Monthly Archives: February 2011

Sourcing Images for publication

I’m well advanced with writing Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes. I’ve written about 65% of the text, and have the research in hand to base most of the rest on. So with several months to go and having the text itself well in hand, my thoughts have been turning to selecting illustrations.

Most historic illustrations that are of use for publications such as mine are held by various Museums or Archives – the Imperial War Museum, for example. Most charge a fee for authors to use their images, which is only fair enough. But many charge rather high rates, and just thinking ahead, if I used all of the images that I would LIKE to use, with reproduction fees I would be running at a loss – I would be spending more on images than I would make if every book sold. Sadly, its prohibitive, as book contracts either stipulate that the author bears the cost of reproductions, or has it deducted from his or her royalties.

I wonder if I am the only person in this position? I wonder how many fascinating images are not used simply because it costs too much to reproduce them? I guess this comes back to my old argument I have made before about Museums and Archives and charging. If fees are too high, a barrier to access is created, and history is neglected. If fees are more sensible, more people can research, and the history gets taken care of.

Aside from my rant, can anyone think of any good cheap sources of military images? Finding plenty of cheap or free images might help subsidise getting hold of more from institutions that charge. Of course, photos that you take yourself are free, and it helps if you can find photos from provate sources who are willing to let you publish them. Of course if anyone has any photographs of men or women from Portsmouth who died during the War I would be very interested to hear from them, and I would be more than happy to make a suitable donation to a relevant charity in lieu of a reproduction charge.

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HMS Cumberland waiting off Libyan Coast

from http://www.dtic.mil/jointvision/graphics/...

HMS Cumberland (Image via Wikipedia)

According to news reports the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Cumberland has been ordered to halt her voyage home from the Gulf in order to standby off Libya. Regular readers will recall that Cumberland and her Type 22 sister ships are to be decommissioned later this year. A reminder, if any is needed, that British interests and the safety of British national is being imperilled by defence cuts.

I’m not entirely sure what use a Frigate would be for evacuating the 500-odd British nationals living in Libya. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an assault ship, a Frigate does not have large hangars or vehicle decks in which to accomodate people. And a ship the size of the Type 22 has a crew of around only 200 in the first place – how would such a ship cope with a few more hundreds mouths to feed, one wonders? And Libya is a lot further from the UK than the north Spanish coast was during the Volcanic Ash Cloud rescue effort last year, meaning a longer sea journey.

This is yet another hollow commitment from the Government. In order to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whethers its worthwhile or not, a soon-to-be-decommissioned Frigate is sent to await a task for which it is wholly unsuited. And its another indication of how short-sighted our defence planning is – politicians want warships off the balance sheet, but when the proverbial hits the fan they are only too happy to commit them to action.

I’m reminded of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary eagerly promised a British Frigate to patrol off the coast for illegal arms shipments. Apparently it was quietly pointed out that no Frigates were available, and that if the Foreign Secretary wanted one, then he had better make one magically appear from nowhere.

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Voices From the Front: The 16th Durham Light Infantry in Italy, 1943 – 1945 by Peter Hart

This is the first book I’ve read in the Voices from the Front series. It’s based on an Oral History project that recorded the memories of many old Durham veterans. Peter Hart has been the Oral History specialist at the Imperial War Museum for many years, so is probably better placed to write a book like this than anyone else.

I’m glad that such a prominent book has been written about this Battalion for two reasons. Firstly, the 16th Durham Light Infantry were a service Battalion, and hence largely made up of soldiers who were conscripted into the Army during the wartime. Secondly, the Battalion served in Italy rather than in North West Europe, and the Italian campaign has received a chronic lack of attention from Historians over the years.

Excerpts from oral history interviews are interwoven with commentary on the overall history of the war, which provides good context. The interviews with junior officers and other ranks are particularly welcome, as these are two sections of the Army whose experiences are often maligned. And the experiences of the 16th Durhams were quite remarkable – unusually for a conscript Battalion, the unit seems to have developed a very strong espirit-du-corps, forged through tought fighting up the spine of Italy.

