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Annual Booklist 2016-2017 : Dr Christopher Brice

Author of The Thinking Man's Soldier. The Life and Career of General Sir Henry Brackenbury 1837-1914 (Helion, 2013); editor of Forgotten Victorian Generals. Studies in the Exercise of Command and Control in the British Army 1837-1901 (Helion, 2016).


John Buckley, Monty’s Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe (Yale, 2014). Professor Buckley has produced an excellent reassessment of the British Army’s contribution from the D-Day landings to VE Day. Whilst not ignoring the failures and mistakes, it highlights the achievements and helps to break many of the myths that have arisen regarding the British’s Army’s contribution in the final defeat of Germany. It is also a fitting tribute to the men who served in the 21st Army Group during this period.

Spencer Jones (ed.), Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Helion 2013). This excellent collection of essays by various contributors examines in detail the leadership of the British Army at many different levels. Split into sections looking at command at GHQ, corps, divisional, brigade, battalion and even company level, this book provides a fascinating insight into the difficulties and burdens faced by officers of the British Army during the opening year of the war.

Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (eds.), War Dairies 1939-1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001). The diaries of Lord Alanbrooke remain the finest book of this type from the Second World War. Alan Brooke never intended them for publication so he does not hold back in his account of events. They provide a fascinating insight into higher command leadership in the British Army. Although never intended for self-aggrandisement the dairies illustrate the important, perhaps even vital, role that he played in the final allied victory. They are an invaluable source to anyone researching the Second World War, and for the casual reader give a different perspective on so many aspects of the war.

Rodney Atwood, The Life of Field Marshal Lord Roberts (Bloomsbury Press, 2015). Dr Rodney Atwood has produced a compelling modern biography of one of the foremost figures of the Victorian British Army. Rather than using previous biographies or Roberts own autobiography as the basis for his work, Dr Atwood has returned to the original sources where available. It shines new light on both the British and Indian armies of this period. It is revisionist in the best sense of the word in that it causes us to re-evaluate much if what we thought we knew about one of the most influential figures of the age.

John W. Hawkins (ed.) Fred: The Collected letters and Speeches of Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (Two Vols: Helion, 2013-2014). Dr Hawkins provides us with the edited and collated letters and speeches of a larger than life figure of the Victorian Age. Burnaby was a giant of a man both literally – standing over six feet four inches tall and weighing 20 stone –and figuratively. Burnaby was a soldier, adventurer, explorer, athlete, linguist, and would-be politician. Dr Hawkins has produced two volumes of edited letters and speeches that help to illustrate Burnaby’s achievements. They make for an exciting and amusing read.

My own personal preference for a book that does not exist but in my opinion should exist, is a modern biography of General Sir John Cowans. Cowans was Quartermaster General to the Forces from 1912 to 1919. He had worked in the mobilization section during the South African War and had gained much valuable experience there. This was good preparation for the task he undertook during his time as Quartermaster General. As such he played a vital, but often over looked, role in World War One. There is even a great title available for the biography, using Asquith's remark that Cowans was ‘...the greatest quartermaster since Moses’. Sadly his reputation was tarnished by the allegations of Mrs Cornwallis-West, of which he was cleared, but also by the infamous Dennistoun vs Dennistoun divorce case in which Cowans was named as the lover of Mrs Dennistoun. This occurred after his death and thus he had no opportunity to defend himself, but it did tarnish his name for many years.

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