Centenary Commemorations: Passchendaele. 103 Days in Hell

A TV historian and author is set to mark the Centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres by telling the personal stories of those who fought during a nightmare struggle which has become known a Passchendaele. 

South-West London-based Alexandra Churchill penned Passchendaele. 103 Days in Hell with researchers Andrew Holmes and Johnathan Dyer.

Drawing extensively on official military records and working with the descendants and families of their chosen subjects, the authors paint a vivid and engaging picture of a battle that has become synonymous with the suffering and horror of the Western Front.

“This is a book about people,” Alexandra stresses. “It tells us what happened at Passchendaele through the eyes of those who were on, behind, above or below the battlefield. Almost everyone featured died – either during battle or due to their injuries – which is why we felt it was essential to make their stories heard.”

After explaining the contribution of the Battle of Messines, the book begins on 31 July 1917 when the Allies launched a renewed assault on German lines in Flanders, Belgium. The village of Passchendaele was eventually captured after 103 days of bloody fighting – hence the title of the book – but there was no substantial breakthrough on the Western Front. More than 300,000 British casualties and 260,000 German casualties were recorded, making it one of the war’s costliest and more controversial offenses.

“There are so many fascinating and tragic individual stories: Pte Harold Henry Mann, who had pioneering facial reconstruction surgery; Lt Arthur Rhys Davies of the Royal Flying Corps, who is credited with 25 victories in the air in just six months; and Gunner Norman Manley who survived the war and later became Premier of Jamaica. Tragically, his brother Roy was killed by shrapnel while trying to carry a wounded comrade to safety,” explains Alexandra, who contributed to Channel 5’s popular First World War archaeological series ‘The Big Dig’.

“We have ensured that all corners of the Empire, as it was then, are represented, from New Zealanders to West Indians, as well as every rank of soldier. Women feature too, including Muriel Thompson of the Calais Convoy, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, who is pictured on the front cover. It has been a remarkable experience but reading and writing about death every day for nine months has taken its toll. I never want to have to describe mud again!”

The book is the latest collaboration by Alexandra, Andrew and Jonathan, who share a mutual interest in the First World War and a passion for Chelsea FC. They co-wrote Over Land and Sea. Chelsea FC in the Great War in 2015, and followed up with Somme. 141 Days, 141 Lives last year.

Passchendaele. 103 Days in Hell has been released in time for the UK national commemorative events to mark the centenary, which will take place on 30 and 31 July. It contains over 100 images including portraits, original and modern photographs of the battlefield, and of Commonwealth War Graves sites.

“You don’t need any prior knowledge of Passchendaele to read this book,” says Publisher Duncan Rogers of Helion and Company Ltd.

“It offers a broad understanding of the battle without getting too bogged down in the technical detail. Alexandra and her fellow authors are to be commended on assembling an imaginative and balanced selection of voices from both sides of no man’s land. These combine to make a lasting and worthy tribute to own for the centenary of Passchendaele.”

Passchendaele. 103 Days in Hell is available direct from the publishers as well as from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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The Battle of Arnhem and conflict on film

Helion’s new book features at a book signing and talk at the Open Book Literary Festival, Hertfordshire on 29 July 2017

By Allan Esler-Smith

Co-author Allan Esler Smith

Think back to all those UK war films that you may have watched over the decades and consider which is the greatest. I’d suggest dismissing works of fiction and those that try to appeal with a tag line ‘based on a true story’ and go on to serve up information which some take in as fact. Authenticity, I would suggest is vital. So how many on your shortlist were made by the veterans who actually fought at the battle? Then reduce your list to only those films made on the actual ground of the battle? How many are on your list now? Then scale the endeavours of the veteran actors. For instance, how many feature veterans asked to return to a location where they were defeated and, importantly, within a year of the defeat. Then sprinkle in some thoughts that would tip any ordinary man over the edge. During breaks in filming the veterans identified shallow field graves where their comrades were still buried.

Soldiers tend to get on with the job without complaint- a soldier’s lot. But returning to the scene of their defeat you just have to wonder how often the veterans’ minds turned to thoughts of how they were outgunned by enemy heavy armour that they were never told about. Then, just to complete the mix and your selection of UK war films that make the grade, try giving some credit for ‘going the extra mile’. For instance, were the buildings used as set locations still mined with enemy explosives? Would the veterans-turned-actors be returning into a civilian population who were briefly liberated and then left behind with an enemy who extracted retribution? By any standards Theirs is the Glory, released on 17 September 1946 and filmed in the late summer of 1945, is the most unique and, I would say, greatest of all war films made in the UK. 

Further factors can then be added into the mix to help an appreciate the accolade just given. The film’s director banned the use of any studio actors taking a role.

This was to be the veterans’ film; soldiers can do many things but acting isn’t high on the list of required attributes, so the strength, vision and motivation of the director is important.

Then we have the outcome on the film’s release on the second anniversary of The Battle of Arnhem. The reception and applause almost defies belief. It became the biggest grossing war film in the UK for a decade (pipped by Battle of the River Plate in 1956). It received a Royal Command from King George VI for a screening at Balmoral and both Queen Mary and the Prime Minister attended screenings in London.

