Category Archives: Reviews

Grenade, British and Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades- Book Review

“Grenade, British and  Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades” was first published back in 2001 but I have only recently added a copy to my reference library and I suspect many of you, like me, had not realised just what an excellent book it is. The book is currently selling for eye watering prices on Amazon, however far more affordable copies are available for purchase and I include a link at the end for a more sensibly priced supplier.imageGrenades have been used for many centuries, but rather fell out of favour in the nineteenth century. The Great War though brought the back to the frontline and there was a massive proliferation of these weapons in many different configurations. Happily for the authors and ourselves, these grenades were logically numbered from ‘Grenade No1’ onwards in a standard sequence and the authors look at each design in turn, drawing heavily on contemporary sources for descriptions, preparation and use of these munitions. Obviously some grenades get more detail than others- the various iterations of Mills bomb being an obvious example. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and original diagrams illustrating the internal workings of each grenade. In a nice touch, many of the sections on grenades include information on the packaging of the grenades and the markings on ammunition boxes.imageThe book is slightly weaker on more modern grenades, for the simple fact that as many are still in use or covered by the thirty year ruling, they were still classified at the time of the book’s publication. With the authors hailing from Australia, there is also quite a bit of detail on Australian grenades, but less so on other commonwealth countries, although Canada is covered briefly. The book is rounded out by a section on grenade launchers and launching cartridges- an often overlooked topic as well as methods of carrying the grenades and a few examples of heroism from soldiers who won the VC with grenades.imageThis is truly an authoritative volume and I have learnt an awful lot from it- indeed I heartily wish I had access to it whilst writing some of the grenade posts on to blog as it would have helped provide me with a lot more information. I have no hesitation in recommending this book, and copies can be purchased for £40 each plus postage from here.image

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Visit to Somerset Military Museum

Living in Yorkshire the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton is not somewhere I get to go very often, however owing to the need to visit family last weekend I found myself with an hour to spare whilst in Taunton so decided to revisit the museum. The museum has had a major facelift since I last went and I was eager to see the refreshed displays.

I was not disappointed as the museum is one of those rare things- a newly refurbished display that understands that what visitors actually want to see is artefacts! Display cases radiate out from the centre (which has a wonderful captured mountain gun) and they cover the various regiments of Somerset, with a definite emphasis on the Somerset Light Infantry. The other county regiments are there, but the focus is very much the SLI, which is fine with me as it was my grandfather’s regiment!

The displays cover much of what you would expect- uniforms, weapons, medals etc. A few of the more interesting artefacts include a couple of wooden grave markers from WW1, some truly impressive mess silver and a wonderfully engraved trench art waterbottle from the Great War. The display cases are densely packed with objects, but it never feels overwhelming and there is space to tell the stories of those behind the artefacts.

Finally I cannot end without mentioning that at the moment the glorious Lady Elizabeth Butler painting “Remnants of an Army”,  depicting the Retreat from Kabul in 1842 is on loan to the museum. This is one of the great pieces of military art and would be worth a trip to see alone without even considering the rest of this fantastic museum.

The Somerset Military Museum is part of the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle and is free to enter.

Book Review- The Last Enfield

The story of the SA80 rifle is not a happy one. Whilst the current version of the weapon, the A2, is a perfectly serviceable weapon, its predecessor the A1 version was beset with problems and never gained the trust of those who were forced to defend their lives with it. Despite, or perhaps because of, its troubled history the story of the weapon’s design and adoption is a fascinating one that is told in Steve Raw’s excellent book “The Last Enfield, SA80 The Reluctant Rifle”. imageThis book, published by Collectors Grade Publications, covers the history of the rifle from the earliest proof of concept rifles, through prototypes, troop trials guns and finally the production rifles. The author was an armourer himself for many years and clearly had access to many people involved in the design of the weapon- some interesting components that should have been thrown in the bin were rescued and help tell the tale of the numerous changes made to the rifle.imageThe author is commendably thorough in telling all the ins and outs of the story, and pulls no punches in highlighting the bureaucratic and political interference that caused the project to come in over budget, late and with so many problems to the weapons system that even at its official unveiling the bipod of the light support weapon was held together with electrical tape!imageThe book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs of not just the weapons themselves, but troops using them on trials, publicity material from the factory and illustrations from the various manuals produced to accompany the weapon. The author also briefly covers the accessories provided with the weapon, and the updates needed to these to replace defective components and poorly designed features that broke with alarming regularity. imagePerhaps what is the most interesting, if disturbing, part of the book is the story of how officials repeatedly redefined the parameters of tests for the rifle when it repeatedly failed to meet them! The problems with the weapon system were officially denied for over fifteen years, with numerous modifications failing to fix them. The Germans of H&K managed to identify and solve most of them in a few months!imageThis book was published back in 2003 so does not cover the developments with the rifle over the last fourteen years and indeed the author quotes official documents predicting a new weapons system would replace the SA80 by 2015- it didn’t and hasn’t yet! Despite being published so long ago, the book is readily available and can be obtained for £40 here. For anyone with an interest in the modern British armed forces it is an essential, if sobering, addition to the bookshelf.

