Monthly Archives: June 2011

Update from James

Photo by Oxenhillshaw 02 Apr 2008 (UTC)

my new place. well, kinda (Image via Wikipedia)

Hi all, just a quick message to let you know that I’ve safely arrived at our new place in Chichester. I’m going to be without internet access at home for a few weeks at least, but I’ll try and check in at the pub via wifi.

In the meantime, if anyone – particularly my three regulars 😉 – would like to make any guest posts, feel free to email them to me and I will upload.

In the meantime I’m keeping myself busy working on my Portsmouth WW1 dead database (next book!), and some interesting ideas for iPhone app audio walking tours of historic Portsmouth.

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Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes submitted to the publishers

After years of research, and months of frantic writing, I am happy to announce that my debut book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’, is safely on its way to the publishers. Naturally I cannot say too much about what will be in it, neither will I have a publication date for a while yet. But as soon as I hear anything, you will find it out here first.

Have I learn’t anything throughout the whole process? Well, maybe in hindsight six months to write 50,000 words was a tad ambitious – particularly with other events that cropped up! I would also give more time to picture research, rather than treating it as an afterthought once the writing-up is finished. Also, I’ve learnt a lot about institutions – some are extremely helpful, while some are so off-putting it’s quite unbelievable.

I’m going to take a break from in-depth research for a while, in order to get some rest and let my poor brain cells recover. I have a few ideas for some interesting projects over the summer. But naturally enough, with an eye on the 100th anniversary of the Great War in 2014, my thoughts are bound to turn to a counterpart book on Portsmouth’s WW1 Dead, in time for that important milestone.

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More bluff and bluster from Cristina Kirchner

President of the United States Barack Obama an...

no comment needed (Image via Wikipedia)

Regular readers will know that I am not exactly a fan of Argentina‘s current President, one Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. That Argentina is a country that invaded British territory less than 30 years ago isn’t really part of it.Nor is that despite their defeat in 1982 they keep agitating. It’s difficult to have much regard for somebody who clearly has no ability as a politician, and is exploiting an issue and hoodwinking her own citizens. It’s the equivalent of the people of Britain electing Katie Price as PM.

During this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions Tory MP Andrew Rosindell asked Mr Cameron to remind President Barack Obama that “the British government will never accept any kind of negotiations over the South Atlantic archipelago”. This comes a week after the US’s incredibly naive reference to the Falklands as ‘the Malvinas’ in a joint declaration with Argentina.

Mr Cameron, to his credit, responded that “as long as the Falkland Islands want to be sovereign British territory, they should remain sovereign British territory – full stop, end of story.”

Kirchner called Cameron’s comments an “expression of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity”. Really, I’m not making it up. Also that  the British people “continue to be a crude colonial power in decline”. Kirchner’s new-found confidence no doubt come after the US’s pro-Argentinian stance became clear last week.  The hypocrisy is outstanding. The Falklands existed and were settled by British people before Argentina even existed. The majority of Argentinians are of Spanish settler descent – are they all going to go home, and leave South America to the indigenous people?

Earlier this week a Falkland Islander became the first person from the British territory to accept Argentinian citizenship. Predictably, Argentina made a big deal about it, incorporating giving this gentleman (I’m not going to repeat his name) his identity card during a ceremony to mark the end of the Falklands War. Whatever his reasons, he’s putting his homeland at risk by inflating the Argentinians ambitions and appearing to validate their viewpoint. That over 200 British men died to liberate the Falklands, we should never forget.

It’s funny that Argentina has been ramping up its stance over the Falklands in the past year or two. First oil is discovered in the South Atlantic. Argentina is also suffering from a very deep recession, and the associated problems that go with it. Kirchner is unpopular and is low in the opinion polls. There is a presidential election in October, and Kirchner has yet to declare if she is a candidate or not. Using the Falklands issue is a pretty basic ploy in Argentine politics – it seems to make normally sane people foam at the mouth.

I don’t normally go in for jingoism, or anything that might be seen as jingoism. But I want any Falkland Islanders reading this to know that the people of Britain are with you.

 

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the life experience of Prime Minister – or lack thereof

Prime Minister Jim Callaghan sent a naval task...

Jim Callaghan - the last British PM to have served in the armed forces. And a Pompey boy to boot (Image via Wikipedia)

Yesterday we talked about the problem of Prime Minister not having any experience whatsoever of the military. I decided to take a look at the education and early employment of Prime Ministers before they entered politics. It makes for interesting reading:

Anthony Eden – Eton, Oxford (Oriental Languages), Kings Royal Rifle Corps Officer WW1 (Military Cross, Brigade Major)

Harold Macmillan – Eton, Oxford (Classics), Grenadier Guards Officer WW1 (wounded three times), ADC to Governor-General of Canada, junior partner with Macmillan publishers

Alec Douglas Home – Eton, Oxford (Modern History), first class cricketer.