Unique, and unequalled, the film Theirs is the Glory was always going to be the centre piece of a new book written by Arnhem expert David Truesdale and myself and launched by Helion and Company in September 2016 with the title Theirs is the Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film. The film’s importance in conflict film history results in us devoting just over half the book to the veterans of Arnhem telling their story on film. We set the scene with how the battle of Arnhem fitted into the war for Europe; detail the armaments carried from the air down into battle; play out the film scene-by-scene and day-by-day. Significantly, we name the veterans who, at the time and in respect to their comrades who died in the battle, did not take credits on the big screen. Our vision was for an archival book as this approach will help you view the film as never before and each viewing will reveal more and more of the insights left by the veterans.

I need to explain my role as co-author of Helion’s new book. I look after the Estate of my Uncle, Brian Desmond Hurst – the film’s director, shaper and motivation. I am fortunate to have in our archives and contacts a large resource that helps shine a light onto this film as never done before. Some context about my Uncle is therefore vital to understanding how he achieved the results…


Brian Desmond Hurst, director of Theirs is the Glory

My Uncle was born in East Belfast in 1895 and christened Hans Moore Hawthorn Hurst. He was the ‘lucky’ seventh child. Not that he had much early luck with his mother dying in childbirth when Hans was just four years old and his father, a shipyard worker, dying when he was 16. Hans was very much on his own. Bored with Belfast, he volunteered for the army, served as an infantry  private and survived the cruel slaughter at Gallipoli. Half his colleagues were dead or wounded and many more lost their minds. His defeated battalion was air-brushed from history. Warfare, at its very worst, is something that most of us will never comprehend but it is also a cauldron of turmoil that spits out moments of genius and especially so in the arts.

So how did young Hans get into film directing? Wounded at Gallipoli, he was transferred to the Labour Corp and hated it. He solved the problem by deserting and re-enlisting and changing his name to cover his tracks whilst on the run. Medals sent to the local police station as a lure were never collected and eventually the street fighting in Belfast during the Irish War of Independence in 1919 and 1920 wore him down. This was not what he fought for and so he changed his name again and became Brian Desmond Hurst (giving a nod to ancient Irish regal names). A grant helped him to Canada and art school. Chance encounters then brought set design work in Hollywood and a meeting with John Ford who became his mentor and greatest friend.  Perhaps the luck of the seventh child had started to kick in?

On returning to the UK, Brian settled in Belgravia but still visited Ulster for what he called ‘a spiritual bath’. Brian built a formidable directing career and helped launch many careers including Terence Young director of the early Bond films, Sir Roger Moore and Lord Attenborough. Openly gay but never convicted, he also caused controversy with some films. His first film Tell Tale Heart (1934) was thought too horrible to show in some cinemas. His Irish war of independence story Ourselves Alone (1936 – the title is a translation of Sinn Fein) attracted glowing comment in The Irish Times: “I am confident that this film… will be declared picture of the year”. It was misunderstood and banned in his homeland Northern Ireland. He later converted from Protestant to Catholicism.

He also broke ground directing one of Britain’s first film noirs in 1939 – On the Night of the Fire, and then went on direct big box office successes including the Christmas classic Scrooge (1951) and Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1950).  With more than 30 films to his credit, the list reveals a genre that could be missed at first glance, but then when you look closely, one in three films has conflict at its core. Theirs is the Glory. Arnhem and Conlict on Film therefore profiles and examines his nine other conflict films and his message as an artist on his vast film canvas:

Ourselves Alone (1936). Conflict in Ireland. “A miracle has just happened in Ireland; two people out of three who are going to be happy.”

The Lion Has Wings (1939). The first film of the Second World War. “This is Britain, where we believe in freedom.”

A Call For Arms (1940). Ministry of Information. “A rallying call for war production and more women to work in the factories.”

Miss Grant Goes to the Door (1940). Ministry of Information. “Preparing, but not alarming, the nation for an invasion by Germany.”

Dangerous Moonlight (1941). “The fall of Poland and how her airmen came to the rescue of Britain.”

A Letter From Ulster (1942). The Crown Film Unit profiles the US army training in Northern Ireland for the war in Europe. “Treat your allies well.”

Malta Story (1953). The isolated island of Malta in the Second World War. “We spend ourselves for the common good.”


Simba (1955). Kenya, the Mau Mau and the end of colonial rule. “We must make friends with these people, as otherwise you’ll find yourself not fighting a few thousand fanatics, but five million angry people.”

The Black Tent (1956). The Second World War in the North African Desert and a brother’s loss and his adventure to find the truth. “Loss, the need for truth, reconciliation and difficult decisions.”

The book also chronicles his war in Gallipoli to help give an insight into some of the themes that emerge in his films and especially his Arnhem film where the read-across is compelling. Intelligence failings, a defeat, a withdrawal and significant losses… Hurst’s colleagues in the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles were airbrushed from history after Gallipoli but he helped ensure the same fate would not meet the 1st Airborne after Arnhem.

Brian Desmond Hurst died penniless and intestate in September 1986. His epitaph in 1986 may have read: “an East Belfast gay man who converted from Protestant to Catholicism and deserted during the First World War.” In 1986 Belfast was deep in the midst of its own internal conflict and the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in Northern Ireland only came about in 1982, so Belfast may have been inclined to pass over the story of its son.

