Archive for July, 2008

Evelyn Waugh

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Hello, this is Michael Anthony and you’re listening to British History 101, brought to you by Audible.com, the Internet’s leading provider in spoken-word entertainment. Get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up today. Logon to audiblepodcast.com/british101 today for details.
Tonight’s topic was borne out of my recent conclusion of a 1981 television series that I suspect many of you watched then or have seen since. It starred Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte, and a few episodes featured Laurence Olivier as Lord Marchmain. I am talking, of course, about the television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, a novel published in 1945 by author Evelyn Waugh. Tonight, we discuss this author and his fascinating life. For those of you who have read and/or seen Brideshead Revisited, you’ll pick up on parallels between the novel and Waugh’s own life as we discuss the author, but I won’t point them out for those listeners who haven’t explored it yet.
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born 28 October 1903 to an upper middle class family in the Hampstead area of London. The family’s social status – not poor, but certainly not rich – would influence Waugh (and his writing) for the rest of his life, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Waugh had a happy childhood, fostering a special love for his nanny (quite possibly to the detriment of his relationship with his mother) and a tenuous relationship with his father. With this apparently enjoyable upbringing, it is interesting to consider the fact that Waugh was quite the bully in school at Heath Mount, and Waugh recalled terrorizing one Cecil Beaton: “The tears on his long lashes used to provoke the sadism of youth and my cronies and I tormented him…Our persecution went no further than sticking pins into him and we were soundly beaten for doing so.” When Waugh had completed his education at Heath Mount, he moved on to Lancing College – his second choice, it should be noted. He had hoped to go to the much more prestigious Sherborne, but he was not allowed to attend on account of his brother Alec’s expulsion. Alec had written an apparently rather homoerotic novel and was invited to leave; his younger brother Evelyn was refused entry on those grounds. Waugh knew he was attending a less desirable school and resented it.
Waugh’s next educational institute didn’t suffer from the same social stigma which Waugh had attached to Lancing. He went up to Hertford College at Oxford to read history, but neglected his academic work. Instead Waugh focused on his rip-roaring social life, mixing with various upper-class school mates, aristocrats, and nobility. This undoubtedly lead to Waugh’s developing sense of conservatism in social matters. As a member of the Hypocrites Club Waugh drank heavily (when asked about sport, Waugh would answer “I drank for Hertford.”), and was allegedly involved in numerous homosexual affairs. It was during his time at Oxford that Waugh decided he was an agnostic, saying “There is far too much religion in this University and not enough brains.” The culmination of Waugh’s time at Oxford was qualification for only a third-class degree, which he never even took. His previous priorities of social life over academics obviously came back to plague him. He left Oxford in 1924 and took a teaching job in Wales; while still holding the teaching position, Waugh went through a period of deep depression and even attempted suicide, leaving a note for a friend in Greek. He took the rather odd course of swimming as far out to sea as possible with the intention of drowning, only to turn back due to being stung by a jellyfish!
Evelyn went through a string of jobs, including another teaching position from which he was dismissed after attempting to seduce the matron (Waugh chalked it up to being drunk), apprenticeship to a cabinet-maker, and eventually journalism, a profession at which Waugh excelled. His first novel, a satire of British society, appeared in 1928 entitled Decline and Fall. This was the same year that Waugh married the Honorable Evelyn Margaret Winifred Gardner, granddaughter of Henry Herbert, the 4th Earl Carnarvon. Surely Waugh thought he deserved to be married to such a highly-born woman – let us not forgot his dissatisfaction at having to settle for Lancing College earlier. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a happy one, and Gardner (friends referred to her as She-Evelyn, while Waugh was He-Evelyn) eventually had an affair with a mutual friend. The two were divorced in 1930, providing material for Waugh’s next novel, Handful of Dust.
Waugh’s divorce apparently made him re-think some of his religious beliefs, and that same year he converted to Roman Catholicism. He took his conversion very seriously and dove in headfirst, as it were. He was eventually able to obtain an annulment for his marriage to Evelyn Gardner and was thus able to marry one of the Earl of Carnarvon’s other granddaughters, Laura Herbert. The marriage produced 7 children (one of whom, named Mary, sadly died in infancy). Waugh’s conversion was a watershed in his life, and his newly embraced faith would play a large role in most of his later writings. By this time, Waugh was something of a mover in London social life, and his conversion was widely discussed by higher society, so much so that he eventually responded with an article titled ‘Conversion to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me.’ Contrary to what many were saying about his proverbial swimming of the River Tiber, Waugh insisted that his conversion was neither about the rituals of Catholic worship nor submission to the Catholic hierarchy; rather, he faced a choice between Christianity and chaos, with Catholicism being the most complete form of Christianity. We’ll discuss Waugh’s conversion and its influence on his writing later, after we finish out the discussion of his life.
Before we continue with the life of Evelyn Waugh, I want to take a second to thank Audible.com for sponsoring today’s show. Audible is the Internet’s leading provider of spoken-word entertainment and has over 35,000 titles to choose from to be downloaded and played back anywhere – just like British History 101. Logon to audiblepodcast.com/british101 to a get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up today. Again, go to audiblepodcast.com/british101 for your FREE audiobook. When I signed up for Audible, it may have taken me all of 5 minutes to do so, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to download books for listening. Their selection is simply amazing and I know you’ll find something you like there – I know for a fact they have several of Waugh’s works available.
