REVIEWS  [Adult Fiction] [SF & Fantasy] [Crime & Thrillers] [Children's Books] [Nonfiction] [Pen and Sword] [Nostalgia] [EMail]

 February 2016 Contents

Home Page

Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers

Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's Books
  Nonfiction & Reference

  Pen and Sword Books

  The Nostalgia Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

 

Stunning train books from Pen and Sword:

 

 

Colin Garratt: Steam, Soot and Rust

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 30th November 2015

 

The disappearance of the steam locomotive in the land of its birth touched the hearts of millions, but when the government announced the Modernisation Plan for Britain's railways in 1955, under which steam was to be phased out in favour of diesel and electric traction, few people took it seriously. Steam locomotives were an integral part of our daily lives and had been for almost one and a half centuries. Furthermore, they were still being built in large numbers. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where there is a thriving steam railway - the North Norfolk Railway out of Sheringham; and I'm old enough to remember going on day trips from Gloucester to Bourton on the Water before steam was pensioned off and the soulless diesel engines moved in. Staggeringly beautiful photos of staggeringly beautiful engines, with a perfect commentary - a perfect reminder of a glorious past.

 

 

Martin Farebrother & Joan Farebrother: Narrow Gauge in the Arras Sector

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 30th November 2015

 

The Arras sector of the Western Front in World War I (WW1) was held partly by the British and Dominions 1st Army from September 1915, and almost wholly by the 1st and 3rd Armies from March 1916. No less than in the Ypres sector to the north and the Somme sector to the south, the struggles of the French and then British troops in this sector were pivotal to the outcome of the War. The sector included countryside in the south, but in the north a major part of the industrial and coal-mining area of northern France, around Lens and Bethune. In this book the contribution of metre and 60 cm gauge railways to the Allied war effort in this sector is examined in the context of the history of the metre gauge lines already established. Martin and Joan's account of this forgotten aspect of the Great War is both fascinating and very readable, ably illustrated and beautifully researched.

 

 

Anthony Burton & John Scott-Morgan: The Light Railways of Britain and Ireland

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 30th June 2015

 

First published in 1985 by Moorland Press, The Light Railways of Britain & Ireland has remained unavailable for more than twenty-five years, until now. Re-released by Pen & Sword, this is a thorough and engaging book that covers, in depth, the fascinating story of Britain s last railway development, the Rural light railways, constructed as a result of the Light Railways Act 1896. Rigorously detailed, it charts the overall history of the last great railway boom in Britain the light railway boom from 1896, to the beginning of the Great War in 1914. A valued and valuable contribution to British railway history - this is a welcome return to mainstream publishing.

 

 

David Maidment: An Indian Summer of Steam

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 30th September 2015

 

An Indian Summer of Steam is the second volume of David Maidment's railway autobiography, following his first book, A Privileged Journey , published in February 2015. David was a railway enthusiast who made the hobby his career. After management training on the Western Region, between 1961 and 1964, he became a stationmaster in a Welsh Valley, an Area Manager on the Cardiff Swansea main line and radiating valleys, the South Wales Train Planning Officer, the Head of Productivity Services for the Western Region and subsequently the British Railways Board, before four years from 1982 as Chief Operating Manager of the London Midland Region, the BRB's first Quality & Reliability Manager in 1986, and finally British Rail's Head of Safety Policy after the Clapham Junction train accident, until privatisation. Fascinating personal reminiscences from the last ages of steam through the early days of diesel. Maidment's dedication to his "hobby" is evident in this charming and illustrative journey through the second phase of his working life.

 

 

 

Susan Major: Early Victorian Railway Excursions

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 16th November 2015

 

There is a widely held belief that Thomas Cook invented the railway excursion. In fact the railway excursion is almost as old as the railway itself, dating back to the 1830s, when hordes of people from one town would descend on another for a 'cheap trip'. Susan Major has carried out much in-depth research for this book, drawing on contemporary Victorian newspapers, and discovered that in fact Cook played a very minor role, mainly in encouraging middle-class people to go on more expensive excursions. Her book fills an important gap in railway history. It explores for the first time how the vast majority of ordinary working people in Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century were able to travel cheaply for leisure over long distances, in huge crowds, and return home. This was a stunning experience for the excursionists and caused great shocks to observers at the time. This is something Michael Portillo has alluded to occasionally in his Great Railway Journeys series, but in nearly as much depth as that to which Susan goes in this superb account of the early days of steam railway excursions. After the initial shock of travelling at more than twenty or thirty miles an hour wore off, the public appetite for such excursions was whetted, as Susan's narrative explains. Could have done with a few more illustrations in my humble opinion...

