Category Archives: military

Books for Christmas (3)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

First of all, the book that explains all the hidden meanings in two of the great masterpieces of children’s literature. Why do hatters go mad? Which one of their pets did Victorian children often keep in a teapot? where did the Cheshire Cat get its grin?

It’s “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner. An indispensable guide to two of the world’s most influential books:

And here, a great follow-up to “Annotated Alice”, the book that is, in my opinion, the best biography of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. It’s by Morton N Cohen, and you can pick up this very large book for quite a low price if you buy second hand and choose carefully.

I previously mentioned a book about the cricketers killed in World War Two and here is the much larger book about the cricketers killed in the previous conflict. It was amazing to see just how many upper class men had only ever played two or three games of first class cricket, but, equally, how many of them had a brother, or even two brothers who were also killed in the war. What a slaughter of decent men that dreadful war was:

As the Titanic was sinking, the lights of another ship were seen, right on the horizon. This ship, though, did not sail over to help. The press decided the ship was the Californian and then made the life of its captain a living hell. And that was completely without justification according to “The Titanic and the Californian” by Thomas B. Williams and Rob Kamps. A gripping read:

It’s not that long since the centenary of the Great War, when a great many books were published about that appallingly wasteful conflict. Being a teacher of nearly forty years’ standing, I was attracted by the books written about its effects on a number of English public schools. Apparently at Nottingham High School where I worked, the school flag was almost permanently at half mast. And that was far from unique. Such exclusive private schools provided the majority of the junior officers, Second Lieutenants, Lieutenants and Captains. The first two of those three finished with a casualty rate as bad as Bomber Command in WW2. Here are the four I enjoyed most. The first one is from Uppingham School whose website is here

The second one is Oundle. Again, you can see for yourself the school’s website which is here

The third book was of Magdalen College School in Oxford with its Headmaster, Mr Brownrigg. Here is its website.

The last one was of a Yorkshire school called Wakefield Grammar. Here is its website.

Personally, I thought that Wakefield was the best of the four books, because it contained a lot of interesting details of life at the school at the time. Magdalen was possibly the most poignant, although Uppingham, of course, was the school of the three friends of Vera Brittain, and feature in her book, “Testament of Youth”.

The next book is “Slaughter on the Somme 1 July 1916: The Complete War Diaries of the British Army’s Worst Day” by Martin Mace and John Grehan. This is definitely a book that can be picked up a lot cheaper than its full list price. The book consists largely of the reports of the worst day ever for the British army, written for the most part  by junior officers, who tended to tell the true version of events in plain language. What they recorded is quite simply astonishing. And the best sentence ? “It was apparent that matters were not progressing quite as favourably as had been anticipated.” Understatement or what?  57,470 casualties on the day, of which 19,240 men were killed. And in the entire three and a half month battle, around 420,000 British and Empire men perished.

I have always been fascinated by DH Lawrence, who seems to have been “a most peculiar man”. Of the next four books, I have not read a single one, but I can’t wait to get started. The first is “A MEMOIR OF D. H. LAWRENCE: \’THE BETRAYAL” by GH Neville. Neville used to travel by train to Nottingham High School with the fourteen year old Lawrence.

Later in life, Lawrence was to steal away the wife of a university professor at Nottingham, Dr Ernest Weekley. Her maiden name was Frieda von Richthofen, but she then became, eventually, Frieda Lawrence. So far, I have bought “Genius for Living:  a Biography of Frieda Lawrence” by Janet Byrne which may help me understand the behaviour of this very strange woman.

A modern day professor at Nottingham University, John Worthen, has gone as far as to write a novel about that shocking love triangle back in Nottingham in 1912. I am looking forward to seeing how he portrays some extraordinary events.

An outstanding aviation book is “Darwin Spitfires”, a book by a local teacher, Anthony Cooper, about the use of RAF and RAAF fighters against the attacks on Darwin by the Japanese. This one I have already read, and it is a marvellous eye-opener of a book, not to be missed:

“Fire from the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat” is a study by the American author, Robert C. Stern, of the phenomenon of the Kamikaze attacks on American and Australian ships. It is a superbly detailed book with a very interesting comparison of the kamikaze and the islamist suicide bomber.

