Archive for the ‘british history’ Category

The book I read to research this post was An Account Of 150 Years Of Policing Birmingham by John Reilly which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. Actually this book was published in 1989 so 150 years is a bit misleading. It was written by a Chief Inspector in the police force. The police force in Birmingham along the lines we know it started in 1819 and was part of the Warwickshire Constabulary. Prior to that there was a constable and his assistant to keep law and order and they used a people’s militia as and when needed. The constable was also responsible for fighting fires along with the fire brigade and any time the law was broken they could be called out even if off duty to uphold the law. In the 19th Century Birmingham faced huge expansion only becoming a city in 1900 and had a population of 187,000 in 1841 and nowadays has over a million inhabitants. Patrol cars with 2 way radios didn’t happen until 1942 and during World War 2 several police stations were hit by bombs and several police men were killed. In World War 1 Germany bombed Britain with airships which because there was no air defences at that time could roam freely. The airships were useless when air defences were built as they were huge, slow and filled by hydrogen which was apt to explode. I did really enjoy this book although it a little short at around 220 pages. It’s interesting nonetheless.

The book I read to research this post was Rejoice, Rejoice, Britain In The 80’s by Alwayn W Turner which is an excellent book that I bought from kindle. This book is quite a substantial length and even though I lived through the 80’s there was a lot here I didn’t know about. In Britain of course one of the main things about the 80’s was Margaret Thatcher was prime minister throughout the decade. Many of use and I was only 9 when she came to power couldn’t really remember there being another leader and she remained in power for 11 1/2 years. There was also the Falklands War and the title of the book comes from a quote from Thatcher when the British forces regained South Georgia. South Georgia had little strategic value in the war with Argentina and it was mostly a public relations exercise. It was regained without any fatalities. Goose Green a small village in the south of the Falklands similarly had little strategic significance. They could have bypassed it and continued on their way to the capital Port Stanley. Despite it being a very bloody battle with the British Parachute Regiment being outnumbered 4 to 1. Battles like Tumbledown & Mount Longdon were more important to the campaign. Most people hadn’t a clue where the Falkland’s Islands were until the war. It was also quite a greedy period with affluent young people called Yuppies at one end of the spectrum and much unemployment which we hadn’t seen anything like since the Great Depression in the 30’s. Margaret was determined to get British borrowing under control and slashed public spending. This wasn’t all together a bad thing and under the previous Labour government Britain had been close to bankruptcy with them nationalizing  key industries which consequently weren’t run efficiently. A lot of the changes that did happen probably weren’t intentional by the Conservative Party & Margaret Thatcher but happened anyway. It was important as a time when members of the public could invest in things like shares and many of the public utilities that had formerly been nationalized were sold in the form of shares mostly at bargain prices. I enjoyed this book and think it particularly appeals to people who lived in Britain in the 80’s but is very educational in its own right.

The book I read to research this post was The Ely And St Ives Railway by Peter Paye which is an excellent book that I bought from Amazon. Peter lives in the Eastern Britain area and had a high ranking job with British Rail so is quite an expert on these old railway lines and has written quite a lot of books about it. I have reviewed some of his books which with out exception are always really good. This particular which at first went from Ely in the Fens of Britain to Sutton & Hunstanton and was later extended to St Ives. There is a more famous St Ives in Cornwall which is a holiday resort. Anyway this railway like a lot of the branchlines in Eastern Britain was primarily a goods service for farmers produce. Passenger traffic was a sideline and with pressure from road transport was discontinued quite early on. Many of the photos of trains on this route are goods trains for this reason. Perishable produce was often put in open wooden wagons with a tarpaulin on top to protect it from the rain. When there was a passenger most people went to St Ives on a monday when there was a market and the early morning service was a bit too early for people going to the market. The evening service was too late for market traders to take advantage as the market finished at 3pm. There was only a limited service. It did eventually get incorporated into the GER or Great Eastern Railway. Many people travelling on this route often complained the endless farms and what tended to be flat land was monotonous. This area used to be marsh with islands which in some cases rise to over 100 feet. Ely Cathedral is built on one of these former islands. There was a direct goods train from St Ives to Cambridge once a day. There is lots of photos in the book and it is a decent length for a book of this type being around 160 pages. I found it really interesting and an enjoyable read. Finally you might be interested to know I have done a post on Norfolk And Suffolk at http://oldscratbag.com .It is a post about tourism though.