 

 

 

Peter Hadfield: Barnsley & Beyond

Published by Pen & Sword, hardback 18th November 2015

 

A collection of memories of a bygone age of the railway system that operated around the Barnsley area and beyond. It was a time when steam was still king (the local passenger, expresses and freight traffic were worked by steam), however the advent of diesel, although not initially noticeable, was gradually taking place. Towards the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, rationalisation of the railway system and mass dieselisation took place, culminating in the end of steam on British railways. A more specific and localised account of the last days of steam than Steam, Soot and Rust (see above, top of this column), but again, the dedication of the author to his chosen subject is there for all to see. Some brilliant photographs and another superb narrative, capturing forever the last days of steam in and around Barnsley.

 

 

You are here: Books Monthly New titles from Pen and Sword Publishing 

 

We were promised an explosion of books about the Great War a couple of years ago, as we neared the centenary; Oxford University Press and Dorling Kindersley published pictorial histories of the Great War, both of which depicted the conflict in a way that only modern printing and publishing processes could. But on this page you will find what I firmly believe to be the finest ever pictorial history of the first World War, from Pen and Sword. 1914 was published in 2013, but this year sees the publication of 1915. If you want to go straight to it, click here...

New titles from Pen and Sword:

Guus de Vries: The Great War Through Picture Postcards

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 5th January 2016

During World War I, the picture postcard was the most important means of communication for the soldiers in the field and their loved ones at home, with an estimated 30 billion of them sent between 1914 and 1918. A postcard from home offered the soldier in the trenches a short escape from their daily hell, while receiving a postcard from a man on the frontline was literally a sign of life. These postcards create a vivid record of life at home and abroad during the Great War, both from the messages they carried and the pictures on the cards themselves. The depiction of the war on the contemporary postcards is extremely diverse: The ways in which the postcards depict the war differs greatly; from simple enthusiasm, patriotism and propaganda to humour, satire and bitter hatred. Others portray the wishes and dreams (nostalgia, homesickness and pin-ups) of the soldiers, the technological developments of the armies, not to mention the daily life and death on the battlefield, including the horrific reality of piles of bodies and mass-graves.Altogether, this extraordinarily vivid contemporary record of the Great War offers a unique and detailed insight in the minds and mentality of the soldiers and their families who lived and died in the war to end all wars.

 

As a frequent visitor to car boot sales and charity shops, I am always fascinated by the huge number of picture postcards on sale. Until now, I had assumed that any postcard associated with the great war would be something like a message home on one side, and a hastily scribbled address on the other. It never occurred to me that soldiers fighting in far-off lands in 1914-1918 might pick up a picture postcard to send home, or that the authorities might use printed postcards as propaganda. Guus de Vries is a noted Great War historian, and has assembled in the pages of this wonderful book an amazing collection of postcards from the period. Many show wounded or dead soldiers on the field of battle; there are various scenes of brutality which both sides used to spread the word about atrocities caused by the other side; there are poignant messages home; and saucy pin-ups that tommies and Germans might have used to decorate their trenches. Absolutely fascinating.

 

Back to top of page...

 

Stephen Browning: Norwich In the Great War

Published by Pen and Sword, paperback, 5th January 2016

On the eve of the Great War, Norwich was very much a city on the rise - an industrial and commercial powerhouse. It was certainly not, however, without its problems, not least the extreme poverty of some areas, such as the notorious Norwich Yards. This meticulously researched book looks at Norwich on the eve of conflict and charts, in detail, everyday life in the city, year on year, extensively drawing on original material from the period - much of it never before published in book form. It largely focuses on how it felt to live in the city: on the joys and trials, on the changes to people's lives, on the courage and humour, as well as the pride and determination shown by the people of The Fine City. Both dramatic events and the details of daily life are illustrated by many rare and fascinating photographs taken at the time. The massive contribution that Norwich's industry made to the war effort - especially in supplying hundreds of thousands of pairs of the perfect marching boot and in building the Sopwith Camel on Riverside - is celebrated.As are the incredible deeds of the heroes who travelled from Norwich to the fields of conflict, some of whom gained the Victoria Cross and the many more brave men who did not. Usefully, an 'At a Glance' section outlines the main world events against which home life unfolded. It concludes with a view of the city as the surviving troops finally came home. A separate appendix gives the route for a fascinating 'Great War Walk' around the city centre, taking in many of the places discussed throughout this book.

