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Book Signing – Saturday 2 August 2014

Hi all!

I know that it’s been a long time – I’m still recovering after D-Day 70! – but just to let you all know that I will be signing copies of ‘Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes’ at Waterstones in Portsmouth this coming Saturday, 2 August, between 12 and 2pm.

See you there!

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IT Band = History?

Well it seems like weeks since I’ve last updated here – in fact, its been months!

After getting frustrated with the lack of progress with my IT Band, I finally bit the bullet and went to see Cliff at Kings Road Clinic in Southsea for some physio. After a session of ultrasound, heat treatment and deep tissue massage, all aimed at breaking up the scar tissue, I could barely walk! But a couple of days after I could run, and run more comfortably. Then, the next couple of weeks I ran 9.2, 13.1 and 11.2 miles respectively. Considering I had been running 3 miles a week – if that – then getting into double figures again was a significant achievement. And the progress has carried on since, apart from a few quiet weeks due to work commitments. I’ve been running more comfortably, and further, and faster – all gradually. A couple of weeks ago I ran 6.8 miles for my long run, and I’ve done a couple of 5ks at 23:50ish, which considering my PB is 20:12, isn’t bad after three months injured.

I’ve been doing a lot of strengthening work to try and help out with the muscles that have allowed my IT Band to get weak – abs, hip, glutes etc. And so far it seems to be working. I do squats and planks every night, along with a few other random exercises thrown in for variety. Cliff gave me some stretches to do. I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the lying down IT Band stretch – as it says, you lie down, raise one leg up with your feet near your other knee, then cross it over your body and use your hand to apply some stretch. Doing this little and often – 3 to 4 times a day – has definitely helped to stretch my Bands.

I’m almost fit enough to start running with Pompey Joggers again – I’ll probably start with one of the slower groups and do 5 miles or so at 8-9 min/mile pace. All being well I’m getting back to fitness just in time for the Lakeside 5k series over the summer, the run leg of the Portsmouth Triathlon (doing it as a team with my dad and brother) and the Hampshire Road Race League which kicks off again in September, with the Overton 5 and Victory 5.

Early tomorrow morning I’m going over to France to take part in the Courant de la Liberte 10k in Caen, as part of the Portsmouth team in a challenge against runners from our twin city Caen, and their twin city Wurzburg in Germany. It’s my first race since early March, so I’m not sure how I’ll get on – my PB is 42:48, but I won’t get anywhere near that – I hope to run under 48:00 at least, and 45:00 would be a real achievement.

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Military History: is there anything new to learn?

Last weekend I spent a very interesting couple of days working at our D-Day 70 Community Conference. As well as a visit to Southwick House which served as Eisenhower, Montgomery and Ramsay’s headquarters in the days prior to D-Day (I’d never been before), we also had talks from a range of different speakers. And hearing Dr Simon Trew from the War Studies Department at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst talking about whether there is anything new to learn about D-Day really got me thinking.

My first love in military history was – and still is – Arnhem. For family reasons the airborne battle in Holland in September 1944 has always been very close to me, and I’ve spent years poring over every book I can possibly find on the subject. Even when I have been working on radically different topics, Arnhem has always been there in the background. It’s always been an ambition of mine to write a book about Arnhem, but at the same time I’ve always been hesitant. It’s been written about so extensively that there are literally hundreds of books on Arnhem and Operation Market Garden. There are a wide plethora of specialist books on particular units or individuals, but my biggest bug bear has always been the sheer number of general books on the battle. There are so many, to the extent that with many of them, you could swap the authors names around, and the texts appear to be almost identical in content. Very few of them offer any kind of new research or new insight. Why would I want to wade into that historiography, just to cash in? No, I like to feel that if I am going to spend 2+ years of my life working on a book, that it will contribute something new to people’s understanding.

Hence I’ve left Arnhem well alone. But hearing Simon’s talk about the state of ‘1944’ historiography really got my thinking. And I have to agree, that despite the apparent extensive coverage of the subject, if you look beyond the surface, there is still plenty of work to be done. Very little of the Arnhem historiography is ground-breaking. Surely there must be some documents out there, at the National Archives perhaps, that have not been looked at? Or, are there assumptions in the historiography that need re-visiting? For example, has it occured to anyone that there is no credible evidence that General Browning’s of-quoted ‘Bridge too far’ was ever said? Can more work be done on the large number of oral histories and personal testimonies of other ranks involved in the battle?

