BookPick : Spring 2021

I vividly remember my first boat. She was called ‘Galah‘ and I sailed her in waters around Tasmania that would have been familiar to the early explorers of what was then Van Diemen’s Land. Sadly, these days I have little time to venture out on the water but I retain a strong interest in boats, large and small, as well as my abiding passion for the ships of the Great Age of Fighting Sail. This BookPick pays homage to Shackleton’s famous boat, celebrates a gifted American yacht designer, shines a light on cruising grounds in the south of England, explores navigation down the ages and examines the fate of castaways.

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Shackleton’s Boat by Harding McGregor Dunnett

James Caird is an unlikely hero, a 23-foot sea-boat that completed the most desperate and celebrated open-boat voyage in history. On board were Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley. They travelled, in winter, across 800 miles of the stormiest seas in the world, the Great Southern Ocean. Conditions on board were harsh and finding the tiny speck in the ocean that is South Georgia was a miracle of navigation by Worsley. The story did not end there; Shackleton and his companions had then to traverse the unmapped mountainous interior of South Georgia. Finally, with the help of the Chilean Navy, Shackleton went back to rescue the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island. This book is the fascinating story of James Caird from its commissioning (especially of great interest to me as a former naval shipwright) to its dramatic escape from Antarctica. One of the entries on my Bucket List is to pay homage to James Caird now fittingly housed at Dulwich College in London, where Shackleton had been a pupil.

Crusoe, Castaways and Shipwrecks by Mark Rendell

This book contains true stories which inspired Daniel Defoe; tales of bravery, courage, determination and good fortune, along with some of the reasons why people found themselves cast away. These included being wrecked, abandoned as a punishment, marooned by pirates – or even out of deliberate choice. Rendell recounts amazing tales of survival in the face of adversity – in the Falklands, the Caribbean and off the coast of Australia. Perhaps the most astonishing story of them all is that of sixty slaves abandoned on a desolate treeless island in the Indian Ocean and left there for fifteen years; some survived against all odds. Being cast away brings out the best in some – and in others the very worst.

The History of Navigation by Dag Pike

The author, a well experienced sailor, sets out to record the development of navigational techniques from the earliest time, five millennia ago. As explorers started to venture offshore into the unknown they had to rely on the sun and stars for direction. From this, pioneers turned to mathematics, astrolabes, sextants and increasingly accurate clocks to measure latitude and later longitude. More recently major breakthroughs with electronic navigation, GPS and other satellite systems have revolutionised travel, all well covered in this book. Focusing primarily on marine navigation, the author weaves a fascinating course through the successes and failures of mankind’s quest to explore his world of sea. A thoroughly entertaining and informative work.

Dick Carter Yacht Designer by Dick Carter

Not many ‘amateur’ yacht designers would dare to enter the first boat they had ever designed into the epic offshore Fastnet Race, let alone with the intention of winning it. But that is what Dick Carter did in 1964, beating all 151 other yachts. He repeated the feat four years later with another of his own designs. His radical innovations created fast and comfortable boats which were much in demand in the golden age of offshore racing. His career as a yacht designer was brief, but the impact of his innovations has lasted the test of time. Who today would think of an offshore yacht without internal halyards in the mast or that the rudder always had to be fixed to the keel? These concepts, and many more, were first introduced by Dick Carter. A fascinating account of his work by one man with a real ‘eye for a boat’.

West Country Cruising Companion by Mark Fishwick

First published in 1988, this is an invaluable sailing guide for the coastline of the English counties of the West: Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly, some of the most scenic marine areas of the UK. It combines pilotage and cruising information with historical insight and suggestions of what to do ashore. The book is enhanced with colour charts and detailed photography, including spectacular aerial shots of ports, harbours and anchorages. This latest edition has been fully revised for publication and further updates are provided every Spring on the Fernhurst Books’ website. A very readable addition to a cruising boat’s library that will not only inform but inspire.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?
You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year

THUNDERER: Coming Next!

When I first started to write the Kydd Series little did I realise that my original conception of perhaps a dozen titles would more than double. The more I delved into the historical record the greater scope I found for Kydd, Renzi and the rest of the fearless crew for adventures up to and beyond the Battle of Trafalgar. This year sees the publication of the 24th title in the series, Thunderer. As the cover reveals, in this book Kydd is given a 74 gun ship-of-the-line.

Here’s a taster of the book :

1812. Arriving back in England after his successes in the Adriatic, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is bestowed with honours. In London he’s greeted by the Prince Regent who, despite Kydd’s protestations that he’s happy with his present command, insists he be given a bigger ship – HMS Thunderer, a 74-gun ship of the line. But she’s old, and being part of a standing fleet Kydd’s chances of further fame and distinction are slim indeed.