What I really find interesting are the little human stories that really give us an idea of what it was like to fight as a foot soldier in the Second World War, and not necessarily the stories about fighting. Its thoughts about uniforms and rations, officer-men relations, the locals and even fireworks displays on VE Day that really make a book like this stand out.

I cannot help but think how blessed we historians would be if a book like this was written about every Army unit during the Second World War. Oral History is a fantastic way of capturing not only the memories of an important generation, but also the essence and tone of their life experiences. The Voices from the Front series is very commendably indeed.

Voices from the Front: The 16th Durham Light Infantry in Italy 1943-1945 is published by Pen and Sword

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes – The Book

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been very busy recently either working,  seeing Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society twice in three days, or nursing a poorly Girlfriend whilst being ill myself!

On a brighter note, I’m very happy to announce that on Monday I received a formal contract from The History Press to write my first book, entitled ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. My part of the work should be completed by June this year. I’ve been working on the project itself for a couple of years now, and writing the book itself since before Christmas. Most of the research is done, apart from a few trips I need to make to The National Archives at Kew, and then writing up the rest of the work and deciding on illustrations.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped me though this process, particularly as its my first time dealing with a publisher and contracts and all that jazz! My Family and my Girlfriend Sarah for encouraging me (and telling me to relax when I’m working too hard!), Jay at The History Press, my friends and colleagues, and especially my brother Scott and John Erickson for proof-reading for me.

Keep an eye out for further bulletins!

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Lobbying intensifies over basing of Type 26 Frigates

Proposed design for Type 26 Frigate  - BAe Sys...

Image by NavyLookout via Flickr

In recent days lobbying has intensified over where to base the Royal Navy’s planned Type 26 Frigates. It’s the same old south-coast horse trading that occurs every time a new class of warship is ordered.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage told the Portsmouth News: ‘This new Type 26 is the global combat ship and I feel that Portsmouth is now very much the home of the Royal Navy. The HQ is in Whale Island, the new Type 45 destroyers are in Portsmouth and the new aircraft carriers will be here too so it makes sense to have the Type 26s based here as well. As a cost-saving and logistics exercise, it makes sense to me to have all the future force ships based in the same area.’

In the same article Dineage also stated that Plymouth MP’s are lobbying hard to try and get the Type 26’s based there. And they have reason to be anxious. The four remaining Type 22 Frigates, based in Plymouth, will be decommissioned this year. And one of the Landing Ships based there will also go into extended readiness. Furthermore, the previous Government had decided that all of the Type 23 Frigates would move to Portsmouth in 2014, although that decision was rescinded during the Coalition Government’s Defence Review.

Recent issues of Warship International Fleet Review put the cases for and against both Portsmouth and Plymouth. To this observer – albeit a slightly biased one- the for and against arguments for both ports seem finely balanced. But what is clear is that with the Royal Navy shrinking at such a rate, and highly unlikely ever to expand again, it is becoming increasingly unfeasible to maintain two ports handling the surface fleets.

The usual argument given is that closing Portsmouth would have less of an effect on the region than closing Plymouth would have on the South West. But the situation is slightly more complex than that – 50 years ago both cities were virtually identical. Since the Second World War, however, Portsmouth has diversified in terms of economy and employment, developing a tourist industry and generating employment in technology. This has lessened its reliance on the Navy. Meanwhile, the authorities in Plymouth have done, to put it bluntly, bugger all. If people in Plymouth are concerned about the possible closure of their naval base, they should look to their City Council‘s complacent record over 50 years.

In other Type 26 related news, there are links below of reports that the UK is in talks with both Canada and Turkey about collaborating in various ways on the Type 26 programme.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes – progress report

I’m off most of this week to work on my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’, and I thought you might all like a progress report.