One immediate area that occurs to me is the time period between 6 June and 17 September 1944. The British airborne landings in Normandy were an almost complete success, in particular the Pegasus Bridge and Merville Battery operations. How, just over three months later, did the same planning staffs manage to oversee a debacle like Arnhem? Many of you may know the well-known line in ‘A Bridge too Far’ when General Browning refers to fifteen airborne operations being cancelled since D-Day. How much do we know about these plans? Very little, it seems – some of them do not even seem to have received a code name. But they must have generated planning documents, and references in unit war diaries. Do these planned operations explain how Operation Market Garden transpired?

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D-Day on your Doorstep

The D-Day landings and the campaign in North West Europe in 1944 and 1945 are normally thought of as beginning in Normandy on 6 June and ending in Berlin on 8 May 1945. As usual with anything military history related, the real story behind the scenes is much different. The whole campaign from D-Day onwards depended on much preparation in Britain for months, if not years afterwards. In fact, virtually every corner of Britain will have some kind of connection with D-Day.

Millions of troops in Britain – British, American, Canadian and from many other allied nations – had to be accommodated somewhere. They all had to train somewhere. Equipment had to be manufactured and stored; supplies had to be delivered. There were marshalling camps, embarkation points; places where Mulberry Harbours were constructed. Dockyards, airfields, factories. The many units and organisations required numerous different headquarters. It is pretty obvious that in early 1944 Britain was one large armed camp geared up towards becoming a launchpad for the second front.

We’re currently working on a new page on the D-Day Museum website called ‘D-Day on your Doorstep’. Over the coming months we will be adding D-Day related locations to the map, and building a picture of Britain’s role in launching D-Day. We would love to hear from you if your area has any D-Day links, or if you would like to add any detail to the locations that we have already uploaded.

To see the ‘D-Day on your Doorstep’ page visit the D-Day Museum website here.

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The Long Long LONG Trail: First World War on the TV (part 1)

With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War looming, we have already seen a steady increase in the amount of programs related to the First World War on television. Here’s my assessment of what we have seen so far.

Jeremy Paxman’s ‘Britain’s Great War’ was a welcome surprise. I must admit, I find Paxman rather unlikeable on Newsnight, which, as it turns out, does him a great dis-service as a presenter. I really enjoyed ‘Britain’s Great War’, and I felt that it covered many aspects of the First World War that have been previously ignored. We all know about the Somme and Gallipoli, for example, yet how many people knew that Britain was bombed during the First World War? Or about conscription, or rationing?

Max Hastings’ ‘The Necessary War‘ was a disappointment. Aside from the fact that I find Hastings style incredibly grating, I felt that ‘the Necessary War’ was essentially produced for a ‘Daily Mail’ market, as per much of Hastings work, and was full of great power, imperialist nostalgia of a significantly conservative bent. It is certainly useful to question previously held assumptions – of which the ‘futile war’ argument has become something of an orthodoxy. Presenting the First World War as unavoidable is slightly ridiculous – is any war ever completely unavoidable? If not then we might as well all just kill each other now and get it over and done with!

I have long been a big fan of Niall Ferguson’s book ‘The Pity of War‘, but the TV adaptation was rather disappointing. I enjoyed the open format, and it was very refreshing to watch a topical issue being debated in the studio by the audience and academic alike. However I felt that Ferguson’s segments did not really reflect the content of the book on which the program was based, and some of the elements were completely off on a tangent. I felt that it slightly missed the point overall, but the intention was noble and the format more interesting.

So far ‘37 Days‘ has, in my book, been by far the most impressive. A three part docu-drama following the events of July and August 1914 as the unfold, in Sarajevo, Vienna, Berlin and London. As a series it fills a gap in popular understanding. It is not enough to cite’ the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’ as the cause of the First World War – so much happened in between that and the first shots being fired, as this program shows. And I had not realised just how dramatic events were, how interlinked events were, and the complex personalities involved. I am not normally a fan of the ‘great man’ school of history, but this was illuminating, insightful and entertaining in its own right.

