Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies

Editor: Philip Kaplan

No. of Pages: 234

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7


According to its author, this volume: ‘…Looks at both the magnificent restoration of a AR213 [A specific aircraft], and at the Spitfire generally. It considers the mystique and charisma associated with the type, its principle designer R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfires of the pre-war years, the Spitfire in the battle of Britain, flying the aeroplane, the roles of the Spitfire in the Second World War, the amazing career of Alex Henshaw as Chief Test Pilot…the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine…some of the motion picture and television performances of the Spitfire, and the phenomenal evolution of the warbird movement’. It is an excellent precis.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters. These cover the subjects described above and are accompanied by numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are of both aircraft and individuals; all are relevant to the narrative. However, the image sources are not included with the images, but are instead listed in a separate Picture Credits section placed at the back of the book (of which more anon). Art works, along with images from both print media and philately, also appear, together with numerous personal reminiscences.

Regrettably, for this reviewer, this volume has several significant faults. Of these (and the most curious and serious; at least for this reviewer),  concerns the Contents page. On it there is a complete absence of reference to the volume’s ‘support services’. That the Acknowledgements. Bibliography, Picture Credits and Index sections appear within the book is easily verifiable, yet the Contents page contains no reference to their existence. Why this is so is unknown. In addition, an un-named (but two-page) section has been placed immediately after the Contents page. Exactly what it is, and why it has been placed where it is, is unexplained. To this reviewer, that section appears to be a ‘grab-bag’ of the material that will later appear within the body of the volume, but in the absence of a title, its function is uncertain. Regrettably, the authority of the Index is also doubtful, with a random search for ‘Park, Keith within it indicating that an entry to Park Keith would be found on page 99. No such entry was found. Have other, similar, omissions occurred? There is no way to know. As previously-noted, this book contains numerous personal reminiscences and quotes from those personally involved with the aircraft. Regrettably, little effort has been made to indicate when one individual’s quotes end and another’s starts, or of their sources (whether published, personal documents, or conversations). Page 35 is but one example, with the absence of quotation marks and citations making it initially difficult for this reviewer to determine where the ‘Beurling’ section ended and the ‘Lacy’ one commenced. Similar examples appear elsewhere. Readers seeking further information about the origins of such quotes will also have no idea where to look as no citations are provided to indicate their sources. The author certainly uses the Acknowledgements section to thank those who helped him by providing ‘…Quoted and other material’.

However, this is a ‘blanket’ thanks and in the absence of specific sources for specific quotes it likely to be of little use to a researcher.  A list of the abbreviations used throughout the volume would also have been useful. No maps appear within the volume.

The volume can be considered a ‘Potted History’ of the Spitfire and its military and civilian service, with particular emphasis being placed on the restoration of AR213. On that basis it will probably appeal to Spitfire aficionados in particular and to aviation and war-bird enthusiasts in general. Aviation historians may find it worthy of their perusal, while ‘generalist’ military historians may also find it of interest. Pilots and ‘Aviation buffs’ of all persuasions may also find it worth a look. Aeromodellers specifically interested in the Spitfire (especially the early marks as exemplified by AR213) are also likely to find the colour images useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume a 7.




Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group

Author: Chris Jagger

No. of Pages: 156

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


In his in introduction to this volume the author writes the following: ‘The Special Escort Group (SEG) has been honing its skills for over six decades. Developing an unequivocal team culture dedicated to absolute precision, it has a reputation for excellence amongst its peers, of delivering its passengers (and cargo) on time, safely, in a  great deal of style, and without fuss or mishap…From queens, kings, presidents and emperors, to priceless works of art, terrorists and high-risk prisoners, SEG escorts them all. The skill required to protect them demands a world-class team’. This is that team’s story. It is a fair summation of the volume.

