I’m well advanced with writing Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes. I’ve written about 65% of the text, and have the research in hand to base most of the rest on. So with several months to go and having the text itself well in hand, my thoughts have been turning to selecting illustrations.
Most historic illustrations that are of use for publications such as mine are held by various Museums or Archives – the Imperial War Museum, for example. Most charge a fee for authors to use their images, which is only fair enough. But many charge rather high rates, and just thinking ahead, if I used all of the images that I would LIKE to use, with reproduction fees I would be running at a loss – I would be spending more on images than I would make if every book sold. Sadly, its prohibitive, as book contracts either stipulate that the author bears the cost of reproductions, or has it deducted from his or her royalties.
I wonder if I am the only person in this position? I wonder how many fascinating images are not used simply because it costs too much to reproduce them? I guess this comes back to my old argument I have made before about Museums and Archives and charging. If fees are too high, a barrier to access is created, and history is neglected. If fees are more sensible, more people can research, and the history gets taken care of.
Aside from my rant, can anyone think of any good cheap sources of military images? Finding plenty of cheap or free images might help subsidise getting hold of more from institutions that charge. Of course, photos that you take yourself are free, and it helps if you can find photos from provate sources who are willing to let you publish them. Of course if anyone has any photographs of men or women from Portsmouth who died during the War I would be very interested to hear from them, and I would be more than happy to make a suitable donation to a relevant charity in lieu of a reproduction charge.
HMS Cumberland (Image via Wikipedia)
According to news reports the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Cumberland has been ordered to halt her voyage home from the Gulf in order to standby off Libya. Regular readers will recall that Cumberland and her Type 22 sister ships are to be decommissioned later this year. A reminder, if any is needed, that British interests and the safety of British national is being imperilled by defence cuts.
I’m not entirely sure what use a Frigate would be for evacuating the 500-odd British nationals living in Libya. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an assault ship, a Frigate does not have large hangars or vehicle decks in which to accomodate people. And a ship the size of the Type 22 has a crew of around only 200 in the first place – how would such a ship cope with a few more hundreds mouths to feed, one wonders? And Libya is a lot further from the UK than the north Spanish coast was during the Volcanic Ash Cloud rescue effort last year, meaning a longer sea journey.
This is yet another hollow commitment from the Government. In order to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whethers its worthwhile or not, a soon-to-be-decommissioned Frigate is sent to await a task for which it is wholly unsuited. And its another indication of how short-sighted our defence planning is – politicians want warships off the balance sheet, but when the proverbial hits the fan they are only too happy to commit them to action.
I’m reminded of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary eagerly promised a British Frigate to patrol off the coast for illegal arms shipments. Apparently it was quietly pointed out that no Frigates were available, and that if the Foreign Secretary wanted one, then he had better make one magically appear from nowhere.
This is the first book I’ve read in the Voices from the Front series. It’s based on an Oral History project that recorded the memories of many old Durham veterans. Peter Hart has been the Oral History specialist at the Imperial War Museum for many years, so is probably better placed to write a book like this than anyone else.
I’m glad that such a prominent book has been written about this Battalion for two reasons. Firstly, the 16th Durham Light Infantry were a service Battalion, and hence largely made up of soldiers who were conscripted into the Army during the wartime. Secondly, the Battalion served in Italy rather than in North West Europe, and the Italian campaign has received a chronic lack of attention from Historians over the years.
Excerpts from oral history interviews are interwoven with commentary on the overall history of the war, which provides good context. The interviews with junior officers and other ranks are particularly welcome, as these are two sections of the Army whose experiences are often maligned. And the experiences of the 16th Durhams were quite remarkable – unusually for a conscript Battalion, the unit seems to have developed a very strong espirit-du-corps, forged through tought fighting up the spine of Italy.
What I really find interesting are the little human stories that really give us an idea of what it was like to fight as a foot soldier in the Second World War, and not necessarily the stories about fighting. Its thoughts about uniforms and rations, officer-men relations, the locals and even fireworks displays on VE Day that really make a book like this stand out.
I cannot help but think how blessed we historians would be if a book like this was written about every Army unit during the Second World War. Oral History is a fantastic way of capturing not only the memories of an important generation, but also the essence and tone of their life experiences. The Voices from the Front series is very commendably indeed.
Voices from the Front: The 16th Durham Light Infantry in Italy 1943-1945 is published by Pen and Sword
Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been very busy recently either working, seeing Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society twice in three days, or nursing a poorly Girlfriend whilst being ill myself!
