Pen & Sword Books

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Royal Mysteries of the Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain

Royal Mysteries of the Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain written by Timothy Venning and published by Pen & Sword Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 272

Royal mysteries never fail to intrigue readers and TV viewers. The 'mysteries', unravelled and analysed, are of enduring fascination and full of tragedy, suffering and pathos but also heroism and romance.

The text is based on deep research in original sources including rare documents, archaeological and DNA evidence, latest historiography and academic research but is essentially accessible history.

These are the 'Dark Ages' but Anglo-Saxon enlightenment is emphasised. The Heptarchy, with seven Anglo-Saxon states, is examined and Alfred's victory over the Vikings and the emergence of the English kingdom. But mystery surrounds all aspects of dynastic, political and military history. The story includes the surviving British and Welsh kingdoms when 'Welsh' meant 'foreigner, the Gaelic kingdoms in what became Scotland, the survival of lowland 'Britons' under the Germanic Anglo-Saxon radar - a new interpretation of early English society in its shadowy forms with the half-mythical founders of the early English kingdoms like Hengist of Kent or Cerdic of Wessex, up to William duke of Normandy - did he have any legitimate claim to justify his 'power-grab'? Some episodes have dropped out of history like the murder of the teenage King Edward the 'Martyr', but here is a re-telling of early mysteries based on close analysis of the myriad sources while stimulating romantic fascination.

Now, this Anglo-Saxon part of British history is a part I am learning more and more about, this is a very comprehensive and detailed book, something that must have taken a lot of research. The book begins in parts as far back as the Roman period of occupation in Britain and runs up to the more or less the Battle of Hastings. The book split into 10 chapters looks at various royal stories, kings and kingdoms of England, and the way others interacted with them with relations from abroad and the Celtic countries. Although I’m still learning about this period, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading books like this, by authors who clearly know what they’re on about. Highly recommended and an enjoyable read.

Cricket in the First World War - Play Up! Play the Game

Cricket in the First World War - Play Up! Play the Game written by John Broom and published by Pen & Sword Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 272

As Europe descended into war over the summer of 1914, cricket in England continued as it had for the preceding few decades. Counties continued with their championship programme, clubs in the North and Midlands maintained their league and cup rivalries whilst less competitive clubs elsewhere enjoyed friendly matches. However, voices were soon raised in criticism of this ‘business as usual’ approach – most notably that of cricket’s Grand Old Man, W.G. Grace. Names became absent from first-class and club scorecards as players left for military service and by the end of the year it was clear that 1915’s cricket season would be very different.

And so it would continue for four summers. Rolls of honour lengthened as did the grim lists of cricket’s dead and maimed. Some club cricket did continue in wartime Britain, often amidst bitter disputes as to its appropriateness. Charity matches were organised to align the game with the national war effort.

As the British Empire rallied behind the mother country, so cricket around the world became restricted and players from far and wide joined the sad ranks of sacrifice.

Cricket emerged into the post-war world initially unsure of itself but the efforts that had been made to sustain the game’s infrastructure during the conflict ensured that it would experience a second golden age between the wars.

These books Pen & Sword publish about cricket as they are so quintessentially English, and reading through this book the Englishness comes through, as I mean which other country in the world would go into a world war and still the cricket season must carry on as normal.  Even though this book does come across as very English in my opinion, there is an overwhelming feeling of sadness. As the book is written in a chronological format as it goes year by year, so we have an order of big Great War battles and what comes across is as each battle occurs many men are called up and so the registered players for their counties go down. There is a nice Memoriam section at the back of the book that feels quite fitting, I should also say that there is an excellent sources section too that spans the globe, ideal for those interested in further reading. This book has been very well researched and written and I really enjoy a John Broom cricket book.  

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Why the Titanic was Doomed

Why the Titanic was Doomed written by Bryan Jackson and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 176

Titanic – the most magnificent ocean liner of her time – was doomed and destined for disaster before she ever left the docks at Southampton. Doomed by her owner, doomed by her designers, doomed by the men who sailed her -- doomed even by her sister ship.

Author Bryan Jackson presents a new and unique look at the many circumstances that came together the night of April 14, 1912 to claim over 1,500 lives and leave Titanic lying in 12,000 feet of water on the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Each chapter details how seemingly disconnected pieces served to create a tragedy that remains as significant today as it was over a century ago. They include flawed design decisions, outdated regulations, substandard materials, weather conditions, lookouts left blinded and warnings never acted upon. Perhaps the most fascinating piece is a look at how events involving sister ship Olympic would result in Titanic being placed directly on course to meet the iceberg which would sink her.

In addition, Jackson offers a look at the circumstances that saved some from perishing in the tragedy. They range from the rich and famous -- to family members travelling in third-class who managed to escape the sinking while the majority of the passengers sailing in those accommodations would not survive.

Also provided is a comprehensive Titanic timeline which details the events which lead to her construction -- and eventual destruction.