The Contents section is three pages in length and is followed by an Acknowledgements section in which all those who assisted the author are thanked. This is in turn followed by a Preface which details the reasons for the volume’s existence. An Introduction by the longest- serving Chief of SEG follows that section and is in turn followed by a Forward by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. An Introduction from the Author then talks the reader on an imaginary (but typical) journey on a typical SEG mission. The main part of the volume consists of   five Chapters. Titled sequentially (The 1950s. The 1960s etc.), these cover events in their respective decades and illustrate the development of the SEG through the 1952-199 period. Within each chapter, subheadings relate SEG-related events that occurred in that specific decade.  They make for fascinating reading. Regrettably, the volume does not cover SEG operations in the Twenty-first Century. A final chapter (The Future) is largely a multi-page (but imagined) advertisement for recruits for the SEG. However, it also contains the texts of two SEG-related letters, a list of SEG Chiefs and a list of SEG Motorcycles (approximate dates deployed to the SEG), the contents of these latter sections being self-evident from their titles. A five-page Index completes the volume. The volume is illustrated in a variety of media. Pencil sketches appear in various locations, as do pen and ink images of the various motorcycles that have been used by SEG over the years. Curiously (and although the volume does not itself cover the majority of the period), one drawing (BMW R1100RS (1997-2012) is of a motorcycle used from 1997-2012. Why this should be so, is not recorded. A sixteen page Plates’ section in the volume’s centre contains descriptively-captioned images of motorcycles, personnel, correspondence and cartoons relevant to the larger narrative. Although the sources of some of these are given, the origins of the majority are unknown. There is no mention of the section’s existence on either the Contents pages or in the Index. within the individual Chapters, Footnotes are used to provide additional information. However, their use is somewhat piecemeal and does not extend to the numerous personal quotes that appear within the chapters. Boxes containing additional quotes also appear within the Chapters. While providing extra information helpful to the narrative, for unexplained reasons their sources are not cited. It is also not known why these particular quotes have been displayed in this specific manner.  The volume also contains two untitled and uncaptioned maps, evidently related to the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, although this is not stated, together with a half-tone rendition of the official SEG Coat of Arms.

The author’s style is readable and it is evident that he knows his subject. As a result, this volume may appeal to the general reader who is seeking an undemanding tale that gives a ‘Once over lightly’ introduction to a hitherto unknown organisation.  Because of its subject, this book is likely to also appeal to both Motorcycle and Police ‘enthusiasts’. The descriptions within this volume might also be of interest to both political and social historians researching Post-WWII Great Britain.

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




BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘C-130 Hercules: A History’.

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: C-130 Hercules: A History

Author: Martin Bowman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 320

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 6


On the opening page of Chapter I of this volume, the author states ‘Everyone knows the Hercules – even those who are unaware of its C-130 military designation know exactly what it does, this bulky, squat but lovable aircraft with the reassuring face of a friendly seal pup and whaled tail’. It is a fair summation of both the aircraft and the book; the latter being about the many faces and uses of the former.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters, there being no Introduction prior to Chapter 1.Within these the reader is introduced to the personnel who flew (and still fly) the aeroplane. It should be noted however that many of the Chapters take the form of personal reminiscences that have been sourced from other publications; they are not original to this volume. Technical details relating to the C-130’s development, variants, and uses in both military and civilian roles are also provided. Where additional information is required, this is presented in the form of sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific end-notes, the relevant citations appearing at the end of each Chapter.  Three Appendices follow the Chapters. Their self-explanatory titles are: Commercial and Humanitarian Operators past and Present (Appendix I); World Military User Dictionary (Appendix II); and Models and Variants (Appendix III). A single-page Acknowledgments completes the book. Within it, the author thanks those who assisted him in writing the volume. Numerous colour and black and white photographs appear in the book, some being sourced, some not. Their existence is not however mentioned on the Contents page.  The single map that the book contains, refers to a specific series of events narrated within Chapter 3 (The Last flight of the ‘Stray Goose’). The volume contains no plans, 3-view drawings or diagrams relating to its subject. There is also no Bibliography, Glossary (To explain the myriad military acronyms that occur throughout the volume) or Index.

When requesting this volume for review, this reviewer had certain expectations of it. One of these was that he would be able to find specific locations, units and variants of the basic C-130 airframe quickly and easily through the use of an Index. In that expectation he was wrong; there is no Index. Perhaps spoiled by his experience with other books of a similar nature, he also expected to find at least a basic 3-view drawing of the aircraft. In this he was again wrong, Although regrettable, these failings could possibly have been overlooked. However, what could not be overlooked was the complete absence of any reference to either Australia or New Zealand in the World Military User Directory (Appendix II); this despite an entire chapter (Chapter 9 The Antipodean Hercules) being devoted to these two air arms!! The discovery of proof-reading errors was also not helpful, and created an overall impression of a ‘sloppy’ book, while raising doubts about the volume’s veracity and authority on its subject.

The previous details notwithstanding, this volume is likely to appeal to all and anyone who has been associated with the C-130 in whatever capacity, with Vietnam-era C-130 aircrew in particular likely to find some of the content nostalgic. Those with a more-general interest in the type may also find the volume worthy of their attention. The colour photographs may be of use to both aircraft and military modellers.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 6.




