Battleground: Ukraine

A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.

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Battleground: Christmas Special

Battleground: Christmas Special

Tue, 20 Dec 2022 01:00

As a special Christmas treat we've recorded a festive bonus episode discussing over a glass of wine (or two!), the standout military history books of the year, and the wider stories that surround them. Patrick and Saul are joined by two good friends of theirs - fellow historian Jessie Childs and publicist and historical novelist Richard Foreman.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Acast powers the world's best podcast. Here's the show that we recommend. Hi, I'm Helen Lewis and I want to tell you about a podcast I've made for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sands. It's called The New Gurus and it's about how everywhere you look on the internet, people are giving advice. Advice they claim will transform your life. Advice that gets some thousands, even millions of devoted followers. These online profits are telling us how to eat, how to think, how to get rich, how to find love, how to manage our time. So how exactly are these gurus changing our lives and the world around us? And who holds them to account? Find out by subscribing to The New Gurus wherever you get your podcasts. Happy Christmas wherever you may be from Saul David and me, Patrick Bishop. Well as promised we thought it would be a nice idea for the Battleground team to produce a special episode as the year closes to have a look at some of the standout military history books that have come our way this year and to talk about them and how the wider stories around them, the idea is not to give a detailed critique of the books in question just to use them as a starting point for discussion and let the talk flow. Yes indeed so to help oil the wheels we've got two guests with us who also happen to be friends. Jesse Childs is an expert in 16th century British history, the winner at numerous awards and her latest book The Siege of loyalty house, a new history of the Civil War which was a time, Sunday times Guardian, Telegra, Spectator, the critic and mail on Sunday book of the year. Good to have you with us Jesse. And alongside her we've got Richard Foreman, a very old friend of both of ours. Richard started out as a bookseller in the Leidenhall Market branch of Waterstones but that was not going to detain him for long. He went on to found a publishing house and also founded the London History Festival and generally became what you might call a history entrepreneur as well as writing historical novels himself. Welcome Richard. And evening everyone and happy Christmas. Okay well now the introductions are done, our glasses are charged, the mincepiser and the oven so it's stand by to what sale. I'm going to start off. I think blowing it two books which came out this year but coldest and castling Germany where the Germans sent their naughtyest prisoners of war and a belief that it was escape proof which of course it turned out not to be. One of them, the first one to come out was by a guy called Robert Burkake and the other by the more famous Ben McIntyre. Now this is a peculiarly British obsession isn't it? The escape story is the coldest story alone has produced I think thousands of books over the years. The point where even back in the 1970s one reviewer groaned is there no escape from coldest. So here we go again. I've got quite strong views about coldest and the general sort of bit of a war story but I wanted to start off with a question for Jesse. Jesse if you by some strange chance found yourself incarcerated in the World War II with a walk out would you try it and escape? Oh I would like to think that I would. I was sort of a tomboy when I was younger I like the idea of it. I probably would be incredibly craven and wouldn't. If everyone else had done all the hard work and I could just sort of follow on their tail I might give it a go. But otherwise I think I'd be too cowardly. Yeah I'm with you on that one. I think the thing to do was to kind of make out that you were helping an escape escape but actually kind of going down the tunnel to hold back and say no I'm going to give my child to someone else. You know I'm going to take a noble thing and that's it back and then sort of learn another language or study for the bar or medicine or something like that. Like a lot of them do. I mean most people didn't try to do a tiny majority in my view egotists and sort of attention seekers who did this. Do you think sort of people that you don't expect to be brave shine at times like that or is it as you say the ones you'd suspect or does anyone surprise you just like I can't believe they did it. Well Jesse I suppose the surprising thing was that they were so varied. You got all types represented there. Many nationalities not just the Brits. You wouldn't know that from the literature. You also had Poles Dutch French Americans etc. Some of them were egotists but I think another motivation was guilt. Take Erie Neve for example. The first British officer to escape from cold it's he felt guilty it having not made much of a contribution to the war he was captured very early on in a Calais in 1940 and I think he was driven by kind of desire to make amends by escaping and getting back to the war effort which he did very successfully. It's very much as I haven't didn't have the privilege that got to a gone to a British public called Unlike Thought. So it seems to me. And Jesse. Oh sure. I really do. So it seems to me like a light marriage sort of version of a British public school like. Is that how you see it? It's why they say that the officers always cope the best when they were incarcerated because it reminded them of boarding school and you know I've never been incarcerated but I have been to boarding school albeit from the age of 16 which I think was the same for you Jesse. Was it not? Actually I went to boarding school 11 but with girls probably more flexible and probably softer and kinder. But one of the things that I know we're going to discuss is in a bit more detail. One of the things Ben Macintosh brings out so brilliantly in his book, Cold It's, is the almost homerotic atmosphere there is. There was in some of these prisoner of war camps and I can tell you it was exactly the same at boarding school and you know some people took that one step further but that sort of general air of you know of bonding of male bonding was very much. Cold It was appetizers ample for fun heat. But I mean Ben makes the point in a book that it was the officer class that were only allowed to