Remembering Montgomery: The largest Civil War battle fought in Wales

The largest English Civil War battle to take place in Wales – involving more than 8,000 soldiers – has been reappraised in a ground-breaking new book, written more than 350 years later.

The Battle of Montgomery, 1644. The English Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands offers the most detailed reconstruction and interpretation of the battle to date, using field work to propose the likeliest location of the fighting.

“The Battle of Montgomery, fought outside the town on 18 September 1644, was the largest engagement in Wales during the war of 1642-1646, yet it has been overshadowed by the more well-known battles, such as Edgehill (1642) and Naseby (1645),” says military historian Dr Jonathan Worton, who lives near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.

“I am pleased and proud to have expanded current knowledge not only on the Battle of Montgomery, but also of the Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands – a fighting region that is still often overlooked by historians of the wider national conflict.”

Sir Thomas Myddelton, who had jointly commanded the victorious Parliamentarian Army at Montgomery, later described it as: ‘As great a victory as hath been gained in any part of the kingdom’. Securing Parliamentarian control of this key frontier town and castle significantly weakened royalism in the area – paving the way for ultimate victory in 1646.

Drawing on his doctoral studies of the Civil War, Jonathan spent part of 2015 thoroughly researching his work from mostly originally sources.

He said: “Living in Shropshire, Montgomery – just across the border, in Powys – is my ‘local’ Civil War battle. Being a keen walker, I made many visits to the area of the battle site – looking at the topography of the still largely unspoilt agricultural landscape, which has probably not changed greatly since the 1640s, and comparing it with the contemporary sources from the time of the battle. This helped me to create what is considered by far the most thorough account of the likely course and nature of the battle.”

Publishers Helion & Company Ltd. have specially-commissioned artwork for The Battle of Montgomery, which contains a wealth of photographs and illustrations.

“We are immensely fortunate to have a historian of Jonathan’s considerable talents taking a long-overdue look at this decisive – but long-forgotten – battle,” says Charles Singleton, commissioning editor of Helion’s Century of the Soldier series.

‘Jonathan’s first book for Helion, To Settle the Crown. Waging Civil War in Shropshire 1642-48, was a huge success and it is no surprise to me that The Battle of Montgomery has been equally well received, with very favourable reviews.

‘This is a must-read book for those with an interest in not only the English Civil War, but in conflict in the Welsh Borderlands.”

The Battle of Montgomery, 1644. The English Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands is available here.

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A Real-life ‘Barry Lyndon’: The Adventurous Career of Horace St Paul (Part II)

Helion author Neil Cogswell tells the story of Horace St Paul, whose extraordinary career has more than a little in common with the eponymous hero of Thackeray’s novel and its Stanley Kubrik film adaptation. In Part I, we heard how the young St Paul fled into exile to avoid a murder charge stemming from an illegal duel. In France he made the acquaintance of Prince Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands and the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa the Empress Queen of Austria. With war clouds gathering, this connection enabled him to make the transition from fugitive to soldier.

The Seven Years War

When, in 1756, Frederic of Prussia invaded Saxony, Prince Charles of Lorraine, expecting to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian army, offered St Paul a post as aide-de-camp and sent him to learn his new trade by attaching himself as a volunteer with Marshal Browne, then commanding in Bohemia. St Paul records: “I laboured hard to master every point of the profession,” and it is this learning process that makes the detail of his Journal especially interesting.

Horace St Paul in 1759

In 1757 Prince Charles of Lorraine took over the chief command in Bohemia with St Paul as a volunteer aide-de-camp. St Paul was an eye-witness at most of the major actions or had access to those who had been participants. During the following two years he occupied a similar position on the staff of Marshal Daun. During this period, St Paul rose to the rank of honorary Colonel-of-Horse and was rewarded for his services by being appointed a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. By 1760, financial stringency meant that the volunteers could no longer be given a fodder allowance, and, in addition, General Lacy had developed a more professional General Staff. Despite this, St Paul did make the campaign of 1760 possibly as part of the suite of the Princes of Saxony, but he had to return to Vienna at the end of that year.

In the Northumberland Archives at Ashington, there is some evidence that St Paul spent time at the end of the war as military secretary to Adam Friedrich, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg-Wurzburg. There is also evidence that St Paul may have considered offering his services to Russia.

In 1762, Horace’s father – Robert Paul – died aged 76. In his will, Robert left St Paul £1,000 per annum, noting that the campaigns of his eldest son had already put him to considerable expense! Because of his banishment, Horace could not inherit his father’s property which passed to his siblings.

Reinstatement and Diplomatic Career

With the war ending in 1763, David Murray, 7th Viscount Stormont, was appointed British Ambassador in Vienna. It appears that Lord Stormont and St Paul were previously acquainted and good friends. Stormont urged St Paul to submit a memorandum on the circumstances of the duel with Mr Dalton and attempt to have his banishment rescinded. It is possible that Stormont solicited the assistance of his uncle Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Kings Bench, in this matter. In July 1765, a “Most Gracious and Free Full Pardon” was duly issued and St Paul was free to return to England.

In 1770, St Paul applied for and received leave to retire from the Austrian service to enable himself to accept other duties so that he could provide for his dependents.

