Victorian Crusaders

By Author Nick Schofield

Victorian Crusaders might seem to cover a rather obscure subject – British and Irish volunteers in the Papal Army during the 1860s – but it was big news at the time. Italian Unification was a highly popular cause in Great Britain. The Italian or Roman Question consumed much space in the newspapers. Garibaldi, who was something of a popular hero, even received the support of a significant number of British volunteers.

What is less well known is the British and Irish opposition to Italian Unification, especially among the growing Catholic community. The Pope, after all, was still a temporal ruler, his kingdom spanning not just the Vatican but much of Central Italy. Any attack on his territory was seen as an attack on his office and his person. Throughout the 1860s Catholics from Europe and beyond not only organised collections and petitions to support him but travelled to Rome to join his army. In addition to the usual motives for military service – adventure, opportunity, earning a living – they were largely motivated by religious faith. Many saw themselves as participating in a wider ‘crusade’ that could be traced back to the changes unleashed by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution: a defence of faith, tradition and legitimacy in the face of rationalism, liberalism and revolution.

The book focuses on two units within the Pontifical Army: the exclusively Irish Battalion of St Patrick, which operated during the Piedmontese campaign in Umbria and the Marche in 1860, and the glamourous Zouaves, which attracted many foreign volunteers between its foundation in 1861 and the fall of Rome in September 1870. 

Why did I write the book?

Well, I first became interested in the Pontifical Zouaves when I was a student at the Venerable English College in Rome during the late 1990s. Every day I walked past a monument to one of two English soldiers killed during the campaign of 1867: Julian Watts-Russell, who at the time was regarded as a Catholic hero and martyr. At first, my interest was somewhat superficial – the exotic uniforms (with Arabesque baggy trousers) and the bizarre name, ‘Zouave,’ which always seems to raise a smile and is, incidentally, good to have up your sleeve while playing Scrabble. It also seemed incongruous that as late as the 1860s the pope still had an army – and one which didn’t merely mount guard at the Vatican but actually fought battles. I always intended to find out more.

My interest remained for years and was fanned by the few books written in English on the subject: Charles Coulombe’s panegyric The Pope’s Legion (2009), David Alvarez’s comprehensive The Pope’s Soldiers: A Military History of the Modern Vatican (2011), Mary Jane Cryan’s interesting study of The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento (2011) and Gabrielle Esposito’s useful Osprey volume on Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification, 1848-70 (2018). Nevertheless, I felt more could be said – especially on the British Zouaves. I began gathering material for the book in 2019 and then made it my lockdown project (at the same time as running a busy London parish!). It is great to see it finally complete and I thank Helion for their excellent production standards!

The subject raises some interesting themes. It reminds us that, in the last decade of the Pope’s Temporal Power, the Papal Army was the focus of much reform and modernisation, thanks to the work of Generals Lamoricière and Kanzler, and Monsignor Mérode. If the Pope was to remain a ruler in the nineteenth century he needed an up-to-date army. And it was involved in some significant actions, including the 1867 battle of Mentana – best known for the debut of the Chassepot rifle by the French, although this has overshadowed the involvement of the Pope’s troops. The book also tries to shed light on the phenomenon of ideological volunteering. Although, especially in the British context, this is often associated with liberal causes, the cause of Papal Rome shows that it existed on all sides of the political and religious spectrum. 

Many papal volunteers saw themselves as fighting for their ‘nation’ – to be a Catholic was to be a spiritual citizen of Rome and of Christendom, which was then facing so many threats. The Irish, meanwhile, saw the defence of the Pope not only as a matter of faith but as a way of indirectly fighting the British, who were strongly in favour of the Risorgimento. The contradiction, of course, was that they were fighting Italians who shared their same aspiration of independence from a foreign power.

In the end, of course, this is a narrative of heroic failure. Despite its best efforts, the Pontifical Army was unable to stand alone in its fight for independence and survival. Rome became the capital of a united Italy after it walls were breached in 1870; the Pope withdrew to the Apostolic Palace and regarded himself as a ‘prisoner’ until the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which established the Vatican City State. The book is, I hope, a monument to the volunteers and to a forgotten bit of our history. I hope it inspires more interest and research into the subject – and perhaps even the odd wargame!

Nicholas Schofield

Victorian Crusaders- Now Available!

Air Power and Arab World Mini-Series Volume 6

Written by Tom Cooper

At a time when multiple wars are raging across much of the Middle East and Africa, it is almost forgotten that it was Abu al-Qasim Abbas Ibn Firnas Ibn Wirdas at-Takurni – an Andalusian inventor, physician and engineer – who was the first person to undertake experiments in flying with any degree of success. Abbas Ibn Firnas died in 887 A. d., but not, if should be noted, as a result of his attempts to fly: in fact, his flying device had feathers and an apparent frame with wings large and flexible enough for him to glide a significant distance after jumping from a cliff: actually, he returned to – more or less – his starting point. That was back in the 9th Century A. D. An earlier, carved wooden ‘model aeroplane’ in the shape of a dove, found by archaeologists and dated back to the 3rd or 4th century A. D. context in Egypt, might be dismissable

Nigh on a thousand years later, the Arab World’s critical strategic location made it almost inevitable that these regions would be drawn into the imperial rivalries of the leading powers, no matter from where. Several balloon ascents by Italians and others in Constantinople (Istanbul) of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and then the first flight made by a Belgian pioneer aviator, Baron Pierre de Catres in his Voisin from Abbasyia – in the outskirts of Cairo, on 15 December 1909 – rose enthusiasm for the new science of flight. Already in February 1910, the Heliopolis Air Meeting was organised in the north-eastern outskirts of the fast-expanding Egyptian capitol.

