Monthly Archives: September 2011

ANZAC #1 – Private Andrew Boyd

Road to Pozières: In the distance the village ...

Pozieres (Image via Wikipedia)

I mentioned some time ago that I am going to try and research the twelve Australian Great War Soldiers buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth. Thanks to the Australian National Archive’s wonderfully open approach to service records, I can now begin to tell their stories.

46 Private Andrew Boyd

Andrew Boyd was born in Scone in New South Wales. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 7 April 1915, taking his oath on 12 April 1915. He was 23, a Carpenter, and his parents were Andrew and Mary Boyd, of Hill Street in Scone. Boyd was 5ft 9 1/4 inches tall, weighed 153lbs, with a dark complexion, brown eyes and good eyesight, brown hair, and was a Presbyterian. He effectively joined the AIF on 26 May 1915, at Liverpool, NSW.

Boyd joined the 18th Battalion of the Australian Infantry, part of the 5th Infantry Brigade. He was a stretcher bearer, and also a member of the Battalion’s band. On 25 June 1915 he embarked from Sydney on the HMAT Ceramic. Most Australian recruits left Australia soon after joining up, and underwent training in the Middle East. From there the ANZAC Division fought at Gallipoli, a campaign for which the Anzacs will always be remembered.

on 28 November 1915 he was admitted to the 5th Field Ambulance, and then on 4 December 1915 he was admitted to St Andrews Hospital in Malta, having been taken there by the Hospital Ship Glenart Castle. He was suffering with enteric fever, by no means a rare illness at Gallipoli. By 16 January 1916 he was in Alexandria, and on 22 January he was admitted to the Australian Hospital in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. He was not discharged as fit for duty until March of the same year. Medical reports suggest that it took some time to recover from even a mild attack of enteric fever, as Boyd’s case was described by doctors. At one stage a medical assesment recommended that he be sent back to Australia, but for whatever reason, this did not happen.

On 18 March 1916 he left Alexandria, sailing to Marseille to join the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. On 18 June Boyd was punished, for being in a restricted area without a pass, and being found in an estaminet (bar) without permission. He was awarded 168 hours of Field Punishment no.2 – being shackled.

On 2 August 1916 Boyd was wounded in action, during the Battle of the Somme. The Germans had just launched their final counter-attack on the Australians during the Battle of Pozieres. Boyd was admitted to 1/2nd Field Ambulance with a shell wound in his thigh, and was transferred behind the lines to 44th Casualty Clearing Station. 6 days later he was put on an Ambulance Train to 13th General Hospital in Boulogne. On 12 August Boyd was taken onboard the Hospital ship St Denis to England. The same day he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth, where his injuries were described as severe. By 22 August he was seriously ill, and sadly his condition did not improve. He died on 30 August, from the gunshot wound to his left thigh and contusion of the abdomen. Private Boyd was buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.

His personal effects were sent on to his father –  cap comforter, brush, stamp, book letters, postcards, 2 small bags, 2 testaments, pipe, razor, identity disc, pendant, 2 note books, mirror (broken), wallet, shaving brush, belt, photos, one franc note, 2 stylo pens, 2 handkerchiefs, toothbrush, 2 souvenirs, pipe lighter, scissors, ring, 8 badges (various).

Intriguingly, Boyd’s files contain a letter from his only surviving sibling 50 years later. In 1967 David Boyd wrote to the Army Records Office requesting his brothers Gallipoli star. At the time David Boyd was living at 18 Edinburgh Road, in Marrickville, NSW.

If anyone can help with any aspect of Private Boyd’s story, or any of the other ANZACS buried in Portsmouth, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

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Filed under Pompey ANZAC's, World War One

SS Gairsoppa

tower hill memorial taken 27/11/03 by a brady

Tower Hill Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

Interesting news item yesterday, when it was reported that the wreck of the wartime merchant vessel the SS Gairsoppa had been located and positively identified in the Atlantic, at depths of over 6,000 feet.

The Gairsoppa was built in 1919, originally named War Roebuck. She was taken over by the British India Steam Navigation Company and renamed the SS Gairsoppa. Weighing in at 5,237 tons, she operated out of Glasgow. Her crew numbered 86, made up of British Seamen and Indian Lascars.