Those other duties soon crystallised when his friend Lord Stormont was appointed Ambassador to France and requested St Paul to join him in Paris as First Secretary. During the four years of this appointment Lord Stormont was absent from Paris pursuing his other interests for more than half his tenure; in this he demonstrated the great trust that he had in St Paul by leaving him in charge of this most sensitive of legations. His Majesty’s Government also demonstrated its approval of St Paul by appointing him Minister Plenipotentiary in 1776. Regrettably HM Treasury was not especially generous in his allowance and St Paul was obliged to expend his own monies “to support that decency and appearance which is expected of the representative of a great nation”.

The time in Paris had one pleasant outcome. On 5 February 1774, Horace St Paul married Anne Weston at the Embassy Chapel; his bride was 17 years his junior. Although initially Anne was to complain to her confidantes that “We are penniless,” the marriage was happy and she gave her husband three sons and a daughter.

After his success in Paris, as judged by London, St Paul was appointed Envoy Extraordinary to the Swedish Court in Stockholm on 23 October 1776. He took this role only for a year but finally had to give it up because he could not afford it – though the excuse that he offered was the effect of the climate on the health of his wife.

The diplomatic career of St Paul is comprehensively recorded in George Grey Butler, Horace St Paul of Ewart Soldier and Diplomat (London: St Catherine Press, 1911).

Retirement to Private Life in Northumberland

St Paul now settled with Anne to country pursuits and to raise his family at Ewart House, near Wooler in Northumberland, which property he had purchased from his unmarried brother in 1775.

Horace St Paul’s saddle-furniture, with his coat of arms

His public service, however, was not yet at an end. In 1798, during the Revolutionary Wars he raised the Cheviot Rangers of 4 companies of infantry for local defence. After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in 1803 this force was renamed the Royal Cheviot Legion and augmented to 4 troops of cavalry and 10 companies of infantry making a total of 810 men of which St Paul was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel-Commandant.

Aged 83, Horace St Paul died peacefully with his wife and children at his bedside on 16 April 1812. He was interred in a vault beneath the Western Apse of Doddington Church, which hosts a fine memorial to his career. His wife Anne now rests beside him having died aged 92 on 5 August 1838.

The London Gazette of 15 September 1812 records that, in token of St Paul’s many services: “The Prince Regent on behalf of His Majesty grants that the title of Count shall devolve to his children.”


Some people may wish note similarities between the early career of Horace St Paul and a certain character of fiction known as Barry Lyndon. In this context, it may be of interest to note that Henry Chowell Cooper, a grandson of Horace St Paul, was at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1828. A certain William Makepeace Thackeray was also briefly at Trinity College at about that time.

My work with Horace St Paul has brought me into contact with several of his descendants, in America, in Canada and in England. I thank them, and in particular Francis Brennan, for encouraging my interest in their ancestor. The Northumberland County Archives now at Ashington have a fine selection of his papers which have proved invaluable in constructing the second volume of his campaigns that takes the story up to 1760. I am also pleased to acknowledge the interest of Phiona Stoughton, who fell in love with the portrait of Horace St Paul, and of Andrew Lumley, who was fortunate enough to purchase the horse furniture of the Count. A reproduction of the portrait and photographs of the horse furniture illustrate this note.

Neil Cogswell March 2017

Lobositz to Leuthen. Horace St Paul and the Campaigns of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War 1756-57 can be purchased from Helion here.

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A Real-life ‘Barry Lyndon’: The Adventurous Career of Horace St Paul (Part I)

Helion author Neil Cogswell tells the story of Horace St Paul, whose extraordinary career has more than a little in common with the eponymous hero of Thackeray’s novel and its Stanley Kubrik film adaptation. Neil’s first annotated volume of St Paul’s Seven Years War journal and other papers has been published by Helion under the title Lobositz to Leuthen as the first book in our new series From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815: the second volume will be published in the autumn of 2017 as Olmütz to Torgau.


Horace St Paul in 1748

The first-born son of Robert Paul and his wife Judith, née Collins, was baptized Horatio at St Olave’s Church, Hart Street in the City of London on 17 May 1729. Horatio would be joined by five sisters, only one of whom married, and one brother – a lifelong bachelor. Robert Paul (born 1686) was a Justice of the Peace and a Fellow of the Royal Society; he was also a friend and supporter of Sir Robert Walpole through whose influence he for some time held the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of London. Horatio was so christened as a compliment to Sir Robert Walpole who had chosen that name for his first-born son. Horatio’s mother was an heiress in her own right and it was through her line that Ewart House and the estates pertaining to it entered the family.

From this privileged background, Horatio – or Horace as he was more commonly called – was destined for a career in law and entered Gray’s Inn. Like other students, Horace Paul was highly sociable and that sociability would lead to an unfortunate incident which was greatly to affect his later life. Despite using the third person in this account, Horace told that story in his own words in a memorial to accompany his letter to the King in which, in 1765, he sought pardon for the offence.

Narrative of the Unfortunate Affair Between Mr Paul and Mr Dalton

On Friday the 24th May 1751 Mr Paul in company with his sisters, Mr Blackburne, Mr Dalton and some other Ladies were at a visit at Miss Green’s. During the visit, Mr Dalton, who as it appeared afterwards made his addresses to the youngest sister, took a snuff box out of his pocket and was asked by her for a pinch of snuff. It is to be observed that this snuff box was the lady’s own, and had been taken from her a few days before by Mr Dalton to prevent her taking too much snuff. Some time after she asked Mr Paul for a pinch of snuff, and he gave her one. Some of the company saw that Mr Dalton was affected by this circumstance, but Mr Paul did not for, being ignorant of the connections formed between Mr Dalton and Miss Green, he did not expect so trifling a civility to the lady could be matter of offence to Mr Dalton.

