Sunday, August 16, 2009


Mass Polish reburial of war dead.
By Adam Easton, BBC.

The remains of more than 2,000 people discovered in Poland's largest mass grave from World War II have been reburied in a military cemetery.

Polish and German officials presided over the ceremony at a cemetery for German soldiers in north-west Poland, near the border between the countries.

The victims are believed to be German civilians who died in the last months of the conflict, in early 1945.

The mass grave was discovered in the Polish city of Malbork last October.

Because no-one was prepared to pay for expensive DNA testing, the historians' best guess is that the victims were German civilians caught up in the Red Army's assault on the city.

At the time Malbork was Marienberg, a German city.

The first skeletons were unearthed by workmen digging the foundations of a new hotel near the city's medieval castle.

In the end, more than 2,000 skeletons were discovered, two-thirds of them belonging to women and children.

There were no accompanying documents, clothing or personal items except for one pair of child's spectacles.

Issues over the war have often divided Germany and Poland in the past, but not in this case.

Neither side voiced recriminations and they worked together to finally give the victims a dignified burial.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Military historical novel


South Africans in particular could enjoy KRUGER'S GOLD, my adventure novel set during the 2nd. Anglo-Boer War. See:

Sunday, August 09, 2009


VIMY RIDGE: A Canadian Reassessment, Edited by Geoffrey Hayes, Andrew Iarocci, & Mike Bechtold, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, 353 pages, photographs, maps, bibliography, index.

The three military historians who compiled this study are acknowledged experts on Canadian participation in World War One, particularly well-equipped to select these commentaries on one of our country’s most epic battles. The result is a compendium of twenty cogently written opinions and reports about the final bloody struggle for possession of Vimy Ridge, now considered not only an important military victory but also a defining moment for Canadian nationhood.
They tell how (unusually for those days) the Canadian troops at all levels of rank were given detailed briefings on the planned strategy before the attack was launched, which enabled even private soldiers to surge forward confidently to fight a “corporal’s battle,” often independent of direction by officers.
The book puts the struggle in context; the hill’s strategic significance, the seldom-mentioned British participation, and the German point-of-view. It also provides insights about the personalities and military styles of various senior officers – including General Julian Byng, Canadian Corps commander, and Major. Gen Arthur Currie, who insisted on meticulous preparations before the attack by his First Canadian Division.

Excellent photographs movingly show Canadian warriors of all ranks who fought so valiantly that day, and good clear maps help readers follow various tactical moves during the battle. This retrospective provides a thorough explanation of exactly why those monumental concrete towers now stand atop Vimy Ridge.
-- Sidney Allinson

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Military history

THE STORM OF WAR. (Blackwell, UK)

‘The second world war lasted for 2,174 days, cost $1.5 trillion and claimed the lives of over 50 million people. That represents 23,000 lives lost every day, or more than six people killed every minute, for six long years.’ This neat summary is characteristic of the way Andrew Roberts uses statistics to bring home to the reader the enormity, the waste and the horror of that terrible conflict. The book is long, but it is tightly written, every page packed with terse comment, well-organised facts and, often, telling details.

It has a thesis: Hitler lost the war essentially because he was a Nazi, and allowed his race theories and ideological cruelty to get in the way of rational decision-taking. It is not true, Roberts says, that German atrocities began only in the closing stages of the war. On 27 May 1940, 97 British prisoners of war of the Royal Norfolks were massacred in cold blood by the SS, and the following day 90 POWs of the Warwickshire were slaughtered by grenades and rifles, the killers being from the Adolf Hitler Regiment. At the same time Hitler was allowing his political views to prevent the annihilation of the British Expeditionary Force. We originally calculated that the Dunkirk operation could save at most 45,000 troops. Thanks largely to Hitler’s interference, between dawn on Sunday 26 May and 03.30 on Tuesday 4 June 1940, 338,226 Allied soldiers were rescued, the largest military evacuation in history.

