I am reviewing the inspirational autobiography Barefoot Soldier by Johnson Beharry VC which is an excellent book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Johnson received the highest accolade the British Army can bestow the Victoria Cross and was the first living person to win it in 40 years. He saved his comrades from ambushes twice in the space of one month. The one time he had never done it before but had to drive a tracked vehicle over another vehicle which he did by ramming the tracks abainst the radiator of another vehicle and then driving it over. He had shrapnel explode 6 inches away from his head which caused life threatening injuries and he slip into a coma and it was very much touch and go whether he was going to survive. He saved the lives of 30 men in the process. The Iraqis shot the driver and then were picking the men off who were trapped by the stranded Warrior vehicle. Before slipping into a coma he drove the vehicle out of the ambush. With his head injuries they couldn’t fly him to Britain initially to get treatment because they feared the change in air pressure caused by the cabin would kill him. They did later send him to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for treatment later. He originally came from Grenada in the Carribean and his father left when he was very young. He was part of a big family. His mother remarried and was offered to buy her home which was made of wood for £500 which she thought she was getting a bargain and worked and went into debt to buy it. Later they discovered there was problems with the timber and they had been ripped off. Johnson travelled to Britain in his late teens and thought his best option for employment was the British Army. I think that often happens especially in inner-city areas. It is a very inspirational story.

The book I read to research this post was A Concise History Of Germany by Mary Fulbrook which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. It is around 260 pages so is a fair length and covers the history of Germany from earliest times to the present day. It was published in 2004 so is a little dated. The earliest time there was a nation that equated to something like Germany was at the time of Charlemagne the man was crowned The Holy Roman Emperor in what was a bit of a publicity stunt and had nothing to do with the Roman Empire. His capital was at Aachen and took in other parts of Europe. He died and split his kingdom between his children and they would squabble for a long time. In the 17th Century The Thirty Years War which was a series of conflicts that took in nations like The Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal and the nations that would make up Germany and the German speaking world. It left Germany with much smaller populations and the amount affected some parts more than others. Germany would be left in a better position politically though. The next time there was anything like a Germany was at World War 1 known as the Great War at the time. The Kaiser did seek a kingdom. In the 30’s Hitler came to power in what was a coalition but Hitler would become almost like a president or dictator. Of course this would lead to an empire and World War 2. Afterwards Germany was divided up only reforming in 1990 when famously the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall came down. Many people prior to that would have day trips to East Berlin but most of East Germany had been mostly off-limits to Westerners. This is apparently the only general German history text in the English language and does a commendable job of presenting it. I did quite enjoy this book and would recommend it. It’s a subject that with the exception of the World Wars I knew little about.

The book I read to research this post was Britain’s Modern Army by Terry Gander which is a very good book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is around 210 pages so is a fair length and despite having a slightly different name is technically the edition of another book by Terry. It was published in 1995 so might be a bit dated. It looks at the British Army post-cold war where it has been scaled back to around 120,000 and it’s main role is going out to troublespots and keeping the peace. I was surprised there is apparently 2 territorial regiments of the SAS where they still have the same stringent standards being certainly one of the toughest regiments in the world but they are only part-time and I imagine are comprised mostly of ex-full time troopers in the regiment. All the SAS regiments are based at Hereford and they are the only army regiments that recruit only the best soldiers from various regiments but they have to have attained corporal status. There are quite a lot of garrison towns for other regiments around Britain most notably probably York and Aldershot. Another interesting fact was if you have a lot of soldiers doing a large scale mission with vehicles they have a few members of REME or the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to it in case vehicles break down. These soldiers of course have to also take part in the mission. The first half of this book looks at the various regiments and the roles the British Army plays in the world and the second half looks at the equipment and vehicles they use. The soldiers in the SAS are fortunate in being able to select what equipment they need from a variety for a mission. Many others are stuck with standard issue equipment. I did quite enjoy this book and would recommend it although it might be worth checking if there is a more recent edition.

 

The book I read to research this post was Philosophy A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig which is a very good book that I bought from kindle. Philosophy is trying to give life a purpose and meaning and it seems to be the main difference between us and animals. One individuals personal philosophy can be very different from anothers. One of the biggest factors has been reading and writing where we can study other types of philosophy. When a form of philosophy is very different to our own it seems very alien to us and if it doesn’t then we obviously don’t fully understand. Nietsche described professional philosophers as being very dangerous although he intended that as a compliment. In Ancient Greece Socrates argued it is wrong to do a bad action even as retaliation for a wrong done to you. When it looked like he was going to be executed for what they thought were heretical teachings he refused to flee into exile and claimed even when the state appears to be wrong it is wrong to defy it. Another philosopher Plato described life as being like a chariot being drawn by 2 horses one obedient and one unruly. You always have to coax the unruly one to do as you wish. In the renaissance these kinds of teachings became popular once again. In fact it was these kinds of alternative ways of looking at things that ultimately ended up causing events like the French Revolution. This book is only around 100 pages so is fairly short. It is part of the A Very Short Introduction series which consists of around 300 books and are each a difficult subject written about by an expert. I am a big fan of the series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.

