14 February 2017

COMING SOON | Chitral 1895: An Episode of the Great Game by Mark Simner

In 1895, a small Indian Army garrison, commanded by Surgeon-Major Sir George Scott Robertson and Captain Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, was besieged by a joint Chitrali and Pathan army – under the leadership of Sher Afzul and Umra Khan – at the fort of Chitral. Despite the odds heavily stacked against them, Robertson’s beleaguered little garrison held out for forty-eight days until a relief expedition was able to fight its way through to the rescue. The siege and subsequent relief is a story of valour – including an award of the Victoria Cross – and sheer determination in the face of a stubborn adversary and sometimes extreme weather conditions, all played out on the often mountainous terrain of the north-western border of British India.

Robertson described events in Chitral as a ‘minor siege’. However, the siege and subsequent relief should be viewed as an important episode in Britain’s ‘Great Game’ with Russia, which would have serious consequences for the British several years later. Indeed, the retention of Chitral by the Indian Government would be a contributing factor to the mass uprisings along the North West Frontier of India during late 1897. In reality, it was anything but a minor siege.

Publication Date: June/July 2017

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20 January 2017
Mark Simner

NOW AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER | The Sirdar and The Khalifa: Kitchener’s Reconquest of Sudan 1896-98 by Mark Simner

Perhaps one of the most dramatic events of the late Victorian period was the death of General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi’s fanatical warriors as they finally broke their way into the Sudanese city of Khartoum. The story is well known, recounted in numerous books and celebrated in the film ‘Khartoum’ starring Charlton Heston. However, what is perhaps less well known is the subsequent-and far more successful-campaign fought by the British against the Mahdi’s successor, the Khalifa, by General Kitchener, the Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, over a decade later. ‘The Sirdar and the Khalifa’ examines Kitchener’s belated campaign to re-conquer the Sudan and avenge the death of General Gordon: a war that began in 1896 and ended less than two years later with the epic Battle of Omdurman. The true story of the Omdurman campaign is a classic tale of British soldiers battling a fanatical Dervish enemy in the harsh terrain of the desert. It is also the campaign that made Kitchener a household name, one that would last to this very day.

Publication Date: May 2017
Format: Hardback (272 pages)
Published By: Fonthill Media

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4 January 2017
Mark Simner

Meet The Author Mark Simner On Viral Hot News

With the release of my latest book, Pathan Rising: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-1898, I was recently interviewed to allow my readers to learn a little more about me and my work.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England although I spent most of my time growing up in Walsall in the West Midlands. However, in recent years I moved back to Staffordshire and now live in the beautiful city of Lichfield.

Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?

My father served in the Royal Air Force during the 1960s in the now famous 617 Squadron, better known as the ‘Dambusters’. Although he wasn’t a pilot he did work on the aircraft and even got to fly in an Avro Vulcan, the bomber that the squadron was equipped with at the time. My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family was in the British Army during the Second World War and served in the Royal Artillery. He was posted to an anti-aircraft battery at ‘Hell-Fire Corner’ in Dover during the Battle of Britain. My grandmother was in the RAF at the same time, working as a telephonist.

Read the rest of my interview at Viral Hot News!

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15 November 2016
Mark Simner

OUT NOW | Pathan Rising: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-1898 by Mark Simner

Pathan Rising: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-1898 tells the story of the large‐scale tribal unrest that erupted along the North West Frontier of India in the late 1890s; a short but sharp period of violence that was initiated by the Pathan tribesmen against the British.

Although the exact causes of the unrest remain unclear, it was likely the result of tribal resentment towards the establishment of the Durand Line and British ‘forward policy’, during the last echoes of the ‘Great Game’, that led the proud tribesmen to take up arms on an unprecedented scale. This resentment was brought to boiling point by a number of fanatical religious leaders, such as the Mad Fakir and the Hadda Mullah, who visited the various Pathan tribes calling for jihad.

By the time the risings ended, eleven Victoria Crosses would be awarded to British troops, which hint at the ferocity and level of bitterness of the fighting. Indeed, although not eligible for the Victoria Cross in 1897, many Indian soldiers would also receive high‐level decorations in recognition of their bravery.