I was surprised to find that the next book was still possible to get hold of as it seems to be so local in its concerns. That point of view is somewhat incorrect though, because the book is really about any one of twenty or thirty counties where there were airbases during WW2. It is a very honest book, and if the behaviour of the locals is disgraceful, then the author is not slow to tell us about it. A little gem.

This book, with almost 900 pages and so many heavily reduced second hand copies around, has been described as a bargain door stop but that is a tad cruel.  Indeed, “The Right of the Line: The Role of the RAF in World War Two” by John Terraine is a wonderful reference book about the RAF with every facet of their war explained and examined. Definitely a book to be dipped into, it is a valuable encyclopedia about the events and intentions of the RAF in the Second World War.

So there we are. The best part of forty or fifty suggestions about what to buy the boring old fart in your family for Christmas. And all of them recommended by a fully paid up boring old fart of a blog post writer.

I can even offer you an insurance policy. If all else fails, then buy him a box set. How about this tumultuous tale of a chemistry teacher gone wrong ? Very, very, wrong…..

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, Literature, military, Nottingham, Pacific Theatre, The High School, the Japanese, Writing

Books for Christmas (2)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

The first book is quite unusual since it is an attack by a German writer on the dastardly deeds of Bomber Command, and presumably, by extension , on the American Eighth Air Force. Jörg Friedrich obviously remembers very well Dresden, Hamburg, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, Pforzheim and so on. He seems to have forgotten the people who invented the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians at places such as London and even York Minster in WW1, and then Guernica, Rotterdam, Warsaw and so on. And there are some factual errors.

Overall the book reminds me of the verdict of a German friend of mine about the generation before his own:

“They start a war and then moan about losing it.”

Even so, “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown is quite an intriguing book. Some of the things he says made me quite angry but perhaps because many of them are things that I have worried about myself, but loyally continued to defend.

A nice contrast is the book by two German academics, Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, entitled “Soldaten”.  They examine the dreadful, appalling things done by ordinary Germans in World War Two, and then look at whether the Americans in Vietnam or Iraq could have done the same. A really good book, which does not leave you feeling too good about your own morality.

In my previous selection, the best book was either “Subsmash” or “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”. In this second selection, the book we should all read and take in is “Soldaten”:

It’s quite a contrast with our next book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. There are a lot of different editions of this masterpiece, and I would recommend the one which has a preface or introduction by Doris Lessing. Do NOT be tempted by an edition “with extra new added pornography”. In any case, the book is also about WW1 and about the disappearing English landscape.

As you can see, the cover of the best edition has the gamekeeper putting his trousers back on, or, more likely, taking them off yet again.

Perhaps even better to read are Lawrence’s “Selected Stories”. You get 400 pages of his best short stories, including my own particular favourite “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

Next on the list is “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. This book should be a compulsory read in every secondary school in England. How much really interesting history has been hidden away because of prejudice? Black Africans on Hadrian’s Wall, a black man killed by a white mob in Liverpool and the fight to abolish slavery, among many other long avoided stories.

Four books I haven’t read yet, although I’m certainly looking forward to them. Firstly, “Lend-Lease And Soviet Aviation in the Second World War” by Vladimir Kotelnikov. I have looked at the pictures of the P-39s and P-40s with red stars on them, and the Short Stirling, but I haven’t read the text yet. If it’s as good as the illustrations, it will be brilliant.

I haven’t read this book either, although I have read the companion volume about cricketers killed in World War One. It’s “The Coming Storm: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in World War II” by Nigel McCrery. I have no reason to believe that this book will be anything other than extremely well researched and an interesting read.

Next book in the “In Tray” is  “Mettle and Pasture”, the story of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment during WW2, written by Gary J Weight. I am hoping it will be a great read. It has certainly got some excellent reviews on amazon.co.uk.

The last book in the “In Tray” is called “Luftwaffe over America” by Manfred Griehl. The author examines the Germans’ very real plans to bomb the eastern seaboard of the United States during the Second World War,  using their Me 264s, Ju 290s and 390s and the Ta 400 from Focke Wulf. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the fact that, on a trial flight, a Ju 290 supposedly got within ten miles of New York.

That’s all for now. Third and final part next time.

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, cricket, Criminology, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes, Writing

Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, Wildlife and Nature, Writing