At the beginning of 1941, Hitler was master of Europe. By the end of the war he was doomed. He and his ideology were entirely responsible for his two greatest mistakes: to invade Russia, and to declare war on America. In both cases he hugely underestimated the power of the states he voluntarily made his mortal enemies. Russia seemed an easy target. The Germans destroyed 1,200 Soviet war-planes on the ground during the first morning of their invasion. They killed 27 million Russians, and took 5.7 prisoners, 3.3 million of whom (58 per cent) died in captivity. But the Russians kept on coming, and soon their production of tanks outstripped Germany’s. In the two-month battle of Kursk in 1943, the biggest and largest tank battle in history, the Germans lost 500,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 1,000 guns, 5,000 motor vehicles and 1,400 aircraft. The Russian losses were 50 per cent heavier, but could be absorbed, and the Germans lost the battle.
-- Andrew Roberts.

History of The Royal Canadian Regiment

Military history

Establishing A Legacy: The history of The Royal Canadian Regiment 1883-1953, by Bernd Horn.

This regimental unit history is particularly well done, likely because it was written by a distinguished army officer. Colonel Bern Horn clearly did Trojan work to distil a wealth of archives and reminiscences into a highly readable book.

He tells how The Royal Canadian Regiment started out as an infantry school corps to train the Militia. Soon it became a fully-formed army unit, and is now Canada's oldest permanent force infantry regiment. First, its soldiers took part in helping to suppress the Riel Rebellion, then provided the Yukon Field Force. A grimmer period followed, when the RCR went to South Africa with the Canadian contingent in the Anglo-Boer War, where "The Royals" acquitted themselves during the crucial battle of Paadeberg.

But it was the regiment's service in two world wars that tested the bravery and combat expertise of Canadian volunteer soldiers. The book gives a splendid account of RCR service in the 1914-1918 war, but provides most coverage of the RCR fighting in Italy during World War Two. There are harrowing descriptions of combat in both major conflicts, and the now almost forgotten Korean War.

Numerous atmospheric photographs are included, showing regimental activities in various campaigns across the years. One photo is especially poignant, showing two senior officers together just a couple of days before both were killed in action. Good maps are also included, which help the reader follow the battles described.

Sidney Allinson.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Military history

Successful Vancouver Island author Sean Thomas Russell has combined his twin passions for sailing and history to write a splendid naval historical novel, ‘Under Enemy Colors.’ Published by Putnam/Penguin in September, it is a rollicking good read that follows the adventures of Royal Navy Lt. Charles Hayden in 1797 during Britain’s war with Revolutionary France.

The book’s fact-based focus is quite a departure for the 55-year-old Russell, who has written nine previous books during the past 15 years, all in the genre of “fantasy fiction.” First published in the United States, they are also available in eight languages world-wide, with one version awarded France’s Imaginale Award for best fantasy novel in translation.

Asked why this latest creation is so different from his usual Tolkien-like tales, Russell says, “I guess I needed a break from what I had been doing before. Besides, I have a collection of over 500 books on sailing and history, which started me thinking about doing a straight historical novel for about five years before I tackled writing one.”

“I am a great admirer of John le CarrĂ©, who writes really a hybrid of a genre novel and a literary novel. So I wanted to emulate the way he writes genre novels that also have some literary merit. Also, I am absolutely enthralled by the language of the 18th Century, not just the speech of sailors but of everyday people as well back then. I really wanted to capture their rich, vibrant language, and long, lyrical sentences in a novel. The Oxford English Dictionary became my friend during the two years I was writing ‘Under Enemy Colors.’ Incidentally, my US publishers insisted on using the American spelling of ‘Color’ on the cover title, even though the entire text throughout uses my original British-style spelling.”

To compose a meticulously accurate account, Russell drew on his personal knowledge of sailboat racing and nautical lore, spent five weeks travelling in England and France familiarizing himself with details of various locations, and added more volumes to his already extensive reference library. The result is a salty tale of naval derring-do that also includes enough introspection about the morality of war, divided loyalties, and sympathy for the enemy, to appeal to readers as much interested in the clash of ideas as the crash of cannon.

Russell enthuses, “The story takes place soon after the revolutions in America and France, which brought about huge social changes everywhere. It was a fascinating watershed in human affairs, outcomes of the writings of egalitarian thinkers like Thomas Paine about the rights of man. I wanted to go back to look at that turbulent period, and shrink the concept of revolution itself down to the size of a single ship. It let me look at the characters, circumstances, and emotions of revolutionaries who typically incite a mutiny.