It would be one of the greatest challenges to British authority in Asia during the Victorian era.

You can purchase this title direct from the publisher at: http://fonthillmedia.com/9781781555408

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11 November 2016
The Maizar Outrage

Outrage at Maizar: The Great Pathan Rising Begins

Following the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the British inherited the problem of the North West Frontier of India. For many years prior to the defeat of the Sikhs, the Pathan (or Pashtun) tribesmen had proved to be a persistent headache, raiding into Punjab territory or robbing local merchants. For decades after, the British would conduct punitive operations against the various tribes in response to transgressions they were perceived to have committed. Most such campaigns were minor, and casualty rates were low. However, in 1897 many of the frontier tribes rose up against the British in what was the most significant challenge to British authority in the region since the Indian Mutiny. Although the causes of the risings are complex, the spark that perhaps lit the fire took place at a little known village called Maizar in the Tochi Valley.

Read the full article on HistoryNet.com

The Maizar Outrage

The Maizar Outrage

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28 October 2016

The Death of a Prince: Louis Napoléon and the Tragedy of the Zulu War

Ask anyone with a little knowledge of Victorian British military or colonial history about the Zulu War of 1879 and you will likely receive replies that talk of the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift or the disaster at Isandlwana. However, at the time there was another tragedy of the war that caused great consternation in both Britain and France. This was the death of Louis Napoléon, the Prince Imperial of France, at the hands of Zulu warriors, and the subsequent destruction of the reputation of a British Army officer …

Read the full article on HistoryNet.com

Louis Napoleon

Louis Napoleon

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4 September 2016
Amarpal S. Sidhu

Interview with Amarpal Singh, author and historian of military history

Recently I spoke with fellow author and historian Amarpal Singh. This is what he had to say about his fascinating work:

Amarpal S. Sidhu

Amarpal Singh

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Hi Mark, I’m 53 years old and live in London with Mandeep, my partner and two sons. I came to the UK when I was 6 years old so I’ve spent most of life in this country. We lived in Gravesend, Kent for quite a while but I have lived in the London area ever since my college days. By trade I’m a Computer Software Engineer although I started getting a little bored with writing software about a decade ago. I’m pretty much into writing now although I have a few software projects that I am working on as well.

How did you become interested in military history, and are there any aspects or periods that interest you most?

When I was a kid we had the local library quite nearby and I remember going there to pick up some new books every couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure my interest in History developed at that point and its stayed with me ever since. I really think we need to keep our libraries going for precisely that reason – as that’s the first contact many children have with a vast amount of books of all types and genres, fiction and non-fiction. You simply can’t get that with Amazon or other online book sites. I have quite an eclectic taste myself. I enjoy late Roman period, Byzantine, Ottoman, 18th and 19th Century wars with a bit of WW1 and WW2 thrown in for good measure. I have Hugh Bicheno’s book ‘Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs’ sitting beside me at the moment which I’m relishing starting this weekend. It looks pretty good!

Tell us a little about your Sikh Military History Forum and why you created it?

Since I was researching the Anglo-Sikh Wars I thought it might be a bit of fun to have a Facebook group on that subject as well. There wasn’t another one that tackled this issue in a serious way so its become a big success with nearly thirty thousand members. You get all sorts. Some members are very knowledgeable and others less so – I guess that’s part of the fun of being in a group, everyone learning a little from each other.

Although Britannia Magazine has a number of contributors, the idea to set it up was yours. Please tell us how you came up with the idea and how it has grown since you founded it?

It was really a ‘self-improvement’ idea Mark. I found I was reading and researching less as the years went by due to work and family pressures and of course there was time spent researching and writing my books. I’d love to get back to reading about all sorts of history topics – and also writing about them. I thought about starting my own blog initially but I realized I probably wouldn’t have the discipline to write something on a regular basis as there would be nothing to push me along. However with similar minded people (like yourself) it’s more interesting and fun as you get to plan and write on a shared platform. So I suppose there’s a social angle to it. I do find I’m reading and thinking on varied subjects more now so I think its working on me! The Britannia Magazine page was started seven months ago and is ticking along nicely with over a thousand followers and steadily going up. As ever these things are long term propositions but its looking good.

