Monthly Archives: May 2010

Site news: landmarks!

Here at Daly History we’ve seen several landmarks in the past week or so.

Firstly – and some might say, incredily – we have now had over 25,000 hits on the site since we launched in July last year. Thats nothing short of incredible for a subject which, lets face it, is hardly cool or trendy. And whats better, the hit rate is continually increasing, week on week and month on month. May 2010 is the first month in which the site has had over 5,000 hits.

We have also had over 500 comments now on the site. This is pretty amazing, to think that what I write about gives people enough food for thought to say something. I’ve had comments leaving ideas, suggestions, even criticisms, and also sharing some personal stories. I’m glad Daly History has become the kind of site where people feel able to get involved and contribute – after all, history belong to all of us.

Thank you all so much for your support and interest!

-James

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Solent Overlord Show 2010

Scimitar light tank

I spent a couple of hours earlier at the Solent Overlord Military Show 2010 at the Horndean Showground.

Organised by the Solent Overlord Executive, a group of military vehicle enthusiasts, this annual show brings together hundreds of military vehicles from the Second World War to the modern era – plenty of WW2 jeeps, half-tracks (includking a German one), several guns, a host of Land Rovers, Bren Gun Carrier, a Scimitar light tank, and an FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier. There was even a Rapier Unit to provide anti-aircraft cover!

Rapier 2000 anti-air missiles

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It obviously takes real dedication to own and run a classic military vehicle. Obviously something like a WW2 military jeep is going to be harder to maintain than a Ford Focus. But there is usually something pretty redoubtable about a Jeep or a Land Rover. Military vehicle enthusiasts are a dedicated bunch. The only comment I would make, is that too few vehicles had any kind of information. I suppose I come from a museum background, but when I eventually get my Land Rover I will set up display boards about it, its history, the equipment, markings, and such like.

They might seem a bit nerdy but these kinds of shows are certainly popular, especially with the kids. And you can always see people huddled around vehicles, inspecting each others work and swapping notes. Throw in a host of military surplus stalls to rummage over, a beer tent and arena events and you’ve got a pretty good day out. And whats more, any surplus income from the show goes towards a suitable military charity, this year the Gurkha Welfare Fund.

Have a look at my flickr album of pics here – let me know if you can help identify any of the vehicles, or if I have made any mistakes!

56th (London) Division Jeep

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70 years ago: the evacuation begins

By the end of May 1940 the evacuation from Dunkirk was well underway. While men were being plucked from the beaches, the rearguard were fighting to hold the Germans back to allow as many men to escape as possible.

Rifleman George Clements was killed on 28 May 1940. Aged 33 and Portsmouth, he was serving with the Rifle Brigade. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. The only Rifle Brigade unit to serve in France in 1940 was the 1st Battalion, who were part of the 30th Infantry Brigade, of the 1st Armoured Division.

Gunner Ralph Cairns was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 25 and from Buckland, he was serving with 1 Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. His service number indicates that he had originally joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. 1 Medium Regiment were a Corps Artillery unit of Brooke’s II Corps.

Lieutenant Harold Asser was killed on 29 May 1940. From North End, he was serving with 4 Field Park of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial.

Private Thomas Sewell was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 20 and from North End, he was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Kings Own Royal Regiment. He is buried at Les Moeres in France. The 5th Kings Own were part of the 126th Infantry Brigade, in the 42nd Infantry Division. As Les Moeres is 10 kilometres east of Dunkirk and was at the front line of the British perimeter it is believed that Private Sewell was killed in the rearguard fighting.

Sapper Francis Wiseman was killed on 31 May 1940. Aged 35 and from Cosham, he was serving with 59 Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 59 Field Company were part of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Royal Navy was also suffering losses while attempting to evacuate the Army from the beaches. 42 destroyers were assigned to support Operation Dynamo, initially to bombard German shore positions to support the Army, but gradually they were pressed into service carrying men back to England.

