BOOK REVIEW: ‘Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George’

 

125.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George

Author:  Hilary R Rubinstein

Total Number of Pages: 288

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

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The inexplicable sinking of the HMS Royal George and the simultaneous loss (by drowning) of its Commanding Officer (Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt) at Spithead on 29 August 1782 was a national tragedy for the United Kingdom. Despite a subsequent enquiry to determine blame, according to this volume’s dustjacket, this book is ‘…The first comprehensive account of that calamity and is based on new research of a wide variety of contemporary sources…’ It is a reasonable precis of what is to follow.

An Introduction placed after the volume’s Contents page opens the volume. The section simultaneously summarises the life of Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt and publicly acknowledges those who assisted the author in the volumes’ creation. The ten Chapters which form the largest section of the work now follow. Within these, two narrative-streams exist in parallel; that of the life of Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt (Chapters One to Four) and, to a lesser-extent although simultaneously, events relating to the construction, operational service and subsequent loss of HMS Royal George. Unsurprisingly, the two narratives come together in Chapter Five (Into the Vortex), a description of the actual sinking and Kempenfeldt’s death, and remain intertwined to the volume’s final pages. Also unsurprisingly (and as the actual event was [and is] controversial), Chapters Six to Ten concentrate on the causes and effects of the events detailed in Chapter Five. Where necessary, the volume uses End-note citations to provide additional source material. These are Chapter-specific and numerical in sequence; the relevant references appearing in a designated Notes section placed after Chapter Ten (The Fate of Survivors). Due to the numerous Notes appearing within the volume, this specific section is 29 pages in length. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the written material (both manuscript and published) used during the preparation of the volume. The section is followed by the book’s Index: it is its’ final section. The volume contains an eight-page long and all-colour ‘Plates’ (images) section. This contains portraits, plans, maps, landscapes and illustrations relevant to the narrative. These come from a variety of sources and are accompanied by informative captions and appropriate source citations, their existence being dignified by the statement ‘Colour plates section between pages 80 and 81 which appears at the foot of the Contents page. This is however, the volume’s only reference to their existence. Additional monochrome images, engravings, advertisements and plans also appear within the pages of the volume itself.  Although these also come from a variety of sources, a majority carry the credit citation Author despite being very evidently not by her hand, those appearing on pages 200 and 201 being but two examples of this practice. Why this should be the case is unknown. Neither the Contents page nor the Index carried reference to their existence. The volume also contains numerous Quotes. These vary in length with many carrying no authenticating and supporting source citations, with those appearing on pages 126-128 being somewhat-lengthy examples of the practice. The sheer quantity of such quotes and their lack of authenticating citations inevitably raised questions concerning their authority, ‘genuine-ness’, and usefulness as bonafide historical records.  In the absence of the necessary verification, the questions are reasonable ones. The volume contains only one Map (correctly a Chart), this carrying the caption ‘A chart of Spithead and the Solent, dated 1791, clearly showing the position of the wreck of the Royal George’. While adequate for purpose (Although perhaps the location of the hulk could have been made more obvious), an Ordnance Survey Map of at least Southern England and the Isle of Wight would have been useful to put the events and location in context. For those unfamiliar with the area, this would have been of great assistance.

While this volume is very well researched, written and readable, for this reviewer it was ‘Let down by the details’; the small things which when combined have a large effect. While the paucity of support for many of the Quotes and Images has already been alluded-to, it was the lack of entries in the Index that proved most problematical.  The section could best be described as being ‘Patchy’ with random searching finding items mentioned in the text being omitted for unknown reasons.  Examples of this practice included a lack of Index references to Gibraltar (pages 9 and 170), Kempenfeldt Bay (p.235) and Sir Edward Codrington (page 211), while several examples were found where Index entries were incomplete or inaccurate. An example (but one of several), of this latter practice was in relation to an Index entry for Horn, Betty and John. In this instance, and despite being mentioned en volume on pages 103 and 223 (but not on page 123) Horn, Betty and John received an Index entry for pages 103, and 123 (the latter being spurious) while an actual entry on page 223 was omitted completely. As already noted, there were other, similar, examples. Such discoveries did nothing to engender confidence in the accuracy of the narrative.