Your first book was published in 2010. How did you decide on the subject of the First Anglo-Sikh War?

Well it was really a subject that I thought hadn’t been addressed properly by Military Historians in recent times. The last good book was Donald Featherstone’s work ‘At them with the bayonet’ which was released in the late sixties. That was also dealing solely with the first war. So I thought it was high time another work came out. Of course being a Sikh and a Punjabi helped decide the topic as well 😉

Tell us more about your new book, recently published in June this year?

It’s a sequel to the first book really. I covered the first Anglo-Sikh War in the first book and I though I may as well cover the second while I was at it. I thought I might get bored doing both wars back to back but it was actually quite interesting. There are different characters involved and the second war has quite a different nature to the first being more of a rebellion than a war between two states. My only regret is not being able to take some interesting images of the major battlefields and other landmarks for the book. These places lie in Pakistan now. I’ve been allowed into the country before but was refused twice for a visa this year to go back which was very disappointing. But overall I’m very happy with the book.

Apart from your books, have you done any other military history related work, such as magazine articles or TV interviews etc?

I’ve been on BBC programs several times talking about Sikh history but regrettably haven’t been very active writing articles for History Magazines. That’s something I need to rectify. I suppose this is where Britannia Magazine comes in really useful as I find I’m now writing on issues and subjects that I have had an interest in but haven’t written anything on previously. But I will be targeting conventional printed magazines and newspapers/news sites for future articles as well and am also planning write-ups and commentaries on current affairs.

What are your future plans, and have you decided on a subject for your next book?

I’d love to cover early British expansion in India between Plassey and the Battle of Buxar (1757 to 1764) in a comprehensive way. Its an interesting period of North Indian history, what with the Afghan invasions of North India by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the battle of Panipat in 1761.  There was certainly plenty of turmoil and game changing battles in that time! I’m currently mulling over doing a book on Aurangzeb and the English at the moment. Aurungzeb was Mughal Emperor of India between 1659 and 1707 and there was quite a bit going on at the time. The Mughal Empire was at its height but the reign of Aurangzeb introduced weaknesses which led to its decline and fall during the first half of the eighteenth century. He had somewhat mixed feelings about the English and other Europeans and I think this would make a fine book.

Thank you Amarpal for kindly taking the time to tell us about yourself and your interesting work!

You can follow him on Twitter @amarpalsidhu

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21 July 2016

Major-General Nevill Smyth VC

On 2 September 1898, Captain Nevill Maskelyne Smyth of the 2nd Dragoon Guards would perform an act of valour that would result in the award of a Victoria Cross. His citation, published in the London Gazette of 15 November 1898, read:

‘At the Battle of Khartum [Omdurman] on the 2nd September, 1898, Captain Smyth galloped forward and attacked an Arab who had run amok among some Camp Followers. Captain Smyth received the Arab’s charge, and killed him, being wounded with a spear in the arm in so doing. He thus saved the life of one at least of the Camp Followers.’

His award would be one of four VCs for the battle, the other three being bestowed upon members of the 21st Lancers for their legendary charge against the Mahdists in Khor Abu Sunt.

Smyth was 30 years old at the time of the battle, having been born in 1868, the son of Sir Warrington Wilkinson Smyth who was a well-known geologist of the time. He also had a first-cousin of some note, in the form of Robert Baden-Powell of Siege of Mafeking fame and founder of the Boy Scout movement.

Following his formal education at Westminster School in London, Smyth joined the British Army and was commissioned as a second-lieutenant in 1888 after completion of his training at Sandhurst. He would be posted to the 2nd Dragoon Guards, joining them in India later that year.

Although he took part in the Zhob Valley Expedition of 1890, his first real taste of active service came in 1896 during the early stages of Major-General Kitchener’s re-conquest of Sudan from the Mahdists. For the Dongola campaign of 1896, Smyth would be mentioned in despatches for his services on ‘intelligence’ duties.