Waugh spent much time traveling around the world and writing down his experiences (which were later published as travel books), journeying around the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, South America, and Africa, where he saw the coronation of Haile Selassie. Perhaps the greatest adventure of all, though, was Waugh’s commission during World War II, obtained through Randolph Churchill. Waugh was, unfortunately, not the right man to be put in a position of authority, and many colleagues thought him unsuitable for command. One imagines Waugh, a man who expected to be treated well and fancied himself as good as any aristocrat, rather uncomfortable in a field tent eating undoubtedly less-than-satisfactory food in the middle of a warzone. Waugh requested, and was somehow granted, leave in 1944 (probably through Randolph Churchill), even while the Allies were preparing for the invasion of Normandy. Waugh missed the invasion – he was busy writing Brideshead Revisited, which was published the following year. 1944 did see Waugh back in action, however, having been reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards and on mission to Yugoslavia, where he was very nearly captured by the German army. We recall Evelyn’s enthusiasm for conversion in his writing of a detailed report of the suffering inflicted on the Catholic faithful and clergy by Tito there – a report neatly shelved later as irrelevant. Waugh’s experiences in World War II would later be reflected in his trilogy of books called the Sword of Honour, even today regarded as some of the best writing about the war.
After the war, Waugh spent most of his time back in Somerset, living as country gentleman as he no doubt thought he should. He eventually entered a period of self-induced decline, both in writing and physical health, due to abuse of sleeping medication, heavy drinking, and lack of exercise. 1957’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold chronicles the protagonist’s fall into insanity, a prosaic description of Waugh’s own slipping. While he continued to be an excellent journalist, Waugh was less and less well received as an author, with his Basil Seal Rides Again being regarded with nowhere near the same respect as his earlier works. His declining health lead to his death on 10 April 1966. That day was Easter Sunday, on which he had attended Mass in the beloved rite into which he had converted. He lies buried at the family estate Combe Florey, Somerset.
I think it vital that we discuss three things about Evelyn Waugh, namely his Catholicism, his views of the aristocracy in Britain, and his generation of peers. On the first, I wish to make it clear that this is not intended to be a preaching session, but Waugh is regarded as one of the greatest Catholic writers of the twentieth century, and I want to explain why and the circumstances surrounding that high regard. Waugh was a zealous convert, and even wrote lives of the saintly men Edward Campion and Ronald Knox. When he was writing Brideshead Revisited in 1944, Waugh intended it to be the obituary of the fading British aristocracy; he later realized, after the publication of the Sword of Honour trilogy, that it was, in fact, the obituary of the Catholic Church in England as it had existed for centuries. He was fiercely proud of the Mass and was utterly shocked and dismayed by the Second Vatican Council and the liturgy that many bishops around the world interpreted to have come from the Council. Waugh is later quoted as saying “I am now old but I was young when I was received into the Church…One of the extraneous attractions of the Church which most drew me was the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass, stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation; a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do. That is the Mass I have grown to know and love. By all means let the rowdy have their ‘dialogues,’ but let us who value silence not be completely forgotten.” He also said in a letter “Easter used to mean so much to me. Before Pope John and his Council – they destroyed the beauty of the liturgy. I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and gone up in flames, but I now cling to the Faith doggedly without joy.” One sees something of J.R.R. Tolkien in Evelyn Waugh. I think Waugh offered an unfair assessment of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, but it is important to understand Waugh’s crisis of faith later in life. He wrote prolifically for The Tablet, the Catholic Herald, and Commonweal, forming an important look into the history of the post-Conciliar Catholic Church. Again, none of that was intended to push a religious agenda through to you, the listeners, no matter what belief system you follow, but I think it’s important for understanding Waugh as a whole.
Waugh held rather paradoxical views of the British aristocracy. If you read his “An Open Letter to the Honorable Mrs. Peter Rodd on A Very Serious Subject,” you will see how he understands that the aristocracy is defined not by what it is, but by what it is not. There is no set of clear rules, but everyone knows them anyway. Much of his work satirizes high society, while at the same time he enjoyed being a social mover and shaker and certainly “loved a lord” as one author put it. I think he saw the shortcomings of the aristocratic society but desperately wanted to be a part of it anyway, perhaps seeking to purify it in some way.
The last thing I want to mention is the so-called ‘Waugh generation,’ those men who were too young during World War I to serve or have much memory of it but who so desperately wished they had been old enough. This is an interesting movement in British history, and we would do well to discuss it. Those of you familiar with Brideshead Revisited will recall a scene with a certain character reciting part of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land from a balcony to his friends below, all of whom applaud his recital. These men, this generation, were well aware of the horror and violence of the First World War, but they understood none of it. They felt they had missed out on an opportunity to serve their nation, to fight evil, and be a part of something larger than themselves. It is because of this that many went off to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War and enlisted for the Second World War, as their ‘chance’ had finally come to live what they had missed in 1914-1918. Surely, though, many of them learned that war brought a downward spiral of violence that they could never have dreamed of and regretted their jealousy of veterans from the First World War.
Evelyn Waugh was a fascinating man with a fascinating life, and I do hope you will explore his writing, and definitely read Brideshead Revisited if you read nothing else by him. With that suggestion, we will end this episode of British History 101. A transcript of this and past episodes of the show can be found at BritishHistory101.com. Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. Check out British History 101 on Facebook and feel free to follow me on Twitter under the name maskaggs. You can also contact me by regular mail at:
Michael Anthony
Host, British History 101
PO Box 1177
Bloomington, Indiana 47408
United States of America

