Archive for the ‘british history’ Category

The book I read to research this post was The First World War by John Keegan which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is possibly the definitive text on World War 1 and was hugely popular in Britain upon publication. It sets out the reasons for this war and it compounded to cause World War 2 and also the timeline of World War 1 perfectly. It’s one of the best history books I have ever read. After World War 1 they buried an unknown soldier who couldn’t be identified in Westminster Abbey to commemorate all the unidentified corpses. In many of the capital cities in Europe they did similar. The German fatalities were largely forgotten about and in contrast to the nice cemetries for the allied bodies were often just buried in any graveyard that could take them. To the Germans Hitler who was a soldier hero of World War 1 and had been decorated and been a corporal, was the embodiment of the unknown soldier. At the First World War the Australian troops would be considered the finest troops in the world. If you look at Gallipolli which was largely Australian troops against Turkish troops many on the Allied side thought the Turkish would be as easy to defeat as the armies of Asia & Africa and they were poorly equipped but were tough soldiers and were patriotic. Of course at Gallipolli the Australian soldiers were massacred. They made a mistake about where there boats had to land and the didn’t defend the landing area because they thought nobody would land there. The Aussie’s tried to get to higher ground and once the shooting started had nowhere to retreat to. No one knows why they were landed in the wrong place. In another battle between German and Russian troops the German’s got massacred because the Russian’s fought well and the fleeing German troops were shot by their own rearguard who misstuck them for the enemy. Also in Egypt the British had to keep a certain amount of troops there due to the insurgency by the Arabs for independence, Parliament wouldn’t agree to British troops fighting on the Turkish front because they felt their troops were spread too thinly as it was. I did really enjoy this book, it’s quite compelling and is really well written.

The book I read to research this post was Locomotive Engineers Of The GWR by Denis Griffiths which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book was published in 1987 so might still be in print I suppose although with train books they only tend to print them for a short while. It’s a history of the Great Western Railway in Britain told from the engineering aspect of both building the railway lines and building the steam trains. The first boss of GWR was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who couldn’t see any reason to have a 4ft 81/2ins gauge which was a leftover from the coal wagons and insisted on a 7ft gauge which eventually had to be changed to match the rest of Britain so they could have long distance expresses from other lines. He was by trade a civil engineer and did make some costly mistakes through having a little bit of a lack of knowledge on steam engineering and his belief that everything should be the best rather than the cheapest. He built the railway from Bristol to London and initially was alarmed they were looking for the cheapest contractor but he persuaded them he wasn’t the cheapest but was the best. He was one of the first people to realize if they wanted truly efficient steam trains they must be pressurized but early experiments failed because they used leather pistons and technology had not advanced to that stage. He is famed for building the Clifton Suspension Bridge across a wide gorge of the River Avon. One story told of a later boss who was one of his successors is he was asked to build a streamlined locomotive and merely got a model of a King locomotive and added plasticine to modify it which was much later on but made a lot of sense. I did really enjoy this book and it is an interesting subject.


The book I read to research this post was Great British Trains by OS Nock which is an excellent book which I bought from a local secondhand store. This book is probably out of print a long time ago but you never know some of you like me might see it in a secondhand store or a garden fete. It’s about the high speed expresses in the 19th & early 20th century which often had names like The Aberdonian & The Golden Arrow. The first of these expresses was The Flying Dutchman which ran from London to Penzance and as far as Exeter there was competing lines so they decided to have a high speed express service.Beyond Exeter because Great Western had the only line it didn’t matter how slowly the train went.  The train had to stop at Swindon for passengers to get refreshments or use the toilets. The press at the time were excited at this service and named it after a successful racehorse which was like the Red Rum of its day. The name stuck and soon a lot of the long distance expresses were given names. The oldest continual service with a name in the world is the Irish Mail which is also called The Boat Train and runs from London to Holyhead. Somebody did tell me the trains in Britain no longer carry the mail normally as they had problems and Royal Mail get fined if post is late. Originally on this service the train company had to pay a fine of £1.70 per minute if the train was late and in those days that was a lot of money. This train supplied passengers for the boat to Ireland. A lot of these expresses didn’t do much above maybe 60 mph. Even though later trains like The City Of Truro & The Mallard did over a hundred miles an hour it was rare if ever they did anything like this speed as part of a scheduled service. One of the most exclusive of these trains was The Golden Arrow from London to Dover and there was also a high speed train from Calais to Paris at the other end. Initially it was the train from Calais to Paris called this and it was a faster and very posh train with lots of 1st class carriages. Later the English train caught in on the act and at its peak pulled 10 Pullmans or 1st class carriages. OS Nock sadly died some years ago but in his time wrote over 150 books on the railways and I think this is one of his best. He was a great expert on railways with a great range of knowledge on the different.