Although let down by the ‘technicalities’ notated above, this is a well-written and informative volume which is begs fair to become a Standard Work of Reference on its subject. It is likely to have wide appeal to Historians of several persuasions (Naval, Military, Social), and to members of the public with an interest in ‘England’s Wooden Walls’ and the Royal Navy of the ‘Nelson Era’. Modellers with an interest in the Men o’ War of Britain’s ‘Sailing Navy’ may also find the volume’s plans of interest.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George’

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: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

122.

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz

Author: Melody Foreman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 217

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

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When writing in this volume’s Foreword, Edward McManus (Historian and Committee Member Battle of Britain Monument London) states that ‘Probably the first person known to have embarked on researching and executing ‘digs’ is Terry Parsons’ and that ‘This book documents a selection of his most interesting…excavations over the years and the personalities , living and dead, that were drawn in’. It is an excellent summary of what is to follow.

The afore-mentioned Foreword is placed immediately behind the volume’s Contents page, and is followed by the book’s Introduction. Within this, the author details the both historical background to the wrecks described within the narrative and the current Governmental policies of care and protection which apply to both these unique items and their contents, with particular reference (in the latter case), to the human remains which are frequently found within such sites. The fourteen Chapters which comprise the largest part of the volume now appear. Chapter 1’s title (The First Wreck Hunters), while largely self-explanatory, does introduce the reader to the history of the recovery of crashed military aircraft (An ‘occupation’ dating back to World War I). It also introduces the volume’s ‘Hero’; Terry Parsons, and records the formative World War II events of his childhood; events which subsequently significantly affected his later life.  In Chapter 2 (Boy of the Battle) Terry Parsons himself elaborates on these events, while simultaneously using actual Air Combat Reports and reminiscences to provide authority and background to the events that he was personally effected by. Chapters 3 (My First Dig) to 14 (Flying Heroes and the Giant Teapot), while following a similar format, are autobiographical in nature (although with added eye-witness accounts which led to that particular aircraft excavation), and were (according to the author’s note on page 208) taken directly from Mr Parson’s personal notes and diaries. This gives them an immediacy which takes the reader into the at-times complex world of aircraft wreck recovery. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 14.Within this, the author thanks those who contributed towards its creation. A small (thirteen-entry) Bibliography section follows, and this is in turn followed by the book’s final section; its’ Index. The volume contains numerous Quotes, Reminiscences and reproductions of newspaper clippings, letters and various official documents in supportive of the narrative. As these items do not however carry any supporting citations, their authenticity inevitably comes into question. Each Chapter is accompanied by supporting Photographs.  These are monochrome in format and informatively captioned, but again, with only five exceptions, do not carry source citations. Neither the Contents Page nor the Index mentions the photographs’ existence. The volume contains no Maps.

For this reviewer, this was a ‘Muddle’ of a book; a volume trying to be several things at once and succeeding at none of them. It is simultaneously a biography, an autobiography, a reference work and (as shown in the first four sentences of Paragraph Four of Page 7), a work of uncritical adoration.  The Index is problematical, and could most politely be described as being ‘Patchy’ in its content. Random searching produced many examples where terms used within the  text were not to be found in the Index, those of Operation Nightingale, Richard Osgood, Stephen Macaulay and West Blatchington (all on page xiv) being but four examples. Curiously, the names of Harold Penketh and Vince Holyoak on the same page were accorded Index entries. The reasons for this contradiction on a single page is unknown, and as numerous other such ommissions were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably came into question. The already-noted lack of Source Citations for the numerous Quotes, Reminiscences, Letters and Official Documents together-with the book’s lack of Maps, further served to undermine such authority as the volume may have had. Is what is presented ‘true’, or imagined? In the absence of documentation to the contrary, there is no way to know! The caption A scene from Biggin Hill airfield in 1940 attached to the aircraft-related photograph appearing on page 22 also did nothing for the volume’s cause, the aircraft concerned being later model Spitfires and, on the presumption that the image is actually a genuine World War II image (rather than from a movie set) is one that was taken sometime after June 1944 (rather than as per the caption) as evidenced by the D-Day recognition stripes carried by the central machine. While it is possible that the original photograph might have been incorrectly captioned (and that a mistake made as a result), this discovery reduced confidence in the narrative still further. The author’s very-evident hero-worship and lack of objectivity was also unhelpful.