I have to say right from the start, I thought this book was brilliant. I loved the writing, the format and the amount of research and work gone into it is enormous. I really enjoyed the way the book had been split into 14 important reasons why the Titanic was doomed, and doomed from the start. The book looks at how the ship was built, the materials used, the lack of staff training, cheap equipment and how aesthetics was put over safety and comfort. Oh and there was a big iceberg too.

The reasons or possible reasons for the sinking were in some cases just staggering. Although I am not a huge fan of Titanic history, I must say that I learnt so much from reading this book. But to think the owner of the company managed to survive the sinking by getting into a lifeboat sticks in the throat, as it was some of his decisions that doomed the ship. I loved reading this book and I can honestly say it is already in my top 3 books of the year. A book I would wholeheartedly recommend to others.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes

On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes written by Stephen Browning and published by

Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 160

‘There can be no question, Mr Dear Watson, of the value of exercise before breakfast’

Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of Black Peter

You may have been introduced to the magic of the greatest of English detectives by reading the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or perhaps watching some of the hundreds of films or TV shows that feature the extraordinary adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson - now, this unique book offers a detailed itinerary for actually ‘walking’ Sherlock Holmes. Beginning, of course, at Baker Street a series of walks takes in the well-known, as well as some of the more obscure, locations of London as travelled by Holmes and Watson and a gallery of unforgettable characters in the stories. Details of each location and the story in which it features are given along with other items of interest - associated literary and historical information, social history, and events in Conan Doyle’s life. A chapter then explores Holmes’ adventures in the rest of the UK. 55 black and white original photographs accompany the text.

This book is designed to appeal to anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of the stories by travelling, even if just in imagination from an armchair, exactly the same London streets as Sherlock Holmes, and perhaps also by exploring some iconic Holmesian locations farther afield. ‘Come, Watson, come!’ Holmes says in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’

I must admit from the outset that I thought this book would be more about the character Sherlock Holmes and his stories, then I thought having not read the back of the book description I now realise that it's very much about primarily about walks in connection with Sherlock Holmes. I had looked and thought the book cover looks really interesting and thought I might start learning more about the character Sherlock Holmes and his background. At the beginning of the book, there is a short introduction to the character and his books/stories but the overriding content of the book is a number of walks in connection with the Sherlock Holmes character and where he lived and worked.

Now these walks were quite interesting and I enjoyed the descriptions of the walks very much but I feel you would get more out of this as a reader if you know the areas of London involved and of course the stories of Sherlock Holmes.  Having never been to London or succeeded in finding out more about Sherlock Holmes previously, it probably wasn't the book for me. I would say the book would be a very interesting book if you were a Sherlock Holmes fan and wanted to learn more about the character and his stories.  Other than that the book was a good read,  I enjoyed learning more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sherlock Holmes that I never knew before and would recommend this book on that basis for anyone who is a fan.

York at War 1939-45

York at War 1939-45 written by Dr Craig Armstrong and published by Pen & Sword Books

- £14.99 - Softcover - Pages 128

York has often been overlooked when it comes to Britain’s wartime experience. The city was not though to have many industries of great wartime importance and it was not a part of the initial evacuation scheme. Yet this does not accurately reflect the wartime contributions of the city, as several of its large confectionary factories were converted to wartime use, while it was also a key rail hub, forming a vital link in the national network.

Unbeknownst to the people of the city, York had been selected as the latest target in the Luftwaffe’s Baedeker Raids. In a short, sharp, blitz raid in the early hours of 29 April 1942, more than 3,000 houses were destroyed or damaged and almost 100 people killed while others were left seriously injured.

Wartime York had a particularly close connection with the RAF as the city was surrounded by airbases. People became very used to seeing the uniforms of men and women from Bomber Command and the city was to prove very popular with airmen seeking relaxation. Places such as Betty’s Bar became infamous as airmen of almost every Allied nationality came to blew off steam. The nearby presence of the airfields also meant that the people of York and the surrounding area were witnesses to tragedies when aircraft crashed on their return to the bases.

As I have said previously, this series published by Pen & Sword, Your Towns & Cities in World War Two is one of my favourite series. The authors they get to write for these towns and cities are excellent and succeed in writing so comprehensively about local history during the war with the war outside enveloping the story. What I love about these books is that we get the local story of a town and its citizens living through a world war, and how the war affects them in their town.

In particular, this book concentrates on Civilians, The Blitz and the Military service of people from York which is fascinating but I actually think the conclusion in the book sums up the whole book. We learn more about Warrant Officer Harry Coates and how his death affected his family and those around him. This in my opinion summed up the war in which York was affected in small ways during the war, but for some of the people of York, the war brought huge effects and consequences. This is a really good book and one that nicely fits into the Towns & Cities series.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Role of Birds in World War Two

The Role of Birds in World War Two written by Nicholas Milton published by

Pen & Sword Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 224

A love of birds has always been an important part of the British way of life but in wartime birds came into their own, helping to define our national identity. One the most popular bird books ever, Watching Birds, was published in 1940 while songs like There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover epitomized the blitz spirit. Birds even featured in wartime propaganda movies like the 1941 classic The First of the Few starring Leslie Howard where they inspired the design of the Spitfire. Along the coast flooding to prevent a German invasion helped the avocet make a remarkable return while the black redstart found an unlikely home in our bombed-out buildings.