The book I read to research this post was Last Days Of Steam In Bristol And Somerset by Colin G Maggs which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book doesn’t have a huge amount of information continued in it and is mostly photos with a bit of writing about each one. It does document the steam trains until their demise in Bristol & Somerset which started with the closure of the steam locomotive workshop at Bristol, Bath Road in 1964 and over a period of a couple of years the rest were closed. Diesel trains initially replaced them followed by trains like Deltics & HST’s later on as they gradually got faster and faster. The county of Somerset mostly came under the GWR or Great Western Railway but there was a Southern Railway in the south of the county & a LMS branch line in the north which took in Bristol. At one time Bristol was the second biggest city in the British Empire and a great port. Minehead and other places became great seaside resorts with the popularity of trains and there still is a Butlins Holiday Camp there. Road transport was to be what caused the great demise of the railways in general. I enjoyed this book which is about what was a kind of heyday for Somerset & Bristol after all most people go abroad for their holidays although Bristol is still one of the most important cities in Britain. This book is a pleasant read.


The book I read to research this post was The Branch Lines Of Worcestershire by Colin G Maggs which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. Colin is a railway author who tends to specialize in the West Country region and Worcestershire isn’t too far from that region. There have been quite a few railways closed in this county and sadly he covers the routes with in the county which is a shame because there are lines like the Tenbury line & Severn Valley Railway which extend quite considerably beyond the boundaries and I’m sure lots of information was left out. Apparently the branch from Stourbridge Junction to Droitwich was almost closed due to competition from the more direct Bromsgrove line with both going from Birmingham to Worcester. What saved it was the high speed trains going from Birmingham to Gloucester and beyond which needed the Bromsgrove line and a local service had to go on the Stourbridge Junction line as a result. The Tenbury line was one of several in the country called the bluebell line on account of it being quite a scenic route. The Severn Valley Railway although it has charitable status is quite successful as a privately run steam enthusiasts railway and one of the longest in the country. There was a branch line that took in the industrial town of Halesowen linking Stourbridge Junction to Barnt Green. There was also a branch line from Evesham to Leominster which are both small market towns. Of course a lot of these lines were making a loss but fed traffic to the major lines and gradually more and more lines were closed as traffic fell. I was born in Kidderminster on the Stourbridge Junction line which was an important terminus on account of its carpet manufacturing so this book is very interesting to me. The book itself is a little bit short but is an enjoyable read.

The book I read to research this post was Virgin Trains by John Balmforth which is a very good book which I bought from a local bookstore. This book is around 80 pages and has some wonderful photos of Virgin Trains but sadly doesn’t have much information which is a shame as I am sure there is plenty of potentially interesting information they could write about this subject. When Virgin took over the West Coast & Cross Country in 1998 the railway stock was mostly from the 60′s & 70′s and in bad need of replacing and they agreed to upgrade the stock to Pendolinos, Voyagers & Super Voyagers by 2002 and were successful in doing this. Even the renamed HST’s foremerly Inter City 125′s were retired from there main routes completely from 2004. Much of the signalling in Britain is limited to only letting trains go at a maximum of 125 mph when they are capable of 140 mph upwards. Britain has more tilting trains than any other country in the world largely thanks to Virgin. They have had reliability problems with these tilting trains but this has mostly been sorted out. There has been controversy over the number of slots they have at Birmingham New Street which has meant some of the local trains have had to be transferred to Snow Hill although this has meant you can catch a local train from Stourbridge all the way to Stratford Upon Avon as the same trains goes on both lines so its not all bad. I think linking 2 local lines and another example is the train from Lichfield to Redditch is a good idea and passengers are bound to travel to the further destination if they can do it on one train. I did enjoy reading this book and Virgin has had some initiatives like recycling tickets and timetables as well as old uniforms which has probably not caught on although they are trying. I’d recommend this book for the wonderful photo’s.

