300. Tank Men
by Robert Kershaw
Former soldier turned military historian Robert Kershaw takes a look at the most important part of a tank - the crew. But sadly this interesting idea is marred by some poor proof reading and some howlers when it comes to factual errors. Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty when he threw his weight behind the development of the tank, not First Sea Lord; that was Jacky Fisher. The Crocodile variant of the Churchill tank did not spew flame from the barrel of its 75mm gun but from a projector nozzle in the hull. There is no such British army battalion as the 5th Cameronian Highlanders. And I take it when the book refers to "radio fits" it means "radio sets". Regrettably, the factual errors badly undermine Kershaw's credibility. This is a shame because he has some interesting things to say. The book looks at the experiences of tank crews in both World Wars, though mostly the Second, from several nations. The British, followed by the Germans, get the most space but there are also a sprinkling of Soviets and Americans, and the book even mentions the Canadians and Italians. Some of the experiences are common to all tank crews. Others, particularly when the British and Americans come up against vastly superior German tanks after June 1944 are a little more specific to a particular side. Kershaw also looks at issues which affected all frontline soldiers such as fear and combat fatigue. The focus is on the men, with a couple of female Soviet soldiers thrown into the mix, but Kershaw also looks at the development of tank design and tactics. This is a good and worthwhile read, but flawed by silly mistakes; which may have cost it its place in the running for the 2016 Book of the Year.
299. Personal Memoirs
by Ulysses S Grant
For several years I had been on the look-out for this book, not so much for what General U.S. Grant had to say but because his publisher Mark Twain had such high hopes and admiration for it. Twain, the pen name of legendary American humourist Samuel Clements, believed Grant's memoir was his own greatest contribution to literature. I am not sure how much Twain/Clements had to do with the editing of the book but at least in the early part it is an interesting and easy read. Grant comes over a humane and humble man and his recollections of his time at West Point and his participation in the invasion of Mexico in 1846 are excellently told. Most of the book focuses on the American Civil War and to an extent the wheels start to come off the story after the capture of the Confederate fortifications at Vicksburg in 1863. It is not clear whether Grant's tale falters because he was dying from cancer when he wrote it, or because he moves from battlefield command to a higher plane after being promoted to the Union Army's principal commander. The story becomes one of a massive game of chess. Only many of the pieces refuse to, or are incapable of, moving as ordered. Many regard Grant as winning mainly the war through attrition. Grant was smarter than that and the Confederate's legendary Robert E Lee was not as good as many claim. But I could not help feeling Grant underplayed the level of the unnecessary carnage involved in several of his battles while failing to give due credit to his opponents. This is one man's testimony, though perhaps amongst more honest and least self-serving of the memoirs written by senior military men over the ages. But it must be weighed alongside that of other participants when History renders its verdict on the conduct of a war that killed more Americans than any other before or since.
298. A Damned Un-English Weapon
by Edwyn Gray
The weapon referred to is the submarine. Edwyn Gray's account of the activities of British submarines during the First World War was first published in 1971 and has stood the test of time well. Gray is a master of creating atmosphere with a few well chosen words. In this book the reader can almost smell the electricity arcing from malfunctioning electrical circuit boards on board the primitive submarines of the time. The book focuses on the human element, particularly the submarine commanders; who were more likely to write memoirs than the ordinary sailors. Many of the tales involve out-of-control submarines plunging bow first into the sea bottom. If Gray is able to furnish a pretty full account, then the reader can guess that there were at least some survivors. Though I have a feeling that in one account the details are supplied in a log scribbled by a member of a crew which did all die. British submarines did well in the Baltic and off the Turkish coast but then the Admiralty put most of their most experienced and best skippers into ill-conceived steam-powered subs intended to operate with the main British fleet. Of some interest to those fascinated by the German submarine campaign of the Second World War is a the First World War career of British sub captain Max Horton. Horton was to be instrumental in defeating Hitler's U-boats during the Second World War. By Gray's account, the British during the First World were far less ruthless than many of their German counter-parts when it came to sinking merchant and passenger ships without warning.
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?