BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

84. ARMISTACE AND ART

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art

Author:  John Fairley

Total Number of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7½

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When describing this volume’s content,  a note on its dustjacket states that ‘…The Armistice and the Aftermath…brings together in one book a superb collection of the most epic paintings of the [World War I] era. The result, with informed and perceptive commentary is a unique record of those momentous days…’ It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

The volume consists of 40 Chapters, these appearing immediately after the two page Contents section. There are none of the usual introductory sections one would expect to find within such a volume as this. While each Chapter nominally contains at least one full-page art work, in at least one instance (The Wartime Leaders, Chapter Forty), the image is out of sequence and appears before the section rather than within it. As it loses a certain relevance by doing-so, the reasons for this ‘displacement’ are unknown. While the majority of art works within the volume are from British, French or American artists, pieces by German artists also appear. The works displayed are in a variety of media, and are accompanied by an informative narrative. By this means, the reader is taken through the last year of the War, the first years of the Peace, while being introduced to important individuals, groups and occasions while so-doing. Where appropriate to the narrative, eyewitness descriptions also appear. It must however be noted that in some instances (and again for unknown reasons), the author of this volume does not consider it necessary to specifically name each plate within the text which accompanies it. In such situations he prefers to allude to it rather than name it specifically. Chapter 12 (Peace in the Mediterranean) is a case in point. Although four images appear within that Chapter, at no time are they specifically named; referred-to certainly, but not actually named. In addition, in several instances, the images that appear within a specific Chapter are not even mentioned within the text that supposedly relates to them.  They are instead used as vehicles to present the artist’s thoughts on the events which prompted their eventual creation. The images of HMS Mantis on the Tigris and The Navy at Baghdad  which appear in Chapter 11 (Peace in the Middle East), are but two such examples of this practice. Neither image is mentioned within the text, but the wartime reminiscences of their creator (David Maxwell) are. On the basis of the above, a reader expecting a detailed description of the individual images and their creation is likely to be disappointed. Most, but not all, of the images are captioned, the information provided tending-to consist of the individual piece’s title and the name of the creating artist. It was however noted there were several exceptions to this rule. An Appendix (The Armistice Terms) follows Chapter 40. Its title is self-explanatory. The Appendix is in turn followed by the volume’s final section titled Picture Credits. The title is self-explanatory but while naming the sources of the images, it also lists the pages within the volume on which they appear. This book contains neither Maps nor Index, and aside from the previously-mentioned Picture Credits section, the Contents pages contain no mention of those images which appear within the volume. Numerous unsourced Quotes appear throughout the work. Without supporting citations, their authenticity is inevitably under question; they might just as well be imaginary. A Glossary would have been of value: what for instance is Post Expressionist Painting (page 169)?

While this is a most-informative volume, for this reviewer it is let down by the total absence of an Index. As a result, a reader has no way of knowing which artists and individuals are mentioned within the book; which artistic works are represented, which geographical locations are mentioned, or which military actions have been recorded or commented-on. In the absence of such information, he believes it is both unreasonable and time-consuming to expect a reader to have to search through the volume’s 192 pages in a possibly-fruitless attempt to locate a specific individual, piece of art, geographical location or event. In his opinion this is a major failing, which serves to significantly-reduce the volume’s usefulness. The lack of Maps is also unhelpful as it gives a reader neither context nor location for the events mentioned within the narrative. Although the lack of citations for Quotes has been previously-mentioned, the presence of undefined terms is also unhelpful. What (for example) is ‘…The local Murdoch newspaper (page 165)? Who / what, was ‘Murdoch’? Why is he / it associated with a newspaper? In the absence of clarifying detail, such a statement is, at minimum, baffling, and to many, the reasons being unexplained, probably totally incomprehensible.

As the focus of this volume is on art, the works appearing within its pages are likely to be of interest to aficionados of such matters, while Historians and ‘Generalist’ readers with an interest in World War I may also find it of interest. As they portray contemporary military machinery, it is also possible that military modellers might find some of the images useful as reference material.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7½.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’

83 Around Britain by canal

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways

Author:  Anthony Burton

Total Number of Pages: 200

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

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In Chapter 1 of this volume, the author observes that ‘Canals are one of the great loves of my life’. As a result, (and on 13 March 1975), he, together with three companions (one a ‘Daytripper’) set off on a six-week long tour of Britain’s canal system. His intention was ‘…To do a continuous [canal] tour with as little doubling-up as possible, and to cover as wide an area as [he] could’.  This volume is the result.

This book is a reprint and update of an earlier work (date of publication unknown). Accordingly, the single-page Preface placed after the volume’s Contents page provides both technological and historical updates to cover the 43 years since the original journey was undertaken. The Preface is in turn followed by the 17 Chapters which constitute the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken on a journey along many of Britain’s canals, and while so-doing is introduced into unique locations, individuals, circumstances and history. While the Canals are, by analogy, the base upon-which everything else rests, it is nonetheless a most excellent base for a totally idiosyncratic meander along and around Britain’s hidden canal-based and influenced byways.  The volume is well-written; the author a raconteur of some ability and the result is a delightful ‘wander’ along largely-neglected paths. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous colour images. Although a note in the Preface indicates that these were taken by one Phillip Lloyd (one of the author’s travelling companions), no notes to that effect accompany the individual images. Each image is captioned but the latter vary in both length and information. Curiously, the first two words of each caption are highlighted. The reason for this is unknown. No Maps are provided.

