This year has been busy which has made the top five of 2019 a fairly easy selection. The cream of the review crop this time represent some of the best history books I’ve read.
They span a range of subjects as varied as the people of Japan to the origins of western civilisation. Their authors represent many styles and disciplines, but all have succeeded in writing history that leaps off the page and allows the reader to engage with it.
Therefore, in no particular order we have:
‘unhurried … never boring, always lucid, with some of the most fluid prose imaginable and the most serene voice I’ve encountered, Japan Story is not just a good read, it is a revelation’
‘Revolutionary in every sense.’
‘The Anarchy is worthy of it’s author’s ambition as a brilliantly realised and enjoyably written history which looks out at it’s subject with an eye to both the past and the future.’
‘I cannot praise the ingenuity and hard work that went into this book enough. I’m not just crafting pleasing blurbs here when I say it is perfect for serious scholar and newcomer alike.’
‘I predicted soon after the launch that if Gurkha Odyssey was even half as well written as General Duffell’s eloquent and sincerely delivered talk, then it would be a brilliant book and I am delighted to assure you that I feel 100% justified in that prediction.’
Please join me in 2020 for more adventures in Historyland. Josh.
In this book Chartrand is allowed to flex his muscles on his pet subject, the hybrid tactical strategic form that allowed the French to maintain their dominance over the rich backwoods fur trade from the late 17th century to the mid 18th.
Readers of Chartrand’s books will not be surprised to read of how the French governors hit on this stratagem, learning it as a result of fighting the Iroquois and then turning it on the American colonies. Though never formalised into a rigid doctrine these tactics were universally understood and maintained as a sort of living tradition, kept sharp because at its heart, it was practiced constantly by those engaged in the fur trade and the First Nation allies that they learned from.
Chartrand has written many books for Osprey, all rooted in archival research, and almost all have, with various levels of intensity, promoted the thesis of a conscious Franco-Canadian adoption of wilderness warfare to deflect large scale invasions and to control large swathes of largely uninhabited territory.
This book is the first that I have noticed by the author which is solely about this subject, rather than an example of it. He strives to explain the why and how of it by charting the evolution of the strategy from the raids on the Hudson Bay in the 17th century to the more well known raids and campaigns of the 18th.
At the same time, the illustrations, provided by fellow veteran Osprey contributor, Adam Hook, working in a format that suits his talents, give an idea of the look and equipment of the raiders mentioned in the text and the results are interesting to see.
Starting with the pioneers of the system and the first official raids in 1686 and 87 the book covers ‘King William’s War,’ the administration of Frontenac and the raids and counter raids between New France, the Iroquois and ‘New England’ that made up that conflict in the 1690s. Moving along to Queen Anne’s War which swiftly flared up in 1702, unwanted and barely a year after ‘peace,’ the famous raid on Deerfield is covered, alongside Haverhill and an interesting overview of the Fox Wars of 1712-1737.
This great preponderance of early subjects is refreshing, being as so few of these subjects are widely covered. About four pages are given to the more well known events of the 1740’s and 50’s that he author has covered at length in other titles. The last ten or so pages cover the men, equipment and methods utilised during this very long period, which nevertheless saw little radical variation in either manpower, material or doctrine after the widespread adoption of long range raiding as a defensive strategy.
Raiders from New France offers a very interesting survey of the origins of New France’s territorial expansion and defence.
“I predicted soon after the launch that if Gurkha Odyssey was even half as well written as General Duffell’s eloquent and sincerely delivered talk, then it would be a brilliant book and I am delighted to assure you that I feel 100% justified in that prediction. ”
A profusion of lali, the distinctive red piping that adorns the full dress uniform of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, and one of their antecedent regiments, was evident in the large and well appointed crowd that attended the book launch of Lieutenant General Sir Peter Duffell’s Gurkha Odyssey at the National Army Museum this November.