On 27 May HMS Wakeful carried 631 troops to Dover. While crossing the Channel she came under air attack and suffered minor damage below the waterline. She returned to Dunkirk, embarking another 640 troops on 28 May 1940. On 29 May she was torpedoed by the German E-Boat S-30. One torpedo hit the boiler room and the ship quickly split in two. Only one of the 640 soldiers survived, and only 25 of a crew of 110. One of the sailors killed was Warrant Engineer Harold Tucker, 37 and from Southsea. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

On 28 May HMS Grafton carried 277 men to Dover. On 29 May she hard returned to Dunkirk and was in the process of taking men back to Dover when she was called to assist the survivors of HMS Wakeful. Whilst doing so she was torpedoed by U-62. She suffered serious damage, and the Captain and one officer were killed, along with four men. One of them was Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Thomas Kean, 26 and from Eastney. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial. The Grafton was too badly damaged to be towed and was scuttled.

Unfortunately it is impossible to tell, but some of the soldiers killed and who have no known grave may well have been killed on HMS Wakful and HMS Grafton.

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USS Mount Whitney

The USS Mount Whitney is a Blue Ridge Class Command ship of the US Navy. She came into Portsmouth earlier today.

The Mount Whitney previously served as the Headquarters ship of the US Fleet in the Mediterranean. She is currently the Flagship of the US Sixth Fleet and Joint Command Lisbon, a NATO Command. The Mount Whitney has served in various trouble spots around the world, including Haithi in 1994 an Iraq in 2003.

She weighs in at 18,400 tons fully loaded. She has a crew of 170 officers and men and 155 civilians, and also has capacity for 930 men. She is armed with two Phalanx Close in weapons systems for self-defence, as well as two 25mm cannons. She operates one helicopter, currently a SH-60 Knight Hawk.

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Treblinka Survivor by Mark S. Smith

The title of this book suggests just how unique this story is – no-one was supposed to survive Treblinka. While the more infamous Auschwitz is estimated to have killed over a million people, it was also a work camp – hence a proportion of inmates, against the odds, managed to survive. Yet Treblinka – and its Operation Reinhard counterparts Sobibor, Chelnmo, Belzec and Madjanek – were established with the sole purpose of murdering millions of people on an industrial scale. Therefore, the term ‘Treblinka survivor’ is almost a contradiction, so rare is Hershl Sperling’s story. In the region of 800,000 peole were killed there. Yet survive he did.

Born in pre-war Poland, Sperling experienced anti-semitism in Polish society before the Nazi’s invaded in September 1939. After being herded into Ghettos he and his family were transported to Treblinka, where Hershl was selected to survive and work in the sonderkommando, slave labourers at the camp. The rest of his family were murdered soon after arrival. Hershl’s work largely involved cleaning out the filthy cattle wagons that transported the Jews to Treblinka. His account describes untold brutality – of forced boxing matches for the pleasure of the SS, of an attack dog trained to bite a man’s genitals, and of how when off duty the SS men were provided with their own zoo.

The sonderkommando were intended to be murdered when their work was done. However, they staged an uprising, and after torching the camp many of them managed to escape. Most were re-captured very quickly, but Sperling managed to escape by train to Warsaw – an incredible feat for an escaped Jewish prisoner in occupied Poland. He was soon picked up by the Gestapo, but crucially he was never discovered to have escaped Treblinka. If the Nazi authorities had realised this, he would no doubt have been killed very promptly.

After being held at a prison near Radom, Hershl Sperling was sent to Auschwitz. Interestingly, he referred to Auschwitz as a ‘walk in the park’ compared to Treblinka. This is even more remarkable, when we consider that it is believed that he spent time in the ‘care’ of the infamous Dr Josef Mengele. Although he did not write or talk about what happened to himself, Sperling passed on stories such as men being castrated without anaesthetic. Also while at Auschwitz Sperling spent time in a penal gang, and the length of his sentence suggests that he was being punished for trying to escape.

From Auschwitz, Sperling and many others were sent to Dachau near Munich, and it was here where he was liberated by the US Army in 1945. After an unhappy to return to Poland, where he encountered anti-semitism, Hershl met his wife Yadwiga, a fellow holocaust survivor, and eventually to Scotland. Sadly, he suffered from depression for many years, and committed suicide in later life. It appears that many holocaust survivors have suffered from the condition known as survivors guilt.

His story has been pieced together in this book by a friend of his son. Hershl Sperling left an understandably patchy memoir, and passed a few snippets of information onto his sons. The author also travelled to Treblinka and Auschwitz, and consulted with Historians. Unfortunately all books relating to the Holocaust will always come under the close scrutiny of those who seek to belittle or deny it, but Hershl Sperling’s story is beyond doubt.

