The best History lesson I ever had…

Dear readers, as my book “The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War” moves towards publication, I thought I would share with you a few thoughts on history, how to read, absorb and write it and especially the best history lesson I ever had. Indeed, the only one I ever needed.

I think it must have been in 1990 when I walked into my first secondary school History lesson with my favourite teacher John Wickham who stood there with the following lines written on the board:

ALL HISTORY IS BASED UPON EVIDENCE

ALL EVIDENCE IS OF VALUE

BUT

NOT OF EQUAL VALUE

THIS IS BECAUSE OF BIAS

I think in that one moment, I had learned everything about history. Funny isn’t it? You see, that really is what history is all about. Not what we make it mean, not what we want it to mean, not selection of facts because it is what we want to hear or read or have others believe – that’s bias. It is one of my sayings now, that; “Bias is the enemy of history.”

I give you a few examples here. When writing my new book, I came across a report from a Mr. Carlisle which said that the Argentine soldiers were firing blank ammunition! Crazy as that sounds, I had to take that as ‘evidence’ – however loose. Then it transpired that in 2000 he presented this fact to one of the Royal Marine Officers who was there at the time and he told him absolutely that there was no chance. Imagine my surprise when said gentleman repeated his allegations in 2012 to sell a new book! This was despite the facts. Despite stronger evidence. Despite being told. Still, this could be two opinions, so I asked a few Argentine veterans – absolutely no blanks! – There. Not what you want to believe, but what happened.

One person claimed to me yesterday (an old tale) that HMS Invincible was sunk in the Falklands and covered up; swapped for Illustrious and a secret new carrier built. Now, I could rubbish this instantly – I’ve stood on the deck of HMS Invincible…and Illustrious. And Ark Royal actually, yes all three! However, I thought it best not to be lured into this bias trap of believing what I wanted to be true. I asked for the evidence and studied it. The words of the Argentine pilots, of the British sailors and airmen on Illustrious and of the curious little differences between both ships. The fact that there are photographs of both ships together in late June 1982 kind of seals the deal. Invincible was not attacked, damaged nor sunk. However, I looked at the evidence and weighed it evenly.

I suppose it’s like that old saying; “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – it depends upon your point of view. But that isn’t objective. I come back to the Falklands again and invite you to ask an Argentine and a Falkland Islander about the history of the islands. They won’t look or sound even remotely like each other. What actually happened has been absorbed by “What they made it mean.”

So this is really the only lesson you need. Treat everything in history evenly. If you find yourself throwing out what you don’t like, skipping over, dismissing, laughing off, instantly rubbishing….then go back and view the evidence. Address your bias.

Everyone is biased. All history is biased.The way you read it does not have to be.

History is, after all, just the truth…

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Book Update – First Draft Complete!

Dear readers, I thought that I should let you know that the first draft of my new book “The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War” is finally complete and as of this morning is now with the publishers and the outstanding team at Navy Books. I think that it is, in a way, prophetic. It was my wonderful Mum who told me to follow my dreams and that I should be a writer of military history and it is to her that I owe the amazing hobby that I now call a job. She would have been 59 today.

It has been an incredible experience so far. Working with the amazing guys of Royal Marine Naval Party 8901 – the unsung heroes of the ‘Rorke’s Drift of the South Atlantic’, the battle for Stanley and the defence of the Falkland Islands on April 2nd 1982 – and also, I should say, with their erstwhile enemies, the Argentine veterans of the Commandos Anfibios, BIM2 and Buzos Tacticos. Thirty-four years after their epic fight, they are all now men with a shared history. There are no enemies any more.

This was a book which I was told could not be done. Stephen Ambrose, author of Pegasus Bridge, Band of Brothers and many other epic ‘first-person’ narrative histories was quoted at me often. He had ‘fumbled the ball’ on Pegasus Bridge, his first book, and had to go back to check and re-check everything and write the book again. He was better prepared for Band of Brothers. I was told that this task, covering the action not just from one side but from BOTH was simply impossible. I am happy to say that ‘they’ were wrong.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite book – either that I have written or even read. It is an outstanding story of men, nice guys, funny, witty, the kind of guys we would call our friends or see so much of in ourselves, suddenly hurled into an action in which there was no way out but certain death. Defending not just some old colonial outpost, but friends, family, homes and of course each other, these supermen fought, against all hope, and showed the world what Royal Marines can really do. By a miracle, they survived. They had fought one of the most epic last-stands since Rorke’s Drift 103 years before and they had survived. It was a miracle…a 7.62mm self-loading rifle miracle with guts, bravery and skill to back it up.