A little after, Miss Green asked Mr Paul if he tasted her snuff, and then, at her request Mr Dalton gave Mr Paul her box and, while he held the box, Miss Green said: “Mr Paul, as you are my friend, you’ll keep it.” Upon this Mr Dalton said he was sure that Mr Paul would give it again to the person from whom he had it. Mr Paul, not from opposition, but merely in gaiety and complaisance, replied that he must preferably obey the Lady’s command. Upon this, Mr Dalton sprung from his chair with an air of great anger, which Mr Paul could not account for, and attempted to wrest from him the box as he sat in his chair. Mr Paul continued sitting, and the struggle that ensued was conducted on the part of Mr Dalton with so much vehemence and indecorum, that the treatment Mr Paul received amounted nearly to blows, so that the Ladies were sufficiently alarmed to interpose and desire Mr Paul to give it up. He did so, and said to Mr Dalton: “Since you make a serious affair of it, there it is.” Mr Paul though it necessary some acknowledgement should be made for what had passed, and, in this persuasion as soon as he could, he took the resolution of calling at Mr Dalton’s house and sending for him, who, it was natural to suppose, upon reflection would have been inclined to make that sort of verbal acknowledgement, which was all that Mr Paul wanted.

That Mr Dalton was conscious his behaviour to Mr Paul had been such as he might expect to be called upon for an explanation of is apparent from the conversation that passed between Mr Dalton and Mr Blackburne at the Braunds-head Tavern, where those gentlemen retired upon leaving the Ladies. Mr Blackburne there told Mr Dalton that he was sorry for what had passed, but hoped nothing further would come of it. Mr Dalton replied that he hoped so too, but said that Mr Paul could not but take notice of it, and added that he would not ask his pardon. He went on and asked Mr Blackburne whether upon being called upon by Mr Paul, his courage would be questioned if he desired a day to settle his affairs. He consulted Mr Blackburne whether it was better for him to fight with Pistols or with Swords.

Mr Blackburne told him that he thought it better to make use of swords, for with pistols both parties were often killed and that with swords one if not both generally escaped. Mr Dalton then drew his sword, tried it on the table, and said: “I will receive Paul’s thrust with my left hand, and depend upon one I shall make with my right.”

Mr Paul and Mr Dalton met at Mr Dalton’s house, in consequence of being sent to by Mr Paul. When Mr Dalton came into the room to Mr Paul, he instantly said: “I know it cannot be avoided, I told Blackburne so,” and added “if you will, we will do it here,” and proposed to make use of pistols, to which Mr Paul agreed; but Mr Dalton said pistols did not signify, or words to that effect, and saying something about mourning swords being generally bad, proposed going upstairs to change his, and asked Mr Paul if he would do the same, who said it was indifferent to him, on which Mr Dalton observing that Mr Paul’s sword was as bad as his own, desisted.

Mr Dalton was the first that drew his sword, and bending it upon the ground, he measured blades with Mr Paul. Mr Paul declares that he himself acted chiefly upon the defensive, that in moving about the room a table on which candles stood was thrown down and the candles put out, whereupon Mr Dalton went out of the room and brought in another lighted candle. About this time, Mr Paul says they heard a great knocking at the door, which Mr Dalton said was somebody come to prevent them, and went out of the room and gave directions that nobody should be let in, and then returned. Mr Dalton pressed very hard upon Mr Paul, who very soon thought that he had wounded Mr Dalton in his sword arm, and desired him to desist, saying: “I am afraid that you are wounded,” but Mr Dalton, still pressing upon him, received another wound and staggered and fell. Upon this Mr Paul dropped his sword and ran for the surgeons.

If the unfortunate Mr Paul, by anything above recited, has offended against the letter of the Law, he hopes the warmth and inexperience of a young man, not much above twenty years old, acting under the prejudices of custom and the laws of honour, may be some excuse and entitle him to compassion, and he hopes farther that it appears that the unhappy method of the deciding the dispute was not what he wished or meant to insist on, but, that the least acknowledgement on the part of Mr Dalton would have avoided it.


Despairing of the possible outcome of this unfortunate affair, when the Coroner directed that he should stand trial for wilful murder, Horace Paul fled to France, where he had spent some time the previous year. The Duc de Penthièvre acted as his host, and in his company he met many distinguished persons including Prince Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands and the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa the Empress Queen of Austria.

During this time of banishment Horace adopted as his surname the form St Paul that was long dormant in his family but more familiar to French and Flemish ears and was probably more acceptable in the circles in which he moved. During this time, he also received a substantial allowance from his father.

To be Continued in Part II…

Neil Cogswell, March 2017

Lobositz to Leuthen. Horace St Paul and the Campaigns of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War 1756-57 can be purchased from Helion here.

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Mosul, Britain and Oil

By Martin Gibson

When I began researching Britain and oil during and after the First World War, it did not occur to me that Mosul – an important place in my story – would be making headline news as the book was about to go into print. The forces of the Iraqi government and its allies are currently battling to take the city of Mosul from ISIS.

The First World War was not a war for oil, but it demonstrated the vital need for oil. The development of aircraft, tanks, trucks and submarines and a move from coal to oil as the main fuel of warships meant that demand for oil increased greatly during the war. The Allies – supplied by the USA – had far more oil than their opponents, leading Lord Curzon (a member of the War Cabinet) to claim just after the war that ‘he might say that the Allies floated to victory upon a wave of oil.’ There was a time in 1917 when supplies were very tight, but the crisis was overcome.

