Annual Booklist 2018-2019 : Christopher D. Palmer

The new Membership Secretary of SAHR, Chris Palmer graduated from Imperial College in 1970 with a degree in Oil Technology and worked solely in the international upstream oilfield services sector until retirement in 2016. The last ten years of his career were spent in developing fracking technology and procedures.

Lt-Col Alfred H. Burne & Lt-Col Peter Young, The Great Civil War: A Military History of the First Civil War 1642-1646 (London, Eyre & Spottiswoode 1959). It was my reading of the school library’s copy of this book that converted me from a consumer of Battler Britton comics to a lifelong student of formal military history. As a Lands End Cornishman, to read “The sheer fighting qualities of the Cornishmen had accomplished the seemingly impossible” (page 82) is irresistible. The narrative style and crisp judgement have seldom been bettered, while the inclusion of fourteen maps puts modern publications to shame.

August Ludolf Friedrich Schaumann, On Road with the Wellington (Germany 1922; English translation by Anthony Ludovici, London William Heineman 1924 – facsimile reprint available from Naval and Military Press). This cynical and sometimes coarse diary of a Deputy Assistant Commissary General in the British Service throughout the Peninsular War offers a caustic antidote to most English language accounts of these campaigns. It also provides fascinating insight into the daily minutiae of the Commissariat operating in host countries offering ambiguous hospitality.

Lt-Col R.M.P. Preston, The Desert Mounted Corps in Palestine and Syria 1917-1918 (London, Constable 1921). Oh, the glorious swansong of the British Cavalry! Other than the British regular cavalry, every class of the Empire’s cavalry is represented – British Yeomanry, British Indian Army, Imperial Service (Indian States), Australian Light Horse, New Zealand Mounted Rifles and a single stray French regiment. Even the Imperial Camel Corps and its supporting artillery, the Hongkong and Shanghai Mountain Battery, get recognized in this masterpiece of twentieth century mounted warfare tactics.
The author, who commanded one of the RHA batteries and was subsequently the CRA of the Australian Mounted Division, has included three specific chapters on the role of horse artillery, horse management, and transport and ammunition supply. No student of cavalry in the age of the rifle and machine gun should neglect this book.

Pat Carmichael, Mountain Battery (Bournemouth, Devin Books 1983). And now the swansong of the British Indian Army. The premier arm of that army was the Mountain Artillery. This dramatic and vividly personal history of a Mountain Battery’s retreat through Burma in the pre-monsoon season of 1942 illustrates how their multi-ethnic izzat (military honour) sustained such units at the very nadir in the fortunes of the British Empire. You can feel the heat, smell the dust and hear the crack of shot. The kattchar – the mule – is not least the hero in this modest book.

Robert Engen, Canadians under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War (Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press 2009). The historiography of the British Commonwealth armies in Europe in Word War II is massive and at times quite repetitive. It is rare that new or otherwise neglected primary sources are identified. In 1943 the Directorate of Tactical Investigation at the War Office drafted a battle experience questionnaire for battalion level officers (not including lieutenants) of all arms who had seen active combat soon after their withdrawal from the front line. Dr Engen, Adjunct Professor at Queen's University and Fellow at the Royal Military College, has analysed the questionnaire responses for 1944 and 1945 that were received from Canadian infantry officers serving both in Italy and North West Europe. His first two chapters are admittedly dire academic churn, but the body of his book is mesmerizing.

The book I would like to see would be a study of British Commonwealth formations (British, British Indian, South African) while operating under the command of US Lt-Gen Mark Clarke in Italy 1943-45, with focus on the command, planning, intelligence, and logistics functions within a not very integrated Allied structure. There are always challenges to be faced when national formations are subordinated to the command of a superior Allied partner, but the accounts of this campaign that I have seen deliberately step back from analysing the issues that developed.