The book I read to research this post was The British Empire A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson that is a very good book which I bought from kindle. The British Empire comprised a 1/4 of the world’s land mass and over 500 million people. If you include countries Britain occupied for shorter periods and countries where Britain installed compliant governments or rulers the it is around 1/3 of the world’s countries. Many have left the commonwealth subsequently and one thing not many realize is the British Empire was less cruel than other empires and in a lot of cases it was about money where as money as the goods and supplies rolled in Britain would often leave the rulers to their own devices. Uprisings were a different matter with Britain crushing them ruthlessly and often putting the leaders in exile. World War 2 is an excellent example of how when Britain went to war she could mobilize huge numbers of commonwealth troops. Even nowadays there are the Ghurkas a left over from Britain’s colonial days in India who are a part of the British Army and fought for example in The Falkland’s War. Nowadays much of the Commonwealth has either gone independent or like in the case of Hong Kong been handed over to another country with a stronger claim over it. The British Army in peacetime has rarely numbered more than 200,000 and is relatively small considering Britain’s population. They have maintained bases in key positions like Gibraltar and Cyprus. One thing is that at one time freight from Commonwealth countries at one time could only be carried by British Merchant ships giving us the biggest fleet in the world and this meant a ready supply of sailors and ships in times of war. More recently the armed forces have become more a rapid deployment force if there is trouble in other countries than an anti-invasion force which they feel isn’t necessary. One controversial aspect has been that when Britain has taken a country they have often brought unwelcome diseases like smallpox and syphillus and often populations have been decimated and replaced with white people. Also often they haven’t kept local names for locations and given them British names, often names from places in Great Britain. I really enjoyed this book which is well written and very educational.

The book I read to research this post was Obstruction Danger by Adrian Vaughan which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is a kind of history of railway from 1890 – 1986 and looks at over 30 railway accidents and their causes with in this period. The book was published in 1989 and the start point 1890 is significant because there was a major accident in Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1889 caused by a runaway train without air brakes that couldn’t stop. It caused a public outcry and an act of parliament was passed forcing the various railway companies to adopt safety measures like airbrakes on the coaches and wagons, interlocking signals which nowadays are electrically powered and the token system on portions of single track. This act was the most significant event in the history of British railways until they were amalgamated in to major groups in 1921. The railway companies had a very difficult time incorporating these measures into their networks. There was a shortage of companies and trained workers capable of building interlocking signals. They had to meet a deadline which even if they could train people and get them to do the jobs would mean laying off many of these people once the job was done. Interlocking signals are signal levers that are dependent on each other and will only let you pull them in a certain order. This was very advanced technology at the time. Another factor was the cost of implementing all these measures at a time when most railway companies weren’t making a lot of money and felt they could maybe do it gradually but doing it to a deadline was out of the question. I really enjoyed reading this book and it’s amazing how something that can seem trivial like the signalmen not logging twice in the logbook when a train passes through can contribute to accidents. A lot of more recent accidents were caused by insufficient training and experience. At one time signal men spent years doing one job and knew it inside out. There was an incident where a signalmen had a weeks instruction on working signals and then left to do it. I would recommend this book and if you see it for sale cheap could be a good buy.

The book I read to research this post was Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen E Ambrose which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is the story of the Pacific Railroad which was built in the 19th Century and was the first railroad across the USA going all the way to San Francisco. It was able to link some quite big cities which wouldn’t have been the case had it gone ie to Los Angeles where it would have been going across mostly. Lincoln who was largely responsible for the passing of the bill allowing the railway was a railway profession as well as US President. They only used 10,000 chinese labourers which you can compare to the Trans- Siberian which used 200,000 chinese labourers and hundreds of thousands of prisoners and took much longer to complete. The Pacific Railroad was built very efficiently. It was built in just 6 years and there were many enormous challenges like at one point it reaches 5,000 feet, 2,000 feet below the mountains summit. They had to make these inclines very gradual often taking several miles to allow the steam trains to climb. Many of the chinese labourers heard rumours there were 50 feet snakes that could devour someone whole and native americans who were cannibals. There was no basis for these and one of the bosses sent sent 22 chinese labourers out to see for themselves which helped to quell it. In the very early days the rails were made from hard wood which then gave way to iron which was used for this railway. They raised the money by selling shares which proved to be an excellent and safe investment for many years.  I really enjoyed this book which is written a little like a novel. It tells the story in detail and I would definitely recommend it and it is around 400 pages.