We can expect a significant amount of First World War-centric television over the next few months. As much as I welcome the interest, I do hope that we won’t experience overkill by the time 4 August arrives – in the rush to produce topical and relevant documentaries, we can only hope that there is a marked improvement in the scope and quality!

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Afghanistan, Vehicles, and Urgent Operational Requirements

This week’s Top Gear had a very interesting segment about the British Army’s use of ‘soft-skinned’ vehicles in Afghanistan. It is a subject that has been well written about, but now that Operation Herrick is winding down, is it time to pose some questions on British military procurement? It is well known that the British Army entered the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan relying almost solely on the faithful Land Rover for patrolling. Was this a case of simply retaining equipment that had been intended to fight previous wars? Did budgetary constraints prevent proper planning?

One thing that the recent, ‘post-modern’ conflicts have brought about is a re-assesment of the traditional dichotomy of ‘armoured’ and ‘soft’ vehicles. For ‘wars amongst the peoples’, main battle tanks are clearly too big and heavy – physically it is hard to move them around villages, and psychologically they are rather intimidating. Yet the Land Rover proved to be far too lightly armoured to protect servicemen when on patrol, in particular against the roadside bombs and other forms of Improvised Explosive Devices which proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2007 – four years after the British Army went into Iraq, and a year after Britain’s commitment in Helmand province escalated to Brigade and then Divisional level, it was becoming clear that the Land Rover was no longer fit for the task in hand.

The first of the new breed of vehicles to be ordered were the Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound, which are all variants of the American-produced Cougar. Designed by Force Protection Inc – by a British team! – the British Army has in service around 400 Mastiffs, 125 Wolfhounds and 160 Ridgebacks. The original order from the MOD was for 108 vehicles at a cost of £35m. This first batch of vehicles were deployed to Iraq in late 2006, before a further batch of Mastiff’s were ordered in October 2007, at a cost of £100m. These orders came via Urgent Operational Requirements – essentially, when the troops on the ground need something yesterday, in order to make up for the accountants not letting them buy it beforehand. Further purchases have been made since then, taking the total to almost 700 Cougar-variant vehicles. The British variants seem to be heavily armoured compared to the American version.

The Warthog is actually based on a design by the Singapore-based ST Kinetics, called the Bronco. In December 2008 the MOD ordered 100 Warthogs from ST Kinetics, at a cost of £150m. Incidentially, the purchase of the Warthogs came as part of a package of £700m worth of UORs. The Warthogs replaced the lighter-armoured Viking which had been used in Afghanistan previously, but had proved vulnerable to IEDs and roadside bombs. The Vikings were being used in an environment for which they were not procured, having originally been purchased as amphibious vehicles for the Royal Marines. Post Afghanistan the Warthogs will be used by the Royal Artillery as support for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The Jackal and Coyote were designed by the British company Supacat. The first batch of Jackals – 172 – were ordered in 2008. In 2010 another 140 were ordered. Whilst the Jackal is a 4×4 chassis, the Coyote is a 6×6 variant. Many are believed to be used in different forms by Special Forces, and have not been declared in fleet totals. The Foxhound is a light patrol vehicles, based on the Ocelot, designed by Force Protection. The Husky is produced by International Trucks.

In the space of armoured six years, the MOD has purchased over 1,000 vehicles, at a price of hundreds of millions of pounds. From a procurement point of view, it is hard to believe that Urgent Operational Requirements will ever represent value for money – the troops on the ground need it urgently, the politicans will always sign it off to avoid adverse publicity, and therefore the contractors know that they can ramp the price up. Whereas if such purchases were made in ‘peacetime’, without the rush to get them into action, a more efficient procurement exercise would probably deliver better value for money. Of course, it is difficult to predict exactly what kind of vehicles will be needed in any war, as wars don’t always tend to give us plenty of warning, and any conflict will require unique modifications for any equipment, down to climate, local cultures, and so on.