As interesting as the birds were some of the people who watched them. Matthew Rankin and Eric Duffey counted seabirds while looking for U-boats. Tom Harrisson, the mastermind behind Mass Observation, watched people ‘as if they were birds’ while POW Guy Madoc wrote a truly unique book on Malayan birds, typed on paper stolen from the Japanese commandant’s office. For Field Marshall Alan Brooke, Britain’s top soldier, filming birds was his way of coping with the continual demands of Winston Churchill. In comparison Peter Scott was a wildfowler who was roused by Adolf Hitler before the war but after serving with distinction in the Royal Navy became one of the greatest naturalists of his generation.

This interesting book looks at the role of various birds during World War Two, but the book also looks at the relationship between humans and birds during the war. Birds were used for numerous benefits during the war but especially used in films and books in varying locations as a patriotic symbol. Depending on where you were, you could be having contact with birds from all around the coast or at sea during fighting and convoys, you’ve also got soldiers having to have contact with birds on land and in different countries.

Now I’ve never been a bird watcher or anything close, but the title of the book intrigued me, and I’m really glad I got to read it as it was an interesting book and much more than you think it’s going to be. I actually feel like I’ve learnt a lot more, not just about war but a lot more about birds and the positives in little ways they bought during wartime. I would certainly recommend buying this book as it is a little out there but a really good and unusual read.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Secrets & Scandals of Regency Britain

Secrets & Scandals of Regency Britain written by Violent Fenn and published by 

Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 216

This book takes an entertaining peek at the secrets and scandals of Regency Britain, a period in which the heir to the throne was making merry with his mistress whilst his ailing father attempted to keep a grip on both his crown and his finances. From Princess Caraboo to the Peterloo Massacre, the Regency was a period of immense upheaval in both personal and public lives as well as in politics. We’ll see how the advent of the modern media brought ‘spin’ to scandal and focus on stories of those people and events who encapsulated the age.

I do enjoy a book written by author Violent Fenn, she writes a good and informative book with good humour and is easy to read. This book looks at various scandals during the regency period covering many different things especially around love, royalty, politics, crime, scandal and sex. The book is split into 25 chapters all of which are good entertaining reads with the excellent Fenn humour. The things that went on back in the regency period of Britain would be great for today’s media, or even better. An entertaining read I would heartily recommend.

The Brookwood Killers - Military Murders of WWII

The Brookwood Killers - Military Murders of WWII written by Paul Johnson and

published by Frontline Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 256

Nestled deep in the Surrey countryside stands the Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, its panels contain the names of nearly 3,500 men and women of the land forces of Britain and the Commonwealth who died in the Second World War and who have no known grave.

Among the men and women whose names are carved on the memorial are Special Operations Executive agents who died as prisoners or while working with Allied underground movements, servicemen killed in the various raids on enemy occupied territory in Europe, such as Dieppe and Saint-Nazaire, men and women who died at sea in hospital ships and troop transports, British Army parachutists, and even pilots and aircrew who lost their lives in flying accidents or in aerial combat.

But the panels also hide a dark secret. Entwined within the names of heroes and heroines are those of nineteen men whose last resting place is known, and whose deaths were less than glorious. All were murderers who, following a civil or military trial, were executed for the heinous offence they had committed. The bodies of these individuals, with the exception of one, lay buried in unconsecrated ground.

As Paul Johnson reveals, the cases of the ‘Brookwood Killers’ are violent, disturbing and often brutal in their content. They are not war crimes, but crimes committed in a time of war, for which the offender has their name recorded and maintained in perpetuity. Something that is not always applied in the case of the victim.

This book is packed with a large number of killers and sadly their victims during World War II. But the disturbing thing about this book is that we read about 20 murders, which is bad enough but then you realise the vast majority of these killers you have never heard of. This is both very sad for each victim but also sad that it kind of feels a little like because of who and when then these crimes occurred the killers have got away with something, as in without being known in a notorious manner.

I enjoyed this book and reading about crimes as a bit of a true crime buff, especially as I had not really ever heard of these crimes. The book is very well written, concise but comprehensive, I also enjoyed the fact that you got the crime, investigation, trial, appeal and finally the result. The author Paul Johnson has done a really good job and this book is an enjoyable read, just like his previous book Hertfordshire Soldiers of the Great War. As this book says it is staggering that these names appear on a memorial and yet even the victims' names are not, it is surprising that nothing has been done about this. This is a good book if your into true crime, it makes a change from the usual true crime books.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Boy Soldiers of the Great War

Boy Soldiers of the Great War written by Richard Van Emden and published by

Pen & Sword Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 488

After the outbreak of the Great War, boys as young as twelve were caught up in a national wave of patriotism and, in huge numbers, volunteered to serve their country. The press, recruiting offices and the Government all contributed to the enlistment of hundreds of thousands of under-age soldiers in both Britain and the Empire. On joining up, these lads falsified their ages, often aided by parents who believed their sons’ obvious youth would make overseas service unlikely.