The book I read to research this post was Railway Of Hell by Reginald Burton which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. Reginald was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army during World War 2 and this book is about his primarily after being captured by the Japanese and becoming a prisoner of war. He had to work on the Burma Railway in very cruel conditions and a lot of the cruelty wasn’t so much as carried out by the guards although they were cruel but was things like not supplying enough food and supplies for the men and expecting them to work even if they were ill. Reginald contracted berri berri from lack of vitamin B which is in rice but lost in the milling process and also got malaria and jaundice. The jaundice because it made his blood toxic probably helped counteract the malaria. Many people assume the guards were like samurai but many were very limited education wise even some of the officers and more like thugs than anything. They had trouble speaking English and liable to beat the men if they understand. The same went for anyone unable to work. He has gone back to the prison camp as a tourist with his family after the war and wanted to show them his cell but it was being used as a prison camp during the Malaya Emergency. This book was released in a heavily edited form under another title but because he was still in the army they ordered that it might inflame feelings between Britain and Japan. Since then he has retired so isn’t subject to the same restrictions. There was an incident when the Japanese Army claims someone opened fire from a hospital and they killed everyone in the building even a patient in the operating theatre in the middle of an operation. I really did enjoy reading this book which I do recommend and it around 300 pages so is quite a decent length. I think anybody who reads this book will be quite moved. One interesting fact is that although the allied forces outnumbered the Japanese soldiers a lot of these were people like cooks and nurses and the Japanese had more infantry and there soldiers didn’t have any non-fighting men like these and were largely left to fend for themselves. As well as that the Japanese had armour and tanks which the Allieds thought would be cumbersome in the jungle and shipped most of it to help in Europe.

 

The book I read to research this post was The Dilbit Disaster by Lisa Song et al which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. This is only a fairly short book of around 110 pages and is part of kindle singles which is short books and essay normally quite cheaply priced and often on unusual topics that people can buy. This book is about a very serious oil spill from a pipeline in Michigan in 2010 that was largely kept out of the news because the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was considered worse. The oil spill in Michigan although it didn’t involve as much oil but was much more difficult to clear up and this is still ongoing. The crude being transported down the pipeline was from the Canadian tar beds and had the consistency of peanut butter so had to be diluted mostly with benzene a known carcinogenic substance. This type of oil called bitumen has to either be mined near the surface or blasted with high pressure steam to liquify it and pump it to the surface. If there is a leak from the pipeline one problem is if the oil gets near water the chemicals like benzene tend to evaporate quickly and sinks to the bottom doing more damage than if it stayed on the surface like ordinary. For a week the agencies clearing up the mess weren’t notified it was bitumen and legally the company wasn’t compelled to tell them. The oil also had more dangerous fumes than ordinary crude and was more corrosive. One problem is it tends to corrode the pipelines it is being transported in. This pipeline transports millions of gallons of crude every day and the sensors that confirm a leak aren’t even activated unless a spill of more than 1 % of the total volume occurs. This is likely to be several hundred thousand gallons. Many people have had to be resettled permanently. Many people who needed medical treatment at the time were also coerced to sign a disclaimer saying they won’t sue the company because they threatened to refuse to let them see a doctor. 36 miles of a nearby river were very badly damaged and even the experts dealing with the clean up weren’t sure how they were going to clear it up because nothing like it before had happened. This is a very interesting book which I thoroughly recommend.

The book I read to research this post was Tracking Down Your Ancestors by Dr Harry Alder which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book concentrates on either free or low price subscription websites that you can use to trace your ancestors. There is 2 types of tracing your ancestors one is genealogy where you locate names and dates of birth and deaths and the other is family history where you find out historical information of them and things what conditions they lived in. Many people find family history more interesting and rewarding. The Mormons have a useful website at http://familysearch.com and it has quite a few affiliated websites for different countries and regions where they have done a lot of family tree research and lot of it is non-mormons and a lot of the features on this site are free to use. There is also a website at http://cyndislist.com where there are loads of reports like birth and death records for many countries and different trades. These reports are free to download. A lot of this book is about how to use this site. Another important resource if you know the locality ancestors lived in is parish records and normally libraries will have various resources and I know in Britain have a subscription to a site like http://ancestry.com and you can use it free of charge. They normally have computers that you can use free to. This book was published in 2005 so is fairly up to date and I did quite enjoy reading it. I think I would recommend it especially if you see it for sale cheaply secondhand.