escape. They got the permission to partly because if they did so there was no risk of them being shot. There was there was you know very little risks of them. Well there was eventually of course I mean after the famous Great Escape where the Germans really changed the rules of the game and executed I think 50 was 50 out of the 76. The RAF Patrick that's right up your alleys so to speak isn't it? Yeah I mean one of the things that happens in this book I think well I have the two I prefer rather the Kate's book because it actually tells you something I didn't know much about before and he's pretty good on the whole section of treachery. The book isn't so much about coldness as it is about a guy who was sent in there by the Germans to try and find out you know where the tunnels were sort of thing. So for me that that was actually shed quite a lot of light on the different interesting dimensions of everything whereas the Macintyre book is you know repackaging a lot of you know stories in a very you know brilliant Macintyre sort of way but what I got from that was that really you know he's not actually terribly interesting the story as just as a story because it's basically people digging holes in the ground one tunnel is pretty much like another one and you end up you know with a kind of rather repetitive sort of a trope going through the whole thing but sorry to get back to the kind of people who star in the coldest story one of them is of course Douglas Bard of the famous Legless and World War II fighter pilot who has had a pretty easy ride I think until now but in this book Macintyre does us a service by actually revealing what a full letter fellow it would have said. Well I think at the end of the book he calls him at times a total hero but a complete bastard at other times. And I think that is starting to eke out in other books now that Douglas Bard was assist with the bleep button. Richard what do you think of the coldest book by Ben Macintyre? You've admired some of Ben's other work. Yeah I mean I've read quite a few of Ben's books I mean I think he's a bit more comfortable chatting about spies rather than soldiers but there are kind of enough eccentric and let's face it egomaniacs locked up for him to have a bit of fun with and one of them does does include Bard. I mean there is the end of the book he basically you know what Bard did sort of after the war and sort of legacy of coldest and most of these anecdotes involve swear words but one of them was he you know he met up and he went to Germany with the he found himself at dinner with like Luftwaffe pilots and his comment was I thought we shot more of you bastards down during the war. He was pretty blunt and you know he would definitely even now be given a safe conservative seat for some of his politics but yes not the most pleasant human being in the world but interesting nonetheless. Just a quick point of that Ben I've just come back from a conference in New Orleans that Ben was also attending. In fact he was a keynote speaker and he had the rather tough job of speaking after dinner to 500 Americans who were all pretty well versed in the history of the second world war. I mean it was a tough audience in other words and by the end of his talk he had them absolutely eating out of his hands and the Americans is generally speaking are not that given to British stories and the coldest is a particularly British story that's not get us up. There might have been the odd Canadian maybe there were American or two there but actually it's a British story and it was amazing how he framed it so I haven't read the book yet I'm going to this weekend actually because I'm chatting to Ben next week but if his talk is anything to go by I suspect it's a pretty good read. And I bet the American audience doesn't drink quite as much as well you can't oil them up so easily. Exactly and the other problem with after dinner speaking as I'm sure we all know having done it occasion is you can't drink yourself until you've given your talk. And if you make a mistake of having a few classes which I did many years ago in the reform club when I was talking about my previous book Zulu I got up and I used to probe and I tried myself on remembering my talk in a one I completely forgotten it just went out of my head and from that moment I've done two things I've never drunk before I spoken and two I've always had notes just. Really I like to have a glass before I speak I like to do the evening chat talks rather than the lunch and I months because yeah I like what I take you Patrick like a glass for well I'm afraid unlike Saul I do actually have a couple before I understand that and actually does make things go a bit more smoothly and often if you've got your notes in thunder you find yourself you know going off piece often to great effect all that's how it seems at the time. So let's move the discussion on Jesse tell us about a book you particularly like this year. Oh there are so many but I'm going to go sort of stick to my period and say Leander Dallal's biography of Henrietta Maria which you might not think is a military history but but actually anything in this period and I'm talking sort of early modern period 1617 centuries which is my sort of remit is military history I mean the war is a constant cloud and of course Henrietta Maria was queen the wife of Charles I so she was there during the Civil War and not just there she was she was known as the Xi general Lissima that's what she called herself and she was that the Rattles really feared her and her influence not only over the king but in Europe as well where her family and siblings were so she was very formidable and what I love about Leander's book is she ties in the European context really well but also just sort of to shoot down all these these stereotypes and all these tropes that have been that have been barren to Henrietta Maria's reputation I mean she's very maligned queen and it's just a very human biography and and puts the Civil War in context in terms of how the women experienced it as well so I think I think Bravo Bravo to Leander Dallal. Yeah that that sounds like you know a major reappraisal of a historical figure which is always interesting and good and there's one I think you read this one haven't you Richard I haven't actually read it as well the reviews but about you know founding father of the SAS David Sterling who major kind of yeah the relationship job done on him well it's a reappraisal but I'm like Leander Dallal who was in a sense put Henrietta Marie at center stage and redeemed her reputation a bit Gavin Mortimer in a sense is out to debunk the phony major which is