Fast forward 30 years and Hurst is now recognised as Northern Ireland’s greatest film director. He has been applauded with two blue plaques in Belfast together with the naming of the Hurst Film Sound Stage at Titanic Quarter. September 2016 saw Helion’s publication of Theirs is the Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film. The years of research by David Truesdale and myself was absorbing, illuminating and allowed us to lift the lid, partially, on a brilliant man whose film direction leaves us with a unique catalogue of conflict on film and, I would say again, the greatest war film made in the UK.

I will be talking about this at the Open Book Literary Festival on 29th July 2017 at the British Schools Museum in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with an introduction by military author, Hugh Bicheno. The festival is about authors sharing their passion for their books with ‘books, beer and banter’ and more information and tickets at only £4 can be found at the www.britishschoolsmuseum.co.uk and go to ‘Open Book- Literary Festival’.

Theirs is the Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film by David Truesdale and Allan Esler Smith can be ordered here or Allan will be signing copies at the Open Book Literary Festival on 29th July 2017.

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Brave As A Lion: The Life and Times of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough

By Christopher Brice

“He is brave as a Lion but has no headpiece”. This was the considered opinion of a young officer, W.M. Stewart, who served under Hugh Gough (1779-1869) in India. Although not a word commonly used today, Collins dictionary does include that ‘headpiece’ is an archaic word to describe ‘intellect’. Whilst this comment sounds quite a condemnation of Gough’s intelligence and by consequence, his ability and suitability for high command, it is perhaps not as bad as it sounds on first reading. The idea that he had ‘no headpiece’ should not necessarily be taken as a suggestion that Gough, in Stewart’s opinion, lacked ‘intellect’ in general, but specifically with regards to organisation and logistics on a large scale.

Indeed, in examining Hugh Gough’s career, we immediately identify two of the perennial problems of the British Army throughout the generations. Firstly, the lack of suitable officers for higher command leadership. Secondly, a continued failure to appreciate the importance of logistics and staff work. In short, Gough was not a bad general but rather out of his depth in higher command leadership and woefully let down by staff arrangements – particularly in India.

Hugh Gough had a long and successful military career. Despite criticism of his leadership he never actually lost a battle and only one could be counted a draw. Yet he was a controversial figure in his day, and a now largely forgotten character from the days of Empire.

Gough was born in Woodsdown, County Limerick in November 1779 – part of the Anglo-Irish social group that produced so many senior officers of the British Army. Although Gough’s subsequent career suggests a keeping with the tradition of the community, in many ways he was unlike many of his contemporaries. Firstly, he ‘owned’ his Irish identity proudly. He saw no contradiction in being Irish and also loyal to the British Crown. Secondly, he was not strongly anti-Catholic and had long pressed for catholic emancipation. Thirdly, he made no attempt to hide his Irish brogue, as many Anglo-Irish officers did. A contemporary source claims that, when he was engaged in campaigns against the Sikh Empire in the 1840s, his brogue rendered them as the ‘Saikhs’.

Gough was very much born into a military tradition. At the age of 13, he had been commissioned into his father’s militia battalion. A year later he joined the regular army as an Ensign. He saw early service in southern Africa, the Caribbean and South America. During the Peninsular War, Gough commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Foot with great distinction.

Gough was knighted for his services in Spain and was widely considered to have been one of the finest and most experienced battalion commanders of the conflict. The peace that followed the defeat of France saw the 2nd Battalion disbanded and Gough placed on half pay. In 1819, he was given command of the 22nd Foot whom he commanded in Ireland during the ‘Rockite rebellion’, until 1826 when he once again went on half pay.

It was not until 1837 that he received active employment again, being given command of a division of the Madras Army. In 1841 he was despatched to take command of the land forces in the First-Anglo China War. His distinguished service saw him gain much credit as a commander. In recognition of his service in China, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of India in August 1843. Gough commanded British forces at a very difficult time – during the Gwalior Campaign and the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars. His leadership was called into question (largely due to the high casualties that he suffered), yet this ignores many mitigating factors.

Gough’s reputation recovered in retirement, but after his death much criticism of his command – particularly during the Sikh wars – was published. In 1903 Sir Robert Rait attempted to redress the balance in his two volume biography of Gough. Rait very much wrote his book as a defence of Gough, in response to other historians. To the present author, this has been extremely helpful. Rather than getting bogged down in ‘setting the record straight’, he has been able to move beyond this towards a broader examination of Gough. Indeed, the intention has never been to defend Gough, but to better understand him. In trying to defend him, Rait spent the majority of his second volume and the latter part of his first volume examining Gough’s time in India. There is much more to Gough than this and it has been the author’s intention to ‘bring out’ the other period of his life. For parts that Rait gave the attention of a couple of pages, this new work devotes several chapters.

This new biography does not attempt to ignore Gough’s faults and failings, but at times, it does still appear necessary to add mitigation to the accusations levelled against Gough.