A glance at the black and red dicing which ivied the neckties of many amongst that small sea of dark jackets, some proudly rifle green, listening intently to the author talk in the clean, antiseptic, surroundings of the strip lit Foyle Centre conference room on the lower ground floor, could leave a viewer with no doubts that the principle pre amalgamation regiment represented in the audience was the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Goorkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles.)
This scarlet thread of regimental tradition snakes back all the way to the siege of Delhi in 1857 and is picked up on the spine of General Duffell’s book, where the Sirmoor badge is prominently displayed, the prince of Wales’ feathers surrounded by a moat of lali. A significant device, bound to evoke 200 years of regimental achievements to all those present who, wether they were Sirmoors or not, at one time or another, wore or wear the emblem of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The crossed kukri’s shone brightly on many a lapel that night.
Rightly so the Royal Gurkha Rifles still take the histories and traditions of the regiment’s that came before them very seriously, indeed they always have, for since the earliest times of service in the EIC’s Bengal Army, the Gurkhas and especially the Sirmoors have striven to maintain their separate and singular identity apart from ‘the ruck,’ as Peter Duffell explains in Gurkha Odyssey.
Since the defence cuts in 2004-2006, when as Brigadier Allan Mallinson put it, ‘Regiments whose names the Duke of Wellington would have seen each day in the “morning states” during the long years of the Peninsular War and Waterloo’ dissapeared from the army’s order of battle, the regimental traditions, once central to the high standards of the British Army have come under threat. With once distinguished Regiments being reduced to Battalions in larger, unfamiliar, and as yet impersonal district and national, ‘super Regiments’ which for many swallowed the individual character of the units assigned to them.
Therefore just as the simple flash of red piping on a green uniform can conjure to those who learned the ‘Sirmoor system’ the narrative of Gurkha Odyssey is bound up with the threads of a proud regimental legacy of service, duty and sacrifice. It is a celebration of the virtues of the Gurkha soldier as well as a personal journey.
Duffell’s long association with the Gurkhas, his Odyssey, began when national service brought him into the ranks of the 60th Rifles. Here he started a learning process, quite distinct from basic training and other initiations necessary for national servicemen and volunteers. The Rifle Brigade’s cherished traditions are based on their motto ‘quick and bold,’ which refers to a soldier’s mind as well as his physical ability and it is no coincidence that both the 60th Rifles and the Sirmoor Rifles shared a great many ideals. Wishing to continue in a military career, Duffell, then a junior officer was advised to apply to join the 2nd Goorkhas, a ‘sister’ unit of the 60th, with an association going back to when the Gurkhas were a ‘Local Battalion’ proving themselves in action alongside the 60th at Delhi Ridge in 1857.
Learning the ‘Sirmoor system’ was chief among the responsibilities for all newly arriving officers and men at Slim Barracks, Singapore during the mid-20th century. For British officers, much depended, and still does, on how a new arrival is able to adapt to the special requirements of Gurkha service, demanded by their founder, General Frederick Young, which even a casual glance at memoirs from officers, and indeed the rare accounts of Riflemen, who have served in the Gurkhas, will tell you have not changed since the inception of the Goorkha Local Battalions in 1815 by Frederick Young.
A key theme in General Duffell’s book is the importance and steadying influence of tradition and history, in not only a regiment, but in it’s members. He does this by beginning the book with his own introduction to military life and his new regiment, which he joined on its highest and holiest day, Delhi Day. This allows the author to interrupt his own remembrances of service and introduce the notable moments of regimental history, and indeed wider Gurkha Brigade history, which also has it’s influence, before returning to the events he witnessed himself, which now form part of their lali edged legacy. A particularly striking moment stood out to me as I read through the chapter dedicated to the Afghan Wars and came to a subheading labelled ‘The Fourth Afghan War’ which summarised some of the recent service of the regiment. It’s attendant start date was clear but a question mark stood beside it. This conflict, which occurred and is indeed still occurring during my own lifetime has it’s own place in the story, but is as yet an unfinished unfinished chapter.