If you’d like to support British History 101, leave a review on iTunes, Facebook, or any podcast directory. You can also check out the British History 101 wish list on Amazon.com or send me feedback directly – I want your help in making the show better! Thanks to Audible.com, John Hawskley, and Simon Mulligan for being such a huge part of British History 101, and most of all to you for joining me. I’ve enjoyed our discussion and look forward to doing it again. Farewell until next time!

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I’ve had some technical difficulties with WordPress, resulting in posts being put on British History 101 that weren’t meant to be posted to this blog. Sorry for any confusion that resulted!

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I had to run by the post office this past week and thought I’d check the British History 101 box. I was delighted to find not one but two gems waiting there!

All the Way to Berlin by James Megellas

All the Way to Berlin by James Megellas

Redcoats and Rebels by Christopher Hibbert

Redcoats and Rebels by Christopher Hibbert

Listener John from Wigan very kindly sent me these two books, each of which I have been particularly looking forward to reading. An acquaintance who knows Mr. Megellas recommended All the Way to Berlin, and a combination of Hibbert’s authorship and the story of our our two fine nations were once at war is sure to please! Many thanks, John, for sending these two books from the British History 101 wish list!

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The Long Range Desert Group

This podcast is brought to you by Audible.com. Download a free audiobook of your choice today at audiblepodcast.com/british101.