 

Norwich isn't my home city, Gloucester is, and I'm hoping to review "Gloucester in the Great War" at a later date in Books Monthly. But Norwich is my nearest city, and I've visited it many, many times since we moved to North Norfolk more than twenty years ago. This series of books is absolutely fascinating, and I take my hat off to the various authors who have painstakingly and lovingly compiled and researched them. The illustrations are terrific, and provide a slice of local history that is often hard to come by otherwise. There's a companion volume, Halifax, further down this page...

 

Back to top of page...

 

Simon Fowler: Tracing Your Great War Ancestors - The Somme

Published by Pen and Sword, paperback, 14th October 2014

If you want to find out about an ancestor who served on the Somme during the First World War during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 or at any time during the fighting in this sector of the Western Front this book is the ideal guide. It provides practical information and advice on how to conduct your research. It will help you to discover when and where your ancestors served and give you an insight into his experience of the war. It is also a fascinating introduction to researching the Great War as a whole. Simon Fowler outlines the course of the fighting on the Somme, introducing the many historical resources that you can use to explore the history for yourself. He identifies the key sources for family historians, including at The National Archives and Imperial War Museum and the many online sites that researchers can turn to. There is also advice on the literature, archives, museums and monuments that may help you to gain an insight into your ancestor's story.

 

I have a firm belief that archive material about our ancestors in the form of census records, births, deaths and marriages, military archives etc., should, by rights, belong to us, and there should be a small army of civil servants preparing and processing it for us to use at no cost. That may be a pipe dream, but it's just the way I feel. We often come across the mention of a site that purports to offer "free" information on your Great War ancestors and their military records. You can search these sites for nothing, but when the database rerturns the available results, you discover that you have to pay to access the actual material. That said, I am probably one of a minority of people who would love to continue to delve into my ancestry (and my wife's) but who can't actually afford it; the majority of people who indulge in this fascinating hobby will no doubt be reasonably well-heeled. That little rant over, to the book. Simon Fowler's book is one of a series of fantastic aides on tracing your ancestors from Pen and Sword, and as we get further into the centenary of the Great War, this one becomes more pertinent to me personally - my Grandfather, Arthur Robert Norman, joined the Middlesex Regiment in the summer of 1916 and was dead at the second battle of the Somme in August of the same year. Simon's book has several pointers for me to take my search further - when I have the resources to do it, that is. These books are invaluable sources of inspiration for aspiring genealogists, brilliantly written, brilliantly illustrated. I can't fault this one, and can't wait until my fortunes change and allow me once more to research the ancestors I never met...

 

Back to top of page...

 

William Langford & Jack Holroyd: The Great War Illustrated 1915

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 18th November 2015

The second in a series of five titles, which will cover each year of the war graphically. Countless thousands of pictures were taken by photographers on all sides during the First World War. These pictures appeared in the magazines, journals and newspapers of the time. Some illustrations went on to become part of post-war archives and have appeared, and continue to appear, in present-day publications and TV documentary programmes - many did not. The Great War Illustrated series will include in its pages many rarely seen images with individual numbers allocated and subsequently they will be lodged with the Taylor Library Archive for use by editors and authors. The Great War Illustrated 1915 covers the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and the battles that commenced on the Western Front that year. Some images will be familiar - many will be seen for the first time by a new generation interested in the war that changed the world forever. With over 1,000 painstakingly restored images, this will be a definitive picture reference book on 1915 and will appeal to enthusiasts, collectors and student of the period alike.

 

This is the second volume in a planned five-volume series from Pen and Sword and it is without doubt the finest collection of photographic records from the Great War it has ever been my privilege to review. My father used to have part of a set of encyclopedias into which I would happily dive - it was a strange assortment of varied subjects - there was a volume on French, the language and how to learn and speak it; there was a volume on Africa, in which I found a beautiful picture of a half-naked Nigerian girl, a page to which I returned time and time again; there was a volume on natural history, and there was a volume on the 1939-45 war. Probably published and printed some time in the 1950s, this was a volume Dad advised me not to read, as it had press photos of survivors (and those who did not survive) the Nazi death camps. These pictures were, he warned me, too distressing for a young boy to see. I know this was a book about WWII, but this 1915 volume reminds me of it, because of the nature and quality of the photographs reproduced therein. This has the look and feel of a modern-day publication on the outside, but inside it reproduces photographs from 1914-1918, and whilst it's wrong to feel nostalgic about the Great War, it is right to want to know about the people who are or were the subject of these photographs. It is a source of constant amazement to me that so many photographs were taken during the actual conflict - one can understand tommies and Germans (amongst others) posing in the trenches or in the streets of Belgium and France while they waited for their marching orders, but it's quite another to see photos of men manning machine guns or going "over the top" into battle - there are many distressing photos in these two magnificent books - pictures of dead people and horses, for example, but it's essential we never forget what happened in those five years at the beginning of the last century, and this series, for me, is the perfect reminder. My father, another Arthur Robert Norman (see my review of the previous book, Tracing Your Ancestors - the Somme, above), never saw his father (my grandfather). Neither did I. One day, I think I might find a photograph in a book like this of my grandfather amongst his mates in the Middlesex Regiment - maybe in the next volume, 1916. These books are the best to be had on the 1914-1918 conflict. Any number of books exist with all the words you could ever want to read about the Great War - these books are superior in every way because they showcase the lives and deaths of the ordinary men (and women) who took part in the conflict. It makes them real, and not just statistics. They are real people who lived and died in the most senseless war of all, and they are all relatives of people like you and I.

