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Annual Booklist 2016-2017 : Dr Spencer Jones

Senior Lecturer in Armed Forces and War Studies, University of Wolverhampton, author of From Boer War to World War: Tactical Reform of the British Army, 1902-1914 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012); editor of Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Helion 2014) and Courage Without Glory. The British Army on the Western Front 1915 (Helion 2015).


Christopher Duffy, Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme, 1916 (Orion, 2006). At first glance this volume may seem out of place in a list of books about the British Army. However, Christopher Duffy’s work is one of the most interesting studies of the British Army on the Somme to have emerged in recent years. By using German sources, particularly interrogation reports of captured British, Canadian and Australian soldiers, he paints a unique picture of the British Army as viewed through the eyes of it chief opponent. The result is an unusual, illuminating and delightfully readable study.

Brian Bond, Survivors of a Kind: Memoirs of the First World War (Hambledon Continuum, 2008). This is the kind of book that I wish I had written. In a series of individual essays, Brian Bond considers a variety of memoirs written by British participants of the Great War, detailing the author’s life and assessing the themes of their work. Some of the memoirs are familiar, such as Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, whereas others are long forgotten. The result is a fascinating book that reveals the sheer diversity of wartime experience and how the authors struggled to cope with it.

Nick Lipscombe, The Peninsular War Atlas (Osprey, 2010; revised 2014). It has been said that “good military history demands good maps”. Nick Lipscombe clearly took this advice to heart when he assembled this superb annotated atlas. The work covers not only battles and sieges involving British forces, but also engagements between Spanish and French forces. The wonderful maps are supported by a clear and concise commentary. A must for anyone with even a passing interest in the Napoleonic Wars.

George Morton-Jack, The Indian Army on the Western Front (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Scholarship on the Indian Army has enjoyed an impressive renaissance, with several valuable studies examining its political, organisational and social aspects. What has been lacking until recently a thorough assessment of its fighting capabilities in the First World War. George Morton-Jack addresses this gap with a detailed study of the Indian Expeditionary Force of 1914-15 in France and Flanders. The book examines the pre-war strengths and weakness of the force, before offering an insightful appraisal of its tactics and performance in battle.

Russell Lewis, Company Commander (Virgin Books, 2013)
The War in Afghanistan has produced a slew of memoirs and first-hand accounts. This work, based on Lewis’s diary for the duration of his 6-month tour with B Company, 2 Para, is one of the best. It has drawn comparisons with Sidney Jary’s classic 18 Platoon but I was reminded of J.C. Dunn’s The War the Infantry Knew for its ability to contrast the intense experience of combat with the mundanity of day-to-day activities at the front. An eminently readable account and a standout amongst the wave of literature pertaining to the British Army in Afghanistan.

The ongoing renaissance in Victorian military studies has produced some excellent work on personalities and organisation. As our understanding of the period grows it would be welcome to see fresh examinations of pivotal campaigns. An analysis of the guerrilla phase of the Second Boer War, examining the strategy, organisation and tactics of the Boers and the British Army, would be most welcome. The conventional period of the Boer War is well covered in the literature, as is the concentration camp scandal attendant to the guerrilla period, but we still lack a clear single volume on how the fighting was conducted in these dark years. Such a study would add greatly to our understanding of the Boer War and, as the first major COIN operation of the 20th Century, would have relevance to present day.

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