Annual Booklist 2018-2019 : John Hussey OBE FRHistS

John Hussey was born in 1933, and was awarded an OBE in 1971 for his services to British interests abroad. He is the author of 'Marlborough. Hero of Blenheim' and of a two-volume history of the Waterloo Campaign which won the 2017 SAHR Templer Medal.

Although I repeatedly go back to Fortescue’s History of the British Army for the brilliance of its style and vigour in presentation, it can hardly be thought of as a ‘Christmas Book’. And ‘favourites’ can change from year to year. With those caveats my five choices are:

From the Napoleonic Wars I would choose an old favourite, the American John Codman Ropes, The Campaign of Waterloo [1893, and often reprinted]. JCR discourses beside your elbow in a relaxed fireside manner, ruminating on the evidence, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, and often reducing the matter to some pointed questions that enable him to conclude ‘such questions answer themselves’: a perfect bedside book for a military historian.

Secondly, John Masters, The Nightrunners of Bengal [1951], dedicated to ‘The Sepoy of India, 1695-1947’, the most gripping account I know of the 1857 Mutiny.

I learned so much from John Terraine that one of his books must be my third choice. I read his Douglas Haig, The Educated Soldier on its first publication in 1963 [and a relation, Sir Clement Armitage who had been a GHQ liaison officer under DH, had said to me ‘this is the book we have been waiting for’], and it formed my opinion then and ever since. But it was written quite early in John’s long career and never revised, and his understanding of the wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries went on deepening right up till the end. So I choose his later book The White Heat, the New Warfare, 1914-18 [1982] as his final and magisterial evaluation of the political, military, industrial and technological sinews of that dreadful conflict.

The long-enduring generation who served in the war of 1914-18 have always held a special place in my mind: Charles Carrington [A Subaltern’s War, Soldier from the Wars Returning], Lord Chandos [The Memoirs], Charles Douie [The Weary Road], David Jones [In Parenthesis], R H Mottram [The Spanish Farm Trilogy], Sidney Rogerson [Twelve Days, The Last of the Ebb, and the man who led John Terraine to General Jack’s Diary], could all lay claim for this fourth place. Finally I decided to choose Frederic Manning’s masterly The Middle Parts of Fortune: Somme and Ancre 1916, first published in unexpurgated form in 1929 [the bowdlerised version, Her Privates We, by Private 19022, I have not read] as capturing perfectly the essence of a Tommy’s experience at the front and on leave at home [the chapter on a confrontation with a miner stays in the mind], beyond any other book that I know.

There must be one choice to cover 1939-45, and I am tempted to suggest Gerald Kersh’s They Die With Their Boots Clean or his Faces in a Dusty Picture, both published during the war and strong contenders for the place. But there is an even greater story-teller. Flashman and McAuslan notwithstanding, my final choice is George Macdonald Fraser’s memoir of his service in Burma under Slim, Quartered Safe Out Here [1993]. Among vignettes of generals his vivid sketch of ‘Uncle Bill’ can sit alongside Anthony Powell’s miniatures of Alan Brooke and Monty in The Military Philosophers, part of A Dance to the Music of Time.

The Unwritten Book. Possibly it exists somewhere, but I should be intrigued to see a study of the 2nd Duke of Ormonde as General, 1702-13.