The book I read to research this post was Two Sides Of Hell by Vincent Bramley which is a very good book which I bought from a car boot sale. This book tells the story of the Battle of Mount Longdon, the fiercest battle of the Falklands Campaign. The story is told from the perspectives of the Argentine & British soldiers who have been interviewed in addition to the author’s experiences in the battle with the Para’s. It tells of how the Argentine soldiers were flown in airliners with the seats taken out to make more room and being told to sit on their kit. The ordinary Argentine soldiers were also starved and abused by their officers. One soldier tells of how they had nothing to eat despite their being thousands of sheep and plenty of food in Port Stanley. He got permission to slay a sheep and someone suggested they send it back to the base to be enjoyed by all the men and the dead sheep disappeared. Obviously one of the officers must have sold it on the black market. Another incident involved an Argentine conscript going into Port Stanley to buy food for him and his co workers. He got caught but luckily an officer he knew backed him up with a white lie, otherwise he would have been sent to military prison. The British Para’s by contrast couldn’t belief the heroes send off they got and got to travel on the luxury liner Canberra although it was modified for their use. Of course they had hardship later on. In the Battle for Mount Longdon many Argentine soldiers were sprayed with machine gun bullets while they slept and probably died in their sleep. This book started as a project the author and a tv crew were doing for Argentine television and they saw the potential for doing a book. I really enjoyed this book which is quite unusual in telling the story from both sides.


The book I read to research this post was Thomas Telford by L T C Rolt which is an excellent book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Telford has the unusual distinction that the new town of Telford is named after him. He is also one of the greatest British people of all time. He isn’t as well known as Brunel but where as Brunel did much in the Industrial Revolution, Telford built fine roads, canals and bridges. Telford also lived near the beginning of the Industrial Age but for example didn’t see the full potential of the steam engine. He started out as an architect who later learned about engineering. Among his early work the bridge that spans the River Severn at Bewdley in Worcestershire is his finest. He raised the entire bridge in one season which was unheard of. There was a church at Shrewsbury in Shropshire and he was asked to repair the roof. He realised the foundations weren’t adequate and graves had undermined what foundations there were. He reported this and they thought he was trying to create work for himself. The church collapsed soon afterwards. He built the Ellesmere Canal, the Gotha Canal in sweden, the liverpool & Birmingham Junction Canal & the Shrewsbury to Holyhead road. The Gotha canal cuts straight through Sweden. He built a formidable bridge for Holyhead across the Menai Straits. He died before the Liverpool & Birmingham Junction Canal could be completed. He built many harbours and bridges in his native Scotland. At that time the Highlands were largely inaccessable. He was asked to judge designs for a Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Severn and turned down a design by a young Brunel along with all the others and submitted his own design. Interestingly Rolt has also written a book about Brunel.

The book I read to research this post was A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is about World War 1 and the aftermath of The Battle Of The Somme. It’s a kind of historical investigation into the treatment of allied soldiers and also of the civilian population in a Northern France town. The allied soldiers were told they must surrender and surrender their arms immediately or be shot as spies. France after being conquered by Germany was like a giant concentration camp with the German soldiers covetting any usable possessions the civilian population had. One scientist working on a vaccine was sentenced to death for having pigeons which had been using for lab work and another scientist had to intercide on his behalf. Civilians couldn’t have pigeons as they could send messages and any had to be turned over to the German forces. Anyone who helped allied troops would be sentenced to be hanged and any mayors who were found to have allied troops in their towns were hanged. Towns would also be heavily fined collectively or the town would be burnt down. Despite this many allied airman and soldiers did seek shelter in French towns. I have to admit I am very impressed at the consistency of Macintyre’s books and I did really enjoy this book. It’s also around 350 pages so is a reasonable length. As with all Macintyre’s books its well researched.



The book I read to research this post was Spearhead Assault by John Geddes which is an excellent book which I bought from a secondhand bookstore. This book is mostly about the battle at Goose Green during the Falklands Conflict at which the author who was in the Parachute Regiment fought. When the British forces landed at San Carlos on the Falklands Islands, some bright spark at the BBC broadcast that they were going to take Darwin & Goose Green. Nobody ever got blamed for it, but it gave the Argentine’s important information. As it was there intelligence reported there was about 200 soldiers stationed at Goose Green when in fact there was 1,500. They had so much ammunition the men stood on the ammo boxes to keep their feet dry. There was only around 400 British soldiers involved. They had to take a bridge & there was a farmhouse where the Argentine’s kept a family hostage and when the para’s took the latter it was like the OK Corral although the family were unharmed and the Argentine’s fled. The actual battle at Goose Green could have been won sooner had Colonel H listened to one of his men who suggested a flanking mannouvre which was initially over ruled but in the end they did. When the Argentine forces did surrender it was because the British were launching Milan rockets at the bunkers and they could see it was hopeless continuing. The Argentine’s also had members from their special forces stationed at Goose Green and it was an extremely tough battle. The author John went onto join the SAS and was a Warrant Officer when he retired. I really enjoyed this book and it’s a fascinating subject.