Henry Wilson – the backstabber’s backstabber – or soldier-diplomat?

By John Spencer

No study of the British Army’s senior command in the Great War is complete without a reference to Sir Henry Hughes Wilson. Like the villain in a Victorian melodrama he usually makes an early appearance, then skulks in the background only to reappear in the final act to stab his friends in the back. There is no doubt that Wilson was, and remains, a Marmite-character, but was he quite so black as his enemies painted him?

Wilson died before he could tell his own war story, and his reputation was shredded by a well-intentioned biography initiated by his widow and written by a friend and colleague, C.E. Callwell. That book was based in large part on Wilson’s detailed and highly entertaining diaries, in which every evening this most political of soldiers recorded his thoughts on his friends, his enemies, and war policy in general. Unfortunately for his reputation, Wilson’s often intemperate late-night scribblings found their way into the biography, much to the irritation of his contemporaries.

For those who disliked or distrusted Wilson (or both), here was proof-positive of his Janus-like character. For his friends and admirers (and there were many), it was disappointing to find themselves criticised behind their backs. Here, surely, was the ‘real’ Henry Wilson. The late Keith Jeffery’s excellent political biography (Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier, 2006) was a much more balanced account of this fascinating man. Notwithstanding Jeffery’s work, Wilson is still too many a one-dimensional character; untrustworthy, flippant, ambitious, admirer of politicians. The antithetical British army officer.

I encountered him first while studying Britain and the Great War for my master’s degree at Birmingham University. When I was considering a doctorate, he seemed like the ideal candidate. But what was there to say that was new? Viewing Wilson’s diaries at the Imperial War Museum it became clear that there was, in fact, quite a lot.

Although Wilson’s first biographer had squeezed the diaries for many a juicy reference, there were plenty more for the picking. Writing in the 1920’s, when many of the main characters were still alive, Callwell had understandably often anonymised his references, and skated over others. Pouring over his less than copperplate jottings, it soon became clear to me that there was far more to Wilson than the glib characterisation which had served as a shorthand for his character for almost a century.

Wilson wrote up his journal each evening after dinner. He usually used a W.H. Smith page-a-day hardback diary and, if what he had to say took more than the supplied page, he continued on any spare page elsewhere in the diary, or in a separate notebook. [A note here for researchers: Wilson’s diaries were microfiched in the dim and distant past and it is impossible to tie the daily diary with the additional notes’ pages in this format; remember to ask to examine the originals!] What became clear early on was that Wilson’s grumblings and criticisms were his way of ‘venting’ his feelings after a busy day – very much like modern fancy for late-night social media rants which, in the cold light of day are often regretted, and rarely acted upon. Wilson was writing for himself, not for public consumption; if he couldn’t grumble in his journal, where could he do it?

The diaries, his official papers, and those of his contemporaries together revealed a much more complex character than I had originally expected. Certainly, Wilson liked politicians (or some of them), and some of them liked him. But he was no fool, and no dupe. Henry Wilson was, unlike many officers of his rank and class, happy to mix with the ‘frocks’ and in so doing hoped to further both his career and his view of how the war might be won.

As if a cheeky ease with politicians wasn’t enough to place him in bad odour with his fellow officers, Wilson was also seen as a ‘Francophile’. This label was appended to Wilson because he spoke the language, and in the pre-War period had make it his business to study the French army and make friendships with French officers. These skills meant that for much of the war his main contribution to the British effort was not strategic command, but inter-allied liaison. Wilson was a friend, and sometimes adversary, of Ferdinand Foch. In the final 18 months of the war both men finally achieved great power and influence over their respective countries’ war policy.

This role as ‘soldier diplomat’ dominates Wilson’s War and will, I hope, add a new dimension to our understanding of a complex, yet fascinating soldier who had a far greater impact on British military policy both during and after the Great War, than many might originally believe.

My research has now returned to that other enigmatic and fascinating Great War general, Sir William Robertson. I have contributed chapters on ‘Wully’ to Spencer Jones’s three collections of writings on the Great War, all published by Helion. I am now working on the fourth, Robertson in 1917, the year in which the bluff Chief of the Imperial General Staff clashed directly with Henry Wilson; two more dissimilar characters can hardly be imagined.

You can now buy ‘Wilson’s War. Sir Henry Wilson’s Influence on British Military Policy in the Great War and its Aftermath’ here.

The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed through Allied and Axis Accounts.

By Yannis Prekatsounakis

It is now almost three years since the first publication of my book and I’m really happy to see that a second paperback reprint. Heraklion is my birth place and my hometown and since my childhood, the memories from celebrations, ceremonies and accounts about the battle of Crete had a strong influence on me and made me wonder what it all about and what was the real story behind the battle. Quite soon I realised that the battle of Crete is very well documented regarding the events that took place around Chania and Maleme (the west sector of the battle) while this was not the case for Heraklion. The battle for Heraklion was unique since it involved fighting in both a rural and urban environment. While some paratroops units found themselves fighting in the rocky harsh terrain around the airfield, others had to fight their way through ancient fortifications and survive the bitter street fighting in an unknown and hostile environment where each street, each building and each window could hide an ambush and a lethal trap.