Book Review “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”

As a collector of military ephemera I was very pleased to learn that a book had been published on collecting war publications, and indeed had been out for a couple of years. I am not quite sure how I had missed this particular book, but I quickly ordered myself a copy of Arthur Ward’s book “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”. The book soon arrived and I settled down for a much anticipated read.imageThe book is published by Pen and Sword on high quality glossy paper and is profusely illustrated. The book is divided up into chapters covering The Home Front, Entertainment, Children, Civilian Militias and Military Manuals. These are bookended by chapters putting the materials into context and how to care for them. The text is well written and flows well making the book pleasurable to read and I found the opening and closing chapters very interesting. imageThe author starts by looking at the state of propaganda in both the UK and Germany during the Great War, with an interesting discussion of the artistic merits of German posters of the time. Unfortunately although many of these posters are described, very few are illustrated and I felt that for something relying so heavily on visual media the actual posters would have helped get across the thrust of the argument.imageI found the thematic chapters highly frustrating. I recognise that context is very important, but I felt the emphasis was too heavily weighted towards context and there was not enough about the publications themselves. There are many books about life on the home front: what I wanted from this book was a look at the printed materials used on the home front: how heavily were they censored, how were supplies of paper maintained, did people respond positively or cynically to the materials they were presented with? Unfortunately nearly all of each chapter was devoted to context and very little to substance which was disappointing.

The book ends with some very useful information on preserving the documents and I learnt a lot from this. A set of useful appendices are included including one on Penguin books in wartime. Again I feel the author missed a trick here as there was clearly much more of a story to tell here and perhaps this should have been a full chapter of the book itself rather than tucked away as an appendix.imageOverall there is a lot to recommend this book, it is lavishly produced and there is much to learn from it, however I came away from it feeling rather unsatisfied and that is something of a pity for what should have been an important addition to the study of the period.

Copies of the book are available from Amazon here.

Museum Visit to Bankfield, Halifax

In these days of budget cut backs and squeezed spending in the heritage sector, it is always nice to go to a good military museum. If that museum is free to walk around, has a fantastic temporary exhibition and is on your doorstep then all the better! I am very fortunate that a few miles from where I live is Bankfield Museum in Halifax, home of the Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum and currently hosting an award winning temporary exhibition on the Great War.

The Duke of Wellington’s museum has been here for many years, but has been refreshed and updated many times. It covers the history of the Regiment from its earliest days until it was absorbed into the Yorkshire Regiment in recent years. Display cases show uniforms, weapons, equipment and items related to Regimental history with a small number of tableaux to add to the mix. This is really well done with loads of information and lots to look at (Imperial War Museum take note- we want to actually look at objects not play with a touch screen!). Among the highlights are the Duke of Wellington’s boots (yes the original wellington boot) and a reconstructed WW1 dugout. From the Second World War onwards, you can pick up a little speaker and hear veterans stories from those who served with the regiment at the various battles.