 

Back to top of page...

 

William Langford: The Great War Illustrated 1914

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 2nd December 2013

First of a series of five titles which will cover each year of the war graphically. Countless thousands of pictures were taken by photographers on all sides during the First World War. These pictures appeared in the magazines, journals and newspapers of the time. Some illustrations went on to become part of post war archives and have appeared, and continue to appear, in present-day publications and TV documentary programmes many did not. The Great War Illustrated series, beginning with the year 1914, will include in its pages many rarely seen images with individual numbers allocated and subsequently they will be lodged with the Taylor Library Archive for use by editors and authors. The Great War Illustrated 1914 covers the outbreak of hostilities, the early battles, the war at sea, forming of the great trench line stretching from the coast to the Swiss border and ends with the Xmas truce. Some images will be familiar many will be seen for the first time by a new generation interested in the months that changed the world for ever. As seen in Soldier and Essence magazines.

 

This is the first volume in the series - see my comments above on Book 2: 1915...

 

Back to top of page...

 

John Anderson & Victor Piuk: Trapped Behind Enemy Lines

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 30th October 2015

As 1914 ends, the war which was supposed to be over by Christmas, had settled down to an entrenched stalemate. Trapped behind enemy lines are many British soldiers who are hidden by brave French families. The risks are high for both fugitives and their protectors. This book tells their story, while focussing on a young Scot who emerges from hiding as Mademoiselle Louise, leading an amazing double life for almost two years, ending in betrayal. Sentenced to death by the Germans only an impassionate plea from his adopted mother saves his life. Others are not so lucky. After the war he speedily returns from captivity in Germany, via Scotland to France and marries his sweetheart, but life remains hard in the war ravaged country. This extraordinary story was only revealed by a British journalist in 1927. The Daily Telegraph readers' response was overwhelming and culminated in our French heroines being feted on a lavish visit to London's Mansion House and an audience with the King, Queen, Prince of Wales and a three year old Princess Elizabeth. Trapped Behind Enemy Lines covers an aspect of The Great War that has been overlooked. It will be of interest to those who love intrigue, adventure, love and betrayal.

 

Pure Boys' Own Paper stuff, this, the kind of story that filled the pages of adventure magazines like Argosy in the years between the wars and after. Inspirational stories of daring-do, unbelievable bravery and romance. Superb.

 

Back to top of page...

 

Andrew Rawson: The British Expeditionary Force - The 1915 Campaign

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 14th December 2015

The British Expeditionary Force - The 1915 Campaign is a thorough account of the BEF's actions during the battles of 1915 and early 1916, starting with the success at Neuve Chapelle in March and the nightmare gas attack at Ypres in April. It follows their back-to-back failures at Aubers and Festubert before the British used gas at Loos in September and the minor engagements of the early months of 1916. Each major battle and minor action is reconstructed in graphic detail and given equal treatment through the compiling of information from the Official History and printed histories, resulting in a balanced view of the most-talked-about side of the campaign - the British side. Detailed throughout are the reasonings behind each battle and the objectives, and there is discussion about how the infantry, the artillery, the cavalry and engineers worked together, often learning new techniques after bloody mistakes, with insights into the successes and failures of each attack.Together the narrative and over sixty new maps, that chart the day-by-day progress of each battle and action, provide an unique insight into the British Army's experience during those difficult days of 1915 and early 1916, as it came to terms the art of the offensive. Where possible the brave men who made a difference are commemorated; those who led the attacks, those who faced overwhelming counter attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Through this wide-ranging, up-to-date and balanced account of this catastrophic conflict, the real 1915 campaign experienced by the British Army and how its brave soldiers fought hard to achieve their objectives is explored.

