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Book review The Autobiography of the British Soldier

The compelling story presented by John Lewis Stempel

Book review The Autobiography of the British Soldier
Image Source - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Marino#/media/File:British_soldier_at_the_Battle_of_Monte_Pulito,_1944.jpg
In 2007 Lewis Stempel published this opus with it's enlightening accounts of British troops fighting from the Middle Ages through to the present day. However these are the selected personal stories of those who fought for their country during those centuries.

John Lewis Stempel thoroughly researched this book and found a bountiful supply of sources he expertly put together so that British soldiers could put their story into public view in many cases generations after they had been involved in battles and after they had died. The sources he was able to find became more common the closer he got to our own times. At the time of Agincourt the concept of a British Army did not exist, there were English and Welsh soldiers who fought for the English monarch in their attempts to gain the French throne. With defeat in the Hundred Years War much of the fighting was on home soil during the Wars of the Roses or the frequent cross border clashes with the Scots.

After the heroics of Agincourt the accounts presented by the author show that the English were not particularly successful fighting in places like Ireland and the Netherlands. However the growth of the Royal Navy would eventually lead to the building of the greatest empire ever built won and held by a surprisingly small army. As the book mentions the future success of the British at arms stemmed from the civil wars of the 17th century, eventually won by Oliver Cromwell and the much vaunted New Model Army.

However under Charles II and James II it seemed the British would be destined to always play second fiddle to France. All that changed when William of Orange was invited to replace his father in law. In the wars against France fought up to 1714 John Churchill led Britain to some great victories and the accounts from those campaigns offer fascinating insights into events, As the 18th century went on the British made further gains in India and North America.

However this book does include stories about failures, such as losing the American colonies and defeats against Napoleon. However as discussed it was Britain and the Duke of Wellington that played a major role in defeating the French emperor.

It is not surprising that the bulk of this bulk covers more recent conflicts like the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War and the Falklands War. The majority of accounts are from little known warriors yet others like Winston Churchill, Lord Roberts, and Douglas Haig went on to become famous. Some accounts are vivid, and there are plenty that are poignant too. This book tells the story of people that were brave, and some that did not return home from the conflicts they took part in. Over all this is book that should be read.


 


 


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