            After years of research I decided to write down the story of the battle in order to have for the first time an as much as possible completed narrative viewed from the perspective of all three sides, the Greeks, the British (Commonwealth) and the Germans. My military education and background and my preoccupation with the tactical analysis of exercises directed me towards a thorough study of the battle on the actual battlefield, based on official documents such as after action reports and war diaries as well as firsthand accounts.  The book is a unique source of firsthand accounts describing vividly the tension of the battle. A very characteristic phrase in a reader’s review was “…you can even taste the dust in your mouth during the fighting in the fields around the airfield..”  

            This book highlights personal stories and accounts – and my access to records from all three sides allowed accounts to be placed in their correct place and time. Finally, the history of the battle is written with the added perspective of extensive Greek accounts and sources. In contrast, earlier books were based solely on British and German sources – totally ignoring the Greek side. Many of these accounts are from people who were fighting directly against each other – and some reveal what the enemies were discussing and thinking while they were shooting at or attacking each other. Some accounts are so accurate and detailed that we can even identify who killed whom. In addition, long-lost stories behind both well known and previously unpublished pictures are revealed.

            Apart from the personal accounts, the book focuses on the tactical level, featuring detailed maps of the battlefield and the order of battle, providing valuable material for those who are interested in studying the battle from the tactical military perspective. Moreover, the extensive research on the battlefield provides the visitor and military history enthusiast with an detailed guide book. A characteristic example of this research is the following story of German NCO Wilhelm Eiting, initially quoted by an eyewitness and later investigated on the battlefield.

Paratrooper Gerhard Broder recalled the duel:

            The noise of a tank again: a tank is approaching through the ravine and continues on a rough track. It is firing and stops at a distance of about 20 meters from our position. The vineyard is hiding us from sight but the shallow hole does not protect us physically. I am lying on my back-side and have pulled all my belongings which might attract attention into my shallow hole. From time to time Jacobs looks for the tank to see in which direction its gun-barrel is pointing. Feldwebel Eiting, a reservist, married and the father of children, loses his nerve. He leaves his cover and rushes towards a brickwork well, in order to find cover behind it. A shell tears off his head.

The brickwork well next to the road, where Eiting tried to take cover but finally killed by the Matilda tank which was advancing along the road. (Yannis Prekatsounakis)

            This small extract gives an example of the research and information included within the book, but of course there are many more and I have tried to present the most relevant ones. The research still continues and despite the geographically limited battle for Heraklion, the number of incidents and isolated fights provide a very rich field of study. I hope that the reader will be more than satisfied by reading this book and will also gain a better understanding of the dramatic events which took place in Heraklion in May 1941.

Buy the paperback reprint of ‘The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed Through Allied and Axis Accounts’ here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-battle-for-heraklion-crete-1941-the-campaign-revealed-through-allied-and-axis-accounts-2.php

Kitchener: From Pariah to Hero

By Anne Samson

The name Lord Kitchener might not mean much to many today, however his face as the poster ‘Your country needs you’ is almost internationally recognised. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Horatio Kitchener was the British Empire celebrity of the day, yet for those of us growing up in South Africa, his name was (and for some still is) synonymous with butcher, scorched earth, and concentration camps. In Britain, for many he’s linked with ammunition shortages, and sending young men to be needlessly slaughtered on the battle fields of the Western Front.

With 53 biographies on the man, what more could there be to write about him? Most of them recount the same story in different words or focus on a particular encounter he had with individuals such as his five-year conflict with Viceroy of India Lord Curzon, his reliance on sword-arm Ian Hamilton, disagreements with Lords French and Haig and his failure at the War Office. The most comprehensive, detailed and balanced biography has to be that by John Pollock. So where does Kitchener: The Man not the Myth fit in? Especially as there’s a book similarly entitled, Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend by Philip Warner. While Warner has tried to understand the personality behind the man known as Kitchener, K of K or simply K, he has kept to the traditional themes covered in previous studies, none of which answered a question I had stumbled upon when completing my thesis between 1998 and 2004: why did Kitchener not want to go to war in East Africa in 1914 and 1915?

Cyprus Survey Staff 1883

Superficially, this question was answered for my thesis using Pollock and a few others: Kitchener owned a coffee farm in, what is today, Kenya and had been involved in Zanzibar Boundary Commission having actually walked the land. A subsequent discovery of correspondence with General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien about his appointment to command the forces in East Africa suggested there was far more to Kitchener’s anti-war position than self-preservation of his farm. Trying to reconcile my perceptions of Kitchener with the man who stood his ground on the East Africa campaign resulted in the discovery of a personality hitherto unexposed and unexplored in the existing biographies.

While most biographers tend to regard Kitchener as a complete man, that is the same at the end of his career as at the start of his career showing a consistency of action and behaviour over time, in Kitchener: The Man not the Myth, I have explored the development of the man, how he learnt from past experiences, the challenges he faced in being a British citizen but not of the establishment or culture. It is only in understanding how much of an outsider Kitchener was in the British Army that one can appreciate his decision-making and actions. As with all human beings, he had faults but it’s how he managed these to achieve what he did that turned him from being a pariah in my books to a hero.

