205. The War Correspondents: The Boer War
by Raymond Sibbald
This book, sadly, was not quite as advertised. It is indeed a collection of newspaper reports filed by correspodents during the 1899-1902 war in South Africa; but all the correspondents are from the Times. I'm pretty familiar with newspaper reports from the Boer War and they are often refreshing critical of the British army leadership of the time. To paraphrase a report from the Glasgow Herald I saw read decades ago "We understand that British soldiers on occasion are forced by circumstance to fly the white flag, but 40 full armed men surrendering to seven Boer farmers does stick in the craw more than somewhat". Sadly, I lost the cutting many years ago. Also sadly the Times seems to have been more inclined to toe the Establishment line. There are some criticisms, something not seen during the First World War, but nothing like the searing censures seen in the Scottish papers of the time. Sibbald, an academic who once worked at Sandhurst, does highlight the sensational reporting from the Times which turned the lacklustre sieges of Kimberly and Mafeking into Victorian epics - including Baden-Powell's decision to starve the local African population in order to feed the whites. He also takes the Times to task misreporting the British concentration camp programme which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Boer women and children. Regrettably, Sibbald seriously undermined his credibility by his sloppy notes on the Battle of Magersfontein - there was no Scottish Brigade, it was the Highland Brigade that came a cropper, and their commander was Andy, not Archie, Wauchope. I had high hopes of this book but I was disappointed.
204. Russia at War
by Alexander Werth
It is easy to believe that this look at the Second World War as seen throught the eyes of a Moscow-based British journalist would have been controversial when it came out at the height of the Cold War in 1964. Werth's family fled Russia around the time of the 1917 Revolution and he was 16-years-old, so many readers might have been surprised by his apparently balanced account of events in his native land as the Communist Party led it to victory over the Germans. This is not a military history of the war, the crucial battle of Kursk is dimissed in a couple of pages, but a series of snapshots of the conflict seen through a Russian prism. Werth drew from his work as a journalist, official histories and his contacts in Russia to create something more akin to a scrapbook. German atrocities, concentration camps, and life the home front all get as much attention as the actual fighting. Werth does much to explain why the Soviet Union sided with the Germans to carve up Poland in 1939 and the Communist's perhaps well founded suspicions as to why the United States chose to drop two atom bombs on Japan. As Russia flexes its muscles again, a re-release of this book might be timely.
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?