On a brighter note, I’m very happy to announce that on Monday I received a formal contract from The History Press to write my first book, entitled ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. My part of the work should be completed by June this year. I’ve been working on the project itself for a couple of years now, and writing the book itself since before Christmas. Most of the research is done, apart from a few trips I need to make to The National Archives at Kew, and then writing up the rest of the work and deciding on illustrations.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me though this process, particularly as its my first time dealing with a publisher and contracts and all that jazz! My Family and my Girlfriend Sarah for encouraging me (and telling me to relax when I’m working too hard!), Jay at The History Press, my friends and colleagues, and especially my brother Scott and John Erickson for proof-reading for me.
Keep an eye out for further bulletins!
Image by NavyLookout via Flickr
In recent days lobbying has intensified over where to base the Royal Navy’s planned Type 26 Frigates. It’s the same old south-coast horse trading that occurs every time a new class of warship is ordered.
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage told the Portsmouth News: ‘This new Type 26 is the global combat ship and I feel that Portsmouth is now very much the home of the Royal Navy. The HQ is in Whale Island, the new Type 45 destroyers are in Portsmouth and the new aircraft carriers will be here too so it makes sense to have the Type 26s based here as well. As a cost-saving and logistics exercise, it makes sense to me to have all the future force ships based in the same area.’
In the same article Dineage also stated that Plymouth MP’s are lobbying hard to try and get the Type 26’s based there. And they have reason to be anxious. The four remaining Type 22 Frigates, based in Plymouth, will be decommissioned this year. And one of the Landing Ships based there will also go into extended readiness. Furthermore, the previous Government had decided that all of the Type 23 Frigates would move to Portsmouth in 2014, although that decision was rescinded during the Coalition Government’s Defence Review.
Recent issues of Warship International Fleet Review put the cases for and against both Portsmouth and Plymouth. To this observer – albeit a slightly biased one- the for and against arguments for both ports seem finely balanced. But what is clear is that with the Royal Navy shrinking at such a rate, and highly unlikely ever to expand again, it is becoming increasingly unfeasible to maintain two ports handling the surface fleets.
The usual argument given is that closing Portsmouth would have less of an effect on the region than closing Plymouth would have on the South West. But the situation is slightly more complex than that – 50 years ago both cities were virtually identical. Since the Second World War, however, Portsmouth has diversified in terms of economy and employment, developing a tourist industry and generating employment in technology. This has lessened its reliance on the Navy. Meanwhile, the authorities in Plymouth have done, to put it bluntly, bugger all. If people in Plymouth are concerned about the possible closure of their naval base, they should look to their City Council‘s complacent record over 50 years.
In other Type 26 related news, there are links below of reports that the UK is in talks with both Canada and Turkey about collaborating in various ways on the Type 26 programme.
I’m off most of this week to work on my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’, and I thought you might all like a progress report.
I’ve almost finished the research needed for the Royal Navy-based chapters, which make up almost a third of the book. This week I have been mainly looking at the three Portsmouth Battleships – Royal Oak, Hood and Barham; Pompey-based submariners, Boy Seamen, and Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey.
In Portsmouth we’re blessed with a fantastic Naval History Collection in the Central Library. This includes a huge range of published books, including many you would be hard pressed to find in any other public library. There are also extensive runs of Navy Lists, the Mariners Mirror, the Naval Chronicle, and all manner of other specialist journals. The Naval Collection is based in the brand new Portsmouth History Centre on the second floor of the library. There you can also find the Local Studies collection, which contains things such as street directories, electoral registers and local books. And something I’ve found particularly useful is the Portsmouth Evening News on microfilm.
I’ve found some stuff I didn’t already know – a good account of the loss of Able Seaman James Miller GC on HMS Unity, accounts of what happened to many Pompey men sunk on the Royal Oak in particular, including some stories from the Evening News from those who were bereaved. There is a poignant photograph in the Evening News a couple of days after the Royal Oak was sunk showing navy womenfolk queuing up outside the Naval Barracks for news of their loved ones. And finally, I’ve discovered a first-hand account of how Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey DSO DSC and Bar died.
Research done, now to write it up… Next – the Army!
We’ve had two landmarks in one day here at DalyHistory. Sometime this morning my humble little blog passed the 100,000 hit mark. Incredible, I would never have thought I would ever get 1,000 hits, let alone 100,000! And later this evening the 2,000th comment was posted. So doing the maths, if that means that ever 50th hit results in a comment, then surely thats not such a bad ratio at all 😉
I’m currently off work this week to focus on researching and writing up the naval chapter of my forthcoming ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’. Today was spent looking at secondary sources on the Royal Oak, Hood and Barham. I also found some great source books on Submarines, including a catalogue of all decorations made to submariners in WW2. Tomorrow’s plan is to finish off some books on submarines, and then go onto the mircrofilm to take a look at the Portsmouth Evening News of the days following the sinkings to see what reaction there was locally, and to see if I can find any pictures or obituaries of men who were lost. Later in the week I plan focus on Boy Seamen, and a Destroyer Captain’s antics in the Mediterranean.