Winning over his new command is fraught with challenges. A mighty battleship but a hostile crew, abysmal levels of gunnery and sail-handling capabilities are intolerable to a fighting captain like Kydd. With the ship short of men and no incentives to attract more, can he ever bring Thunderer to a proper state of fighting preparedness?

Kydd is sent to reinforce the Baltic squadron as Bonaparte’s vast army invades Russia. News reaches him of French victory at the Battle of Borodino. The road to Moscow is now open. With his new command Kydd is thrown into a last desperate bid to prevent Bonaparte establishing a bridgehead from which to finally encircle and crush Britain’s stricken ally.

About half of my writing year is taken up with research and while Covid curtailed my location research travels for the time being fortunately I had been to many of the locations in this book on previous trips. My by-now very extensive personal library of books and journals was well thumbed in the course of writing but one title in particular proved indispensible, the splendid four-volume ‘The Seventy-Four Gun Ship’ by the peerless Jean Boudriot.

Collectors Set

As usual there is a Collectors Set being offered but don’t delay reserving a copy if you’re interested to avoid disappointment. It is strictly limited to 500 Sets. Contact with your details. Should you wish to pre-pay for a Collectors Set go to for the payment details.

BookPick : Winter 2021

This first BookPick for 2021 is an eclectic selection of titles that caught my eye recently. These range from an updated record of all fighting ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th century to the present – to a history of visual communication at sea – to three titles dealing with various aspects of heroism. In these dark days of winter, and with continuing lockdown, I find it’s of some comfort to take refuge in a book, either following up on a specific topic or to learn more of what history can tell us. I hope you find something of interest in this selection and as always I welcome your thoughts.

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Uncommon Valour by Granville Allen Mawer

Bookpick 21 valourWhat is the nature of courage, how and when should it be recognized, and how has our appreciation of it changed? These are among the questions Granville Allen Mawer seeks to answer in this absorbing study of the history of the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the British honours system for gallantry in the presence of the enemy. His is the first analytical account of the institution of the Victoria Cross. It explores in dispassionate detail the thinking behind the creation of the award, the reasons why individual awards were given and how, over the last 160 years, the system has developed and changed. Mawer compares individual actions that led to a Victoria Cross and considers the circumstances in which they took place and the reasons given for making the award. So many factors were involved – the character of the individual concerned, the severity of the danger he faced, the situation of the British forces, whether his conduct was seen and recorded, and the interpretation of the criteria for making an award at the time. A fascinating study of the ethics of rewarding bravery.

What Ship, Where Bound by David Craddock

Bookpick 21 what shipThis book takes its title from the familiar opening exchange of signals between passing ships, and celebrates the long history of visual communications at sea. It traces the visual language of signalling from the earliest naval banners or streamers used by the Byzantines in AD 900 through to morse signalling still used at sea today. Covering a wide spectrum of visual signalling methods from false fire, through shapes, furled sails and coloured flags to experiments in high speed text messaging by signal lamp, the book also examines the complex interrelation between all three methods under battle conditions. A detailed analysis of visual signal exchanges before and during the Battle of Jutland reveals both the success and ultimate limitations of flag signalling at the limits of visibility. Extensively and beautifully illustrated, the book both enlightens and entertains.

Heroes and Villains of the British Empire by Stephen Basdeo

Bookpick 21 british empireBy the Victorian era, Britannia indisputably ruled the waves. Basdeo tells the story of how British Empire builders such as Robert Clive, General Gordon, and Lord Roberts of Kandahar were represented and idealised in popular culture. The men who built the empire were often portrayed as possessing certain unique abilities which enabled them to serve their country in often inhospitable territories, and spread what imperial ideologues saw as the benefits of the British Empire to supposedly uncivilised peoples in far flung corners of the world. These qualities and abilities were athleticism, a sense of fair play, devotion to God, and a fervent sense of duty and loyalty to the nation and the empire. While some may look on them in a different light today, they have a place in our history and should be seen in the context of their times and contributory to our culture today.

Ships of the Royal Navy by J J Colledge, Ben Warlow and Steve Bush

Bookpick 21 shipsThis is the fifth fully revised edition of a book first published in 1970. Each entry gives concise details of dimensions, armament and service dates, and its alphabetical and chronological arrangement makes it easy to track down the right ship (otherwise the Royal Navy’s tradition of re-using the same names can be misleading). This edition contains some 200 new entries and revisions to many older entries. These reflect the demise of many ships post-Cold War as the Royal Navy was shrunk down as part of the peace dividend. The book includes updates to the Royal Australian, Canadian and New Zealand navies which have programmes to introduce new destroyers, Arctic patrol vessels, submarines and support ships. Since the death of Jim Colledge, who was widely respected for his pioneering research on the technical details of warships, his magnum opus has been updated, corrected and expanded with similar enthusiasm and attention to detail by Ben Warlow, a retired naval officer and author of a number of books in the field. A superb reference work, worthy of your library.

