Review: The Second World War at Sea in Photographs: 1943

I recently got my bourbon biscuit-covered hands on a copy of Phil Carradice’s The Second World War at Sea in Photographs: 1943 (biscuit is evident on page 7).

I don’t know a lot about battles that happened at sea (a lot of it just makes me think of pirates me’hearties) other than what I have learnt in the 6 months of working at Pen and Sword Books and researching The Battle of Jutland for quizzes, articles, interviews and what not. So this book sort of ‘went over my head’. 

It’s incredibly well produced – it’s nice to touch (stroke), very ‘booky’, which always makes me like a book just that bit more.

The introduction is succinct and to the point, which I am sure for sea battle aficionados is excellent, but for us amateurs it can become tedious; I think pre-existing knowledge would be helpful. Lots of names and places and battles and ship names are mentioned, but it is very well-written and informative. But I skipped to the photographs – the whole point of the book.

As always with Amberley books, the photographs and images are always great –see The Lancaster – and some are real jems in this one. Some, however, are blurred (I know they are black and white, and old) and seem to have been blown up just a bit too much. But others are fantastic. There are LOTS of ships! Some aeroplanes, and my favourite part – retro posters. They are in colour as well, and really add that little extra.

The story runs from January right through the year to December 1943. I was really impressed by the layout and chronology – it was easy to follow and gave a great overview of the year in pictures and captions.

I definitely recommend this to those interested in battles at sea, and I would even recommend to other amateurs like me – the photographs help to tell the story without bogging you down with jargon and information that can get lost in translation.

The Second World War at Sea in Photographs is available from Amberley Publishing

Review: Coventry’s Blitz

David McGrory’s first instalment about Coventry’s history of war started with Coventry’s Blitz. I know it’s an old cliché to say that a history book is ‘well-researched’, ‘well-written’ and ‘in-depth’, but the fact is, this is. And not just all three of those things, but it’s humorous and entertaining, at times making me giggle and smile, as well as human. It’s not a given that history books takes on a personality just because they are written about a person or a point in time, but what McGrory does really well is give his books character, mostly with the help of personal family anecdotes, stories of locals and his informal, light-hearted approach to writing.

P74, Crashed Dornier 17
A downed Dornier 17 from a Coventry address! Is this the Dornier shot down on 14 November?

His inclusion of some truly fantastic images add to this effect ten-fold, and sometimes I found myself skipping text just to intensely study them, trying to work out where it was taken (if no information was given) and what that places looks like now; what are the people in them thinking about; what’s happened to them; and the one question that strikes me most is, why are they smiling? I often wonder what people thought about during the war. Was that it for 6 years? Or was life more normal than we expect it to be?

“For many, the blitz in Coventry is thought of as being the night of 14/15 November 1940.”

As a Southerner who since 2009 believes herself to be a true Coventrian, I can say that for many, the effects of German attention during the blitz is still ever present. A walk through the city centre, passed the Cathedral, the Herbert Gallery, War Memorial Park, they all seem to hold this secret of times gone by – that of course every knows and hasn’t forgotten.

P95, National Provicial Bank Broadgate
Service personnel pose on the corner of Broadgate, an instantly recognisable scene today

As someone so enchanted by history and the effects of war, moving to Coventry for University did nothing but increase my fascination, and in turn make me fall in love with the city. When one single place where you have lived, and thrived, has the ability to inspire you and help shape the person you have become, you can’t help but find more meaning in this book. It makes it a lot more personal.

When you think of the state of the world as it is now; wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and such, it’s horrific and shocking, but it feels a bit detached. Perhaps the ever increasing media reports make us just that bit more desensitised to it all. But when something has  happened ‘at home’ and you’re reminded of it in a book such as this, it does truly bring it home, making it that more real. McGrory does that. He brings him home and makes us remember.

P122, American soldiers walking down Jordan Well
Two American soldiers walking down Jordan Well with the Council House in the background, probably 1944

So in short, I recommend this to anyone who lives in Coventry. It’s not just a history book. It’s an incredible tribute to the city and the people in it. To others, the outsiders, perhaps it is just a history book, documenting events and lives and destruction. But to me, it’s a very carefully written documentation of destruction. By chronologically describing the events, it somehow tells a more harrowing tale, like when fiction builds up to the climax.

This is a terrific book that highlights how Coventry is saturated in a rich and colourful history.

And it kind of leaves you feeling, what if? What if it all happened again? How on earth would we cope as well as the people of 1940s Britain?


Coventry’s Blitz is available from Amberley Publishing.

Images have been extracted from Coventry’s Blitz and used with the permission of the publisher.