Harold Wilson – Royds Hall Grammar School, Oxford (PPE), economic history lecturer at Oxford, Civil Service (research assistant for William Beveridge during WW2).

Ted HeathChatham House Grammar School, Oxford (PPE), Royal Artillery 1941-1946 (Anti-Aircraft, North West Europe), Civil Service.

James Callaghan – Portsmouth Northern Secondary Modern (no Uni), Inland Revenue, Inland Revenue Staff Federation, Lieutenant RN (East Indies, Admiralty).

Margaret ThatcherKesteven and Grantham Girls School, Oxford (Chemistry), Research Chemist.

John Major – Rutlish Grammar School (no Uni), Insurance Clerk, London Electricity Board, Banker, London Borough Councillor

Tony Blair – Fettes College, Oxford (Law), Barrister.

Gordon Brown – Kircaldy High School, Edinburgh (History PHD and Rector), Politics lecturer, journalist for Scottish TV, Open University tutor.

David Cameron – Eton, Oxford (PPE), MP’s researcher, Conservative Research Department, Special Advisor to Chancellor of the Exchequer and then the Home Secretary, Special Adviser at Carlton TV.

Interesting stuff indeed. It does appear that in recent years – Blair onwards – politics has become a career in itself, which people aspire to from a young age. Yet is it not fair to say that elected representatives are meant to be just that – one of us, elected to represent us? How can they do that when they have not lived like the rest of us?

It does seem to me that it is more sensible for politicians to have some kind of prior career, and hence experience of the ‘real world’. Even though most PM’s with a previous career were in the main professionals or office workers, its at least more worldly – and grounded – than a few years acting as a lacky for a Minister. The funny thing is, its not new for politicians to have had little of a career – in the Nineteenth Century it was perfectly acceptable for aristocrats and the gentry to enter politics having had no career at all.

How about Prime Ministers and military service? The last British Prime Minister to have served in the military was Jim Callaghan. Going backwards, all post-war Prime Ministers, save Home and Wilson, served in either WW1 or WW2. It is not difficult to imagine that Eden’s and Macmillan’s service on the Western Front must have helped in their political service during WW2. But then again, Eden did make a serious hash of Suez.

When David Cameron was elected, commentators noted that he was the first Old Etonian PM since Alec Douglas Home, something we thought we might never see again. Indeed, it seems that immediately post-war being an Old Etonian was ncessary to be PM. But when will we next have a Prime Minister with a military background? Or even an opposition leader, or senior Cabinet Minister?

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More news on Private Bertrand Kinsell

I’ve received some more information about an American Great War serviceman buried in Portsmouth, who I am trying to research.

Private First Class Bertrand Kinsell, from Illinois, was serving with the 343rd Infantry Regiment, in the 26th Division. He died on 29 September 1918 and is buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth.

The Cemeteries Department in Portsmouth tell me that Private Kinsell died in the ‘American Military Hospital, Milton’. They have never heard of this particular hospital, nor had I. There were three hospitals in the Milton area at the time – St James Hospital (known then as the lunatic asylum) opened in 1879. An infection diseases hospital opened near Milton Cemetery in 1884, and St Marys Hospital opened in 1898.

My (educated) guess is that part of one of these hospitals – possibly a room or two, maybe a ward – was taken over by the American Army in order to treat wounded doughboys from the Western Front.

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First Sea Lord – Royal Navy ‘in a very bad way’

Something of a media storm has kicked up today, over comments made by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

In a rare example of an Admiral standing up for his services, Stanhope said:

‘How long can we go on as we are in Libya? If we do it longer than six months we will have to reprioritise forces. That is being addressed now. Certainly in terms of Nato’s current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.’

Admiral Sir Jock Slater was First Sea Lord during the earlier 1998 Strategic Defence Review:

The position the First Sea Lord and the chief of staffs is very difficult indeed because if you want to retain the confidence of ministers you should not speak directly to the press about your concerns. But the fact remains that the navy is in a very bad way. The loss of Ark Royal and the Harriers was the worst decision by a government for many, many years. I think what Mark Stanhope has done is to state the obvious. You can’t carry on doing more with less.’