Heroes of the RNLI by Martyn R Beardsley

Bookpick 21 rnliI never fail to be in awe of the achievements of the RNLI, a public-funded and wholly voluntary organisation that has saved some 140,000 lives in the UK. Whenever vessels have foundered off the coasts of Britain, there have always been those willing to give their all to save those in peril but in 1823, Sir William Hillary decided that this admirable but impromptu approach was not enough. He believed that many more lives could be saved by the establishment of a national, organised rescue service. His idea was realised the following year. From the days of oar-powered open boats to modern high speed, hi-tech vessels, rescuers have battled storms and unimaginable conditions, risking – and sometimes forfeiting – their own lives in efforts to save others. The most outstanding of these operations led to the awarding of gold medals for gallantry, the RNLI version of the Victoria Cross. Using information gleaned from archives, contemporary newspaper accounts and genealogical records, this book looks not just at the details of the heroic rescues, but the people behind them.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?
You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year

Books for Santa’s Sack 2020

I’m a bit of a bah humbug creature when it comes to the commercialisation of Christmas – but there’s one thing that I fervently believe: a book is a present that, if well chosen for the recipient, will give hours of entertainment and enlightenment – and be a lasting reminder in itself of someone putting thought, not just money, into a Yuletide gift. So do consider adding one or more of these fine books – all with a maritime or military connection – to your gift-buying list. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone in this somewhat eclectic selection.

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5.5x8.5_Color_140 FINISHED COVER FRONT ONLY 29-06-20Arthur Mack Old Man of the Sea by by Brent Piniuta and John Broomhead
Lifelong Portsmouth resident Arthur Mack was born into a world of poverty and hardship at the time of the Great Depression. By the age of seven he was scavenging the mud of Portsmouth Harbour to help support his family. He became a fisherman and his affinity with the sea, uncanny luck and curiosity resulted in Arthur finding antiquities and artefacts from thousands of years of human activity in coastal Hampshire. He was responsible for the discovery and exploration of the wreck of HMS Invincible, a pivotal influence on 18th-century warship design and a technological bridge between Mary Rose and Victory.
xmas 20 greenhillThe Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations by Peter Tsouras
The author brings 4,000 years of military history to life through the words of more than 800 soldiers, commanders, military theorists and commentators on war. Quotes by diverse personalities – Napoleon, Machiavelli, Ataturk, Rommel, Julius Caesar, Xenophon, T.E. Lawrence, Saladin and many more – these sit side by side to build a comprehensive picture of war across the ages. Easy reference is enabled by more than 480 categories, covering such topics as courage, danger, failure, leadership, tactics, guerrilla warfare and victory. A compilation to dip into time and time again, offering insights into the history of warfare and the lives and deeds of great warriors.
xmas 20 napNapoleon in 100 Objects by Gareth Glover
For almost two decades, Napoleon Bonaparte was the most feared, and revered, man in Europe. At the height of his power, the land under his control stretched from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and encompassed most of Western Europe. The many fascinating objects brought together in this lavishly illustrated book detail not only Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power, but also his art of war and the role of the Imperial Guard, which grew from a small personal bodyguard to the size of a small army.
xmas 20 navMastering Navigation at Sea by Paul Boissier
Boissier’s latest book is superbly illustrated, informative – and offers prime snippets of the author’s triumphs and disasters over a lifetime’s navigating. He has a unique perspective having navigated in many parts of the world from high up on the bridge of a warship, close to the water in a cruising yacht and at depth in a nuclear submarine. After his navy career, retiring as a senior admiral, he was Chief Executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), often dealing with the consequences of poor navigation. A writer who shares rather than dictates a lesson. Highly recommended.
xmas 2020 cookCaptain James Cook and the Search for Antarctica by James C Hamilton
Two hundred and fifty years ago Captain James Cook, during his extraordinary voyages of navigation and maritime exploration, searched for Antarctica – the Unknown Southern Continent. During parts of his three voyages in the southern Pacific and Southern Oceans, Cook narrowed the options for the location of Antarctica. Over three summers, he completed a circumnavigation of portions of the Southern Continent, encountering impenetrable barriers of ice, suggesting that in fact the continent existed, a frozen land not populated by a living soul. His Antarctic voyages are perhaps the least celebrated of all his remarkable travels: this book goes quite some way to remedying that.
xmas 20 weatherWeather at Sea by Simon Rowell
Written by a round-the-world skipper and weather forecaster, this little book explains the basic physics principles that govern the weather from a practical, on the water, sailor’s point of view. As we can expect from Fernhurst, the author presents in readily understandable graphic form the global, regional and then local weather patterns to explain what is happening on the spot and how situations might change. Numerous illustrations complement the text. An ideal stocking filler for the cruising sailor. A professional weather-forecaster and sailor – you can’t get much better than that!
Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year

