REVIEW: JOHNNY The Legend and Tragedy of General Sir Ian Hamilton by Mark Barnes

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Up in Scotland there is a tumbledown grave of an old soldier and his good lady where the health and safety people have been round. They’ve wrapped it in that plastic orange fencing which probably has a name, but I don’t care to know it and the monument is in bits upon the ground. During his long life the soldier ranged far across India, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He led ‘from the saddle’ and suffered wounds and knew glory. He wrote much and was greatly admired. But like his grave in ruins today his career crumbled on the shores of the Dardanelles in 1915, for he is Ian Hamilton.

Out there in one of the darker recesses of the ether I found myself chatting with a number of Great War authors and book reviewers who I might term as “chums” and, if I’ve got the mood right, we were discussing this particular book with a mixture of bewilderment and irritation. I’d best stick to describing how it went for me because I read all eleven chapters and while I found a lot of genuinely interesting information I came away thoroughly dissatisfied.  Take yourselves back to my previous review of Corelli Barnett’s Lords of War and I am bound to say that in style this book is the antithesis of it. For while, as I repeat, there is a lot of detail and information; it doesn’t really get you anywhere. The author repeatedly tells us of the importance of chapter 10 – Gallipoli, where Hamilton’s career foundered, and when we get there nothing much seems to come of it at all. I didn’t take much from the analysis I couldn’t have learned from reading a conventional account of the campaign.

This book comes as part biography and part scatter gun of a lot more besides. The biography part rips a long at a pace and even then the author interrupts proceedings at times to tell us what he’s going to do next. It’s a bit like watching it on commercial telly and something like one of those history documentaries which promises some great revelation about an event which turns out to be nothing of any consequence. It’s all jolly interesting in some ways and then not in many more besides. I can’t recommend it. I genuinely did read all eleven chapters though, and I got more and more irritated as I went.

I do honestly believe that the powers that be should set out to restore the grave of a fine old soldier who served our country all his life. He was a stalwart of the Royal British Legion, not out of guilt, but out of duty and of love for his comrades. Many a soldier admired him all their lives with genuine feeling and he was with them out in the deserts and on the veldt where he earned the respect of his enemies. He was in Korea watching Japanese and Russian armies smash themselves and he learned much, but not quite enough when it came to Gallipoli where his greatest moment came and he failed. It’s tragic. The title of the book, at least, is spot on.

Mark Barnes

JOHNNY
The Legend and Tragedy of General Sir Ian Hamilton
By John Philip Jones
Published in hardback by Pen & Sword Military £25.00
ISBN: 978 1 84884 788 0