 

The British Expeditionary Force was Britain's full-time army, and the first to be actively engaged in the Great War. This detailed account of their exploits in 1915 is another timely reminder of the sacrifices made, and the bravery of the men involved. Andrew Rawson gives us the clearest picture yet of these battles - much of it makes for difficult reading, but it is ultimately worth the effort.

 

Back to top of page...

 

Stuart Kent & Nick Nicholas: Agent Michael Trotobas and SOE in Northern France

Published by Pen and Sword, hardback, 30th November 2015

The exceptional exploits, courage and leadership of British SOE Agent Trotobas have long been recognised in France but not in his own country despite being recommended for the Victoria Cross. Captured on his first mission, Trotobas led a mass break-out from Mauzac Internment Camp and eventually returned to England. He immediately volunteered to return and established and ran a resistance group around Lille and the Pas de Calais for a year. As the Nazis closed in, he refused to leave the French men and women who had shown him complete loyalty. He paid the ultimate price, fighting to the death rather than undergo capture. As well as describing the operations of the Sylvestre-Farmer circuit, the authors record the rivalries and intrigues that sprang up culminating in betrayals and extraordinary demand for the court martial and execution of the Circuit's British second in command. This book is a major addition to the bibliography of the SOE and French Resistance.

 

SOE is the outfit for whom Violet Szabo worked - she was my all-time heroine of the second World War, and she is now joined by Trotobas. For many years my weekly comics ran picture stories about the exploits of the French Resistance and the special agents engaged in sabotaging the efforts of the Axis Alliance - this suberb and engaging book sets the record straight about Michael Trotobas - someone of whom I had never heard until this book landed on my doormat courtesy of Pen and Sword. Inspirational - an amazing story, very well written.

 

Back to top of page...

 

Jack Sheldon & Nigel Cave: Ypres 1914 - Messines

Published by Pen and Sword, paperback, 31st January 2015

Although fought over a relatively small area and short time span, the fighting was even more than usually chaotic and the stakes were extremely high. Authors Nigel Cave and Jack Sheldon combine their respective expertise to tell the story of the men - British, French, Indian and German - who fought over the unremarkable undulating ground that was to become firmly placed in British national conscience ever afterwards. At the end of October 1914 an increasingly desperate Falkenhayn, aware that his offensive in Flanders had stalled, decided to make one final effort to break through the Allied lines south of Ypres. Pulling together a large strike force, the so-called Army Group Fabeck, he launched a violent offensive designed to capture the Messines Ridge and to use this dominating terrain as a springboard for a further advance. Inadequately resourced, assembled in a rush, this thrust was soon in trouble.Confused fighting in the wooded areas to the south of the Menin Road slowed the advance and initial attempts to gain a foothold on the ridge failed. A supreme effort by the men of the 26th Infantry Division ultimately brought about the capture of the town of Messines and similar heroics by the Bavarian 6th Reserve Division led to the fall of Wytschaete, but it was all in vain. Yet again a valiant Allied defence had buckled, but not broken.

 

This is the kind of story that boys' comics like Commando and Warlord might have tackled in the post-war era golden age of British comics.Ordinary history books don't go into this much detail, and this extraordinary account by Sheldon and Cave is both moving and compelling.

 

Back to top of page...

 

David Millichope: Halifax In The Great War

Published by Pen and Sword, paperback, 30th November 2015

Halifax was surprised by the outbreak of war in August 1914 but within days the public mood had turned into a staggering display of unified support. Voluntary fund raising organisations sprang up and bore witness to an incredible self-help ethic that supported the troops at the front, their dependant families at home and the returning wounded. People came to fear the Zeppelins, were forced to retrieve their children from German naval guns in Scarborough and read with horror the stories of local lads gassed at the front. Residents of German descent found themselves in difficult situations, and Belgian refugees were offered sanctuary. Struggling local industry was revitalised by government orders for Khaki cloth, machine tools and munitions. Halifax can claim to have contributed many interesting technological items such as bomb release mechanisms, flame projectors and Tommy's iconic bowl shaped steel helmet. Women were increasingly employed in traditional male occupations. In 1917 the food crisis fermented tensions, but at the end of 1918 there was triumph of a sort.

 

Another of those amazingly well-documented accounts of our cities and how they coped with the onset of the Great War. Like the volume on Norwich (see above), this marvellous book is chock-full of superb illustrations and personal accounts and reminiscences, together with anecdotes on how Halifax contributed to the war effort. Brilliant!

 

Back to top of page...

 

 


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its eighteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.