241. Marching to the Drums
Edited by Ian Knight
This is a collection of old magazine articles recounting the experiences of rank and file soldiers who fought during Queen Victoria's reign. Most appear to have come from a journal called Royal Magazine and were published in the opening decade of the 20th Century. Editor Ian Knight, best known for his books on the Zulu War of 1879, has done an excellent job of selecting the articles. Although many are first-person accounts, there is more than a hint of a ghost-writers being involved. But whoever the ghost-writers were they would appear to have done an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the Old Sweats. There is much of the "Of course soldiers in my day were much tougher than they are now" which continues to this day. Every generation of soldiers seems to believe that the succeeding ones have an easier time and are softer than they were. The book starts off with the Crimean War but then most of the accounts arise from what are now referred to as Victoria's Small Wars. Many collections of first hand accounts of 19th Century warfare keep them very short but the ones in this book are quite lengthy and Knight did the the right thing in not editing them down. The result is a fascinating glimpse of the stoic British soldier of the 19th Century fighting a variety of foes ranging from the Russians, Sudanese spearmen, shotgun-wielding Maoris through to Boer marksmen armed with the latest rifles. The terrain and climate often prove as much of an enemy as the narrators march and fight their way through dank jungle, swamp, desert and bleak mountain range. This is one of the more interesting books I've read this year.
240. Canada's Army
by J L Granastein
This history of Canada's army from the days when the French and British were fighting for control of North America's attic through to the Afghan conflict has an agenda. In two World Wars Canada, eventually, produced effective armies. But good armies are not built overnight and the cost of learning is reckoned in wrecked human lives. Granastein's book is intended as a warning that Canadians must be prepared to sacrifice social spending in order to pay the societal insurance premiums required to have an effective military. Military spending is very like an insurance policy. Granastein looks at how in both World Wars Canada managed to build an army from virtually nothing and wonders if it could ever do it again. By the late 1960s Canada's military had crumbled under the combined weight of budget cuts and trend hippy-dippy anti-war rhetoric. Most Canadians still don't believe the country needs an army. For much of its history Britain guaranteed its existence, now it is the United States which fulfils the role. Canadians believe they make great peacekeepers and that should be the limit if its army's duties. These are the messages of Granastein's book and they hard to argue with. Canadians are wilfully ignorant when it comes to military matters. But Granastein laces his polemic with many well chosen personal accounts of Canadians at war. And as a former army officer turned academic, much of his analysis of how the Canadian military managed to rise to the challenges arising from two World Wars is worth considering. I have a minor quibble when it comes to his chapter on recent events in Afghanistan. He writes the British off as risk adverse and ineffective. While the British were hampered by much uninspired and unimaginative jobsworth-leadership, the casualty figures suggest they were not completely useless. As Granastein got his information from Canadian participants in the Afghan conflict, this apparent rift is a matter of concern.
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?