Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book: The genealogy of the Regiments of the British Army, volume 1: the cavalry

The book subject of this post is titled The Genealogy of the Regiments of the British Army : Cavalry, and is written by Anthony Baker. It was published in 1999 by The Military Press, and available in both paperback and hardcover editions. This book is the first in a series on the genealogy of the British Regiments.

Looking at the title and the year of publication (1999) one might think that this will be a great book, correcting mistakes and omissions made by earlier writers and presenting some new information. The format is impressive (A4) with several fold-out tables.

However, this book is a bit of a disappointment unfortunately.

First of all, there is no list of references used by the author! With such a complicated area, and so many contradicting sources I think this is unforgivable. This way a reader is not able to check details, of consult sources for further research.

The fold-out tables have been mentioned, and at a glance they look like a nice addition. However, the tabels' composition and contents is a bit uneven. The past 350 years have been divided in strange chunks. In particular, the periods 'before 1691' and '1691-1750' are at least a little odd. Why 1691, and not 1697 (because of army reductions) or 1714 (again because of reductions, and succession of the Hanoverians)?

A positive point is that Baker didn't cut on space for presenting regiments. For example, the Royal Dragoons get four pages, until their amalgamation in 1968. Information details service of the regiment, nicknames, battle honors, mottos, music, etc. I have not enough knowledge of most of those subject to comment. However, an important omission is the absence of a succession of regimental colonels! Why spending so much space on service details, honours and clothing, but not on regimental colonels, as the latter were and are an important part of the regiment and its history. In the few instances that a colonel is mentioned, he seldom uses the full name of the colonel. The index on named regiments therefore contains a reference to the Duke of Albemarle, and to Albemarle. The latter refers to a regiment commended by the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, the son of the 1st Duke who was of course George Monck. Suffice to say this is rather sloppy.

Furthermore Baker introduces a number of ghost regiments: the 9th - 14th Regiments of Dragoons, raised apparently in 1697 and disbanded in 1713. He probably copied this from someone. These regiments didn't exist. First of all, in 1697 the army was subject to reductions so it is hardly likely that six regiments would have been formed. Secondly, regiments were in general not known by a number in those days, but by the name of their colonel or some honorary name; only the troops of horse guards were numbered as were the regiments of foot guards on occasion. As a third point one can find no reference of these regiments in contemporary accounts.

To summarize, I would rate this book a 6 out of 10. The book contains many details other than regimental lineage, and Baker can be praised for that part. However, on the lineage part itself Baker has been really sloppy and inconsistent. This makes me also doubt the correctness of the non-lineage details. The lack of a literature list is not helping much in a positive way as well.

All in all, a book that may appeal the novice, and will be of some value regarding the non-lineage details. But it should be consulted with care.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book: Ancestry and Amalgamations in the British Army 1660-2008

About a year ago an earlier book by Goff Lumley was discussed on this blog. As the author really liked that book, given the limited scope and the presentation of regimental information by means of badges, he was happy to see a new book had hit the shelves: Ancestry and Amalgamations in the British Army 1660 - 2008. The hardcover edition is published by Partizan Press, the paperback edition by the Military Library Research Service Ltd.

However, though the book may be nice one way or another, the review given at www.arrse.co.uk is certainly too much praise.

First of all, the book has a strong tendency in interpreting the past with the knowledge of the present time. The present day regiments are taken as starting point, and predecessors are dealt with under that header. Though not terribly bad, a more chronological treatment might have given the reader a better understanding of the growth and life of the British Army.

Secondly, Lumley does not address disbanded regiments of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. That is common with such works, unfortunately. By omitting the regiments that played such an important role in the Nine Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession, and in bringing the British Army to maturity, the picture of the British Army is incomplete.

As a third point of comment Lumley seems to have been sloppy on a number of details (probably copied mistakes from others). For example, the lineage of the 3rd Regiment of Foot is not correct: the four English regiments in Dutch service did not merge in 1648, and were strictly speaking not disbanded in 1665. Another example is the ranking of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons as 1st as early as 1674! What was to become the Royal Regiment of Dragoons in 1683 was surviving in 1674 in Tangier as horse. And it was in 1674 probably by no means sure that this regiment would survive Tangier, or that it would become dragoons.

A further remark is the lack of a proper introduction. The introduction given informs the reader about the greatness of regiments (the cameraderie, the espirit the corps) and how welcome this book is. It does not tell anything about the origin of the British Army, except that it started in 1660/61. As to dates, the author only gives the year for mergers/amalgamations. Since more detailed information on dates is known, it is a pity Lumley did not put that in.

Finally it should be remarked that the author could have done better with respect to names of colonels. It should be praised that he included the names of colonels of regiments prior to 1751 (a thing often omitted by other authors), but it would have been better had he given full names and titles. As they are presented now it will only confuse people. Also, Lumley exhibits too much an insular English-only attitude towards the history of the British Army, an attitude witnessed by too many other authors of books on the British Army.

To summarize, the book is somewhat a disappointment. With respect to badges, the book is full with pictures of badges which is indeed nice. With respect to (new) information the book is not so new and seems more like a repetition of facts, including some mistakes, compiled in other books. As a positive point the facts on amalgamations after say the 1750 seem to be ok, and Lumley's use of badges to show merges and regimental history is nice.

Those with some interest in the British Army would certainly like the book, and would be easily overwhelmed by it. However, for the more serious student of military history and the British Army the book does not present new information or new insights.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Höchstädt and Blindheim

While en route to another destination in Germany, the author made a short stop at Höchstädt and Blindheim. These places are of course known for the (second) battle of Höchstädt fought on 13 August 1704 between French/Bavarian and English/Dutch/Imperial forces. In the English speaking world this battle is commonly referred to as the battle of Blenheim (Blindheim), as the English troops were mostly committed around that vilage.

In Höchstädt is a nice Heimatmuseum (image above). This museum has several dioramas with tin figures showing several episodes of the battle. One diorama shows the surrounding (Einkesselung) of the village of Blindheim, occupied by large part of the French army, by English troops. Below two images of this diorama.

Another diorama depicts the action towards to the north near the village of Lutzingen. A third diorama shows the battle near Höchstädt fought in 1800 between French and Austrian forces. Though this was a very minor engagement, it was heralded in France and by Napoleon as revenge for the defeat suffered in 1704.

After Höchstädt the village of Blindheim was visited. Near the church there is a monument commemorating the battle. The last image is taken from a lookout tower outside of Blindheim enabling to survey the battlefield. The picture was taken towards the east, with Blindheim on the far right.