Despite its lack of authenticating documentation (Which diminishes its historical value substantially), this volume may be of interest to Archaeologists of all persuasions and aviation and military Historians, Readers with an interest in the Royal Air Force, the Battle of Britain and general military history and aviation, may also find it worthy of their attention. Despite the photographs being monochrome in format, aircraft modellers may find some of these useful for reference purposes.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’

121.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists

Author: Guild of Aviation Artists

Total Number of Printed Pages: 218

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

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A note appearing on this volume’s dustjacket states ‘This book celebrates 50 years of exhibitions [by the Guild of Aviation Artists] and includes paintings by…Guild artists, past and present, depicting aircraft from the earliest airborne activities through to the present day’. It is an accurate summary.

Within the volume itself, a section titled Introduction and Acknowledgements follows its’ Contents page. The title is self-explanatory. The section is in turn followed by a Foreword (by Michael Turner, President of the Guild of Aviation Artists), within-which a precis of the organisation’s history is presented. A five-page section titled The Guild of Aviation Artists follows. Within-this, sub-sections elaborate on the Guild’s aims its exhibitions, origins, history and current state. The Images section now follows. This comprises 195 pages and is divided into 13 Sections, these being analogous to Chapters. With the exception of Section 12 (Portraits) and 13 (Producing an Aviation Painting), each Section covers a specific era in aviation, from Early Aviation, Balloons, Airships (Section One) to Second World War (Section Four), Civil Aviation (Section Eight) and Museums (Section 11). With the exception of page 198 (Guild Sketching Days – Guild Artists at Work) which contains five small images), Sections 1-12 follow a similar format; namely a single (usually full-page) coloured image of a specific aircraft or aviation-themed event relating to the era being presented. Each image is accompanied by a caption which gives the work’s title, the aircraft or event which it depicts, the artist, and the medium used in its creation. Section 13 (Producing An Aviation Painting) does however follow a different format. It is the volume’s final section and as will ascertained from its title, takes the reader through the processes required to turn an original monochrome image into a full-coloured painting, taking eight pages to do so. The process is informative and uses both monochrome and coloured images to chart the development of a painting to meet a specific end result.

While this volume is full of beautiful and highly-coloured images, for this reviewer it was badly let down by the lack of an Index. According to its’ dustjacket, the book contains ‘…Some 200 illustrations…’ a fact which pre-supposes works by many different artists. In the absence of an Index, a reader seeking a specific artist has no choice but to laboriously peruse every page’s captions in the (perhaps forlorn) hope that they might somehow find the name of the individual they are seeking.

The same criticism can be levelled concerning the aircraft types and locations portrayed and for the same reasons; again, how can a specific aircraft type or location be found without having to view the whole volume. A significant failing! In addition, the paucity of caption information was such that this reviewer eventually started randomly counting the words of each caption to see how many words they contained; the shortest found was three, the longest, nine. Brevity has its place, but for this reviewer, this volume was not one of those places. It was also regrettable that an interpretive Glossary was not included within the wok; what (for example) do the letters GAvA, FGAvA, AGM or IWM mean? To a non-aviation, (possibly non-artistic) reader, they are meaningless. In addition, the absence of any biographical details about the contributing artists effectively dehumanises them, reducing them to mere names on a page, rather than providing possibly-inspirational details concerning their artistic-development and backgrounds.

