With the lockdown, I have decided to get my history fix by doing book reviews for Pen and Sword. Below are a few that I have started.
Horsemen in No Man’s Land
Horses and cavalry are often regarded as an old fashioned trait of the British army in World War 1. In a time of machine guns, what use could horses be?
David Kenyon explains wonderfully how adaptive the horsemen were from supplies to combining their efforts with other ranks of the Britsh Army. With some wonderful firsthand photographs and pages of bibliography, souces and notes this is a must for any sort of study into the first world war. Packed full of history and resources it is surprisingly a nice easy read.
A part of history rarely written about Hitler’s Housewives provides an insight to the German homefront that has been lost and forgotten about over time.
This book shows in parallel the similarities and differences the women faced compared to the British women at war, from losing children in the bombing of the civilian towns and cities, to losing them to the influences and brainwashing of the Hitler Youth. It gives an insight to the brainwashing of women, from being told to step aside from their roles in work to becoming Guardians of the house to the propaganda when war broke out and they had to take up the roles of men and do their duty for Germany.
A mixture of first-hand accounts and history makes this a very useful research guide and a very easy read into the home front from the other side.
Spinning and Weaving
A vey well written, readable and interesting book for those who are drawn to this type of craft. A lot of thorough research into the history of spinning and weaving through the ages, from ancient times up to and including details of how the 20C wars affected burgeoning mechanical textile industry and the latest mechanised processing of fleeces. This really is an introduction to the history of the craft, and for anyone who wishes to investigate methods in greater depth this is an excellent starting place.
The second half of the book contains interviews with artisans and is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs of their work.
At the end of the book are very useful lists of supplies, websites, books and courses, which, as a spinner myself, is likely to prove invaluable for progressing my skills.
REBELLION AGAINST HENRY III
The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274
A fascinating read centring on the aftermath of the Battle of Evesham, in which Simon de Montfort was killed with many of his followers.
This is a period of our history that is largely glossed over, usually being confined to ‘Simon de Montfort founded our modern Parliament’. However, the fight continued long after his death, with the major redistribution of lands confiscated from rebel barons by the king and great hardships suffered by some of those Disinherited.
Well written and readable personally I would have liked a map showing the major sites referred to in the book and which charts the spread of the dissention, and a few places required a re-read as the chronology ‘backtracked’.
The bibliography and endnotes are some of the most voluminous I have ever seen and the appendices contain a transcript of the Dictum of Kenilworth, which was the instrument in restoring lands, as well a convincing argument for the several identities of Robin Hood.
Altogether a well researched and comprehensive narrative of a very important turbulent and overlooked time in the history of this land, its politics and hierarchy.
CHILDREN AT WAR 1914-1918
A largely unexplored area of wartime experiences, Children of War is, while
well researched and well written, a very difficult read. The subject is by
definition very emotive and some of the stories and accounts are extremely
Covering not only the Home Front in Britain at that time, many of the accounts
have been gathered from the theatres of war across Europe and Russia, all as
heartbreaking as each other, as the bravery and tenacity of the subjects is
detailed. From accounts of the Lusitania through the Zeppelin bombings of
London, to the little 14 year old Russian girl, Sofja, who dressed as a boy and
joined the child soldiers, this is a stark and honest account of hardships faced.
With an enormous bibliography providing further research, anyone studying
this period of history needs to consider this as compulsory reading in order to
gain a balance of view, not only of military warfare but the social life as well,
and particularly its impact on the most vulnerable members of society.
GEORGIAN RECIPES AND REMEDIES
A Country Lady’s Household Handbook
A lively and interesting delve into a typical household book of the time, with
various recipes, both culinary and medicinal.
The recipes look fun and the ingredients for the most part accessible but
although I am a Living Historian dealing mostly with food I still found some of
the ingredients, explanations and methods confusing, so a novice may find
some parts difficult without further reading.
The liqueur brandy recipes look ideal as Christmas presents and one or two of
the remedies such as those for wasp stings or splinters may be useful, although the effectiveness seems doubtful. However I would be extremely reluctant to attempt most of the remedies, in particular the anti-sickness pills containing steel filings, or the toothache paste consisting of ashes from a tobacco pipe and brandy…..
For anybody planning a different or themed dinner party this would be a
wonderful source book, or simply out of interest into the development of
medicines and the thinking behind some of the ingredients in the remedies.
LIVING ON THE EDGE OF EMPIRE
The Objects and People of Hadrian’s Wall
Who doesn’t like a bit of Roman! A very readable account of some of the finds from on and around the wall, forts and barracks of Rome’s most northerly border. Highly illustrated, it offers a fascinating glimpse into some of the artefacts discovered, providing an insight into the homes, clothes, beliefs, leisure time and more of the people of this most iconic outpost of the Empire, from the Emperors and Governors to the children and the local farmers.
The text is not too technical and this would be an ideal reference for younger students. As is common with most Roman sites, great emphasis is placed upon the benevolent phalli but the illustrations are quite discreet!
The chapters are clearly defined and the photographs and drawings are neatly and clearly classified by chapter together with further reading and bibliography lists. A very easy book to read and although not as long nor as detailed as some, as a snapshot of the Wall and inhabitants of the forts and environs, this is a wonderful indication of the artefacts and information to be found at the various museums dedicated to the Wall, and certainly tempt one to visit and explore that far-flung part of the Empire.
Britain 1940: The Decisive year on the home front
When Britain went to war in September 1939, it wasn’t instant rationing and bombing. Even up to new years 1940 there was this feeling of anti-climax to the war and it was all seen as a bit of inconvenience with the Blackout/gas masks/Anderson shelters. It was soon becoming known as the Phoney war. Anton Rippon easily explains each part of the home front that kept Britain going from make do and mend to the women taking up the men’s jobs.
It sheds light on the lives of ordinary people with the effects and work that everyone had to put in. It makes you ask yourself you if you could survive and cope with the changes. Especially with the beginning of the war being very much fighting an invisible enemy – much like today. It wasn’t until 8 months after Britain declared war that the war took hold and bombs started dropping a year after it was declared.
This is an extremely easy book to pick up and dip into and I highly recommend it.
Robin Hood the life and legend of an outlaw is a very well researched and a nice easy read. It is in depth and links professionally researched facts to the historical poems and stories across the centuries.
The author starts with researching who Robin hood might have been and his reasoning behind it, he then explores the stories of historians as Robin and his merry men’s memory starts to become legend. Exploring the stories behind the poems and songs and how they change over the eras.
It is a wonderful tribute to the man and the outlaw; this is how to put flesh on the bones of the past.
Poland & the second world war
Britain and Poland’s relationship developed in March 1939 when Czechoslovakia fell to Nazi Germany as soon as Poland was invaded that was when Britain declared war on Germany. Personally, I believe the role of Poland and the Polish roles has been diminished over time and I am pleased to see quite a comprehensive book on Poland’s War, through the complexities of their relationships with allies as well as their roles within the bigger battles of the war from Battle of Britain to Arnhem and Normandy and many others.
This book has been researched from Polish sources which allows a different perspective not normally perceived in British reports and research.