However, it has always been the intention to create a balanced and fair assessment of the career of a soldier of great significance. In examining his career, we see a case study for the development of the army and society from the late Georgian and early Victorian era to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His connection with ‘Empire’ means that his achievements are anathema in his native Ireland and would much rather be forgotten by those in modern day Britain, yet his achievements and career was significant. As the Irish journalist and television presenter Cathal O’Shannon remarked in 1965, the fact that Gough became a Viscount and Field Marshal: “…was not bad for a Limerick man in those days”.

Brave As A Lion. The Life and Times of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough, by Christopher Brice can be preordered here.

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Lieutenant Philip Monoux: The First Officer of the Household Cavalry Killed in Action, 1685

Monoux’s stone in the floor of St Mary’s in Wootton (SE-B Photograph)

By Stephen Ede-Borrett

The Royal Regiment of Horse was raised in 1660 from an ex-Republican Regiment and remained as the sole Regiment of Horse in the British Army when all others were converted to Regiments of Dragoon Guards in 1746 and 1788.  The Regiment became the Royal Horse Guards (Blue) in 1750, although it did not officially become a part of the Household Cavalry until 1815.

Philip Monoux was the 3rd son of Sir Humphrey Monoux, 1st Baronet of Wootton Bedfordshire (the occasional spelling of the name as ‘Monocks’ in contemporary documents is a good indication as to how the name was pronounced at the time, as indeed it still is today).  The 1st Baronet died in 1675 and was succeeded by Philip’s elder brother Humphrey, as 2nd Baronet.  The second Sir Humphrey died in July 1685 and was succeeded by his eight-year-old son Philip who was later responsible for the moving and reburial his uncle’s body.  The Baronetcy finally became extinct with the death of Sir Philip, 7th Baronet, in 1814[1].  Later Baronets are often termed “of Sandy, Bedfordshire”, where the family was living by the end of the Eighteenth Century, although the family continued to be buried at Wootton.

Philip Monoux was commissioned Cornet in the troop of Captain Sir Thomas Slingsby of the Royal Regiment of Horse on 22nd May 1680.  Monoux was then promoted Lieutenant, in the Troop of Captain Walter Littleton, on 22nd December 1682.  Along with the rest of the officers of the Regiment, Monoux was recommissioned by the new King, James II, on 10th February 1685 (Charles II had died on 6th February).

Littleton’s troop was one of the seven troops of the Royal Regiment forming part of the Army that was sent West in June 1685[2] to put down the rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth.  Littleton commanded his Troop at the Battle of Sedgemoor on July 6th but by then however, Monoux was no longer with the troop.

On June 19th the first cavalry action of the campaign took place at Ashill, near Chard in Somerset, in which Lieutenant Monoux was killed, giving him the highly dubious honour of being the first officer casualty of any of the Household Cavalry Regiments.  Two of Monoux’s troopers were wounded in the action, whilst four rebels, also including their Commanding Officer, were killed.

The only contemporary account of this action that I am aware of is that by Edward Dummer, an Engineer serving with the Artillery Train[3], who records under the date of June 19:

“My Lord Churchill arrives at Chard, sends out twenty commanded horse under Lieutennt Monaux and a Quarter Master[4], who met with much the like number of sturdy Rebells, well arm’d; between whome hapned a very brisk encounter.  Twelve of the Rebells were killed and the rest being wounded fled and alarmd the body of Rebells wch lay neare; so that a fresh part apperd and caus’d ours to retreat, leaving Lieutennt. Monoux upon the place, shot in the head and killed on the first charge.  The Quarter Master with the rest came off well, saving two or three that were wounded.”

The skirmish took place about half a mile from the village proper in an area known as the “fight ground” as late as 1844[5], although the exact location now appears to be lost.

Tradition has it that Monoux was buried in St Mary’s Church, Ashill – presumably on the day of, or the day after, the battle (although since the Parish records for the years 1670-1686 are missing, it is impossible to confirm this).  However, the stone over his body records his burial to have been in Chard and since a) Chard was firmly in the Army’s hands whereas Ashill was disputed land and b) we can be certain that those who moved the body knew where they had moved it from, it seems certain that the burial was initially in St Mary’s in Chard.  (Ashill is approx 8 miles due North of Chard).

Wherever the Lieutenant was initially interred, Sir Philip, 3rd Baronet later had his body moved to the family church of St Mary’s in Wootton, Bedfordshire, where he was reburied in the floor of the Chancel just inside the rood screen.  However, there was some movement around of the Monoux stones in the 19th Century so this positioning may not have been the original one.

The stone over Monoux’s reburial reads :

Here lieth the body of


who was Slaine in Majefties

Service (King Iames ye Second)

in ye Forrest of Rouse in Somerset =

Shire against ye Rebels of ye Late

Duke of Monmouth Iune ye 19o

in ye yeare 1685

in ye 29o year of his Age

He was first buried in ye Church

of Chard in Somerset Shire from

thence removed at ye defire and

Charge of his Nephew SR PHILIP

MONOUX Barron & Layed in this

place with this stone over him

in Memory of him

As a footnote, on 24th February 1688 a Jonathan Monoux was commissioned as Cornet in Captain David Lloyd’s Troop of the Royal Regiment of Horse.  However, after this initial commission, there is no further record of him within the Regiment or the Army.