basically a biography of David Sterling as you say although a large part in debunk in David Sterling is to praise Paddy May and that's at the crux of the book but yeah I mean it's not a hatchet job he uses a scalpel I mean Gavin Mortimer has spent the last sort of few years writing this book but he spent 20 years immersed in you know the SAS law if you like and he's produced his best book hopefully it's his best selling book and it's a big one for sort of fellow historians and military historians like you guys where it's I mean it's a game changer really and I mean I would recommend you know your audience but also other historians to read it because they'll come across as a bit silly now if they don't reference Gavin's book yeah I mean I think this is interesting it's all because we both know that behind the side of the SAS's reputation which is that they're completely all super-hawar as we both know that people in the military take them for a lot of different view and this book actually in a historical sense starts the process that we are praising me SAS I would say yeah and I think most of the listeners know I'm slightly biased towards the SBS having recently written their Second World War history and I think this sums up the essential difference in nature between the people who go into the SBS that is our special maritime force and the SAS who are kind of land-based their skills are very similar but the difference is that the SBS really hide their light under a bushel as they put it there's a kind of wonderful quote in their handbook we take a more discrete approach while some prefer the limelight we prefer the twilight now sterling prefer the limelight not only did he prefer the limelight he made up a lot of stuff we know this from Gavin Mortimer's book about his career to build himself by I suspect he was in I think you hinted at this Richard he was in competition with Maine he felt overshadowed by Maine so he had to exaggerate his own feats in fact we now believe that the term the phantom major which was alleged to have come from the Germans in the Second World War was actually cooked up by sterling and his biographer in the 1950s so you know he began to curate his reputation and here's the kick-up only after Maine's sad early death in the early 1950s pretty much as the the baked funeral meat went cold that was when David Sterling made the call to Virginia cows almost and it's basically it's you know it's not a celebrity biography but it was you know a sort of put up job really sorry just as better ask you about something about how you know weird it is really that the it seems to be as someone who's you know clear man it must be strange to see people like Paddy Maine sort of celebrated as as these sort of iconic masculine figures when even to my eyes a man of a certain age who's been around the military a lot of this life he seems to be to be more of a associate path than someone to be admired I think I mean I think that's the experience through all the ages isn't it what I find really interesting and not just Paddy Maine but also just all the spies that get written up and how does this work how do you write a biography of an operation or a spy or an institution when so often the sources are basically neither confirmed or deny I mean how as you say it's so much as apocryphal so how what kind of checks and balances to review so fellow historians have with these later folks it's i'm in his troubles so I mean in terms of the Gavin Mortimer book I mean he's basically been interviewing lots of former SAS personnel for years you know and he was able to get this yeah yeah now on the record and before the innocent this generation passed but it is just their view although there is a certain amount of weight of evidence and shared view of what David's certain was like and also Paddy Maine but it you know in terms of fact and evidence it's still a gray area I thought it was really a lot in interwar yes there are a lot of people who write their memoirs and like the lock-up lock for example in Russia and how much they give away and you think have a new side away the secrets and was isn't there a sense of honour that you should not be talking about it yeah I think you've hit the known on the head Jesse because it's not you know technically no one who's worked for the intelligence services or the special forces for that matter are allowed to speak but some do so the question is how do they get away with it and the reality is I think it does come down to honour actually because the official secrets that might make you think you're going to be prosecuted but we know from the spy catcher case in the 1980s that although they tried to stop the book coming out it was published in Australia at the same time and therefore you know they eventually dropped the action here you can buy spy catcher that was written of course by an MI6 officer so I think that's the point I remember having a chat with Eliza Manning and Buller the former boss of MI5 and asking her which she ever consider writing her memoirs like her predecessor Stella Remington had done and she said absolutely not for that reason you know what why would you work for an organisation like that and then spill the beans even if you were trying to be vaguely careful years later so it's really down to character in the end and I think both special forces and intelligence services you get the odd row who is prepared to talk out go back to the SES just briefly quite a lot of them have spoken out and very few from the SBS including including the box you know Peter De La Billa he was and he actually broke the code he was the one that started his avalanche and they say he has books you know I mean if you look at a literary history section of any bookshop I mean about half the stuff in the contemporary section is various you know rather than seven to five way they've run out of kind of accrued him numbers and letters of the alphabet I mean as sorry as a count a point to that though there's the story of a a's of bricks who I think it was in the 1970s confessed to his wife that I worked at Bledgley Park during the war and then she said oh so did I I mean they're there and there was a large waves of people there is still a culture of amount of 30 years later and in fact the story of station X Bledgley Park didn't come out until the 1970s absolutely astonishing this game you know winning organization we really didn't know the truth of that but it did some of you actually worked there was someone who was actually a messenger essentially who carried the product to the various committees that were in what was the what's the endotrination I think it's the