To say this got the things rolling would be an understatement. Except for inspiring plenty of Egyptians into purchasing aircraft and learning to fly, the Heliopolis Air Meeting was followed, less than a year, by the next, dramatic, yet largely forgotten development.

An Etrich Taube of the Italian Army as seen in Libya of September or October 1911. Sottotenente Guillio Gavotti is seen in the centre of the aircraft from which he dropped the first four small bombs to fall from a heavier-than-air machine. (Maggiori Aeornautica photograph)

In 1911, Italy invaded the Ottoman-controlled North Africa: the area nowadays within territory of Libya. Right after securing Tripoli, the Italians brought two of their Aerosplane Squadrons to the country they named the Tripolitania. Their Etrich Taubes, Bleriots XI, Nieuport IVMs and Henri Farmans were originally meant to fly reconnaissance. However, as the Italians encountered much more fierce resistance than expected, they were deployed in combat before soon.

This is how it happened that on 1 November 1911, Sottotenente Guilio Gavotti became the first pilot to fly an air strike, when dropping four small, spherical bombs calibre 2kg in attack on insurgents in Ain Dara. Although the weapons used were not very reliable, and soon replaced by modified Swedish-made Haasen grenades (seized when the Italian Navy stopped a Greek sailing ship Amphitrite, smuggling these), the Italians pressed on. Their pilots flew numerous additional air strikes over the following weeks, thus de-facto giving birth to aviation as a new military science.

Tragically, over the last 110 years, the air power played a constantly growing role in the affairs of the Middle East and Africa – to the degree where the British developed it into a doctrine of controlling the local populations best known as ‘air policing’. Tragically, hardly any other part of this area has seen more application of air power than Libya since 1970, and especially since 2011, as the country remains a matter of dispute between the locals, Italians, Turks, French, Egyptians, and so many others. Tragically, ‘air policing’ remains a matter of life and death in large parts of the Middle East and Africa of our days, too – even if the means are nowadays entirely different, and primarily consisting of unmanned aerial vehicles, or supersonic fighter-bombers.

Despite all of this, the application and air power in the Arab World remains a much under-researched discipline – except when it comes to its deployment by Western military powers, especially the United States of America, or by Israel. Indeed, the establishment and build-up of Arab air forces remains one of most obscure topics in contemporary military history.

Because of this it is precisely this – the story of first Algerian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian, Moroccan, and Yemeni military aviators – is the core of the project Air Power and Arab World, authored by Dr. David Nicolle and Air-Vice Marshal Gabr Ali Gabr.

A reconstruction of the Etrich Stahltaube (built by Lohner and powered by an Austro-Daimler engine), flow by Sottotenente Guillio Gavotti of the Corpo Aeronautico Militare into the first-ever air strike, on 1 November 1911. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Launched in 2019, this mini-series published within the Middle East@War books-series is enjoying constantly growing popularity, and we have released its Volume 6, few days ago. It is largely focusing on operations of the Royal Iraqi Air Force during the Anglo-Iraqi War of May 1941, and efforts to rebuild this service immediately after. Another of its chapters is covering the Royal Egyptian Air Force during the period 1941-1945. Of course, we are working hard on preparing additional volumes of this mini-series: 7, 8, and 9 are already in the making – for release later this-, and early the next year. They are going to cover the period after 1945, with special emphasis on the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

Air Power and the Arab World 1909-1955 Volume 6 – Now Available!

The Shôgun’s Ghost Army

By Michael Fredholm von Esse

In 1636, Shôgun Iemitsu hoodwinked François Caron, the most well-informed Japan expert of the Dutch East India Company and accordingly the leading European authority, into believing that the total strength of the Shogunate army was 100,000 foot and 20,000 horse. An impressive figure, which few European rulers could rival, and which surely would deter any would-be invader. Especially so, Iemitsu explained to Caron, since his vassals could muster another 368,000 foot and 36,000 horse. To prove his point, Iemitsu showed copies of mobilization regulations which indeed confirmed the figures that he had mentioned.

Caron verified the documentation provided by the Shôgun and published the figures in his book on Japan. He failed to realize that while the mobilization documents were genuine, the size and state of the actual Shogunate army by this time had little in common with the documentation. Since the great Tokugawa victories at Sekigahara in 1600 and Ôsaka in 1615, a new generation of samurai had grown up, many of whom lacked military training and, yet worse, due to the soft life in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) seemingly lacked military skills altogether. Tokugawa Ieyasu had moved his capital to Edo so that his retainers would not be softened by the easy life and numerous pleasures of the ancient capital of Kyôto. Little did he know that the new capital of Edo soon would produce the same effect. The Shogunate soldiers lost their military edge. With no more wars to fight, they in all but name became townsmen. The Shôgun’s army increasingly became an army of ghosts, men who remained on the rolls but no longer were available for combat duty. Aware of its military decline, the Shogunate felt a need to protect itself from its manifold internal and external enemies. The former, Japan’s other powerful clan lords, could be taken care of by regulatory means and strict domestic surveillance, while the second group, Spain, the Netherlands, and Manchu China, was perceived as best handled through enforced seclusion. Hence, isolationism became the national policy enforced by Shôgun Iemitsu.

Why write a military history of a time when there were no wars, and the army had no enemy to fight? and why this sudden interest in the Shogunate army, which after its spectacular rise to power soon became a shadow of its former strength?

