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.

Posted in Century of the Soldier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Author interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 .

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.



Posted in Century of the Soldier | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 as well as from Amazon and all good bookshops.

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British author’s book gathers true stories of the bloodshed of Latvia’s Kurzemes katls

Press launch: Monday June 19, 1600 at Occupation Museum, Riga. Raina bulvaris 7. Contact Liga Strazda.

A multi award-winning British documentary journalist will launch a remarkable book about the carnage of the Second World War in Latvia at the Occupation Museum in Riga on Monday June 19 at 1600.

Former BBC documentary journalist turned university lecturer Vincent Hunt crossed Kurzeme several times gathering stories from veterans, survivors and experts for his new book Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocketpublished by Helion & Company.

The book tells in vivid detail what the six battles between October 1944 and May 1945 in Western Latvia were actually like, as the battle between Fascism and Communism reached its bloody endgame.

“The fighting in the Kurzemes katls was relentless and brutal, on an unimaginable scale,” says Hunt – a former BBC World Service producer who lives in Manchester, UK, with his Latvian wife, Daiga. “It was a turning point for the Latvian nation, with Latvians fighting on both sides – often press-ganged into both armies. Sometimes brothers faced each other across the battlefield.

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

‘With the help of historians and military enthusiasts, I crossed western Latvia, finding people who had been there and listened to their accounts of what happened not only then, but also afterwards.”

Hunt’s book begins in Riga and crosses the battlefields west to Liepaja via Pilsblidene, Dzukste, the cemetery of national remembrance at Lestene and the remarkable Courland Pocket museum in Zante, returning via Jurkalne, Ventspils, Kuldiga and Tukums – charting the resistance of the Rubenis battalion, the massacre at Zlekas and the exodus to Gotland. He also visits the Soviet war cemeteries in Priekule and Dobele and the German cemetery at Saldus and explores the difficulty Latvia has had honouring its own war dead.

Among his interviewees are the former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga whose family fled as refugees, eminent Holocaust historian Margers Vestermanis, who escaped into the forests from a concentration camp death march and became a partisan, Lestene bralu kapi commemorative statue sculptor Arta Dumpe, who was rescued from the front line by Legionnaires, and several veterans who won Iron Crosses in the fighting.

Taken from ‘The Latvian Crocodile Hunter in Australia’, published by Sauleskrasts (Brisbane, 1957)

“Every Latvian family has its war stories, but one of those who escaped was Arvīds Blūmentāls – the real-life Crocodile Dundee,” adds Hunt. “His fate symbolises a generation of Latvians cast to the winds by the war. Vast numbers were killed and the choices for survivors were stark: many fled to the West to avoid Soviet captivity, which meant years in Siberian labour camps. Those who stayed accepted life under the new regime.”

Duncan Rogers, Publisher at Helion & Company said: “What happened in the Kurzemes katls – known in the West as the Courland Pocket – was on the same level and at the same intensity as on the Western Front. The military onslaught and scale of force used is mind-blowing, with breathtaking casualty figures, yet Vince is one of only a handful of authors to have taken on the monumental task of researching this period.

Blood in the Forest is also a fantastic travelogue through a country readers may never have thought of visiting, uncovering the 70-year-old hidden secrets behind the beautiful countryside and charming villages.”

Blood in the Forest is Hunt’s second historical travelogue. His first, Fire and Ice (History Press, 2014) is a journey across Arctic Norway gathering accounts of the Nazi’s scorched earth destruction and forced evacuation of the north of the country in 1944.

Blood in the Forest. The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket is available for purchase from

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entries invited: Bill Braham Memorial Essay Competition

The Pike and Shot Society, in conjunction with Helion and Company, are very pleased to announce the inauguration of the annual Bill Braham Memorial Essay Writing Competition.

The Pike and Shot Society is an international organisation promoting the study of the military history of the Renaissance and Early Modern world. For the Society, these are the years 1400 to 1721 (approximately from the introduction of early firearms to the abandonment of the pike as a front-line weapon). The Society is run entirely by, and for the benefit of, its members.

Bill Braham was the Society‘s Librarian who sadly passed away in July 2016. To many who knew Bill, he can be described in every sense of the word as a true polymath, a Renaissance man – truly a Gentleman – and a stalwart friend. A big part of Bill’s life was his passion for history, of which he had an extensive knowledge, and particularly the English Civil War. He read books on every aspect and detail.

A visit to a battle site with Bill was a revelation; a history lesson that brought a muddy field to life. This passion for history also led to a house so full of books that you could hardly move (we won’t mention the storage unit!). Beneficiaries for part of his collection have been the National Army Museum, which received his outstanding collection of American War of Independence books, and the Pike and Shot Society – thus fulfilling his role as the Society’s Librarian to the end.

For us, Bill will be particularly remembered for his generosity of spirit (especially obvious when he represented the Society on the recruiting stand at shows around the country) and his dry sense of humour, sense of the absurd and encouragement of outrageous conversations.

Prizes (Supplied by the Sponsors)

First prize – £100’s worth of Helion publications and a one-year subscription to the Pike and Shot Society.