In Conversation with John Broomhead: Finding ‘Invincible’

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Hampshire-based amateur diver John Broomhead for over 20 years and have a huge respect for the work he (and a small group of fellow enthusiasts) undertook in connection with the excavation of the wreck of HMS Invincible, which they did without any government funding. Invincible was originally a 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy launched in October 1744. Captured on 14 October 1747, she was taken into Royal Navy service as the third rate HMS Invincible. She was wrecked in 1758 after hitting a sandbank. A number of very important contributions to our knowledge of the Wooden World are directly attributable to John and the group. Recently, with a substantial government grant, the work has been taken over by Bournemouth University in their Poole-based facility. Currently, there are two exhibitions of the finds to date – a permanent archive at Chatham Historic Dockyard; the other, a one-year temporary exhibition at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
How did it all begin?

Broomhead diving on Invincible

In April 1979, local fisherman and friend Arthur Mack, told me that whilst trawling with a fellow fisherman they had caught their nets on a solid sea bed obstruction. This was puzzling because they had trawled the same area for many years and had never snagged anything before. They had used the power of the engines to rip the nets free; when they were hauled back on board there was a large piece of timber tangled up in them. Now most fishermen would have sworn and cursed their ill luck before throwing the timber back over the side but Arthur had a feeling about it and kept it.

He showed it to me – two large pieces of oak in remarkably good condition held together by several wooden pegs known as treenails – and he believed the wood was from something as old as HMS Victory.Arthur asked me if I would have a look but I wondered how he could locate it. After all, it was at night when he had snagged it and without actually leaving a marker buoy how would he find it again?

Arthur Mack

But Arthur felt he knew exactly where it was. He was so confident and enthusiastic that I got my diving gear and out we went. Unfortunately, we did not snag Arthur’s trawling gear on the wreck that day.

Arthur spent most of April going out in the daytime, trawling up and down in the same area. On 30 April he hit the underwater obstruction again! Unfortunately, he did not leave his trawl gear out there with a marker buoy for fear of someone stealing his nets. But he was able to take bearings and assured me he could definitely snag the obstruction on the next trip.
Although I had a nasty head cold and could not dive, friend and diver Jim Boyle said he would come out with us and have a look. In Arthur’s little open fishing boat, the three of us set off to find out just what it was on the seabed that kept calling Arthur back. Once again, we towed the trawling gear, which comprised of two, small otter boards with chains joining them together. This allowed us to cover about 20 feet width of sea bed on each pass and we did snag the obstruction.
Jim went down and was in the water for about 25 minutes before returning to the surface. He had found a line of very large wooden timbers but because the underwater visibility was so bad, he could see little else.

Encrusted Cable

We intended to go back as soon as possible but we could not find the wreck again mainly due to misty conditions making it impossible to see the land transit marks taken previously. After some discussion, I said that when he snagged it again, he should leave his trawl gear tangled up on the wreck. He should put a buoy on the rope and I would make sure that either Jim or I would come straight out and free his nets. At the same time, we would take better land transit marks in order to locate the wreck more easily at any time in the future.

Not much happened during May but towards the end of the month, the weather forecast was favourable and we were entering a period of neap tides. Plans were made and a date set for 1st June when we would dive and seriously survey the wreck.
On that dive we set off along the wreckage feeling our way through thick kelp weed and over a mass of wreckage, stumbling across the remnants of several fishing nets snagged and abandoned on the very substantial timbers. These timbers were in the region of 15 inches square and sticking out of the sand at an angle of about 40 degrees. There was only about an inch of clearance between each timber making it appear like a row of gigantic teeth, stretching for what I estimated to be around 200 feet.
We came across the remains of a very large coil of rope lying on firm timber decking and lying at an angle of about 40 degrees. Later in the project this rope was removed and identified as tarred hemp cable-laid rope in extremely good condition.
What has been your role over the years?
I logged up many hours on the wreck spending as much time as I could out there with Arthur in his little 16 foot boat. She was a good little dive boat being low to the water but the time came when we needed something larger. One of Arthur’s fisherman friends was selling his 24 foot boat. The hull was good with a wide beam but not suitable as a diving platform. After leaving school I completed an apprenticeship in engineering and then spent two years managing an engineering workshop. I used my skills to revamp the old hull with new deck sealed in, and built a small cabin at the bows. With Arthur’s help I turned it into a into a diving platform with two compressors, one to operate the air lifts and a second to fill diving cylinders.
After obtaining the necessary permissions we managed the conservation of the excavation ourselves, setting up a conservation laboratory and storage facility in Portsmouth. All of this was costing much time and money and so we had to raise funds which I became more and more involved in.
In your view what have been the most interesting items recovered?