This is a vey important book – after all, it is estimated that only some 60 people survived Treblinka. And Sperling must be one of very few holocaust survivors who was recaptured after escape and lived to tell the tale. This is also an insightful, hard hitting and moving look at the events leading up to, during and after the holocaust – how anti-semitism was rife in Poland, the thoughts of the author and Sperling’s sons, and the emotional journey by which his story was pieced together.

This book deserves to rank alongside holocause testimonies by Primo Levi, Rudolf Vrba and Anne Frank.

Treblinka Survivor is published by The History Press

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70 years ago – the Battle of Dunkirk begins

By late May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force and elements of th French and Belgian Armies were becoming bottled up in a small pocket based on the English Channel, cut off by the advance of the German Panzers. The situation was so serious that General Sir Alan Brooke wrote that “nothing but a miracle can save the BEF now”. Lord Gort, the BEF’s commander, informed the Secretary of State for War that there was a risk that a large part of the BEF would be lost in France.

Yet for reasons which Historians have never been able to substantiate with any certainty, on 24 May Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt and to leave the task of finishing off the Dunkirk perimeter to the Luftwaffe and the infantry. This may have been one of the most critical decisions of the war, for by the time the Panzers began their advance again on 26 May the BEF had managed to withdraw relatively unhindered towards the coast. The vital breathing space also allowed the Royal Navy to begin planning the evacuation.

Lance Sergeant Albert Reypert, 30 and from Portsmouth, was killed on 23 May 1940. He was serving with 9 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 9 Field Regiment were part of the 5th Infantry Division, a unit that was part of BEF GHQ reserve.

Corporal Alexander Boag, 29 and from Southsea, was killed on 26 May 1940. He was serving with the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, a Cavalry unit. He is buried at Essars in France. 4/7 Dragoon Guards were the armoured reconnaisance unit in the 2nd Infantry Division. Essars is a communal cemetery, just south of Bethune. Boag was killed during a fierce battle where the resumed German advance pinned down the 2nd and 50th Divisions. The 2nd Division in particular suffered heavy losses. But they managed to keep a corridor open through which much of the BEF could reach the coast.

Bombardier Harry Short, 34 and from Eastney, was killed on 26 May 1940. He was serving with 5 Battery, 2 Searchlight Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 2 Searchlight Regiment were part of 5 Searchlight Brigade, which was attached to BEF GHQ.

Gunner Frederick Morgan, 28 and from Stamshaw, was killed on 27 May 1940. He was serving with 5 Battery, 1 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He also has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 1 Anti-Aircraft Regiment were part of BEF GHQ.

Lance Corporal Henry Bonner was killed on 27 May 1940. He was 28 and from Portsmouth. He was serving with 7 Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He is buried in Comines, Belgium. 7th Field Company were part of the 4th Infantry Division. Comines is 12 Kilometres south of Ypres. On 27 May General Brooke was conducting a holding operation near Ypres, which became known as the battle of Wytschaete.

Two things become immediately clear from what we know about the men from Portsmouth who were killed in the early stages of the Battle of Dunkirk. Looking at their ages, most of them were obviously pre-war regular soldiers. In addition, that some of them were serving with Anti-Aircraft units or Searchlight units, who might expect to be some way back from the front line, suggests that the fighting was extremely muddled, and/or that the Luftwaffe was attacking the Dunkirk pocket with ease during this period.

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70 years ago: Blitzkrieg

On 10 May 1940 the phoney war came to an abrupt end when the German Panzers rolled into Holland, Belgium and France in the west. In accordance with the plan agreed with the French, the British Expeditionary Force moved up into Belgium to the line of the Dyle River, after the Germans invaded Belgium.

Private Louis Ayling, 21 and from Eastney, was killed on the first day of the campaign. Serving with the 1st/6th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, he was killed on 10 May 1940 and is buried in Avelgem, Belgium. A territorial unit, the 1/6 East Surrey’s were undergoing training and labour duties under 12 Infantry Division.

The attack further north in Belgium was not the main thrust, however. The main attack came further south through the Ardennes. As the German Panzers advanced west there was a serious risk that the BEF would be cut off. The run to the coast at Dunkirk was already falling into place.