Second prize – A one-year subscription to the Pike and Shot Society.

Competition Rules

  1. All essays should be on a military topic within the defined boundaries of the Society’s research period, which is 1400 to 1721.
  2. Any essays outside this period will be rejected.
  3. The closing date for submissions will be 31 December 2017 and any entries received after this date will be entered into the next year’s competition.
  4. The result will be announced on 31 March 2018.
  5. The essay must be written and submitted on Microsoft Word.
  6. The essay must be written in English.
  7. All essays must be between 2,500 and 3,000 words long excluding references, bibliography and notes. A word count must be provided with each entry. All pages should be numbered.
  8. Any essay longer than 3,000 words will be rejected for the competition.
  9. Where a quotation is used, or author referenced, it should be marked in the text by a superscript number. These can either be referenced in end page notes or a full set of notes at the end of the essay. Notes are excluded from the word count.
  10. A list of all reference sources (book, article or online) must be provided at the end of the essay.
  11. Any evidence of plagiarism will result in the essay being disqualified from the competition.
  12. The decision of the judges will be final.
  13. The judges will not be allowed to submit any essay.
  14. On submitting the essay, the writer automatically gives permission to the Pike and Shot Society to publish the essay in the Society’s magazine (first publication rights only).
  15. On submitting the essay, the writer automatically gives permission for their contact details to be passed to Helion and Company.

In judging the competition, weight will be given to primary research and originality. Other judging criteria will include a structured approach, good grammar and syntax, as well as fluency and the ability to engage the reader.

How to Enter

Entries and full contact details for the author should be sent to the following email address:

Posted in Century of the Soldier, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did ‘dirty war’ tactics kill more guerrillas in Rhodesia than conventional military units?

Glenn Cross investigates Chemical Biological Warfare in Southern Africa

Although some nations have developed or acquired chemical or biological agents, few have ever used these weapons against their adversaries. One of the few countries ever thought to have used chemical or biological agents was Rhodesia. This small, landlocked breakaway British colony in Southern Africa used chemical and biological agents during its protracted struggle against an increasingly numerous African nationalist insurgency in the years following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in November 1965.

The genesis of the Rhodesian Chemical Biological Warfare (CBW) effort was to be found in the deteriorating security situation that developed following Mozambique’s Independence from Portuguese colonial rule after the 25 April military coup d’état in Lisbon and the subsequent ‘Carnation’ revolution. The rise of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) in Mozambique effectively forced the overstretched and under-resourced Rhodesians to defend their long land border with Mozambique – effectively a second front.

During the Rhodesian war, Rhodesian Security Forces were far better trained and equipped than their guerrilla adversaries. In a pitched battle between the Rhodesian Security Forces and guerrillas, the guerrillas usually lost. For that reason, guerrillas typically avoided contact with Rhodesia military or police units – seeking instead to ambush soft, largely civilian targets (i.e. isolated farmhouses, rural schools, district commissioners, veterinary workers and civilians travelling on the roads).

Later in the struggle, the Rhodesians (facing severe manpower and materiel shortages) adopted unconventional tactics or techniques against a foe that fled rather than fight – including the use of recruited agents to insert CBW-contaminated food, beverages, medicines and clothing into guerrilla supplies. Some of these supplies were provided to guerrilla groups inside Rhodesia; some were transported to guerrilla camps in Mozambique. In all, deaths attributed to CBW agents often exceeded the monthly guerrilla body count claimed by conventional Rhodesian military units – demonstrating the utility of CBW agents in a counterinsurgency campaign against an elusive enemy.

Although few details are known about Rhodesia’s clandestine CBW efforts, a broad-brush picture is clear. The project was born out of desperation as the conflict intensified in the mid-1970s, and was the brainchild of a professor, Robert Symington, at the University of Rhodesia’s medical school. He reportedly put forward the idea to the then-Minister of Defense, who advocated it to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister – almost certainly in consultation with his War Cabinet – delegated responsibility to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), and implementation was assigned to the Special Branch liaison component in the Selous Scouts. Although they were aware of the CBW program’s existence, the full extent to which the Rhodesian political and military leadership was involved in the effort is obscure, due to the lack of documentary material or living witnesses.

Prime Minister Ian Smith publicly denied any knowledge of the program, but almost certainly approved the program’s creation – even if he was not aware of the details of its daily operations. In December 1998, a Zimbabwe newspaper quoted Ian Smith as saying: ‘It’s a lot of rubbish. I know nothing about [such germ warfare]. They [the Rhodesian Security Forces] could have done so without my knowledge… Those saying that are giving us credit for being more creative and brilliant than what we were’.

Chief of Rhodesia’s CIO, Ken Flower, was very aware of the CBW activities, having received bi-weekly status reports on the effort from McGuinness. The police (BSAP) commissioners – first Sherren, and later, Allum – were briefed on the CBW efforts, and at least Sherren took steps to ensure that the program remained concealed. In 1977, McGuinness briefed the Combined Operations (COMOPS) – headed by Lieutenant General Peter Walls – about the CBW effort.