Grand Magazine

I suppose the most historically important and fascinating to work on, has to be the grand magazine. There were no examples to show how these magazines were made anywhere in the world. Nelson’s Victory at Portsmouth did not have one and the curator and archivist was at a loss to know how to build a replica on board for visitors to see until he was made aware of the one we found. As well, the racking in Victorys fore and aft hanging magazines were modelled on our discovery.

When we found the grand magazine on Invincible it was simply a massive pile of timbers. We took everything back to our laboratory and found that every joint in every piece of timber was numbered using roman numerals. In another piece of wood, was a corresponding number to show exactly where and how they fitted together.
30min-130min-2Then there were the pigment barrels. We had no idea what they were when I first found one in June 1980. The contents were lumpy black pieces that we initially thought were the remains of gunpowder. Also in the barrels was sand which we thought was ingress from surrounding seabed. How wrong our guesses were! The black substance was the base constituent of Iron Gall ink. The sand is what they used in a ‘shaker’ – which was scattered over wet ink to ‘blot’ it. In essence the lovely tiny barrels were early day naval writing kits.
On 20th August 1979 I found the first of several sand glasses. It was concreted at one end and consisted of wooden frame, two glass bottles and of course sand inside. Research showed that this was a 30 minute glass and was used for timing the ships watch. 30 minutes = 1 bell of a four hour 8 bell watch.
Tell us about Phil Rumsey’s model of ‘Invincible’
In the mid 1980’s, we commissioned local model maker Phil Rumsey to create a scale model of Invincible from the original plans. We asked him to craft it using original material recovered from the wreck. To that end we gave him:
Oak from one of the original hull planks to make the hull and deck
Pine from some deck cladding to make the masts
Lignum vitae from one of the gun pulley blocks for the 74 guns
Animal bone from the galley area to make the figure head, the gingerbread around the stern and the stern lanterns

As for the rigging, Phil used his wife Hazel’s hair! The construction materials used make this model unique in ship models the world over. The model is just like Invincible herself when she was launched from Rochefort in 1744, the finest fighting ship afloat at that time. After her capture in 1747 the Admiralty heaped praise on her: ‘A Prodigious fine ship and vastly large’ Admiral Anson

Rumsey-1 Rumsey-2 Rumsey-3 Rumsey-4

National Museum of the Royal Navy Invincible temporary exhibition
Permanent exhibition of Invincible artefacts (closed for winter)
Old Man of the Sea by Brent Piniuta and John Broomhead
details the story of Arthur and John finding the wreck and excavating the site. The book also explains how Invincible artefacts today play a significant interpretative role aboard HMS Victory. All proceeds of the sale of the book will be split between RN Museum Portsmouth, Portsmouth City Museum and Chatham Historic dockyard for maintenance of the national Invincible archive.

5.5x8.5_Color_140 FINISHED COVER FRONT ONLY 29-06-20

BookPick: Winter Selection

The Thomas Kydd Series is set during the period of the Revolutionary wars (1793-1815) as experienced through the life of former wig-maker turned naval hero Thomas Kydd. My research library contains hundreds of volumes on the Royal Navy and life in Britain during those troubled times. I’ve also gleaned a useful insight into the mind of the foe through various books written from the French perspective. Along with several such books, this selection includes a modern-day sailing adventure, a history of tea, a moving account of children at sea and a comprehensive survey of British naval intelligence in the twentieth century..

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winter 2020 paris

Napoleon’s Paris by David Buttery
While there are numerous biographies and studies of his military and political career, few books have been written about Napoleon’s connections with Paris, the capital of his empire, where many remarkable buildings and monuments date from his time in power. David Buttery’s lavishly illustrated guidebook to Napoleon’s Paris addresses this neglect. Many of the most famous sites in the city were built or enhanced on Napoleon’s instructions or are closely associated with him and with the period of the First French Empire – the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Hotel des Invalides, Musee de l’Armee, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pere Lachaise Cemetery among them.
Buttery’s book is recommended reading for the visitor to Paris who is keen to gain an insight into the influence of Napoleon on the city and the tumultuous period in French history in which he was the dominant figure.

Winter 2020 sailing

Sailing the Waterways of Russia’s North by Irene Campbell-Grin
A fascinating memoir of the Baltic Millennium Rally in the summer of 2000, a voyage that involved sailing to St Petersburg, inland to Petrozavodsk, on to the White Sea and Barents Sea, and home via North Cape and the west coast of Norway; a circumnavigation of Scandinavia. I know many of these waters well, having sailed in them, albeit in comfort by ferry and liner, during research for my Thomas Kydd novel The Baltic Prize.
Campbell-Grin chronicles the joys and challenges that she and her husband Gordon faced on their boat Fereale (‘love’ in Frisian), in an expedition not many people would have had the courage to undertake as this was at a time when Russia was hostile to the outside world. Her account gives a glimpse into the country’s notorious bureaucracy, but also shows the kindness and generosity of the many Russians they met on their way.
A homage to how boating brings people together and our ongoing love of the sea.