Q & A with Suzie Grogan

A few weeks back I sent a couple of questions to Shell Shocked Britain author, Suzie Grogan, for Warfare Magazine Online.

Her answers left me with prickly skin up my arms, making my blonde monkey-hair stand on end. She is an incredibly busy woman, and I honestly think she is like Dr Who…she does so much in so little time it makes the mind boggle.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, she pushed all her work to one side, lucky me!, and answered my questions.

By the looks of your website;, you’re an unbelievably busy woman, with an array of interests from law to poetry, mental health to history, and more… But let’s start at the beginning. What did you want to be when you were younger, before you started on the road to becoming a fascinating author? 

I have always wanted to write, even at Primary school, but before I could give myself permission to pursue that ambition I tried lots of other things – nursing, but I was terrible, too over-sensitive at times when a cool head was needed; law, which was just as bad! If I felt an injustice was being done I would want to cry and shout ‘It’s not fair m’lud!!’; working in local government and finally for a mental health charity. It was only when that charity made me redundant that I decided to really go for it.

Law was a fabulous grounding in research methods and has helped me so much when writing books, but it was not the career for me. Dandelions and Bad Hair Dayscame about after I shared my experience of depression and anxiety on the blog I set up, No Wriggling Out of Writingto get myself to putting words on paper again. I had so many positive responses,and heard so many other moving stories that I though it was an opportunity to raise some money for charity and get the message out there – mental ill health can happen to anybody.

How do you juggle writing fiction, non-fiction, features, web copy and the occasional poem? That’s quite a list! 

I don’t do them all at the same time! I have to earn a living, so the website work and blogs for other people pay a few bills and the articles I write also support the time I have set aside to write the non-fiction books. The fiction and poems are a luxury and I don’t write nearly enough for pure pleasure, there just isn’t time, although I do have two unpublished novels (one based on the story that inspired Shell Shocked Britain) at an editing stage. One day!

Phew! You also find the time to host a fortnightly talk show on Somerset’s local radio 10Radio! While on the air you chat to other authors about their work. Who has been your favourite to interview?

I couldn’t possibly say! There have been so many in the three years I have been doing the show. I do love to talk to poets though, and hear them read their work. I can talk about poetry all day, and also write for The Wordsworth Trust blog about my favourite poet, John Keats, who features in my next book for P&S.

And as well as all that, you still find some time to manage community projects, like the Wiveliscombe Children of the Great War Project that continues to run until 2016. Could you tell us a little bit about this project?

The Children of the Great War Project is fantastic. I wrote the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and we got the highest amount available – £10,000. I have co-ordinated it for the past two years, and it ends in September this year with a community event, including the unveiling of a fabulous mosaic memorial, made by children of the town with help of local artists, and is to be used as a focus for future commemoration. There is also the publication of a book to accompany it, including poems and quotes from the children of the local school, and illustrations designed by them. It is very much a team effort though and as a freelancer it is lovely to have something that enables you to get out and work with other people.

How do you relax after all of this?

I am trying to walk more to keep fit and get me away from my desk and love to visit the Lake District a couple of times a year – it is the only place where I can put things in perspective, and of course I read as much as I can.

Shell Shocked Brit

So, we’re here to talk about your book Shell Shocked Britain. How did you come to write the book?

I pitched the idea for Shell Shocked Britain to P&S when I found out more about how mental health had affected my family down the generations, and discovered that my Great Uncle had killed his girlfriend and then himself after being traumatised in the First World War. I researched more widely and discovered that he was far from alone in finding it hard to cope with life in a changed post-war Britain, and with the commemorative period coming up I thought it was a story that had to be told.

The research must have been tough for the book considering the topic. How did you gather your information?

The research side was fascinating. I found out who might be the best experts to consult, read their books and checked through their bibliographies and sources before contacting those that might be willing to talk about my ideas for the book. People were lovely, and pointed me to other sources and archives that offered new information, previously unpublished. I read lots of articles, visited libraries and ended up with far more information than I could possibly use. It is a difficult subject, and many of the stories are deeply moving, but nevertheless it was fascinating work.

Was there a part of the writing process that you thoroughly enjoyed?

I visited the wonderful Liddle Collection in Leeds and found some letters written from Hull, by a woman visiting her mother, to her husband working in London during the First Blitz. Her initial excitement at seeing the Zeppelins fly over quickly changed as she witnessed the devastation of Hull, and heard reports that parts of London close to her husband’s office had been attacked. She wrote with compassion about the hundreds of people made homeless and was terrified that her husband would be injured or killed. Those ‘ordinary’ stories were vital to making the book appealing to a wider audience and were a great find.