I’ve almost finished the research needed for the Royal Navy-based chapters, which make up almost a third of the book. This week I have been mainly looking at the three Portsmouth Battleships – Royal Oak, Hood and Barham; Pompey-based submariners, Boy Seamen, and Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey.

In Portsmouth we’re blessed with a fantastic Naval History Collection in the Central Library. This includes a huge range of published books, including many you would be hard pressed to find in any other public library. There are also extensive runs of Navy Lists, the Mariners Mirror, the Naval Chronicle, and all manner of other specialist journals. The Naval Collection is based in the brand new Portsmouth History Centre on the second floor of the library. There you can also find the Local Studies collection, which contains things such as street directories, electoral registers and local books. And something I’ve found particularly useful is the Portsmouth Evening News on microfilm.

I’ve found some stuff I didn’t already know – a good account of the loss of Able Seaman James Miller GC on HMS Unity, accounts of what happened to many Pompey men sunk on the Royal Oak in particular, including some stories from the Evening News from those who were bereaved. There is a poignant photograph in the Evening News a couple of days after the Royal Oak was sunk showing navy womenfolk queuing up outside the Naval Barracks for news of their loved ones. And finally, I’ve discovered a first-hand account of how Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey DSO DSC and Bar died.

Research done, now to write it up… Next – the Army!

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two landmarks in one day

We’ve had two landmarks in one day here at DalyHistory. Sometime this morning my humble little blog passed the 100,000 hit mark. Incredible, I would never have thought I would ever get 1,000 hits, let alone 100,000! And later this evening the 2,000th comment was posted. So doing the maths, if that means that ever 50th hit results in a comment, then surely thats not such a bad ratio at all ;)

I’m currently off work this week to focus on researching and writing up the naval chapter of my forthcoming ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’. Today was spent looking at secondary sources on the Royal Oak, Hood and Barham. I also found some great source books on Submarines, including a catalogue of all decorations made to submariners in WW2. Tomorrow’s plan is to finish off some books on submarines, and then go onto the mircrofilm to take a look at the Portsmouth Evening News of the days following the sinkings to see what reaction there was locally, and to see if I can find any pictures or obituaries of men who were lost. Later in the week I plan focus on Boy Seamen, and a Destroyer Captain’s antics in the Mediterranean.

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Busy time in Portsmouth Dockyard – for scrap, anyway…

Yesterday’s Portsmouth News highlighted how busy the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth is going to be in the coming months. Not in terms of actual, serving ships, but in terms of rusting hulks that are to sail no more. The disposals section of the MOD must be a lot busier than any other department right now.

HMS Invincible has been rusting in 3 Basin for almost 6 years now, and is due to be towed to Turkey for scrapping soon. Her place will be taken by the soon-to-be decomissioned HMS Ark Royal. Alongside her are several RFA’s. The other Aircraft Carrier, HMS Illustrious, will be gone by 2014. In ‘the trot’ of Fareham Creek right now are the decomissioned Type 42 Destroyers Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton. They are bering hurriedly offered for sale in order to create space for more ships that will be leaving service soon. One more Type 42 – Manchester – is due to leave service in the next year, with the other four remaining ships in the class going by 2014. The four remaining Type 22 Frigates – Cornwall, Campbeltown, Cumberland and Chatham – are all due to decomission and be moved to Portsmouth awaiting disposal. And then we also have the stricken HMS Endurance, very unlikely to ever sail again. And one of the Albion Class ships will be placed at ‘extended readiness’, which may well find the ship in question tied up in Portsmouth, as Pompey seems to be the Navy’s dumping ground of late.

Actually, the ships due for disposal and/or scrapping effectively equate to a whole Naval Task Force – two aircraft carriers, one front line landing ship and one auxiliary landing ship, eight air defence destroyers, four frigates, and several auxiliaries. Thats MORE ships than the UK has contributed to many major conflicts since 1945.

Portsmouth Dockyard will be looking more like a giant version of Pounds Yard soon. A very sad state of affairs.