Winter 2020 tea

A Dark History of Tea by Seren Charrington-Hollins
Readers of my Kydd tales will know that tea was a very special drink for the Georgians. Today it’s the most popular drink in Britain! This book looks at the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing its significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the toil of manual labour. The humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelled fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British life. The story of tea is a journey from myth, fable and folklore to murky stories of swindling, adulteration, greed, waging of wars, boosting of trade in hard drugs and slavery and the great, albeit dark engines that drove the globalisation of the world economy.
An engaging social history.

winter 2020 intelligence

British Naval Intelligence Through the Twentieth Century by Andrew Boyd
Having served in the Royal Navy during the period this book covers I found Andrew Boyd’s monumental new history a compelling read. Not far short of 800 pages, the text is supplemented by extensive notes and a useful bibliography.
Boyd provides the first comprehensive account of how intelligence influenced and sustained British naval power from the late nineteenth century, when the Admiralty first created a dedicated intelligence department, through to the end of the Cold War. It brings a critical new dimension to understanding British naval history in this period setting naval intelligence in a wide context and emphasising the many parts of the British state that contributed to naval requirements. It is also a fascinating study of how naval needs and personalities shaped the British intelligence community that exists today as well as the concepts and values that underpin it.
Boyd’s work will appeal to historians of the twentieth century and also to those readers interested in intelligence and its impact on naval policy and operations.

winter 2020 children

Children at Sea by Vyvyen Brendon
Having written two earlier books on youngsters past and present, former history teacher Vyvyen Brendon turned her attention to Neptune’s Realm.
All the subjects of this, her third book, were born in Georgian or Victorian times when the sea was still the key element of Britain’s national existence. Brendon focusses on eight central characters: a slave captured in Africa, a convict girl transported to Australia, a Barnardo’s lass sent as a migrant to Canada, a foundling brought up in Coram’s Hospital who ran away to sea, and four youths from contrasting backgrounds despatched to serve as midshipmen (one of whom was Sydney Dickens, son of Charles). Their social origins as well as their maritime ventures are revealed through a rich variety of original source material discovered in scattered archives.
A collection of stories that are sometimes inspiring, sometimes heart-rending – but always compelling.

Waterloo book

Waterloo Rout & Retreat by Andrew W Field
This, the fourth volume in Andrew Field’s highly-praised study of the Waterloo campaign from the French perspective. (His previous titles were ‘Prelude to Waterloo’; ‘Quatre Bras’ and ‘Grouchy’s Waterloo.’)
This work is based exclusively on French eyewitness accounts which give a remarkable inside view of the immediate aftermath of the battle, and carry the story through to the army’s disbandment in late 1815. Many French officers and soldiers wrote more about the retreat than they did about the catastrophe of Waterloo itself. Napoleon’s own flight from Waterloo is an essential part of the narrative, but the main emphasis is on the fate of the beaten French army as it was experienced by eyewitnesses who lived through the last days of the campaign.
Vivid insights into the often-neglected final phase of the rout and retreat of Napoleon’s army.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year

Balkan Glory coming soon!

My next Kydd tale, Balkan Glory is published in just a couple of weeks, in hardback and ebook on October 1. The audiobook will be narrated as usual by the highly talented Christian Rodska. This is the twenty-third book in the series and features the doughty crew of HMS Tyger and her gallant captain Sir Thomas Kydd, along with a number of real-life historical personages such as Klemens von Metternich and Admiral Sidney Smith. Balkan Glory will be available later in the US and other countries around the world.

Here’s a taster of the book :

400-BG_Packshot1811. The Adriatic, the ‘French Lake’, is now the most valuable territory Napoleon Bonaparte possesses. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd finds his glorious return to England cut short when the Admiralty summons him to lead a squadron of frigates into these waters to cause havoc and distress to the enemy.

Kydd is dubbed ‘The Sea Devil’ by Bonaparte who personally appoints one of his favourites, Dubourdieu, along with a fleet that greatly outweighs the British, to rid him of this menace.

At the same time, Nicholas Renzi is sent to Austria on a secret mission to sound out the devious arch-statesman, Count Metternich. His meeting reveals a deadly plan by Bonaparte that threatens the whole balance of power in Europe. The only thing that can stop it is a decisive move at sea and for this he must somehow cross the Alps to the Adriatic to contact Kydd directly.

A climactic sea battle where the stakes could not be higher is inevitable. Kydd faces Dubourdieu with impossible odds stacked against him. Can he shatter Bonaparte’s dreams of breaking out of Europe and marching to the gates of India and Asia?

Bookpick: Naval Warfare in the Twentieth Century

My main research interest is in the Royal Navy at the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) but having served in both the British and Australian Navy I also enjoy reading about other navies, ships and men from other times and different theatres of conflict. This selection includes a memoir from a Russian admiral, a major work on the modern cruiser, and a round-up of just what happened to the enemy fleets after the two World Wars.