In 1941 she was returning from Calcutta in India to Britain, via the Cape of Good Hope, carrying a mixed cargo, but more interestingly, hundreds of tons of silver bullion. Off Sierra Leone she joined Convoy SL-64. Slowed down by poor weather and running low on coal, on 15 February the Gairsoppa detached from the convoy and headed for Galway in southern Ireland. At 1800 on 16 February she was spotted by U-101. After trouble keeping up with the Gairsoppa in the deteriorating weather, at 2328 that evening the Commander Ernst Mengersen fired three torpedoes.  The freighter was heavily damaged, and settled in the water burning. The survivors abandoned ship, and she sank within 20 minutes, 300 miles south west of Galway.

Out of three lifeboats, two were lost without trace. One, containing the second officer and 31 men, survived. After seven days most had died of exposure. On 1 March only the second officer, four british sailors and two lascars were alive when the boat reached the Lizard in Cornwall, after two weeks at sea. Tragically, all but the second officer perished when the lifeboat was swamped in the surf. The Master, Gerald Hyland, 82 crew members and 2 gunners were lost.

The Third Master was a Portsmouth man – Campbell Morrison, aged 24, an old boy of St Johns College in Southsea. He is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial in London to Merchant Seaman with no grave other than the sea.

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Portsmouth Air Festival 2012

Remember in my review of Shoreham Airshow this year, I hinted at rumours about an air-based event much closer to Portsmouth next year?

Portsmouth Air Festival 2012

I gather the event hasn’t been properly ‘launched’ yet, that’s going to happen later in October, but looking good!

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Depressing Goings on in Portsmouth Naval Base

HMS Liverpool

HMS Liverpool - Image by Defence Images via Flickr

The Queens Harbour master‘s website is showing alot of goings on in Portsmouth Dockyard in the next few days.

Earlier today the Tug Vortex brought in the ex-HMS Chatham, one of the recently decomissioned Type 22 Batch 3 Frigates. Tomorrow the Tug Compass is taking out the ex-HMS Exeter, presumably to the scrapyard. Exeter, a Type 42 Destroyer, is a Falklands veteran and is probably being shifted off to make room for more new arrivals. And then on Sunday, another Tug is bringing in the ex-HMS Campbeltown, one of the sister ships of Chatham.

In the near future we can expect the other two Type 22’s to arrive – Cornwall and Cumberland – and more Type 42’s to leave for the scrapyard – Nottingham, Southampton, and Gloucester. Manchester and Liverpool won’t be far behind in the next year or two. You know it’s bad when they have to get rid of decomissioned ships to make room for yet more decomissioned ships.

In other news, apparently a group of enthusiasts in Liverpool are putting together a campaign to preserve HMS Liverpool in the city once she retires from service. As I have often said here, our record in this country for preserving modern warships is woeful. But I cannot help but think that acquiring the ship is the easy part, actually getting the money to keep her in a fit state to be a succesful visitor attraction is the difficult bit. Personally I would like to see something with some merit preserved – a Falklands veteran, for example. But it will be interesting to see how the Liverpool campaign goes.

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Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories of World War II edited by Peter G. Tsouras

I’ve always been a bit dubious about alternate histories. I’ve always thought of them as ‘what might of happened, but didn’t happen’. Therefore if it didn’t happen, why are we worrying about it? But then again, I guess thats like saying that just because something is in the past then it’s irrelevant, as its behind us. Just as understanding the past gives us a handle on the future, understanding how past events turned out how they did probably gives us a firmer grip on that handle. Confused? me too! Now that we’ve established that alternate histories and conspiracy theories are not the same thing, lets take a look at this thought provoking book.

One thing you can say about Hitler, is that perhaps no-one in history has shown such inconsistency when it comes to decision making – at times he had an impeccable intuition, and at other times managed to cock things up when it was far easier to get it right. It is, surely, a matter of conjecture to imagine a scenario in which Hitler might have won the war – the strength of the US and Soviet Union made it pretty unlikely in my mind. But, certainly, some aspects of the war might have turned out very differently.