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101, brought to you by Audible.com, the Internet’s leading provider of spoken-word entertainment. Get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up today. Logon to audiblepodcast.com/british101 today for details and your FREE audiobook download.
Tonight’s episode was not inspired by any thought or research taken on my own initiative; rather, it is the result of an opportunity I was graciously offered and decided to take. We’ll get to that later. First, the history.
In the First World War, units known as Light Car Patrols were used by the Allied forces in combat in the Middle East and North Africa. The Light Car Patrols were made up of Ford Model Ts converted to carry a Lewis machine gun and intended to carry out reconnaissance and brief hit-and-run strikes against Central Power forces. This was known to a certain Ralph Bagnold, and it is with this man that our story begins.
Ralph Bagnold was born in 1896 and became a veteran of the First World War, fighting for three years in the trenches of France. He enrolled at Cambridge after the war was over (although we must always ask ourselves – did the First World War ever really end, or was the armistice merely a pause before 1939? But that’s for a later show). He enrolled at Cambridge after his duty in France but returned to the armed forces in 1921 and served in Cairo and India, places where he spent the majority of his free time exploring nearby deserts: for desert exploration and mapping was Bagnold’s true passion. He even took part in a 1929 expedition across the sand in a Ford Model T, the same car used by the LCPs in the “war to end all wars.” He gained a spot in history as a pioneer of desert exploration in 1932 when he made the first recorded east to west crossing of the Libyan Desert, a dangerous undertaking even today. Bagnold also pioneered practical aspects of desert travel, such as lowering tyre pressure when travelling across loose sand, driving over large sand dunes at high speed, and what would come to be known as the Bagnold sun compass – a compass which is not affected by the large deposits of iron ore found throughout the desert and the metal content of the vehicles navigated by it.
Bagnold left the army in 1935, but it was only to be a few years before he was deeply involved in service to Britannia again. By chance, Bagnold happened to be in Cairo when Italy declared war on Great Britain in 1940; with his knowledge of the African desert, past military service, and remembrance of the utility of the Light Car Patrols in the First World War, Bagnold thought the same principle could be applied to combat the Italians in North Africa. Let us not forget that Bagnold had previously travelled into the desert astride a Model T! He requested an interview with General Wavell, the commander of the North African military forces, to ask permission to form a group similar to the LCPs. Bagnold had made this suggestion in 1939 but it had been rejected; now, however, with the threat of Italian forces coming across the top of the African continent, the army was much more willing to listen, and Bagnold was given 6 weeks to put this group together. Bagnold’s new outfit was duly established on 3 July 1940, and it would become a group later known even to Erwin Rommel as a highly effective special forces unit – the Long Range Desert Group.
Bagnold founded the Group with two equally qualified men, Bill Kennedy Shaw and Pay Clayton. Captain Kennedy Shaw was a British desert explorer, botanist, and archaeologist. If anyone knew anything about the desert, it was Kennedy Shaw. Bagnold brought him aboard as the intelligence and chief navigation officer. Pat Clayton had even more localized experience – he had spent 20 years with the Egyptian Survey department.
The Long Range Desert Group was distantly inspired by the Light Car Patrols of the First World War, and would carry out mechanized reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and desert navigation and mapping. Its main purpose was recon and intelligence, but the LRDG was sometimes called upon to carry out heavy strikes against the Afrikakorps and their Italian allies in the North African desert. Interestingly, Bagnold originally requested that the unit be made up of Australians and New Zealanders, with the thought that due to their knowledge of rural and farm living they would be better suited for navigating across the desolate desert sands. The Australian government refused to let their soldiers join the LRDG, as Australians were only to fight in Australian combat groups. This was more than offset by the enthusiasm of New Zealander soldiers – 150 volunteered. Later, British and Rhodesian soldiers would also join the Group.
The Group quickly earned a well-deserved reputation as expert desert navigators, and for this reason they were often use for various transport missions. They travelled many, many miles through desert wastes to transport the SAS, the Free French in Africa, rescued prisoners of war, captured prisoners of war, downed pilots, and even irregular units like Popski’s Private Army.
Popski’s Private Army, or PPA, deserves mention here on its own. Officially the unit was designated Number One Demolition Squad, PPA, and was formed in 1942 by Major Vladimir Peniakoff. Due to the difficulty some had with the major’s name, he was often simply called Popski. The PPA was formed as part of the British 8th Army to attack Erwin Rommel’s fuel supplies involved in the Battle of El Alamein. You can gather from the PPA’s official designation what their missions were in layman’s terms – they blew stuff up, and were very good at it. Popski’s Private Army, driven around the desert in the trucks of the Long Range Desert Group, served with distinction in North Africa and went on to see action in Italy as well.
A few minutes ago I mentioned the Free French, and this mention is due to incredible work on the part of Ralph Bagnold. The LRDG was able to transport the Free French around Africa precisely because of what Bagnold did in 1940. In that year, Bagnold travelled to Chad and entered negotiations with the Free French there. Prior to his arrival, the French were not allies of the British forces in Africa. When Bagnold left, they were. With the help of these additional men, the Long Range Desert Group was able to accomplish one of its biggest combat victories, the capture of Kufra, where the LRDG established headquarters in 1941.
The Long Range Desert Group went on to contribute greatly to the war in North Africa. Through gathering intelligence on Afrikakorps and Italian troops, mapping terrain never before traversed (and often never before seen) by British military forces, and quick, decisive, and devastating strikes against the enemy, the Long Range Desert Group was a major part of Allied victory in North Africa. Could we say that Montgomery would not have defeated Rommel in Africa without the help of the LRDG? It is hard to give a definitive answer, but in my opinion the answer is yes. It is entirely possible that the Allied war effort in North Africa would have ultimately been a failure without the efforts of the Long Range Desert Group and the units it worked with to defeat Hitler’s Afrikakorps. The Group would go on to serve in the Greek islands, Italy, and Normandy, but it built itself a lasting legacy by its achievements attained in the sandy wastes of Africa. Without the knowledge held by Ralph Bagnold, Bill Kennedy Shaw, and Pat Clayton, none of it would have ever happened – proof that their lifelong dedication to the desert served a higher purpose!