Fittingly the section relating to the Gurkhas in those much forgotten post war conflicts in Malaya and Borneo during the last century, where the author saw active service alongside many veterans of the war with Japan, takes centre stage as the book progresses. Then as now in the ‘4th Afghan War’ operations were carried out in remote and difficult-to-access regions against a numerous and dogged enemy, where the employment of heavily armed patrols and a great dependence on Helicopters pervaded. The tough and amiable qualities of the Gurkha soldier are never better showcased than in such unconventional campaigns where the local population need befriended and the insurgent enemy suppressed.
No book about the Gurkhas ever fails to observe the humour and stoicism of the Nepalese Riflemen and the author’s adroit turn of phrase and polished imagery brings these qualities, and many individual vignettes, to life in softly humorous style. At the launch itself many of the anecdotes contained in the book, such as the Wodehousian manner of a rifleman as he alerted his officer to the presumptuous appearance of the enemy, drew appreciative laugher from the audience. The General’s extensive travels and his great familiarity with the language and character of Nepal allows him to describe with ease and confidence, themes and places far removed from Catterick and Shorncliffe.
This book shows us how vital the Gurkhas have been to the success of the British Army and to the defence of the realm in peace and war, not least the positive impact the existence of Gurkha Regiments has on Nepal and the good investment the loyal and long serving Nepalis represent for Britain. It offers examples of the distinctive role this corps has played in the past and that which is continues to play today and into the future.
A word must be retained for the visual matter included in the volume, with delicate sketch portraits of Gurkha servicemen adorning most of the chapter headings and not a few watercolour scenes in the well illustrated plate sections executed in a controlled yet free, atmospheric style by Ken Howard OBE RA.
In finishing the book, I reflected on the sure but humble way in which the author gave his talk and how the tone of his writing seemed to match his personality. Since that night I have discovered that many of the soldiers I occasionally converse with over social media had served at one time or another under his command in Hong Kong and each, even those from other regiments, remember him fondly.
Where would we be without the Gurkhas?
On the night of the launch the obvious affection reserved for him was impossible to ignore as an extensive line of well wishers formed to have books signed. The manner in which he interacted with them and comrades alike was moving to see. A kind word and a handshake came with each signature, and I overheard a dignified Nepalese serviceman, his rank obscure in his civilian clothes, but his regimental affiliation obvious, observe to a retired gentleman of the Gurkha Logistics Corps, how proud he was of Sir Peter and how pleased he was at he turnout, even if he had expected more senior Gurkha officers to have attended. Trust me when I say, it would have been difficult to fit many more people in.
Peter Duffell ends his odyssey on a hopeful note, observing that though in small ways the Gurkha soldier has changed since the 1960’s, the changes are only positive for the new recruits passing through to Catterick from Pokhara. His views on the future of the regiment he helped to shape when the future of the Brigade was in jeopardy are no less encouraging.
The new challenges the Royal Gurkha Rifles must face in a changing, increasingly nationalised, world will further shape the regiment and it was announced this year that for the first time girls will undertake the formidable selection course alongside the thousands of boys eager to prove themselves, meanwhile the 70 year old agreement ensuring the ever reliable pool of recruits comes under reappraisal. As ever vigilance will be required to see the RGR through, but I have no doubt that they will ever succeed to rise to the challenge.
I predicted soon after the launch that if Gurkha Odyssey was even half as well written as General Duffell’s eloquent and sincerely delivered talk, then it would be a brilliant book and I am delighted to assure you that I feel 100% justified in that prediction.
This book is neither an autobiography, nor is it the personal record of a campaign. It is about leadership, comradeship, war, courage, ethos and belonging. In addition it is a very specific sort of memoir (if that is the right word) because this is a Gurkha memoir.