These boys frequently enlisted together, training for a year or more in the same battalions before they were sent abroad. Others joined up but were soon sent to units already fighting overseas and short of men: these lads might undergo as little as eight weeks’ training.

Boys served in the bloodiest battles of the war, fighting at Ypres, the Somme and on Gallipoli. Many broke down under the strain and were returned home once parents supplied birth certificates proving their youth. Other lads fought on bravely and were even awarded medals for gallantry: Jack Pouchot won the Distinguished Conduct Medal aged just fifteen. Others became highly efficient officers, such as Acting Captain Philip Lister and Second Lieutenant Reginald Battersby, both of whom were commissioned at fifteen and fought in France.

In this, the final update of his ground-breaking book, Richard van Emden reveals new hitherto unknown stories and adds many more unseen images. He also proves that far more boys enlisted in the British Army under age than originally estimated, providing compelling evidence that as many as 400,000 served.

This book looks like a corker just from the cover and the description. A fascinating book that looks at the lives, backgrounds and experiences of boys who had managed to get recruited for the British Army in various ways, many through lying, giving wrong information and some being allowed by officials looking the other way. As for the reasons for wanting to volunteer to go to war, some of the reasons might seem surprising, but the idealism of young people can often hide the reality of what might come. What was to come was often horrific as we know many men young and old died or suffered hellish consequences from what was an unimaginable war. The work, research and writing by the author Richard Van Emden is splendid and very well done. I of course would highly recommend this book to anyone new or old to the subject, certainly in the running for book of the year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

RAF at the Crossroads

RAF at the Crossroads written by Greg Baughen and published by Air World Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 368


The events of 1942 marked a pivotal year in the history of British air power. For more than two decades the theory that long-range bombing could win wars had dominated British defence policy. The vast majority of warplanes ordered for the RAF were designed either to bomb enemy cities or stop the enemy from bombing British cites. Conventional armies and the air forces that supported them were seen as an outmoded way of waging war.

During 1941 evidence began to mount that British policy was wrong. It had become clear the RAF’s bomber offensive against Germany had, until that point, achieved very little. Meanwhile, the wars raging in Europe, Africa and Asia were being decided not by heavy bombers, but by armies and their supporting tactical air forces. Britain had never had the resources to build a large army as well as a strategic bomber fleet; it had always had to make a choice. Now it seemed the country might have made the wrong choice.

For the first time since 1918 Britain began thinking seriously about a different way of fighting wars. Was it too late to change? Was a strategic bombing campaign the only option open to Britain? Could the United Kingdom help its Soviet ally more by invading France as Stalin so vehemently demanded? Could this be done in 1942?

Looking further ahead, was it time to begin the development of an entirely new generation of warplanes to support the Army? Should the RAF have specialist ground attack aircraft and air superiority fighters?

The answers to these questions, which are all explored here by aviation historian Greg Baughen, would help shape the development of British air power for decades to come.

This is an excellent little book in that it doesn’t look at the normal RAF, it looks very well at the strategic ability and success of the RAF, especially in the second half of the war. The book looks at whether the RAF should abandon the policy of lots of mass bombing or whether Britain needed to concentrate on taking a part of France in order to then be a starting point of allied forces to better take on Germany. This book put across good points for and against for changing the strategy and whether to work closer with the army higher officer, which we all know wasn’t always the best relationship going. I personally think that whichever way help good points but just two ways about achieving the same goals. This was a really good read, and I really enjoyed the debate and discussion about how to go a different way in fighting the war. This book is going to appeal to all sides but especially those interested in aviation and the RAF. Certainly a good book for students that want to look at other ways the war could have been won.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A Guide to Film & TV Cosplay

A Guide to Film & TV Cosplay written by Holly Swinyard and published by White Owl Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 128

Have you ever wanted to escape into a comic book and become your favourite superhero? Or run away into the world of Disney princesses? Well, who says you can’t? Maybe it’s time you get your cosplay on!

Cosplay is a hobby that is sweeping the globe, you can see it at comic cons, book launches, movie screenings and even on popular TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Community. A mix of exciting craft skills, heady escapism and passion for pop culture, it’s easy to see why cosplay has become so popular with people no matter who they are, because now they can be anyone they want, and so can you.

But how, why and where could you have a go at starting out in the wonderful world of cosplay?

With a little bit of help from this handy, dandy guide to cosplay, you can get stuck in. Learn about the history of the hobby (it’s been around longer than you’d think!), get your head around picking your first costume, find out how about all the amazing skills people are using to make these costumes, and perhaps even try a few yourself. Who knows, you might be rocking out as Captain Marvel or Flynn Rider at the next big comic con! (And don’t worry, there’s a guide to comic con in here too.)