BOOK REVIEW: ‘C-130 Hercules: A History’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities

Author: Melvyn Jones

Total Number of Printed Pages: 150

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


Historians rarely focus on communities, preferring instead to write about outstanding individuals or important events. When they are actually mentioned, ‘Communities’, whether large or small, are merely ‘background’ to a larger and more focussed narrative. In this volume however, it is the ‘Communities’ which are the focus, with the important events or people, where they occur being adjuncts to the story rather than its focus.

In his Epilogue, the author notes ‘Mining migrants came from every country in England, from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and even from overseas to populate the mining villages of South Yorkshire; it is this migration which forms the basis of this volume’. The author does this via ‘…In-depth case studies of examples of six very different types of mining settlement in South Yorkshire…’ noting that ‘…Many … survive to this day, although now there is little sign of the collieries that were their raison d’être’. The result is a volume of social history that examines life in the now-former mining settlements of South Yorkshire.

The author is of Welsh descent and ‘…Grew up in a mining family’.  Unsurprisingly he notes that he ‘…Has been writing about it [mining] ever since I left school’. His dissertations for his university qualifications were mining-based, with particular emphasis on migration to, and settlements on, the Yorkshire coalfields. These were subsequently followed by articles on the migration of Welsh miners onto the Yorkshire coalfields. With such a background he then decided ‘…That it was time to bring all these studies together in one comprehensive volume’. This book is the result.

Within this volume a Forward follows the Contents page. In it, the author narrates his family connection with the Yorkshire coalfields and his reason this book was written. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who assisted in its creation. The book’s main part follows; it consists of seven Chapters. The first of these (titled General Considerations) outlines the factors which the author considers influenced the development of the villages that appear within the Chapters that follow.  Each Chapter relates to settlements within a specific section of the South Yorkshire coalfield, each settlement being allocated a subheading with the specific chapter. An Epilogue placed after the last chapter precis’ what has gone before and details what remains of the settlements and industries previously-described. This is in turn followed by a section titled Sources, References and Further Reading, which acts as a Bibliography. An Index completes the work.

Most chapters contain maps and photographs. Collectively termed Figures, each is captioned and is numbered sequentially within the specific chapter in which it appears. Although some are sourced, many are not. There is no reference to their existence on the Contents page or in the Index. Surprisingly (and despite its extensive use of mining terminology), the volume contains no Glossary for those unfamiliar with the industry. That such a section is necessary is shown by this reviewer’s inability to find an explanation for the terms Exposed Coalfield and Concealed Coalfield that are in widespread use throughout this book. As it is probable that many purchasers or readers of this volume will live outside South Yorkshire, such an omission is of some consequence. Curiously, and despite their prominence, these terms also do not appear within the Index. Few citations are provided, and where these occur, they are minimal in detail.

Due to its ‘Academic’ origins this volume is well-researched and highly detailed. As a result those seeking ‘facts and figures’ about specific localities are likely to find it very useful. Residents of settlements described within this book may also find its historical information of interest.

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














BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

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Reviewer:  Michael  Keith

Title: The Great Houdini; His British Tours

Author: Derek Tait

No. of Pages: 296

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


In an age where film stars are treated like royalty and thousands of ordinary people come to merely look at them, it is easy to forget that there was a time when entertainers who were NOT film stars were also accorded the same adoration. One such was Harry Houdini; escapologist extraordinaire. Although an American who was well-known in his homeland, Houdini also toured internationally, making many visits to Great Britain while doing-so. This volume is the story of his ‘British’ visits.

In the Introduction to this volume, the author summarises its purpose. He states ‘I have always been fascinated by Houdini and the more I have read about him, the more I’ve discovered about all the many venues that he played at all over Great Britain. There have been many books written about Houdini but none cover his tours of Britain in their entirety. In this book I have tried to collect together as many stories, newspaper cuttings, adverts [sic] and photos of his visits to the UK’. He also notes that ‘I have tried to include the complete account of the show as it was reported in the local newspaper. This not only gives a good impression of what Houdini’s act was like but also gives a feel of the time by including other performers who appeared on the bill,,,’ However, lest a reader think that the result of these endeavours could be boring, they are definitely not. The result is an eminently readable and thoroughly-entertaining book.