Let’s take a moment to thank the sponsor of British History 101, Audible.com. Audible is the Internet’s leading provider in spoken-word entertainment, and has over 35,000 titles to choose from to be downloaded and played back anywhere – just like British History 101. Logon to audiblepodcast.com/british101 to get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up today. Again, go to audiblepodcast.com/british101 for your FREE audiobook. As a matter of fact, if you sign up with Audible, you can download the book that inspired today’s episode and see precisely why I wanted to share it and the story behind it with all of you. As fellow historians I know you’ll enjoy it, and here’s why.
Earlier I mentioned that this episode grew out of an opportunity given me. I was contacted by a book publicity firm to review a book called Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield. I accepted the invitation and duly read Mr. Pressfield’s book; as soon as I was a few chapters into it, I knew I had to do an episode of British History 101 on the book’s subject. Killing Rommel chronicles the time spent by one man with the Long Range Desert Group on their book-titling mission – to kill Erwin Rommel, the legendary ‘Desert Fox’ whose mere presence at a battle struck fear into the hearts of Allied soldiers. The book is written in the style of historical fiction; that is, the events and people in the novel all either really happened and existed or are heavily rooted in historical reality.
Steven Pressfield is an author with vast experience in war writing, and penned such works as Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Mr. Pressfield was kind enough to allow me to interview him for the show, and what follows is are the questions and answers exchanged by us. I think they have enormous value for anyone interested in reading Killing Rommel but there is also much to be gained from them for anyone interested in history and historiography, such as listeners of British History 101:
Why Killing Rommel? What drove you to write this novel out of all the topics you could have chosen?
I was researching the cavalry tactics used by Alexander the Great – not easy because there’s very little extant from the ancient sources. So, moving further afield, I began studying horse tactics used by Frederick the Great, Napoleon, our own Civil War generals … sure enough, I wound up with Rommel and Heinz Guderian, the great German masters of mobile armored warfare, the tactics of which are a lot like ancient cavalry tactics. That was it. I was hooked.
Why this style? You have taken factual events, people, and places and placed a fictional character in their midst. Was there too little information on any one person to create a narrative from a real LRDG member, or did you simply prefer the freedom of using your own?
I’ve used the fictive memoir in earlier books, particularly “Tides of War.” I like it. It’s immediate, it’s intimate, it sucks the reader in and really gives him the picture. Plus, in studying various WWII memoirs, I was captivated by the style (three great ones: “The Forgotten Soldier” by Guy Sajer, “Brazen Chariots” by Maj. Robert Crisp and “Take These Men” by Cyril Joly). Real-life accounts of the desert exploits of British special forces units, the SAS and the Long Range Desert Group, were equally riveting. I decided to use the real-life WWII memoir as the template for my fictional story.
As to why I inserted a fictional character, I never thought of doing otherwise. My aim was to write a novel, not a history. It was imperative to have a character I could shape to a theme. The real-life characters are there primarily for verisimilitude, to ground the story in reality. It’s a technique used to wonderful effect by the American writer E.L. Doctorow in “Ragtime” and other books, where he tosses real historical characters like Stanford White in with characters of his own creation. It works!
The Long Range Desert Group – how did you carry out your research on this prestigious covert force?
There are a number of memoirs and books written by former LRDG officers and men, and other really good accounts on the subject written by historians and enthusiasts since then. I read and studied them – and everything else I could find about the era. I also went to the Imperial War Museum in London and the National Archives…and photocopied great rafts of actual Long Range Desert Group documents – Operations Orders and Combat Reports, that sort of thing. Those were invaluable, not to mention absolutely fascinating. One of the best byproducts of this research was that I was able to send to the son of one of the LRDG heroes (Rev. Warner Wilder in New Zealand) a copy of the actual combat report made out by his Dad, Captain Nick Wilder of the Long Range Desert Group, in which Nick Wilder made a reconnaissance discovery that helped turn the tide of the whole North African war. That was fun.
Killing Rommel is obviously an exhaustively researched book that doubtlessly took many, many months (if not years) of work to bring together. It is clear to the reader that you think it is important to remember the Long Range Desert Group; why is it important?
My aim was not specifically to do anything about the LRDG. What fascinated me was two aspects of the war in the Western desert – first, the chivalry demonstrated by both sides in this krieg ohne hass, as Rommel called it, “War without hate,” and second, the aspect, evinced particularly by the British and Commonwealth troopers in these early Special Forces units, of being “regular blokes,” not professional lifelong soldiers, who nonetheless rose spectacularly to the occasion when necessity demanded this. I wanted to showcase this quality that distinguishes British and empire forces so frequently (and Americans as well, even though there are none in this story.)
In this contemporary era of suicide bombers and waterboarding, when chivalry and voluntary self-restraint in war seem so remote as to be virtually impossible to imagine, I think it might serve a purpose to remind ourselves that there really was a campaign, not too long ago, that though it was contested fiercely and to the death by armies locked in a mortal struggle of global scale and consequence, was yet fought with honor and respect for the enemy, seeing him a fellow human being. That’s why “Killing Rommel” ends the way it does, in a highly affirmative way.
Again, I’m not trying to write history, I’m writing a novel and a novel has a theme – which hopefully is pertinent in this contemporary time, even if the actual story takes place in the past. The war in the desert was, from everything I’ve read, indeed a “war without hate.” That’s why I “went there” – to tell a version of that story and bring it back to this modern day.