At last something for the kids! I do joke just looking through this book it’s aimed at adults obviously or should we say those who are young at heart. If anything from reading this book and looking through the pictures there is a huge amount of time, effort and money put into these characters. In a way, you have to admit they are very impressive and the commitment from many of those that take part in these events is enormous and certainly very skilled. In fact, when you look at some of the outfits movie companies and fashion design companies are missing a trick if they don’t employ some of these people. The book was a really good read, and although not primarily aimed at me I found it to be a really good read and the book design will appeal to most younger people.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Weird & Wonderful World of Gin

The Weird & Wonderful World of Gin written by Angela Youngman and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20.00 - Hardback - Pages 224

Gin is a global alcoholic drink that has polarised opinions like no other, and its history has been a roller coaster, alternating between being immensely popular and utterly unfashionable.

The Weird and Wonderful Story of Gin explores the exciting, interesting and downright curious aspects of the drink, with crime, murder, poisons, fires, dramatic accidents, artists, legends and disasters all playing a part. These dark themes are also frequently used to promote brands and drinks.

Did you know that the Filipinos are the world’s biggest gin drinkers? And even that Jack the Ripper, Al Capone and the Krays all have their place in the history of gin? Not to mention Sir Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and James Bond!

I must admit that I was hooked when I saw the front cover as I love the picture on the front. This book looks at and explores Gin, its history, manufacturing, its travel through history, the ups and downs of the drink, and how it is seen and perceived in today’s society. Similar to the books about tea, chocolate and sugar etc a lot has happened in the world gin trade and how it is made. There is often a lot of crime around these staple products, mainly because a lot of money is involved, but I quite enjoy the journey these products go through to what they are today. I do have a few friends who enjoy gin, and it certainly seems to be the fashionable drink at the moment. If you like your history but want something a little different I would certainly recommend this book, a very interesting read.

House of Tudor - A Grisly History

House of Tudor - A Grisly History written by Mickey Mayhew and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 200

Gruesome but not gratuitous, this decidedly darker take on the Tudors, from 1485 to 1603, covers some forty-five ‘events’ from the Tudor reign, taking in everything from the death of Richard III to the botched execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and a whole host of horrors in between. Particular attention is paid to the various gruesome ways in which the Tudors despatched their various villains and lawbreakers, from simple beheadings, to burnings and of course the dreaded hanging, drawing and quartering. Other chapters cover the various diseases prevalent during Tudor times, including the dreaded ‘Sweating Sickness’ – rather topical at the moment, unfortunately – as well as the cures for these sicknesses, some of which were considered worse than the actual disease itself. The day-to-day living conditions of the general populace are also examined, as well as various social taboos and the punishments that accompanied them, i.e. the stocks, as well as punishment by exile. Tudor England was not a nice place to live by 21st century standards, but the book will also serve to explain how it was still nevertheless a familiar home to our ancestors.

This book follows the House of Tudor dynasty but we have just the grisly bits, kind of like the grown-up version of Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories. The book is split into 45 chapters and starts with the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, the following chapters are then titled along the lines of The Terrible Death of a Tudor Traitor, Hacking the Head of Margaret Pole, Henry VIII Horrible Leg, The Rough Wooings of Mary Queen of Scots and The Babington Plot: Tudor Honey Traps to name a few. Now the book is very well written and I loved the fact that the chapters were short, punchy and to the point. After all, this was about the best bits of Tudor history. 

There were however a couple of things that I wasn’t really keen on in the book and the first was all the popular culture or modern-day references made throughout the book. I don’t watch much television so the film and TV references kind of went over my head a bit. The second problem was the little mention about Henry VII other than I think the opening chapter, yet as usual plenty of mentions about Henry VIII. But other than that, I really did enjoy this book and especially the snappy little chapters, I would happily recommend this book to anyone wanting to get into Tudor history or students that would like to study the period.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Somme 1916 - Martinpuich & Le Sars

The Somme 1916 - Martinpuich & Le Sars written by Bob Paterson and published by Pen & Sword Books - £14.99 - Softcover - Pages 240

Much of the popular attention on the Battle of the Somme 1916 is focussed on the first day of the infantry assault, 1st July, when such high hopes were dashed and British casualties ran into the tens of thousands. However, the Somme was a battle that lasted over twenty weeks, running well into the autumn.

This book is concerned with fighting south of the famous Albert-Bapaume road from mid-September to the official end of the battle. The coverage includes Martinpuich, the hamlet of Eaucourt l'Abbaye, Le Sars and that strange topographical feature the Butte de Warlencourt.

The action started with the major British attack of 15 September 1916, which enjoyed some success and which included the first use of tanks. The book takes up the story from the fall of Martinpuich and follows the British as they inched their way north-eastwards to Le Sars and Eaucourt l'Abbaye. This was gruelling warfare, fought in fast deteriorating weather conditions and in the face of ever-increasing volumes of artillery fire: the mud was almost as much the enemy of both sides as the weight of lead and iron fired at them.

The Butte de Warlencourt has come to have an almost iconic status. This rather insignificant hillock, almost certainly a burial mound of the Romano-Gallic period, marks the point at which the battle officially ceased along the Albert-Bapaume road. For days before the battle ended both sides tussled to secure its possession, numerous limited attacks taking place over the devastated, utterly waterlogged and featureless ground. Indeed it was the 'emptiness' of the area that made the Butte of such significance, a fearsome, solitary landmark standing out against a backdrop of desolation. It was the focus of the fighting in the area for almost six weeks.

