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

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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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