The top floor is playing host to a wonderful exhibition on World War One, sadly this is only a temporary exhibit and will only be available to view until 2018. There is a good selection of objects, the M08 machine gun and pre-war Duke of Wellington’s uniforms being amongst my favourites, and a lot of information on how the war affected people in the local area. There is a research room and some fun dressing up clothes for the younger visitors, but the emphasis is very much on the objects and stories from the local area. Some of the uniforms in the main display case are reproduction, unavoidable with originals being over 100 years old now, but this doesn’t detract from the power of the display and the repro items are clearly flagged up to avoid confusion.

I cannot recommend these exhibitions too highly, with the current squeeze on culture these sort of initiatives need all the support they can get so please go along and enjoy the museum if you possibly can- the more we use these facilities the less likely they are to be closed down. As an aside if you are also a fan of the Old West, there is a second temporary exhibition on this open until about April.

For more information about visiting please look here.

Airborne Headdress Book Review

It is always nice to be able to add another book to the reference shelf and Military Mode publishing can normally be relied upon to produce something rather special. The latest addition to the bookcase is Daniel Fisher and Oliver Lock’s book British Airborne Headdress. s733876465344419401_p547_i12_w800This is a lavishly produced book covering the berets, helmets and other sundry headgear worn by the Parachute Regiment and other airborne units such as Glider troops and units attached to airborne divisions. The book starts with a detailed look at the famous red beret and there is a nice run down of its history and plenty of photos of different examples from the last seventy years. These are mainly taken from the collections of the Airborne Museum and museums in Normandy and Arnhem so there is a focus on wartime examples, but post war examples are also illustrated, albeit in far smaller numbers. Of particular interest are a number of relic beret fragments dug up in archaeological digs at Arnhem which show how the berets were modified by troops at the time.

The second main area of the book is on specialist helmets used by airborne forces. Many examples are shown, all beautifully illustrated and covering many subtle variations:s733876465344419401_p547_i7_w1200s733876465344419401_p547_i8_w1200s733876465344419401_p547_i9_w1200Again the focus is on the Second World War, where much of the early development was undertaken- the basic design then remaining unchanged until the late 1970s. The book does cover later developments, and there are some interesting examples of helmets modified by Paras for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The book ends with a brief look at other headdress worn by airborne troops- pith helmets, FS caps, jungle hats and cold weather gear. Again the thing one is struck by is how much effort is put into modifying these to give them a unique ‘airborne’ identity.s733876465344419401_p547_i13_w800This book is a tour-de-force by the authors and the subject is unlikely to be covered in such detail again. It must be remembered however that this is a very specialist book, more so I would argue than the Denison book we looked at earlier in the year. I must confess I am not a huge expert on airborne troops and their equipment and some of the subtleties described were rather lost on me. Nevertheless it is an excellent addition to the pantheon of British militaria books and if airborne kit is your thing I heartily recommend it. For the more lay reader I would suggest thumbing through a copy and deciding if it really appeals before splashing out your cash; like all Military Mode books it is not cheap, however as ever for the quality of production and content I feel it is money well spent.

Copies of the book can be bought here.

Pre-Service Training Corps for Girls Book Review

A few weeks back I reviewed Jon Mill’s book on the MTC, as mentioned then this was one volume in a mini-series covering various lesser known Home Front organisations. Definitely amongst the more obscure is the subject of another of the volumes covering the various training corps for girls set up during the war:skmbt_c36416102111010_0001At the start of the Second World War there was a general feeling that with the displacement of the young from their homes through evacuation and the loss of parental figures as fathers went off to fight and mothers had important war work to do, something needed to be done to direct the energies of the young. Whilst male pre-military training schemes were already in existence (cadet units etc), provision for girls was limited with the Girl Guides being the closest thing available. This book covers a number of different training schemes, set up independently and the various legal wrangles that went on between them and the government for official recognition and some degree of central support. The impression one gets is of small enterprises run by enthusiastic women with miniscule resources. As ever the book combines rare archive photographs with even rarer photographs of surviving insignia and uniforms:capture6Although only a slim volume, the story related is an interesting one and I believe one that has not been written about before. As with many of these volumes the subject matter is very obscure- indeed this is far more peripheral than even the MTC story. With that in mind I cannot see many people going out of their way to pick up a copy of this book unless they have a specific interest in it, however if you do come across a copy on your travels at a good price pick it up as it is an interesting little read.capture9