War work

Researching Kitchener, although straightforward in the sense of reading as many of the existing biographies as possible and focusing on the ‘glossed over’ statements alongside some archival investigation to clarify earlier interpretations of statements and views, presented some difficulties in terms of insight. While most biographers infer Kitchener’s dislike of women and insistence on having unmarried men on his staff, the sources presented a different picture. The result is a section on Kitchener’s women to compliment that on Kitchener’s ‘band of boys’. His encounter with Millicent Fawcettt in South Africa over the concentration camps and his relationships with his nieces, one being Fanny Parker, sheds interesting light on his attitude to the suffrage movement and use of women in war. Another challenge was presented by his seeming aloofness and sulking when things did not go his way contrasted with the number of occasions subordinates were surprised by tears running down his cheeks. His foresight in using and embracing technology was an unexpected discovery as was his linguistic ability, and attitude towards religion and the use of indigenous forces. Kitchener’s clear sense of priority and allegiance to his monarch and his views on how an army should be run led to him being misunderstood on many an occasion, sometimes with unfortunate and sad consequences such as the death of Hector MacDonald.

It’s worth saying this book is not a military study. While the Sudan campaigns and the 1899-1902 war in South Africa including Paardeberg are mentioned, they are not discussed in detail as other more qualified authors have done this. Whether Kitchener was right in reforming the India Army and his ensuing conflict with Curzon has also been left to others more qualified. What Kitchener: the man not the myth does is provide alternative interpretations for his actions and extract from these events what Kitchener learnt on his route to being asked to fill the role of Secretary of State for War. His anomalous position as a civilian in authority alongside not relinquishing his military role, in what Prime Minister Herbert Asquith described as an ‘experiment’ provides evidence of the breadth of skill and knowledge Kitchener was seen to have in Britain’s time of need, yet his very strengths led to his fall from grace despite this experiment and his achievements.

A relaxing golf

As with all studies, more questions have been raised. For myself, these concern the East Africa campaign of World War One and the role of railways in the African campaigns. For others, I hope this new insight into Kitchener will lead scholars to consider his and other senior military officials of the time’s military actions in new lights.

Kitchener close up – Horse Guards

Dr Anne Samson is a specialist of World War One in Africa, with a particular focus on British East, Central and Southern Africa. She runs the Great War in Africa Association (https://gweaa.com) and has numerous publications to her name on the African campaigns. These, together with talks she’s presented, are listed on her website http://www.thesamsonsedhistorian.wordpress.com

You can buy ‘Kitchener: The Man not the Myth’ here.

Making a Cannon

By Jonathan Davies

“Tell them, whatever you do, don’t try and make a cannon.” That is the polite version of what my son said to me when I told him I was writing this blog. The project has taken twice as long and cost twice as much as I thought but it has also been fascinating and produced something beautiful and permanent. The following should still be considered a warning rather than an encouragement.

The project was the consequence of my retirement and a small windfall. I had led a re-enactment group for almost 20 years and had decided to carry on but on a much smaller scale. The focal point of the new ‘gun company’ was to be a cast bronze cannon from the reign of Henry VIII. This was a period of history where there are currently few re-enactment groups and plenty of excellent venues.

The Barrel

With limited funds we decided that it was far better to produce an accurate version of a smaller gun rather than a poor copy of a larger. Only major national museums, such as the Royal Armouries in the UK and the Vasa museum in Sweden could afford to produce large pieces of bronze ordnance. A steel barrel inserted into a fibreglass shell, although economical and practical, did not appeal to our sense of authenticity.

On simple grounds of cost and practicality the gun could only be a falconet, one of the smallest contemporary guns. The first gun we investigated was in the Musee de l’Armee. It was octagonal in form, some 1.06m long weighing 25.4kgs. Its shape, proportions and date, (ca1510), would suit our plans but we hoped to find a rather larger gun. The search led us to two bronze falcons held in the collection of the Royal Armouries, at the Tower of London and Fort Nelson. Both were early guns of octagonal form. With the approval of the Royal Armouries staff we made detailed measurements and drawings of both guns.

Comparison of key proportions of comparable faceted falcons and falconets.

TypeDateLocationOriginBoreLengthCalibre
FalconCa 1500Ft NelsonGenoa63mm2.54m40
Falcon1540TowerFlemish?58mm2.31m39
Falcon1520Ft NelsonGenoese66mm3.05m46
FalconetCa 1526GlasgowScottish54mm1.71m32
Falconet1510ParisFrench32mm1.06m31
Falconet2019BirminghamIlkeston46mm1.67m36
An early 16th century Genoese falconet had a diameter of 46-47mm (1.8in) and would use a ball weighing one Italian libra. The later English falconets had a bore of two inches (51mm).

It was the falcon in Fort Nelson xix-14 which particularly took our fancy. The heraldry would suggest that it was cast prior to 1503. Renato Ridella suggests that the letter G, cast around the touch hole was the initial of the Genoese gun founder Gregorio I Gioardi, who died in 1518. Our gun would for obvious reasons have a cast D, in carefully researched Lombardic script. It would also have two shields on the facets as did the original. The cross of St George was used by Genoa and it seemed appropriate for us as well. My son was able to produce a falconet version of the design conforming to contemporary proportions.

The process of casting required the making of a precise two-part pattern. The mould would be horizontal but slightly tilted to ensure a free flow of metal into all corners of the mould. Ben Shutt a young pattern-maker was responsible for making the wooden pattern and a local foundry took on the responsibility for casting. The first gun was cast at 1.15pm on 1 February 2019 by a well-drilled group of seven men, the whole process taking little more than two minutes. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the core had slipped and that the thickness of metal at the breech was in no way uniform. This was a common contemporary problem even in a gun cast vertically. The gun was unsafe and could not be proceeded with. It was therefore back to the factory for the gun to be recast. With a new gun it was now down to a firm in Leighton Buzzard to drill a perfect bore.