US supplies could not, however, be relied upon in future. The USA might not be friendly and there were fears, which proved to be unfounded, that its reserves would soon run out. This made Britain and other countries realise that they needed secure supplies of oil.

The most obvious place to obtain these was the province of Mosul – part of the Ottoman Empire in 1914. Its proximity to the British-owned Persian oilfields and oil seepages left little doubt that it contained huge oil reserves, although this was not confirmed until a major discovery was made near Kirkuk in 1927.

Mosul was captured by British forces right at the end of the war. Protection of its Persian oilfields, pipeline and refinery were key reasons (though not the only ones) why Britain sent an expeditionary force to Basra in 1914. Oil, however, became much less important as the Mesopotamian Campaign progressed – only to become significant again at the end when British forces (which had been inactive for some time) pushed forward to take Mosul.

Little of the oil that has subsequently been discovered in the-then British Empire could have been exploited with 1914 technology. France and Italy had no oil. The USA wanted new sources to replace the oil that it had supplied during the war. Mosul and its oil thus became an important issue at the post-war peace conferences.

It is sometimes claimed that during the war Britain gave Mosul and its oil to France in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. In fact, Sykes-Picot gave France the city of Mosul, but Britain was to receive about half the province of Mosul and the potential oilfields – including Kirkuk. Britain’s objectives at the post-war peace conferences included control of an Iraq that contained all of the province of Mosul and its oil.

Just after the war, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau agreed to a request by his British counterpart, David Lloyd George, that Britain should have all of Mosul. Uncertainty about what the French wanted in return meant that it was some time before it was agreed that Britain should control Iraq (including Mosul) under a League of Nations Mandate, with the French receiving a stake in the oil.

Anglo-American relations were poor after the war –  one of the reasons being US fears that Britain was trying to shut it out of the global oil market. The British eventually realised that the physical control of oilfields was more important than ownership of companies, so allowed US companies a stake in Mosul’s oil. This created a model for the Middle Eastern oil industry, with oilfields being exploited by consortiums of Western companies. Iraq was governed by a pro-British Arab government under King Feisal, whose heirs remained on the throne until a coup in 1958 made Iraq a republic.

Britain’s Quest For Oil. The First World War and the Peace Conferences can be purchased from Helion here.

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Daring All Things: Rev. George Kendall OBE – The ‘Unknown Warrior’

Tim Kendall’s grandfather, the Reverend George Kendall OBE, famously ensured The Unknown Soldier’s safe passage to England to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

Here, Tim reflects on his efforts to bring his grandfather’s autobiography – Daring All Things – to a modern audience.

I have found it difficult to take on board the enormity of my grandfather’s experience of life since I came across this book, neatly typed in a dusty box in my aunty’s attic a few years ago: the autobiography of George Kendall OBE, ominously titled Daring All Things.

My grandfather had seldom talked about the past to my father David, who was born in 1935 when he was already 53. My father’s generation are now the last direct link to the First World War; it was their fathers and uncles who fought and died. However, in his introduction to the book, my father explains how my grandfather ‘lived in the present’ and seldom spoke about any of his past experiences. Luckily, he went one better and left his life story in words for us all…

What followed was a prolonged period of reading and researching. It took some time because his life (described in 28 chapters) encompassed a broad sweep of British history between 1881 and 1961. His opening words describe: ‘…a period full of upheavals, many of which were sudden and violent and of which many will pass in history as the greatest in mankind…’. As Cardinal Vincent Nichols describes in his insightful foreword to one of the chapters: ‘It is astonishing how Kendall had a front-row seat at some of the most significant moments in British history’.

I had to dust off my history books and join the dots of history I recalled from my school education. Such is the continuity of what we might call ‘The British establishment’, it became useful to meet with the equivalent national leaders today in order to get a feel for my grandfather’s reach of influence and the assistance that he could call on in pursuit of his pious mission: to practically and spiritually help the poor and – as a military chaplain – the injured soldiers in war and peace, and to bury all their dead reverently (whoever they may be). A number of the national leaders I met from the Christian clergy, Parliament, journalism and War studies also contributed forewords to selected chapters of the book in order to record their reflections on the man they encounter within.

My grandfather was very much an ‘Unknown Warrior’ and the bombing of the National Archives during the Second World War – together with a large bonfire in his garden after he died – made the research more taxing. However, amongst the records at the Metropolitan Archives in London; back copies of Methodist and national newspapers; TIME U.S. Magazine; on the wall of a church in South Wales; and on a pilgrimage courtesy of BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow WW1 special to the battlefields he served, I found corroboration (and more often) an expansion on his extraordinary claims.

In this modern era of easy access to the internet and sites like Wikipedia, I found it useful to ‘in an instant’ be able read on my phone more about the over 300 names he mentions and encounters in the book – some more obscure today than others. Many have no footprint at all now, but the 100 or so whose lives are still documented inspire awe. Together, these men and women did so much to both win the two World Wars and create modern Britain (at least until the 1960s when new generations and powers took hold).

On Remembrance Day in 2014, The Guardian published this article written by Maev Kennedy, who went on to also supply the foreword to the chapter ‘Sinn Fein Rising’. The article focussed on one of the key points of my grandfather’s life and the nation’s – the exhumation of the ‘Unknown Warrior’ and the first part of his hallowed journey to England in 1920. This event was only the end of the second part of his life. How he got there and what happened after is equally fascinatingly and described in parts one and three of his tale.