For this reviewer, this book was let down in several areas, most noticeably by the Index.  When reviewing this volume, this reviewer had cause to randomly search that section for information on subjects within the book which he found of interest. On Page 84 (for example) he sought Index references for Scaris-brook, Southport, Henry III and Johnsons Hillocks. None were found. A subsequent search for other ‘interesting’ words produced similar results, while the Index entry for Rose Skinner, although noting her as appearing on pages 138-140, ignores her photograph on page 143. There were many similar examples. As there is no way to know what else may be missing, the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably compromised. As previously-noted, the volume contains no Maps. In their absence, a reader can have no idea about the geographical locations under discussion. A General Ordinance Map of Great Britain (or even a simple outline map showing the route travelled), would have been very helpful. Readers with no ‘local knowledge’, may well find this omission frustrating. Interpretative diagrams of both a Narrow Boat and Lock Operations would also have been useful.

This volume is likely to appeal to several different readerships. It is, ultimately, a travelogue and will no doubt interest some on that basis.  Due to the passage of time, it is also an ‘historic document; and as a result could be of use to Historians, particularly those with an interest in late Twentieth-Century commerce, water-borne transportation and, specifically, British canals. Canals and canal boating enthusiasts will, of course, find the volume of interest, while those who enjoy ‘Messing about in boats’ may also find something within its covers to entertain them. Readers seeking images of some of the more obscure parts of Britain may also find those within this book of interest.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

80. NHS at 70

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The NHS At 70: A Living History

Author: Ellen Welch

No. of Pages: 149

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

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In the Preface to this volume the author writes the following: ‘At midnight on 5 July 1948 the National Health Service [NHS] was born, with the founding principle to be free at the point of use and based on clinical need rather than a person’s ability to pay’. The background thus established, she concludes ‘This book attempts to summarise the foundations of the NHS and discuss why it was formed, provide an understanding of its current structure and problems and consider what the future may hold’. It is an excellent summation of what is to follow.

Within the volume, the Contents page is followed by an Acknowledgements section. In this, the author clarifies her position vis–a-vis the NHS (‘The views in this book are my own’), and thanks those who assisted her in the volume’s creation. The section is in turn followed by a Preface from which the quotes in paragraph one were taken. The section summarises the content of the four Chapters placed after it; the latter forming the bulk of the book. The Chapters take the reader through the history of health services in Great Britain, and while so-doing cover a time period from 500A D to 2018. Chapters 1 and 2 provide background, while Chapter 3 (Timeline of the NHS) precis ‘events of significance’ that have occurred within the 1950-2018 period. The title of Chapter 4 (The Modern NHS) is self-explanatory. The latter Chapter is followed by a section titled Sources and Additional Reading. This is bibliographical in nature, and lists the books, articles and online sources used by the author when writing this volume. The Index follows and is the volume’s last section. Within each Chapter, subheadings are used to provide additional Chapter-relevant information. These are accompanied by personal reminiscences (Titled My NHS Story), which provide a ‘human’ perspective to the events and times that the Chapter is discussing. The volume contains numerous photographs, advertisements, and a building-plan, together with assorted paraphernalia and cartoons relevant to the narrative. These are informatively captioned, monochrome in format and from a variety of sources. Tables and Flow-charts also appear where appropriate. The existence of such items is not however acknowledged on either the Contents page or within the Index. The volume’s single ‘footnote’ appears on page 43; it is however, more an ‘aide memoir’ than a formal citation.

Regrettably, for this reviewer at least, this volume, while well written and researched, was let down by the ‘small things’, especially in regard to the Index. In his considered opinion, the Index could best be best described as ‘patchy’ and so-focussed on the ‘mechanics’ of its NHS subject as to exclude almost everything else. These exclusions included such random items as Elizabeth I (Page 19), Caribbean, Ireland (both on page 60), Great Ormond Hospital (page 72), John and Rosemary Cox (page 85), Sugar Tax (page 109) and Commonwealth Fund (page 134).  Other omissions were also found and what else has been left out cannot be known. As a result, the authority and veracity of the Index must be inevitably be in doubt. In addition it was noted that both the previously-mentioned My NHS Story personal reminiscences and those of other individuals are not accompanied by verifying citations. This reduces their value to researchers. Citations for the various Official Documents, Reports, Acts of Parliament etc. quoted within the volume are also missing. A Glossary for the volume’s large numbers of acronyms and abbreviations would also have been helpful, as a non-medical reader has no way of knowing (for example) what an OT (page 73) might be.

Potentially, this volume could have been the ‘Standard Reference Work’ for its subject. For readers seeking an easily-readable ‘once over lightly’ history of the NHS it might still achieve that status. Regrettably however, for academic-level researchers, the ‘difficulties’ with the Index and the lack of citations, Glossary etc. have considerably reduced its value as a research document; it is an ‘aide’ rather than being the ‘authoritative document’ it could so easily have been.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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