There are several good reasons:

1. The historical role nonetheless played by the Shogunate army. Despite its military decline, the Shogunate army remained the guarantor of Tokugawa rule throughout the Edo period, the modern name of the centuries that encompassed Tokugawa clan rule over Japan. This in itself makes the Shogunate army of interest, even though any description of the army’s history naturally will focus on its less warlike activities during the long peace that was the Edo period.

2. The cultural changes that took place in Japan under Tokugawa rule. All evidence points to the seclusion policy of the Edo period, together with the way of life in Edo itself, as the primary drivers of a drastic transformation of Japanese national character. The Edo period was the period in which modern-day Japan’s distinctive culture emerged and accordingly provides insights into why Japan is what it is today.

3. The cinematic result. Most stories of lone samurai swordsmen, as popularised in films and television, are set in the Edo period.

The Edo period was indeed the time of fighting men without a purpose, masterless samurai (rônin), whose exploits, whether in real life or fiction, gave rise to legendary tales such as those of The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Lone Wolf and Cub, and The 47 Rônin. This was a time of dusty streets, unprincipled gamblers and gangsters, alluring courtesans of the Floating World, and self-serving officials. It was a time when traditional ideals of what constituted a warrior’s and soldier’s life collided with modern realities. What was the samurai’s status and place in the world, when there were no more wars to fight? What could he attain? Or, was the warrior as obsolete as the old suit of armour that he, or his father, had pawned when expenses suddenly exceeded income.

Edo-period samurai found different answers to these questions, and made different choices. Quite a few became civilian administrators. Some relinquished their warrior status, instead establishing great (or not so great) merchant houses. Others squandered their inheritance on idle amusements, ending up paupers. Some became outlaws. But quite a few continued doing what they knew best, embarking upon new careers in law enforcement or fire-fighting. Although abandoning old-style armour and weaponry, they acquired new tools of the trade, which were more up-to-date and better suited to modern times than those used by their ancestors. By the end of the century, the Shogunate army may have been an army largely on paper only, yet loyal retainers still served the Shôgun and protected the city, although in different roles than in the past. Many of them did it very well.

The Shogun’s Soldiers Volume 1 – Now Available!

From Reason to Revolution Events

Written by From Reason to Revolution Series Editor Andrew Bamford

Long-term fans of the From Reason to Revolution series will recall that our 2019 series conference took place at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, with a set of papers that were subsequently published as Life in the Red Coat

Benjamin West’s ‘General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian’ Derby Museums.

We had hoped to return in 2020, but world events made that impossible and our Napoleonic-themed conference eventually took place a year late and in an online format, the papers being published as Armies and Enemies of Napoleon. However, the booking at Derby was carried over to 2022, the conference taking place on 2 July, and this, in turn, helped set the conference theme of Warfare in North America since the current star object in the gallery that we had hired is now Benjamin West’s ‘General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian’. The event was generously sponsored by the Society for Army Historical Research.

The format for the day’s event was a keynote presentation in the morning, followed by two three-paper panels during the afternoon. Opening the proceedings, William Raffle talked about the tensions within the armed forces of New France that ultimately helped contribute to the loss of the colony during the campaign of 1754-1760. His presentation stressed the importance of rivers for communications, and emphasised the problems of European-trained officers working with both colonial manpower and indigenous allies.

Joshua Provan introduces our conference audience to the exploits of Bernardo de Gálvez. (photo by Robert Griffith)

The first panel after lunch looked at the American War of Independence, with two papers looking at the Continental Army and one looking at the Spanish contribution. John Rees joined us by Zoom to talk about conscription before Alexander S. Burns, in the UK ready for the second of our two events that week (for which, see below), spoke about firepower. Finally, Joshua Provan made his conference debut with an outline of Bernardo de Gálvez’s opening campaigns along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico once Spain had entered the war, which form a prequel to his forthcoming study of the Siege of Pensacola.

The final session of the day shifted focus to look at the British Army’s experience in North America. Don Hagist joined us by Zoom to give a lively and entertaining synopsis of five courts martial and the insights that they can give us into the detail of how the British operated and fought during the American War of Independence; this was followed by Paul Knight’s account of how British regiments were trained, and that training assessed, during the years immediately prior to the war. Lastly, series editor Andrew Bamford jumped ahead to the end of the period to give an overview of the British Army in Canada during the War of 1812, using statistics from the monthly returns to emphasise, amongst other things, commendably low rates of sickness but some shockingly high figures for desertion.

Unlike previous conferences, we will not be publishing the proceedings of this one as a single volume. Rather, the five American War of Independence papers will form part of a larger volume of collected scholarship on that conflict, which Don Hagist will be editing for us. The keynote presentation, meanwhile, will hopefully form the basis of a book in its own right.

Speaking of edited collections, three days after the series conference the From Reason to Revolution team was again on the road, heading for the impressive surroundings of the Cavalry and Guards Club in London to launch a special collection of essays in honour of the great Professor Christopher Duffy. Many of you will be aware that Helion is currently in the process of producing new editions of some of Christopher’s best-known works, but we also felt that it was fitting to mark his huge and distinguished contribution to the military history of the long eighteenth-century with a festschrift; a book of essays written in his honour. Entitled The Changing Face of Old Regime Warfare, this was edited for us by Alexander S. Burns, currently of the University of West Virginia, and brought together 17 contributors from across three continents. A mixture of chapters, covering an array of topics, variously develop themes that will be familiar from Christopher’s own work, analyse primary sources, and introduce new approaches that will ensure that our understanding of this pivotal period in military history continues to grow.