I am reviewing the war memoir book Sabre Squadron by Cameron Spence which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This is a true story of an SAS mission that occurred during the First Gulf War and was the longest mission ever undertaken by SAS soldiers at 6 weeks. The mission was part of the search for Scud missiles in the wake of Iraq attacking Israel with these in the hope of breaking the Arab part of the coalition which was essential if the armed forces amassed in Saudi Arabia were going to oust Iraq from Kuwait. It was ultimately successful and Israel wasn’t drawn into the war but SAS soldiers on the ground in Iraq had to find the mobile Scud sites. The permanent Scud missile sites were taken out quite early on and the Iraqis smuggled the missiles to the sites in buses under the Allied Forces noses. Once they SAS found the sites they often had to use a laser guider to guide the bombs in. In this particular mission they thought they were dealing with 30 soldiers and it was actually more like 300 and one of the land rovers thought a place with barbed wire and concrete structures which are always bad signs was deserted and it turned out they got ambushed and if they had turned around would have been killed so had to slam the vehicle in reverse and make a speedy exit. I think if you enjoy books by Chris Ryan and Andy McNab you will be in your element. It has lots of delicious details about warfare and I think will especially appeal to anyone considering a career in the army or soldiers. I really enjoyed this book and Cameron Spence was a NCO in the SAS who carried out this mission. It rivals books like Bravo Two Zero. It’s an enjoyable read and is a decent length at around 400 pages.


The book I read to research this post was British Military Operations 1945-85 which is an excellent book which I bought from a car boot sale. This book was published around 1986 and covers the various theatres of conflict Britain has been involved in, in quite a lot of detail and is quite informative. Britain at least up until 1985 had been involved in armed conflict somewhere in the world every year with the exception of 1968. Britain has a relatively small but extremely capable army that has unsurpassed experience in dealing with terrorists or insurgents. Most of these conflicts the British armed forces have achieved notable victories. There were conflicts like the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya when they had to move all the villagers out of the war zone when the civilians weren’t too happy but even in that they did have success in dealing with the Mau Mau. One thing they did was use ex Mau Mau who had changed sides to hunt down the others in small groups often accompanied with one soldier. They had a lot of success with this in the Boer War too. The enemy would have no idea if these units were friendly or not and could be captured etc. In Northern Ireland a ploy used by the security services was taking people off the street and questioning but because they couldn’t interrogate them they let them contribute information if they wanted to. This was done on such a large scale the PIRA couldn’t work out who had told them what as they were overwhelmed with the number of people involved. I learned a lot from this book and it is a very interesting read certainly worth the 50 p I paid for it. If you see it for sale secondhand I definitely recommend it. Britain wanted wealth from the empire just after World War 2 to help pay off the loans from America but gradually decided the best path was to let her subject countries become independent which allowed her to scale back her military. As with things like the Suez Crisis she couldn’t stick to one policy and couldn’t accept the Egyptians nationalizing the Suez Canal. This was partly to pay for the Aswan Dam which the West was threatening to pull the finance for. Britain in particular feared British ships might be banned from the canal. It wasn’t just loss of earnings. Of course at this time Britain just couldn’t afford to fight a war and hadn’t thought it out properly.

The book I read to research this post was A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book which is a kind of controversial recent history is about Kim Philby but is also about the spy ring for the Russians and is in particular about Anthony Burgess and the game of cat and mouse the British spy services played with the KGB around the 40’s and 50’s. Funnily enough when Philby fled to Russia despite being a double agent and a communist he was far from happy even slashing his wrists on occasions. Philby was head of the British spy service at the time of World War 2 and one thing it says is he wasn’t concerned about the consequences of the information he passed on to the KGB. At one stage MI6 produced a list of staunch anti communists in Germany who might resist the Russians and he passed this list on. To their dismay MI6 later found out every person on the list had been shot. We don’t know how many names were on the list as that is classified. On another occasion a Soviet spy offered information including identities of more or less the entire network of Kim Philby and his fellow double agents in exchange for money and political asylum for him and his family. He was eliminated and it was obvious a person of the rank of one of the spies he had mentioned had messed the case up namely Philby. The people who worked with Philby were so inept they didn’t realise this and he had had the spy assassinated. This is an amasing story and I must admit Ben does write absolutely fantastic history books and his consistency astounds me. It reads almost like a novel and is absolutely enthralling. I did thoroughly enjoy this book and would enthusiastically recommend anything by Ben Macintyre.

The book I read to research this post was The Face Of Battle by John Keegan which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book takes an indepth look at 3 great British battles, Agincourt, Waterloo & the Somme. The first 2 were successful for Britain and the last was a bit of a stalemate. Keegan writes absolutely brilliant history books mostly from around the 2 World Wars. Agincourt along with the somewhat similar battle Crecy is the kind of battle at first glance makes you proud to be British and was between them and the French. The French outnumbered the English but there cavalry hesitated big time in a relatively narrow space were due to the mud the horses were sinking and they were slain by archers. The British longbowmen had a reputation for being lethal. The resultant prisoners were mostly slain due to there larger numbers as the British thought they might pick up weapons and start fighting again. At Waterloo some of the soldiers most notably the Belgians were allowed to leave with out being captured despite losing the battle and many of these soldiers fought in other battles so in hindsight it was probably the wrong decision. At the Somme in World War 1 most of the shells fired by the British were shrapnell containing lots of steel balls due to a shortage of high explosive but this did little damage to the German fortifications. Many of the British were mowed down by machine guns as they advanced and gains despite the heavy losses were minimal. A lot of lessons were at least learned from this offensive that were applied to later battles. I did really enjoy this book and it’s a substantial length with lots of useful information. Keegan is one of my favorite history book authors.