My sincere thanks to Alan Larson who drew my attention to Monoux’s memorial and first suggested this piece and to the Vicar of St Mary’s Wootton, Revd Peter Ackroyd, who kindly allowed me access to photograph Monoux’s stone.

[1] In order the seven Monoux Baronets were: Humphrey, Humphrey, Philip, Humphrey, Philip, Philip, Philip.

[2] The Regiment had a full strength of eight troops at the time.  See Army of James II: Stephen Ede-Borrett, Helion & Co 2017.

[3] Dummer’s account is reprinted in Sedgemoor 1685: David Chandler, London 1985.

[4] Presumably Walter Chetwyn of Littleton’s Troop.

[5] The Life, Progresses and Rebellion of James Duke of Monmouth & to His Capture and Execution; In Two Volumes: George Roberts, London 1844 p325.

The Army of James II, 1685-1688. The Birth of the British Army can be purchased from Helion & Company Ltd here.

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Lost Opportunity – The Battle of the Ardennes, 22 August 1914

By Simon J House

The story of the ‘Lost Opportunity’, afforded to the French Armies in August 1914 and squandered, had its origins in a ‘Moment of Madness’ – or more properly a ‘Moment IN Madness’. For I was researching in the Reading Rooms of the Imperial War Museum when I came across the evidence that led to this book; and the Reading Rooms were then in the old Chapel of the Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam as it is now known.

I was researching the French Army of 1914 – a project that I had set myself on my early retirement from British Telecom, starting with the arduous task of making my own translation of the French Official History. I had just finished a section on a virtually unknown battle, fought in the famous ‘impenetrable Ardennes’ on 22 August 1914: it was another French disaster, with (according to French and English sources) gallant young French soldiers in their red trousered uniform throwing themselves upon Germans lying in wait in the forests behind barbed wire, protecting trenches from which German machine guns spat death.

My ‘Moment in Madness’ came when I looked up from my desk and my eye caught sight of a series of large, leather-bound books opposite. They were the volumes of the German Official History, and it occurred to me in that instant to take volume one, translate it, and find out what the Germans had said about the same battle. It was, of course, very different.

Where the French saw a trap with Germans lying in wait behind prepared defences, the Germans saw a very dangerous scenario in which they had been taken by surprise by the timing and direction of the French attack, whilst engaged in a straight-forward day of marching.

Where the French (apparently) saw in front of them barbed wire, trenches and machine guns, the Germans saw their outnumbered forces turning and throwing themselves into desperate combat, from which they emerged victorious but shaken by their own horrendous casualties.

It was, for me, a revelation. All the histories that I had so far read had told the story of the Battle of the Ardennes exclusively from the point of view of the French. What a Frenchman thought that he had seen, or experienced, that day had gone down on paper and become ‘fact’. The truth, clearly, was something else again…

I resolved then and there to get to the bottom of these obvious differences between the two sides’ accounts of the Battle of the Ardennes, to produce a new, balanced account, and to try to explain not only what had really happened, but also why it had happened that way.

I hope that you will enjoy the fruits of my labours.

Lost Opportunity. The Battle of the Ardennes. 22 August 1914 is available to pre-order from Helion & Company Ltd here.

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Kingdoms under siege: Fortress warfare in the British Isles and beyond, 1648-60

By David Flintham

Contrary to public opinion, the British Civil Wars were fought not so much in the open fields and moors, but in trenches and on ramparts and walls – a fact that caused the Earl of Orrey to comment: “We make war more like foxes than lions, and you will have twenty sieges for one battle.” More recently, Christopher Duffy described the conflict as “a war of trenches, ramparts, palisades, bombardments and blockades”.

But this is a fact not reflected in the written word: far more has been published about battles than about fortifications and sieges, and if something does happen to be written about sieges, it tends to focus on the First Civil War (in other words, the fighting between 1642 and 1646-7). The sieges of the Second Civil War (1648-9) and the Third Civil War (1649-52) have been largely overlooked. Yet sieges dominated the Second and Third Civil Wars. The Second Civil War had six battles, but an estimated 45 siege-type actions; the Third Civil War had 15 battles, but 121 sieges. Between the end of the Third Civil War and the Restoration, there were a further 46 siege actions – mostly abroad.

Many of the sieges between 1642-7 were concentrated in a relatively small geographical area, in the heart of England. However, between 1648 and 1660, there were sieges in regions relatively untouched by the First Civil War: most notably south-east England and south Wales (although they also took place in areas already scarred by the first war, such as Yorkshire).  Sieges occurred in eastern Scotland and throughout Ireland. They reached England’s outlying islands and, during the 1650s, as far afield as Flanders, and even the West Indies.

For a number of years, my own academic research has largely focused on London during the 1640s and 50s, particularly its defences, but – having reached a conclusion with Civil War London: A Military History of London under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell (to be published by Helion this autumn) – it is time to move on and look at fortress warfare between 1648 and 1660 in more detail.

My study will focus on the full breadth of British fortresses and sieges during the period, covering the Second Civil War in Wales, south-east England, and northern England; the Third Civil War in Ireland, Scotland, and those remaining Royalist outposts in England; and finally, 1652-1660, which witnessed the Protectorate citadels in Scotland and wars against the Dutch and Spanish.

