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Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : William Butler

Dr Butler is Associate Lecturer in British and Irish History at the University of Kent, author of The Irish Amateur Military Tradition in the British Army, 1854-1945 (Manchester University Press, 2016) – runner-up for the 2016 Templer Medal – and co-author of Military Recruitment in Ireland during the First World War (forthcoming).


Perhaps unsurprisingly, my first choice is Ian Beckett, Britain’s Part-time Soldiers; The Amateur Military Tradition 1558-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2011). I can’t underestimate the influence that this book, and the author himself, has had on my own work. Amateur, or ‘Saturday-night’ soldiers are so often an overlooked aspect of the British Army, but historically, though not always the militarily most effective, have provided that crucial link between army and society. This book goes a long way in redressing this often-neglected aspect of the army.

My second choice is J.R. Western, The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century: The Story of a Political Issue, 1660-1802 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965). This book was trailblazing in its approach to the subject matter. It approaches the subject matter from the top down, and the bottom up, shedding valuable light on the earliest period of Britain’s standing army. It has certainly stood the test of time and its importance will surely endure.

My next choice, timely because of the centenary of the First World War, and includes the author of my first choice, is Ian Beckett, Timothy Bowman, and Mark Connelly, The British Army and the First World War (Cambridge, 2017). This work is a welcome new edition, thoroughly examining crucial aspects of the British Army during the Great War. It explores, among other aspects, the recruiting, training, discipline, and operational role and performance of the army, and is an invaluable resource to experts and general readers alike.

Fourthly, David French, Military Identities; The Regimental System, the British army and the British people, c.1870-2000 (Oxford, 2005). French’s work covers a tumultuous period for the British Army, discussing its structure, the individuals involved, and its unique regimental system. Crucially, also, how all this changed and developed over time. As an introduction to the British Army during the twentieth century this is an vital starting point.

Finally, my choice is Edward Spiers, The Scottish Soldier and Empire, 1854-1902 (Oxford, 2006). Increasingly, studies are uncovering more detailed knowledge of local and national identities within the British Army. Highland soldiers on campaign are easily the foremost images that come to mind when thinking about the British Army. This book discusses the image, fighting abilities, attitudes of these Scottish soldiers during imperial campaigns during the nineteenth century. Making extensive use of newspapers and personal accounts from soldiers, it gives fascinating perspectives on these soldiers’ lives.

Though my own research covers Ireland, as well as the demobilisation and rebuilding of the British Army after the First World War, a thorough reassessment needs to be carried out about the British Army on the Rhine immediately after the Second World War. It’s very easy to think of the army in term of its operations during the Second World War, then strategically during the Cold War, and operationally during various counter-insurgency campaigns, but this unique role and the interactions in a broken foreign land after such a long and costly conflict surely needs greater consideration from historians.

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