I am always struck by the strong sense of continuity that links all the Gurkha memoirs I’ve ever read. Wether it is the journals and letters of Major Reid who defended Hindu Rao House on Delhi Ridge in 1857, the similar testimonies of officer’s who served at Gallipoli, or the more traditional single volume memoirs like that written by Patrick Davis who served in the 4/8th Gurkhas in Burma during WW2, the tone and spirit of each is recognisably that of one who has served in a Gurkha regiment.
Each new account maintains a recognisable flavour that was noticeable in the last, the strong bonds of attachment to the Brigade is always there, an Arthurian dedication to the traditions of both Brigade, regiment and battalion is as plain as a Kukri in each one. A strong familial loyalty and affection between officer’s and men, quite above what one normally expects in regimental remembrances, and robustly marked no matter the generation, is the subject is interlaced into each narrative.
When you read how the author of this book would rarely leave HQ at Now Zad (Nawzad) without making sure his commanding officer was being taken care of, and ordering a cup of tea to be sent in, it makes me feel that in all meaningful ways if a Sirmoor of 1857 was to suddenly drop into a sangar position at Now Zad with Kailash Limbu and his Riflemen, he would fit into the rhythm of regimental life so naturally that within a week the only way you’d be able to tell which one had travelled into the future and vice versa would be by the ability to speak English.
This book is notable as it is the first official record of active service, told by a Nepalese soldier in the British Army. The majority of first hand material on the Gurkhas comes from their British officers and from the outset I was intrigued to know if the great respect and affection the ‘sahebs’ have always felt for their men over two centuries was as reciprocal as it seemed. I was also curious to see if the view from the ranks was the same in terms of the fearless and invincible reputation the Brigade fosters.
An Ordinary Rifleman.
As he points out at the beginning, Kailash Limbu is very much a ‘typical’ rifleman. Firstly he represents the traditional recruiting base, drawn from the castes of the middle hills of Nepal, familiar to Gurkha recruiters since the 19th century. He did not, in his opinion, do anything out of the ordinary during his deployments in Afghanistan, he did not hold off dozens of insurgents single handed until his ammunition ran out and then charge the enemy armed only with his Kukri, he was mentioned in dispatches, but on the whole the author declares he merely did his duty the way only a Gurkha can; celer et audax.
This sense of regimental individualism, constantly alluded to by Kailash Limbu, of being a British Army Gurkha, is a pleasing reminder of how the pre 2006 British Army used to see itself. As a large machine of unique and individual parts, each with it’s own special legacy to uphold, now many of the most famous, due to budgetary and political necessity, have been amalgamated into ‘super Regiments’ like so much newspaper papier-mâché in a collage.
As yet the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which they have been called since their own amalgamation in 1993, retain this fiercely independent spirit, due to some adroit and surgical adjustments by the Brigade when the fate of all the Gurkhas hung in the balance, being able to point back through their own for the most part individual histories as a way of establishing their unique esprit de Corps.
The colour sergeant’s claim to being an average rifleman certainly rings true, the book is less about heroics as it is grit, routine and professionalism. The fact that an ‘average rifleman’ equates to something bordering on superhuman to civilians like me is beside the point that this story is authentic in it’s unvarnished portrayal of being trapped in an isolated Afghan village called Now Zad during active operations in what some senior officers are now calling the Fourth Afghan War.
Rarely will Gurkha memoirs dwell on the inner emotions of the Riflemen, the typical, joking stoicism of the lower ranks of the Brigade is almost as difficult to pierce as one of their picquet lines, yet Kailash Limbu’s section is a collection of human beings. They fear, they hope, they bleed and they depend on each other as a tight knit family with almost all the attendant quirks that goes along with it.
The author is fearlessly honest about combat and the Gurkha attitude to the enemy. There is nothing terribly glorious in the firefights that take place, which run from the perilous to the macabrely absurd. Kailash Limbu is gifted with a sharp, matter-of-fact, yet highly visual style of writing that sucks the reader into a very alien and frightening world that he and his men had to operate in for about a month under near constant attack and hostile observation.
