Tag Archives: Sharpe

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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The Lee Enfield .303 and British marksmanship

Thanks to x for pointing out this video.

You’ll often read in Great War history books about how the regular troops of the British Expeditionary Force at Mons in 1914 managed to put out such a rate of fire that the German’s thought that they were being faced with Battalions of Machine Guns. Watch this video and its easy to see how well trained troops could put out some serious lead with an SMLE! Multiply this rate of fire by 1,000 – the strength 0f a Battalion – and you really wouldn’t want to be in the way.

Historically, British marksmanship has always been pretty good compared to other armies. I can remember reading about how even during the Napoleonic War the British Army was the only one that practised with live rounds, and reading the Sharpe novels you get a real sense of how important massed ranks of volley fire were. When you add in the early interest that the British Army took in the Baker rifle, then you also have a heritage of accuracy too.

All this possibly goes some way to explaining why the establishment feared the Machine Gun – the Generals preferred their soldiers to fire deliberate, well aimed shots, making each one count. But, as any good guitar player will tell you, speed is a by product of accuracy – get it right first, and then get it fast. Read Dan Mill’s ‘Sniper One’ about the insurgency in Iraq in 2004, and you’ll see how apparently the insurgents found it seriously uncool to aim their AK47′s, and simply to blaze away from the hip. No wonder during World War Two the Army feared the sub-machine gun – calling them’gangster guns’ – apprehensive that soldiers would begin blasting away like Al Capone!

This culture might also explain why post-WW2 Britain adopted a rifle like the SLR, rather than something like the M16.

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Navy Days 2010 – the rest of the sights

7 Dock

There’s always plenty more to look at at Navy Days other than the Warships – OK, so they are the big draw, but you can find some pretty interesting stuff on the docksides too.

I had an interesting chat with a Gentleman at the Project Vernon stand. Project Vernon aims to erect a statue at Gunwharf Quays, commemorating the sites heritage as the Royal Navy’s centre for Minewarfare until its closure in 1996. I’ve been researching a minewarfare man, CPO Reg Ellingworth GC, so I think its a wonderful idea and a very good project – good luck to them!

One of the highlights of the day, for me, was getting to visit the Royal Navy Historical Branch. This is one of those quiet departments that you know exists, but get to actually visit once in a blue moon. Their library seemed to have the Mariners Mirror, the Navy List, and practically every other kind of naval and maritime journal. While I was there a number of visitors were getting some advice about their ancestors naval service. I had a very interesting in-depth discussion with one of the members of staff about naval service records – how difficult they are to read, what all the abbreviations mean, and how to interpret them. The conclusion? Somebody needs to write a book on it! And also, it would be great if resources like this could be more accesible.

Type 26 model

The BAe System stand was very interesting. In effect the only shipbuilding company of note in Britain nowadays, BAe are leading the work on the Type 45 Destroyers, the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, the Astute Class submarines, and design work for the new Type 26 Frigates. As you might expect their stand was very flash indeed.

Another stand I found interesting was the HMS Intrepid stand. A small group dedicated to perserving her memory had on display some relics from the Falklands veteran landing ship. Apparently when it came to scrapping her the old girl put up quite a protest, and even her name plate would not come off without a fight!

RM

In terms of harbour and air displays, things were a bit thin on the ground. I did catch the Royal Marines anti-piracy boarding demonstration, which looked excellently conducted, and shows what they can do when they’re actually allowed to (reference the incident in the Indian Ocean last year when a Marine boarding party was not allowed to rescue a kidnapped British couple). The Royal Navy Lynx Helicopter display team the Black Cats put on a display, as did the Royal Navy’s historic flight Harvard, but I’ve seen both of them before several times now. While I was on one of the warships the Royal Artillery’s Black Knights parachute display team – why is it that every armed forces unit has its own parachute display team?

The arena events were ok, if not spectacular or unusual. The Royal Marines, Royal Navy volunteer and Rose and Thistle Pipe Bands are firm fixtures at these type of events. I’m a bit mystified as to what the Solent Dog team has to do with Navy Days – I could have understood if it was an MOD police dog display or something like that. The Royal Signals white helmets motorbike display team disappeared from the programme, even though they had been announced earlier in the year. I can’t say I was particularly excited about Bloodhound either – the supersonic car. Again, quite what its got to do with the Navy, who knows…

Re-enactment groups are always good to see, whatever you think about re-enactors, it brings history to life in a far more accesible way. I spotted the Fort Cumberland Guard, The Coldstream Guards, some gentleman doing Napoleonic Musket firing near HMS Victory, and a group rowing a Victory-era small boat in 1 Basin. There weren’t as many wandering entertainers as I’ve seen in previous years, however.

Aachen

While we’re talking about boats, I forgot to mention RCL Aachen, a British Army operated and crewed large Landing Craft. She’s run by the Royal Corps of Logistics, and based at Marchwood in Southampton Water. According to her crew she can operate with the Royal Navy’s amphibious forces, but spends much of her time operating as a kind of water-borne taxi for the army, taking small numbers of men and equipment from one place to another by water.

However, the biggest pleasant surprise was finding Jason Salkey, who played Rifleman Harris in the Sharpe TV series. This was really quite something, as Sharpe is probably the reason why I am into military history in the first place. Jason’s a very nice bloke, and happily talked about Bernard Cornwell’s books, Sean Bean, and how sad he is that after he was killed off in Sharpe’s Waterloo he cannot appear in any future programmes.

1 Basin

Something that not a lot of people appreciate, is that the Dockyard buildings themselves have an awful lot of history – all you need to do is take a look at one of the many books by Ray Riley or Brian Patterson – every dock, storehouse, boathouse, jetty or basin has its own history. If only those bricks could talk… And when Navy Days is on you get to look round parts that aren’t normally open to the public, and take pictures from different angles – especially of 1 Basin from the top of RFA Argus!

All in all, there could have been a more and better displays, in particular in the air and in the arena. I can’t believe that on its biggest showcase of the year the Navy – or indeed the other armed forces – could not put on more. Its either lack of resources, costcutting, or sheer lack of effort. Thankfully some of the rare gens – such as meeting Jason Salkey, the Historical Branch, finding out about Project Vernon, RFA Argus and talking to some of the sailors on the ships made up for things. But theres something wrong when the sideshows are more interesting than the ships…

Apparently the word is that there won’t be a Portsmouth Navy Days in 2012 as it clashes with the Olympics – what that’s got to do with it I’m really not quite sure… why not just move it to another part of the year? Sounds like cost-cutting to me, unless of course the Type 45 Destroyers are going to be part of the air defence cordon off the Thames Estuary… There is talk of an event being put on next year, but as usual it looks like Portsmouth will miss out.

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