Many thanks to Mr. Pressfield for sharing his thoughts with both me and the listeners of British History 101. Killing Rommel is available through most booksellers and the usual Internet outlets such as Amazon.com; I highly recommend it to everyone, and especially through Audible.com. Listening to a book being read is really an enjoyable experience! For more information on the background of the book, head over to http://www.killingrommel.com, where you can find a wealth of information and three videos there made by Mr. Pressfield in the desert with re-enactor vehicles and WWII war footage – there’s a ten minute video, a three minute video, and a thirty-second clip that you might find very interesting on this subject. You can find out more about Mr. Pressfield at http://www.stevenpressfield.com. You can find my review of Killing Rommel immediately under the transcript for this episode at BritishHistory101.com. Again, many thanks are due to the author. I extend my warmest gratitude for giving us a great episode!
One of the concepts you will find discussed in Killing Rommel is the apparent chivalry displayed by the belligerents in the North African campaigns, and I don’t think I’m giving away too much of the book to talk about it a bit here. Medics were almost always allowed to retrieve wounded men, and it was not uncommon for troops from both sides of the conflict to be treated shoulder to shoulder by the same doctor. Men obviously incapacitated were not targeted, and much of the cruelty seen throughout the rest of the Second World War was often absent. This is interesting when viewed in light of warfare before and after the War; we must compare the War in Africa with the fields of Agincourt, Bosworth Field, Austerlitz, the Somme, Fallujah, Afghanistan, Normandy, and countless other battles throughout history. How did chivalry in combat play out in history? Was it a noble but unrealistic idea or discernable code of behavior? Why was it that the soldiers fighting in North Africa felt it their responsibility to treat the enemy with humanity and decency? This stands in stark contrast to the horror in war we read about every day in newspapers and on websites. Where has the chivalry gone? Why wasn’t it present on some battlefields before the Second World War and farther back in history? I suspect the answers to these questions extend far beyond the bounds of this podcast, but they are food for thought nonetheless.
You can find another video sent to me by Mr. Pressfield at British History 101’s newest Internet location. The blog at BritishHistory101.com will still be, by far, the main site I use to share ideas and news with listeners; however, those of you involved in the social network Facebook will now be able to find British History 101 there, as well! Simply search for British History 101 and you’ll find my page there, complete with videos, photos, events, discussion topics, contact information, and the ability to become an official, tried-and-true fan of the show! With this new Facebook page comes a bit of a confession, however, and two years into the show I feel it’s time to fess up. You’ve known me from the beginning as Michael Anthony, and this name is completely accurate. However, it’s not my full name. Michael is indeed my first name, and Anthony comes right after it, although it’s not my last name. My last name is Skaggs, S-K-A-G-G-S. When I began the show, I had the feeling that Skaggs wouldn’t roll off the tongue quite as well or be as audibly acceptable as Anthony, so I stuck to just the first and middle names. I’ll continue to use just those two, since that’s how it’s always been, but I didn’t want those of you who visited the Facebook page to be confused by the fact that the page is administered by Michael Anthony Skaggs and not just Michael Anthony! The same goes for why my Twitter name is maskaggs. As I said before the show will still officially be owned and produced by Michael Anthony, and that is how I’ll address all correspondence, but the truth is out now. So that’s where we stand. I do hope you will forgive my name truncation and enjoy the show all the same!
With that, we’ll conclude this episode of British History 101. Thanks are due to so many people – author Steven Pressfield, master musicians John Hawksley and Simon Mulligan, and Audible.com, but most importantly they are due to each and every one of you. Listeners have been tuning in to British History 101 for over two years now, and every episode is my distinct privilege to produce and share with you. Thank you so much for learning with me and being my faithful companions along my own journey into history. You’ve often heard me describe learning history as a journey, and I think this is the most accurate description we can give it. Let us hope we never reach a destination – the travel itself is our goal.
A transcript of this and past episodes of British History 101 is available at BritishHistory101.com. Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. I can also be reached via Skype at BritishHistory101 and through Twitter on the name maskaggs. If you’d like to contact me by regular mail, my address is:
Michael Anthony
British History 101
PO Box 1177
Bloomington, Indiana 47408
United States of America