word used and into the secret the ultra secret so yeah different different ultra-tremol I suppose it's a bit like if someone it's an avalanche isn't it as he says if someone starts it's like retweeting praise on Twitter like I would never do it except then I see Saul doing it all the time and I kind of think oh like I want people to know about my book too you're lashing out now Jesse you're better than that in source defense he pays someone to do I can't be there all the time it's not my fault but going back I think some of this is due to what you're saying and things about sterling for instance it's ego and vanity that will compel them to tell their story and shape history in the narrative you know a lot of soldiers as you know you read enough military history there are you go man yes with what I feel conflicted about this because that's a historian I first of all I want to tell the story so I'm very keen for people to speak out and secondly I'm also a great believer that you're almost in freedom of information that eventually this stuff needs to come out you know it's it's the Americans are very good at this I think they are much less kind of secretive paranoid if if that's an expression that we are in this country now I know there's a justification for keeping things quiet with the Americans say do you know what sooner or later it's going to come out so for example their navy seals nothing secret we know all about Neptune's spear which was the operation to kill bin Laden it all comes out immediately and yet anything post 1948 in relation to our special forces complete blanket closure and that's too long in my opinion because the opposite effect doesn't exist what it means is you get all this sort of fantasy stuff coming out if they're in everywhere and they don't you lose control of the narrative which is a kind of very very 25th century way of looking at but much more important for my point of view as historians it muddies the water to the point where you really have to keep delving and aware and digging and sifting to get to anything like the truth which is really what's happened with this whole essay story it's only we still got all these different you know conflicting sort of not the not affecting accounts but just ways we look at the essay so this TV series there's just another iteration of it which I think takes us even further away from what the thing actually was it wasn't actually totally important the essay has and continues not to be totally important but if you're a punter you think the essay is probably the most important significant effective effective part of the British where we know both from our podcast and you are actually out in the forms we know that there were all kinds of balls ups going on perpetrated by the special forces I think the SPS less responsible obviously and and yet you would you might be led to believe if you listen to some of the people are out there that they won the war well that's the argument I mean even starting as contemporary basically said you need me out our domain history suggest otherwise Jess wait are there people do you think from the 17th century the 16th and 17th century who we simply don't know about because they were involved in this kind of espionage work I mean is that one of the problems some people do disappear in the pages of history yeah absolutely and what I find amazing is if you dig deep enough you do still find new stuff and not just about more about about anything I mean like you kind of think certainly in the 16th century in the 17th century certain subjects that it's all been written about but actually if you sort of troll through the documents you do find new stuff and new angles and new bits and pieces I read a bit to know what you guys think but you've all know a hara you know who wrote sapiens and all these blockbusters before all that he was an early modern military historian and he argued that it's not until mid 18th century that you get what he calls flesh witness accounts so he said before then you have i win this account which is people say what they saw but not flesh flesh witness accounts which is people saying how they felt and I really agree with that a lot of the time of 17th century stuff it's it's often very sort of matter of fact repotaged but occasionally there are things and there was there was one book about a siege that I found that really gets down deep into the boughs of a siege and is about sort of trauma and it's sort of shockingly revelatory but that wasn't that wasn't published in order to sort of make the name of the writer who died by then it sort of came out as meditations and it's sort of religious devotions but I do you think that I mean do you think people don't talk about trauma until the mid 18th century or do you think it's later or earlier and later I would say I mean I take the general point that hara is making which is that people didn't really talk about there you know then how it affected them even in general terms even in the way even then the pros you know as this was happening so there's any kind of emotion in their first time accounts which is what you're getting at and by the way I should just kind of reference the fact you've been very modest here Jesse I mean you you've written this absolute stupendous book the siege of loyalty house which as we mentioned at the beginning has been recognized by you know pretty much every publication in this country I remember tweeting at one point occasionally it's not all about me Jesse I tweeted at one point it is utterly outrageous that you weren't on the short list for the for the Samuel Johnson or repackage now it's not called the Samu Johnson you can't you can't say that we can this is our pop up it's it won't be like something give it price they're begging you for price exactly you've been a judge I've been a judge we've all been judges it's it's it's a lottery and also it's you can't criticize judges they've got a possible job and the moment you mention a book and a prize in the same breath it'll never win a prize it's true true good point so other books that have stood out this year who wants to you know raise the flagpole well in terms of some paperbacks that are out this year in terms of some stocking billers for your good audience I would recommend Charles Milton's check my in Berlin and also Dan Jones Power and Thrones I mean these were sort of recommended hardbacks from from the previous year but these books tickle a lot of boxes in terms of just these people know I'd have tell a story but also make an argument and Dan's gone to the dark side hasn't he he's actually written a novel this year which I read and