The RAF contingent serving alongside the BEF was called into action almost immediately in an attempt to stem the advance. On the first day of the battle Sergeant (Pilot) Alfred Robertson was killed over Holland. 26 and from Southsea, he had taken off from Wyton in England. He was flying a Bristol Blenheim with 40 Squadron, and is buried in Voorburg, Holland.

Sergeant (Observer) Herbert Trescothic was serving with 142 Squadron, who were flying Fairey Battles. Taking off from Berry-au-Bac on 14 May, they were targetting bridges and roads around Sedan. His aircraft crashed at Cherey, where he is buried. He was 25 and from Southsea.

Also killed on 14 May was Flight Lieutenant Harold Sammells. 24 and from North End, he was serving with 105 Squadron, a unit operating Fairey Battles in France. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

Leading Aircraftman (Air Gunner) Walter Lawes, 21 and from Copnor, was killed on 16 May 1940. He was serving with 13 Squadron, a Westland Lysander unit. Lawes is buried at Vieux-Conde in France. Westland Lysanders were often used for dropping off and picking up special agents behind enemy lines.

Private Albert Voysey, 21 and from Mile End, was serving with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was killed on 18 May 1940 and is buried in Abbeville, France. The 7th Royal Sussex were also serving under 12 Infantry Division.

Sapper Leslie Parsonage, 26 and from Eastney, was also killed on 18 May. He was serving with 17th Field Company of the Royal Engineers, and is buried in Aaigem, Belgium. 17th Field Company were serving under Bernard Montgomery’s 3rd Infantry Division.

Sergeant William Northey, 22, was serving with 5 Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery when he was killed on 19 May. He is buried in Le Doulieu, France. 5 Medium Regiment were a Corps Artillery unit attached to I Corps.

Sapper Henry Ward, of Cosham, was killed on 20 May 1940. He was serving with 263 Field Company of the Royal Engineers, and is buried in Pont-de-Metz, France. 263 Field Company were performing labour duties under 12 Infantry Division.

Private Alfred Williams of the Royal Army Service Corps was also killed on 20 May. Aged 24, he is buried at Candas in France.

2nd Lieutenant Reginald Stevens, 19 and from Southsea, was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers when he was killed on 22 May. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkik Memorial. The 2nd Lancs were serving in the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, II Corps.

Even by the 22nd of May, however, the BEF was already fighting a stiff rearguard action towards the coast. Its noticeable from the losses in the opening stages of the battle that it was not just the infantry who were caught in the front line – due to the manner in which the BEF was outflanked and almost cut-off, gunners and sappers were also casualties. And as desribed in Tim Lynch’s Dunkirk 1940: Whereabouts Unknown, many territorial units still undergoing training were thrown into the battle.

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Guns against the Reich by Petr Mikhin

Guns

This is an english translation of a memoir that was originally written in Russian. And its a pretty good translation: sometimes books translated from another language can read very heavily, but here the translator has captured the essence of the original story.

Peter Mikhin was studying at a Mathematics student when Germany invaded Russia in 1941. He and his contemporaries were summarily ‘recruited’ as artillery officers – with little or no choice in the matter – and after rudimentary training were sent to the front. Mikhin seems to have lived a charmed life, and somehow managed to survive the war relatively intact. Along the way he fought numerous battles, often at close quarters. Although he was nominally an artillery officer, frequently Mikhin and his men were assigned infantry-esque duties, such as snatching prisoners.

The real value of this book is the valuable insight that it gives us into life on the eastern front. Perhaps in the west we have not heard too much about the social history of the Russian Soldier of the Second World War. Sure, we all know the rough outline of Moscow-Stalingrad-Kursk-Berlin. But what we need to remember is the sheer scale of the fighting, from the Arctic circle to the Black Sea, sucking in million upon million of men. Compared to the Eastern Front, the Western Front was a relatively short sideshow.