The novel’s protagonist, Lt. Hayden, has the leadership qualities worthy of a Master and Commander, but his promotion is held back by lack of political connections, and having a French mother which opens him to unfounded suspicion of divided loyalties. So instead he is posted to HMS Themis, under the orders of cowardly Capt. Josh Hart, whose arrogance and harsh discipline soon drives his crew to mutiny.

With all that tension aboard, the frigate is also soon in the thick of dangerous storms, coastal patrols, and bloody sea-battles. Along the way, Haydon confronts his dastardly captain and settles a crew of violent mutineers, slips ashore in France on a secret spying mission, plus becoming romantically smitten with a delightful young Englishwoman along the way.

Russell says, “It took a terrific amount of research, but writing it was a lot of fun.” He modestly does not mention that it was also a lot of hard work. Russell produces all his books by following a disciplined regimen of writing six or seven hours a day, five days a week. He is a relentless re-writer as well, revising entire drafts, ruthlessly going over and over what he has written to prune and improve wording until it says exactly what he intends. “I just have to get all the period details exactly right as well, and I take a lot of care to prune out any anachronisms that might have sneaked in.”

He has an ideal writing-place -- a book-lined study in the Comox home he shares with his wife and nine-year-old son, looking out at glorious seascape views and surrounding mountains. As an occasional break from pounding the keyboard, Russell loves to board his wooden sailboat and cruise the waters of south Vancouver Island. His first-hand experience with handling ropes, canvas, and tiller shines through particularly when he describes a hazardous escape in an open boat across the stormy English Channel.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


The "Red Baron" display case in the Library of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, holds artefacts from the downed Fokker Triplane in which famed German fighter-ace Rittmeister Manfred von Richtofen's met his death, on the morning of 21st April, 1918. They include the aircraft's seat, wingtip, and piece of fuselage fabric bearing the German Airforce cross. These central objects of the Wings Room are well known to students of military aviation history and members of the Institute. Visitors also take particular interest in the displayed Spandau machine-gun, typical armament aboard von Richthofen's Fokker and many German military aircraft during the First World War.
Canadian fighter-pilot Captain Roy Brown somehow obtained the seat shortly after von Richtofen's death, and donated the seat to the Institute in 1920, where it has remained ever since. The seat is of sheet aluminum and plywood, covered with a red ochre fabric: very light construction. The holes in the seat centre are not bullet holes (despite a persistent but inaccurate legend.) They are actually mounting-holes for rivets which joined the seat to the fuselage. The side holes were caused by the force of the mounting bolts being torn out by the impetus of the Triplane's crash.
Mr. Arthur Bishop, son of the famous Great War ace Air Marshal William "Billy" Bishop VC, donated the Fokker Triplane wingtip to the Museum in 1968. This joined the seat and fabric piece to create the exciting trinity in the display case. The fuselage fabric cross is believed to have also been donated by Captain Roy Brown at some unknown exact date. The fabric shows the German late-version Latin Cross of 1918, and an area of paint has been scraped away for the signatures of eleven members of 209 Squadron, including Roy Brown and "Wop" May.

The Institute has the responsibility of caring for these artefacts for the benefit of future generations, and this has been done. The Museum Committee arranged for professional restoration work on the wingtip and fabric piece. Conservator Moya Gillett removed a large glue stain on the wingtip, and reframed and stabilized the fabric, which was slowly flaking away. We are sure these artefacts will last for another 70 years. The RCMI will always be indebted to Captain Brown for his generosity in giving to the Institute these very important Great War artefacts.

Sad to say, the Royal Canadian Military Institute closed its 110-year-old doors on University Avenue, Toronto, in October, 2010, in preparation for its move to new premises expected to re-open in two years or so. At that time, all its unique collection of military memorabilia will be available for viewing once more.