enjoyed very much and I also remember that feeling sort of sneakily jealous that he that he has pulled off the the switch from writing you know really fabulous nonfiction to fiction I tried it myself with how can I put it less success certainly in terms of how it made me feel as I was writing I I feel reasonably confident when I'm writing history book but try writing fiction Jesse if you ever given it a go I haven't but I read yet last summer I read Dan's Essex Dogs and followed by Robert Harris's at the Bibliven and I thought what am I doing I want to do a novel I want to do a novel and then I kind of thought but what would I write about and then it just you suddenly realized how hard it is to write a novel and I don't want to write a novel but I love both those books and yeah I think we go back to Dan's Essex Dogs what I really love is the way he does battle scenes at the end with the subatel of Crescent it's it's so on the ground and it's just one man's view you know basically on the floor you know the horses and the the mess of it all it's not sort of strategy and tactics and the big picture it's what it's actually like to fight in it and I love that visceral kind of you know man against man Patrick you've also gone to the dark side did you enjoy the process of fiction writing I must admit I find it quite easy in the sense that it's just compared to writing nonfiction where you know the fact is king your constantly in fear of getting you have to perhaps what I am anyway as a former journalist yeah I mean I'm ruled by facts and time you know I'm always a very much a sort of chronological writer so it's actually a bit of a liberation to just make dialogue up you know the characters can do whatever they want and it's terrific fun when the characters actually take on a life of their own I know you'd be right fiction say the same thing and suddenly they do something on unexpected and they have a thought of an act what you're saying hey I'm going to get them to do this because that would be more interesting but you know it is such a we think that non-fiction is a is a lottery and the prizes go to a few conviction it's even more the case you know the books I wrote I wrote kind of for myself I thought you know this is the sort of thing I'd like to read and people were very kind of them but they didn't sell anything like the numbers a nonfiction book so you you know it's it's a kind of fickle fickle business as being all right that's interesting I was thought novels were fair better well that was the kind of calculation of the publishers thought well you know this guy sells us you know hey keep it light it's a Christmas battle healthy numbers the which will just translate you know his his nonfiction audience will just feature me and by the novel it doesn't work out well it does for some people but Ben Mecha does not have a novel yet I got a funny feeling Ben wrote a couple of novels before he started non-fiction but I might be wrong and I wouldn't be surprised if they're really sure no but when you're on a roll I bend it as you know what you've got to take advantage frankly I mean as I say I spent a bit of time at Ben last week and he was talking about and I was a little bit jealous he was talking about how pretty much everything's either been optioned and more importantly because I know a lot of people who keep saying oh this is option that's option but does it ever get made into anything with Ben McIntel they're actually made into things and the second series of SAS road heroes is coming out next or at least it's been made well I think that's I feel as it Ben is actually the witness well that really has a Christmas pie to go to but McIntel has the ship but it's his Robert Harris is now on his 15th best seller yeah in the best seller but but quite rightly because he keeps the quality up well does he I mean you know he goes up and down as a glimps I'm just reading the V weapons one V2 it's a cool V2 anyway it's great fantastic he really is back on form but there were a couple of dud ones when they were they're just the kind of endings were so lame the one about hope that was fantastic do you think no I don't think it's in his canon well this one this one at the blibin is outstanding and it's about two regicides Edmund Waley and William Goff who are killers of King Charles I and they went on the run into New England and it's sort of a hunt it's against it's my escape and we love that don't we mean manhunts it's very butch Cassidy and Sundance actually and he what's very good into thing you're talking about writing novels and what he does is he sort of weaves back the story of the civil war and all the best battles and all the best stories of it through the technique of all the conceit of one of these regicides writing his memoirs while he's out in oblivion so it's it's a clever novel and it sounds like flashmen I think he's he's nick that idea from George McDonough Fraser no but what this reminds me of and Robert Harris's success at let's face it going from Rome to modern day is how the skill in historical fiction or fiction more generally is not about getting the history right that's a kind of light dusting of authenticity I suppose you need and when you've got a you know a practitioner like Jesse of the 16th and 17th century she can tell you what you've got wrong but basically it's about the story so he can set his story his cleverly plotted story almost in any period but he has he's done his work I mean he has got the history right yeah and the drape and that's a period I mean that was I mean I'm no quite a lot about the drapes of fel I thought he absolutely it was just if you wanted to know about the drapes of read the novel and then take it from there but you know all the kind of it's also getting the kind of feel at the time and then he's extremely good at that I haven't read the the Roman ones you're a good at he's book Pompeii which was out many year ago was fantastic again you know you've got this great you know sort of damacly we all know that Pompeii is going to er uh be wrapped but he still manages tension uh gets character and story right although I would say about his sister nobles became too much of a hageography he should have been more in the central critical of of sister oh you fell in love with sister oh in the period and there's this sort of nothing wrong with that but acts of oblivion by you know miss people's you know accounts is is absolutely back to form shining a light on this this kind of great period well I want to read a nonfiction book I would recommend Killers of the King by Charles Spencer which which covers some of this may have been an inspiration