A Prial of Bloody Good Reads


While these three of my latest reads may not be of everyone's interest they were to mine and very good they are too. 

Unwinnable by Theo Farrell presents an excellent and diligent critique of the campaign in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. It is not a happy read. It was clear to many during the conflict that if the government of the day could not clearly articulate why we where there then the outcome at the sharp and pointy end was likely to be negatively correlated. So it proved to be. Grievous losses by military and civilians alike and to no particularly positive outcome. Very few people emerge from Farrell's research with any great credit, except perhaps the men on the ground sent to fight albeit with muddled and inconsistent direction over the course of the 13 years covered by the book. It is though, a book which should be mandatory reading for any Army officer and by those who send them on operations. 

The Field Marshal's Revenge by Charles Whiting, which incidentally is currently free to download on Amazon Prime reading, is an examination of an increasingly strained relationship between two of the leading generals of the Second World War, Montgomery and Eisenhower, which in itself reflected a seed change in the so called 'special relationship,' between Great Britain and the United States. In short, Monty was a far better and much more experienced field commander and leader than was Ike but was a difficult and arrogant individual for even the most forgiving of allies to rub along with. Ike meanwhile was surrounded by many American generals who were contemptuous of Monty and indeed the British Army. Their brazen confidence, which was founded with the knowledge that their huge resources of men and supplies gave them increasing political and military advantage in all matters, led to a grave underestimate of their enemy's ability to fight back in the winter of 1944. That mistake was to have woeful consequences for tens of thousands of GI's in the battle of the Ardenne. When the Germans launched their surprise attack, such was the confusion and parlous state of American command and control that Monty temporarily took command of two American armies in the north and swept down to defend the River Meuse. Monty undoubtedly helped save the day, not least by quickly instilling control and fighting spirit in the American troops but his success has largely been forgotten. It wasn't all about George Patton. Hollywood played it's part in rewriting history but Monty in the period afterward did himself no favours in openly stating his case for the pre eminent thrust into Germany to be in the north on a narrow front and under his command rather than on a broad front as Ike desired. Monty was brilliant but would today be described as 'difficult to work with.'  A good read then but one again is left with the overreaching impression of just how poor some Allied generalship was at times, how political many appointments were and who, in the end, suffered most because of it.

Royal Betrayal, The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890 by former Scots Guards officer Michael Scott, (and also currently free to download), retells the colourful tale of one of the great scandals of Victorian times. I found this a ripping read. The incident which provoked the scandal took place in a Yorkshire house called Tranby Croft. The then Prince of Wales was a house guest and after dinner instigated a game of cards after which Lt Col Sir Gordon-Cumming Bt was accused of cheating. Gordon-Cumming eventually resorts to the courts to clear his name. With the Prince of Wales being cross examined the case grips the nations attention through newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. The case though is far from straight forward. When Gordon-Cumming was confronted after the game he subsequently signed, as directed by the Prince, a piece of paper promising never to play cards again. Perhaps an admission of guilt or simply doing his sovereign to be's bidding? Gordon-Cumming incidentally was not an especially likeable individual. He was a bit of a rogue in fact but nonetheless was a man of means, reputation and a very able soldier. Honour though mattered. The author makes good use of archive material which he has dug out from the Scots Guards and the tale trots along at a fair pace. It is in fact worth reading just to read Gordon-Cummings barristers speech. Sir Edward Clarke in his memoirs described it as the best he made in his career. I haven't heard many but it impressed me. As a passing footnote, a barrister friend of mine wears the wig and robes of the judge in the case, the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Coleridge. Small fact I learned while watching the rugby together on Saturday. The past is never far away.