If you’d like to support British History 101, post a review on iTunes, any podcast directory, or the Facebook page. You can also check out the British History 101 wishlist at Amazon.com.
I feel every episode is even more fun to produce than the last. It is in such hope that I bid you good evening until we meet again to sit round the campfire of history and learn more about our cherished Britain!

Links for this episode:
Killing Rommel
Steven Pressfield
John Hawksley’s MP3 archive
Simon Mulligan
British History 101’s Amazon wishlist

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Review: Killing Rommel
Pressfield, Steven. Killing Rommel: a Novel. Garden City: Doubleday, 2008. List price $24.95

Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire (a book now taught at West Point) chronicles the factually-inspired expedition of the Long Range Desert Group, an elite British special forces team founded in 1940, to kill Erwin Rommel.

The novel takes the form of a memoir (or perhaps more appropriately war diary) written by the fictional R. Lawrence Chapman, published after Chapman’s death and much prodding by his deceased friend’s son. It should be noted before reading the novel that the form which it takes presents a certain criterion for fully enjoying Killing Rommel: it is not a textbook, and the Second World War as a whole is not explained in any degree of detail. For the novel to be fully appreciated, it is necessary to approach Killing Rommel with at least a general knowledge of the war in order to put events, people, and places in their appropriate context. To balance this out, Pressfield ensures that the novel is accessible to readers regardless of their education on the war; technical terms are explained where necessary, and the localized nature of Chapman’s memoir make little reference to events outside the scope of the book.

Chapman’s account of his time spent with the Long Range Desert Group strikes an interesting balance between realistic descriptions of wartime horror and chivalric notions of lifelong romances blossoming in the midst of large-scale conflict. At times the reader is invited to take part in the ‘greatest generation’ sentiment of the Second World War, with Chapman’s sense of invigoration and freedom in the desert and a close friend’s declaration that he is having the time of his life. Comrades-in-arms take enemy ambushes in stride and engage in playful banter when Jerry comes a-stalking; mid-day ‘brew ups’ under the desert sun are leisurely breaks in the shade of a lorry. This changes, however, as the story progresses and the nature of war is revealed. Chapman’s ever-present remorse after a particularly brutish engagement renders tangible the lifelong guilt felt by many soldiers, especially those in roles of authority. An internal exposition makes it clear that Chapman fully appreciates the oft-perceived senseless of war and the humanity of the Enemy, soldiers just like himself who are simply doing what they see as their patriotic duty or the better of undesirable options. This balance between Indiana Jones-style romance and realistic and unapologetic recollection brings out Pressfield’s mastery of his genre. The necessity of the LRDG’s duty is proven undeniable, but the reader does not finish the book with any illusions that war does not involve immense physical, emotional, and even spiritual pain.