Can you sum up Shell Shocked Britain in just 5 words?

That is tough, but I would hope it is moving, informative and compassionate. It has also been universally described as well-researched and engaging, which is a relief!

Could you give us some sneaky peekies about your next Pen & Sword instalments?

From the Womb to the Tomb takes the reader back to the early 19th century and looks at medical care, and how it differs from today. Focusing on the surgeon-apothecary, many of whom were the GPs of their time (treating people from the womb to the tomb!), it gives some wonderful characters the chance to shine (and well-known medical trainees like John Keats) and also goes into the rather gothically-horrible training doctors undertook and treatments that people endured in the days before anaesthesia and antibiotics.

Shell Shocked Britain is available from Pen and Sword Books.

The images used above have been extracted from Shell Shocked Britain and courtesy of Paul Reed at

It’s Time to Joust the Medieval Way

Mighty Medieval Jousting returns to Leeds Castle this Bank Holiday Weekend

This Bank Holiday Weekend immerse yourself in mighty clashes and thrilling entertainment as squires arm the knights in full plate armour, and four knightly warriors spectacularly show off their skills as they demonstrate Mounted Skill-at-Arms before taking part in an authentic jousting competition.

Fill your metal boots with Combat Displays, archery tournaments, firepower, and the ridiculously exciting trebuchet demonstrations; don’t miss the opportunity to watch the mighty medieval trebuchet shoot into the castle’s moat.

A truly thrilling day out for the entire family. Transport yourselves back to the Middle Ages and experience a whole host of themed activities from Children’s Mini Battles and Have a Go Archery to meeting a medieval surgeon.

The Grand Medieval Joust is included in the standard admission price.

Admission tickets cost £24.50 for adults; £21.50 for seniors and visitors with disabilities (carer goes free); £16.50 for children (under 4s free). Admission tickets are valid for 12 months so you can pay once and visit all year round. Book online and receive 10% off admission tickets.

Leeds Castle is located near Maidstone in Kent, just off the Junction 8 of the M20 and within easy reach of London. Grounds open at 10am daily and the Castle is open from 10:30am. Last admission is 4:30pm and gates close at 6pm April to September.


Colourising the First World War

“Colour adds another dimension to an image and helps bring the subjects ‘to life’ in a way that black and white images often can’t.”

Cover Image
The Lost Tommies in Colour, Tom Marshall (2016)

For a few years now, Tom Marshall has been colourising black and white photographs. As his techniques and methods continue to improve, he’s been fortunate enough to turn this amazing hobby into a job with home-grown, PhotograFix.

“I have worked with some of the world’s greatest photo archives and museum collections, with publishers and historians, and with private family photos that each have their own unique stories to tell.”

Using mainly Adobe Photoshop, Tom essentially colour washes the entire image, effectively making an individual painting. It may take several hours to complete, but Tom insists that it allows people, especially younger generations, to connect with the people they see.

“It’s a sad truth that black and white images are often ignored or go unnoticed.”

Spending most of his time researching the correct colours for uniforms, buildings, animals, and the like, Tom claims that sometimes it boils down to an “educated guess or using a degree of artistic license to choose a colour that looks ‘right.’” Luckily for Tom, subjects like the First World War are heavily documented and can be researched in libraries’ reference books or on internet forums.

His next project has been influenced by Australian journalist Ross Coulthart’s discovery of World War One photographs. In 2011, a team of researchers, led by Coulthart, made a remarkable discovery when they uncovered a collection of hundreds of photographs from the First World War. The images are now forever immortalised and featured in a book by Coulthart, entitled The Lost Tommies.

The Lost Tommies
The Lost Tommies by Ross Coulthart (2016)


“It was Doug Banks, who runs the WWI Colourised Photos page on Facebook, that introduced me to the project and my next challenge.

“When the BBC’s One Show began a public plea to try and identify the lost Tommies from the photos, contributors to Doug’s page rose to the challenge and started colourising the fascinating images to bring the subject’s to life and try and identify them.

“Of the hundred images, I chose the particular pictures for the sharpness of the facial details, as they stood out as having real feeling behind their eyes; like they’d seen things most of us couldn’t imagine.”














Original images courtesy of Ross Coulthart, author of ‘The Lost Tommies’ & The Kerry Stokes Collection – Louis & Antoinette Thuillier.

Tom Marshall would like to thank Ross Coulthart, head of the research team that uncovered these fantastic images and author of The Lost Tommies, for his permission to share these colourised versions.

If you should recognise any of the men featured in this post, please get in touch!


PhotograFix 1