It offers a piercing glimpse into what Colour Sergeant Limbu calls, in the spare terminology of army vernacular, ‘Contact.’ The intricacies and procedures of modern warfare and one can readily appreciate how disciplined a soldier’s mind must be in order to function effectively under fire. The Taliban tested the strength and resilience of the Gurkhas repeatedly, but, as the author proudly declared on a few occasions, no matter how hard they pushed, the outnumbered Gurkhas pushed back a little harder. As far as he is concerned the Gurkha is a human being but a well trained one, and as a soldier, imbued with a purpose to overcome challenges without regard to danger and who, no matter what he is against, will win in the end.
Tactically the modern soldier has the advantage of being able to rely on technology to offset numerical inferiority. Increasingly since the 1960’s the Air Force has been the ‘force multiplier’ to the infantryman that the Navy had been to their predecessors, and in Afghanistan especially this means combat helicopters as much as altitude fighters. Some reading this might recall articles reporting that serving officer’s pleaded for more attack helicopters during the height of the fighting in Helmand, and this book offers practical scenarios as to why. Even his Riflemen, CS Limbu States, who after so many long range contacts wanted nothing more than to fight hand to hand with the enemy, were cheered to know air support was on it’s way.
In the quiet moments between contacts when they are mostly preparing for the next one, the Gurkhas chat and play games to pass the time, sharing stories and generally keeping each other’s spirits up. Though the CS makes it clear home life needed to be kept separate in order to focus properly on the endless routine of preparing for the next emergency, his own personal story of how he became a Gurkha is revealed through many conversations with the gallant Gaz, a fine soldier, with an unconquerable good humour and a useful competitive streak. Through Gaz’ curiosity and admiration of Kailash Limbu we get to know our author and the rigours of Gurkha selection and motivation a little better.
Simple things stand out, the first being how vital it is for combat and field efficiency that there are enough experienced NCO’s, such as the author, at a basic level. The Colour Sergeant’s ability to keep everyone on their game in and out of contact, delivering enough of the personal touch to keep spirits high, unit bonds strong, and offer enough examples of leadership while always ensuring discipline is taken seriously, cannot be praised too highly.
The generous Kailash praises not only the men of his section, support services and the ever ready airforce but his senior officer’s as well, who he describes as fine and caring commanders. He is gracious enough to leave the names of those he gently critiques; anonymous, and as all good soldiers do, he praises the courage of his enemy.
Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu’s heart pounding account of active service is filled with honesty and humanity. It is that of a capable regular modern soldier, proud of his regiment and the men he has served alongside, confident in his and their own abilities to take on whatever challenge might occur not just because of their training, or weaponry but because they wear the same badge. It leaves a reader doubly glad and deeply humbled that the Gurkhas, for whatever reason, choose to come so far and overcome so much to serve in the British Army.
*Note. Author, Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu is currently listed on Army websites with the rank WO2 and was of a lower rank during the incident he describes.
For clarity, the title of this blog refers to a book I have ‘written.’ I qualify this word ‘written’ because it isn’t the same as finishing a book. The details of which will be revealed closer to it’s actual completion. Today is a marker, which is more to commemorate and in a way exorcise the organisation of this book, and especially the imposter syndrome that goes along with it from my system.
In that spirit ladies and gentlemen :
To the Generals and Princes and Peshwas and Rajahs. To the Begums and Subedars, privates, sepoys, merchants and all those suffering bullocks. Even to the feared pindarries, and to the sowars, dragoons and horses. To lascars and gunners, to the cannons the fortresses. To the muddy rivers, green gats, and shimmering cities of legend and fable.
To the multitudes of camp followers, the hirracahs and their camels, to tumbrels and the limbers of the flying artillery. To Hindustan, to the Doab, to Malwa and even to the famine haunted plains of the Deccan. To the Afghan, Rohilla, Sikh, Jat, Rajput and Maratha, to the Ducks, Mulls and Quai Hais and Redcoats; yes to the Nabobs and Governors General as well, so too I address, John Company and the MP’s and mandarins in Whitehall but to India most of all.