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‘A very fine Commander': the memoirs of Sir Horatius Murray (edited by John Donovan)

‘your memoirs, Nap? Who on earth do you think would want to read them?’

So said Field Marshal Montgomery, when General Horatius Murray suggested writing his recollections of a lifetimes service. Indeed, military memoirs can be very hit or miss, usually the latter. Especially when written by a family member or close friend. I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t too excited about reading this book – the memoirs of a General I had never heard of. But in actual fact, Horatius Murray’s memoirs made for a very interesting read, giving a great insight into the career of a pre-war officer, mid-level command in the Second World War, and then post-war command in Korea, Scottish Command and NATO’s Northern Command in Scandinavia.

You would expect somebody called Horatius to have served in the Guards, a dashing Cavalry Regiment or perhaps the Rifles. In fact Murray came from a relatively modest family, and only just manged to afford to go to Sandhurst. Although he performed well there, without sufficient private means he was forced to join a relatively unglamorous unit, the Cameronian Rifles. It shows the differing pace of soldiering in peace and war that from when he was commissioned in 1923 it took Murray until 1938 to become a Major, yet by 1944 he was an acting Major-General. Some of his early years as an officer were spent serving in Egypt, India and China. Interestingly, he also spent several months on attachment with the Germany Army only a couple of years before the Second World War broke out.

Horatius Murray commanded a Gordon Highlanders Battalion at El Alamein, where he was seriously wounded, then recovered in time to resume command in the final days of the Tunisian Campaign. He was then given command of a Brigade in the invasion of Sicily. In late 1943 the 51st Highland Division returned to Britain to take part in Operation Overlord. A follow up Division, the Highlanders landed in Normandy on 7 June 1944. In Normandy the Division performed rather poorly, in Murray’s opinion due to poor leadership and a lack of serious training. At one point Murray refused an order from the Divisional Commander, Major General Bullen-Smith, that he thought was needless and would waste mens lives. The Corps Commander ruled in Murray’s favour, recommended Bullen-Smith’s sacking, which Monty confirmed soon after. This undoubtedly showed great moral courage on Murray’s part. Shortly after landing in Normandy Murray was transferred to Italy to take command of 6th Armoured Division, which he led until the end of the war.

After the war he served as commander of the 1st Division, Director of Personnel at the War Office and commanded the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, a territorial unit based in Catterick. After leaving that post he was selected to command the Commonwealth Division in Korea. Although this came in 1953 after the ceasefire, Murray still commanded British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand troops in peacekeeping. Murray seems to have been a very modest General, to the point of not even mentioning in his memoirs his DSO and other brave acts – his Nephew added notes in when editing. He seems to have had no airs nor graces. Indeed, when he left command of the 50th Division based at Catterick, the local newspaper reported that he had given the camp a soldiers touch.

Also included are some very revealing ancedotes about King George VI, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Monty, Eisenhower, Bernard Freyberg VC and Maxwell Taylor. I cannot recall many other books that I picked up with such disinterest, yet finished with such an insight. I enjoyed reading them immsensely.

‘A very fine Commander’ is published by Pen and Sword

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Recent Naval News

Heres a few recent news stories from naval circles that probably don’t warrant a post on their own, but I think some of you might find interesting. They all, in one way or another, chronicle the sad demise of the Royal Navy.

Carribean to go without a Royal Navy Guardship

The Ministry of Defence has announced that there will be no Royal Navy Destroyer or Frigate in the Carribean. The Royal Navy has for a long time stationed an escort vessel in the region to combat drug runners, and also to provide disaster relief to Commonwealth territories in the hurricane season. The fleet of escort ships has been slashed to just 19 by the recent Defence Review, leaving too few to carry out deployments. Instead a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel will patrol the area. Ships routinely seize millions of pounds worth of drugs in the region, and an RFA vessel is simply not up to the job.

Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North and defence select committee member, had the temerity to tell the Portsmouth Evening News: ‘It’s a very worrying announcement. If we’re supposed to be tackling the drugs problem on our streets we need to be dealing with supply and that’s something we should want our armed forces to do.’ For the record, her party forced through the ill-thought out Defence Review which decimated the Royal Navy’s surface fleet.

HMS Invincible sold to Turkish Scrap dealers

The decomissioned Aircraft Carrier HMS Invincible has been sold to a Turkish Scrapyard for an undisclosed sum. The buyers, Leyal Ship Recycling, are based in Izmir and specialise in recycling ships. She is expected to leave Portsmouth around the end of March, arrive in Turkey four weeks later and to take eight months to dismantle. She has been sat in 3 Basin of Portsmouth Dockyard since she was decomissioned in 2005. Supposedly she has been in ‘extended readiness’, but has been so stripped of parts to keep her sister ships running that it would take years and millions of pounds to make her operational again. Expect the bandwagon-jumpers who made much of the demise of Ark Royal to not even notice the end of this Falklands veteran.

Amphibious Exercise cancelled due to weather

An amphibious exercise scheduled to take place in the Solent last weekend was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. The Fleet Flagship HMS Albion and several other vessels were due to land troops on beaches near Browndown Point in Gosport. It was very wet and windy, but one wonders if it was any worse that the weather experienced in June 1944 when Eisenhower, Monty and Group Captain James Stagg had decide whether to invade occupied Europe or not. Or San Carlos Water in 1982. It smacks of Admirals worrying about the paint getting scratched on their Landing Craft, and sends out the wrong message to our armed forces and anyone else. At the end of the day its the Solent, a sheltered Anchorage. If we can’t even make an unopposed landing a few miles from the home of the Royal Navy, what chance a forced landing thousands of miles away?

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England’s green and privatised land

New Forest Autumn

Image by danny george via Flickr

The Government is currently consulting over proposals to sell off a large proportion of our nationally-owned forests. As far as I can tell the plans are ill-defined, ideologically-driven and risk casting a scar upon the landscape of this land forever. In the consultation document Caroline Spelman describes them as ‘treasured woodlands’, but if thats so, why flog them?

Historically Britain – or at least England – has been one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe. Forests and trees are a strong central thread in British history – look at Robin Hood and his merry men hiding out in Sherwood Forest for starters. For hundreds of years the Forests sustained Royal Hunting, with plenty of lodges and a supportive infrastructure. And then we have the crucial role that Royal Forests played in supplying timber for the burgeoning Royal Navy. Not for nothing is the Royal Navy’s march entitled ‘Heart of Oak‘.

The Government, through the Forestry Commission, currently looks after 18% of Britain’s woodland – 258,000 hectares. The other 82% is privately owned (how much of it is on Tory MP’s and Peers estates, one wonders?). Near me there are a couple of ancient Forests – the Forest of Bere and the New Forest. The Forest of Bere was for hundreds of years an ancient hunting reserve. And the New Forest is an enigma all of its own. There are so many ancient customs going on there, and its a real gem of this country that we should be so proud of and protect to the hilt. Particularly at a time when so many people, especially young people, dwell in inner cities and never get to see the countryside – we should be encouraging them to get out and walking in the mud of the Forests. Maybe in this sense communities could take over and run small forests – particularly those on the fringes of urban areas. But only wealthy, well-adjusted communities will have the time, funds and resources to do so.

I cannot understand what the Government hopes to achieve, aside from saving a few quid. Actually, I’ve answered my own question there. Surely some things should be sacred beyond mere penny-pinching? I am in no way convinced about the safeguards in place to prevent private companies – in all likelihood foreign – exploiting and asset stripping the very fabric of our land. We were told before the privatisation of public transport that it would lead to better services and investment, and to be quite frank that was bollocks. The countryside is not an amenity, it IS part of the country. Are we to see ‘the [insert name of faceless company] New Forest’, complete with huge advertising hoardings, blocking access or charging for the right to visit, or exploiting the hell out of the Forest’s resources? We might not, but once control is handed over, what is there to stop it? The consultation talks about ‘alternative models of ownership’, but past experience shows us that this is window dressing for getting something off the balance sheet, and to hell with the consequences, and if someone can profit from it as well, even better.

