Foreword (together with a note that he / she is a ‘Professor’; although of what is not defined), but as this is apparently in a ‘mentor and ‘encourager’ role, the reader is unable to assess the depth of authority behind that individual’s contribution. It would have been helpful to know more. As already noted, an Acknowledgements section follows the Foreword. This thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. The Abbreviations section that follows in turn interprets the many abbreviations that the work contains, while an eight-page Introduction section then précis’ the books’ content.  The largest section of this volume is divided into four Parts. These cover the development of both British (and inter alia Royal Navy) policies and tactics in response to both a perceived and actual war against Japan. Each Part is divided into subsections, and these in turn are subdivided into smaller sections where more detail about specific items/ policies is required. A Conclusion summarises what has gone before. An Appendix (termed an Annex) and titled Warships Completed by Principle Naval Powers 1930-1942 presents that information in largely Table form. Within the volume, additional information is provided through use of endnotes. These are numeric is format and chapter specific. They appear sequentially within each chapter and their citations are collected within a dedicated Notes section placed after the Annex. The Notes section is in turn followed by a 26-page Bibliography. An Index completes the book. Ten Tables and four Maps appear within the volume.

This volume is not ‘light’ reading in the accepted sense of that phrase. It is a ‘Learned Treatise’ on a specific subject and as such is probably most suited to university-level research. Researchers interested in British foreign and naval polices concerning the Japanese and the  ‘British Far East’ may find it of interest, as might naval historians and those interested in British naval tactics in World War II.  University and Public libraries may well find it a useful reference item for their political science or military history sections. The small number of photographs the volume contains may also be of use to modellers, war-gamers or those interested in the Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm, the Imperial Japanese Navy or World War II.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’