To these with whom I have kept solitary company for the better part of a year, unbidden, who have talked to me but never listened, and imparted their secrets to my dull ear. To them all I offer my thanks and bid them farewell, and hope they would look with remembrance on their story which I tell. I’m sorry beyond words that you got stuck with me as your latest storyteller. It was your bad luck, for there are many better.
Following the successful reception of his Men At Arms titles on the armies of South America, Gabriele Esposito has brought us a concise overview of a momentously important but very little known (in the non Latin world) war.
The Paraguayan War or the war of the triple alliance occurred as a byproduct of a civil war in Uruguay that sucked into its struggle the states which orbited it.
Eventually Paraguay was pitted against Brazil, Uruguay & Argentina, & though at first tactically successful was broken & decimated by the end of what proved to be South America’s largest & costliest conflict.
Esposito’s book, illustrated by the gripping artwork of Giuseppe Rava, takes on a very complicated and understudied (in English) subject that spanned the years 1864 – 1870, was fought over at least four countries & involved multiple armies, politicians & generals from all sides overseeing over 100,000 men.
Though thorough, the scale of the subject is not met by the treatment, which must necessarily brush over events in order to paint the larger picture. As a campaign book that covers multiple campaigns, the work should perhaps have focused on the cataclysmic events leading up to the Battle of Tuyutí.
Osprey has commissioned books in this series that cover wide periods of time before. But most suffer, as a result, from a lack of detail that is usually relied on in Campaign titles to draw a reader in.
Single campaigns that carried on through several years suit the format best. The optimum is to focus on a single operation, and I fear that this title flounders for want of focus in such a small space.
Nevertheless this title is very welcome as a divergence from the usual subjects that are published in English & will doubtless be an excellent starting point for those interested in the military history of South America.
It is rather surprising to me that the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Chinese controlled Tibet slipped by with little more than a murmur this spring. It’s been 60 years since 17-31 March 1959. A significant moment in world history.
During a year that should have been celebrating a landmark event, the central figure has come under fire not only by his traditional enemy but former allies as well. And with politics in such a mess in Europe, a pitiless mob; eager for blood online & an all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy on all things Trump, few major editorials & fewer world leaders seem to have tested China’s rhetoric defences.
Over half a century has passed since Tibetan Exile began. And though the event will have been marked in Dharamsala, around the world, the conversation is subdued. There seems little interest in looking at how India & China’s Tibetan policies began, have gone & where they might go.
At the beginning of the year Beijing seemed to be expecting trouble. From what is online I can see that the Chinese were so worried about foreign tourism surrounding the anniversary that they closed the border of Tibet. 
In an effort to head off bad press & contend with critics in the thorny question of who has the right to appoint the 15th Dalai Lama, the China Daily openly criticised HH & his comments on his successor & praised Beijing’s enlightened stance towards Tibet 
Indeed they’ve been laying down a counter narrative minefield since 2018 in anticipation of large scale press & popular backlash. 
It would seem that Beijing beat everyone to the punch. Creating a story centred upon their accusations of rabble rousing in Dharamsala & a hypocritical Dalai Lama. Adding to their relentless bombardment of anti Dalai Lama rhetoric and mockery and niftily sidestepping the historical events of 60 years ago. 
A whole generation has grown up with only a passive intellectual connection to Tibetan Exile. The web eagerly turned on HH this summer over a misstep, in a news storm that drowned the coverage of his fight for freedom & lifetime of good works. 
Unfortunately HH’a message of compassion just isn’t cutting the ice like it used to and doesn’t seem to be resonating with people the way it did before. Though still a respected religious leader, his political clout seems increasingly on the wane.
