Andrew Rawson: Advance to Victory, The British Expeditionary Force July to September 1918

Published by Pen and Sword 22nd August 2018

812mThis is the story of the British Expeditionary Force’s part in the opening days of the Advance to Victory. It starts with the contribution to the Battle of Fere-En-Tardenois in July, the counter-offensive which pushed the Germans back to the River Marne. Fourth Army’s attack on 8 August was called the Black Day of the German Army but it was only the beginning of 100 days of campaigning. The narrative follows the advance as it expands across the Somme, the Artois and the Flanders regions. Time and again the British and Empire troops used well developed combined arms tactics to break through successive lines of defence. By the end of September all five of the BEF’s armies had reached the Hindenburg Line and were poised for the final advance. Each stage of the two month battle is given the same treatment, covering the details about the most talked about side of the campaign; the BEF’s side. Over fifty new maps chart the day by day progress of the five armies and together with the narrative, explain the British Army’s experience during the opening stages of the Advance to Victory. The men who made a difference are mentioned; those who led the advances, those who stopped the counter-attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the beginning of the Advance to Victory and learn how the British Army had mastered the art of attack.

The first of two superb new books by Andrew Rawson and the final months of the BEF on the Western Front.

Andrew Rawson: The Final Advance, The British Expeditionary Force September to November 1918

Published by Pen and Sword 4th October 2018

812nIt starts with the massive offensive against the Hindenburg Line at the end of September 1918. Second Army launched the first of the British attacks in Flanders on the 28th, followed by Fourth Army the next day along the St Quentin Canal. Both First and Third Armies joined in, breaking the Hindenburg Line across the Lys plain and the Artois region, taking Cambrai by 10 October. The narrative then follows the advance through the battles of the River Selle and the River Sambre. It culminates with the final operations, including the actions at Maubeuge and Mons, just before the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Time and again the British and Empire troops used well-rehearsed combined arms tactics to break down German resistance as the four year conflict came to an end. Each stage of the six week long battle is dealt with equally, focusing on the most talked about side of the campaign, the BEF’s side. Over fifty new maps chart the day by day progress of the five armies. Together the narrative and the maps explain the British Army’s experience during the days of World War One. The men who led the advances, broke down the defences and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross are mentioned. Discover the end of the Advance to Victory and learn how the British Army reached the peak of their learning curve.

David Cooper: Badon and the Early Wars for Wessex

Published by Pen and Sword 3rd July 2018

812oDavid Cooper’s book reappraises the evidence regarding the early battles for Wessex territory. It charts the sequence of battles from the c. AD 500 siege of Badon Hill, in which the Britons defeated the first Saxon attempt to gain a foothold in Wessex territory, to Langport in 710, which consolidated King Ine’s position and pushed the Britons westwards. Discussion of the post-Roman British and Germanic factions provides context and background to Badon Hill, which is then covered in detail and disentangled from Arthurian legend. In considering how the opposing commanders are likely to have planned their campaigns, enduring principles of military doctrine and tactics are discussed, using examples from other periods to illustrate how these principles applied in Dark Ages Britain. Going on to follow subsequent campaigns of the West Saxons in southern Britain, a credible assessment is made of how these resulted in the establishment of a viable Wessex kingdom, two centuries after Badon. Grounded in the latest academic and archaeological evidence, David Cooper offers a number of new insights and ideas.

Not sure how many people will have heard of the Battle of Badon Hill – I have from my reading of many, many books about the possibility that King Arthur was based on a post-Roman general. This pre-dates the start of Bernard Cornwell’s epic series about the Dark Ages, but it is fascinating to read and packed with vital information.

Beatrice Heuser & Athena S Leoussi: Famous Battles

Published by Pen and Sword 3rd August 2018

812pWhy are some battles remembered more than others? Surprisingly, it is not just size that matters, nor the number of dead, the ‘decisiveness’ of battles or their effects on communities and civilisations. It is their political afterlife-the multiple meanings and political uses attributed to them-that determines their fame. This ground-breaking series goes well beyond military history by exploring the transformation of battles into sites of memory and meaning. Cast into epic myths of the fight of Good against Evil, of punishment for decadence or reward for virtue, of the birth of a nation or the collective assertion against a tyrant, the defence of Civilisation against the Barbarians, Christendom against the Infidel, particular battles have acquired fame beyond their immediate contemporaneous relevance. The epic battles of European history examined in this first volume range from the siege of Troy and the encounters of Marathon and Thermopylai, to the wars of the Israelites which inspired the way many later battles would be narrated; and from the triumphs and defeats of the Roman Empire, to Hastings, the massacre of B ziers and the battle of Courtrai. In each chapter, the historical events surrounding a battle form the backdrop for multi-layer interpretations, which, consciously or unconsciously, carry political agendas.