The readers’ comments at the end of the article are good for a laugh, which is something else you will find within the book (despite its often horrific content); it was something my grandfather continued to do until the day he died from a sudden heart attack in 1961 aged 79 – just a few months after he finally completed Daring All Things. It was truly his life -story.

Daring All Things. The Autobiography of George Kendall 1881-1961 is available for purchase from Helion here.

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Exclusive Interview: Blood in the Forest author Vincent Hunt

Which period of history and specific events does your book Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket cover?

The Courland Pocket covered six battles between October 1944 and May 1945 in western Latvia, but my journey through its battlefields explains its context. The Pocket was a bloody endgame to the struggle between Fascism and Communism on Latvian soil in which both sides occupied the country and brutalized its population.

What motivated you to write about your chosen subject?

As a journalist interested in history, I felt there was a lack of a personal human account of that time, which reflected the twists and turns and agonizing episodes of Latvian history. My wife is Latvian and I found that through friends and family, I had access to stories I wasn’t hearing anywhere else. Once I began actively researching the Courland Pocket I discovered that virtually the whole nation had been affected by that period.

What research did you have to undertake, what sources did you utilise and over what time-frame?

It took me about two-and-a-half years and several trips across the region. I interviewed historians and archivists in all the towns and cities caught up in the Courland Pocket conflict and read and researched many books about the military movements – all the while looking for survivors who had been there. I found them through word of mouth and with the help of museum directors and history enthusiasts in the country towns and villages. It is a sensitive topic and memories are still very raw. Many families had parents or grandparents deported and most people I spoke to had family members who fought on one side or another.

The author travelled to Latvia several times to meet veterans from the Latvian Legion who fought in the Courland Pocket. Here he interviews two former soldiers and a former partisan living in the town of Kuldiga

Of all the military engagements in history, what is it about this particular one that excited your interest?

What happened in the Courland Pocket was on the same level and at the same intensity as what happened on the Western Front. The military onslaught and scale of force used is absolutely mind-blowing, yet there are very few books about this time.  The casualty figures for the Red Army are breathtaking – and heart-breaking. So many died for so little gain. Perhaps because Latvia was occupied by the Soviets for 50 years, the Courland Pocket itself has had little detailed research conducted into it on the ground. There are accounts of the military movements but all too often the overview is of ‘the Baltics’, whereas this is specifically a Latvian story, told by Latvians. There are still shell casings on the ground in some areas.

What is the biggest misconception your book challenges?

The biggest misconception about the Courland Pocket is that it didn’t matter. It very much mattered. An independent country was abandoned by Western politicians who didn’t want to stand up to Stalin.

What do you think will surprise people in Blood in the Forest?

That ‘Crocodile Dundee’ was actually one of three brothers who fought in these battles, from a village called Dundaga. He survived the war and escaped to Germany. Then he went to Australia where he started a new life hunting crocodiles. When that was banned, he opened a shop in an opal mine and turned it into a tourist attraction. His two brothers weren’t so lucky. One was killed and the other ended up in Siberia.

What will the casually interested reader take from it and what is there to excite academics?

For the casual reader, this is a travelogue through a country they may have never thought of visiting. It’s a journey in chronological order through beautiful countryside and charming villages that hide secrets from 70 years ago. The carnage that happened here was unbelievable, but the passing traveller would never know. There is much here for those interested in the final months of the war and for those interested in the heroes and specific engagements of this slight hiccup in the Red Army’s assault on Berlin.

For academics, there is much that is new here including accounts from survivors from these battles that have never been told before in English; archive material that was translated from Latvian into English for this book; and research into the stories of the dead in the Soviet cemeteries. There is an account of the Popervale Jewish concentration camp in Courland by Holocaust survivor Margers Vestermanis that has never been told before in English; also the story of his escape and survival in the forests as a partisan, which is new too.

What are your plans for the launch of your book?

I am planning to have a book launch in Latvia and to celebrate the men and women who told their stories for this book, as some will now be quite elderly. These are their stories. I would be happy to talk about my book and my research in the UK and elsewhere.

Tell us about previous books and papers you have written, or lectures you have given.

My first book Fire and Ice was a journalistic travelogue/eye witness account of the scorched earth destruction of Arctic Norway by the Nazis as they retreated from the Red Army in October 1944. I spoke at several literary festivals in the UK and to Norwegian and history groups, and also did a series of author talks along the East coast of the USA.

What are your longer-term plans going forward? Do you have another book in the pipeline or any other research projects?

Once the post-war partisan resistance was smashed by the Soviet regime, this period in Latvian history was followed by 50 years of occupation and the surveillance of the population by the KGB. I’m currently researching the significant role the KGB and its predecessors played in Latvian society and history.

Tell us about your academic background (where you studied and any qualifications gained).

I have been a journalist for many years and had a 25-year career with BBC Radio, making many award-winning programmes. I apply my journalistic story-telling, interviewing and research techniques to my writing – seeking to explain events but also to describe the process of story-telling, to bring the landscapes and the process of discovery to life for readers.

Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket is available to pre-order here.

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Amid tales of Courland slaughter, one who survived – Crocodile Dundee

By Vincent Hunt

Blood in the Forest is the story of the Courland Pocket – a series of apocalyptic battles between the Red Army and German and Latvian forces in the final stages of the Second World War.