Its very interesting indeed to read about the nature of discipline in the Red Army – of course in a totalitarian, politicised regime, officer-men relations take on a completely different shape. But interesting, they always seem to have referred to each other as ‘comrade’, regardless of their rank. We also read about the Russian soldier’s attitudes to death – namely that since they had no choice but to obey an order, they were resigned to their fate. But even as atheists, they often refer to fate, and a belief in some kind of higher power. The political officers and the NKVD loom largely too, and seem to have been feared more than the Germans. It is also noticeable that on the Eastern Front life was much more expendable, especially when contrasted with a British Army that strove at all costs to avoid the losses of the Somme and Passchendaele.

And remember that until the fall of the Berlin Wall such accounts from behind the Iron Curtain were very rare indeed. Its very noticeable that as Mikhin was writing his recollections in 1984 there are still vestiges of Soviet propaganda, the motherland ‘and all that’. Yet aside from the deep politicisation, many of the anecdotes told by Mikhin will be familiar to soldiers the world over – time and time again we find that a soldier is a soldier, no matter what uniform he wears.

Guns Against the Reich is published by Pen and Sword

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Private Leonard Fry

Some time ago I reviewed Kut 1916 by Patrick Crowley. It tells some pretty graphic stories about the suffering endured by British troops present during the siege, and those captured by the Turks.

However it is only now, thanks to the information contained in the Portsmouth Section of the National Roll of the Great War, that I am beginning to be able to discover some of the stories of men from Portsmouth who were in Iraq during that terrible period.

Private Leonard Fry, of 25 Plymouth Street, had joined the Army back in 1905. He was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. He was twice wounded at Kut. After the surrender he was taken prisoner, and while being force marched to Tikrit he developed dysentry, and was left to die at the side of the road. His date of death is recorded as 6 June 1916, presumably the last time he was seen alive. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Basra Memorial.

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Robin Hood – the film review

A few days ago I went to see the new Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Film Robin Hood.

Now, Robin Hood is one of those great myths of folklore that everyone knows. Except, there is no real concrete proof about any of the details. Sure, there are probably grains of truth there somewhere in the midsts of time, but like most myths, its likely that they have undergone a game of chinese whispers.

This film does not pander to the perceived wisdom of Robin Hood – if you’re looking for something to get penickity over every little ‘historical accuracy’, you’ll enjoy this one. Its a liberal reworking of the story. The story begins with Richard the Lionheart’s Army beseiging a castle in France on the way home from the Crusades – pretty inaccurate to say the least. There the Lionheart is killed. Robin of Locksley was killed in the aftermath, and his identity was assumed by Robin Longstride (Crowe), an Archer, accompanied by his band of men.

Upon returning to England, Longstride delivers the Crown to the new King John. Longstride and his men then made their way to Nottingham, where Crowe’s character fully assumes Locksley’s character. Meanwhile King John’s ally Godrey proves to be a French agent who is fermenting rebellion and a French invasion. John sees the light in time, and the Baron’s join forces to repel the invasion at the white cliffs of Dover. After their victory, however, John reneges on his promise of freedoms for his people. Only then, at the end of the film, do Longstride and his men become outlaws and take to the woods.

Once you get away from the fact that its different, its actually quite an imaginative reworking. Sure, its not historically accurate, and it doesnt fit in with the ingrained myth. But Robin Hood has only ever been a myth anyway, and is it such a bad thing if you digress from a myth? I think in terms of the social history – clothes, terms of address, behaviour, lifestyles – it seems pretty accurate to me.

Aside from the historical considerations, its a very enjoyable film – as you might expect the action scenes are great. There are a handful of Crowe-esque action film cliches, but perhaps that is to be expected. And, interestingly, the ending leaves a sequel not only possible, but likely.

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Mobilised, volunteered or Joined? Great War recruitment

I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of the Portsmouth section of the National Roll of the Great War. This volume was compiled in the early 1920’s, and compiles many of the men from Portsmouth who fought between 1914 and 1918 – casualties and survivors. It is not a complete list, however – we suspect that families had to pay for their menfolk to be included. But it is a useful source none the less.

Each entry tells us the man’s name, initials, rank, and unit that they served with. It also includes a brief biography, such as when the person enlisted, where they served, if they were wounded, and often the circumstances of their death. Crucially, it also gives their house number and street. Therefore I have been able to add some information about some of the names on my database.

One thing that we can learn a lot from the National Roll is when exactly men joined the Armed Forces. A small amount of men were regular soldiers who had enlisted prior to 1914 – but a small number, given that Britain had a relatively small army in 1914. Sadly most of these men seem to have died earlier on in the war with the original BEF.