Professor Christopher Duffy, flanked by festschrift editor Alexander S. Burns (left) and From Reason to Revolution series editor Andrew Bamford (right). (Photo by Andy Miles)

To mark this volume’s publication, a special release event had been organised in conjunction with the British Commission for Military History, of which Christopher was a founding member. After an introduction by Series Editor Andrew Bamford, we heard firstly from Professor Bill Philpott about Christopher’s involvement with BCMH, and then from Michael Orr about his time on the staff at RMA Sandhurst. Dr Burns then gave an outline of the book before presenting a copy to its honouree, who also gave the audience his thoughts on the current state of military history as well as his thanks for attending what proved to be a convivial and enjoyable evening in the company of one of the greats of the field.

Helion & Wargame Shows

Written by Andy Miles @War Series Editor and Events Manager

Following the interruption caused by Covid-19 the UK wargame show circuit seems to be getting back into near-full swing and Helion are very glad to be a regular fixture on the circuit.

For those not familiar with wargaming, its origins lie back in the early nineteenth century with the Prussian kriegsspiel, a map-based military game that passed in and out of fashion until adopted as a serious military training tool later in the century. Author H.G. Wells wrote his own take on wargaming, called Little Wars (a version of which is available in our Paper Soldiers range), written in a very engaging style “for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books.” The modern hobby of wargaming began to develop in the 1960s, and even enjoyed periodic forays onto television. The modern hobby goes from strength to strength and there are more products available now for the enthusiast than ever before and in a range of scales in which a soldier may be as little as 2mm high up to 28mm (one of the more popular scales), or even 40mm or 54mm. Games usually involve moving miniature armies over model terrain and simulating combat between the armies by rolling dice. Some games can be very detailed and intense simulations whilst others are simple, fun, so-called ‘beer and pretzel’ games. 

So, what is a wargaming show, why does Helion go to them, and what is involved? 

Wargaming shows are gatherings of those with an interest in the hobby and usually serve several functions. They are usually hosted by a local wargaming club and act as a showcase for the hobby and a recruiting ground for potential new members. One major feature is games to observe or join in, another is that the shows are usually attended by traders selling a wide range of wargaming-related products, be it the miniatures themselves, terrain items to build the model battlefields, paints and brushes, or more general accessories and books. 

This latter point is, of course, where Helion comes in. Each year we attend around a dozen of the larger shows and take a good selection of our books, primarily from (in a rough chronological order) our Retinue to Regiment, Century of the Soldier, Reason to Revolution, Musket to Maxim and various @War ranges. We like to take the best sellers and new releases from those ranges, along with a few selected highlights from our other non-series ranges to the shows, and usually have well in excess of 400 individual titles in stock (we’re always happy to accept pre-orders or bring a specific item along for customers – just drop us an email to at least 3–4 days before the event).

The shows are, obviously, a very good retail opportunity for us and we enjoy the face-to-face contact with customers. Many customers buy titles beyond just their immediate wargaming interests as they often have a much broader interest in military history. This contact is great for us as a business as we can gather constructive feedback from our readers and in turn provide updates on forthcoming titles. In many ways the shows also function as a sort of ‘Helion Roadshow’ and mobile meeting space, giving us the opportunity to meet existing and prospective authors face to face, and as the stand is usually staffed by at least two of the series editors, we can discuss projects and enjoy some useful networking opportunities. 

Whilst we enjoy the shows, they can also be hard work, and a lot of preparation goes into them. The process often starts many months in advance with filling in forms for the event organisers in order to book space and then making the administrative and logistic arrangements to cover transport, staffing and sometimes accommodation. A week or two before the event proper we will review the stock that we’re taking and adjust accordingly. Our office and warehouse team at Warwick do a sterling job of picking the new titles to be added and, of course, at the last moment there are always cries to add just one more thing. Titles sometimes literally pass from a pallet just delivered by the printer directly into the stock for the weekend’s show. 

Travel to and from shows can also be a significant undertaking and it isn’t unusual for us to drive for three or four hours to get to a show venue. On top of this we also need an hour or two to set up before the doors are opened to the public. Of course, we also need to do the reverse process at the end of an event and getting home at 9 or 10 p.m. on Sunday isn’t unusual. Our longest trips have been to Antwerp and Hamburg, though in the present calendar that honour goes to Edinburgh. 

As I write this (mid-July) the UK circuit is just starting to get back into full swing. A few shows have still been disrupted for 2022 as a legacy of the pandemic due to show organisers and venues not being able to coordinate their requirements but broadly speaking the circuit looks healthy. If you want to know where Helion will be, make sure that you look at the ‘upcoming trade shows’ section on our website and check out the organisers’ own event sites too. 

We have a busy autumn schedule coming up and this year plan to attend the IPMS Scale Model World event in Telford for the first time where you will be able to meet the @War series editors including the prolific Tom Cooper. 

Remember that for any of our shows you can pre-order books for collection and that our prices on show stock are always discounted. So do come along and see us and say hello (even if you’re not a wargamer or modeller you may discover a new hobby or just enjoy seeing the work of others), we very much look forward to seeing you.

Images taken at Attack in July 2022 in Wiltshire

Ukraine: Covering an Ongoing War

Written by Adrien Fontanellaz & Tom Cooper

During the early hours of 24 February 2022, Moscow launched its so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, which was expected to stun the Ukrainians into submission in a matter of days thanks to the swift advance of multiple mechanized columns converging on the capital and other crucial areas, along with airborne assaults and decapitation strikes. To undertake its regime-change operation, the Russians had massed a staggering 127 Battalion Tactical Groups – in essence regular mechanized, airborne or tank battalions, each heavily reinforced with several artillery batteries and other support units – around Ukraine, controlled by at least nine combined arms or tank army commands, in turn attached to either the Western or the Southern Military District.

