196. Shock Troops
by Tim Cook
This second part of Canadian military historian Tim Cook's account of the Canadian Corps in the First World War lives up to the high standard set by its predecessor At the Sharp End, which won this website's Book of the Year Award in 2011. Shock Troops takes up the story in 1917 when Canadian troops stormed Vimy Ridge in a textbook operation which went far to secure their reputation as one of the British Expeditionary Force's elite fighting units. But this is not a piece of typical Canadian historical chauvinism. Cook spells out the terrible blood price the Canadians paid to maintain their elite reputation. And that reputation did not rest on a force of North American supermen. Cook looks at the reasons for the Canadians' success and finds it could have been easily repeated by many of the British units they served alongside. The Canadian commanders were quicker to absorb the lessons of the Western Front and trusted their own men more than the British did. The Canadians also found it easier to say "No" to some of the more incompetent of the British Generals. They also gained from serving as a constant and coherent four division force rather than being constantly switched between corps as their British colleagues were. As well as the battles, Cook takes a look at the lives and deaths of the ordinary soldier on the Western Front and much of what he says applies equally to the British Tommies and Jocks. This is not only an excellent book about the First World War but also about modern war. The toxic soup the men fought in thanks to chemical weapons is often forgotten. The Canadian Corps was badly chewed up in the last 100 Days of the war and anyone who thinks Haig's armies were pushing at an open door as the Germans retreated from France and Belgium is in for an education. This book is too good to be restricted to only a Canadian readership.
195. Monsoon Victory
by Gerald Hanley
I had trouble getting into this book about the 11th East African Division's 1944 advance to the Chindwin River in Burma. Hanley was better known as a novelist and I initially found his writing a little overwrought and even mentally exhausting. Hanley was attached to the division as a Special War Correspondent and the book is a bit of an oddity. It's not a campaign history, but rather a series of snapshots of the advance through a monsoon against a tenacious and fierce foe. Some modern readers might find his discussion of the African troops who made up the division rather patronizing and his opinions of a Japanese somewhat racist. But many of the men who fought the Japanese were baffled by them. Hanley was correct about one thing, the men of the 11th Division returned to Africa changed men and in turn changed Africa. War veterans provided much of the muscle and brain for the indepence movements which drove the British out of their countries, beginning with Ghana. At the end of the day Hanley does not a bad job of portraying the discomfort laced with brief periods of excitement which characterise a soldier's life on campaign. Some may find his portrayal of cheery cockney artillerymen a little cliched but the book is a product of its time, it was first published in 1946, and is interesting for that reason alone.
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?