oh definitely no yeah yeah I I interviewed Robert Harris badgesburg when it came out and he mentioned Charles Spencer's book and and others and he acknowledges him uh and it's been real quick so I think that's important actually for nobleness if they are but also it's a fact that you know it's he's got a page turning novel you finish it it's important to flag up these other books because people just may want to pursue the sort of interest of the period or characters now I kind of feeling that um one particular book's been missed out but I can't mention it so does anyone want to oh well the other the other elephant in the room is of course operation Jubilee no that's without him paying back of course and that's of course but you set it up and I'll hit it out the park I mean I've read double dogs and it is one of the military history books of the year clearly uh and it's it's not a return to form because I mean you've read a knockout book uh and what I would say about that is a it's a great piece of military history is incredibly violent there's plenty of insight and argument but I was quite impressed with Innocence the Coder to the book which is about their lives post-war and it's incredibly touching really if you can just tell us uh a little bit about that side where we've done a bit of the war war I mean in peacetime what did you discover about these soldiers? I think one of the moving things about researching this book Richard is of course it was a horrendous uh war that they had to fight and you know it really shocking detail but it's the aftermath as you as you pointed out there's the most moving aspect of it and in particular meeting some of the families so none of the guys who involved in the story are still alive the meeting some of the families was really moving because of course they can give you an idea of what the what post-war experience was like for some of these guys who fought through the civic campaign in particular Henry Sledge the son of Eugene Sledge who's written probably the finest Second World War memoir with The Old Breed and there was the most amazing uh fine which has just happened on social media yesterday it was some actual footage it's a really black white footage of we think what left-handed Sledge loading the gun and I mean this is this is extraordinary because Henry Sledge who's taken enormous interest in his father's book and uh career he had never seen this footage before so someone contacted me on social media and said have a look at this I think because you mentioned in your book that Eugene Sledge wrote to his mum saying you know I've just been filmed from you know by US Marine cameraman uh and who knows you may see this newsreel one day so this guy sent me on on social media I found a bit of newsroom which might be that actual bit of footage I mean what are the chances of that so I had a look at it and I thought it's possible and I sent it to Henry Sledge and he responded immediately that is almost certainly my dad and his buddy Snafu because he used to load left-handed he was actually right-handed but he loaded left-handed and you can see in the footage this guy loading a mortar left-handed so it's really astonishing finds uh and stuff like this really happens we have connected with you know real footage if we ever make a documentary about this it'll be in there you know one of the most famous moments in the Pacific war now we got it on film that's amazing I think that's why 20th century history that has archive footage it's always going to make good telly history and I I feel like a traitor but I sort of find and I've done my best share of talking head stuff my shooters but it's just not the same you know we we do reconstructions and things and you've got actual footage it's so immediate and vivid now we must get back to Patrick's book Operation Jubilee because you know forget about buying a hardback from Christmas you want to save a few quid and stocking fillers Operation Jubilee which is the story of DF beautifully written compelling take on a story we thought we knew a lot about but you know there's no such thing as definitive history we know that there will always be someone else who come along but frankly it's going to it's going to be a hard act to follow Patrick's book well that's pretty much you say so but I think this is really an interesting point isn't I mean the World War II how many times I heard people say to me oh you know when are the people going to stop writing books but World War II I think it's probably true that there isn't any great untold story left to tell but what there is is you know every in your historiography is really as interesting as history isn't it because each generation has its take on what's having as an old geezer I get a bit annoyed about the way British Empire has been looked at now not because I've got an British imperialist or anything like that but I just think well you know the kind of essentials of the story of Zionist and it's true and have it sort of turned on his head doesn't sort of really seem to me to be doing much justice to the truth but that's the way history of graphic works each generation sees things differently so yeah the second World War it is the huge event of the last I don't know since the years of AD and Odominite I mean as a great British imperialist myself I mean some of the books that come out particularly we have Robert Lyman and also Richard Overy you know they've written two great books in the past sort of year 18 months that basically said it was the British Empire that in a sense won the war it wasn't Britta Lillian of course and that's not the same thing but it is it's in a sense that the British Empire say the West and West and if you didn't have an empire we wouldn't have been able to have that into that economic I think your point Patrick which is that a lot of the good that came out of empire such as it was was inadvertent you know no no one sort of set out to save the world I mean they did think that they were doing the right thing the spreading Christianity and spreading civilization but in incredibly sort of patronizing certainly from a modern perspective and racist stance but the actual good that came out but yes there was some so the idea that we we're not allowed to talk about empire and we can't say that there is there's a balance sheet then we're going too far and I certainly I think at least three of us in this room Jess what's your view of the frown I don't I don't think many people are saying you can't talk about empire I think most people are saying we want to talk about empire and we just want to pick it apart a bit more and look at it more