Archive for the ‘british history’ Category

The book I read to research this post was Citizen Sailors by Glyn Prysor which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book uses eyewitness accounts to describe life in the Royal Navy during World war 2. Britain had a huge Navy and Merchant Navy largely on account of having the British Empire. The pride of the German was the Bismark which was bigger and faster than anything in the Royal Navy. It was a huge coup when she was sunk. The best ship in the Royal Navy at that time was HMS Hood. At one stage the British tried to hunt U-Boats with little sonar coverage and they would have an aircraft carrier with support from several battleships in doing this. This was extremely risky and a prominent ship HMS Royal Oak was sunk in one of these operations resulting in a rethink and they realised in particular they needed sonar coverage. They also realised aircraft carriers were unsuited to this task and sitting targets. When HMS Royal Oak was sunk rather embarassingly the U-Boat got away. Many U-Boats after attacking convoys would use the Denmark Straits between Iceland and Greenland to make their escape. Much of the battles with U-Boats happened in the North Sea. Changing the subject one sailor observed that workers in Britain but sailors would be shot if they did the same. Many sailors also felt their efforts didn’t seem to matter to the Americans who when the war seemed to be running the show. There was resentment that different countries armed forces got different rates of pay even though they were doing more or less the same job. Sailors who were wounded particularly by shrapnel got a pension but if someone got a psychiatric illness like shellshock it was limited to just 3 years. This is a very interesting book that I do recommend. The book is also around 530 pages so is a decent length.


The book I read to research this post was Haunted Birmingham by Arthur Smith et al which is an excellent book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book is about ghosts and apparitions in and around Birmingham in Britain along with some local history. I was impressed how well researched and written it was. It is only around 95 pages so is quite short. Apparently there were riots in the 18th century and the old council house which then was a prominently stately got broken into and looted. The rioters got into the basement and started drinking the booze that was stored there but failed to notice the rest of the house had been set on fire and perished. Some of them still haunt it. Apparently at New Street Railway Station there is what appears to be a man that boards the train to Crewe which goes from Platform 4 before disappearing mid-journey. They found out there was a case where someone commited suicide by poisoning himself and boarding the train to Crewe and died on the journey. When they built the ICC or International Convention Center they knew there was a graveyard on part of the site and 500 bodies had to be moved elsewhere but they discovered an additional approx 500 bodies in a pit thought to be victims of the plague around 1300. These were unrecorded but that was quite common because of the sheer number who died of the bubonic plague at that time. In the 19th Century there was a case where a man’s girlfriend left him and he was besotted with her. He stalked her for several years begging her to come back to him to no avail. In the end one night he got drunk and saw her and her friend in the White Hart Inn and shot both of them. His girlfriend survived but her friend died. He was executed and it is said he still walks along part of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre looking for his lost love. This is a fascinating book that I thoroughly enjoyed and do recommend. Apparently they do a guided tour of Haunted Birmingham that tourists can go on which sounds fascinating.


The book I read to research this post was A Regional History Of The Railways Of Great Britain Volume 7 The West Midlands by Rex Christiansen which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book was published in 1991 and is part of a 15 volume series covering the different regions of Great Britain. This book is around 300 pages so is a fairly decent length. Even before the railways were built linking the West Midlands, Birmingham was Britain’s second city. It was called the city of a thousand trades. The Industrial Revolution when a way was found to make coke which subsequently to the development of blast furnaces and steel making started at Coalbrookdale which is near the present day town of Telford and not that far from Birmingham. For years probably the most important railway station in Birmingham was Curzon Street although even when it was opened it was way too small for the traffic it handled. It was later closed and New Street replaced it. There was also key stations at Snow Hill and Moor Street which especially with the later looked for a while they were going to close completely. Luckily in more recent years New Street hasn’t been able to handle all its traffic so some has had to be redirected to these stations and they are now modern and busy. Wolverhampton nearby has always occupied an important junction for roads and later canals. The first railway tried to bypass Wolverhampton with a railway station on the outskirts which is stupid. Of course there was a public outcry and things did get sorted out. ¬†They underestimated its importance. Wolverhampton was well known as one of the biggest towns in Britain prior to achieving city status in 2000. I did quite enjoy this book and do recommend it although I think it’s not the kind of book you are likely to see on sale.


The book I read to research this post was An History Of Birmingham 1783 by William Hutton which is a very good book that I downloaded for free from kindle. Clearly this book is out of copyright and I think is of particular interest to anyone who lives in the West Midlands. We know Birmingham is a very old settlement indeed even predating the Romans. Nobody knows how old exactly but we know it’s original name was Bromych and there still is a nearby town called West Bromich. The preffix Brom comes from broom or gorse which grows particularly well in this soil. The Wych part means descent and probably refers to the gentle sloping land at Digbeth nearby. Originally Birmingham covered 3,000 acres and Aston which is now a suburb covered 4 times the area and King’s Norton 8 times. Of course a lot of Birmingham’s growth has been that as it has got bigger it has swallowed up places that have then become suburbs. In 1778 there were 49,000 roughly in this market town which didn’t become a city until the beginning of the 20th Century. In Britain they declare places after a due process cities at the beginning of each century. In the 21st Century it was Inverness, Brighton and Wolverhampton. Anyway at this time Birmingham was a part of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. It was an extremity of Warwickshire with many places like Handsworth which for example was in Staffordshire but would become a suburb in time. Of course Birmingham was a key player in industrialization and the industrial revolution. The first factories were built here and James Watt who invented a working steam engine lived here. Even in 1783 there was an iron smelting works at Aston. This book is around 320 pages so is a decent length. I very much enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it.

The book I read to research this post was Stalker by John Stalker which is an excellent book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book is around 280 pages so is a decent length and was published in 1988. This book is mostly about the Stalker Inquiry when it was allegded there was a shoot to kill policy by the RUC in Northern Ireland of suspected terrorists that John Stalker a senior police officer in the Greater Manchester Constabulary was investigating. Since this enquiry the rules governing inquiries into the police have been improved. There were 3 allegded incidents where there appeared to have been suspected IRA members shot. In one incident the bullet they alleged had killed the driver of the car was still embedded in the car. In another incident they claimed men had gone through a checkpoint without stopping which was a fabrication. In Northern Ireland the police routinely carried guns and in any other country would have been regarded as soldiers. There role was very different to the police on mainland Britain. They also had very unique problems in doing their jobs not shared by the other constabularies. As an investigating officer Stalker was investigating in what was basically another country and had little legal powers as a police officer investigating. He couldn’t compel officers to c-operate. What should have been a 6 month inquiry took 2 years mainly through him being obstructed. He knew one of the shootings had been recorded on a surveillance tape that was motion and sounded activated and had a hell of a job getting access to the tape. Just as he was getting to the end of the enquiry he was suspended with spurious charges. It was probably people panicking at the possible outcome and Northern Ireland is a very volatile place. In one of the shootings they established the supposed IRA members had travelled into Eire and been followed by this special unit of the RUC. He also established there had been 2 RUC policemen blown up by a mine and 4 of the men who had been accused of planting the mine by an informant. There was no other evidence whatsover to support this and he suspected the informant was at the very least exaggerating to make himself more important. Somebody else took over the enquiry and Stalker did get his old job back but found the Chief Constable who was his immediate superior wasn’t keeping him informed what was going on so he resigned. He was left with a huge legal bill which it doesn’t say if that got sorted out or not. Stalker had a hugely stressful time but did become a bit of a celebrity and people he could comment honestly about police work. He did work with the television and newspapers. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.

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.