Is anything about this country sacred? If we are being consulted about selling off our trees, heaths, fields and pastures, had we might as well consult about privatising the oxygen supply as well. For me this goes beyond politics, it’s just plain wrong. Yet only the other day a majority of MP’s in the House of Commons – aided by a large number of Tory MP’s who have rural constituencies and a vacancy in brain cells – actually backed the Government’s plan. Evidence, if any is needed, that MP’s will just go along with whatever their political masters tell them to vote for.

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Monte Cassino by Matthew Parker

Monte Cassino certainly does deserve the epitaph ‘ Stalingrad of the West’, something that Parker advances very well here. By 1944 the focus of the war in Europe might have shifted to the invasion of Normandy, but the campaign in Italy still tied down some of the Germans toughest units, and more than a few able commanders, especially Kesselring.

This is primarily a Soldiers book. Parker describes the strategic background adequately, but does not allow the Generals to overshadow the Privates. Hence we are afforded a rich seam of oral history interviews from eyewitnesses and participants, that are very valuable indeed for those of us trying to gain something of the ‘smell’ of the battlefield from a distance of almost 70 years. The impression I am left with is that the Italian Campaign had much in common with the Western Front of the Great War – the terrain gave the Generals little option but for full-frontal assaults. The ground was very difficult for vehicles, making a maneouvre war very tricky to bring about.

So many different nationalities fought over the monastery – Brits, Americans, Indians (including Gurkhas), New Zealanders (including Maoris), and Poles – that Monte Cassino was perhaps the most ‘allied’ battle of the Second World War. That it took four bloody attempts to finally capture the mountain shows not only what difficult terrain the allies were fighting over, but also how tenaciously the Germans fought. And the terrain did lie in favour of the defender. Steep mountains, perilous tracks, deep ravines and wide open valleys were perfect for setting up defensive lines, which the Germans did right through the Italian Campaign, forcing the allies to break themselves in order to smash through.

The controversy of the bombing of the monastery is also dealt with ably. Whether it was militarily justifiable to destroy the priceless monument will be debated by historians for hundreds of years to come. Yet wisely Parker does not allow his narrative to become bogged down in the controversy. Of course, whether it was right or wrong depends on your point of view, and is encumbered with the baggage of objectivity.

Militarily, several things appear to jump out to me. Commanders should not be rushed into attacking an objective without making prior preparations. Montgomery would never have allowed himself to have been rushed in such a way. Full-frontal assaults of mountains and fortified defences will always result in heavy casualties. And notice how the Germans only pulled out once pincer movements to the north and the south, through more open ground, made the monastery untenable. The sad thing is, that Cassino in itself was a worthless objective, but it became such a symbolic target in a grimly self-perpetuating manner thanks to the losses that it incurred.

I have been researching a number of Portsmouth men who fell at Monte Cassino, and this has added to my understanding of the battle immesurably. One Portsmouth man in particular, Major Robert Easton DSO MBE, played a brave part in the breakout in the Liri valley that led to the final fall of the monastery in May 1944. Rick Atkinson‘s ‘The Day of Battle‘ might give a broader view of Siciliy, Salerno, and then the advance on Rome, but Matthew Parker has made a fine effort of capturing the essence and importance of Monte Cassino.

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Only Revolutions

I’ve never written much about international politics. Apart from long ago wanting to work as a Diplomat for the Foreign Office, my sole experience of international diplomacy is taking part in a couple of model UN debates when I was 16. But then again, I write mainly about two things – defence, and history. And isn’t it pretty impossible to separate politics, defence and history? Each affects the other. And of course at the forefront of my thoughts are the events unfolding right now in Egypt.