No 60 years of dedicated humanitarian service is protection against a single slip of a 84 year old 2nd language tongue. More worryingly it shows us again how time erodes the meaning of history through generations.
In a geopolitical sense as well, China’s push to become the inherited caretakers of an international Bhuddist community is not being countered as stolidly by an increasingly exclusive India as it once was. 
Ironically the rise of Hindu nationalism in India is at odds with the support of Tibetan nationalism and breeds a disinterest in competing with China for the support of Asian Bhuddists. In March 2018 Indian officials were instructed to keep clear of a Tibetan nationalist rally, a sure sign that Beijing’s threats are being taken seriously.
With the current Dalai Lama in his 84th year, the rise of global nationalism, an India that wishes closer ties with China & a harsher press & social media climate, perhaps it’s no surprise that very few outside the old-guard hurried to cheer his historic escape to freedom in exile. 
Interestingly enough I was born within the reach of what northerners simply call ‘the roman wall.’ As a kid I was taken to some of the forts, Vindolanda, Housteads, Chesters, etc and though he memories are now a little blurred, I do know that these trips never failed to inspire me.
Even though my home, for a time, was miles to the south of it, Hadrian’s wall was a presence. It was on brown signs stencilled next to a stylised crested helmet on most main roads, parts of it emerged from the grass outside bland pedestrian walkways over busy motorways and rows of semi detached Council houses.
Though the wilds of the border reaches were out of sight, Hadrian’s wall was always there, ruined, inscrutable and yet unmistakeable.
Encyclopaedic and engaging, this book belongs on the shelf of every Roman Britain Reader. That’s the sum of it. Now what to do with the rest of the review?
Well, now that everything else is partially redundant, I can assure you the author is a competent and concise writer, that meaning, this is less of a narrative as it is a lively discussion and as well as keeping a reader interested, does not spare them the process she used to arrive at a particular opinion, and likewise fails not to guide them through a debate that has no satisfactory answer.
The blurb tells us this will give us a look at everyday life on Hadrian’s Wall. Now allot of books promise to do this and whenever I read his I figure; oh, so they are trying to do what Ian Mortimer does with his time traveller books.
This one however, I must admit, offered the picture of daily life on the wall without attempting to play tour guide.Instead by it’s end you will have read about roughly every facet of life on the roman frontier, and therefore have a fairly comprehensive idea of the Rhythms of existence on Rome’s most famous boundary.
Everything from the building of the structure, to how it was manned and organised, the comings and goings, running and the many elements of civilian life and the examination of sources and evidence is included.
Life, death and everything in between that pertains to the centuries of the wall’s existence is covered. Although with all ancient history there are gaps, the author is a sensible and scrupulous manager of the records and whenever it comes to informed guesswork the book is always thought provoking.
Twain said that History Rhymes and one can only wonder if the construction of this great barrier had the same impact in it’s time as the discussion of modern frontier walls does today. With that in mind, and with the understanding that history is weaponised for political advancement a thorough knowledge of key aspects of it is vital for negotiating modern news and media.
Hadrian’s wall, as the most famous example of internal security in the ancient world can be argued as either a remarkably successful achievement or an ultimately flawed one.
From Donald trump to, Immigration crises, national security and even pop culture, (fun fact that everyone knows, Hadrian’s wall inspired Martin for a piece of Game of Thrones) This book will help those who read it to understand what it really was and what it did within the prism of it’s own time and our understanding of that time. Josh.
What can have been going through the mind of General Dyer that day in Amritsar 100 years ago? What perverted sense of justice and duty led him to order his troops to open fire on an unarmed and unthreatening crowd in the Jallianwalah Bagh?
He said himself that he came to the decision in under a minute and that he did so to preserve the British empire. In less than 60 seconds thousands of lives were changed for ever and between three and five hundred lives would end altogether. History itself changed that day.
