Archive for the ‘british history’ Category

I am reviewing the book Soldier: The Autobiography by General Sir Mike Jackson which is a very good book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Sir Mike was a 4 star General and over the combined British land forces before he retired in 2006. He had a university degree in Russian Studies which seems rather apt for someone in the British Army in that era. He was present at Bloody Sunday and the Warrenpoint Massacre. At the latter they lost more troops than in any single action since World War 2. At the first he does say they did come under fire where as you probably now it was a riot where lots of people were shot by paratroopers. He does also talk a bit about West Berlin where you could see an opera in the East for a pittance and Western currency was highly prized. Strangely and it was a left over from World War 2 when the Allies and Russia co-operated in defeating Germany. Both sides could send patrols through the other parts of Berlin. The parts under America, French & British control became West Berlin and the rest under Russian control was East Berlin. Obviously they used these patrols as an excuse to gather intelligence on each other. He did do a report on the feasibility of reuniting Germany with a united Berlin as its capital and thought because of the disparity in wealth between East and West it was unlikely in his lifetime. It is to there credit he was proved wrong. He also was in charge of the British Army at the time of Kosovo and apparently when the Allied troops went in, in a peacekeeping role there was already a Russian contingent there which the Americans were eager to prosecute if any members had commited war crimes but he just sent them packing back to Russia mostly because potentially it could have caused World War 3. He also had to reduce and restructure the Army which meant abolishing many historic regiments with great traditions. This was controversial at the time but had to be done. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I do recommend it. It is around 400 pages so is a substantial length.

The book I read to research this post was Turing: The Tragic Life Of Alan Turing by Fergus Mason which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. Alan was born in 1912 and was to go on to be a mathematical genius who was probably the one who made the biggest contribution to ending World War 2. He cracked how the enigma machines which were code machines used by the Germans that were reconfigured every day and considered unbreakable by the Nazis. The Polish Intelligence as early as 1932 noticed the configuration a 3 letter sequence was sent at the beginning of a message and if they had an enigma machine to hand could decode the message. They knew eventually the Germans were bound to close that particular loophole. Turing tried another approach using a computer which used a kind of brute force attack where many combinations were tried on a small portion of a message and it if was read by an operator and wasn’t garbled they knew they had the key to the rest of the message. Sadly Turing was dishonorably discharged from the Intelligence Service for being gay which in those days was illegal and he was considered a security risk open to blackmail because of this. Despite this he had made a great contribution to the war effort and he died in the 50’s from cyanide poisoning thought to be suicide. There is a mystery surrounding it in that there was a contraption that produced cyanide gas but also an apple with one bite taken out of it. It was apparent he had staggered when he died but they don’t know if the apple was dipped in cyanide or it was given off from the scientific apparatus. Cyanide is very fast acting so it is thought more likely the apple was dipped in it as he had made it to the bedroom. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and his contribution was secret until the 70’s and I definitely recommend it.

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 Making Peace In War by Richard Jones et al which is a very good book that I read at kindle unlimited. I think this book is around 230 pages so is a reasonable length. The book is a kind of memoir profiling 8 political officers who served in a civilian role with the British Army in Afghanistan in Helmand Province. There were a total of 37 people who served in them roles. There job was to smooth any problems out with the general public in the local populace. Most of them were men because it was a bit of an uphill struggle trying to get women accepted in any kind of working role. Helmand was like a series of micro-fiefdoms and in some places women were allowed to work in fields while in others they were locked away and it wasn’t unusual for a lady to get married and even her close relatives not see her for many years. The political officers had to get the general populace to side with the army against the Taliban which would often intimidate the population. The army also had to respect the local’s culture and beliefs and regularly encountered problems there training hadn’t really trained them for. One problem was a lady escaped from her family and arrived at one of their bases. She faced imminent death if she went back but equally if the commanding officers sided with her they faced upsetting the local population. They did decide to protect her and the political officer had to negotiate with her family. This is a self published book which does present interesting aspects about the war in Helmand. I did quite enjoy reading it and I think would recommend it.