But by the same token, if we don’t know exactly what we will need, should we therefore think not about having equipment that is great in one scenario, but rather having flexibility that allows for easy modification to suit particular needs? There is only so much you can do with a Land Rover Chassis, after all. The same approach applies to air and sea assets – are giant aircraft carriers the right platforms for the wars of the next 50 years? The Type 45 Destroyers are marvellous anti-aircraft warships, but are they flexible enough to react to a range of scenarios? Whilst the Eurofighter is a finely tuned dogfighter, but was any thought given to how it might contribute to a similar range of scenarios? The British Army’s new camouflage was unveilved in the past few years, and the MOD’s policy was that it should be able to work in all environments, rather than just being excellent in one.

The MOD has recently produced a policy entitled ‘Generic Vehicles Architecture’ or GVA. The idea seems to be to create a single standard architecture for British military vehicles – sensible, given the experience of vehicles in Afghanistan. The first ‘post-Afghanistan’ British Army vehicle is the Panther – 401 of these four wheel drive, light multi-role vehicles have been ordered. The Panther is an Italian vehicles, based on the Iveco LMV. With a contract worth £160m contract, they are being assembled by BAE Systems in the UK. The Panther does appear to be a long-term procurement, and is slated to replace the CVRT series of light armoured vehicles (Scorpion et al), the FV432 and Saxon personnel carriers and the Land Rover Wolf. That the Panther is replacing light armoured vehicles and the Land Rover Wolf, suggests that it represents a shift in vehicle policy and doctrine.

Several lessons seem clear from the experience of military vehicles in Afghanistan. The first lesson seems to be that poor military procurement in peacetime – often based on the assumption of there not being a war in the forseeable future and hence money can be saved – actually ends up costing lives and even more money once war inevitably happens anyway. Secondly, it has often been thought that the British Army prepares to fight the last war. In the case of Afghanistan, it is hard to argue otherwise. The Army’s mobility was based overwhelmingly on the Land Rover – a vehicle used extensively by the Army tearing up and down thw Autobahns during the Cold War, and in Northern Ireland. After the end of the Cold War, did it occur to anyone that Britain would find herself fighting different kinds of wars, and that it was not necessarily equipped properly? Granted, it is difficult for anyone to forsee events such as 9/11 and the subsequent conflicts, but did anyone in the Army or the MOD foresee the need to be flexible, to expect the unexpected? Short term economies always seem to cost more money – and lives – in the long term.

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Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters honours the father he never knew

I just caught this story at the end of tonight’s ITV News, and I’m glad that I did.

Earlier today Roger Waters, ex of Pink Floyd, unveiled a memorial to his father, near where he was killed at Anzio, during the Italian Campaign in the Second World War – 70 years to the day after the death of the father that he never knew. Waters had had no idea about when and how his father had been killed, but thanks to research by another veteran, Waters now knows the exact location and manner in which his father, Lieutenant Eric Waters, died.

Waters wrote frequently about his fathers death with Pink Floyd. I’m mindful of one particular set of lyrics, from ‘Another Brick in the Wall part 2′:

‘Daddy’s gone across the ocean, leaving just a memory’

Read the Telegraph story here

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The land at the end of our toes, goes on… and on… and on… and on…

Image

Last May, some, hmm…8 months ago, I took up long distance running. A slightly unusual thing for a military historian to do, I concede.

One of the problems with writing and researching history is that it is very much an indoor job. Couple that to a day job, then it is completely possible to hardly see sunlight for months on end. As interesting and productive as it can be, it isn’t always conducive to  good health, mentally or physically. I had been having a tough time with aspects of my life last year, and realised that I needed to do something positive to try and get some endorphins going and make a change. I’d spend months on end in doors, practically welded to my laptop. I had to get out and do something.

But why running, a seemingly insance pursuit? To regress, some family history. My dad took up running during the ‘running boom’ in the late 1980’s, and ran some very good times – 59 minutes for 10 miles, and a marathon in 3:04:00. He also had a rather intriguing obsession with running up and down Butser Hill, for which I believe there is professional help. But I grew up watching my dad train, while also being a dad and working full time. The smell of deep heat stays with you for many years! Years later my younger brother, Scott, took up running, and within a few years had also run 10 miles in 59 minutes.