Understandably, it is the major sieges which will be most prominent, but this will take little away from the smaller and more minor siege-type actions. Although they might not be discussed in great detail, their contribution at a tactical and strategic level will be considered.

Given its breadth, this is unique study entails a great deal of research, including fieldwork, and the resulting book (which is currently planned to be published by Helion in late 2020) will be an important addition to the study of fortress warfare during the mid-seventeenth century – filling a major gap on the bookshelves of students of the civil wars and those with a broader interest in seventeenth century military engineering. As its completion is relatively long-way off, regular updates on progress will appear at http://www.vauban.co.uk/kingdoms-under-siege .

David Flintham will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Wenceslaus Hollar & 17th century warfare’ at Helion’s Century of the Soldier Conference 2017 in Shrewsbury on Saturday 23rd September. Tickets cost £30 for the full day, inclusive of lunch and unlimited drinks. Book here now.



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Facial wounds, surgery and the First World War

By Dr Andrew Bamji

During my training to be a doctor, I ended up specialising in the treatment of arthritis, and I hardly expected to write a book about plastic surgery in the First World War. But when I started working at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, in south east London, I soon discovered that the hospital was very proud of its history as the place where wounded soldiers were sent for facial reconstruction. My interest deepened following the serendipitous discovery of a group of case files, complete with photographs, paintings and details of operations. These sources were a unique survival of wartime medical records, and I started to explore them and to develop the hospital’s collection of related material, including medical textbooks and the diaries of soldiers and nurses.

The plastic theatre at the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup. Harold Gillies is seated on the right; Rubens Wade, his first anaesthetist, is standing (Author’s collection)

As I began to research the remarkable technical advances in surgery which were pioneered at Sidcup, I started to understand how they resulted from the centralisation of facial surgery on one site.

This centralisation was brought about by the radical approach of the lead surgeon, Harold Gillies, who cast aside the professional hierarchies of the time, and encouraged surgeons, dentists, technicians and illustrators to collaborate with each other.

Rubens Wade inducing anaesthesia at Sidcup (Author’s collection)

My book, Faces from the Front, explains how this approach led to much better outcomes for patients in Britain than those who were treated in France and Germany, where surgeons worked independently at several different hospitals. These benefits included psychological wellbeing as well as appearance and function. At Sidcup, even the patient was part of the team, and there was a major focus on rehabilitation.

My book highlights how plastic surgery was firmly established during the First World War, and an important precursor to Archibald McIndoe’s work at East Grinstead during the Second World War.

Display panel for an American tour undertaken by Gillies after the war (Author’s collection)

I developed a website with details of the hospital’s archive, and lectured widely on surgical successes and problems. Relatives of Sidcup’s patients learned what I was doing, and started to get in touch. The stories I heard led me to conclude that the experience of war, rather than injury, caused the psychological problems which affected many soldiers for the rest of their lives. Stanley Cohen, for example, was a tank officer who was badly burned in August 1918. His writings show how he was badly affected by the experience of running over a German machine gun position in his tank and ordering the shooting of surrendering enemy soldiers, rather than by his disfigurement. Many patients went on to lead happy and fulfilled lives after the war.

I qualified in medicine from the Middlesex Hospital, London in 1973 and became a rheumatologist. I was President of the British Society for Rheumatology in 2006-8 and I am Gillies Archivist to the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons. I have continued to research, write and lecture following my retirement, to audiences in the UK, US, France, and New Zealand. Television appearances include contributions to Jeremy Paxman’s mini-series on the First World War, ‘Timewatch’ with Michael Palin, and ‘The South Bank Show’ with Pat Barker.

Faces from the Front. Harold Gillies, the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup and the Origins of Modern Plastic Surgery is available to pre-order from Helion & Company Ltd here.

Dr Bamji is speaking at the Rye Arts Festival on September 26th, and at the National Archives, Kew, on the following day.


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Why another book on the Somme? Canadians on the Somme 1916

A dialog with William Stewart, the author of the upcoming book The Canadians on the Somme, 1916: The Neglected Campaign

First, what is the book about?

It examines and analyses the 89-day Canadian experience in the 1916 Somme campaign at a tactical and operational level. Its focus is on how the Canadians fought the actions and why they battled in the manner they did.

Why yet another book on the Somme?

The scale of the Somme campaign reduces even the longest single volume accounts’ coverage of engagements to only the broadest details. Other than works on the first day of the Somme, division, or contingent histories, it is difficult to find detailed battle descriptions. Focusing on a single corps brings a perspective on aspects of the campaign that are washed out in the general narratives. This allows a finer grain examination of important topics, such as operations, tactics, and command and control down to the battalion level. What’s more, the period the Canadians served in also receives less coverage in the campaign accounts. It witnessed a set of significant changes in operations as both sides adjusted their tactics in response to the others approaches and increased resources. This generated a dynamic of change further affected by a dramatic deterioration in the weather. Increasingly, logistical issues caused by rain and the enormous number of shells shaped the engagements – all of which this book explores.

Is this of interest only for Canadians?