Rhodesian Special Forces (Selous Scout) commander Lieutenant Colonel Ron Reid-Daly also knew of the CBW effort, and many of his men were likely involved in disseminating the tainted materials. Most readily available information about the program is based on the half-truths, rumors, conjectures, anecdotes and myths that circulated around the officers’ messes and pubs frequented by members of the Rhodesian Security Forces, however.

Although little specific information remains available about the Rhodesian CBW effort, what is indisputable is that its primary purpose was to kill guerrillas – whether they were recruits transiting to camps in Mozambique, or guerrillas operating inside Rhodesia. The CBW effort took on the guerrilla threat from three fronts: first, the effort aimed to eliminate guerrillas operating inside Rhodesia through contaminated supplies, either provided by contact men, recovered from hidden caches or stolen from rural stores; a second-order effect was to disrupt the relations between village supporters and the guerrillas. Secondly, the effort worked to contaminate water supplies along guerrilla infiltration routes into Rhodesia – forcing the guerrillas either to travel through arid regions and to carry more water and less ammunition, or travel with more ammunition but move through areas patrolled by Rhodesian Security Forces.

The CBW effort was made up of a rag-tag band of amateurs, working with makeshift equipment and readily available commercial materials. They developed the means to inflict casualties on insurgent forces beyond the capabilities of Rhodesia’s professional conventional military.

The chemical and biological agents developed by this small, rudimentary program were based almost exclusively on readily available toxic agricultural and industrial chemicals including warfarin (rodenticide), thallium (rodenticide), methyl parathion (an active ingredient in several organophosphate pesticides used in Rhodesia), Vibrio cholera (the causative agent of cholera), Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax) and botulinum toxin. The Rhodesians may also have experimented with several other agents – including ricin,13 abrin, amanita toxin, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), sodium fluoroacetate (compound 1080), cyanide, arsenic and tetra colchicine [sic] – but information on those experimental agents has proven hard to substantiate.

Of those knowledgeable insiders willing to talk, all share a consistent story about Rhodesia’s development and use of chemical and biological agents during the Bush War; they even chillingly admit that chemical and biological agents were used in experiments on captured insurgents. In short, the story centres on an element of the BSAP Special Branch (attached to the Rhodesian Army’s Selous Scouts), which implemented and oversaw the Rhodesian CBW effort from mid-to-late 1976 until late 1979.

The daily operation of this limited effort fell to a small Special Branch counterterrorist unit (sometimes referred to as ‘Z Desk’ or ‘Counterterrorist Operations’) under the command of Chief Superintendent Michael ‘Mac’ McGuinness. The Rhodesian CBW program was staffed with a small number of scientists and technicians working as ‘consultants’ to the Special Branch and co-located at the Special Branch/Selous Scout ‘fort’ outside Bindura (80 km north of Salisbury). The description of these insiders is instructive; it is one of a small band of scientists and students who served their ‘call-ups’ (often as long as three months) at the Bindura ‘fort’.

The effectiveness of the Rhodesian poisons effort was constrained by its limited scope and application; the nature of the raw materials employed; and the crude dissemination methods. Nevertheless, participants in the poisons program saw it as hugely successful – at least early on. As mentioned earlier, CIO Director-General Ken Flower claimed in his autobiography that many hundreds of guerrillas were killed as a result of the poisons program; also mentioned earlier, the leadership saw the CBW effort – at least in its early days – as more effective than the conventional military. Symington echoed that sentiment. South African policeman Eugene de Kock stated: ‘This [fact] confirmed that they [killed] a lot more of the enemy by means of the food and the clothing, than what they did in [daily] operations’. Most importantly, the 1977 Special Branch briefing to COMOPS opened by stating: ‘… The true extent of our success may never be known…’ The report went on to claim 809 guerrilla deaths due to poisoning.

The most serious detriment to the project’s continuing success was the guerrillas’ eventual discovery of the program’s activities, which made dissemination of poisoned items more difficult, as guerrillas became less trusting. Although the Special Branch continually devised new dissemination techniques, the growing guerrilla awareness of the poisoning effort did reduce the program’s effectiveness. On this subject, the 28 June report stated: ‘Our methods of operations are changing continually in order to keep the enemy guessing and [illegible] improved methods have recently come to light that bode well for the future’.

According to the scientific head of the CBW effort, Robert Symington, the Rhodesian poisoning program was very successful; some months it resulted in a greater number of guerrilla fatalities than the conventional military operations of the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). This claim is plausible, given the reluctance of most guerrilla groups to engage conventional Rhodesian Security Forces in head-on battle; guerrilla bands preferred hit-and-run tactics against soft targets.

The only official Rhodesian assessment of the program’s effectiveness is the estimate prepared for COMOPS. That paper estimates that, as of 28 June 1977, the poisoning program had resulted in the deaths of 809 individuals. Within SB circles at the time, it was widely believed that more guerrillas were dying from poison than from conventional Fireforce ‘contacts’. Uncertainty remains whether the numbers briefed to COMOPS included estimates of deaths due to cholera. If not, the total for the CBW effort (including use of cholera) could be doubled.

Dirty War. Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980 by Glenn Cross can be purchased here.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment