Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : Randall Nicol

Randall Nicol won the 2016 Templer Best First Book prize for his two-volume history of the Scots Guards in the Great War, Till the Trumpet Sounds Again (Solihull: Helion, 2016).

General Jack's Diary 1914-1918, edited by John Terraine (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode 1964) is the single book of military history that I have read more often than any other and go on going back to. It is fascinating as a source, but its star quality is the example set of a regimental officer of the highest standards and qualities, apparently a rather aloof personality, but one who inspired confidence and cared very deeply for his men. I would issue it to every officer commissioned from Sandhurst.

As illustration of the boredom, discomfort, confusion, fear and tragedy that are the normality for the soldier on active service, and to everyone else the subject of horrified fascination, With the Jocks: A Soldier's Struggle for Europe 1944-45 by Peter White (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited 2001) is exceptional. Deliberately withheld until after his death, it is his account as a platoon commander in the 4th KOSB from October 1944 in Holland until after the German surrender in May 1945.

Those captured during the Second World War who set out to escape from German prison camps have had much attention. Such is not the case with escapers during the First World War. That is why Within Four Walls by Major MCC Harrison and Captain HA Cartwright (London: Edward Arnold & Co 1930) is so interesting, as well as having been fun for them to write afterwards. Both were taken prisoner in 1914 and, with the utmost ingenuity and determination, planned escapes from then on, for a time being held in the same place. Both got out several times and were recaptured, but both eventually, from different camps, reached safety.

The Peninsular War has so much to grip the attention. Adventures With The Connaught Rangers 1809-1814 by William Grattan, edited by Charles Oman (London: Edward Arnold 1902) is among the best eyewitness accounts and a reminder that for a full appreciation of life in the Army a highly developed sense of the ridiculous is indispensable. It is also testimony to the fact that technology may change and evolve but the people involved in the fighting and having to face everything to do with it do not.

Most wisely observed and full of human sympathy is War Letters to a Wife 1915-1919 by Lieutenant Colonel Rowland Feilding (London: The Medici Society Ltd 1929). Having left before the War, he re-joined the Coldstream Guards, serving with the 1st Battalion from mid-1915 until September 1916. Then he was appointed to command the 6th Connaught Rangers and immediately endured the battle for Ginchy. Later on, his description of what he saw in Belgium in the last weeks of the War powerfully justifies why it had to be fought.

We had at school a magnificent history master who would proclaim “Now, you aspiring young dictators, one word of advice... Don't Invade Russia!” So, for a book that is yet to be written it would be stimulating to see examples of where lessons from both history and military history, available at the time, were correctly studied and applied, alongside examples of where they were neither studied nor applied, or else ignored or even deliberately overridden.