I grew up seeing the benefits of long distance running, but also the extreme hard work that it takes to not just complete, but compete. Having been the black sheep of the family and having never run more than a mile for many years, on a whim I signed up to run the Great South Run for Mind, the mental health charity. It is a cause that it very close to my heart, and completely appropriate given the benefits of exercise in beating mental health problems.

Make no bones about it, if you’re not in good shape, starting to run is incredibly hard. Those first few miles are no doubt the hardest, breaking the three mile barrier is like an ever-present brick wall. But to a bloody-minded individual like myself, I find it hard to just complete something, I always want to do it to the best of my ability, to push myself and see what I am capable of (and also prove people wrong too!). I’m never happy with my time in any race, as soon as I finish, I’m thinking how I can break the next milestone – what does it take to run 10k in under 40 minutes, of 10 miles in under 1 hour 10 minutes?

In some respects, long distance running is like planning a military operation. You have to think about what you want to achieve – a time target, or a certain distance, whatever – and the resources that you have – time, money, nutrition, your body etc. Think about the time that you have, and plan how you are going to get there. Looking back, it seems quite ironic that I was writing about thousands of servicemen, who would have been at the peak of fitness and displaying supreme feats of endurance, and I was a couch potato, stuck to my laptop!

There are other military parallels. I had always marvelled at the physical feats of some of the people I have read and written about – Chris Ryans epic march out of Iraq after the Bravo Two Zero operation,  the epic yomp across the Falkands, or the advance of the Paras from their drop zones outside Arnhem to the outskirts of the town, almost ten miles, heavily laden and under fire. Sometimes these feats seem super-human. You wonder how people manage it – are they like the rest of us? And it dawned on me, after watching a video by CT Fletcher, the inspirational American bodybuilding guru. He explained that most servicemen are in the best shape of their lives during basic training. As he says ‘what you didn’t think you could do, your drill Sergeant MADE you do’.  And that probably explains why standard for the Paras is 10 miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes – a time that few runners manage, in running gear and on flat courses. A big, scary bastard shouting at you helps, but if you want it bad enough, you will be able to beast yourself towards it.

The funny thing is, that although there are more people running now than ever, the average times have dropped compared to when my dad was running in the 1980’s. Why is this? Are people happy to complete rather than compete? It’s hard for me to say; I’m by no means an elite athlete, far from it. But I do sense that people do not tend to push themselves in terms of intensity – what can I achieve? What am I capable of? Personally I feel that when I am pushing myself to the limit, that is when I’m really getting the benefits. If you say, ‘I don’t think I can run that fast’, that’s the biggest impediment to you doing just that. I know it is possible to do things that you have never thought possible – I’ve seen people do it. I also think that you need to have a strategy. The marathon is obviously the ultimate symbol of long distance running, and has a mythology all of its own. But I don’t want to get drawn into the 26.2 just yet – I’m not really interested in running 26.2 miles at an ‘ok’ standard, if I can’t really push myself at 10k and 10 miles first. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me to try and ‘run’ before I can ‘walk’!

There is plenty of literature out there about running. I have particularly enjoyed ‘ Running with the Kenyans’ by and ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’ by Sakyong Mipham. Running with the Kenyans looks at the secrets of the Kenyan runners who have been the best long distance runners in the world for the past two decades. Many people have tried to find some supposed ‘secret’ as to why the Kenyans are so good. It transpires that there is no ‘secret’ as such, just a combination of factors, and a lot of hard work. Meditation and running also have strong parallels – breathing and thinking are very important to both, and the power of the mind, when harnessed, can take you places. Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan meditation master, and ran the Toronto Marathon with a new pair of socks – a classic error. After a few miles he developed a blister, and by the end of the race his shoe was full of blood. He managed to finish the marathon by telling his mind that the blister simply ‘wasnt there’. Inspiration stuff (if a silly mistake in the first place!)

Running really is a lifestyle. I joined Portsouth Joggers Club last year, and have found running with likeminded people to be not only beneficial to my training, but also great fun. A little tip – run with people who are just a little bit faster than you – it pulls you along much faster than you would ever run on your own! When I run on my own I always run with music – I have a playlist of songs that are just the right tempo to push me along. Although running keeps you healthy, there is a downside – if you are eating for stamina and putting in the miles, you are looking at lots of carbs – and that means pasta, rice or potato. And day in day out, there is only so much that you can do with staple foods like that!