This was an arsenal of staggering proportions, and the very best the Russian Army could muster: more than 200,000 men, at least 12,000 armoured vehicles of all kinds, including main battle tanks (MBTs), self-propelled guns (SPGs), armoured personals carriers (APCs), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAP) and a vast array of more specialized machines. The bulk of this arsenal consisted of either recent designs or heavily modernised older designs, such as the T-90 and T-72B3 tanks, BMP-3 and BTR-82 IFVs, or Pantsir air-defence systems to name a few. The Russian Aerospace Force (VKS) had mustered roughly 60 percent of its combat assets with hundreds of the dreaded state-of-the-art Su-35S, Su-30MS, Su-34 or heavily modernised Su-25, together with dozens of Mi-28, Ka-52 and Mi-35 attack helicopters lying in wait at their airbases located within striking range of Ukraine. The Russian Army was widely assessed as a deadly fighting machine, whose infamous "fire-reconnaissance complex” had not only savaged a series of Ukrainian Battalion Tactical Groups in the Donbass in 2014 and 2015, but also turned the tables in Syria from 2015 onwards by almost single-handily saving the Assadist regime.

But, and to the surprise of many, the entire Russian operation was derailed in just a few days. The Ukrainian army proved to be something entirely different to the underfunded, corrupt and ill-trained force so badly beaten in the summer of 2014 and reacted by offering from the onset, and despite some initial confusion, much fiercer resistance than anyone – primarily the top Russian commanders – expected. Gradually, it appeared that since 2014 Kyiv had not only massively expanded its army, but also entirely retrained it – thanks partly to intensive NATO support – and reshuffled its doctrine to integrate the lessons drawn from the 2014 defeat. Perhaps even more surprisingly is that in a matter of days, a number of NATO members, foremost the USA, began massive support to the Ukrainians by delivering weapons and unheard-of amounts of intelligence, thereby giving them a crucial edge. Thus began the fiercest conventional war to erupt in Europe since the Second World War, where almost all imaginable kinds of weaponry have been deployed, from decades-old tanks to the latest-generation laser-guided shells, cruise missiles, ATGMs and UAVs, with at least half a million troops from both sides fighting each other. 

Image taken at a front line position near Yasynuvata, Donetsk People’s Republic (May 2019). These fighters are local (from Donetsk) but refuse to be governed by what they describe as ‘fascists in Kiev’ hence why they decided to take up arms.

Photographer Dean Obrian

To be honest, the all-out Russian attack surprised number of us at Helion, as we thought that any attempt to invade Ukraine could only trigger a protracted conflict and that therefore, Moscow would never bet on such a high-risk gamble. Therefore, we understood the widely publicised Russian build-up during the preceding months as an exercise in muscle flexing and sabre rattling to coerce the Ukrainians into concessions on the diplomatic front. It was only a few days beforehand, when the Russians began to paint tactical markings on their vehicles, and mounted improvised cages on their tank turrets to counter top-attack missiles such as the Javelin, that we began to feel increasingly concerned. Even though we all felt stunned, almost depressed, on that infamous 24th of February, because the tragedy had begun and through studying conflict and warfare for most of our lives, we were all too familiar with the devastation which always comes, the waste of countless innocent lives, the ruin of crucial infrastructure and the immense suffering, hate and the grief that wars never fail to leave in their wake.

Almost instantly, several of us also felt we needed to cooperate even more intensively together, if only to be able to cope with and process the massive amounts of information and disinformation which almost continuously floods social and mass media, thus trying to sort out the proverbial needles from the haystack. We did it for a purpose; trying to publish as fast as we could a narrative of this ongoing war, as well as its origins. Of course, this will never be "exhaustive, "all-encompassing" or "definite" – this is already an impossibility when one works, as we do, on the subject of "unknown" or "little previously researched" wars that occurred decades ago, no to mention an ongoing conflict, but as always, we intend to do our very best to provide our readers with the best possible coverage and in the best Helion & Company fashion. Because, in the end, this is simply what we have always done; researching, collecting and assessing information, trying to make sense out of this and put it into writing, and hoping that by doing so, we make a valuable contribution to the understanding of the so-called "contemporary" history.

It is thus our privilege to announce our mini-series dedicated to the Ukraine wars, whose first two volumes will be dedicated to offering an in-depth study of the armed forces of the separatist republics, and of the first phase of the current war, from 24 February to 31 March 2022 respectively.

War in Ukraine Volume 1 – Now Available!

A Very Gallant Gentlemen

A Blog about the Thornhagh Book

I am often asked about how the research into the life and career of Frances Thornhagh began.  I have been researching and writing about the history of the Midlands, particularly the region during the seventeenth century, for over 30 years now.  The last decade or so, with my involvement at the National Civil War Centre at Newark upon Trent, I have particularly focussed on the period of the Civil Wars and Republic (1640-1660).  Over the course of my writing, both for publication and the media, I kept coming across a name that fascinated me – Colonel Frances Thornhagh.  It came to the point where I decided that I needed to find out more about this much-mentioned individual.  Normally in such situations my starting point for initial research is the Dictionary of National Biography but was shocked to discover that the individual does not even have an entry in that work.  The seventeenth century Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson by Lucy Hutchinson therefore became the initial point of reference.

