Reviews: Late Summer Books Round-Up

This dispatch will inevitably present something of a random spread of publications that landed on the WHO Reviews Dept doormat in recent months.

First up we have to visualise a scene on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where malcontent locals have succeeded in bringing down an aircraft. The wounded crew and the machine itself are in peril of falling into the hands of an unforgiving foe.

But this isn’t modern times for we have gone back to the Third Afghan War of 1919 when Imperial Britain was at odds with the regime in Kabul while also having to deal with local disaffection on the Khyber Pass in what was then British India.

Paul Macro, a serving tank soldier, takes us through a dramatic event where his grandfather, Sergeant Bill Macro of 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service played a leading role.

A Bristol Fighter had been brought down by rifle fire from tribesmen fighting against the British and Macro and his comrades had the onerous task of rescuing the wounded crew members and disarming the wrecked machine.

The author explains the context of the situation in a succinct and efficient manner. The Third Afghan War was the latest conflict between neighbours where religion and politics were paramount.

I am the last person to dress up the iniquities of colonialism, especially in a story that includes the presence of the much-maligned Reginald Dyer, the British officer responsible for the massacre at Amritsar.

While there is no attempt to mask that terrible event here, it is important to stress Dyer was an experienced an efficient soldier whose leadership in the conflict described in this book is presented carefully.

Paul Macro offers a fascinating glimpse of the operations of a little-known unit. The 22nd Battery operated a small fleet of motorcycle combinations armed with Vickers machine guns.

It is tempting to picture them zooming around with the big Vickers blazing away from the sidecars when, in fact, the guns were carried into action on one machine with the ammo and supporting kit placed on another. There were occasions when the guns did fire straight from the bikes but this was an uncommon event.

Mr Macro takes care to write with respect and not a little warmth about the locally raised militia who were the backbone of the forces ranged against the local tribesmen fighting against British rule.

We also meet a fascinating range of imperial officers drawn from far and wide who found adventure on the Khyber Pass.

The book is set against the Great War and very recent history, explaining how colonial conflict such has this has been largely overlooked. Above all the book is a tribute to his grandfather and the men of 22nd Battery.

Book cover
Book cover

The Third Afghan War, 1919
By Paul Macro
Casemate Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 61200 759 5

A quick word on this superb reference book from David Bilton which looks at the vast colour chart of cloth and metal badges worn on the uniforms of men serving in the volunteer army raised the appeal issued by Lord Kitchener in 1914.

How do you review a book such as this? The decades of research going into its preparation, alone, makes a few glib comments from the likes of me a trifle insulting. The British Army of the Great War grew into a leviathan and interest in it ceases to dim even after the end of the centenary. A book like this is forever, not just for random moments.

I can think of many a fellow pilgrim on the battlefield trail who will come to treasure this book. I really don’t see the point in dragging this one out further. Mr Bilton’s book is essential for all Great War researchers and collectors. Outstanding.

Book cover
Book cover

By David Bilton
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 47383 366 1

It was inevitable that a number of D-Day books would appear this year and I have to make a small apology for not highlighting them earlier. Our first subject recalls the contemporary training documents issued by the British and Americans in advance of the landings.

There have been a lot of books like this one that bring a strong air of authenticity wrapped in an entertaining format. Such is the case here.

If you like this sort of nostalgia you will not be disappointed with this one. Chris McNab is a prolific writer who knows what he is doing, as this book shows; and this volume will fit well with its stable mates.

Book cover
Book cover

Edited by Chris McNab
Casemate Publishers
ISBN: 978 1 61200 733 5

Scott Addington is known to this column for his innovative and entertaining approach to bite sized chunks of history. He is back with a tidy little book that does exactly what the title indicates. He picks out a hundred events, details, locations and people who played a role in the Allied invasion of France in 1944.

This is a tried and tested model used for myriad subjects and I am pleased to say Scott has made a superb job of things. The shelf life of this book is not tied to the period of the D-Day 75th anniversary, so if you want something ideal for a quick read, or a handy reference for future interest, this is a book you should consider.

Book cover
Book cover

D-Day & Operation Overlord in One Hundred Moments
By Scott Addington
ISBN: 978 1 912690 00 8

Pocket guides are not the easiest things to review. I know a good bit of the history and landscape of these two fun books from Neil Barber, but the proof is in the pudding when you are out on the ground doing your own exploring.

The author looks at two facets of the British Airborne role in the D-Day landings and it is difficult to find two events that be considered even more iconic than the capture of Pegasus Bridge and the assault on the Merville Battery.

The fact that these are such well known events does not detract from the simplicity and style of these neat little books. If you can escape your tour bus or just fancy a bit of casual history while in Normandy, these books offer the kind of shoot and scoot dip you may be looking for.

Book covers
Book covers

A Pocket Guide
A Pocket Guide
By Neil Barber
Sabrestorm Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 78122 012 2 and
ISBN: 978 1 78122 013 9

Back to nostalgia with this genuinely entertaining reprise of some of the writings of Sir George Wade, MC & Bar, a valorous soldier of the Great War who turned his experience into a series of publications to support the development of the Home Guard in 1940.

The man himself offered the mantra “Do not become a slave to battle drill at the expense of battlecraft.” He sounds like a cracking bloke. Wade’s books were private publications released alongside official material, but he had the support of the authorities and his books and pamphlets proved popular.

Wade commanded a Home Guard in the north-west of England and his position allowed him to pass on his knowledge through the usual channels in addition to the paid work he did for the publishers Gale & Polden.

Philip Abbott follows up the contemporary stuff with a tidy account of George Wade and his work. Royal Armouries have reproduced a number of Wade’s material and I imagine they must all be as good as this one.

This book is a straight-out reprint with all the language and niceties of a long-lost Britain prepared during the most precipitous of times. It is as charming as it is fascinating; and I love it.

Book cover
Book cover

Home Guard Training Series
Colonel GA Wade, MC & Bar
Royal Armouries
ISBN: 978 0 94809 292 3

The 80th anniversary of the start of World War II will lead to six years of anniversary stuff including a few forests worth of books. I know this because I am working on that sort of nonsense of my own at the moment. Needless to say, the big guns are all ready for combat and the opening volley comes in the shape of this whopper from DK.

The book uses a fast-paced blend of texts, maps, timelines and imagery to tell the story of the conflict from start to finish. The publisher employs their typically high standard mix of layouts and presentations to make for a crisp and clean book that is both easy to follow and sufficiently entertaining to keep even the most reluctant historian engaged.

I hate to do this, but as summer recedes many minds are turning to events in late December. If you went to my local hypermarket you might be forgiven for thinking we were already there.

This book would make an ideal read for that special person who wants a bit of WW2 without resorting to filling up a bookcase with it. Know what I’m sayin’?

Another Article From Us: Operation Torch Then And Now Reviewied

Book cover
Book cover

Foreward by Peter Snow
Dorling Kindersley
ISBN: 978 0 2413 5781 9

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.