BookPick: A Summer Selection
With the warmer months well underway in the Northern Hemisphere one of the great pleasures for me at this time of year is relaxing outdoors with a good book – and perhaps a chilled beverage. I have to say that much of my reading time is taken up with specific research for the current Kydd manuscript I’m working on but during breaks from that I enjoy an eclectic variety of titles over a broad range of historical periods. This BookPick is a selection of six titles I’ve enjoyed recently including a hunt for lost booty, an account of the now-vanished world of the lighthouse keeper, a war correspondent’s memoir, and a recreation of the last moments of the ill-fated Lusitania.
The Hunt for Moore’s Gold by John Grehan
History abounds with unresolved puzzles; one particularly intriguing one is the loss of the British Army’s military chest during Sir John Moore’s desperate retreat to Corunna in 1809 which I actually depict in
The Iberian Flame. In sub-zero temperatures, his troops traversed the snow-clad Galician mountains at a punishing pace. As they trudged on in deteriorating conditions, the bullocks pulling the army’s military chest could no longer keep up. In order to prevent the money from falling into enemy hands, the chest was thrown down a deep ravine. What happened to all those dollars and doubloons? A number were pocketed by the pursuing French cavalry. Some were retrieved by British soldiers who intentionally lagged behind, though their greed cost them their lives on the end of a French bayonet. But what of the rest of the booty? This question prompted the author to set off to search the archives and the mountains of Galicia in a bid to find Moore’s gold.
The Lusitania Sinking by Anthony Richards
The sinking of Lusitania is an event that has been predominantly discussed from a political or maritime perspective. This book tells the story in the emotive framework of a family looking for information on their son’s death. On 1 May 1915, 29-year-old student Preston Prichard embarked as a second class passenger aboard Lusitania, bound from New York for Liverpool. By 2pm on the afternoon of 7 May, the liner was approaching the coast of Ireland when she was sighted by the German submarine U-20. A single torpedo caused a massive explosion in Lusitania‘s hold, and the ship began to sink rapidly. Within 20 minutes she disappeared and 1,198 men, women and children, including Preston, died. On hearing of the tragedy Preston’s family wanted answers. Preston’s mother wrote hundreds of letters to survivors to try to piece together her son’s last moments. Anthony Richards based his moving book on their replies.
A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn
The Chelsea Pensioners are always a distinctive sight in their red uniforms representing a much-venerated institution where they find a haven in the autumn of their days. The Royal Hospital was created at a time when few cared about veterans. It was a ground-breaking attempt to provide a system to repay the sacrifice of military personnel when their service was over and it was their turn to be cared for by society. The authors look at the hospital’s beginnings, with its Royal patronage and heritage which dates back to King Charles ll – and some of the colourful characters who have lived there over the centuries. This little volume is a fitting tribute to a warriors’ repose.
Walking Waterloo by Charles J Esdaile
This month, 204 years ago, the Battle of Waterloo, one of the decisive battles in European history, was fought. This compact guide to the battle illuminates the experience of the soldiers who took part in the battle through their own words. In a series of walks the author describes what happened in each location on 18 June 1815. Each phase of the action during that momentous day is covered, from the initial French attacks and the intense fighting at Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte to the charges of the French cavalry against the British squares and the final, doomed attack of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. The book is illustrated with a selection of archive images from the War Heritage Institute in Brussels, modern colour photographs of the battlefield as it appears today and specially commissioned maps. A particularly informative guide to this historic site.
Archie’s Lights by Archie MacEachern and Anne MacEachern
Born at a clifftop lighthouse in 1910, Archie MacEachern was a remarkable individual, one of the third generation of his family in the service of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Written using Archie’s words, this account by his widow Anne, vividly portrays a unique way of life by focusing on one man. From peacetime through war, the story brings to life the challenges of living and working at a lighthouse, including raising a young family at such an isolated and potentially dangerous place. Lighthouse men had to be resourceful and courageous; the sea ruled their lives. Archie’s service as a full-time keeper continued in part-time capacities, extended over a period of 67 years. A revealing window into a close-knit world, now gone.
Deadlines on the Front Line by Paul Moorcraft
When Kathy and I lived in Hong Kong we often had the pleasure of meeting and partying with reporters from various war zones at the Foreign Correspondents Club. I was therefore very interested to read Paul Moorcraft’s biography on assignments for wars in over thirty combat zones in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. As a war correspondent and paramilitary policeman, he was somewhat of a magnet for drama and action. His descriptions of sometimes tragic and often hilarious escapades in war-torn countries are written in a self-effacing but gritty style chronicling hazardous travels to strange, often little-known places where he met people who were often all too keen to lock him up or try and kill him. As well as being an entertaining read the book offers an insight into the turbulent world of the late 20th and early 21st century.