As well as the customary walks, essential to an understanding of the confused fighting in the area, there is a long car tour, covering many less visited parts of the battlefield to the east and north of the Butte and which places it firmly in the context of the battle. Charles Carrington, who wrote one of the classic memoirs of the war, was not alone amongst those who fought here when he commented that, 'the Butte de Warlencourt terrified us'.

Another nice book added to the series looks good and feels good with the excellently written history, supported by great photos, maps, diagrams and information. This particular book focuses on the end of the Battle of the Somme and is a handy guide to have with you whilst travelling around those battlegrounds. Another excellent book for the Battleground series.

The U-Boat War - A Global History from 1939-1945

The U-Boat War - A Global History from 1939 to 1945 written by Lawrence Paterson and

published by Osprey Publishing. - £25 - Hardback - Pages 336

The accepted historical narrative of the Second World War predominantly assigns U-boats to the so-called 'Battle of the Atlantic', almost as if the struggle over convoys between the new world and the old can be viewed in isolation from simultaneous events on land and in the air. This has become an almost accepted error. The U-boats war did not exist solely between 1940 and 1943, nor did the Atlantic battle occur in seclusion from other theatres of action. The story of Germany's second U-boat war began on the first day of hostilities with Britain and France and ended with the final torpedo sinking on 7 May 1945. U-boats were active in nearly every theatre of operation in which the Wehrmacht served, and within all but the Southern Ocean. Moreover, these deployments were not undertaken in isolation from one another; instead they were frequently interconnected in what became an increasingly inefficient German naval strategy.

This fascinating new book places each theatre of action in which U-boats were deployed into the broader context of the Second World War in its entirety while also studying the interdependence of the various geographic deployments. It illustrates the U-boats' often direct relationship with land, sea and aerial campaigns of both the Allied and Axis powers, dispels certain accepted mythologies, and reveals how the ultimate failure of the U-boats stemmed as much from chaotic German military and industrial mismanagement as it did from Allied advances in code-breaking and weaponry.

This book is divided into three parts with the first two-thirds covering the first half of WW2 and the final third covering the second half. With the first half of the book covering the building and supply of U-Boats and their availability, it would seem from reading that Germany wasn’t ready with regards to the U-Boat situation with many not fully finished or engines that were not entirely up to standard. 

Having read a number of books previously about the U-Boats and the war, there were quite a few bits that I already knew about that might be new to other people, like the fact that torpedoes used to be unreliable weapons and in fact mines would often be more dangerous for shipping due to the fact that they could be laid more quickly and could be concentrated or less so.

I’m going to say that the first half of the book was better and it seemed more full of content and specifications, the second half lacked a little, but was still quite enjoyable. I found the bibliography at the back of the book looks very good and I recognised a few of the names mentioned so I will probably follow up by doing some further reading on the subject. As I said I really enjoyed this book, and I find the U-Boat gets relatively less attention than the ground or air-based war combat. It is certainly a good book I would recommend to others that want to gain more knowledge about the U-Boat situation in WW2. I would like to thank Osprey Publishing for allowing me to read this advanced copy.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Battle Against Slavery

The Battle Against Slavery written by Paul L. Dawson published by Frontline Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 280

On 13 December 1776, the Rev. William Turner preached the first avowedly anti-slavery sermon in the North of England. Copies of his sermon were distributed far and wide – in so doing, he had fired the first shot in the battle to end slavery had begun.

Four years later, Rev. Turner, members of his congregation and the Rev. Christopher Wyvill founded ‘The Yorkshire Association’ to agitate for political and social reform. The Association sought universal suffrage, annual parliaments and the abolition of slavery. In the West Riding, despite furious opposition, by 1783 nearly 10,000 signatures were collected in support of the aims of the Association. Slavery, or rather its abolition, was now on the political agenda.

The Battle Against Slavery charts the story of a group of West Riding radicals in their bid to abolish slavery both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Such became the influence of this group, whose Unitarian beliefs were illegal in Britain, that the general election of 1806 in Yorkshire was fought on an abolitionist platform. At a time when the rest of the world engaged in slavery, this small body was fighting almost single-handedly to end such practices. Gradually, their beliefs began to spread across the country and across the Channel to France, the principles of which found resonance during the French Revolution and even across the Atlantic to America.

At a time, today, when the history of slavery is the subject of considerable debate worldwide, this revealing insight into the abolitionist movement, which demonstrates how ordinary men and women battled against governments and the establishment, needs to be told. The Battle Against Slavery adds an important dimension to the continuing debate over Britain’s, and other nations’, involvement in the slave trade and demonstrates how the determination of just a few right-minded people can change world opinion forever.

This book was a really interesting read indeed, I have to admit I had never heard of this group all mainly from the Yorkshire area. Fighting for a good cause that was such a big issue, these guys were from a relatively unknown background. This book was really good and I’m hoping to read bit further from some of the information in the bibliography section at the back of the book. The book seemed quite detailed and I would have thought the book was very well researched by the author Paul L. Dawson. I would certainly recommend this book to others.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A Judge in Auschwitz

A Judge in Auschwitz written by Kevin Prenger and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 176

In autumn 1943, SS judge Konrad Morgen visited Auschwitz concentration camp to investigate an intercepted parcel containing gold sent from the camp. While there Morgen found the SS camp guards engaged in widespread theft and corruption.