No, because it explores multiple topics mentioned above that are rarely covered in previous books on the Somme that transcend a narrow national focus. These issues should interest most First World War readers.

What are the main themes of the book?

There are six key themes that weave through the narrative.

1) The Somme represents the nadir of command influence in the First World War. It was almost impossible for commanders in the rear to control operations once commenced.

2) The complexity and limitations of the technology, tactics, logistics, and weapons all decisively affected the course of the campaign.

3) Artillery was the dominant force on the battlefield and played the paramount role in determining success or failure. While it could not guarantee victory, its failure made success most unlikely.

4) The staggering casualty rates units suffered in battle. Based on a detailed analysis of every Canadian battalion attack on the Somme, on average, one out of every two other ranks and three out of four battalion officers in an attack were casualties. Further, more than half of those who died are still missing or unidentified.

5) Owing to this loss rate and the inadequate quantity and quality of replacements, Canadian formations progressively became less combat effective and proficient as the campaign lasted.

6) What will appear again and again was the indomitable courage, tenacity, and fortitude of the Canadian soldier. Whatever shortcomings emerged from the campaign, they were not their fault.

What is the campaign’s importance?

Lasting almost three months and resulting in 24,029 casualties, the Somme was the second longest and costliest campaign of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The Somme led to sweeping changes to the way the Canadian Corps fought its next major battle at Vimy Ridge. It also contributed to the re-organisation of Canadian forces overseas, their training, and administration. The strains of the campaign, in addition, added to the complaints that helped trigger the overthrow of the much-maligned Minister of Militia, Sam Hughes. The triumphs of 1917 and 1918 were built on the foundation of the experiences on the Somme.

Why call it a neglected campaign?

 The Somme campaign is a topic of great interest in the Commonwealth countries outside Canada, with at least 40 books released in the last 10 years. This includes five campaign accounts focused on the Australian, one on the New Zealand, and one on the South African experience. In contrast, despite its importance, there are only three books – a VC winner’s biography, a guide book, and a teacher’s guide to the last day of the Somme – on the Canadian campaign, and none of these are in-depth. Conversely, there are five works on the Newfoundland Regiment, and Newfoundland was not part of Canada then. Histories of the Canadian Corps and accounts of the whole Somme campaign only briefly cover it. This book fills this gap.

What sources did you use for the book?

I based the book on the war diaries, maps, battle narratives, operational orders, training memoranda and other content produced during and shortly after the campaign in archives in Canada and Britain. Additionally, I integrated the latest scholarship from Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia on the campaign. Also, utilised were regimental histories, which can provide a telling insight into how the formation wanted their unit viewed. A critical resource was the battlefield itself, as I explored all the terrain on which the Canadians fought on the Somme. It is difficult to understand the problems in taking Regina Trench until seeing how a small fold in the terrain hides it from ground observation. Walking the battlefield vividly highlights the problems and reasons for decisions you cannot glean from a map or reading war diaries.

Finally, why did you decide to write about the Somme?

Unlike many Somme authors, I have no familial connection to it. My interest, instead, developed during research on my first book entitled The Embattled General on the controversial Canadian general Sir Richard Turner. The meagre amount of published material on the Canadian experience on the Somme despite its importance perplexed me. It was apparent that, while historians recognised how key it was in reshaping the Canadian Corps for Vimy Ridge, there was little outside the standard corps treatments on the campaign itself. I wanted to know more about it and thought it deserved more attention.

The Canadians on the Somme, 1916. The Neglected Campaign by William F. Stewart is available to pre-order from Helion & Company Ltd here.

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The Rhodesian Bush War – Where the police served as infantry

Bandit Mentality is a memoir written by Lindsay O’Brien, a New Zealander fighting in the British South Africa Police (BSAP) Support Unit in Rhodesia. The title Bandit Mentality refers to walking the border of lawlessness that any sustained guerrilla war can induce. The ‘anything goes’ mentality grows on both sides, and the customs and law of conventional battles fades considerably.

Lindsay says:

I wrote Bandit Mentality because the BSAP Support Unit sought minimal publicity during the war, and afterwards, while books on the army units have been published, there has been little acknowledgement of the Police Support Unit role. I scribbled the notes soon after leaving Rhodesia whilst occupying a single man’s room in a remote mining operation, and it took 30 years of stop-start writing to bring the story out. I didn’t conduct a large amount of research other than dates and geography. This is my story…

The Rhodesian Bush War stretched from 1966 to 1979; essentially, it was a civil war involving African guerrilla armies verses a white government. The adversary, the black guerrilla armies, were held in contempt by politicians and senior military officers. But the man on the ground, fighting at close quarters, found their quarry to be elusive, flexible and able to thwart the military’s technical superiority and survive, despite the thrashings they suffered.

One arm of the government’s Security Forces was the British South Africa Police (the Rhodesian paramilitary civil police). Named after Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company in the 1890s, the police conducted routine crime detection and maintenance of public order, but always heavily contributed in the Rhodesia Bush War by providing intelligence, part-time Police Anti-Terrorist Units and Reservists – backing up the regular forces.