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Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes – book talks

ImageI’m going to be giving some talks based on my new book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes’, courtest of Portsmouth Library Service:

Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes

  • Saturday 8 February – 1.30pm, Carnegie Library (Fratton)
  • Saturday 8 March – 1.30pm, Southsea Library
Over 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during WW1. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life. Thanks to a
wealth of sources available, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before.

Researching your World War One Ancestors

  • Saturday 29 March – 11am, Central Library

A special talk for the ‘Lost Hour’ event, this talk will show you how you can research your ancestors who took part in the First World War, using examples of men from Portsmouth who fought and died, and shwoing you the sources available to help with your research.

All talks are fully illustrated, and copies of my book will be available for purchase. Hope to see you there, come and say hi!

For more information about how to find the venues, and about other events taking place at Portsmouth Libraries over the next few months, click here.

Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes is also available to purchase on Amazon and other online booksellers, Waterstones Commercial Road, Blackwells at the Student Union, the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson and the City Museum.

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Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes out now!

My new book, Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes, is out now. You can download it as an e-book right away, and I gather the paperback verson is winging its way into the shops as we speak.

ImageOver 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life. Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth s First World War dead, down to where they were born and where they lived. Not only will their powerfully poignant stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices, but they will also provide a vividly clear picture of how Portsmouth and its people suffered during the war to end all wars.

Over 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War – the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life.

Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth’s First World War dead, down to where they were born and where they lived. Not only will their powerfully poignant stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices, but they will also provide a vividly clear picture of how Portsmouth and its people suffered during the war to end all wars

- See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/portsmouths-world-war-one-heroes.html#sthash.1jBCpXeL.dpuf

Over 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War – the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life.

Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth’s First World War dead, down to where they were born and where they lived. Not only will their powerfully poignant stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices, but they will also provide a vividly clear picture of how Portsmouth and its people suffered during the war to end all wars

- See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/portsmouths-world-war-one-heroes.html#sthash.1jBCpXeL.dpuf

Over 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War – the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life.

Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth’s First World War dead, down to where they were born and where they lived. Not only will their powerfully poignant stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices, but they will also provide a vividly clear picture of how Portsmouth and its people suffered during the war to end all wars

- See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/portsmouths-world-war-one-heroes.html#sthash.1jBCpXeL.dpuf

Over 6,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War – the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth-based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life.

Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth’s First World War dead, down to where they were born and where they lived. Not only will their powerfully poignant stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices, but they will also provide a vividly clear picture of how Portsmouth and its people suffered during the war to end all wars

- See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/portsmouths-world-war-one-heroes.html#sthash.1jBCpXeL.dpuf

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Kirchner’s Argentina: externalising domestic tensions

Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner, the President of Argentina, started the year in typical fashion by publishing an ‘open letter’ in the Guardian and the Independent, calling for negotiations over the status of the Falkland Islands.

In the letter Fernandez Kirchner argues that the islands were stripped from Argentina in an act of 19th Century colonialism:

“The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”

The letter ends: 

“In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.”

The historical account put forward by Argentina differs starkly not only from the one on the Foreign Office website, but also general consensus. Ironically, Argentina itself was settled as an act of Nineteenth Century colonialism. It’s like asking the spanish-descended Argentinians to bugger off home, and leave the indigenous peoples in peace.

It is tempting to ask why the Guardian and the Independent published the ‘letter’. However, they are two of Britain’s more forward-thinking newspapers, and advertising income is advertising income, even if it comes from the Argentine Government.

If I was an Argentine citizen, I would be wondering how come my President could find not only the time to worry about publishing an ‘open letter’ in British newspapers, but also how the Argentine Treasury could afford to fund such a grandiose publicity stunt.

The British Government, quite rightly, points out that the Falklands is not a colony, and its relationship with the Falkland Islands is by choice of the islanders, not coercion. Therefore, not only is there nothing for the UK Government to negotiate over, but the islanders have a universal human right, enshrined in the very basic UN principles, to determine their own government and sovereignty.