The gun was cast with additional material around the trunnions in order to avoid cracking during casting. The facets of the gun, the heraldry and the mouldings all required considerable fettling, using files and cold chisels to produce the correct finish. It was important to avoid using modern tools as we wanted to replicate the original finish. Several visits to the Fort Nelson falcon and detailed photographs enabled us to establish exactly what the finish on the gun should be. Hundreds of hours have now been expended in this fettling process but the result is a beautiful gun.

This work revealed numerous small flaws, especially on the upper surface. Two small holes, filled with a sand/bronze mix were found, one near the touch hole and the other on the breech moulding. We decided that before proofing we should investigate the integrity of the barrel using X-rays. There were no voids in the casting, there were a few patches where the density of material varied. The horizontal casting was bound to produce such issues.

Proofing the gun presented significant problems. The Birmingham Proof House were unable to proof such a long-barrelled gun on its Birmingham site. Now for our very own Catch 22. You can’t hire a field to proof a gun without insurance and you can’t get insurance until your gun is proofed! Fortunately, I had a friend who owned a large field just south of Bristol. This is where the gun was eventually proofed, by two Proof House technicians, on what was one of the wettest days of the year. It did make a lovely bang. Result!

All this could only have been achieved with the commitment and hard work of Tom and Tim as well as the arcane skills of manufacturing firms both old and new.

The Fort nelson Falcon is in the centre of this photo. As you can see it is a very fine form without the reinforcements that will appear later. The polygonal design is associated with early cannons from c. 1500-1560, cast in France, Flanders, England and Italy.
Tom’s 3D version of the falconet using contemporary proportions and shape to produce a beautifully elegant design. His detailed engineering drawings were essential for the pattern maker to produce a precise model.
The pattern was very, very big. It was so precisely made that there was virtually no visible ‘seam’ when it was cast.
The gun was cast horizontally in sand. The mould was held together with a large number of heavy weights. Some 120kgs of bronze was poured of which over 80kgs constituted the cannon itself. It was an exciting and tense moment for everyone.
The gun as it came out of the foundry after the removal of the waste from the casting. The exterior was still very rough and required hundreds of hours of work by Tim and Tom.
The proofing was not an administrative technicality but a real test of all the work up to that point. It used a 4oz. proofing charge. I would have liked to have fired a few more rounds but the weather precluded it.
Not the final state of the barrel but most of the hard work has been done to clean up the casting, the mouldings and heraldry. Contemporary paintings show the barrels in their true colour, which contrasts with the muted greens of museum examples. In bright sunshine the barrel shines like a mirror!

Fallschirmjäger! A collection of first-hand accounts and diaries by German Paratrooper veterans from the Second World War

By Greg Way

I have been interested in the Second World War from an early age. I grew up surrounded by people who experienced the war, family members, family friends and neighbours. My child play involved toy soldiers, military vehicles and planes. My books were amongst others, Action Annual and Commando comic books. Wartime films and documentaries were regularly on the TV. In my picture books Germans were often portrayed as faceless enemies. At an early age I wondered why I never heard or read war stories from the German point of view.

Oberfeldwebel Redhammer from Fallschirmjäger Regiment.2 was a well decorated Senior NCO and a veteran of the Crete campaign. This Regiment features heavily in the book.

I was a child when I first heard the words ‘German Paratrooper’ in ‘Dad’s Army’, a 1970s British TV sitcom about a Home Guard unit defending a coastal town in southern England against a possible German invasion during WW2. I thought nothing more about them!

I first read the words ‘German Paratrooper’ as a youngster in a 1970s Commando comic book story but thought nothing more about them. I first saw a ‘German Paratrooper’ as a child but he was 5cm tall, made of plastic and part of my toy soldier collection. I never knew what he was and thought nothing more about it. These and many other insignificant references to ‘German Paratroopers during my childhood probably influenced my interest in the future.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I chanced upon a twenty-year-old modelling magazine featuring a long article about ‘German Paratroopers’ and for the first time I read about their exploits at places such as Eben Emael in 1940, Crete in 1941 and Monte Cassino in 1944. This was the first time I read the word ‘Fallschirmjäger’! I was thoroughly intrigued by these airborne operations and ground campaigns, the courageous offensive feats and tenacious defensive actions, some of which have gone down in the annals of military history. I wanted to learn more about the men of this elite formation!

Volker Stutzer with his copy of the book. He was a late war conscript who fought in Pomerania in February 1945

The internet at that time was in its embryonic stage with only a handful of military forums and web pages but it allowed like-minded enthusiasts from all over the world to communicate their interests. One fellow enthusiast asked if I would like to write to a German Paratrooper veteran. He provided me with an address in Germany and I wrote a letter asking if he would share his experiences during the war. Not only did the veteran send me reports from his wartime service but he also put me in touch with other veterans, who were willing to share their experiences of training, combat, capture and captivity. Within a few months I had collated quite a few personal reports, with a personal perspective of many battles and campaigns.

With this growing collection of first-hand accounts, I toyed with the idea of a book as a permanent record of these personal wartime experiences, an idea welcomed by the veterans. I hoped this book would appeal to the professional historian, military enthusiast and the casual reader alike.

Erich Beine, Fallschirmjäger officer and recipient of the Knights Cross from the Luftlande-Sturmregiment, a formation that features in the book.