 

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 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 Modern Sea Power by Bernard Brett which is an excellent book which I bought from a car boot sale. This book was written at the height of the Cold War so apart from looking at the history of navies tends to look at the rivalry between NATO & the Soviet Bloc. Bernard is an art teacher who has a strong interest in the navies of the world and I think he has done a commendable job with this book. Much of it looks at the 2 World Wars and it is around 250 pages so is a reasonable length with sumptious photos. The book mostly looks at the development of the modern navy which started with HMS Dreadnought in 1905 which was the first ship to have big guns and heavy armament and of course the dreadnought class of ships was named after her. In World War 2 American ships were limited to 61,000 tons which was all that could pass through the Panama Canal & the Japanese took advantage of this with their Yamamoto Class 72,000 ton ships though which only saw limited production. Another big development in World War 2 was the submarine and the German developed an engine for these which was high performance and used hydrogen peroxide instead of pressurized oxygen to provide combustion. After the Americans looked at nuclear power with the potential that the submarine could almost run indefinitely underwater. Yet another big development has been the change from battleship to aircraft carrier as the most expensive ship in a fleet. The British developed a kind of catapult that would launch a Hurricane aircraft into the air and the fact it couldn’t land and the pilot had to bail out once the enemy had been destroyed was seen as an acceptable loss. Many of the Atlantic convoys had this. It was primarily to take care of enemy battleships. The periscope which allowed a submarine to run submerged but at the same time be able to see above the surface was a Dutch invention during World War 2. Around that time Britain had more merchant shipping than any other nation but they were catching up rapidly. This was largely due to the British Empire. I really enjoyed reading this book which is on an interesting topic and the author has done a good job with it.

The book I read to research this post was London’s Lost Railways by Charles Klapper which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Charles wrote this book in 1976 and rather unfortunately died in 1980 but had a distinguished career in transport and transport journalism. This book which is somewhat dated is about the railways in and near London which have either closed or been relegated from passenger and freight to freight only. In many cases large companies oversaw the building of lines and owned and operated their own engines on these lines. Since this book was published the Chunnel has been built and a series of extensive upgrades like the expansion of Farringdon station have taken place. Of course TGV’s even operate between London & various destinations on the continent. One thing mentioned in the book is often coal was brought in to London from the North and various railways linked this to the docks where it could be exported. Apparently 11 national lines terminated in London at one time. Shoreditch for example was the terminus for the Eastern Counties. There was a high level Crystal Palace station which was an important goods depot. The big competitors to the railways were the underground trains & buses. It’s interesting to note there were orbital railways around the suburbs of London which are run particularly by buses. This book is only around 130 and many of the lost lines I have never heard of. I enjoyed reading it though & I think if you see it for sale maybe going cheap is probably worth buying.

The book I read to research this post was Deltics At Work by Allan Baker et al which is an excellent book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Allan was Depot Manager at Finsbury Park where these train, Deltics were based for many years and this book is mainly about what made them so popular and also there is some stuff on their handling and the engineers faced with them. In the late 50’s and for many years afterwards Deltics were the most powerful diesel trains in the world. They had two 2,000 hp diesel engines and rarely needed all there pulling power. They weren’t the fastest trains in the world which was probably the Bullet Trains in Japan but they were capable of 105 mph although weren’t supposed to go over 100 mph as that was limited by the track and signals. They had problems maintaining them in particular if it was hot and the train was going fast the oil lubricant in the engine would congeal and this would result in spark coming from the engine which could start lineside fires and also if unchecked could damage the engine. They started a monitoring program of analyzing the oil which cost £100 per train per year and was cheap compared to the £50,000 it cost to overhaul a damaged engine. They also had problems with the piston rings coming loose which could result in the piston coming through the crankcase. Despite these problems they had a better reliability record than many later diesels although not as good as the Duchess steam locomotives they replaced. Duchesses averaged about 80 mph so with the Deltics greater pulling power and higher speed British Rail did save a fortune. They were only on LNER line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh & Glasgow. Less powerful trains were used on the LMS line. There was a train built later on for the American Railroads that had a single 4,000 hp engine so that probably equalled these in power. In Britain there was a diesel prototype called Kestrel which was more powerful but never entered service. The Class 58 were the next diesel locomotives in Britain to beat it in terms of power. Deltics were so powerful that often if one engine failed the other engine would still run the service with little noticeable difference. I really enjoyed this book and although it is quite old and probably been out of print if you see it going cheap secondhand like I did is worth reading. There are also loads of photos of these very impressive trains including one of a HST, a Duchess & a Deltic parked next to each other.