283. Voices of the Foreign Legion
by Adrian D Gilbert
I was in no rush to read this. So much has been written about the French Foreign Legion that it is struggle to find much that is fresh. The same old legends and stories are often recycled year after year as fresh titles are added to the genre. Never has so much been written about so few. So, Adrian Gilbert's book was a pleasant surprise. In the opening chapters he cuts away much of myth and mystique to take a sober and sensible look at this band of mercenaries. He neither condemns nor glorifies those who decide to further the aims of France through mercenary service. Many of the "voices" in the early part of the book are those of reasonably recent members of the Legion. Though, he sometimes ducks back to an earlier account to help put life in the modern Legion into perspective. The second half of the book is a brief canter through the history of the Legion as seen through the eyes of its members. Gilbert manages to come up with a selection of tales that only illustrate the points he is making but also inform and entertain. Gilbert is an experienced writer and military historian has produced a very smooth and easy read. Anyone thinking of joining the Legion would be well advised to have a look at this book before signing on the dotted line to serve France for five years.
282. Gallipoli: Command under Fire
by Eric J Erickson
This book argues that the Turks beat the British because they had better command and control mechanisms and fielded better troops. Eric J Erickson was an American artillery officer and when he wrote this book he was teaching at the US Marine Corps University. Sometimes this dissection of the two approaches to command reads like too much of a PhD thesis. But Erickson makes a good argument. The Turkish command and control system does indeed seem to have worked better than the amateurish British approach. The Turks modelled their system on the German one and several of senior Turkish Army commanders were on loan from Germany. The Turks followed the basic rules of warfare, such as concentration of force. Efficient battlefield reporting proceedures meant the commanders had an excellent idea what was happening. Many of Turks were veterans of the Balkan Wars and knew their business. The British in contrast lumbered themselves with complex plans which usually did not survive first contact with the enemy and then had no idea, thanks to sloppy battlefield reporting proceedures, what was going on. Ad hoc command arrangements meant little genuine control was exercised on the movement of desperately needed reinforcements. The British troops were often inexperienced and not particularly well trained. The commanders were often too old and inexperienced at handling troops in the numbers required to take on the Turks. The British consistently under-estimated the Turks. According to Erickson the British never came close to winning. Sadly, the book is marred by poor editing. There is one paragraph which is obviously a rewrite of the previous one but both have been included. During the account of the late June Battle of Gully Ravine the book starts referring to events happening in July. The loss of the 156th Brigade of the 52nd Lowland Division from the effective order of battle is referred to as if it had already been explained by its virtual destruction at Gully Ravine. There is nothing in the book about the 156th's attack at Gully Ravine. I found myself re-reading paragraphs I could not understand in case I had missed something - but I don't think I had. So, an interesting project marred by sloppiness. A bit like the Gallipoli Campaign itself.
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?