The author crosses modern Courland – western Latvia – gathering eye-witness accounts of each of the six battles. Many of these stories have never been told before in English. Holocaust survivor Margers Vestermanis describes life and death in the rarely-known Popervale Jewish concentration camp and machine gunners who won Iron Crosses describe the slaughter they witnessed.

An elderly historian produces handwritten papers detailing atrocities committed against civilians and a young girl who fled Riga clinging to the last truck out of the city describes how she later returned as President.

The German and Latvian forces retreating from the Eastern Front were cut off in Courland in September 1944; the Pocket proper began with the first battle in October. Red Army artillery, aircraft and tanks pounded the defences as Nazi troops fought to keep escape routes open through the Baltic port of Liepāja.

The Latvians in Courland were fighting for the survival of their nation, and to prevent the Red Army returning after the deportations and deaths of the Soviet occupation in 1940-41, which they called ‘The Terrible Year’. But there were Latvians in the Red Army too; some willingly, others pressed into service as the Soviets freed the east of the country.

The fighting was savage. Red Army soldiers ordered to attack by pistol-brandishing NKVD officers were mown down by machine guns until the piles of dead lay so deep the gunners had to find new positions. In the Christmas Battles of 1944 Latvians were in the frontlines on either side. Sometimes brother fought brother: the episode has scarred the nation ever since.

This is a journalistic travelogue through an area and a history the casual reader may have never thought of visiting, which sheds new light on one of the final frontiers of the Second World War.

In the forests the author visits a ghost village bombed into oblivion and its inhabitants deported to Siberia. The graveyard was used for target practice by Soviet pilots for decades after the war. Now villagers have erected a sign at its entrance which reads: ‘Sorry we could not protect you.’

The place where this hellish struggle, and the Second World War came to an end is marked by a slate plaque (pictured above) at a ruined church in the middle of nowhere.

It reads:

‘In this place in May 1945 the victorious Soviet Army accepted the capitulation of the defeated Fascist troops’.

Below that is a quote from Latvian poet Eizhen Veveris:

‘Only the memory of victory remains. Too much blood was shed for it.’

There were few celebrations on the Latvian side when the war ended. It was just the beginning of another period of suffering. Those who couldn’t escape were either deported to Siberia or had an alien peace imposed upon them. They weren’t free to grieve: enormous statues to their liberators were erected (sometimes over monuments to their own dead).

One of those who did escape (first to Germany, then to Australia) was the real-life Crocodile Dundee – former Legionnaire Arvīds Blūmentāls from the Courland village of Dundaga. A statue commemorates him today – a symbol of the diaspora, disruption and distress caused by the war.

Even 70 years later, the war is not over for some. The brave officers of the Latvian Army bomb squad are still clearing up the munitions. Teams of volunteer ‘diggers’ track down and recover the fallen from their battlefield graves and the descendants of those who died there are still trying to find answers to their questions.

Blood in the Forest is a journey in chronological battle order through beautiful countryside and charming villages that hide secrets from 70 years ago in a nation still not completely at ease with its own history. The carnage that happened here was unbelievable, but the passing traveller would never know.

Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket is available to pre-order here.

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War in the Age of Victoria, 19th Century South African Campaigns: Remember Majuba!

By John Laband

The victory of Boer irregulars over regular British troops at Majuba Hill in South Africa on 27 February 1881 had repercussions far greater than the scale of the battle itself.

Majuba did more than validate Boer mobile mounted infantry tactics. It became the potent and enduring symbol of Afrikaner resistance against British imperialism in South Africa – giving them the ‘David and Goliath’ courage to take on the British Empire again in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

For the British, the ignominious rout of British troops at Majuba and the death of their commander, Major General Sir George Pomeroy-Colley, was the conclusive debacle in the uniformly disastrous Transvaal campaign of 1880-1881, fought against the Boers who were rebelling against the British annexation of their republic in 1877. The British government consequently restored the Boers their independence and – for the time being – gave up their plans for wider control over South Africa.

General Colley on Majuba attempting to rally his men moments before he was shot. Melton Prior’s pencil sketch was based on eye-witness accounts. [Collection of Ian Knight].

Yet Majuba and the Transvaal Campaign were not entirely negative for the late Victorian British army. They gave it its first staggering experience of modern warfare and signalled the need for it to reassess its training and tactics. It was also a defeat to be avenged. At the Battle of Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899 (the opening engagement of the Anglo-Boer War) Ian Hamilton, a survivor of Colley’s disaster, urged on his men with the cry: “Remember Majuba!”

The Battle of Majuba was thus undeniably of considerable significance, but I had not always grasped that. As a child, when we drove on holiday from Johannesburg to the seaside at Durban, the old road then passed below the hulking bulk of Majuba, on what had been in 1881 the border between the Transvaal and Natal. My parents vaguely told me of a battle once fought there, but the tale made little impression. Later in the 1970s, when I was undertaking considerable field work for the first of my series of books on aspects of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, I often passed by Majuba but I took little notice of it since it was associated with the ‘wrong’ war. In time, though, I came to appreciate how closely the Transvaal Rebellion was tied into a series of wars the British waged in southern Africa between 1877 and 1879, in order to bring about the confederation of the subcontinent under the Crown. I recently wrote about that in Zulu Warriors: The Battle for the South African Frontier (Yale University Press, 2014).