Beatrice and Athena’s superb book about classic epic battles is absolutely compelling and terrific in its scope and detail. Looks like they might have a sequel planned too!


Michael Goya: Flesh and Steel in the Great War

Published by Gecko Press 1st AugustPen and Sword 2nd October 2018

812qMichel Goya’s Flesh and Steel during the Great War is one of the most thoughtful, stimulating and original studies of the conflict to have appeared in recent years. It is a major contribution towards a deeper understanding of the impact of the struggle on the Western Front on the theory and practice of warfare in the French army. In a series of incisive, closely argued chapters he explores the way in which the senior commanders and ordinary soldiers responded to the extraordinary challenges posed by the mass industrial warfare of the early twentieth century. In 1914 the French army went to war with a flawed doctrine, brightly-coloured uniforms and a dire shortage of modern, heavy artillery How then, over four years of relentless, attritional warfare, did it become the great, industrialized army that emerged victorious in 1918? To show how this change occurred, the author examines the pre-war ethos and organization of the army and describes in telling detail how, through a process of analysis and innovation, the French army underwent the deepest and fastest transformation in its history.

Michael Goya takes a long look at the development of weaponry as used by the French Army during the Great War – puts the French participation in weapons and uniforms and how they developed during the course of the war into an entirely different perspective.

Willow Winsha: England’s Witchcraft Trials

Published by Pen and Sword 3rd August 2018

812rThou shalt not suffer a witch to live. With the echo of that chilling injunction hundreds were accused and tried for witchcraft across England throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. With fear and suspicion rife, neighbour could turn against neighbour, friend against friend, with women, men and children alike caught up in the deadly fervour that swept through both village and town. From the feared covens of Pendle Forest to the victims of the unswerving fanaticism of The Witch Finder General, so-called witches were suspected, accused, and dragged into the spotlight to await judgement and their final fate.

Witches and how they were treated in the middle ages have always been a fascinating subject not just gor me but for anyone interested in the social history of England. Willow’s books fills in a huge number of blanks and reminds us of the obsessive behaviour towards them that was prevalent at the time.


Mimi Natthews: A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty

Published by Pen and Sword 17th September 2018

812sWhat did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history. Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter. As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences. Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

There is no doubt that Victorian fashions are among the most elegant and fascinating of all the various periods in British history. Mimi’s book lays bare the secrets of how well-heeled Victorian ladies prepared themselves for social gatherings and engagements. Full of beautiful illustrations and a very readable text. Superb.

Lucy Merello Peterson: The Women Who Inspired London Art

Published by Pen and Sword 15th October 2018

812tThis is the story of women caught up in the tumultuous art scene of the early twentieth century, some famous and others lost to time. By 1910 the patina of the belle epoque was wearing thin in London. Artists were on the hunt for modern women who could hold them in thrall. A chance encounter on the street could turn an artless child into an artist’s model, and a model into a muse. Most were accidental beauties, plucked from obscurity to pose in the great art schools and studios. Many returned home to lives that were desperately challenging – almost all were anonymous. Meet them now. Sit with them in the Cafe Royal amid the wives and mistresses of London’s most provocative artists. Peek behind the brushstrokes and chisel cuts at women whose identities are some of art history’s most enduring secrets. Drawing on a rich melange of historical and anecdotal records and a primary source, this is storytelling that sweeps up the reader in the cultural tides that raced across London in the Edwardian, Great War and interwar periods. A highlight of the book is a reveal of the Avico siblings, a family of models whose faces can be found in paint and bronze and stone today. Their lives and contributions have been cloaked in a century of silence. Now, illuminated by family photos and oral histories from the daughter of one of the models, the Avico story is finally told.