An Introduction placed behind the Contents page provides background to what follows and traces Houdini’s origins and his entry into show business. The main part of the volume follows. This consists of 16 Chapters, 15 of which detail the tours that Houdini undertook in Great Britain between 1900 and 1920. The final Chapter (Number 16) carries the self-explanatory title Timeline of Appearances and Events. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 16. In it, the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s creation. This is in turn followed by a Bibliography which records the books, newspapers and websites which provided information to assist the writer. A 10-page Index completes the work. As already noted, the volume contains numerous photographs, reproductions of relevant postcards and advertisements, together with contemporary line drawings. These are clearly captioned, although only some are sourced,. There is no reference to their existence in either the Index or on the Contents page. It must also be noted that although the body of the volume contains numerous quotes from contemporary newspapers, there are no ‘formal’ indications of their sources nor supporting citations. This must inevitably reduce the usefulness of the volume as a research document. The volume contains no maps. As a result, without consulting an atlas, the reader has no way of knowing where the locations referred-to actually are. This could be particularly problematical for ‘off-shore’ readers not familiar with the geography of the British Isles.

This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed this volume, and believes that it will probably appeal to a variety of readers. As it relates to their hero and records a little-known part of his life, ‘Houdini-enthusiasts’ will no-doubt find it of value. Historians and social-science researchers interested in British entertainment and social conditions for the 1900-1920 period could also find it of use. ‘Generalist’ readers seeking an entertaining and informative story 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: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young

Author: Peter Higginbotham

No. of Pages: 310

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


As is evidenced by this volume’s subtitle, it is ‘A history of institutional care for Britain’s young’.  The author notes that ‘The total number of children’s establishments that operated over the years [ran[ into many thousands and the children that lived in them probably into millions.  As a result, and by ‘Casting its net wide, this book takes a look at how these many and varied institutions operated and evolved in the context of changing views of how to best serve the needs of children in their care’.  It is a fair summary.

The volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject. Within it, the reader is take from the Christ’s Hospital (claimed to be ‘..England’s first institutional home for poor or orphaned children’), to the Twenty-first Century and beyond. The story that is presented between these two points is well-researched and written. it is eminently readable, and is both enlightening and (not unexpectedly), at times somewhat depressing.

The main part of the volume consists of 25 Chapters preceded by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow.  Of the Chapters, 23 relate directly to the subject. Chapters 24 (Children’s Home Records) and 25 (Useful Resources) are however intended to assist genealogists and researchers seeking further information on the topic. Each Chapter covers a specific time-period, with subheadings within it providing more details about specific subjects. There are numerous informatively-captioned illustrations, although these are not sourced, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. Endnotes are employed to provide additional information within each chapter. Chapter-specific and numbered sequentially, their citations appear in a dedicated References and Notes section placed after Chapter 25.  A Bibliography follows that section, with an Index completing the volume.

That this book is well-researched is very evident. However, for this reviewer, it was badly let down by its Index. While reviewing the volume, he had occasion to check the Index for additional information concerning British Home Children (p.209). Nothing was found. Subsequent (and random) searches for Australia, Canada and Ontario (subjects which figure prominently within the narrative) had the same result, while a final (also random) search for Hampton (p.213) also found nothing. For a volume with the potential to be an authoritative work on its subject, this discovery was disconcerting. While it cannot be known if other omissions have occurred, for this reviewer, the authority of the Index is now under question. Whether or not this is important will depend-upon the reader.

The mater of the Index notwithstanding, it is possible that this volume may become a major research-tool for those interested in British social history, orphanages, child welfare and the evolution of child foster care within Great Britain.

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


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

INKTOBER 2017: ‘Swift’.

Inktober is an annual international fun challenge for whomever cares to participate. The Inktober organisers post a list of numbered daily ideas for ‘inspiration’ for each day of the month of October, and respondents are then invited to post one original pen and ink piece per day, based on that ‘inspiration’ , on their favourite pen and ink site.

It’s fun and quite challenging, and I will be posting  some examples that I I have submitted for Inktober 2017

Inktober topic: ‘Swift’

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‘Swift’ (Aka ;Down in the weeds’ ).

(Supermarine Swift FR.5 of  79 SQN RAF on low-level, high-speed reconnaissance mission).

Technical Details: Drawn with Staedtler and 0.3 in black-in pens on white cartridge notebook paper of unknown weight.

Note: The image depicts my all-time favourite jet fighter aircraft (the Supermarine Swift) in its low-level Fighter-Reconnaissance (F.R.) tole at very low altitude while undertaking a photographic reconnaissance sortie . The title ‘Down in the weeds’ reflects the fact that these aircraft flew at very low altitudes (tree height or lower), while the enemy is way above (visible at top left) and, due to the Swift’s camouflage and speed, is unable to see what is going-on below.


INKTOBER 2017: ‘Swift’.