Let’s consider some of the chapters. In ‘May Day’ by Nigel Jones, Lord Halifax becomes Premier instead of Churchill, who is made Minister for War. Churchill is killed flying over France in 1940, the Panzers do not pause before Dunkirk, the BEF is overwhelmed and Hallifax sues for peace. This set of circumstances were by no means impossible. Hallifax seemed to be everyones preferred candidate to succeed Chaimberlain. Churchill was lucky to escape harm during the war. And, above all, Hallifax did not have the gumption to keep up the fight when things got tough.

Operation Felix sees the Spanish colluding in the Axis, and supporting the capture of Gibraltar. Of course without such a strategic port the Mediterranean would have been closed to British shipping, Malta overwhelmed, North Africa seriously weakened and Italy strengthened. Again, if Spain had joined in the war on the Axis side, it is hard to see how Gibraltar could have outalsted a prolonged onslaught, although one suspects its defenders might have put up a serious fight. A couple of chapters consider how the war might have turned out if Mussolini and the Italians had performed better than they did, and although this is mere conjecture, a stronger Italy would have presented less of a millstone to the Third Reich.

One very interesting scenario is the co-opting of Nazi and Islamic interests in the conquest of the Middle East. It is well known that Hitler courted the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an extremist islamic figure. An uprising in Palestine and Iraq would have seriously undermined British control of vital oil reserves, and the route to India. A further chapter sees the Caucasus – on the flank of the Middle East and an oil field itself – captured by Kurt Student‘s paratroopers, following on from Crete. As for the Eastern Front overall, successive chapters see Moscow captured by the Wehrmacht, and the beleagured Sixth Army at Stalingrad breaks out and joins up with the rest of the German Army, avoiding a serious strategic defeat that in the event turned the tide on the Eastern Front.

Going back to the Mediterranean, Malta was lost under prolonged bombardment, after supply convoys failed to get through. The loss of Malta would have removed a thorn in the side of the Axis supply routes to North Africa, removed a key staging post from the Royal Navy, and gave the Italiand and Germans a platform to control the Med. The loss of Malta was something that was a very real risk, I feel.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the last chapter considers what might have happened had the US Generals prevailed and an early invasion been launched in the Cotentin peninsula before 1944. In this scenario, a smaller, poorly trained and unprepared allied army is eventually thrown back into the sea, after landing in too small an beachead. Hitler is then free to concentrate on the Eastern Front, while US and British relations are irreparably damaged. Oddly, this scenario sees Patton and Monty becoming firm friends, reminding us that it is, after all, an alternative history!

I found this a very thought provoking read. Some of the scenarios were more likely in my opinion than others, but considering how various decisions were made and events transpired between 1939 and 1945, the war could have taken a lot longer and cost many more lives, had the allies made more errors and Hitler made less. It would have taken a coincidental set of events, but did not such a course of events derail Operation Market Garden?

Hitler Triumphant is published by Pen and Sword

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The Soviet Soldier of World War Two by Philippe Rio

This book is an absolute gem!

As somebody who was brought up on D-Day and Arnhem, my knowledge of the Eastern Front is pretty limited. Sure, I know about Stalingrad,  the Kursk, Berlin, that kind of thing. But to say I know very little about the Red Army is an understatement indeed.

In concept this book is very similar to the ‘handbook’ series produced by Sutton, but bigger, shinier, and more detailed. My first thought was, how the hell did they get hold of all this militaria and ephemera? If it’s somebody’s personal collection, it must have taken them years – and a decent bank balance – to acquire. Some of the photographs in particular have never been seen before.

Im also glad to say its not just a nerdy look at trinkets. If there is one thing that you can say about the Red Army, it is that it was very much a child of its contexts. And those contexts are very important – Lenin and the 1917 Revolution, the Civil War, Stalin and the Great Purges, and the Spanish Civil War. The fact that Russian -and indeed Soviety – history, culture and society are so different from what we know in the west make it all the more important for us to come to terms with peculiarities such as the commisar and womens service.

It’s jammed full of statistics – hardware, manpower and units – and also gives good coverage to the different arms of service – infantry, cavalry, ski troops, parachutists, armour, and services such as the signals, medics, engineers, NKVD and partisans. But it is in medals, orders, badges and insignia where things get really crazy. For what was supposed to be a classless society, the USSR had an unbelievable amount of decorations, rank distinctions and identifying marks! The possibilities for different arm of service colours on headwear, sleeves and shoulder boards are mind boggling!