The most remarkable achievement of Killing Rommel is its conveyance of respect for the Enemy, held for common troopers of the opposition but most importantly for Rommel himself. The ‘Desert Fox’ was feared as an individual by nearly all British soldiers in North Africa; Pressfield’s novel does nothing to discredit Rommel’s character or paint him with stereotypical Nazi colors (and this is especially significant, as Rommel was never a Party member). Hatred never enters Chapman’s mind, and his feelings for Rommel probably border on professional admiration. Clearly, Rommel was a military genius who simply had to be removed from the theatre of operations in order for the British Army to succeed. In another time and another place, Rommel could have been a valuable asset to have fighting at one’s side.

There is a reason that Steven Pressfield is read at the United States Military Academy, and Killing Rommel is a good introduction to why that is true. Flowing plot and sparse tangential discussions make the novel excellent light reading with heavier implications and food-for-thought.

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I have been perusing the BBC’s website (it’s 0200 EST – why in the world am I still awake?) and found today’s selection for the ‘In Pictures’ section. Here’s the first photo in the series:


Prince William planning a rescue operation exercise in the Caribbean. Note the name 'W. Wales' on his shirt. Source: BBC

Now let’s move on to a later photo:


Prince William with emergency workers. Source: BBC

The BBC’s caption of this photo says “There was no sign the islanders recognised the junior officer as he directed them during the 90-minute training exercise.” Alright, BBC, let’s think about a few things:

1. This was a training exercise, and there stands a chance that those involved knew who would be working with them before it went off. While undoubtedly there was no official confirmation of the Prince’s participation, we can rest assured that everyone probably knew he would be there. If this is so, they would know beforehand to make no special concessions or treat Sub Lt William Wales any differently.

2. Is it possible that, perhaps, the even if they had no prior knowledge, the islanders recognized His Royal Highness and did their jobs despite the presence of royalty?

I could be completely wrong (and hope I am), and the BBC intended the caption to mean precisely what point #2 says. However, what they’ve written comes off as though the islanders are ignorant ocean people with no knowledge of the Royal Family or goings-on in the world. I would expect the BBC, of all organisations, to give the islanders more credit than this. Shame on you, BBC, if you wrote what I think you wrote.

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The National Health Service began work on the 5th July 1948. This scene from the 1960s is featured in an exhibition around Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust hospitals. Source: BBC

From the BBC:

A plaque to mark 60 years of the NHS is to be unveilved in Tredegar, the birthplace of the service’s founder Aneurin Bevan.

[Health minister] Ms Hart said: “It is a fitting tribute to the man and to Tredegar, which is often described as the inspiration of the NHS, to be here today to unveil this new stone to mark this very special occasion.”

Aneurin Bevan’s plans for the NHS were inspired by the work of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which gave healthcare to local workers in return for a small weekly fee.

“Nye’s vision brought healthcare within the reach of the poorest members of society. Health was no longer the preserve of the rich.”

“He saw it could work locally and he said he would ‘Tredegarise’ the whole of the health service of Britain.”

Dave Galligan, head of health at Unison, which helped organise the event with the town council, said: “The NHS is a success story and a wonderful institution. We should applaud those such as Bevan at the foresight and integrity that led to today’s NHS.”

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Today is the commemoration in the United States of our independence from Britain, changing from colony to nation. It was a momentous event on both sides of the ocean, and it is of no small significance that our two nations now share (sometimes eyebrow-raising) friendship. How wonderful that a revolting colony now shares warm relations with its former governing and protecting mother nation! Happy Fourth to our American listeners!

I have a request for any graphic designers in the audience. I’m looking for a custom logo for British History 101, some sort of small graphic to represent the podcast visually. Can anyone help?

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