Moreover, my interest in Majuba was earlier piqued when in 1996 the post-apartheid government appointed me the Chairperson of the Voortrekker Museum in Pietermaritzburg which, until 2000, administered the Majuba battlefield. My responsibilities entailed visits to the site and a growing familiarity with its environs. In more recent years I have been conscious that – despite its significance – the battle of Majuba is being written out of the national narrative of the ‘new’ South Africa and that there is now a real need to ‘remember Majuba’.

I was extremely pleased, therefore, when I was invited to contribute a book on the Battle of Majuba to Helion’s new Warfare in the Age of Victoria series under the editorship of Christopher Brice. Not only does this give me the opportunity to explain why Majuba should not be forgotten, but it also allows me to explore further my interest in the disparate records of British commanders in South Africa at that time.

Some, like Sir Garnet Wolseley, were successful in 1879 during the latter stages of the Anglo-Zulu War and the Second Anglo-Pedi War. Others, like Sir Arthur Cunynghame in the Ninth Cape Frontier War of 1877–1878, were mediocre at best. Lord Chelmsford’s forces suffered some catastrophic defeats in the Anglo-Zulu War – only partially redeemed by his later victories. During the Transvaal Rebellion, Sir George Colley led his unfortunate troops to three successive defeats and ultimately paid for these fiascos with his life.

Basing my investigation on both British and Boer contemporary sources, such as newspapers, articles and books; on original sources in various archives in South Africa and in Britain; and on the handful of later histories of the war in both English and Afrikaans, I see it as my main challenge to explain why Colley so singularly failed in his command.

I argue that it was partly on account of the military culture in which he operated. I have addressed the contrasting military organizations and cultures of the two sides so as to clarify how a Boer citizen militia with no formal training, but that handled modern small arms with lethal effect and expertly employed fire and movement tactics, had the advantage over professional – but hidebound – British soldiers.

But there is more to it than that. I have also had to take into account the closely interlocked operational and political contexts of the Transvaal campaign. Thus a British field commander such as Colley – already mired in the period’s poisonously factional politics of military command – also found his conduct of military operations subject to the close supervision and the interference of his superiors in London at the other end of the telegraph wire. His strategic objective was to break through the Boer positions holding the passes between Natal and the Transvaal and to relieve the scattered British garrisons blockaded by the Boers. However, when he failed to do so, his alarmed government instructed him to cease operations and open peace negotiations with the Boers.

To explain what happened next, I had to try and understand Colley himself. A highly talented staff officer holding his first independent command, he was determined to retrieve his tattered military reputation with a dramatic stroke. He side-stepped his orders and – in an attempt to outflank the Boer positions and open the way to the Transvaal – seized the summit Majuba with disastrous consequences, both for him and his troops, and for the British cause in the Transvaal.

The Battle of Majuba Hill. The Transvaal Campaign, 1880-81 (part of the Warfare in the Age of Victoria series) is available to pre-order here.

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Great War: The Battle of Arras – the Overlooked Campaign

By Jim Smithson

Having spent many years visiting the Great War battlefields and being fascinated by the subject, I was always puzzled by the apparent lack of material on the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917.  Whilst still working in Germany with British Forces’ schools, I began some research into the battles (the campaign is split into several separate smaller elements) around that city. When the opportunity arose to take early retirement from my post as Deputy Headteacher, I decided the time was ripe for an additional work on the subject and ‘A Taste of Success’ was born.

It soon became apparent that as well as a dearth of material on the subject, much of the early work on the period had faults and had perpetuated myths that carried down into the present century. I also began to perceive a reason for the battles being less studied than those it was sandwiched between – namely The Somme and 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). The general line of argument was that after a highly successful first day (including the longest advance in a single day of any unit since trench warfare had begun), mud and bad weather stopped the attack and it turned into the typical slog seen in 1916. Thus, it was not perceived as a particularly ‘interesting’ campaign to those that mattered at the time and this view has persisted.

Battle of the Scarpe. British cavalry resting alongside the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917. [Imperial War Museum]

My research within primary material from British, Canadian and German sources gave me a detailed look at the first six days of the Battle of Arras (the period I wished to concentrate upon). Comprehensive planning for the first day (9th April 1917) led to many successes; the best known being the almost complete taking of Vimy Ridge by mainly Canadian forces on the first day.

Elsewhere, one British division, the 4th, successfully passed through another, the 9th, in a hitherto unknown manoeuvre – leading to that famous longest advance. That said, things began to go wrong even on that first day and the 10th of April was a fiasco; much of which was put down to not being able to get artillery and supplies forward. On closer examination, I found that this view arose because of reports that had filtered down from higher level commanders both at the time and in post war analyses, which in many ways hid the truth of what had happened. Poor weather certainly played its part but so did the ineptitude of some senior leaders and their staff in their handling of events after the first day.

I have attempted to give the book a dual role. On the one hand, it gives a background to the Battle of Arras from early French battles around the city, the political context, lessons that had been learned from the battles on the Somme and the planning and narrative of the first part of the battle itself. On the other hand, by careful and critical analysis of some of the command decisions, it tries to show that serious errors of judgement were made. Many of these errors were either not recognised at the time or simply hidden in reports of difficulties due to not being able to get artillery forward or similar logistical problems.

The Official History volume dedicated mainly to the Battle of Arras even goes as far as to put the blame on the troops and junior leaders in their inability to cope when speedy decisions were required. I feel I have thoroughly discredited this analysis in my book – demonstrating instead that those men performed admirably when given the conditions to do so. This is not a ‘lions led by donkeys’ approach, however. Problems in command are discussed in the context of the phenomenal growth of the British Army and consequently, the problems of finding suitable commanders and staff officers in the required numbers.