The amount of different headgear and uniforms is also interesting – in particular my personal favourite, the Ushanka. Of course, the Red Army also developed much specialist equipment and clothing for cold weather fighting, such as warm footwear and greatcoats. Personal Equipment and small arms are also covered, and the book finishes with a number of portrait studies and interpretations of Red Army figures. An Infanty Kapitan in Brest-Litovsk in 1941, for example, or a Serzhant of the Guards Infantry in Poland in July 1944.

I should imagine anyone wanting to re-enact the Red Army would find this absolutely invaluable.

The Soviet Soldier of World War Two is published by Histoire et Collections

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Austrlian war dead buried in Portsmouth

I noticed an article in the Evening News recently appeaing for information about Australian soldiers from the First World War who are buried in Portsmouth. There are 12 ‘Diggers’ buried in Milton Cemetery, and the Cemeteries Office in Portsmouth are looking for information about them. In particular, it would be great if we could identify any family living in the UK in time for the next ANZAC day. These guys are buried such a long way for home, and it would be nice to do something for them.

Fortunately we are in luck, as Australian Great War Service Records are readily available, for free, on the Australian National Archives website. And the couple I have looked at so far run to 80+ pages of information! If anybody knows anything about them, or is a relative, feel free to get in touch and I will pass any info on to the Cemetery Office.

These are the 12 Diggers, and what we know about them so far:

BOYD, Andrew
Private, 46, 18th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of wounds 30 August 1916. Age 24.
Son of Andrew and Mary Boyd, of Hill St., Scone, New South Wales.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 14.

CRAIG, John Henry D.
Corporal, 1912,
17th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of wounds 17 November 1918. Age 22.
Son of Andrew Craig and Margaret Clelland Craig, of Killingworth, New South Wales. Born in Scotland.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 11.

FULTON, Thomas
Private, 1996,
47th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of wounds 24 August 1916. Age 33.
Son of John and Catherine Fulton,
of 640, Bourke St., Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 13.

GEARING, Harry Alan Cheshire
Lieutenant,
Australian Army Service Corps.
Died of diabetes 16 March 1917. Age 31.
Son of Henry George and Mary Gearing;
husband of Bertha Gearing.
Grave Ref. I. 1. 40.

GRAY, Hubert
Gunner, 19773,
3rd Div. Ammunition Col.,
Australian Field Artillery.
Died of sickness 11 November 1916. Age 35.
Son of John and Jane Gray;
husband of C. I. Gray, of Beech St., Whittlesea, Victoria, Australia.
Born at Prahran. Victoria.
Grave Ref H. 19. 9.

JONES, Clarence Morgan
Private, 4527,
57th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of sickness 10 December 1916.
Son of Charles James and Mary Ann Jones,
of Oatlands, Tasmania.
Born at Bothwell, Tasmania.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 15.

LYNCH, Thomas Francis
Private, 130,
32nd Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of wounds: 18 December 1916.
Son of Henry Francis and Mary Lynch,
of 42, Tfould St., Adelaide, South Australia.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 5.

MELVILLE, Andrew
Driver, 227,
24th Bn, Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of sickness 28 August 1918. Age 21.
Son of Andrew and Sophie Melville,
of 117, Peel St. North, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 12.

PEARSON, Thomas Owen
Private, 69/A,
25th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of wounds 26 July 1916. Age 20.
Son of Thomas and Ellen Mabel Pearson,
of Wilmington St., Newmarket, Queensland.
Born at Maitland, New South Wales.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 4.

ROBERTS, John Thomas
Private, 2882,
44th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died of sickness 11 November 1917. Age 28.
Son of William John and Esther Roberts,
of 56, Stirling St., Footscray, Victoria, Australia.
Born at Mount Egerton, Victoria.
Grave Ref H. 19. 7.

WAKE E.
Private, 4482,
3rd Aust. Gen. Hosp., Australian Army Medical Corps.
Died of sickness 18 January 1916. Age 31.
Son of Edward George and Emilie Wake;
husband of V. E. Wake,
of 45, High St., North Sydney, New South Wales.
Born at Scottsdale, Tasmania.
Grave Ref. H. 19. 8.