data I mean also you're just about British empire I'd like to make a little shout out for a history of water by Edward Wilson Lee which is probably my book in the year of all the books this year but that's about the Portuguese empire in the 16th century and what he does really beautifully because it's so many strands and so many bits and the structure is just incredible but it's basically a dual biography of two people who have very different views of the Portuguese empire the expanded Portuguese empire so there's Louis de Camoish the sort of Portugal's Homer who wrote the great epic on Portuguese and it's sort of like a Jason and the Argonauts you know everyone else is a barbarian go all of it it's a Babylon and the Portuguese are spreading civilization that's his view that's the view goes Portugal especially Lisbon you know the he's everywhere statues ever as streets named after him and then the other views was an archivist in Lisbon called Damion de Goishe and he went to sort of know the New York mainly and he met a Rasmus and the Ruffformers and he was far more open-minded and he wrote about Ethiopian culture and formal sensitive and I guess my point is Abe we shouldn't just about British empire but also you know there are so there are so many sensitive ways you can approach this subject without it being the sort of culture war and quick shout out to another friend of the podcast where he hasn't appeared on it yet and that's what at least a friend of a lot of us and that Simon Seabagwanda Fury who's taken on you know ludicrously difficult task which is a global history and he's done it beautifully and he's done it very cleverly I think which is to tell the story through the prism of family but also really to make you get a sense that empire is pretty much standard through the ages so we can talk about empire being a bad thing but empire and war is really the history of the world yeah I mean it's it's not strictly a military history title but it's and it is subtitled as a as a family history but let's not kid ourselves it's it's about power and conquest and you know he had the whole world in his hand and he he has less of it to the ground it's a it's a basic colourful book I mean it's he's delivered basically on on a sort of big project but devil dogs is cheaper no devil dogs is worthless but you don't mean worthless not worthless just worthless on that aim but I think I don't want to be too serious here but I what's always strikes me about these you know the polemical culture war approach to the British emperor just to keep it simple and to completely take the point just say all emperors of fast study they tend to do the same things is that the people who are being oppressed are actually not that much worse off than the Indigenous people of the imperial power so if you're a working class person in Britain in 1830 or something you're lot there's not actually hugely different from that of the people that you were allegedly were now being blamed for oppressing so you know in that sense I'm a Marxist I see this as about money to be a pirate's like captain it's a fact I want to agree with that a little bit because at that time that's when literacy rates started to improve because the news papers etc and also just diet I mean we were starting to have a bit of swagger on prosperity although I sort of take your point pre that but at that point we were starting to in a sense become very prosperous literate so while you were saying we were we did sort of see ourselves as a super period if you were a guy digging a ditch if you had a side of a road endorse it or something did you think I'm better than those people I just to kind of support your point Patrick I think that you you got this classic situation of the British soldier you know who came from tough background there's not good as always didn't still do the British squadron talking about going to far from possible and thinking he was far superior to the indigenous population so that there was that inbuilt sense of superiority even from a guy who you know back here was was might have felt or might might have had good reason to feel that he didn't have a great lot in life compared to you know the slightly wealthier classes yeah that is a good point but you know we're talking about very small army a very small section of the population I mean they were all ready they were going to be if you're talking about global justice it has to apply to everybody doesn't it has to it has to apply to the person who's been an agricultural laborer who's can't been thrown off his land someone who's given up a kind of reasonable job because of industrialization or not were reasonably existence and has to come work in a fashion or pouring conditions you know the factory work in the dawn of the industrial era is a lot or her lot or the child's lot was not a lot better than the people that we were pressing less but no one's blaming them are they in that but well I think they are I mean they're saying that we Britain has a nation even though that we firstly have value to do it somehow bear culpability for it when my only point is that 99% of the population didn't get any benefit from this at all and we're not actually actively involved either preaching the virtues of an ember or actually getting any kind of having any direct contact with it at all they weren't enslaving people they were you know just the great mass who were providing the wealth of people who were obviously your point of view is particularly a pertinent package given that you you have put in both camps in the sense the Irish camp I'm talking about you know talk about colonialism you know so you might have felt both sort of class irritation and also a you know an anti-British Irish irritation but you don't feel that particularly keenly today do you? No I'm kind of weird because my my I was brought up you know my mother's very republican she's still around God bless her but yeah but I I don't always have my own sort of views I'm not a huge survivor of nationalists because not because I didn't think it's a great idea but I was always just a poll and how inefficient the Irish revolution is where I wanted as a child when my mother was telling me all the joys of Irishness but I thought why don't they ever win? Why don't these guys never win? You know I yearned to have these Irish revolutionary heroes there are somewhere around you know but by and large not not a great revolutionary tradition there and until the last minute and even that's sort of sacrificial thing you know the Easter uprising is not a military success it's just basically creating a huge you know symbolic event which then