Although the Mahdists were effectively destroyed as a fighting force at Omdurman, their leader, the Khalifa, remained at large for some time, thwarting a number of attempts to capture him. However, he would finally be killed at the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat on 25 November 1899. Smyth would again be mentioned in despatches for services during this action, this time by Colonel Reginald Wingate, again for his intelligence work.

With the Mahdiyya (the Mahdist state in Sudan) dealt with, Smyth joined his regiment in South Africa for service during the Anglo-Boer War, following which he would be promoted to brevet-major in October 1902. A year later, he would be made a substantive major and transferred to the 6th Dragoon Guards in India.

In 1909, Smyth was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, taking command of the 6th Dragoon Guards. Later, he would return to Egypt and take up the post of commandant of the district of Khartoum in Sudan. For several years, from 1913 onwards, he would be heavily engaged in operations aimed at abolishing the slave trade that still persisted in the region.

More active service followed during the First World War, when Smyth was instructed by Kitchener to assume command of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade in Gallipoli. As brigade commander, he would take part in the Battle of Lone Pine, fought between 6 and 10 August 1915. The action ended in victory for the Australians.

In early 1916, Smyth was again mentioned in despatches and remained in command of his brigade when it was sent to France, where it saw action at Pozières. He was made a temporary major-general in December and given command of the 2nd Australian Infantry Division, being yet again mentioned in despatches twice during 1917.

Towards the end of the First World War, Smyth would be made a substantive major-general and spent time commanding the 58th (2/1st London) Division and, later, the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.

With the war over, Smyth was made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1919, and given command of the 47th (1/2nd London) Division, a Territorial Force formation. In 1920, he became honorary-colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. Smyth finally retired from the Army on 5 July 1925.

Smyth would live out his retirement in Australia, on a farm in Balmoral, Victoria with his family. He later became engaged in politics, joining the National Party of Australia, with which he was elected to a seat in the Australian Senate.

On 21 July 1941, Smyth passed away at the age 72. He is buried in Balmoral Cemetery.

Nevill Smyth VC

Nevill Smyth VC

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1 July 2016

For Valour: A First-Day Battle of the Somme VC

Temporary-Major Stewart Walter Loudoun-Shand of the Yorkshire Regiment was one of nine men to receive the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest award for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ – on the first-day of the Battle of the Somme, fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916. Of those nine, only three would survive that fateful day; Loudoun-Shand, however, was not to be one of the lucky ones.

Born in Ceylon on 8 October 1879, Loudoun-Shand was the son of a plantation owner and one of ten children. When old enough to attend school, he travelled back to England where he received an education in South London before continuing his studies at Dulwich College, graduating in 1897.

When the Anglo-Boer broke out in 1899, Loudoun-Shand volunteered for the Pembroke Yeomanry, rising to the rank of lance-corporal. Later, he would be granted a commission and joined the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), serving with the 10th (Service) Battalion of the regiment during the First World War.

The battalion was one of Kitchener’s New Armies formations, having been raised on 30 September 1914 in Richmond as part of K3. It was attached to 62nd Brigade of the 21st Division, and landed in Boulogne, France on 10 September 1915. It would serve on the Western Front throughout the remainder of the war.

It would be with the 10th Battalion that Major Loudoun-Shand ‘went over the top’ on the first-day of the Battle of the Somme. The following citation for his Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette of 9 September 1916, and explains the circumstances of the award and his subsequent death:

‘For most conspicuous bravery. When his company attempted to climb over the parapet to attack the enemy’s trenches, they were met by very fierce machine gun fire, which temporarily stopped their progress. Maj. Loudoun-Shand immediately leapt on the parapet, helped the men over it and encouraged them in every way until he fell mortally wounded. Even then he insisted on being propped up in the trench, and went on encouraging the non-commissioned officers and men until he died.’

He was thirty-six years of age when he was killed-in-action, and today his name can be found commemorated at the West Norwood Cemetery, although he is buried at the Norfolk Cemetery in Becordel-Becourt near the Somme. His Victoria Cross is part of the Lord Ashcroft Collection, currently on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Major Stewart Loudoun-Shand VC

Major Stewart Loudoun-Shand VC

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1 June 2016
HMS Shark

A Jutland Victoria Cross: Commander Loftus Jones R.N.