I hope that the publication of ‘A Taste of Success’ will lead to more interest in this pivotal battle in the development of the British Army of the Great War. Work has already begun on a comprehensive guide to the battles around Arras throughout the whole war to be published in 2018 – adding to the meagre offerings available at present for the battlefield visitor to the area.

A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, April 1914-17 can be pre-ordered here.

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English Civil War: Researching ‘Cromwell’s Buffoon’, Regicide Thomas Pride

By Robert Hodkinson

Detail of a facsimile of Charles I’s death warrant, showing Pride’s signature and seal. [State Library Victoria]

Colonel Thomas Pride is a paradox among prominent English Civil War figures. As the driving force behind ‘Pride’s Purge’, he was responsible for the forcible exclusion of moderate MPs from parliament in December 1648, which led directly to the trial and execution of King Charles I (whose death warrant Colonel Pride signed).


It was a pivotal moment in British history; because of it Pride’s name appears in nearly all general histories of the Civil War. Yet despite his presence at this and other key events of the period – and here comes the paradox – very little is known of this man’s personal history. It was that lack of factual information about one of Charles I’s most forceful Regicides that Cromwell’s Buffoon set out to remedy.

Pride caricatured as an illiterate labourer, from a pack of Restoration playing cards. [Guildhall Library]

Where or how to begin researching a relatively unknown historical figure was problematic. Many modern historians take their cue from the brief biographies that littered the latter seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, wherein Pride is ridiculed as “an ignorant, illiterate fellow” and derided for being Cromwell’s obedient dogsbody: “a useful man to Cromwell in all his projects . . .a buffoon to him”.

The opinion of Regicides was never favourable in the years following the Restoration (it is a truism that history is written by the victors). Yet even the most cursory view of Civil War military history reveals that Colonel Pride was at the forefront of many actions – the only Parliamentarian officer to command a foot regiment at both Naseby and Dunbar. Using references in Ian Gentles’ entry for Pride in the Dictionary of National Biography, I pieced together scraps of information about Pride, which slowly evolved into a life story.

Detail of a plan of the Battle of Naseby, showing Pride’s command [National Army Museum]

Fifteen years ago, reconstructing the biography of a man in this way – almost from scratch – would have been a great deal more difficult. Many of the sources used to research Cromwell’s Buffoon are now readily accessible online or can be located through online databases. Digitised parish registers, searchable through, were invaluable in retracing Pride’s family tree, which allowed me to unravel its numerous strands and confirm the dynastic links between Pride’s family and those of other dominant figures of the period: by marrying his children to the nieces and nephews of Oliver Cromwell and General Monck, Pride was able to consolidate his place in the Protectorate establishment.

PhD theses were also a resource that would not have been so easily available a few years ago. Digitised and published online by various universities, their areas of study ranged from the London Militia (in which Pride served his military apprenticeship) to the rising influence of religious nonconformity and the examination of Royalist and Restoration satires that did much to defame Pride’s character following his death. Access to such varied and closely-examined subjects provided a closer perspective on many aspects of Pride’s life than had been possible before.

Engraving of Westminster, after Wenceslaus Hollar, showing St. James’s Palace where Pride’s regiment was quartered during 1649/50. [Government Art Collection]

Online resources – such as those available through the University of London’s British History Online website – allow a much more thorough study of historical documents than a few hours in a reading room would have once permitted. These sources provided details of Pride’s political role in the late 1640s and 50s, and helped uncover details missing from previous accounts of Pride’s career: his role in choreographing Cromwell’s inauguration as Protector, for example, or that St. James’ palace was converted into a barracks for his regiment – not long after they had helped bring about Charles I’s execution.

The wealth of primary sources held at the National Archives provided a good deal of research material, without which Colonel Pride’s personal history would have been far less complete. Details of his military career, as well as information on many of those who fought alongside him, can be traced through Army pay records in the Exchequer Papers. Records of Court of Chancery Papers provide a narrative of a family’s decline after the death of Pride and the fall of the Protectorate.

The scarcity of facts about Colonel Pride’s life (the church registers that recorded his baptism are lost and there is no record of his burial place) necessitated reconstructing his life from disparate sources. The process of extracting the colonel’s life story from the historical record inadvertently helped shed light on other aspects on mid-seventeenth century warfare. A closer inspection of his regiment’s role in conflicts of the mid-1650s, for example, has shown that the men under his command were engaged in the Glencairn uprising in Scotland (itself a little-known campaign) while at the same time manning warships in the First Dutch War – effectively fighting on two fronts some 600 miles apart. Knowing of Pride’s role as a hospital governor during the Dutch War prompted research into the Savoy Hospital in London, where I discovered references of post-traumatic stress among the soldiers who were being treated there.

Researching Cromwell’s Buffoon demanded a breadth of sources and has revealed Colonel Pride to be a more nuanced figure than hitherto thought. His youth as an apprentice among the London puritans and, later, his consolidation of power in the Protectorate, convinced me that here was a historical figure that was able to draw together different strands of Civil War history. Cromwell’s Buffoon is a political and social history as well as a military biography.

The research process was exciting and a pleasure to undertake and it is a joy to be able to bring to a modern reader the story of a man and soldier whose life had – to a great extent –  largely disappeared from history.

Cromwell’s Buffoon. The Life and Career of the Regicide Thomas Pride (part of the Century of the Soldier series) is available to purchase here.

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