245. Tales from the Special Forces Club
by Sean Rayment
This, sadly, is only a bog standard collection of reminiscences from ageing members of the Special Forces Club in London. I say "sadly" because the old geezers former Parachute Regiment officer turned author Sean Rayment chose to write about were, without exception, brave and in many cases prove to be real characters. The problem is that what they have to say has nearly all been said before. Rayment is a good writer and sympathetic. But there is little that throws any new light on anything. The exploits of the Special Operations Executive in France, the Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service in North Africa, the Chindits in Burma, Popski's Private Army in Italy, the commandos at Dieppe and the RAF pilots flying agents into France and Norway have long provided fodder for writers and memoirists. The only really neglected subject covered in this book was the Special Operation's Executive's Force 136 in Burma. The book is marred by some silly mistakes. For instance, I seriously doubt that the King's Royal Rifle Corps was disbanded during the Second World War. This book is an easy read but only worth effort if the reader is new to the activities of Britain's Second World War "private armies" and the Special Operations Executive.
244. Gulf War One
by Hugh McManners
This book was far better than I expected it to be. Leafing through and seeing it was broken down into mainly brief paragraphs attributed to various participants, I wasn't expecting such a coherent account of the 1991 Gulf War. But McManners, a veteran of the Falklands War turned highly successful writer on military matters, very skilfully stitches together a very readable but very well informed account of the war. The participants in the project range from former Prime Minister John Major down to one of the soldiers from the Army War Graves Unit. Sadly, it takes something like 20 years before some people feel comfortable telling the truth. I hope it will not take 20 years for the war in Afghanistan to produce a book of similar calibre. The majority of the interviewees are senior officers or politicians but McManners includes a fair and refreshing sprinkling of squaddies, just enough to balance the Big Picture stuff with a worm's eye view of the conflict. Much of what is said could, depressingly, could also have been said during the Crimean War. Medical provision for British troops in the Gulf was well below what was provided even by the National Health Service at the time. The book makes a good case for claims that many soldiers were poisoned by the hastily administered course of anti-chemical warfare drugs. There were also major concerns about how the notoriously unreliable Challenger tank would perform. The British Army had to strip down the whole of its fleet of Challengers stationed in Germany to provide enough tanks and spares for the Gulf War. The British Army of the Rhine is exposed as a sham. Petty jealousy and jobsworth-ism also play a role in this tale. But there is also good humour and courage. Some of the people in this book I would have no problem working with or for. Others; not so much. Some of the most interesting material comes at the end of the book when returning members of the military find it hard to adjust to petty bureaucracy and jealous colleagues back in the United Kingdom and West Germany. And the treatment doled out to veterans who suffered long-term physical or psychiatric damage by the Ministry of Defence and its lawyers verges on the criminal. This book is in the running for the 2015 Book of the Year.
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?