This is a fascinating account of how ordinary women and girls were sought out by artists and asked to become models for them in the post-Edwardian era in London. Reminiscent of the ladies who inspired the pre-Raphaelites except that few if any of these new models were famous. Absolutely enthralling, and well illustrated too.

Colin Philpott: Secret Wartime Britain – Hidden Places That Helped Win the Second World War

 Published by Pen and Sword 5th November 2018

812xDuring the Second World War, thousands of sites across Britain were requisitioned to support the war efforts. Additionally countless others were built from scratch regardless of cost. Often the purpose of these locations was concealed even from those living close by. The author of Secret Wartime Britain has compiled a fascinating collection of examples that still exist today, albeit often in different usage. They include underground factories, storage sites and headquarters; spy and communication centres; interrogation and POW camps; dummy sites; research facilities such as sinister Porton Down; treasure stores in stately homes and even royal retreats in the event of invasion such as Madresfield Court. Where were these sites and why were they needed? How successfully were they kept secret? What has happened to them since? Were they returned to their owners? Answers to these and other questions make Secret Wartime Britain a riveting and revealing read.

This is the kind of book that might inspire one of those brilliant Channel Four documentaries that could be presented by someone like Tony Robinson or even Michael Portillo. Crammed with fascinating tales of amazing excavations and creations that in some way or other were planned to help Britain to win the second world war, Colin’s book is a revelation, and hugely enjoyable. Boys’ Own Paper stuff in many cases, but absolutely terrific.

Margaret C Jones: Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen Aethelflaed

 Published by Pen and Sword 3rd August 2018

812yAlfred the Great s daughter defied all expectations of a well-bred Saxon princess. The first Saxon woman ever to rule a kingdom, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, led her army in battle against Viking invaders. She further broke with convention by arranging for her daughter to succeed her on the throne of Mercia. To protect her people and enable her kingdom in the Midlands to prosper, Aethelflaed rebuilt Chester and Gloucester, and built seven entirely new English towns. In so doing she helped shape our world today. This book brings Aethelflaed s world to life, from her childhood in time of war to her remarkable work as ruler of Mercia. The final chapter traces her legend, from medieval paintings to novels and contemporary art, illustrating the impact of a legacy that continues to be felt to this day.

Here’s a magnificent account of one of the pricipal characters in Bernard Cornwell’s Magnum Opus, the Dark Ages of Britain chronicles – Aethelflaed emerges just as significant a character in real life as she is in Bernard’s superb series of novels. I had no idea how instrumental she was in creating my home town of Gloucester, which comes as something of a genuine shock and a revelation to me. Margaret’s account of the life of Queen Aethelflaed of Mercia is as readable as Bernard’s books, and adds so much to what we know from his fictional accounts of her amazing life.

Stephen Browning: Norfolk At War 1939-1945

 Published by Pen and Sword 1st May 2018

812afThis year-on-year study of Norfolk at war is the first such for many years, which utilises material that has not been published in book form before or, sometimes, at all. In both the First and Second World War, Norfolk was pivotal, albeit for different reasons. During the war of 1939-45 Norfolk was home to many bases of the USAAF, changing the area forever with bases remaining a fond feature of Norfolk life. Another unique and enduring legacy was the arrival and often permanent settlement of many Poles, who are commemorated today by a shrine in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich. Norfolk was in many ways changed forever as it had largely, up until this time, been proudly, even stubbornly, isolated a feature that could not have changed more dramatically. This study is both inevitably a military and social study. The major events both at home and overseas are laid out, together with a description of how home life unfolded in very dark times when the stoicism and humour of the Norfolk residents were tested. Contemporary material from newspapers, diaries and local records, as well as over 200 photographs, are used to bring life and colour and life to the account.

The latest in Pen and Sword’s brilliant series on Britain’s towns and cities at war, only this time I can really relate to it, because this is where I live. Stephen Browning has put together a fascinating account of Norfolk during the war, and takes us on a fascinating journey with great illustrations and photos. The only thing missing that I can see is the V Station on the top of Beeston Bump, which relayed information back to the men and women collating information as they worked on the Enigma Machine. Maybe it was foul weather the day Stephen was exploring the North Norfolk coast, and he couldn’t make it to the top. Other than that it’s comprehensive and, as I said, fascinating stuff.