Wall, George Savoury Lipscombe
Lance Corporal, 6104,
37th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.,
Died: Drowned 3 August 1918. Age 25.
Son of Francis Gordon Wall and Blanche Wall,
of Wells Rd., Mordialloc, Victoria, Australia.
Born at Thorpdale, Victoria.
Grave Ref. H. 19.6.

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Tattoos – a quick social history

I went with someone to go and get a tattoo done the other day. And no, before you ask, it wasn’t on me! I actually found the process quite interesting, much nicer than having a blood test or an injection, no doubt because the environment is much nicer…

Anyway, while there I got talking to the tattooist. Much like taxi drivers and barmen, they see all sorts and hear all sorts. And we got onto the subject of how tattoos are perceived by society. We came to the conclusion that although tattoos have gone a lot more mainstream nowadays – thanks to people like David Beckham, Robbie Williams et al – there is still a stigma attached to them. People still assume that if you have a tattoo, then you must be either a criminal, a sailor, a biker or a prostitute.

Maybe it’s because I come from Portsmouth – the home of the Royal Navy – or that I’ve got a lot of friends into heavy metal, but I’ve never understood the fuss about tattoos. Someone once described it to me thus… some people go out and buy a painting and hang it on the wall. Some people, however, like to wear the ‘painting’ on them. It’s a form of expression, albeit a very commited and lasting one. And gone are the days when the black ink turned manky and green – you can see some really impressive tattoos now, it really is an artform.

It’s not surprising that Royal Navy sailors picked up the art of tattoing. It has been going on in some parts of the world for thousands of years, in particular some of the Pacific Islands. And on their travels, sailors picked up these kind of customs and made them their own. How else do we think that curry was eaten in Portsmouth, well before Indian restaurants? I would argue that in actual fact, tattoos have been part of the mainstream in Portsmouth society for hundreds of years. Many young men in Portsmouth would have had tattoos, in fact it was probably the norm, especially for sailors. And what Portsmouth’s families don’t have a sailor or two down the line somewhere? Ironically my great-grandfather, Thomas Daly, had more tattoos than any of his descendants, to my knowledge. According to his service record he sported a cross on his right forearm and dots on his left. George Cross winner Reg Ellingworth had tattoos on both arms. Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird of the Royal Marines had two dots on his left forearm. Chief Yeoman of Signals George Pankhurst had an interesting tattoo on his right arm – a bird on a branch. Apparently there were complex conventions about what tattoos represented what in the Navy – often where a person had served or what they had done.

A few years ago the Royal Naval Museum held an exhibition on the naval history of tattoos. Sadly I did not get to see it, but I’m sure it must have been pretty interesting. I’ve read plenty of stories about how young sailors would get taken to a tattooist by their ‘sea-daddy’ whilst on a run ashore, not having any choice in the matter. No less a person than King George V was tattooed in this manner – although these were never seen in public, the Steven Poliakoff drama the Lost Prince alludes to them.

So in conclusion, I think the stigma about tattoos is completely unwarranted. They have been a part of life on earth for thousands of years. Having a tattoo does not make anyone less of a person. If anything, I think that judging someone for something so trivial is, subconciously, a way of putting yourself on a pedestal by putting them down. Very sad, and very 19th Century.

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SAS Trooper by Charlie Radford, edited by Francis Mackay

I really enjoyed this book, and probably for different reasons than intended. And probably for what some people consider to be the least glamorous parts of this story!

Charlie Radford grew up in Devon. Joining the Royal Engineers just prior to the start of the Second World War as a boy Sapper. We follow Charlie to North Africa, where he was in action with an RE Field Company in Algeria and Tunisia – one of the least known campaigns of the war. Volunteering for Special Forces, Charlie then joined the SAS. The SAS had been formed only a few years before in North Africa, and Charlie Radford joined just in time to take part in operations behind enemy lines in German occupied France, immediately after D-Day. After returning from France, his unit were then sent to Italy, to link up with Partisans in Northern Italy.

The SAS in 1944 was still in its infancy, and although the modern Regiment traces its lineage back to this time, the early pioneers were still very much finding their way by trial and error. Trained to parachute into action, the SAS had much success operating in North West Europe behind German lines, with heavily armed and mobile Jeeps. It was a tactic that had worked in the Desert. By contrast, when Radford and his comrades parachuted into Northern Italy, they seem to have struggled for equipment and supplies, and were dependant on local partisans – a slightly precarious position, one feels.