Fast forward to 2018 and after almost twenty years the book was accepted by Helion and Company who were excited about its historical value and potential appeal to the military history community.

The book does not cover the tactical level or military leadership but the written experiences of 19 Fallschirmjäger veterans from their perspective and in their own words. They are first-hand accounts of bravery, determination and adversity and describe the horror and inhumanity of war but also moments of humanity and the light-hearted moments experienced by soldiers the world over in times of war.

Oral histories like these now belong to an ever-decreasing number of elderly veterans but they create an important historical record of their military service during the Second World War.

You can buy the book now here.

The Book Reviewer

By Robert Neil Smith

I admire those who boast about not reading book reviews. They probably have the luxury of time or money, or both. They might also possess a surfeit of discernment, knowing the exact book to buy from those crowded shelves, or just not care; any book will do. Fair play to them. For the rest of us, however, book reviews are invaluable assistants in our relentless trawling for that next book we want or need to read. But what is a book review, who benefits from them, and why should we read, and write, them?

A good book review is not an opinion, though it might contain one or more. Rather, a good book review follows a basic formula written objectively preferably, but sometimes with an agenda in mind. The review will lay out the essential publishing details of a book: who wrote it, the title, the publisher, and where and when it was published. A brief introduction offers advice on the value of the book to the potential reader, the rest of the review should explain why. Content generally comes next with an overview of what is in the book and how the author has structured the work. The two sections that follow highlight the positive and negative aspects of the book. These observations are objective and subjective based on the reviewer’s background knowledge and authority, and sometimes their credibility. The conclusion of the book review summarizes the overall worth of the book and places it into its context, perhaps pointing to other books in the genre. A well-structured book review therefore answers a series of questions the potential book reader might have: a new book? Who wrote and published it? What is it about? What is so good about it? What are the drawbacks? And, of course, should I buy and read this book?

The basic formula for a book review is not a rule but a guideline. Reviews will deviate from that standard depending on the intended audience and the merits of the book. They slide up and down the academic scale, for example, sometimes bringing in other books or delving deeper into the arguments presented in a single book to create review essays. Reviewers also emphasize different aspects of a book, accentuating the positives of an important work or tearing apart a weak book from cover to cover. A book’s value may accumulate in various ways; not just in content, especially in these days of seemingly limitless information at our fingertips, but in the quality of the argument, if there is one, the structural coherence, and the quality of writing – the enjoyment of the book. And that is just the text! Then there is the visual element, particularly with military history. Colour plates are almost essential now in descriptive books of armies, and contemporary artwork supplies that period feel. I can also never get enough maps for campaigns and battles. And while you should never judge a book by its cover, an enticing image on the jacket can certainly set the mood.

The worst fate to befall a book must be to receive no reviews at all. The author receives no feedback for all their hard work or validation for their arguments. In twenty years of writing reviews, I think I’ve only discarded a handful as being worthless and refused to review them, though there are some topics I wont touch. Thankfully there is value in virtually every book, but when reading a review keep your weather eye open for faint praise and the subtle indictment, betraying the reviewer’s deeper reaction. Writing a review is made easier, of course, when the book comes from a trusted publisher and is part of a reputable series. The rapid rise of Helion’s various dedicated military history series in the last couple of years has helped my review workload considerably. These are solid historical works by serious historians and packaged with quality colour plates, and, yes, an attractive cover. Since I encountered these books in 2019, I’ve yet to read one that doesn’t tick all my boxes for a positive review. I have little doubt that this will continue, but in the meantime, I’ll go through the formula one book at a time.

Robert Neil Smith PhD is a full-time writer living in Scotland. His reviews appear in Wargames Illustrated magazine and on his Beating Tsundoku Facebook page.

What’s Forthcoming in our From Reason to Revolution series

By Series Editor Dr Andrew Bamford

The year 2020 sees a number of new developments as the From Reason to Revolution series continues to grow. Some of our new releases follow on from themes already developed within the series and will complement existing titles on such topics as the Seven Years War, American War of Independence, French Revolutionary Wars, and Napoleonic Wars. We are also continuing our expansion into maritime history with several titles focusing on naval actions across the era. Fans of uniform books will welcome a new study of Austrian cavalry 1792-1815 by Enrico Acerbi and Andras Molnar, sumptuously illustrated by Bruno Mugnai, as well as the second volume of David Wilson’s heavily-illustrated trilogy on the Danish army in the Napoleonic Wars.

2020 also marks the 275th anniversary of the tumultuous events of 1745 which saw the last pitched battles fought on British soil, and we will be marking this with a number of titles and events. The French victory at Fontenoy in May 1745 helped set the scene for the Jacobite Rising that began in the autumn and will be covered in the first volume of Mike McNally’s two-part study of Maurice de Saxe’s conquest of the Netherlands; the second volume, due for 2021, will cover the lesser-known battles of Rocoux and Lauffeld. Moving on to the Jacobite Rising itself, the prolific Jonathan Oates takes a look at the sieges of the ’45, an aspect often forgotten in favour of the dramatic battles, but of crucial importance. In the past, we have published several titles looking at aspects of the Jacobite forces so we now look to redress the balance by looking at the soldiers who opposed them. Peter Brown’s general study of the Army of George II, beautifully illustrated by Patrice Courcelle, covers the whole of that monarch’s reign, from 1727 to 1760, whilst series editor Andrew Bamford has brought together a team of contributors to take a more focused look at the forces who opposed the Jacobites, and, in particular, on the troops raised in both England and Scotland specifically to combat the Rising. All of these books will be launched in time for our extra series conference on the ’45 organised in conjunction with the Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust, the British Commission for Military History, and the Society of Army Historical Research. This will take place at Prestonpans itself as part of the 275th commemorations of the Jacobite victory, and will address all aspects of the campaigns of 1745 and 1746. All being well, we hope to have the proceedings of the conference ready to launch in time for the commemorations at Culloden in April 2021.

