Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence

Lest We Forget
British Legion
The Royal British Legion

2005
Section 4

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

 

BONAPARTE IN EGYPT


Author: J Christopher Herold

Publisher: Pen and Sword
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84468 285 5

Published in June 2005

UK Price: £14.99

When J.Christopher Herold wrote this masterpiece in 1963. it was without a doubt, considered to be the best modern account of a very extraordinary campaign. That was forty years ago and the book in its original hardback form, is now long out of print and much sought after today. I believe it is fair to say, that as this brilliant work has not been bettered since that time and therefore, this very reasonably priced, newly published version in it’s paperback format, will be an outstanding success too and once again be in demand both at home and abroad.

Napoleon described his time in Egypt as “the most beautiful in my life”, it was after all the most critical stage in his road to power, however for the average French soldier many miles from home, it was a nightmare, as they suffered from the extreme heat, hunger and sickness, whilst fighting horrendous battles with the British, Turkish and Mameluke forces. As I write this review in my air conditioned office in the centre of Cairo, I have been spared these atrocious conditions, however when I step outside into the 100 degree heat and see many of the Colonial buildings of that period that still stand today, I can step back in time and am able to appreciate much of what is written in this splendid book.

The author has cleverly combined his skills as an historian and story teller to produce this definitive history. Covering the military, cultural and political aspects of the campaign whilst at the same time adding a sense of adventure, this is one volume that is sure to intrigue the reader from its beginning to its end.

Anyone with an interest in this fascinating period of history will not wish to be without a copy of this book, however they should act quickly as at this price,its bound to be snapped up!

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

 

WATERLOO
In the footsteps of the commanders


Author: Jonathan Gillespie-Payne

Publisher: Pen and Sword
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84415 024 0

Published in 2005

UK Price: £12.99

Acclaimed to be one of the most decisive battles in British history, The Battle of Waterloo took place on Sunday 18th June 1815, on a battlefield covering an area 2 miles wide by one mile deep, just 20 miles south of Brussels.

The battle, where Wellington and Napoleon actually met face to face on the battlefield, is considered to have changed the destiny of the whole of Europe, lasted just nine hours, however in this short space of time, in excess of 40,000 men and 10,000 horses were either killed or wounded.

The author of this excellent, very readable, handy sized and reasonably priced volume is no stranger to the battlefield, he served in the Britsh Army himself and was in fact, prompted to write this book after finding very little useful information available when he first visited Waterloo.

He has therefore adopted a very original approach to the battle and provided a wealth of information which includes an extensive list of memorials, a summary of the main personalities involved and the strengths of the armies on the battlefield. Many excellent photographs, maps and diagrams, are included and therefore, I am sure therefore, it will prove to be invaluable to military researchers, battlefield guides and tourists alike.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

BOMBER BOYS


Author: Kevin Wilson

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA

ISBN: 029784637X

Published in 2005

UK Price: £25.00

This superb publication tells the fascinating, yet often heart breaking story of the brave young aircrew of Bomber Command, who during the dark years of the Second World War, battled not only with treacherous weather conditions and numerous mechanical malfunctions of their often experimental aircraft, but also with the full wrath of the fighter aircraft of the German Luftwaffe and the anti aircraft guns on the ground, as they flew the vast distances across Northern Europe, to reach their designated targets in the German industrial heartland.

Although their story started in 1939, it was not until 1943 that the allied bombing campaign reached its height, when thousands of aircrew set out on offensive missions from British shores night after night. Of course, everyone involved knew the risks were great, however nobody expected such large numbers of aircraft to be lost and for their crews to be killed, injured or be taken prisoner.

In fact, over 18,000 airmen died during this year alone. Many at that time, were “boys” in their teens and early twenties and therefore the few that are still alive today, are often well into their 80’s and it is from the true stories told at interviews with these extraordinary surviving airmen, that the author has based his remarkable story.

Years of extensive and painstaking research has resulted in a most splendid book, which is sure to interest a wide range of readers. Many superb photographs are included too. Just about every page tells a real-life tale of individual bravery and although many gallantry awards were made, they were not relative to the numerous acts of heroism shown and the exceptionally high price paid.

It is often though that a separate Bomber Command Medal should have been awarded, sadly however this was not to be and therefore, I cant think of a more fitting tribute to those brave young men than this excellent book, in which their remarkable story is now told.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

A LIFE IN SECRETS


Author: Sarah Helm

Publisher: Little, Brown
An imprint of Time Warner Books UK
Brettenham House
Lancaster Place
London WC2E 7EN

ISBN: 0316724971

Published in 2005

UK Price: £20.00

This fascinating book tells the intriguing story of Vera Atkins, a most remarkable woman, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the S.O.E., both during and immediately after the Second World War. She was perhaps, one of the few people in this country and in that clandestine organisation itself for that matter, who met just about every one of the 400 S.O.E. agents sent to France in those dark war years.