After leaving the SAS, Charlie had to serve out his service with the Royal Engineers, his parent unit. He didn’t do this quietly, for he was sent to East Africa as an NCO in an Engineer Squadron, working with African natives, in particular the Askari tribe, in Kenya, Tanazania and Somalia. These were interesting times, and Radford’s recollections of life in 1940’s British Africa are fascinating. In fact, to consider this just another  Special Forces memoir is to do it a diservice.

The stories of SAS raids are exciting, and I suspect why the publishers felt Radford’s memoirs deserved to make it into print. But for me, it is the human elements that make this story so interesting. The memories of a young man from Devon joining the Army and going through basic training, life onboard troopships, liaisons with women during wartime, Army food, and things like that. For example, Charlie felt that Winston Churchill lost the General Election in 1945, as his generation were more educated and more independently minded than their forefathers in 1918, and did not want to be controlled or talked down to any more. Interesting stuff for the social historian. In particular I was rivetted by his experiences in East Africa, certainly not a part of the world that many young men from England would have known much about in the 1940’s.

But all throughout, Radford sounds like a very normal, down to earth young man – something that is very endearing to the reader, and very important in keeping our sense of perspective that these men were young men, the same as we are today. The more of these kinds of memoirs that make into print the better – we will be very glad of it in years to come.

SAS Trooper is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, social history, special forces, Uncategorized, World War Two

Back from oop North

Tinsley Towers and Meadowhall at Night

Image via Wikipedia

Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend guys, I’ve just got back from a weekend visiting relatives in Sheffield. A special mention to Sam, Andrew, Thomas, William and of course baby Harry!

Sheffield’s a pretty interesting place… of course we all know about Sheffield steel. Sheffield was famous as a centre for metalworking as far back as Chaucer‘s writing in the 13th Century. At the confluence of two rivers – the Don and the Sheaf, and with abundant supplies of coal in the surrounding area, Sheffield was an ideal location for furnaces. And of course things got even busier in the Industrial Revolution, with people such as Henry Bessimer and Benjamin Hunstman developing new techniques of producing quality steel.

My brother summed it up quite accurately, I feel. Sheffield pretty much reflects the developments in Britain since the 1980’s. Once an industrial centre with an international reputation, the steelworks at Meadowhall were closed down, and replaced with a vast shopping complex. All very nice, but virtually all of the shops are selling goods made outside of the UK, and people are just consumers. Whats more, most of the profits go outside of the UK too. What do we actually DO nowadays? Industries such as Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding etc might have been in a  bit of a state in the 1970’s, but was it really wise to consign them to the scrapheap? Instead why not sort out the problems and become competitive? And in favour of what, becoming a nation of shopkeepers? It hasn’t changed much in recent years either, with the refusal to give a Government loan to the Forgemasters company in Sheffield, who make critical components for nuclear submarines, amongst other things.

Having said all of that, Sheffield does seem to have adapted to 21st Century Britain better than many places. And at least the acres of redundant steelworks have provided opportunities for redeveloment. At least meadowhall gives people jobs, and pulls in investment from outside the area. The World Student Games in 1991 also provided a catalyst, with the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Arena and Ponds Forge Swimming Centre. It’s not a coincidence that so many great athletes have come from Sheffield in the past few years.I guess Sheffield has carved out a bit of a new identity for itself, but it was a great mistake to demolish the iconic Tinsley cooling towers, alongside Junction 34 of the M1!

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Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick

I guess it’s always going to be a dilemma. What kind of book do you take with you to the Hospital to read while your other half is having a camera put somewhere unpleasant? Topiary? Chess? micro nutrients in the reef aquarium? All very tempting, but in the end I went with Luftwaffe Fighter Aces.

And very interesting it was too. What startled me most is the high number of kills that the Luftwaffe’s top aces had – over 200 in many cases. Whereas in the western allies – RAF, USAAF for example – any pilot who shot down 5 or more enemy aircraft was considered an ace. The RAF’s leading ace, Pat Pattle, accounted for 51 enemy aircraft. The difference is partly that German Jagdwaffe pilots spent a lot more of the war in combat, from Poland in 1939 onwards, but also that many of them were in action in Russia during Barbarossa, when the hordes of poorly trained, poorly equipped Russian fighters provided rich pickings. Erich Hartmann might have shot down an incredible 352 enemy aircraft, but all but seven were Russian. Men such as Adolf Galland and Werner Molders, renowned as among the greatest, actually scored very low compared to some of their compatriots.

