202. Dawn of D-Day
by David Howarth
I was not expecting much of this 1959 book about the D-Day Landings in June 1944. So, this collection of first-hand accounts woven together by David Howarth was a very pleasant surprise. I had expected a book written only 15 years after the landings would be more gung-ho. But Howarth seems to have done an excellent job of getting his subjects to open up to him. One of the most poignant stories comes from a soldier who pushed a comrade who was blocking the troops' exit from a landing craft into the water after he was hit by enemy fire. Was the comrade dead or alive when he was shoved? Another story concerns an officer who hears the men under his command vowing to massacre the occupants of a German strongpoint which had already inflicted a number of casualties on them. Howarth does not pull a lot of punches. He captures the horror, chaos and loneliness experienced by the soldiers as they hit the beaches and airborne landing zones. Howarth also interviewed German soldiers and tells the tales of French civilians caught up in the fighting. Although the book is primarily a collection of eye-witness accounts, Howarth gives just enough of the bigger picture to keep them in context. He captures the randomness of death on the battlefield and the wide range of humanity who found themselves for one day locked together by one of the major operations of military history.
201. A Military History of Britain
by Jeremy Black
British university professor Jeremy Black makes an attempt to explain Britain's military history to an American readership. The book is a brief survey of Britain's military past written for a specialist security think-tank based in the United States. I had expected something a little more fawning to the Americans, especially when discussing events after 1917 when an exhausted Britain handed over the reins of world leadership to their trans-Atlantic cousins. But Black's assessment of the much mythologised American Revolution, which should be known as the First American Civil War, is sober and reasonable. He also admits that Britain appeased US territorial ambitions at the expense of Canada and discusses how the US administration wanted the UK to hand over the Falkland islanders to a brutal Argentinian government, which it believed would go Communist if the invasion failed. So, plaudits to Black for not sugar-coating things for his American paymasters. Black is also fairer and more informed than most English-based historians when it comes to Scotland and Wales. English historians seem to have long been aware that Irish history is complicated but generally give their Scots and Welsh neighbours a lot less attention. Although the subtitle says the book cover the period 1775 to the present day (which turns out to be 2006), Black delves back into 55 BC. I would suspect that this informative and thoughtful little book might be useful in the United States where the red coats are still the baddies of history. I had a couple of very very minor quibbles. I'm not sure if Black realises that the Highland Light Infantry actually succeeded in capturing Buenos Aires in 1806 and wonder how the British could be defeated by "defensive" fire from the Boers at Majuba in 1881. And the tactics Black suggests the British learned after 1900 in South Africa against later Boer opponents were already in use on the Northwest Frontier of India in the late 1890s. I can't help but point out that if Black had read Scottish Military Disasters.............
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?