Category Archives: History

C. S. Forester, Hornblower and ‘The General’

It is C.S. Forester month at the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction Reading Group, and I have been reading (with considerable pleasure) the first Hornblower novel, The Happy Return (1937), but also re-reading The General (1936), Forester’s brilliant fictionalisation of the Liddell Hart view of the Great War and its military leadership. Reading the two novels […]

The Somme, 99 years on…

The Battle of the Somme was titanic on the ground ravaging the Picardy countryside, but the concussion waves rippling out from the sickening crash of each artillery shell reached every corner of Britain and its Empire. In other words, the military history is actually the key to a myriad of other histories unfolding hundreds of […]

1864

Over the past few Saturday nights I’ve been watching 1864, the latest BBC4 serial imported from Denmark. And the  more I have seen of it, the greater my sense of déjà vu. The sadistic schoolmaster preaching mindless patriotism; the unpleasant and corrupt members of the upper classes; the utterly decent lower classes; the admirable gipsies; […]

Letchworth (a footnote to John Buchan)

In John Buchan’s  Mr Standfast (1919), Richard Hannay is sent on an undercover mission to ‘the Garden City of Biggleswick’, to live among the   high-minded pacifists who set the place’s tone. One of the residents describes the city: ‘It is one great laboratory of thought,’ said Mrs Jimson. ‘It is glorious to feel that […]

‘The Tribunal’

Councillor Hopwood (to a conscientious objector at Shaw Tribunal, asking for exemption): I think you are exploiting God to save your own skin. It is nothing but deliberate and rank blasphemy. A man who would not help to defend his country and womankind is a coward and a cad. You are nothing but a shivering […]

The Women Police, and Warwick Deeping

It’s a hundred years since the introduction of women police in Britain, and there will be a documentary about their history on BBC4 next Monday. I wonder whether the programme will explain how very unpopular they were at first, especially with women. An interesting essay by Clare Langley-Hawthorne fills in the history. The first female […]

‘Oh What a Lovely War’ on tour

It’s over fifty years since I first saw Oh What a Lovely War at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. The anniversary revival at Stratford East gained some good reviews last year, so I took the opportunity yesterday to catch up with the touring version of the production at  Manchester Opera House. I went with mixed feelings. […]

Logistics and Support

Almost all writing about the War is about the sharp end – the fighting. The only novel I’ve read that is set in a labour battalion is Robert Keable’s Simon called Peter (and the subject of that is the chaplain’s sexual awakening, rather than the essential forestry work carried out by the soldiers who are […]

Murderous Tommies

The Manual of Military Law published by the War Office in 1914 explicitly stated: The object of military law is to maintain discipline among the troops and other persons forming part of or following an army. Inevitably there were occasions when this objective clashed with what today we think of as the human rights of […]

Churchill on the Kaiser

‘At every crisis he crumpled. In defeat he fled; in revolution he abdicated; in exile he remarried.’

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