politically charges the nation which were not particularly pro shouldn't fail at that point and then essentially the British give them the martyrs they need to bring about the eventual overthrow of British power there's an argument just that we've been particularly bad at revolution because we've already had one and that of course was the English Civil War the revolution that followed that and and Cromwell I mean is there anything in that argument you think we've done our revolution yeah I think there definitely there is I think the act of killing the king was so radical and so unbelievable and in a judicial public trial that you know for so many people it was killing God and it was so shocking that we don't ever want to do that again and partly because we had an act of oblivion either you know the title of Robert Harris's book which was passed in 1616 was a fact to be a sort of reconciliation thing sort of let's not have these words round head and cavalier let's try and get along but I think it is I think I think it meant that when France and America Russia had theirs we were we were going to keep on monarchy and we were going to sort of fudge along in our constitutional way I know I think there's a lot to say about that I was wondering Patrick when you do about Ireland whether you're Catholic or Protestant what do you think well I would guess Catholic if you've got the mother's republican but yeah I mean sort of you said English Civil War but you know obviously the it's British Civil Wars and were not for what English meddling in Scotland and then English you know meddling in Ireland we would never have had the Civil War in England so it's it's it's a British thing and well they certainly weren't incompetent then in terms of I mean the Irish rising or 2 641 was the catalyst for the English Civil War and it probably went to happen without it because then everything went everything sort of was an argument about who would control the army that would be raised to put down the Irish yeah I mean I have a Catholic I'm out I'm a perhaps in Catholic and I think that's my identity I don't believe you're English bit of tickly feel Irish do you feel European yeah I think European I feel Scottish and I may grow my own Scottish but I mean I think it's kind of weird not most of us have with Mongols don't we've got a bit of everything and it's kind of nice to have that I think it might be worth mentioning actually Patrick talking about Mongols and given now you know our day job which is talking about Ukraine war that actually Jesse has a bit of brain blood do you want to yeah although actually I kind of I feel like I'm sort of jumping on the bad wagon I just I have a white Russian grandmother who I never met sadly but she was born as a Petersburg she's definitely a Petersburg and she could and she definitely thought of herself as Russian and I wish I knew more and I'm looking into it now and Helen Rappel brilliant historian actually oh yeah another great book to mention after the Riemannops which is yeah and that's about the ex-Russian exiles in in Paris but she's how God she's generous she's helping me trace my Russian roots in his brain brilliant but all I had otherwise was this one letter from from my grandmother Laura as could Laura and both sides of her family one was from De Nipro's it now is and one was from Carcob uh she she called it so born in Ukraine and I sort of want to say she was Ukrainian but Helen quite rightly said he had to be a bit careful about saying that because they probably wouldn't have thought themselves that way she always you know in this letter she calls Russian obviously Russian Empire in those days so they you know would have come into the into the broader mass I'm sorry but Laura's doctor wasn't called Shavaga no no I wish that would have been good that there's the book now there's a story but is it a nonfiction story Jess or a novel you mentioned possible fiction I mean are you thinking writing this up I am thinking writing I keep I have I have various ideas but as we all do what's the next book it'll be and the there are many more commercial things I should be doing but this is the one that's calling to me and whenever I sort of promoting the last book or doing but a telly whatever I just can't wait to get back to this research and you know you know that feeling when you're like that and you just have to you have to follow it up and it's not just that my grandfather who's English who married the Russian was Presetache of Belgrade and then Paris and then Washington and second mobile so there's a lot there and he was also a sort of a man on the ground in Constantinople for Nance and dealing with the refugees and their honeymoon was actually coach they were they were interrupted they were called back during their honeymoon because before this month of the Second Semener and he had to deal with the refugees so there's as long as you can make it a bigger story than just this is what Mike rap parents did then then I might yeah I think it's crossed sounds like you've got the material for about three books there so I'll get your agent on it to see it anyway look this has gone on brilliantly I think well from our point of view I don't have about the listeners but we certainly had a lot of fun we're going to have to wrap it up there there's lots of other books we've met at this cusp but we haven't got the time for now so just to wish you all very happy Christmas and a happy new year so just before we go we're all going to nominate our book of the year you start off soon well I'm already given the game away it's Jesse's book The Siege of loyalty house in terms of my book it could be the name of my autobiography a verse by Max Hastings my book of the year would be in the midst of civilized Europe the pogroms of 1918 to 1921 and the onset of the Holocaust this is by an American professor Jeffrey Vidlinger this is about the you know the continuing program of mass murder of Jews in central Europe following the first world war including very much the massacres in Ukraine and what what what professor Vidlinger argues very convincingly I think is that you know the Holocaust wasn't just a sort of something terrible for no one that came out of nowhere it was preceded by this wave of murders that paved the way to the Holocaust it's a brilliant book that's it from us thanks very much for listening and do get back to battleground Ukraine we'll be back with you as usual next week happy Christmas happy Christmas a cast powers the world's best podcast here's a show that we recommend hi I'm Helen Lewis and I want to tell you 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