Lauded even to his death as the man who saved India, ironically no enemy of the empire struck a more deadly blow against it than Dyer did that dark day in Amritsar.This is the timely story of a massacre in words and pictures, brilliantly and sensitively presented by Kashi House and handled expertly by it’s two authors.
Before you even open this book you get almost a sense of intruding on a hallowed but tragic scene. The cover image is devoid of frills, a narrow alley leading to a wide dusty inner-city space. Empty and haunting, one can almost imagine oneself standing there, peering through, and trying to make sense of the insanity of it all.
That is the brilliance of this book. It is transportive and breaks down the walls of time and place and takes you on a journey, that is as visual as a documentary and as informative as an interview.
Kashi House produces books that I love to read and this one I must be counted amongst those that are totally original in how they present their subject. I’ll be quite plain with you all, I help prove the stigma that the British don’t know about the Jallianwalah massacre.
I’d heard of it, I’d seen it recreated in the movie, Ghandi but I knew nothing about it and was absolutely ignorant of what happened before and after. When I received ‘Eyewitness’ I confess to worrying if I would be up to reviewing it with such pitiful knowledge of the subject.
Yet as I turned the pages I saw that the authors had crafted a book that was designed to engage a blithe readership without scrimping on depth or detail. I devoured it in a day.
Eyewitness is separated into sections, beginning with an introduction that gives an overview, it then turns the story over to quotes by contemporary witnesses, victims, perpetrators and commenters all aided by some of the most evocative photographs and images I’ve seen collected in binding.
We first learn about Amritsar, about it’s cantons, holy places and narrow, teeming, streets that spider through the city with labyrinthine complexity. In some photos I swear I could hear the noise of the crowd. The text and photos are so well synced that it is as if we are taken through them, right down to the entrance to the Bagh.
Historical context comes next, India and the Raj in the aftermath of the Great War. It was a volatile time of loud discourse and angry passions but also great movements and leaders who dared to stage a rebellion in a way that no one had done before. It was a strategy that the British had no answer to, armed rebellion could be crushed with a certain legality, but not non-violent demonstrations. Nevertheless simmering tensions were building in Amristar.
The narrative proper starts after that showing the riots that preceded the massacre, and then the inconceivable horror of the event itself as told by the participants. The plight of the victims loved ones being especially moving and the marble-cold outlook of General Dyer being more than infuriating.
What follows, as Ghandi said, was, at least from a philosophical/intellectual point of view almost worse. The humiliating repression that the increasingly tyrannical Dyer unleashed on Amritsar, again for scant legitimate cause, left me quite stunned.
Well might some of the quotes damn these actions as the point where India realised it could not depend on British justice and where faith in the system of imperial government was broken once and for all.
I cannot praise the ingenuity and hard work that went into this book enough. I’m not just crafting pleasing blurbs here when I say it is perfect for serious scholar and newcomer alike.
This is how History should be popularly presented, it is how I’ve always hoped it could be presented and how I’ve often tried to present it. By using a preponderance of authentic voices and materials crafted together with a minimum of handling the reader can see, rather than be told, what happened.
Eyewitness to Amritsar is a poignant, immersive, book that is both fair and incisive. A visual testament that allows readers to connect with the very fabric of history, giving a thrilling and eye opening glimpse into how events are recorded and how they played out.
From the Great to the small, this book is an all encompassing, respectful, tribute to a tragedy that changed history.
For 200 years the Gurkhas have never let Britain down, as soldiers or as allies, so let’s make sure Britain never let’s them down.
If you have ever wanted to do me a good turn for what I do online, please consider giving at least £1 to ensure that the Gurkha Welfare Trust can continue to care and look after veterans of this remarkable regiment.
Even if you don’t care about the history and traditions of the British army, I would ask that you please consider thinking about the people involved as there is more to every soldier than his uniform.
If not that then as a personal favour to me, please donate. If all of my followers gave just £1 this modest goal of £150 would easily be realised. So on my birthday please do me the honour of honouring the Gurkhas.