Worse, Morgen also discovered that inmates were being killed without authority from the SS leadership. While millions of Jews were being exterminated under the Final Solution programme , Konrad Morgen set about gathering evidence of these ‘illegal murders’.

Morgen also visited other camps such as Buchenwald where he had the notorious camp commandant Karl Koch and Ilse, his sadistic spouse, arrested and charged. Found guilty by an SS court, Koch was sentenced to death.

Remarkably, the apparently fearless SS judge also tried to prosecute other Nazi criminals including Waffen-SS commanders Oskar Dirlewanger and Hermann Fegelein and Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss. He even claimed to have tried to indict Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for organising the mass deportation of the Jews to the extermination camps.

This intriguing work reveals how the lines between justice and injustice became blurred in the Third Reich. As well as describing the actions of this often contradictory character the author questions Morgen’s motives.

I quite like reading books like this that look at leading officers in the Third Reich, while I find what they got up to horrible and abhorrent, I find it fascinating that these seemingly intelligent men can stoop to such low depravities that they just went along with instruction seemingly without a care in the world. Afterall in society today we still have to deal with serial killers, but the chances of actually meeting a serial killer is very remote, and yet so many can be found in the WW2 German military. This book was a really good read, fascinating in detail and very comprehensive, I commend the author. Although this book is a bit disturbing in some places, I still find that we should still read books like this to always learn about how the mind works.

Cemeteries and Graveyards - A Guide for Local and Family Historians in England and Wales

Cemeteries and Graveyards - A Guide for Local and Family Historians in England and Wales written by Celia Heritage and published by Pen & Sword Books - £15.99 - Softcover - Pages 248

This comprehensive and fascinating guide from genealogist and historian CELIA HERITAGE will prove indispensable for both local and family historians. A wide-ranging examination of historical and archaeological findings means that the book will also appeal to anyone with an interest in death and burial.

Celia throws light on changing social attitudes to death and burial from pre-historic times to the modern-day, investigates the origins and evolution of cemeteries and graveyards, and discusses the many different types of graves and memorials as well as looking at how memorial designs have changed.

One chapter takes an in-depth look at the origins of the parish churchyard, while another looks at graveyards associated with nonconformist churches and institutions, including workhouses, asylums, hospitals and gaols.

Celia details a wide range of online and offline sources that will help locate burials and memorials, also offering vital advice regarding good research practice. There is plenty of detail about less well-known genealogy sources such as records relating to re-interment, undertakers’ and stonemasons’ records, together with better known sources such as burial registers and memorial inscriptions.

Throughout, there is a wide range of hands-on case studies which bring the subject to life and put it right into the hands of the researcher. This is far more than just genealogy, and Celia portrays this fascinating subject from the view of both historian and archaeologist.

This genealogy series from Pen & Sword should really be praised very highly, but what they have done is rather than lump everything into one book, the process has been broken into its important sections and each section is allowed to shine. This allows all the important details to be conveyed to the reader and supported by a very comprehensive contact/link section that would really be too vast for one book. This book about cemeteries and graveyards is brilliant, because who doesn’t love walking around a graveyard learning all the information you can acquire there. A great book and a perfect addition to the series.

The Hitler Assassination Attempts

The Hitler Assassination Attempts written by John Grehan published by Frontline Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 296

Throughout his political life, Adolf Hitler was the subject of numerous assassination plots, some of which were attempted, all of which failed. While a few of these have become well known, particularly the bomb explosions at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich in 1939 and the Stauffenberg Valkyrie attempt carried out at the Wolfsschanze on 20 July 1944, many others have received far less attention – until now.

In this book, John Grehan has examined the known planned or proposed assassination attempts on Hitler, from Chicago to London and from Sweden to Ukraine – some of which have not previously been presented to the general public by historians.

All manner of methods were proposed by those willing to bring Hitler’s life to a premature and sticky end and Hitler was well aware of the danger which lurked potentially around every corner of every road, railway track, every building and even every individual. As a result, an immense, multi-layered security apparatus surrounded the Führer day and night. Despite this, and knowing the risks they faced, many people sought to kill the German leader, and some very nearly did. Yet Hitler survived, often by just a minute or a millimetre, to die ultimately of his own hand.

These plots and conspiracies are detailed in this book, along with a unique collection of photographs of many of the proposed or actual assassination locations. All will be revealed in this fascinating compilation of the obscure, the fanciful and the carefully considered attempts to assassinate Hitler.

The Hitler Assassination Attempts tries to explain the often many number of attempts to kill Adol Hitler. Now it seems from reading this book that Hitler was never popular anywhere or with anyone, and this ranged from the ordinary person right up to highly promoted people within his own military. Also it should be said that there were attempts on his life all over Europe, with that being said it is strange how his personal protection was not better or closer. This if you know what Hitler was like as a person should come as no surprise. He was often very narrow-minded in his views and opinions and certainly, his personality never gave him any favours.