Military history
D-DAY TO CARPIQUET: The North Shore Regiment and the liberation of Europe, Marc Milner, Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, NB, 138 pages, photos, maps, index, bibliography. $16.95
The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment is little known today; seldom mentioned even in official accounts of Canadians in the Second World War. Yet their heroic front-line achievements during the early days of the liberation of Normandy deserve far more recognition. Now at last, proper homage is paid to them in this authoritatively written study by well-known military historian Marc Milner.
The NFR was an unassuming outfit, composed of sturdy farmers, fishermen, lumbermen, and millhands, who made ideal infantry soldiers. After three years of training in Britain, they landed on Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and fought their way inland. Milner includes many personal accounts of combat experiences, which vividly convey their bravery in face of carnage.
Clear maps help the reader to follow description of various actions during this short but costly campaign. Over 200 NSR men were killed or wounded during the bloody battle for the village of Carpiquet that lasted just six days, and became known ever after as the “regiment’s graveyard.”
The book includes numerous photographs of members of the regiment, often identified by personal names. Another photographic feature is the inclusion of printed frames from film footage of the regiment’s landing on D-Day, printed on successive pages that can be “played” in motion by fanning them from front to back.
-- Sidney Allinson.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


"THE BANTAMS: The Untold Story Of World War One" is a newly revised military history by Canadian historian, Sidney Allinson, published in July, 2009, by Pen & Sword Books, UK.

"The Bantams" recounts the factual but well-nigh incredible story of how the British and Canadian Army recruited over 50,000 men who were below the regulation minimum height of 5ft. 3ins. to serve as front-line soldiers. Short but sturdy volunteers stepped forward all over Britain, until there were Bantam battalions in a score of famed regiments, plus two Bantam units raised in Canada.
Sidney Allinson's researches took him off on a three-year quest for information, journeying across Canada, the U.S., Britain, and the old Western Front battlefields of France and Belgium, and interviewed over 300 survivors of the Bantams, to obtain the many first-hand accounts of battle told in his book. The result is a fascinating picture of social conditions of the 1914-1918 era, army recruiting methods, and unblinking personal descriptions of brutal trench warfare.
He graphically describes how the patriotic fervour in Britain at the time enabled recruitment of Bantam-sized volunteers to join the demand for a huge citizen army to feed a conflict of murderous attrition. English and Scottish Bantams fought along the Somme front, while Welsh Bantams helped win the Battle of Bourlon despite hideously large casualties that virtually annihilated them.
Originally published some years ago, this revised version of THE BANTAMS reveals disturbing new information about battlefield executions by firing-squads that was only recently released from British official records long held secret from the public. It adds even more poignancy to the story of how thousands of patriots not much taller than a rifle themselves flocked to the colours.
Sidney Allinson was born in England, served overseas with the Royal Air Force, emigrated to Canada, and became an advertising executive, film producer, and communications consultant. He is author of six books, a past-Director of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, and now lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Allinson is Chairman of the Pacific Coast Branch of the Western Front Association, and President of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Vancouver Island.
For more details about the Bantams," click here:


In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-- Maj. John McCrea.

Maj. John McCrae, Canadian Army Medical Corp.,
wrote famed war poem "In Flanders Fields" in 1915.

My own late father, Private Thomas W. Allinson, served in the First World War, as a private soldier with The Green Howards, a famous infantry regiment of the British Army. To my eternal regret, I seldom took the opportunity to break through his modest silence about the horrors he faced in the trenches and learn his battlefield experiences. However, I did remember one casual mention by him that our family had a connection with the author of the most famous war poem of all time: “In Flanders Fields.” It did not dawn on me as significant until many years later, when I finally set about learning the background details.
The incident is described in "Welcome to Flanders Fields - The Great Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915", by Daniel G. Dancocks. It recounts:
"On May 3, Maj. McCrae had spent 17 weary days performing surgery on hundreds of wounded soldiers, and took a brief respite on the back of an ambulance near his dressing station beside the Canal de l'Yser. McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches there, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook."
"A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. 'His face was very tired but calm as he wrote,' Allinson recalled. 'He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Lt. Helmer's grave.' When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO."
"Sgt. Maj. Allinson was moved by what he read, saying later, 'The poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word 'blow' in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.'"
I now feel a quiet pride that an Allinson relative -- Canadian cousin of my father -- was the first person to read the immortal words of "In Flanders Field" moments after it was penned by Major John McCrae.
-- Sidney Allinson.