The answer as to why the issue keeps re-appearing, as so often with latin american politics, lies within. Listed below are just a few of the news stories regarding Argentina from the BBC website in the past few months:

Widespread unrest and looting in Argentina; troops deployed

Seized Argentine Navy ship leaves Ghana

IMF data deadline looms for Argentine fagile economy

Argentina wins court delay over debt

Argentina default over debt likely

So… rioting on the streets and supermarkets being looted; Navy ship seized in a foreign port over unpaid debts; the IMF questioning Argentine honesty regarding financial data; and the possibility of a default over foreign debt… still wondering why Fernandez-Kirchner is trying to divert the attention of her people outside the country’s borders? It’s an ever-present in Argentine politics – when there are problems, the Malvinas issue is dragged out. It’s route one politics and not all that indistinguishable from Galtieri’s methodology in 1982.

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New Year Message from James

Hi all!

First of all, I would like to wish you all – regulars, visitors, friends and family – a very happy new year.

You’ve probably noticed that there has been a marked decrease in the frequency of blog posts recently. I remember quite well they days, years ago when I started this blog, that I often posted two or three articles in a day. Isn’t it interesting how times change! If somebody would like to invent 28 hour days and eight day weeks, please feel free! I’ve been very busy recently, visiting family, working on my next book, and not to mention the ‘day job‘ and trying to relax every now and then. Please rest assured that I do hope to try and post more often, as time and commitments permit.

So what does 2013 hold for me? Well, in a few months Sarah and I will be saying goodbye to Chichester and moving to Portsmouth. A month before that move is due to take place I will be handing in my next book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes’. The writing process for this book has been patchy to say the least – I managed to write 35,000 words in a month, then about 5,000 in three months! It just goes to show how inspiration can come and go. Perhaps I’ve been doing too much military history in the past few years – the research and writing process is very rigid, particularly when you also have a day job. Not only that, but any non-fiction writer will tell you, the financial rewards just aren’t there. Not that I want to make millions from it, but when you sit back and realise how many thousands of hours you put into something, and what you get in return, it just doesn’t cover the costs sometimes, sadly.

I have been thinking about trying my hand at writing fiction again – I used to write a lot of short stories at school and college, which seemed to get good marks. But I’ve been reading and writing so much non-fiction research recently, I’m finding it hard to think creatively, in terms of dreaming up ideas. With history, the facts are there, you find them, and write them up. With fiction, it’s all out in the world around you, and you write it via your imagination. Not only that, but I’ve spent so long recently working, researching, writing and chasing deadlines, that my brain just isn’t thinking creatively. All good fiction writers seem to relax and watch the world go by and let the inspiration flow, rather than force the issue. Think of Dickens and his midnight walks around London, or JK Rowling writing Harry Potter in Edinburgh Cafe’s. I think more hillwalking, camping and fishing might be in order!

My brother is much more of a fiction fan, and has been pushing a lot of good fiction my way recently – Catch 22, Norwegian Wood, All Quiet on the Western Front, Birdsong… and I remain an eternal fan of Bernard Cornwell, in particular the Sharpe novels. I find reading Dickens a real chore, but the stories themselves are marvellous.

So, who knows what I will be writing come 2014?!

Elsewhere around the world, 2013 began as every year seems to begin and end, with Ms Fernandez-Kirchner talking the same old drivel down in Buenos Aires… more of which very soon…

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Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes available for pre-order

I haven’t even written it yet, and it’s not due for publication for another eleven months, but my next book ‘Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes’ has been listed on Amazon and is now available for pre-order:

Pre-order ‘Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes’ on Amazon

Here’s the blurb:

“Over 5,000 men from Portsmouth are believed to have been killed during the First World War – the greatest loss of life that the city has ever known. Not only were thousands of Portsmouth soldiers killed on the Western Front, but Portsmouth based ships were sunk throughout the war, causing massive loss of life. Thanks to a wealth of sources available and painstaking use of database software, it is possible to tell their stories in more detail than ever before. James Daly builds an extremely detailed picture of Portsmouth’s World War One dead, down to where they were born, and where they lived. Not only will their stories tell us about how the war was fought and won, and their sacrifices; but they will also provide a clearer picture than ever before of how Portsmouth and its people suffered”

I’ve also got some other interesting World War One related projects at an early stage of developmentat the moment. Of course with the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War not far off now, there’s going to be a lot of attention on all things Great War over the next few years.