History underpins what happens in international politics. Egypt has traditionally been a US bulwark against communism and then extremism in the Middle East, and Israel’s closest friend in the region (although admittedly that’s not saying much). Hence leaders such as Mubarak have been able to stay in power for a long time, and their abuses of power have been overlooked, as long as they present a front against Islamic extremism. Pan-Arabism also broadly unites the region, particularly against Israel. I didn’t realise just how many regimes in the Middle East are the same – so many leaders have been in power for donkey’s years, and in some cases their fathers before them. I guess once President’s become established in office, the longer they are there the harder they have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Whatever that is, its not democracy. And if people on the streets are tearing themselves apart, then there is no meaningful Government of leadership in any case – thats a vacuum, and out of vacuums comes uncertainty. Iraq post-Invasion taught us that.

Countless times we have read about the role of the Army. Egypt has a sizeable military – the third largest in the Middle East after Turkey and Iran – and if it wanted to wade in on the side of either Mubarak of the opposition, that would probably prove decisive. Yet the Army seems unwilling to take a side, and doesn’t even seem willing to separate the two factions. This is probably down to experience, as the Egyptian Army may not be skilled at riot control. Tellingly, it says something about a regime if the Army – usually a representative cross section of society – is not willing to back the President. The military’s role in politics is extremely delicate indeed. An Army can deliver a coup-de-grace to a failing regime, but then it strays into the territory of becoming a military dictatorship. But at the other end of the scale, if the Army cannot intervene internally, then its influence is effectively neutered. Imagine if the British Army had not been able to intervene in Northern Ireland… it would have been a laughing stock.

Hanging over all of these events are the outcomes of previous revolutions. The current upheaval in Egypt was prompted by a similar wave of protest in Tunisia. And we only have to look back to the downfall of Communism in 1989 and 1990 to see how a small protest in one state can provide a tipping point across the region. The downfall of Communism had its roots in the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980’s, and culminated in peaceful revolutions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The lesson from 1989 seems to be that once the people have turned against a regime and are on the streets, it’s in everyones interests for change to take place. History tells us that once the people are on the streets, you can either go on your own terms, or against your will.

Are we looking at a domino effect in the Middle East? Only time will tell. The only fear has to be what might come afterwards.

(oh, and apologies to Biffy Clyro for stealing their album title!)

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A research-based dilemma…

I’m currently in the phase of doing some more primary research for my book on Portsmouth’s Second World War dead. I’ve been looking at doing some research in the Archives of a small, independent military Museum (line infantry Regiment, shall we say). I enquired by email about visiting the Museum to do some research…. no problem. The cost though? £25… AN HOUR! So for a days research, which is the minimum I would need, I would be looking at something in the region of £150! That would be a sizeable percentage of the total money I would make out of selling the maximum print run of my book!

I just think its wrong. All I want to do is write about some brave men who didn’t make it home, but I’ll now have to do it without the help of their Regimental Museum. I know its expensive to run Museums – hell, I know that more than anyone, I pay the bills and process the income for six – but why charge such a prohibitively high cost? If you need to make money, think outside the box and get your income generation hat on rather than hitting people who are trying to do good work. It obviously doesn’t cost £25 an hour to have somebody visit to do research, so why penalise? It’s not as if researchers ever make money out of what they do… only the big-shot historians like Max Hastings or Anthony Beevor really make any money. At best I’m looking at covering my costs. At best.

I always thought the idea of the Regimental Museum was to preserve the memory of those who have died serving with it? Or am I missing a trick – is it that some Museum’s just don’t want any tom, dick or harry turning up poking their noses in, so they set the costs prohibitively high? I’m just at a loss to understand why there is such a barrier to access, study and commemoration. And especially with budget cuts, institutions will be unable to carry out research and projects that they might like to, making it all the more important to encourage and enable individuals to do so instead.

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