Moving on to later topics, the end of the year will also see us launch a fascinating study of the Damas Legion, one of the émigré units that fought on in exile against the reign of Terror; co-authored by Alistair Nichols and Hughes de Bazouges, the book’s title, For God and King, sums up the motivation of these men. Moving into the Napoleonic era, we will be using our illustrated Falconet format to take a more focussed look at some of the smaller actions of the Peninsular War, beginning with a study by Garry Wills of the 1812 Battle of Villamuriel. Garry is a veteran wargamer, and his book includes details of how this important rear-guard action can be recreated on the tabletop. Finally, we also continue to cater for naval enthusiasts, with Quintin Barry writing on the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake and Paul Martinovich delivering a biography of Sir Pulteney Malcolm.

Confessions of a Female Wargamer

By Carole Flint

There are some hobbies where women generally fear to tread. Angling used to be one of them, but that has changed a lot in the last decade or so, and contact sports like Rugby is another, but that has also changed. Wargaming is, however, still  an area where women are very much the minority. Why should that be? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been playing with toy soldiers since I was small. I have loved swashbuckling and adventure stories for even longer.

Let’s take a step back to the dim past, or the 1960s as some of us call it. I was always a solitary child with few friends. I was shy and I found it hard to open up to others. Consequently I took refuge in reading. Luckily, I was a good reader from an early age and I read voraciously. When I was in my first year at primary school, the teacher read us “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, which I loved, and I went on to read the other books in the series. I liked that the female characters were given prominent roles, although I much preferred Jill Pole and Polly Plummer to the Pevensie children. However, I discovered the “Swallows and Amazons” books shortly after, thus engendering my first literary crush, the formidable Nancy Blackett, someone who I really wished I could be. I also sought out various stories mentioned in the books, such as the “Ingoldsby Legends”, which seemed to spark the romantic swashbuckling instincts of Titty Walker a lot. However, I found the language of that book tough going.

Anyway, I read widely and preferred exciting stories to anything else, apart from History. I absolutely loved History.

Wargaming arrived when I was around 11. My father brought home Don Featherstone’s “War Games” from the library one week. After reading it, he went out and bought a box each of Airfix Desert Rats and Afrika Korps and a couple of tanks models, which were pretty random, being a Tiger and a T-34. The British got the T-34. As an aside, just think how different the war might have been if the British had actualy had T-34s in 1942. Anyway, it wasn’t too long before the dining table was turned into the North African desert and I was roped in to play games of soldiers. I enjoyed this hugely, having sat through the usual Sunday afternoon TV fare of black and white war films for years.

My father also brought home Charles Grant’s “The War Game”, a book that impressed me much more, because the pictures looked so good with all those massed ranks of soldiers. We never got to play any of those games, though, not having access to any 18th century figures.

Time marched on, though, and in my teens other things took prominence, underground music and being a hippy, mostly, but I never lost my love of history and adventure stories. The next big thing for me was one of the most important literary influences on my wargaming life; Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings”. This gave me my second great literary crush, the Elven Lady Galadriel. She was POWERFUL. People loved and feared her. She wielded Elven magic. She ticked all the boxes for me.

Of course, I was reading lots of other fantasy stuff too, and inevitably this led on to Dungeons and Dragons, a game I embraced as a student. Of course, life took over, including getting a job, growing up and having a family. Games went to the back of the queue. However, when my son was growing up, he developed an interest in games, initially via the MB Games Heroquest, which we bought him for Christmas one year, and then Warhammer Fantasy and later on 40K. I painted up endless Elves, Goblins, Space Marines etc and helped him build scenery and played in his games too. Then, as these things often seem to do, he moved on to teenage rugby and playing bass in a band, and the Warhammer stuff ended up getting sold.

So, what got me back into gaming? The simple answer is Boredom. My life was all about work. I was a manager in a large IT Services company and I was drained by work and I needed to get away from reality. Pretty much out of nowhere, I started looking online at wargaming stuff, just to see what the hobby was like in the present day. I was amazed at the abundance of rules, figures, vehicles etc, and also at the breadth of games one could play. When I took voluntary redundancy from work-related stress, I became very bored indeed and one day, on a whim, I went shopping online. Before long, I was painting up PSC British and German infantry and tanks with the aim of playing solo games, but I needed rules. I was drawn to the idiosyncratically-titled “I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum” and bought the rules. I suddenly had structure. I put armies together, I played a few games, but I wanted more. I went shopping mad. I bought the Field of Glory: Renaissance rules, because I’ve always liked the Pike and Shot period, and I bought and painted Louis XIV and William of Orange armies from Lurkio. Unhappily, I didn’t like the rules, so I moved on to other things, specifically another TFL set of rules, Sharp Practice, which I was able to play at Crusade in Penarth with Richard Clarke himself running the game. I was hooked. Before long, I had the rules and two Peter Pig 15mm Union and Confederate armies. I played solo, but I also roped my partner in for a few games, but I had the bug now and I was widening my purchases. I discovered Ground Zero Games and bought loads of 15mm Sci Fi troops. Why? I just liked them. That was reason enough. I started exploring the imaginary nations concept, remembering my love of Charles Grant’s book. I started a blog, basically so I could write about my chosen imagi-nations, based on Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin graphic novels of Hergé. I’d been an avid viewer of the TV cartoons in the 60s and we had had the books in French at school. Obviously, I needed armies for this too. Using Sharp Practice as my ruleset, I put together armies for both countries using Essex 15mm Seven Years’ War Austrian, French and Prussian figures.