The Memoirs are primarily concerned with the person of Colonel Hutchison, but they do contain enough information about Thornhagh, who was a lifelong friend and colleague of Hutchinson, to get my research started.  For the next two years other work was put to one side as I trawled through the Journals of both the House of Commons and the Lords to locate references and mentions of the subject.  Locating descendants of Francis Thornhagh still living in Nottinghamshire opened up another rich source of information both in the surviving family papers (now stored at Nottinghamshire Archives) and an impressive portrait of the colonel painted during his life time.  Finally the largest task of all proved to be working through the collection of newssheets produced by both sides over the course of the Civil War.  The joy of these rich veins of information wasn’t just that you found information about Frances Thornhagh; there were times when the actual voice of the man is recorded and reaches out to the researcher.  It is one of those rare occasions for a historian were you feel privileged to get a sense of what your subject was like as well as what he did.  My hope is that this experience will also become a reality for the readers of this now published research.  He truly was ‘a very gallant gentleman’ who went on to see service not only in his county but also across the region and the country until his premature death on the battlefield at the age of 31.   
Stuart B Jennings latest book can be purchased from Helion & Company Ltd

My Journey into the Heart of Darkness

By Rohan Saravanamuttu

Somebody asked me recently how I first became interested in the Napoleonic wars. I had to think back 50 years to when I was 12, when I was lent a book by a school teacher to do a project. It was a book by Christopher Duffy on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

A couple years ago I was attending a conference at Kings College London, and one of the speakers was Professor Christopher Duffy. Although now very old, he was in good voice and gave an interesting lecture with the provocative title, ‘Waterloo: Wellington’s Indecisive Victory,’ I went up afterwards to shake his hand and told him how his book had inspired me. He self-deprecatingly said that it was not a great book. Nevertheless, as a 12 year old, I was blown away by the scale of the Russian campaign and of its losses. It is a campaign that still fascinates and horrifies me. I just about understood why Napoleon invaded Russia but I was struggling to understand why 600,000 people followed him.

Duffy’s book had ignited my curiosity and I wanted to find out more about this charismatic character, Napoleon. My next stop was a beautifully illustrated book called Napoleon by David Chandler, which was essentially a slimed down version of his magnum opus, The Campaigns of Napoleon, which I read much later. I see now that the bibliography of Napoleon includes Duffy’s book.

Reading Chandler kindled an interest in Napoleonic strategy and tactics. I was also attracted to the colourful uniforms of the day and in my young teens I collected and painted the old Airfix plastic Napoleonic figures. I eventually found a copy of Bruce Quarie’s wargaming rules and started dabbling in wargaming.

When I went to the University of Kent I joined the wargames club, which mainly involved board gaming. I was studying Biochemistry but after a nasty experience in the lab with a giant chinchilla (I don’t like to talk about that), I decided to become a Chartered Accountant after graduating. The early years of hard work and study precluded any gaming, but after qualifying I moved to Birmingham where I joined the Birmingham Wargames Society where I made many friends who I still wargame with. One of the popular periods at the Society was Napoleonics and we had many trips to the Wargames Holiday Centre, then run by Peter Gilder in Scarborough.

The Wargames Holiday Centre was the inspiration for Geoff Eyles and I setting up The Big Battalions, where we hosted similar large-scale games a few times a year for several years. Doing the historical research for the scenarios was an enjoyable part of it.

After I retired from my career in finance, I did an MA in the History of War at the Department of War Studies at Kings College London. I initially pushed myself into areas that I was ignorant of, such as the Thirty Years War, and the economics of the Second World War, and I took the module on Sea Power given by Professor Andrew Lambert, one of Britain’s foremost naval historians. However, I found myself drawn back to the Napoleonic Wars for my dissertation which was on the Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (supervised by Professor Lambert). I also took Professor Phil Sabin’s module on Conflict Simulation in which students had to design and produce a board game. Mine was on the Battle of Borodino. One of my sources was, of course, Borodino: Napoleon Against Russia, 1812, by Christopher Duffy.

Register interest in Leipzig The Battle of Nations here.

Faces from the Front: Harold Gillies, The Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup and the Origins of Modern Plastic Surgery

By Dr Andrew Bamji MB FRCP

I am delighted that “Faces from the Front”, the story of the origins of facial surgery in the First World War, first published by Helion in 2017, sold out in hardback and is being re-released in paperback.  It was well-received, winning first prize in the “Basis of Medicine” category of the British Medical Association Book Awards in 2018, from a field of 13 books.

The book is the culmination of my research over a quarter of a century, based on my discovery of the surviving case files of the British and New Zealand sections of the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, now known as Queen Mary’s Hospital.  As a consultant rheumatologist at Sidcup, where plastic surgery first developed as a specialty from 1917 to 1925 led by Harold Gillies, I had a personal interest in bringing the story to a wide public.  This was not least because of the misconception that facial surgery originated in the Second World War under Archibald McIndoe; his management of the burns sustained by aircrew, and public knowledge of the Guinea Pig Club, has long overshadowed the earlier work by Gillies and his colleagues at Sidcup.  It is not commonly known that McIndoe was introduced to plastic surgery by Gillies in the late 1920s.

The book describes the establishment of the hospital at Sidcup and is illustrated by numerous cases, drawing on the photographs, pastels and watercolours from the case files. Gillies successfully integrated units from Great Britain and the Dominions, developing an effective multi-disciplinary approach involving not only surgeons and dentists but technicians, radiologists, artists, sculptors, photographers and nursing staff.  Rehabilitation facilities were extensive, allowing the retraining of men for suitable occupations.