A significant amount of men were also mobilised in August 1914. This suggests that they were men who were serving with the Territorial Army, or were ex-regulars liable for recall to the Army. Interestingly, more men seem to have fallen into this category than the regulars.

Popular myth suggests that most men who fought in the Great War volunteered in August 1914, along with their mates joining the crowds outside Town Halls. While a large amount of men did join the Army in August 1914, there was a steady trickle of men volunteering until early 1916, as they came of age or felt able to join up.

With grevious losses on the front, however, the Government was aware that conscription would have to be introduced. Therefore from 1916 onwards most men are recorded as having ‘joined’ – otherwise, they were conscripted.

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UXB Malta: Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal 1940-44 by S.A.M. Hudson

Bomb Disposal has got a pretty high profile at the moment, what with the recent award of the George Cross to two British Army Bomb Disposal experts, and the film The Hurt Locker. Therefore its probably as apprpopriate a time as any to take a look at the incredibly brave men who worked on Bomb Disposal in Malta during the Second World War, and this book dedicated to telling their story.

After Italy entered the war in 1940 Malta became strategically important; a thorn in the side of Axis ambitions in the Mediterranean. From Malta British bombers could attack Italy and convoys heading for North Africa. Converesely, Malta also acted as a staging post for Allied Convoys. Therefore the Italians and Germans launched repeated and concerted attempts to obliterate Malta. Particularly between 1940 and 1942, for its size Malta was the most bombed place on earth. And with 15% of bombs failing to explode, there was much work for the Bomb Disposal teams.

Yet it was by no means a simple matter of exploding the bombs. Obviously this could not always be done. And with the wide array of bombs – from the tiny but deadly incendiaries and ‘butterfly bombs’ to the giant Hermann and Satan bombs – and the complex fuzes – anti-handing, delayed activation, for example – every job seems to have presented its own challenges. And with many bombs impacting and penetrating feet into the ground, digging them out was often hard work.

What is really incredible to read, is that despite years of frenetic work dealing with hundreds of bombs, none of Malta’s Bomb Disposal Engineers were killed on he job – testament indeed to their professionalism. And when we consider that for most of the war the team consisted of two young officers in their early twenties and but a handful of men, their service seems all the more sterling.

What stands out for me most of all is how evocative the book is. It is impossible not to read the countless stories and reflect on whether you could display that kind of steely cold bravery, all day every day for months indeed years on end. Yes, Bomb Disposal takes a particular kind of courage – the infantryman in the second world war might experience short, sharp periods of battle, and maybe the occasional prolonged fight. But the Bomb Disposal Sappers in Malta were dealing with countless incidents every day that could have killed them at any second.

This book is fine tribute to those remarkably brave men who saved many lives. Hudson more than does justice to these incredible human beings. And there are such strong parallels with the men out in Afghanistan right now dealing with IED’s.

UXB Malta: Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal 1940-44 is published by The History Press

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The Dennis Family

With the help of the Portsmouth section of the National Roll of the Great War, I have identified another Portsmouth family – the Dennis family from 53 Amelia Street, Landport – who lost three men between 1914 and 1917.

Sergeant John Dennis, aged 24 and of the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, was a regular soldier who according to the National Roll had joined the Army in 1906. He was killed on 25 August 1916. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Loos Memorial.

Corporal Arthur Dennis, of the 15th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, volunteered in 1914. He served at Galipoli with the 2nd Hampshires, and then in France. He was killed on 5 August 1917. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Neither the Commonweath War Graves nor the National roll record his age. However records show that an Arthur Dennis was born in Portsmouth between January and March 1895, which would make him 22 at the time of his death.

Private J. Dennis, of the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment, joined the Army in July 1917. Aged 19, he was killed on 28 August 1918. He is buried in Assevilliers New British Cemetery, France.

Their ages certainly suggest that all three men were brothers, and that John and Sarah Dennis of Amelia Street, Landport lost three sons between 1916 and 1918.

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Honour Restored: The Battle of Britain, Dowding and the Fight for Freedom by Sqn. Ldr. Peter Brown AFC

Unless you’re planning to live under a rock for the rest of the summer, at some point you are bound to notice that it is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This book by a Battle of Britain veteran is really two books in one. The first charts the progress of the battle itself, with some interesting anecdotes and opinions thrown in for good measure. The most interesting aspect of this section is Brown’s argument that the weather played a more important part than previously thought.