The book is structured chronologically, looking at the development of the Luftwaffe, the Spanish Civil War as a proving ground, the early campaigns, the Battle of Britain, Barbarossa, North Africa, and then the Allied Bomber Offensive later in the war. Spick has looked admirably at the technical issues, the tactics involved (including some nice diagrams of dogfighting maneouvres), and woven into the narrative details of the careers of some of the Luftwaffe’s greatest pilots. Also of note are the considerable political problems that the Luftwaffe had to overcome, not the least the interference of the Fuhrer, and the refusal of Goring to accept that air combat had changed since he was in action over the Western Front in 1918.

Two Luftwaffe aces I have a particular interest in are Helmut Wick and Hans Wolfgang Schnauffer. Helmut Wick is believed to have shot down Flight Sergeant Hubert Adair in his Hurricane over Portsmouth on 5 November 1940. Wick is also believed to have shot down Flying Officer James Tillett near Fareham on the same day. Wick himself was killed on 28 November 1940, when he was shot down over the English Channel. He had claimed 56 victories – low in the context of the war, but very succesful considering most were gained within a year of flying, and were against the RAF rather then the Red Army Air Force.

Hans Wonfgang Schnauffer is renowned as the Luftwaffe’s greatest night fighter pilot, with 121 victories. This is even more incredible, when we consider that he only began flying in June 1942, straight from flight training school. Schnauffer shot down the Halifax Bomber of 35 Squadron, in which Sergeant Francis Compton was a tail gunner. On the night of 29 June 1943, Schnauffer intercepted Halifax HR812 over Belgium.

Luftwaffe Fighter Aces is published by Pen and Sword

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Tracing your Tank Ancestors by Janice Tait and David Fletcher

Some books land on your doormat and you think ‘thank you!’. The Tracing your.. Ancestors series books are most definitely among them, and particularly anything of a military persuasion! This book is published in conjunction with, naturally enough, the Tank Museum in Bovington. The authors are Janice Tait and David Fletcher, resident Librarian and Historian at the Tank Museum respectively.

As we might expect, this book is very strong on the history of Tanks in the British Army.Right from the Corps beginning during the Second World War, its difficult experiences in the inter-war period and the mechanisation of the old Cavalry Regiments, the crucial armoured battles in the Second World War, the era of national service, and then the modern world of the Cold War and the British Army of the Rhine. The history is flawless, as is the coverage of technical issues, tank names and industrial aspects. It is also very good at covering those quirky little historical points that are unique to the British Army – namely the manner in which men consider themselves members of their Regiment rather than the Army as a whole, and the politics of mergers and inter-Corps rivalries.

Each chapter is structured chronologically, looking at the Tank history of a particular era. Then at the end the reader is given pointers towards where to research, be it institutions, documents, websites or books. Even though I consider myself an experience military historian, I learnt a few things here. Perhaps the family history aspect is slightly light compared to the general history, but then again, I’m not sure that there is much more than could be added. I would maybe have liked to have read more about what is held in the Tank Museum’s collections, perhaps some comprehensive listings rather than ‘here are some examples…’

One issue where I feel it does let down the reader, is when the authors allow themselves to become, dare I say it, slightly snobby about family history. Yes, for us experts, we can get frustrated at ‘amateurs’ getting things wrong. But it is their family history, more than it is ours. We shouldn’t expect every person to know the difference between the Tank Corps and the ROYAL Tank Corps. Or fussing over whether someone was actually a ‘Desert Rat’. Such points are not really that important to the reader, I feel. Thats exactly why we ask the experts.

But I applaud Pen and Sword for collaborating with the Tank Museum. It makes sense, in terms of accessing unparalleled expertise, and also gaining access to an unrivaled collection of photographs. This book will be of interest to all military historians, not just in terms of family history – I can imagine it coming in handy when researching any tank-servicemen. It’s going to stay on my bookshelf thats for sure.

Tracing your Tank Ancestors is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Family History, Uncategorized, western front, World War One, World War Two