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The Russian Baltic Fleet by Admiral S N Timirev

July 2020 blogpic1The First World War at sea in northern waters is often portrayed as a purely German and British affair but the Russian Baltic fleet saw frequent and at times desperate action against Germany. Vividly written in Shanghai in 1922, this memoir remained unknown for several decades until its publication (in Russian) in New York in 1961. Translated into English by naval historian Stephen Ellis, it offers unique insights into the characters of key figures Rear Admiral S N Timirev met during his years of service. Timirev was well placed to make observations on the operations of the Baltic Fleet from 1914 up to 1918. He had trained alongside many of the commanding officers and fought in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and the siege of Port Arthur with them. This edition is complemented by extensive notes and commentary. A spotlight on the Russian mind-set in home waters and engaging account of Russian naval operations in general during these formative years of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

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The Modern Cruiser by Robert C Stern

July 2020 blogpic2Having undergone a convoluted development, cruisers vary more in their characteristics than any other warship type. I have to confess that in my time I would have liked to serve in a cruiser – halfway between the snug living of a destroyer and the huge complexity of a capital ship. Stern chronicles the fortunes of this ship-type in the twentieth century, beginning with a brief summary of development before the First World War and an account of a few notable cruiser actions during that conflict that helped define what cruisers would look like in the post-war world. The core of the book is devoted to the impact of the naval disarmament treaty process, which concentrated on attempting to define limits to the numbers and size of cruisers that could be built. How the cruisers of the treaty era performed in the Second world War forms the final focus of the book, which concludes with a look at the fate of the cruiser-type since 1945. This single-volume account of the complex development of the cruiser gives me a fine insight into the breed and makes for a comprehensive reference for all students of naval warfare.

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Spoils of War by Aidan Dodson and Serena Cant

July 2020 bookpick3This book traces the histories of navies and ships of defeated powers from the months leading up to the relevant armistices or surrenders through to the final execution of the appropriate post-war settlements. It discusses the way in which the victorious powers reached their final demands, how these were implemented, and to what effect. The later histories of ships that saw subsequent service are also described. The authors have drawn on archaeological evidence as well as archival sources, and include numerous photographs, maps and extensive tables of details of individual ships. For those who need to finally know the ultimate fate of the often gallant ships that strove against the Allies in both world wars, this is the book.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

BookPick: Summer Selection 2020

After sending in the manuscript for Balkan Glory to my editor – and before diving into the research and planning for the next Kydd title I decided to catch up on some of the books in my ‘to read’ pile. I’ve chosen six of these (two of which are reprints that I revisited having come across them some time ago) that I particularly commend. They cover a wide range of topics: from amazing revelations about espionage to an engrossing history of the Tower of London to a fascinating reconstruction of the most powerful warship of her day. I hope there’s something here to whet your reading appetite.

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A Hidden History of the Tower of London by John Paul Davis

May blog1The Tower of London is an iconic building having imprisoned no less than 8000 unfortunate souls since it was built in the reign of William the Conqueror. Inspired by new research, Davis offers a fascinating account of the plotters, rebels, pretenders, murderers, escapees and others who found themselves incarcerated within its walls. But, as Davis also points out, the Tower has played host to diverse royal functions and served as an observatory, menagerie, place of capital punishment and a museum. To this day the Crown Jewels can be viewed there. And according to legend, should the famous ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. A compelling history of one of London’s most famous landmarks.

Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation Postmaster by Brian Lett

May blog2An extraordinary account of a force of licensed-to-kill secret agents, commanded by a war-time secret service chief code name ‘M’, with whom Ian Fleming worked, and upon whom his James Bond stories were based. Operation POSTMASTER was a daring operation played out at the height of the Second World War. A Q ship sailed to West Africa and successfully cut out three enemy ships from a neutral Spanish port on the volcanic island of Fernando Po. Ian Fleming was deeply involved in this operation, and went on to prepare the cover story, in which the British Government lied in order to conceal responsibility for the raid.

The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind by Julie Cook

Mayblog4When Titanic foundered in April 1912, the world’s focus was on the tragedy of those who lost their lives. Julie Cook’s great grandfather was a crew member who perished in the disaster, leaving a wife Emily and five children. This book focuses on Emily and the widows like her, many of whom lived in Southampton, who had to fight for survival through great hardship, whilst still grieving for the men they loved who’d died in the ship. Using original archive sources and with accounts from descendants of crew who also lost their lives, the author asks how did these women survive through abject poverty and grief – and why have their voices been silent for so long? A moving read.