But the biggest and most controversial aspect of the first half of Brown’s book is the Big Wing. While Keith Park’s Group was at the forefront of the battle, it seems that Leigh-Mallory, with the connivance of Douglas Bader, pioneered a ‘Big Wing’ tactic, using up to six Squadrons in one wing. Although this was publicity-grabbing, it was inefficient, and proved of little use in action.

Yet even weeks after the battle had ended, Leigh-Mallory and his allies in the Air Ministry were making selective use of statistics to promote the Big Wing, at the expense of the performance of Dowding and Park. At a so-called meeting of shame, Dowding in particular was treated unfairly, and eventually forced into retirement and denied due credit for his fine service. Brown argues that retired senior RAF offices such as Trenchard and Salmond were pulling the strings behind Downing’s scapegoating – given the sway that Trenchard held over the RAF in general, this would be by no means surprising.

Reading Brown’s arguments – and indeed, reading most other books about the Battle – it is not hard to come to the conclusion that Dowding and Park were shamefully treated during and after the Battle of Britain. And on the other side of the coin, men such as Douglas, Leigh-Mallory and possibly Bader stand accused of attempting to further their own careers regardless of the outcome of the battle and the country’s security. The RAF does seem to have had its fair share of unpleasant characters in the Second World War – witness Tedder’s guerilla campaign against Montgomery in 1944.

I found this a very interesting and engaging book – it is far more than the usual veterans account, Brown actually involves himself in the historiography. And his rants against New Labour and the EU certainly lighten the tone too!

Honour Restored is published by The History Press

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Bloodline: The origins and development of the regular formations of the British Army by Iain Gordon

Trying to trace the lineage of British Army Regiments is like trying to untangle a particularly knotted plate of spaghetti. But equally, the most unique aspect of the British Army is the tribal aspect of its Regiments. At times, the Army has resembled a loose collection of Regiments. And also, for the researcher attempting to work on their family history, for instance, the frequent name changes can be horribly confusing. Thereore this book comes as a godsend.

Broadly speaking, the modern British Army can trace much of its lineage back to the late 17th Century. Most Regiment’s were formed by a patron, and hence were known as ‘Joe Bloggs Regiment of Foot’. By the 1750’s Infantry Regiments were numbered, but still retained a strong local identity. This situation remained until the far-reaching Cardwell reforms of 1881, when Infantry Regiments were grouped together in what were largely County units. This bred a strong tribal spirit, with recruiting areas and Regimental Depots. After 1945, however, when the Army needed to contract, there were more individual Regiments than the Army could sustain. Gradually over the course of 60 years Country Regiments were replaced by larger Regional Regiments.

For example, my local infantry Regiment, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, can trace its origins back to 1702, with the formation of Meredith’s Regiment of Foot in 1702. In 1751 this became the 37th Regiment of Foot, and then in 1782 the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot. In Army-wide reforms in 1881 it merged with the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot to form the Hampshire Regiment (37th and 67th Foot). In 1946 this became the Royal Hampshire Regiment. And finally, in 1992, the Hampshires merged with the Queens Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (Queens and Royal Hampshires). This large Regiment was formed out of units tha coud trace their history back to the 2nd, 3rd, 31st, 35th, 37th, 50th, 57th, 67th, 70th, 77th, 97th and 107th Regiments of Foot. And this is just one modern Regiment -multiply this for every current Regiment in the Army, then we have a very complicated picture.

Not only does this book chart the linear development of Regiments. Iain Gordon has included information about Regimental Museums, Regimenta Headquarters, Regimental Marches, Alliances with other military units, and the Colonel-in-Chief. Information such as this gives us an idea of the unique tribal colour of a regiment. Another very useful inclusion is a comprehensive list of every Regiment’s battle honours. And not only does this book cover the infantry – Guards, line infantry, Paras, Rifles and Gurkhas – but also the Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the range of other Corps in the British Army.

I know of no other resource that contains such a wealth of information about the History of the Regiments of the British Army. This will be a very useful addition to my shelf of military reference books.

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