The book I read to research this post was Strangeways: Strange Days My Life Sentence by Malcolm Taylor which is a very good book that I read on kindle unlimited. This book is a very moving account of the Strangeway Prison Riots in 1990 from the perspective of a prison officer who was one of the poor souls stuck in the middle of it. Strangeways was a very overcrowded prison and there were warnings if something wasn’t done about it there would probably be a riot. As it was the prison officers, police and firemen were very poorly equipped to deal with it with there not being enough riot gear to go round. There was an elite group of prison specially for the purpose of dealing with riots they nicknamed the ninjas. It is a miracle there wasn’t a mass escape from the prison but luckily the security doors held firm. Many prisoners didn’t want anything to do with the riots and came out of their own accord and that isn’t to mean they didn’t do any of the ransacking of the prison because in most cases they did. At one point remembering these prisoners were quite volatile having been involved in the riots, 3 prison officers were left to look after them which could have been very volatile. At the security doors of the prison they would have maybe 2 prison officers guarding it which isn’t appropriate if there was a mass escape. Malcolm is quite bitter about the fear they instilled in the people trying to control the situation but did believe he should treat them like human beings regardless what they had done. Apparently with a lot of the prisoners they are doing such long sentences they have nothing to lose if they get the chance to beat up a police officer or prison officer. A few weeks after the riots he had his head rammed against a car window and was held up by a home made knife as some prisoners objected to being transferred to Doncaster Prison. In the case of Malcolm he died of cancer in 1999 and had to take early retirement from the prison service due to having Parkinson’s Disease. If he had stayed in the prison service he could have taken early retirement at age 55. I really enjoyed reading this book which is around 100 pages and has made me think I ought to do more posts on things like prison riots.

The book I read to research this post was The Paras by John Parker which is a very good book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is around 380 pages so is a decent length and was published in 2000 so probably misses some of their exploits. They were formed in 1942 and incorporated the SAS who were under Captain David Stirling leaving that title vacant. It was at the orders of Winston Churchill in the wake of the Blitzkreigs in Europe when Britain had been driven out of France. The Germans were to nickname them the Red Devils partly due to their red berets. The Germans had a lot of success with their parachute regiments especially in the invasion of Norway where they secured many key installations like the airports. Germany having parachute regiments was in direct contravention of the Versailles Treaty signed at the end of World War 1. Russia also had extensive parachute regiments. 95 % of these kind of troops would probably be mown down before reaching the ground at least according to British preliminary estimates. They helped secure Sicily during the invasion of Italy. They were key in the Arnhem and D-Day landings. The former depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far. They were also important in Palestine just after World War 2 and the Falklands War. There is a post on this site on Goose Green which must go down as one of their greatest victories. There were also key battles at Mount Longdon and Wireless Ridge. They were also to see action in Northern Ireland & Kosovo and also Iraq although the latter one isn’t in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which of course I recommend.  John is a former journalist who has written many books on the military including the Foreign Legion and the SBS among others. The Paras earned 2 posthumous Victoria Crosses during the Falklands Campaign. They are the highest accolade given to British soldiers. One was there commanding officer Colonel H Jones who led a 1 man charge on a machine gun implacement and died as a result at Goose Green. Initially his regiment wasn’t to be used in the war and he did everything he could to get them included.

The book I read to research this post was Worcester 1651 by Malcolm Atkin which is a very good book that I bought from Amazon. This is a book about the Battle of Worcester which effectively ended the Civil War although the loser Charles the 2nd did eventually become king by peaceful. Oliver Cromwell was very charismatic although he had strong ideas about religion and politics including not having a king. His son who took over the Lord Protector role from him lacked this charisma and proved unpopular. This part of the war is often called the 3rd Civil War and the 2nd Civil War ended with Charles the 1st being beheaded. At the time of this battle the son was still very young and inexperienced in battle but had to take over to unite his quarreling generals. He first landed in Scotland and proclaimed king of Scotland. This was mostly a war between Scotland and England. In the previous Civil Wars his father gained a lot of support from the Midlands. Oliver’s men were called roundheads and sometimes puritans and the opposing army cavaliers. To survive the 2 armies plundered nearby houses so local support was lacking. Richard Baxter in nearby Kidderminster refused to ask his congregation to pray for either side because many men had been conscripted and forced to fight. He also said after the battle that if God sided with Charles why were so many men slaughtered often in cold blood after the battle. Charles claimed it was God’s will he was king. At least an outcome of the Civil War in general was England did get full time soldiers. Soldiers were just drafted prior to battle previously. Charles the 2nd did escape from the battle and there is a famous story of him hiding up a tree almost under the roundhead’s nose. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.