Of course, eventually I had to start playing games against real (and willing) opponents, so I joined a local wargaming club, after visiting their annual show for a couple of years running, and now I get to play all kinds of games against real friendly opponents. It was at one of these shows that I met someone who is a real pioneer in women’s wargaming, Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo. Needless to say, I think of her as a real friend now and I have lots and lots of her excellent figures.

And the War Goes On: William III’s Ongoing War with Louis XIV of France

By Mark Shearwood

Following the events of the Glorious Revolution and the departure of King James II to France (22 December 1688), William’s obligations between the governance of England and his commitments on the continent became increasingly complex. The League of Augsburg was signed in August 1685 between the Prince of Orange, the Elector of Brandenburg, German Southern Princes, The Holy Roman Emperor and Spain, with Charles XI of Sweden becoming a signatory in 1686.[1] The invasion force assembled by William during autumn of 1688 necessitated the movement of troops within Europe and the withdrawal of regiments to support William’s attempt on the throne.[2] These arrangements including the transfer of 6,000 Swedish troops to replace troops being withdrawn from Germany for the invasion in line with the trinational treaty of 1683.[3] By early 1689 the pressures both diplomatic, and militarily on William to increase his forces in Flanders was yielding results. The following regiments from the English establishment were ordered to sail for Holland, the figures are for private soldiers and were the establishment strength and not the actual strength of each regiment:[4]

Second Troop of Horse Guards & Horse Grenadiers                          256 men

Royal Regiment of Horse                                                                               450 men

Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards                                                      1360 men

Royal Regiment of Foot                                                                                 1360 men

Regiment of Scott’s Guards                                                                          1106 men

Royal Regiment of Fusiliers                                                                          780 men

Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot                                    780 men

Colonel Churchill’s Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel John Hales’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Sir David Colieaves Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel Hodges Regiment of Foot                                                             780 men

Colonel Fitzpatrick’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Colonel O’Farrell’s Regiment of Foot                                                        780 men

William received a letter from the Prince of Waldeck[5] on the 14 April 1689 from the Prince of Waldeck. As well as giving details of the war between Denmark and Sweden and a probable invasion of Prussia by Poland, the Prince inquired as to the names of the English colonels commanding the regiments being sent and the proper strength of each regiment.[6] The letter also contained copes of communications that the Prince of Waldeck had received, these will form the bulk of this post in the hope that they will highlight the pressures on William III to expand his forces in Europe.[7]

[The] Count de Flodrop has notifies that it is impossible to hold Huy[8] with a less force that a corps d’armeé, which cannot be spared. The Marquis de Castanaga asks for aid and would dispose of the States’ forces, more according to his own theories than to reason. Count de Horn was ordered to concert with him to form a small company of cavalry and some of the States’ infantry for the protection of Ghent. Meanwhile, two battalions have been sent to Bruges. General Schoning desires to strengthen his forces by detaching troops from the regiments at Nimuegen [Nijmegen] sent from Zauten. This is contrary to a previous agreement. On both sides. There seems to be a desire to make the Prince [King William III] responsible for any mishap that may be experienced. The Prince has left the battalions for the security of Cologne. He has joined to general Schoning six battalions, with seven regiments of cavalry belonging to the troops in the States’ pay, under the command of Mons. de Schlangenberg, and three regiments of cavalry and one of dragoons under Mons. de Alva, and has also formed a corps d’armeé of the troops of Erffa, Wurtemburg, Bouregard, and Baye, with Colonel Franck’s dragoons and those of Hesse, to hold the line of the Demer against the enemy until a plan of attack can be found. It is therefore possible for the Prince to let General Schoning have his way. The panic before the fort of the bridge of Bonne seems to show that matters are badly managed at Cologne as elsewhere. Pensioner Heinsius has done his best to assist the Prince, who, without his prudent conduct, would have been left without artillery.[9] The Prince did not find at Breda the artillery waggons, horses and stores, &c expected. He s also in great want of money; he has only received half od the 10,000 livres promised him by the King for secret correspondence, and that is already expended.

The arrival of further troops from England is awaited with anxiety, the numbers of these already arrived is very small, with Mr Douglas’ Regiment (600 men) Lord Churchill’s (400 men) Mr Le Tolmisch’s, commanded by Count Silvins (400 men)  and Holschers (400 men) are arrived, and no more. The Prince would like to know by whom the muster of these troops should be made, as he has no exact list. To Mons. Hopp, the Prince replied that the King of England is readier to act for the public weal than it is though at Vienna.