Naval Historian and analst Professor Andrew Lambert, of Kings College London, had this to say:

I think what the First Sea Lord has said in a very quiet and polite way is what everyone else has been saying in a very loud and aggressive way for a considerable period of time. The government has committed themselves to doing something when we have not got the equipment to do the job. The problem is the government has not got the political courage to admit they have made a mistake and as a result we are spending vast amounts of money doing things inefficiently and ineffectively. We’re getting laughed at by the French for not having a carrier off Libya. It’s hard enough when they beat us at rugby or football but when they beat us at carrier aviation it is unacceptable.’

‘It’s not the business of government to make perfect decisions all the time. It’s their business to run the country and respond to events. They have held their hands up when they got things wrong with the NHS reforms and sentencing but they seem unable to do the same with defence. It’s gone beyond a joke really. I know governments will stick to their own rhetoric but this is costing us too much and may even end up costing lives and that’s why the First Sea Lord was right to speak out because the situation is unacceptable.’

The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is either clearly living in la la land, or is secret ex-RAF officer:

‘Operations in Libya are showing how capable we are post-SDSR as a leading military power with the fourth largest defence budget in the world. We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking and have spare capacity with the Royal Navy Cougar Taskforce which is currently on exercise in the Gulf. The SDSR is not being reopened. The Harrier has served with great distinction over a long period and in a number of theatres, but we are not bringing them back into service. Our planning assumptions remain valid and we have been able to effectively conduct missions over Libya. We are now progressing with the disposal of the Harrier force.’

planning assumptions valid? They were invalid before the ink even dried Foxy. Leading military power? Our projection doesnt back that up. And as for rourth largest defence budget? Our inventory does not back up that one either.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said:

‘This is yet another convincing argument in favour of reopening the defence review, which has not survived its first contact with world events. ‘The country will be dismayed to hear that the operation in Libya could have been conducted more cheaply and more effectively had the Government taken a different approach. ‘I hope the straight talking by the First Sea Lord will be met with some straight answers from Ministers. In particular, it is vital that Ministers tell us now how they intend to equip the mission in Libya should it go beyond the six month mark.’

Looking beyond all of the party political and and inter-service dialogue, even the most ardent Tory party card holding RAF airman would claim that the SDSR isn’t looking, in retrospect, like a pile of horse shit. Even Cameron and Fox know it, but of course politics being politics they can’t say so. Ironically, I suspect that most people would respect them more if they admitted that they had got it wrong.

There are bigger contexts to the the rapid and serious decline in the Royal Navy. Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, the Task Group Commander in the Falklands War, wrote in the Daily Mail the other day that Defence cuts would leave Britain unable to recapture the Falklands if they were taken again by Argentina.

Heres a summary of Woodward’s arguments:

  • America, whose support in 1982 was crucial, appear to support Argentina’s claim to the Islands. Even to the point of referring to them as ‘The Malvinas’ in a joint declaration with Argentina.
  • Why isn’t Cameron getting straight on the plane to Washington to demand an explanation from Obama? 253 British lives were lost defending the islands, and the islanders right to determine their own sovereignty.
  • The Mount Pleasant airbase in the Falklands is not as defendable as thought, and in any case the Argentinians would not attempt a landing without taking out the airbase first.
  • The staging post on Ascenscion Island is leased to America, whose permission we would require to use it. Without it, any sustained operations in the South Atlantic would be impossible.
  • Mount Pleasant can only offer up 3 or 4 Typhoons. The RAF is struggling to get enough Typhoons airworthy for Libya, let alone a war 8,000 miles away. With no aircover and without Mount Pleasant to rapidly reinforce the islands, we could kiss them goodbye.
  • With no carrier-borne air cover, retaking the islands would be impossible. The French are unlikely to lend us Charles de Gaulle.
  • Fundamentally, the islanders are British, and want to be British. The Argentines want them for spurious, vain domestic political reasons. The fundamental values of the UN enshrine the right to self-determination.
  • If David Cameron decides, in a crisis, that the Falklands are not worth defending, who will lose the next General Election.
  • With the new carriers and joint strike fighters not due for some years, we have to muddle through this situation for another 10 years at least.

‘As things currently stand, we’d have serious trouble defending anything much further than  the other side of the English Channel.’

Sandy Woodward was, in many ways, like Montgomery. A war-winning senior officer who rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way in doing so. And I, personally, find it very hard to argue with any of his arguments outlined here.

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HMS Ilustrious due back in Pompey next week

I’ve just noticed that Sea Waves lists HMS Illustrious as returning to Portsmouth on 20 June, next Monday. As soon as I hear anything firm I will let you know, and hopefully get some pictures – as long as QHM plan her arrival during my lunch hour, or conveniently early before work!

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