In this book the author John Grehan writes very well and informed, the many chapters come across as very concise and snappy, which did make the book very good and a very easy read. Whilst I had heard of many of the attempts before, reading through this book made it feel fresher and more interesting if that makes sense. I enjoyed this book a lot and would certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Hitler as the person.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Not So Virtuous Victorians

Not So Virtuous Victorians written by Michelle Rosenberg and published by Pen & Sword Books - £12.99 - Softcover - Pages 112

What springs to mind when you think of British Victorian men and women? – manners, manners and more manners. Behaviour that was as rigid and constricted as the corsets women wore. From iron-knicker sexual prudery to men so uptight they furtively released their pent up emotions in opium dens and prostitute hot spots. All, of course, exaggerated clichés worthy of a Victorian melodrama.

Each generation loves to think it is better than the last and loves to look aghast at the horrifying trends of their ancestors. But are we really any different? This glimpse at life for Victorian men and women might make millennials think again.

Men and women were expected to live very differently from one another with clearly defined roles regardless of class. However, lift the skirts a little and not only will you see that they didn’t wear knickers but they were far less repressed than the persistent stereotypes would have us believe. The Victorians were as weird and wonderful as we are today.

From fatal beauty tips to truly hysterical cures for hysteria to grave robbers playing skittles with human bones, we have cherry picked some of the more entertaining glimpses into the lives led by our Victorian brothers and sisters.

This is a small book that looks at alternative little bits of life in Victorian Britain, looking at Child Labour, Sex & Perversion, Hidden Sexualities and Fashion Victims. The chapters are small but the book entertaining, good and quite humorous in places. Maybe a book for people wanting to start getting into learning about the Victorian era.

Tiger I & Tiger II Tanks

Tiger I and Tiger II Tanks written by Dennis Oliver and published by Pen & Sword Books - £16.99 - Softcover - Pages 64

By the first weeks of 1945, the Eastern Front had been pushed back to the Carpathian mountain passes in the south and Warsaw on the Vistula River in the centre while in the north the German army was fighting in East Prussia. The Wehrmacht's armoured and mobile formations were now employed exclusively as fire brigades, rushed from one crisis to the next as the Red Army pushed inexorably westward. Critical to the German defence were the army's heavy Panzer battalions whose Tiger tanks, with their 8.8cm guns, were almost invincible on the open plains of central Europe. In his latest book in the TankCraft series Dennis Oliver uses archive photos and extensively researched colour illustrations to examine the Tiger tanks and units of the German Army and Waffen-SS heavy Panzer battalions that struggled to resist the onslaught of Soviet armour during the last days of the conflict which culminated in the battle for Berlin. A key section of his book displays available model kits and aftermarket products, complemented by a gallery of beautifully constructed and painted models in various scales. Technical details, as well as modifications introduced during production and in the field, are also examined providing everything the modeller needs to recreate an accurate representation of these historic tanks.

I do love a nice Tiger tank, personally, I think one of the more beautiful tanks, if a tank can be called that. So you can see that if I love a Tiger tank, then I must have enjoyed this book, and I did indeed. As usual with these books, they are very well written and informed, the research that goes into these books, although small is no less than a standard-sized book. You have all the tank dimensions, specifications and theatre of war camouflage, the history and the operations they are specifically well known for. Now obviously, these books are twinned with being aimed at model makers/collectors, now I’m not one of these but this particular section of the books always seems very well done. So in all, this book hits the mark in all ways, another good addition to the range.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The History of the Vampire in Popular Culture

The History of the Vampire in Popular Culture written by Violet Fenn and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 224

Our enduring love of vampires - the bad boys (and girls) of paranormal fantasy - has persisted for centuries. Despite being bloodthirsty, heartless killers, vampire stories commonly carry erotic overtones that are missing from other paranormal or horror stories.

Even when monstrous teeth are sinking into pale, helpless throats - especially then - vampires are sexy. But why? In A History Of The Vampire In Popular Culture, author Violet Fenn takes the reader through the history of vampires in ‘fact’ and fiction, their origins in mythology and literature and their enduring appeal on tv and film. We’ll delve into the sexuality - and sexism - of vampire lore, as well as how modern audiences still hunger for a pair of sharp fangs in the middle of the night.

This was a really pleasant surprise, not being a huge fan of Vampires. I can say that I really enjoyed this book and, to be honest, it seems vampires are around more often than you think. I suppose it helped to be in conjunction with popular culture as I had heard about a number of the books and films spoken about throughout. I enjoyed the writing of the author Violet Fenn who clearly knows her stuff as there was lots of good detail that was enjoyable and engaging. Maybe not a book that would appeal to the many, but actually I think people should give this a chance as I quite enjoyed it.

The Battle of Reichswald - Rhineland - February 1945

The Battle of the Reichswald Rhineland - February 1945 written by Tim Saunders and published by Pen & Sword Books - £22 - Hardback - Pag...