As well as being involved in the initial recruitment process, Vera personally reviewed their progress through the demanding training programme, before eventually travelling with them to their point of departure on the South coast of England, where before checking their clothing and equipment, also provided their final briefings.

Sadly as we now know, many of these brave men and women never returned to these shores, however Vera , who as well as keeping a distant “eye” on the activities of her charges whilst they were operating in Nazi occupied Europe, was also in close contact with their families at home and therefore, was not prepared to settle until she knew their final fate.

As a result, in the post-war years, she travelled extensively in Europe, often delving deep into war crimes files, visiting concentration camps and interviewing notorious Nazis (many of whom had been accused of some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity imaginable), with dogged determination, she left no stone unturned until she obtained her answers, the files were eventually closed and those responsible brought to justice.

It is thanks to the publication of the splendid book (and film of the same name) “Charlotte Grey” in recent years, that the courageous wartime exploits, of a small but dedicated band of unique men and women, has been brought to the public’s attention once again. I am certain, that anyone who found the book and film interesting will enjoy reading this excellent volume too.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

THE SOMME

Author: Peter Hart

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA

ISBN: 0139780 297 84705 8

Published in 2005

UK Price: £20.00

The Battle of the Somme which commenced on 1st July 1916, is considered by many, to be the infamous battle of the Great War, as over 60,000 British and Commonwealth troops were killed in one day alone – resulting in the greatest ever loss sustained in the entire history of the British Army.

Naturally therefore, many excellent books have already been written on this fascinating subject over the years, however this splendid volume is very different, as the author (who is Oral Historian at the Sound Archive at the Imperial War Museum), has carried out a vast amount of original research and by using both official as well as unofficial oral and written archive material and Regimental histories , together with previously unpublished personal memoirs, diaries and letters, he has cleverly woven together many eye witness accounts of events on that fateful day, to produce a most outstandingly well written book, that sits well alongside existing important publications such as Martin Middlebrooke’s “First Day of the Somme” and Lyn Mac Donald’s “Somme”.

Amongst the 500 plus pages of thought provoking text, the reader will see, heart breaking, first hand accounts of what it was like for the British soldier to crawl through the rough and treacherous terrain of no man’s land, whilst facing the full might of the German Army with their numerous and heavily manned machine guns. They will learn of the numerous and most atrocious injuries treated by the dedicated men and women of the Royal Army Medical Corps and also appreciate what it was like for the young and often inexperienced pilots of the Royal Flying Corps, who fought so bravely to maintain control in the skys, as the horrific battle raged beneath them. - The list of the often unbelievable accounts covered in this volume, is endless!

When the book first arrived, I noticed the excellent reviews from Max Arthur, Gary Sheffield and Major General Julian Thompson and thought when a book is endorsed by distinguished military historians such as these, I thought it must be good – and it certainly was! A thoroughly excellent read, backed up by many excellent photographs, maps and diagrams, which priced at just 20 pounds, represents excellent value for money.

I can honestly assure you, that this is one book that anyone with an interest in the Great War will not want to be without.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(August 2005)

STALIN'S FOLLY

Author: Constantine Pleshakov

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA

ISBN: 0 297 84695 7

Published in June 2005

UK Price: £20.00

Despite being rather specialist in it’s nature, this recently published book will appeal to military historians as well as students of Russian history, as it tells the fascinating story behind what could have been the true turning point of the Second World War, when Hitler invaded Russia, in June 1941.

The intriguing facts contained in this excellent volume will no doubt, surprise the majority of readers, as it was not until as recently as 1991, when secret Russian archive material that included translated Politburo documents and secret police files were released for the first time, did the outside world learn, just how close Hitler actually came to winning the war!

Russia had of course prepared for a possible invasion, however Hitler’s troops still took the Red Army by surprise, almost wiping it out within ten days! Stalin has often been blamed for this, as he fled the Kremlin in a state of panic, leaving others to step in for him at this crucial time. The details of the atrocities reputed to have been committed in his secret police torture chambers, together with the fact he is also reported to have massacred his own officers, to enable him to remain in power fuelled this belief too.

The author has drawn a wealth of information, from a wide range of sources to enable him to produce this, what I, along with many others, will consider to be a major contribution towards the history of the Second World War.

6 September 2005

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