The centralisation of plastic surgery services in Britain was a very different approach to that on the continent, where in France, Germany and Italy facial surgery was dispersed among many separate units.  Centralisation meant that the large number of surgeons could learn from each other, and from each other’s mistakes.  As a result, technical advances surpassed those seen elsewhere, where surgeons often worked in isolation.  Furthermore the concentration of patients had great benefits; later arrivals could observe the successful surgery on their predecessors and understand that reconstruction could take a long time, and require many operations – but that it would be worthwhile.  Patients were given sets of photographs showing the stages of surgery from initial disfigurement to final appearance.  The accepted narrative of patients’ depression, despair and sense of hopelessness – which had been expected, even anticipated – was false.  My archive website led to many family enquiries for patient details from which I learned that the majority of injured men went on to live happy and fulfilled lives.  This was perhaps my most unexpected finding.

I think that people will be very surprised by the sophistication of surgery, and the remarkable results, from 100 years ago.  The illustrations in the book may not always be easy viewing but I have also always believed that the true horror of war cannot be understood unless some of the graphic images are in the public domain. I have been encouraged by individual responses to the book and to a major exhibition “Faces of Battle” at the National Army Museum in 2007 and it is offered to many plastic surgery trainees as a reminder of the specialty’s history.  I have lectured widely in the UK and abroad, including presentations in Paris to the Union des Blessés de la Face et de la Tête (the “Gueules Cassées) and to a commemorative plastic surgery conference in Auckland, New Zealand.


“The pioneering work of Harold Gillies is legendary, and this magnificent book showcases his work and dedication in a quite remarkable and extraordinary way. (Books Monthly)

“This book is absolutely engrossing and has made full and good use of the resources to which it has access. … highly recommended.” (Muster, National Army Museum)

“It is a book that I found wholly inspiring.” (Chris Baker, The Long, Long Trail)

“This book has been fully and lovingly researched and covers a much broader area than previous works on this topic… I would recommend Faces from the Front to historians of the Great War, the military medical service and of course plastic surgery.” (Jonathan Goddard, British Society for the History of Medicine)

“The fact that its publication coincides with a campaign by a leading charity for facial equality will only increase its relevance outside historical circles.” (Jonathan Reinarz, Social History of Medicine)

“This fascinating and important book deserves a wide audience.” (Stand To!)

“The book is well illustrated throughout but, more importantly than this, it is written with sensitivity, feeling and a clear passion for Gillies and his work.” (Amazon Review)

“About as vital and alive as History gets” (Amazon review)

“A well written account and highly recommended.” (Luke Perry, Amazon review)

Now retired, I live in Rye, East Sussex, where I look after our 16th century church clock and assist in tourism management for the church.  I have continued writing.  My book “Mad Medicine”: Myths, Maxims and Mayhem in the National Health Service” describes many of the lessons learned in my medical career.  I am currently writing a diary of the coronavirus pandemic and have embarked on the first follow-up to my novel “Anything for a Quiet Life”. When not writing I enjoy gardening with my wife Liz and antique-hunting.

The 2022 Century of the Soldier Conference – the original and still the best!

By Charles Singleton

Saturday 14 May 2022 sees the return of the annual Century of the Soldier Conference. Following the hiatus brought on by the pandemic, we are back with a bang at a new venue, Worcester Cathedral. The day will be held in the recently furnished Undercroft Learning Centre, the location for holding prisoners after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘1648 and all that. The Scottish invasions of England, 1648 and 1651’. We are very fortunate to have with us arguably some of the best-known names in the study of the period who will be presenting papers on the day.

We also hope to have some new publications available at the conference, and the Century of the Soldier team will be on hand to chat to and answer any questions you may have.

Tickets are £30 and that includes a buffet lunch and drinks available throughout the day.

Buffet menu: Selection of sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiche and fruit basket 

Although the final list of speakers is to be finalised, here is a list of what to expect.

Ronald Hutton Keynote speaker – Introduction to the day’s papers

Stuart Jennings – Colonel Francis Thornhagh and the Battle of Preston, 1648

Thornhagh’s death at the age of 31 during the Preston campaign robbed Parliament of a rising commander of men and a very active member of the Commons. Thornhagh had become familiar with the Scottish army over the seven-month siege of Newark-on-Trent between 1645 and 1646, when as one of the senior officers under Poyntz he helped coordinate actions between the English and Scottish armies around the town. He had served alongside Cromwell at the battle of Gainsborough (1643) and under him in the Welsh campaign in early 1648. After the battle at Preston, Cromwell promoted him to take charge of the horse in pursuit of the Scottish army, while the commander followed with the foot. In a skirmish near Chorley, a rash cavalry charge against the Scottish horse brought Thornhagh into contact with mounted lancers, which he had never fought against before, and he was killed, though the English horse performed well and won the encounter. This paper explores the military career of Thornhagh and his interactions with the Scots both as allies and as foes.

Stuart Jennings

Peter Gaunt – A Tale of Two Risings: Was the second civil war in England and Wales primarily pro-royalist or anti-parliamentarian?

This lecture explores, compares and contrasts the origins, initial stages and ensuing course of two of the biggest English and Welsh elements of the so-called Second Civil War of 1648, namely the rising in Kent, which spread to parts of Essex, notably Colchester, and in Pembrokeshire, which spread across much of South Wales. Focusing especially on the various declarations, manifestoes and other documents issued by the leaders of these two risings designed for wider public dissemination and consumption, it re-examines the central question of whether these two home-grown risings were predominantly pro-royalist or anti-parliamentarian in origins, nature, and direction, and it suggests that in this area there were significant differences between the two.