A total of four Victoria Crosses were awarded for the Battle of Jutland, fought near Denmark on 31 May-1 June 1916. Several of them are well-known, including those to Jack Cornwell of HMS Chester and Francis Harvey of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. However, few today are aware of Commander Loftus Jones and his actions that led to the posthumous award of Britain’s highest award for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’.

Commander Loftus William Jones VC

Commander Loftus William Jones VC

Born on 13 November 1879, Loftus Jones was the second son of Admiral Loftus Jones of Petersfield in Hampshire. He would be educated at Eastman’s Naval Academy in Fareham, after which he joined the training ship HMS Britannia in 1894.

Following completion of his training, he was appointed midshipman aboard the cruiser HMS Flora in 1897. As a sub-lieutenant, he would serve aboard HMS Spiteful in 1901, later being promoted to lieutenant and command of the torpedo boat HMS Sparrowhawk in 1903. Although he had experience of serving in bigger ships, he spent much of his service aboard a succession of torpedo boats, including: HMS Success (1905-08), HMS Chelmer (1908-10) and HMS Ghurka (1910-13). However, in 1913 he was to take command of the larger HMS Linnet, a Laforey-class (or L-class) destroyer.

Promotion to commander came on 30 June 1914, when he was next given command of HMS Shark, a Acasta-class destroyer that had been launched in 1912. While in command of this vessel, Jones would lead a small flotilla of four ships against a larger force of German cruisers – who were conducting a raid on Scarborough – off the east coast of England in December 1914. He would receive much praise from Admiral David Beatty for his efforts and courage.

HMS Shark

HMS Shark

During the Battle of Jutland, Jones was again in command of HMS Shark and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, when he confronted a number of German destroyers en route to engaging a squadron of Royal Navy battlecruisers. In the ensuing action, the Shark would be badly damaged and Jones wounded. However, the commander and his crew fought on until he was eventually forced to issue orders to his men to abandon ship. At 19:00 hours on the first day of the battle, a German submarine finally sank the battered destroyer with a torpedo. A total of eighty-five crew of the Shark perished, with a further three being wounded.

Jones was last seen attempting to hold on to a life-raft, but it is believed he finally died due to loss of blood. His body was eventually washed-up on the Swedish coast, where he was buried in the churchyard at Fiskebaksil on 24 June.

The citation for Jones’ Victoria Cross, which was published in the London Gazette of 6 March 1917, offers more details of his actions during the battle:

On the afternoon of the 31st May, 1916, during the action, Commander Jones in H.M.S. “Shark”, Torpedo Boat Destroyer, led a division of Destroyers to attack the enemy Battle Cruiser Squadron. In the course of this attack a shell hit the “Shark’s” bridge, putting the steering gear out of order, and very shortly afterwards another shell disabled the main engines, leaving the vessel helpless. The Commanding Officer of another Destroyer, seeing the “Shark’s” plight, came between her and the enemy and offered assistance, but was warned by Commander Jones not to run the risk of being almost certainly sunk in trying to help him. Commander Jones, though wounded in the leg, went aft to help connect and man the after wheel. Meanwhile the forecastle gun with its crew had been blown away, and the same fate soon afterwards befell the after gun and crew. Commander Jones then went to the midship and the only remaining gun, and personally assisted in keeping it in action. All this time the “Shark” was subjected to very heavy fire from enemy light cruisers and destroyers at short range. The gun’s crew of the midship gun was reduced to three, of whom an Able Seaman was soon badly wounded in the leg. A few minutes later Commander Jones was hit by a shell, which took off his leg above the knee, but he continued to give orders to his gun’s crew, while a Chief Stoker improvised a tourniquet round his thigh. Noticing that the Ensign was not properly hoisted, he gave orders for another to be hoisted. Soon afterwards, seeing that the ship could not survive much longer, and as a German Destroyer was closing, he gave orders for the surviving members of the crew to put on lifebelts. Almost immediately after this order had been given, the “Shark” was struck by a torpedo and sank. Commander Jones was unfortunately not amongst the few survivors from the “Shark” who were picked up by a neutral vessel in the night.

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