Ultimately, this volume is a collection of pretty pictures of aeroplanes doing all sorts of interesting things. On that basis, buyers wanting beautiful pictures of all sorts of (mainly British) aeroplanes are likely to be well-pleased with this volume. However, readers seeking ‘technical’ details about said machines, or even how the individual images were created (Section 13 notwithstanding), will be disappointed by their lack, the book’s emphasis / focus being on the completed image rather than the ‘things technical / mechanical’ that got it to that stage.

That this volume contains spectacular artworks of beautiful aeroplanes and lighter than air machines is undeniable, but for this reviewer it lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, the Index being but one of these. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the Text: 2.

It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

 

116.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945

Author: Nigel West

Total Number of Pages: 290

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

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In his Introduction (and when detailing the reasons for the writing of this volume), the author notes that the book ‘…Is intended primarily as a detailed description of the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] and its operations during the last war [World War II]’, with the qualification that ‘…To do justice to the subject I have covered the events which led to the organization’s creation in 1909’ and that ‘It would also have been impossible to explain the MI6 of 1939 without describing the inter-war preoccupations of the Service…’ It is a clear summary of what is to follow.

Within the book itself, an Illustrations page placed immediately after its Contents page provides abbreviated captions for the images appearing within an eight-page Plates section placed in the centre of the volume. It is followed by an Acknowledgements page within which the author thanks those who contributed to the creation of the volume. A two-page Abbreviations section follows; within it appear explanations of the various abbreviations used throughout the volume. The volume’s Introduction is next. While acting as a synopsis of what is to follow, within it the author also elaborates on his reasons for writing the volume. A section titled The Wartime Organization Of The Secret Intelligence Service follows. Within this, and through the use of Maps and Tables, the author provides visual evidence of both the SIS’s organisational structure and its’ international operational network. The Table format has also been used within the volume proper to show Secret Intelligence Service Accounts for the period 1920-1921 and 1935-36. The 15 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. These are divided into two sections; the first (Part One: 1909-1940) dealing with British Intelligence operations during that time, with the second (Part Two: 1940-45) examining SIS activities during the latter period. Within each Part individual Chapters examine specific time periods (Part One) or operations, other intelligence groups or counter-espionage (Part Two). Chapter 15 (Soviet Penetration) is followed by the volume’s only Appendix. This is an English-language translation of Der Britische Nachrichtendienst described as being ‘A summary prepared by the Reich Security Agency early in 1940, in preparation for the German invasion of Britain…’ The description is self-explanatory. The Appendix is followed by a single-page Notes section. This gives source-citations for the 15 end-note-type and numerically-sequential citations that appear within the volume. The Notes page is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section. As previously- noted the volume contains an eight-page section of photographs (termed Plates). The images are all monochrome and are accompanied by informative captions, these being expanded versions of those contained in the previously-mentioned Illustrations section. Curiously, and although the captions on the Illustrations page carry source-citations, the actual images do not. The reasons for this are unknown. The volume contains numerous Quotes, with those on pages 42 and 43 being but two examples of the genre’. Such Quotes  are not however accompanied by authenticating citations, and in the absence of the latter, their authenticity becomes suspect.

While finding this volume to be well-researched and easy to read, this review had major problems with its Index; the absence of Index entries for numerous randomly-chosen entries raising severe doubts concerning its authority and veracity.  An example of this concerns randomly-chosen Index entries for Sandstetter, Asyut, Gaafar, Almasy and Haj Mohammed Amin-el-Husseini; all on page 204, all mentioned in the narrative yet none dignified with an Index entry. As numerous similar examples were also found within the book, the extent of the problem would seem to be significant. There is, of course, no way of knowing.

The ‘imperfections’ previously-noted notwithstanding, this book may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians may find its content informative, as may readers with an interest in military history, espionage and general military operations during World War II. Readers seeking a story of ‘Daring Do’, ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Spies and Counter Spies’ might also find it worthy of their attention.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

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

115. UNCOMMON VALOUR (VC)

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

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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.

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

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

114.

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’