309. The Paladin Dictionary of Battles
by George Bruce
This 1986 edition was an update of a 1971 book which was itself an updating of a 1904 book detailing some of what the author rated as significant world battles. Journalist George Brice added to Thomas Harbottle's original work, completed shortly before he died, by including numerous 20th Century clashes, including several long-running guerilla wars. Most of the entries are short; giving the opposing sides, date, numbers involved, a very brief summary of events and the outcome. The battles range from major turning points in history to minor skirmishes which one or other of the authors believed were in some way significant. No collection of this kind can ever be exhaustive. But Bruce and Harbottle cast their net wide to include mid-19th Century clashes in the heart of Europe, South American civil wars, numerous clashes around the Indian sub-continent and several wars on Asia's Pacific coast. This is a handy reference, as far as it goes, and I will be keeping it close to hand from now on.
by Lloyd Clark
This book proved to be a sensible and sober look at what some soldiers who took part in it described as a sideshow of a sideshow. Lecturer at Sandhurst, military historian and television pundit Lloyd Clark strikes just about the right balance between capturing the personal misery and destruction on the Italian beachhead just south of Rome in 1944 and the bigger, strategic, picture. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed the American and British landings would set a wildcat loose on the stagnating Italian front but ended up branding the operation a beached whale. But Clark identifies Churchill as one of the villains of the piece. The Americans were never keen on the Italian campaign and starved it of resources, preferring to concentrate resources on the D Day Landings in France. The Anzio landing behind the German lines was only a good idea if it was properly resourced. It was not, and Churchill should have stepped back from it. Clark argues that the landing did indeed catch the Germans off balance but not enough troops were available to exploit the potential breakthrough. US General John Lucas could perhaps have pushed out further in the days immediately following the landing but could just as easily have been cut-off as the Germans expertly moved in to contain the incursion. Lucas's duplicitious boss General Mark Clark had in fact ordered him to be cautious and then turned around and fired him for lack of progress. Lucas probably should never have commanded the landing and certainly his successor Lucien Truscott proved a more dynamic and inspiring leader. General Clark, a publicity hogging glory hunter with blood on his hands if ever there was one, deprived the operation the fruits of its hard-fought breakout by opting to be known as the liberator of Rome rather than cut off and destroy retreating German troops side-stepping the Eternal City. Hitler and his commanders knew Rome was militarily worthless. It is a shame that Clark's almost criminal irreponsibility was to cost so many British, Canadian, Polish and French lives in the following months; he was an American problem and they should have dealt with him. Lloyd Clark uses British, American, German and Italian letters, diaries and reminiscences to bring out the personal tales of death, mutilation and wretchedness of the fighting. The Epilogue will, and has, brought a lump to throat of the most determined cynic.
307. Forgotten Voices of the Great War
by Max Arthur
I have been a fan of Max Arthur's collections of military reminiscences since I read his most excellent book about the Falklands War "Above All, Courage". This book focuses on the First World War and is based on recordings held at the Imperial War Museum and, once again, Arthur has shown a sure touch when selecting experiences. He also manages to capture, or should it be "retain"in print, the spirit of a generation now departed. Some of the reminiscences are horrific and heart-breaking. Others are more humorous. He also spreads his net beyond the frontline soldiers to take in memories from such diverse people as munitions workers, widows, contentious objectors and schoolchildren. Although the focus is on the British there are also Americans, Canadians, French, Germans and Australians. I have to admit I was little puzzled by the plethora of Americans towards the end of the book and the complete absence of Canadians. The tiny Canadian Corps captured far more in the way of German troops and equipment in the closing 100 Days of the War than the entire United States Army. Also, some of the voices cannot really be described as "forgotten". The poet Edmund Blunden and Joe Murray of the Royal Naval Division wrote books about their experiences. But these are minor quibbles.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
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?