141. A General's Life
by Omar N Bradley and Clay Blair
There are just some autobiographies that should not have been written. This is one. Second World War US commander Omar Bradley already had an excellent account of his service in the form of a 1950s book called A Soldier's Life. It turns out that it was ghost written by one of his military assistants. But Bradley came out of it looking professional. This book is cobbled together from notes made for A Soldier's Life; Bradley's own attempt at an autobiography and tapes of interviews he gave to author and journalist Clay Brown. It is impossible to determine how much the book reflects Bradley's thoughts. I hope the answer is "very little". He comes across as a bitter and mean-spirited paranoid. Though it was refreshing to see US military "heroes" George Custer, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur's names all lumped together in far from complimentary one sentence. The book makes liberal use of other people's autobiographies and memoirs. And it is difficult to work out when Blair is using material he got from Bradley and when he is recycling histories of the war. In A Soldier's Life, Bradley appears to have become disillusioned with Britian's General Bernard Montogmery as the war progressed. In this book, Bradley hated Montgomery from the first. In fact, he has little time at all for any British soldier, or politician. Montgomery was Bradley's boss after the D Day landings, but you wouldn't know that from this book. Nor would you know the RAF took part in the 1949 Berlin Airlift. According to this book it was the Americans who single-handedly beat the Germans in 1945. It was American paratroopers who linked up with the Soviets in the British sector but everyone had to pretend it was the British 6th Airborne Division. The book also ignores such bloody, and many would say pointless, slug-fests orchestrated by Bradley such as St. Lo and Hurtgen Forrest. Blair admits that Bradley's recollections of his early years were better than those of his later career. Judging by this book, Bradley's recollections got dimmer around 1941. That said, the chapters on the Korean War, when Bradley was President Truman's senior professional military advisor, are probably the most interesting - and scary. Who would have guessed that politics of power in the United States make it such a systemically dysfuntional country? Bradley's attempt to "put the record straight"in this book did him no favours.
140. Company Commander
by Major Russell Lewis
This account of B Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment's 2008 posting to Afghanistan reads like it is based on notes made at the time by the unit's commander. Certainly, those notes have been tidied up but it still gives a glimpse of what it was like commanding an isolated Forward Operating Base in Helmand. Though he does not harp on about it, Major Lewis's tale makes several mentions of the loneliness of command. There are just some things he cannot share with his men, even his fellow officers and senior NCOs. Lewis comes over as a diligent and caring commander. Though it might be interesting to see what others based at FOB Inkerman had to say. It is only near the end that Lewis reveals that his area of operations was basically only five square kilometres. Not a lot of Afghan real estate to control. A typical day sees the Paras go out on patrol, come under fire, return fire and retreat back to their base. Some might suggest that the Afghans are doing an excellent job of containment. Not that that is fault of Lewis and his men. They do all that is asked of them and more. But the question has to be asked that perhaps they should have been asked to do something else. One thing that Lewis mentions that seldom comes up in books about the war in the Afghanistan is the beauty of the sunrises and the amazing number of stars in the night sky. And one thing he does not mention is the Military Cross he earned during the mission or how he earned it.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War
In the News Again
I happened to be checking out the closing-down sale at one of the last remaining locally owned bookshops in Edmonton recently when a newspaper reporter pounced on me as I left and asked me comment on the closure. As a former reporter, I know what a pain grabbing random people on the streets for quotes can be; so I was only too pleased to help. Imagine my delight when the story appeared and I found my quote printed in large type. It made me look like a big deal. There were some genuine big deal Edmonton writers quoted in the story but whoever was designing the page must have just grabbed the first quote they found for the break-out - and luckily for me....
Sadly, the break-out does not appear in the online version of the story but if you're interested Edmonton Journal
In the News
The Scotsman newspaper invited me to put in my tuppence-ha'penny when it published an article about the controversy surrounding the 400th anniversary celebrations in Norway of Battle of Kringen - Scotsman Article
The battle and subsequent massacre of Scottish prisoners in 1612 featured in Scottish Military Disasters.
A new Canadian history magazine The Dorchester Review published a tongue-in-cheek go at the spate of books about How the Scots Created/Invented the country in its launch issue. In an article called How the English Invented the Scots Dr. Chis Champion argued, well, that the Scots are an English invention. Paul’s equally tongue-in-cheek rebuttal can be seen in the second issue of the magazine which is now out. The article, which also includes essays by Canadian columnist John Ivison and London-based writer Hugo Rifkind, is available on line at
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fails to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?