Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : Andrew Stewart

Dr Andrew Stewart FHEA, FRHistS, is author of The First Victory: The Second World War and the East Africa Campaign (Yale University Press, 2016) – shortlisted for the 2016 SAHR Templer Medal; The King’s Private Army: Protecting the British Royal Family during the Second World War (Helion and Company, 2016); Caen Controversy: The Battle for Sword Beach 1944 (Helion and Company, 2014); A Very British Experience: Coalition, Defence and Strategy in the Second World War (Sussex Academic Press, 2012); Empire Lost: Britain, the Dominions and the Second World War (Continuum, 2008).

Having worked in the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom for the last fifteen years it should not surprise that my first two selections remain set texts for British military officers attending courses at Shrivenham.

I was drawn to Field Marshal Viscount Slim’s Defeat into Victory (Cassell & Company Ltd, 1956) from an early stage in my teaching career, far more so than many of the other proscribed texts on strategy and leadership. It is, of course, first and foremost an account of the Burma campaign, one which has progressively become far less forgotten. It is, however, for the wisdom it has to offer about the business of soldiery and warfare which leads to this recommendation. If time does not allow for any more than a reading of the final chapter (‘Afterthoughts’) then there will still be a great deal to digest. A remarkable man, Bill Slim was the first post-war commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies where I was privileged to spend the last three years as Director of Academic Studies (I wrote about his achievements at the college in the September 2016 issue of the RUSI Journal).

The second ‘must read’ and one of my favourite accounts of the Second World War is Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke – War Diaries 1939-1945 (Phoenix Press, 2002) edited masterfully by Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (Sir Arthur Bryant’s efforts in the 1950s are also worth a read despite their many fatal flaws). There is no greater description of how the war was conducted and the civil-military challenges which were overcome by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Before he faced up to his battles with Winston Churchill, however, he stood in charge of the forces assembled to defeat any German invasion – the subject of my current writing project – and, as he noted for the postscript for the 23 November 1941 entry, “The Force had not been subjected to the high task of meeting an invasion; had this test been met I am confident that Home Forces would have given an account of itself well worthy of all the best traditions of the British Army”. A really perfect read.

Writing about campaigns and battles in which the British Army has been central to events, I am particularly grateful for published autobiographical accounts which supplement the many riches still hidden away in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum. There are a number to which I could refer including such highlights as Robert Woollcombe’s Lion Rampant – The Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from D-Day to the Rhineland (Black & White Publishing Ltd., 2014) and Dudley Clarke’s exceptional Seven Assignments (Jonathan Cape, 1948). One I drew upon in writing Caen Controversy is Brigadier Kenneth Pearce Smith’s Adventures of an Ancient Warrior in Peace, War and Revolution (Stones Printers, 1984). It is an engaging biography of a long career spent in large part in colonial military service. One-third is devoted to the conflict on which I focus with its reference to home defence in Ulster, the siege of Malta and a finale in East Africa Command but it was the writer’s torrid experiences of D-Day which caught the eye. At only 125 pages in length it is a wonderful example of the most appealing recollections of military practitioners which can be found with a little internet searching.

In a similar vein, unit histories are an absolutely critical aid for the military writer. I am fortunate in so much as the formidable library at the Joint Services Command and Staff College retains a large number of these both for the First and Second World Wars. The huge post-war labours which went into writing official histories fortunately also extended to individual regiments and, on occasions, even battalions making the effort to ensure their experiences were recorded permanently. With some good fortune in the second-hand book aisles and the sterling work of The Naval & Military Press, I now hold a decent collection of my own but there are many more out there. The account I have used most, again for Caen Controversy and also as part of my current research on the invasion threat, is Colonel W.N. Nicholson’s The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1928-1946 (The Naval & Military Press, 2002). There is no better way to get a real feel for the British Army of the twentieth century than by reading an account of the roles it performed and the battles in which it fought. The First Battalion of the Suffolks sailed for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, withdrew in 1940 following the debacle and then stood ready to meet a German invasion attempt. They then trained as part of the assault force that would return to Europe in 1944 landing amongst the first waves at Sword Beach and ended the war in northern Germany. An epic tale of their war and that experienced by the entire regiment.

Others who have contributed to this series of lists before me have quite rightly acknowledged how difficult it is to nominate five best books on the British Army without including one of Richard Holmes’ works – the debt owed to him remains considerable. I will, however, leave it to them to name their favourites and, instead, highlight another writer with a similar background. Anthony Clayton’s The British Officer – Leading the Army From 1660 to the Present (Pearson Education Ltd, 2007) has proven to be invaluable as an aid to understanding the culture and tradition of one significant part of my student body. As a previous Land Historian supporting the Higher Command and Staff Course, its blending of history and explanation about not just where and when the British Army has fought but also why and how provided me with numerous critical insights. I did not know the writer during his distinguished career at Sandhurst but this synthesis of experience and thought offers a really important general history for interested readers.

The final opportunity presented to me by this list is to offer an area where scholarship remains to be done. I was very grateful for my publisher Yale University Press taking the risk in backing a book about an unfashionable campaign and the result has hopefully been to expose the Second World War campaign fought in East Africa to a slightly larger audience. As these more obscure campaigns of this conflict continue to fascinate me I had long thought that serious research needed to be undertaken on how the war affected Iran and Iraq which, whilst much better known to a modern audience as a result of the more recent conflicts they have endured, is an experience almost entirely overlooked. I am extremely pleased that Ashley Jackson has remedied this situation and his Persian Gulf Command: A History of Iran and Iraq during the Second World War will be published, once again, by Yale University Press, next year.