Support Unit shoulder flash and an India Troop lanyard (author)

It may surprise readers that within the police force operated an army style unit totally immersed in the internal Bush War: BSA Police Support Unit (nicknamed ‘Black Boots’, as the police wore black boots and leather belts). When one thinks ‘police’, handing out speeding tickets or investigating crime immediately spring to mind. However, the BSA Police raised, trained and deployed a Support Unit using the white police leadership seconded from normal police tasks at police stations, while the African component were recruited solely for the anti-terrorist duties. It would be like the British ‘Bobby’ working from a police station, suddenly posted to an army battalion; he undergoes basic training once again and is thrust into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

Kiaran Allen and constables in an operational area. (Kiaran Allen)

The BSA Police Support Unit evolved from border patrols, riot control and reinforcing police stations under duress, into a battalion-sized anti-terrorist unit. Support Unit deployed as classic infantry. Usually tasked to a specific tribal land, the Unit acted on intelligence and instinct to attempt to locate and engage the enemy. They carried out the non-sexy grunt work with very few helicopter insertions, no cross-border raids and little all-arms support. They were constantly short of equipment and the necessary tools of war. The Support Unit dealt face-to-face with the enemy in deadly close contact skirmishes; they did not arrest or prosecute anyone. This memoir covers my involvement from 1976 – 1978 as a section and troop commander.

After my contract in Support Unit expired, I spent time with the political armies raised in 1978 to support the moderate African politicians in their quest for power in the 1979 elections for an internal political settlement. These armies were billed as ex-terrorists who had seen the light, abandoned the terrorist forces and supported one of the moderate politicians. In fact, the vast majority were unemployed youngsters rounded up from the teeming African townships, and with cursory training, were dumped into bases in the midst of terrorist armies. They learnt survival skills fast or died.

Author at Security Force Auxiliary base Gutsa, Zambezi Valley (author)

I did not set out to be involved in Rhodesia’s conflict. I’m not the quintessential soldier, rather an anti-social larrikin who arrived in Rhodesia quite by chance.

In 1973, I flew to Johannesburg on a ticket to London, and stopped in South Africa to sight-see. While hitchhiking, an off-duty policeman gave me a lift, and suggested I see Rhodesia before flying to London. He served with the South African Police on the Rhodesia-Zambia border and praised the country. I hiked there on a whim.

For two years I worked on a tobacco farm in the Centenary area – the hub of the war since 1972. With terrorist attacks on farmers and African villagers, in 1975 I decided I’d either have to fly out of the country or jump into the fighting. I chose the second option. I have written a second book titled ‘Sitting Target’ about the farming period in a combat zone and aim to release it next year.

I live retired in Queensland Australia. After 35 years of management and business ownership, I like the lazy life with bursts of bush walking.

Bandit Mentality. Hunting Insurgents in the Rhodesian Bush War, A Memoir by Lindsay O’Brien is available for purchase from Helion & Company here

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British First World War Studies graduate secures Great War book deal: An Army of Brigadiers

A BIRMINGHAM University graduate has penned a ‘ground-breaking’ book on British First World War brigadier-generals, released during the centenary year of the Battle of Arras.

Dr Trevor Harvey’s remarkable work, An Army of Brigadiers. British Brigade Commanders at the Battle of Arras 1917 has been praised for offering ‘unique and original insights on British operations on the Western Front’.

His achievement comes after he signed up for the first cohort of the University of Birmingham’s MA in British First World War Studies, graduated in 2006 with distinction, and was awarded a PhD in 2016.

“It’s taken me six years to earn a PhD and to turn it into a book,” says Trevor, aged 67, who grew up in Great Barr, was educated at West Bromwich Grammar School and now lives in South Warwickshire.

“Retiring from my career in management education and beginning a new one in military history research and writing has been hugely rewarding, especially when combined with my role as Chairman of the Heart of England branch of the Western Front Association.

‘People tend to think that First World War generals were remote from their troops and enjoyed a risk-free existence far behind the frontlines, with all the benefits of chateaux-style living.

‘I hope that readers of my book will see this idea is ill-founded. There were more than 600 infantry brigade commanders in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front. Of these, 42 were killed in action or died of wounds and two were awarded the Victoria Cross.”

Focusing on five individual brigadier-general case studies, Trevor has drawn on a wide variety of sources including diaries, letters and personal papers privately held by descendants of his chosen subjects.

The resulting book has been commended by Professor Peter Simkins, President of the Western Front Association, who described it as a ‘scholarly and penetrating study of brigade command at the Battle of Arras’.

“Trevor is to be commended for making a very successful transition from the world of management education to military history scholarship, where he has won praise from exemplar institutions including the Universities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham,” says Duncan Rogers, Publisher at Helion and Company Ltd – based in Solihull.

“His book is the first major study of infantry brigade command, and is based on the service records of 116 brigadier-generals whose brigades played some part in the Battle of Arras. The five case studies he presents are uniquely fascinating, while the book as a whole reminds us that the longest advance since trench warfare began came at a high price: 160,000 casualties were inflicted on the British First and Third armies and a further 125,000 on the Germans.”

An Army of Brigadiers. British Brigade Commanders at the Battle of Arras 1917 is available direct from the publishers at www.helion.co.uk as well as from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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