 

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The Complete George Cross by Kevin Brazier

I’ve always been fascinated by the George Cross as an award. Overshadowed by its more high-profile cousin, the Victoria Cross, the George Cross is the highest awardnfor bravery that isn’t in the face of the enemy. I’ve done a lot of research into Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth GC, a Royal Navy Bomb Disposal man who was awarded the George Cross posthumously after being blown up by a mine he was working on in 1940.

This book is a reference work describing the lives and actions of all of the men and women who have won the George Cross to date. There have been a total of 406 awards. There are some staggering statistics – no one has yet been awarded a bar, but several women have won the medal. The island of Malta was collectively awarded the medal in 1942, and in 1999 the George Cross was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. 14 Australians have won the GC, ten Canadians and a Tasmanian. The youngest recipient was just 15, and the oldest 61.

The George Cross was instituted in 1940 by King George VI, inspired by the bravery being shown by civilians and service personnel alike during the Blitz. Military decorations could normally only be awarded for action in the face of the enemy. As a result, many brave actions would have gone unrewarded without the institution of this new medal. In recent years it has come to prominence with a number of awards made for action in Afghanistan, including to Bomb Disposal personnel and Matthew Croucher, a Royal Marine who used himself and his Bergen to shield his comrades from an accidentally dropped Grenade.

Due to its unique criteria, the George Cross has also been awarded to civilians – including a Detective who protected Princess Anne from an attempted abduction in the centre of London. In fact of the 161 direct awards made since 1940, around 60 of them have been awarded to civilians. It has also been awarded to a number of women who worked undercover in occupied Europe during the war, with SOE or assisting in the repatriation of escaped Prisoners of War. 245 recipients of earlier bravery medals exchanged their awards for the George Cross.

I’ve often pondered whether there is a place in the modern military world for two separate awards, and whether the distinction of ‘in the face of the enemy’ is relevant today, in particular with the nature of warfare – is the calm, calculated bravery of a bomb disposal officer any less than an officer leading a bayonet charge, for example? It does seem as odd as the distinction between officers and men that used to appy to gallantry medals until the early 1990’s. Is there any reason why the George Cross should be in the shadow of the Victoria Cross? None that I can think of. In some ways I think that the George Cross is more representative of the unpredictable nature of twentieth century ‘total’ war, and of war amongst the peoples.

Whatever might happen in the future, whats certain is that the George Cross has a rich heritage, and some stories that are very humbling indeed. This is a brilliant book, that I found fascinating to read.

The Complete George Cross is published by Pen and Sword

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The Battle of El Alamein: 70 years on

English: El Alamein 1942: British infantry adv...

El Alamein 1942: British infantry advances through the dust and smoke of the battle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Second Battle of El Alamein, frequently cited as the turning point of the war in North Africa, began 70 years ago today. Whilst at the time it was no doubt a great morale boost for a victory-bereft British public, who had only seen defeat since 1939. History would suggest however that the Second World War was, for the most part, won and lost on the Eastern Front, given the vastly larger number of troops in action in that theatre. Given the perilous state of the country’s armed forces between 1940 and 1942, and given that for a large part of that time Britain was standing alone, a limited campaign in North Africa was probably all that the Army was capable of fighting at the time.

Alamein did once and for all prevent the Germans from breaking through to the Suez Canal, and the oilfields of the Middle East. My Grandad was in Iraq at the time, but ‘missed out’ on Alamein. Of course, it could  said that the Battle of Alam Halfa earlier in 1942 probably ended Rommel’s last chance of winning the war in North Africa. However, Alamein did also mark the rise of Montgomery in public consciousness as a senior commander who won battles.

On the subject of El Alamein, the guys at Philosophy Football have released a special El Alamein 70th anniversary t-shirt, with a Desert Rat artwork and in a nice sandy colour. Check out Philosophy Football’s website here.

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