Peter Gaunt

Martyn Bennett – Crisis in command. Engagements, alliances, and hard choices: the creation of a new Scottish army in 1648

The leadership of the invasion forces in 1648 was somewhat confused. The signing of the Engagement with Charles I by Loudon and others took much of Scotland by surprise, and it can be argued that it was a done in a panic as a rushed response to the bare-bone proposals – the Four Bills – offered by Westminster. The result was confusion, as most of the leaders of the Scottish armies of 1639, 1640, 1641 and 1643–46 opposed such a vague treaty. The Scottish government, which itself was uncertain about the Engagement, had to create a new command structure and construct unpleasant alliances to do so. It can be argued that it was an ambitious plan involving English royalist forces from Ireland and a new army.

This paper explores the consequences of the decision-making process on leadership command and the campaign of 1648.

Martyn Bennett

Ronald Hutton – Charles II as a General

We hardly think of the ‘Merry Monarch’ as a soldier. It clashes with his general reputation as a lounge lizard and party animal, and indeed he was too young to take part alongside his father in the Great Civil War while the conflicts of his own reign were all waged on the high seas, and naval battles were too dangerous to risk a monarch in them. However, this reputation ignores his role in the Scottish invasion of England in 1651, in which he functioned very much as an effective as well as a titular commander-in-chief. Not only was he prominent in the decision-making which led to the invasion in the first place, but he fought personally in all of its actions, dominated the councils of war which decided each phase of his army’s activity, inspected the camp guards nightly, and generally led from the front. This talk is designed to examine this phase of his career and suggest what it tells us about Charles as a man and a ruler. Does it make us look at him differently?

Ronald Hutton

John Callow – ‘Men do Ever Fight for Peace’: James, 7th Earl of Derby and the Battle of Wigan Lane, 1651

This chapter will look at the raising of a Manx army by James, 7th Earl of Derby in order to assist the invasion of England by Charles II in 1651, the Earl’s attempts to reoccupy his former position as the centrifuge of power in Lancashire – through the winning over of disaffected Presbyterian gentry to the Royalist cause – and his generalship during his all too brief final campaign. James’s actions and motivations have often been overlooked or obscured by the reputation of his wife, the Countess Charlotte, and by the Royalist hagiography that swiftly built up around his martyrdom on the scaffold at Bolton. However, James was neither so politically and militarily inept as has often been thought, nor was he as unquestioning in his service and sacrifice for the Crown. This chapter will contrast his refusal to embroil himself in the Scottish invasion of 1648 with his own landing on the Lancashire coast just three years later, and will examine both the human and political costs of his preparedness to militarise Manx society to an unprecedented extent and his ‘eleventh hour’ decision to reinject violence into the life of the North West of England.

John Callow

Andrew Lind – A Lost Cause? Montrose’s Final Expedition, 1649–1650 (Skype)

This paper examines the final expedition of the royalist captain-general, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. Montrose’s forces occupied Orkney in September 1649 in the first stage of a new royalist offensive against the Scottish covenanting regime. However, unable to replicate the series of stunning royalist victories of 1644–1645, Montrose’s army was utterly routed at the Battle of Carbisdale on 27 April 1650. Because of this defeat and Charles II’s subsequent disownment of the venture, Montrose’s final expedition has often been disregarded as forlorn, misguided and ultimately a lost cause. Using previously underutilised local records, this paper examines the level of support Montrose and his men were able to harness over the course of their brief campaign and considers the reasons behind individuals’ choices to support the royalists’ efforts.

Andrew Lind

Ed Furgol – Three armies into one? Scottish Engager military organisation in 1648 (Skype)

In December 1647 three Scottish nobles signed a treaty with Charles I, requiring them to mobilise a Scottish army. The objective was to defeat the New Model Army in England and to free Charles. They had at their disposal two armies, one in Ulster and another in Scotland, and needed to produce a parliamentary act of levy for a third. Uniting these forces would give the Scottish Engagers the military strength to achieve their objectives. From May 1648 the usual Scottish coordination for levying men between the national government, local authorities and the church faltered, when the latter objected to the treaty’s clause establishing Presbyterianism in England and Ireland for only three years. In June the Engagers decided to leave troops in Scotland and substantial garrisons in northern England. Equally debilitating, no effort was made to secure veteran units for English field service. In early August 1648 George Monro’s Ulster Force (1,900 men) became independent of the Duke of Hamilton’s army in England. By mid August the Engagers had six forces: one in Scotland, another in Ulster, English garrisons, Monro’s, Callendar’s–Middleton’s Horse and Hamilton’s–Baillie’s Foot, severely reducing the possibility of success. The paper will examine the creation and organisation of the Engagers’ forces and how the latter negatively impacted their military efforts.

Ed Furgol

More speakers and papers will be confirmed.

Tickets are available online now here.

Getting to the conference

Address: 8 College Yard, Worcester
Postcode for Sat Nav: WR1 2LA

The Cathedral is in Worcester City Centre. It is a 10-15 minute walk from Worcester Foregate Street and Crowngate Street Bus Station.
The Cathedral is a short 20 minute car journey from Junctions 6 and 7 of the M5 motorway.

Car Parking in Worcester

There are disabled parking spaces which are for use by Blue Badge holders on a first come first served basis.
However, there are several public car parks within easy walking distance of the Cathedral. 
We would recommend parking opposite the Cathedral, in Cathedral Square where there is a pay and display NCP multi-storey car park. Alternatively, Copenhagen Street car park is located to the West of the Cathedral off Deansway, and to the East, King Street car park, off Edgar Street, all within a 5-minute walk of the main visitor entrance. 

More information on carparking in Worcester can be found here.

(c) Google Maps