Drones have become and integral part of warfare in much the same way as a mobile phone has become a fundamental platform of modern life. Both technologies emerged in the late 1980s, and both have advanced astonishingly quickly. The reason for the rapid development of mobile phones is simple; money. The smartphone industry spent US$150 billion on R&D in 2014. The Pentagon spent US$60 billion on all its research programmes combined. This is possible because of the economies of scale and the exploitation of free market economics. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling
This month marks the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt and a flurry of books are being published to celebrate the occasion.
Henry V inherited the throne of England, which at that time included Wales, Calais and a substantial chunk of South West France, from his father (Henry IV) in 1413. His father had usurped Richard II and England was still recovering from the split. As Prince of Wales Henry had already been thoroughly tested in combat, having defeated the Welsh uprising of Owen Glendower, and in peace making. He was a just, pious and popular monarch. With England united, his attention turned to recovering the rest of his realm, which at one time had contained Normandy, Brittany and much more of South West France.
In the 15th Century world God was at the centre of everything, including justice. Wars were believed to be an extreme form of trial by combat and God would deliver victory to the righteous. The lost lands in France belonged to the English king, himself ordained by God, and thus a war to regain them would be righteous. Provided it was righteously conducted Henry would prevail. He therefore went to great lengths to explain his cause and request immediate return of his lands. Unsurprisingly the French monarchs rejected his claim and the stage was set for war.
The first questions on opening an autobiography are usually “did this person have an interesting life” and “can he (or she) write?” With the subject and author being Frederick Forsyth the answer is clearly a resounding yes so I plunged in with great anticipation.
As Forsyth notes in the introduction, this is not a conventional autobiography. Rather than a chronological narration of every stage of his life, the author has opted for a series of recollections which are delivered in pretty much chronological order. This approach has the benefit of producing a much crisper narrative than would be the case if, for example, he recounted every part of his life at school. We get what he thinks is the important stuff, undiluted by the drudgery of the mundane. If it’s on the page, it’s worth reading. This also suits the authors style, honed as a journalist and refined as a thriller writer resulting in a fast pace. Fittingly for the author of the Day of The Jackal, this reads more as a thriller than an autobiography. And it’s a ripping yarn.
Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: The Outsider by Frederick Forsyth
Thanks to the film The Great Escape becoming a Christmas TV staple Steve McQueen’s character “The Cooler King” has probably become one of the most famous movie figures from world war two. Most viewers are aware that the film is a fictionalised amalgam of several true stories. This excellent book tells the tale of William Ash, whose escapades and repeat escape attempts as a POW in Stalag Luft 3 and elsewhere earnt him an awful lot of time in solitary confinement.
The book is impressively researched, which is unsurprising given its authors record. What is a delight that, in what is essentially a work of non-fiction where we know the outcome, he manages to maintain tension and build excitement throughout. It is very well written. Continue reading The Cooler King by Patrick Bishop
This is Peter Willett’s memoir of his service in the Second World War, all of which was with The Queen’s Bays, a tank equipped cavalry regiment in the Eighth Army serving in North Africa and Italy. It is an utter delight to read; the authors prose is engaging (as befits a former racing journalist and fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts) and the story compelling.
During the First World War the Post Office build the largest wooden building in the world in Regents Park. It covered 5 acres, employed 2,500 staff and in the period 1914-18 dispatched 2 billion letters and over 100 million parcels. That’s an awful lot of mail which should contain many gems for historians and authors. The challenge, as the author acknowledges lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. Having managed that a compiler has to structure the book, either following some protagonists throughout their war, or perhaps covering the war more widely including excerpts from more correspondents. Jacqueline has opted for the latter approach, which also requires the addition of significant amounts of context by the author. It is very ambitious to seek to cover the Western Front, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia Italy, Russia and the Home Front in one 180 page work.
The author is not a military specialist and sometimes omits to include sufficient detail of location and context of a letter. She appears to view the casualty rates as far higher than they actually were and has chosen to omit any reference to gallantry awards received by any of the correspondents because “there must have been an enormous number who deserved recognition but went unnoticed.” The book’s structure means that most pages contain more of her words than extracts from letters.
The extracts from the trenches are fairly dry and matter of fact about fighting, if it is mentioned at all. Commentary on the weather, quality of billets and the other myriad factors of life in the field abound. A few extracts convey a deeper sense – a (public school educated) officer writing to thank his family for a hamper but directing them to send gifts to soldiers, not him. The author seizes on a protracted correspondence from a cavalry sergeant who was court martialled, convicted and pardoned of drunkenness. He writes well but his experience is hardly typical.
The wider context of the book includes letters from soldiers in home based units, both training and garrison artillery as well as letters from Empire servicemen commenting on England. There are also letters from wives and sweethearts to soldiers. The extracts are generally printed verbatim, as they should be. The author has chosen to then highlight grammatical errors with [sic] every time they happen. Why she does this I do not know; they impede the flow and give the impression that the author is sneering at some of her selected correspondent’s literary levels. It is infuriating. She also places explanatory notes in square brackets in the text, rather than covering it in her prose or foot notes. Most extracts are separately indented; some are not which is tiresome.
This book seeks to portray almost the entire war from extracts of letters of fewer than one hundred correspondents. At least a quarter of the letters are not from the trenches at all. It does give a general feeling of what the war felt like to some of the protagonists, who may or may not have been typical, and it is easy enough to read. But having read it the average reader will not have gained much knowledge or understanding of the First World War. It is disappointing.
This Review was first published on http://www.arrse.com and appears here with their kind permission.
The author presents the drive time show on LBC Radio, the UK’s only national news talk radio station. This short book is one of a series of polemics being published by LBC on contemporary topics. Sensible debate on the NHS is long overdue and this is a welcome start. The prose flows lightly and well and points are tellingly made. Unsurprisingly the tone is chatty rather than learned, but that does not detract. It is a pleasure to read.
Or rather, it would be a pleasure to read were it not for the underlying tale. How on earth in a time of austerity can the NHS (or any other government department) employ over 7,000 people on salaries of £100,000 per year or more while at the same time performing so badly? Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: The NHS Things that Need to Be Said by Iain Dale