Sovereign of the Seas by John McKay

mayblog3Sovereign of the Seas was the most spectacular, extravagant and controversial warship of the early seventeenth century. The ultimate royal prestige project, whose armament was increased by the King’s decree to the unheard-of figure of 100 guns, the ship cost the equivalent of ten more conventional warships. A significant proportion of this was spent on her gilded decoration, which gave the ship a unique combination of firepower and visual impact that led the Dutch to dub her ‘the Golden Devil’. John McKay reconstructs the design and appearance of the ship with an amazing degree of detail. The results are presented as a folio of superbly draughted plans, isometric drawings and coloured renderings, covering every aspect of the design from the hull form to the minutiae of sails and rigging. A fitting tribute to an iconic ship.

The Secret Capture by Stephen Roskill

Mayblog6For fifteen years after the end of the war all official Admiralty records showed the German submarine U-110 as sunk on 9 May 1941 by convoy escorts. As this book was the first to reveal, this was a deliberate deception, as the U-boat was actually captured and its contents – including an undamaged Enigma machine and its code books – taken before being sunk a day later. As the official historian of the naval war, Roskill followed the party line when writing his authorised account, but provoked by exaggerated claims concerning a US Navy capture of a U-boat in 1944, Roskill decided to set the record straight. At the time of the book’s first publication, the operation was still secret, so Roskill had to be discreet about the exact details of what was taken from the submarine while insisting on its crucial value to the war effort. A new introduction by Barry Gough puts the capture into context, making clear its vital importance in the history of allied codebreaking in World War Two.

Balloons and Airships by Anthony Burton

mayblog5As it’s on my Bucket List – a flight in a hot air balloon – this book was an appealing read. Burton tells the dramatic and fascinating story of flight in lighter-than-air machines. For centuries man had dreamed of flying, but all attempts failed, until in 1782 the Montgolfier brothers constructed the world’s first hot air balloon. The following year saw the first ascent with aeronauts – not human beings but a sheep, a duck and a cockerel. But soon men and women took to the air and became ever more adventurous. With the arrival of the internal combustion engine the balloon was transformed into the airship. The most famous developer of airships was of course Graf von Zeppelin and his airships were used in both peacetime and at war. There were epic adventures including flights over the poles and for a time, commercial airships flourished – then came the disaster of the Hindenburg.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year and I’ve a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

BookPick: The Senior Service

I’m focusing on the Royal Navy with this latest selection of BookPicks. As many of you know I had the honour of serving in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy and my time at sea was one of the highlights of my life. I now write about the Royal Navy in the Great Age of Fighting Sail and vicariously live the adventure of those far-off days through my hero Thomas Kydd. From the sinking of Royal George to the fight against African pirates to an overview of the Navy in the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century to the great love of Admiral Nelson’s life – I hope this eclectic selection whets your appetite for more….

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Catastrophe at Spithead by Hilary Rubinstein

senior service1In one of the most sensational and perplexing incidents in naval history, Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, a veteran naval officer, drowned along with more than 800 crew and many civilian visitors, male and female, on a calm summer’s morning and in a familiar anchorage. This riveting new work examines that tragedy – the sudden capsizing at Spithead on 29 August 1782 of the mighty flagship HMS Royal George. An extraordinary tale from the heyday of Britain’s naval power.

The Life and Letters of Emma Hamilton by Hugh Tours

senior service2Emma, Lady Hamilton, rose from humble beginnings to become a media celebrity, and her relationship with Nelson, and her renowned beauty, made her the most instantly-recognisable woman of her era. She married Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples in 1791. And it was in Naples that she met Admiral Nelson – and the great love affair began. Tours, through her letters, provides fascinating insights into her life. This is history as moving as a tragic novel; most poignant of all being the return, after Trafalgar, of Emma’s last letter to Nelson, unopened.

The Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Age by Mark Jessop

senior service3As the nineteenth century began the newly-forged United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland commenced life at war with France and her allies and remained so until 1815. After 1812 she had to shoulder the extra burden of a war against the United States of America. With conflict on multiple fronts, hardships continued to be inflicted at home. Trade was precarious. People were weary of hostilities and the threat of invasion still ran high. But the Royal Navy was Britain’s sure shield and after the victory of Trafalgar in 1805 she dominated the seas. Her warships spread out all over the world were the nation’s first line of defence. The Royal Navy is Britain’s oldest continual military force and rightly deserves the respect that is accorded as The Senior Service.

Pirate Killers by Graham A. Thomas

senior service4From the Barbary Coast of North Africa pirates had preyed on shipping in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic for centuries and they terrorized the populations even of the coastal towns. To them, piracy was a way of life, and the great sea-powers of the day could do little about it. Then, 150 years ago, in one of the most remarkable and neglected anti-piracy operations in maritime history, the Royal Navy confronted them, defeated them and made the seas safe for trade. Based on original sources held at the National Archives, this a fascinating view into the way the Royal Navy responded to the menace of piracy in the nineteenth century.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

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