The numbers of men quoted as arrived on the continent shows the disparity between the paper strength of a regiment and the actual strength. Colonel Churchill’s regiment has a theoretical paper strength of 780 private soldiers, arrived in Europe at just over half strength. The Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards commanded by Lt-General Douglass should have had arrived with 1,106 private soldiers instead of the 600 that actually arrived. Mr le Tolmisch is referring to Brigadier Thomas Talmash [Tollemache] who was the colonel of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. [10]

The following is an extract from a letter from the Marquis de Castanaga to the Prince of Waldeck sent from Brussels and dated 21 April 1689 [11 April according to the English calendar]:[11]

… Hostilities may begin at once. It is of the utmost importance that all the troops of the States should advance at once on Liège, where the Marquis d’Humieres is collecting a corps d’armeé. I am much vexed to hear that your troops have abandoned Huy, which is the proper place at which to await the enemy. The King informed me that bodies of troops would be sent to Ghent and Bruges to protect those places and Dutch Flanders. You will have had like instructions and I trust will carry them out speedily.

The Prince of Waldeck received a communication from Mons. Hopp in Vienna on the 1 April, giving a account of conditions within the Habsburg Empire.

It is to be feared that the Elector of Bavaria may take amiss the appointment of the Duke of Lorrain to the command of the Imperial army, as he has written to the Emperor saying that he would not be employed to look after the baggage, and desired employment worthy of his reputation. The Pope has given King James a pension of 100,000 crowns. Everyoe here is very eager to hear that King William has declared war against France; this court will not formally recognise his title until that is done, and should “Milord Paget” arrive here earlier he may meet with some coolness.

Lord Paget was William’s ambassador to the Habsburg Empire. Despite the seeming frosty relationship between William III and the Habsburg Empire, William had been in constant communication with Emperor Leopold I since before the events of 1688. He had arranged for 1,500 troops to be transferred from the English establishment to the Imperial army. These troops were the remnants of the four Irish battalions brought over to England by James II in September 1688 and were currently being held on the Isle of Wight. The contract had originally stated 2,00 troops but due to desertion and illness, only some 1,500 were ready for transport at the beginning of April 1689.[12]

Inmane van Huy 1694 [Taking Huy, 1694]
Anonymous print published by Laurens Scherm. Amsterdam 1695 © Rijksmuseum NL
Gevechten bij Walcourt, 1689 [Fight at Walcourts, 1689]
Image of the bloody battle on 25 August 1689, between the Prince of Waldek, and the Marshal de Humiers, by the village of Walcourt, in the province of Naamen
Anonymous print published by Jacobus Robijn, Amsterdam 1689 © Rijksmuseum NL

About the Author

Mark Shearwood is a second year PhD Researcher at the University of Leeds, whose research is on ‘The Catholic ‘other’ in the army of James II and William III’ and is looking at the English army’s transition from the pseudo ‘Catholic’ army of James II to the ‘Protestant’ army of William III. He hols a Masters’ degree in War and Strategy from the University of Leeds and a Bachelors in Leadership and Management from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

The Author’s first book, The Perfection of Military Discipline: The Plug Bayonet and the English Army 1660-1705 has just been published by Helion. The book looks at the implementation of the plug bayonet within the English army and the effect that it had on infantry tactics. During the period that the work covers 1660-1705, there were a number of significant advances in military equipment and the author places these within their historical context. The book exposes some of the myths surrounding the replacement of matchlock muskets with flintlocks, as well the use of pikes during the late 17th century.

The author is currently working on his second book for Helion, The Great Northern War 1700-1721: A Wargamer’s Guide, for Helion’s new Wargames series, which should be out before the end of the year.


[1] B Cox, King William’s European Joint Venture. Assen: Van Gorcum & Co. and Lynn, J. 1999. The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714. London: Longman, 1995)

[2] This article does not intend to look at the validity or otherwise of the Glorious Revolution, for a fuller account of the coalition that William built to facilitate the Glorious Revolution see Shearwood, M, ‘William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution’ Arquebusier, Journal of the Pike and Shot Society, 35.6 (2018) 26-35.

[3] The trinational treaty between the Habsburg Empire, Sweden and the United Provences of 1683 included a condition that each party pledged 6,000 troops for their mutual defence against France. S Oakley, William III and the Northern Crowns During the Nine Years War 1689-1697. (London: Garland Publishing, 1987). p.31. and Robert Hall, Uniforms and Flags of the Armies of Hanover, Celle and Brunswick 1670-1715. (Romford: pike and Shot Society, 2016) p.7

[4] British Library, Add MS 15897 Hyde Papers, Pensions and Establishment, fol. 88.

[5] The Principality of Waldeck was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and is today within the German territory of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

[6] William, Hardy, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of William and Mary: 1689-1690 (London: HMSO, 1895) p.62.

[7] National Archives, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20.

[8] Huy is in the Walloon region of Belgium.

[9] Anthonie Heinsius, was a councillor pensionary of Holland was one of William III’s leading Dutch advisors, E, Mijers and D, Onnekink, ed, Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context (London: Routledge, 2016) pp. 4, 31-34.

[10] J, Childs, The Nine Years’ war and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991) p.122.

[11] N.A, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20

[12] The study of these troops forms a major part of my PhD research.

COVID-19 Emergency – Event Postponed

Bosworth Battlefield Discover Day Tour

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and August is currently under discussion as an alternative.

From Reason to Revolution Conference 2020 – Armies and Enemies of Napoleon 1789-1815

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and October is currently under discussion as an alternative.