When these men came home, they wondered what sort of reception they would have. Would they be heroes? Would people still talk of their outstanding defence centuries from now as they did with Rorke’s Drift and the Alamo? Certainly they deserved it. Yet there was nothing. Their story had been wiped clean and swept away for political convenience. For years after, in books which were written about the Falklands War, they warranted barely a page and two at best – and all telling the same story of a ‘token and nominal defence’. When a film was finally made about them ten years later, it was inaccurate and only played up to the now-accepted story. The men called it ‘rubbish’, ‘crap’, ‘an embarrassment.’ Some people laughed at them. Others thought they had simply either not done their jobs or – and who could blame them? – had been overwhelmed and saved their own skins.

Now, for the first time, their story is being told. It is the story of an epic and gallant defence told not just by the men themselves, but by their opponents and the people of Stanley whom they fought like lions to protect. It is a story which is found nowhere else in the history books or on the internet. A story, backed by painstaking research, which proves for the first time that “The Rorke’s Drift of the South Atlantic” really did happen and that these heroes were sacrificed for political reasons. Their story hushed, perhaps to re-emerge when the secret files were opened in 2072 after they were all long gone.

It is a story of bravery, of heroism, of intrigue and espionage and of a cover-up which is stranger even than fiction, laid bare for the first time which proves ultimately that the first casualty in war is the truth.

NOTE: “The First Casualty – The untold Story of the Falklands War” by Ricky D Phillips will be available by November 2016 published by Navy Books. Stay tuned for updates!

 

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New releases for 2016/2017…

Dear readers, I thought I would update you all on a few of my new releases for the coming 12-18 months and perhaps put some ‘feelers’ out for anything people might like. I’ve got a book or planned book or half-started / half-finished book covering almost everything! The truth is, if I wrote everything just in my current plan, I’d be 150 by the time I finished it all, so any special requests, or new mysteries to debunk, just let me know!

Anyway I thought it would be nice to update you all on what is coming up for this year and next and how we have been so far. Firstly I have to say it has been a fun and unexpected year so far, starting with a meeting with the UK’s top battlefield archaeologist to discuss my (at the time) new book on Hannibal (which went incredibly well) then a trip to the Western Front and a bit of battlefield guiding over Passchendael where I had family fight – how anyone survived is beyond me. Great Uncle Bill fought in three battles there and came home in 1918 unscathed – then a tour over the battlefield of Barnet and a bit of help in digging up the proposed ‘new site’ of the battle a mile down the road, not to mention being privileged enough to work with one of my favourite military fiction authors checking through his historical data and even proposing some great new ideas for his seventh novel – which he is using (I’m so proud!) and then…then the ‘big one’.

As we know, it’s been a long while coming. That famous sobriquet; “The most famous military author without a book” – thanks guys – is coming to an end. Too many years of writing for other people, doing articles, contributing, chipping-in, promoting other authors, often doing the donkey-work and always writing for myself on the side for that ‘one day’ opportunity. Still it’s amazing that my heroes; the names on the spines of over 3,000 books in my collection, are all good friends now. That’s pretty special. We’re a tight community, us war-geeks! We’re a bit of a family in that sense. But due to all of the ribbing from my compadres I’m happy to say we’re about there.

As you doubtless know, this new book (soon to be released in time for Christmas in all good bookstores courtesy of the excellent team at Navy Books!) is “The First Casualty” – The untold story of the Falklands War. A story of heroism, of friendship, of a battle against the odds and a modern ‘Rorke’s Drift’ or ‘Alamo’ which has been conveniently covered up for three and a half decades, now told in ‘first-person’ style by the men – of both sides – who fought there. I have to say it’s excellent. I love every page and I know the guys in it. Again on both sides, and it is being translated and released in Argentine hopefully for late March. This is really going to change so much of what we know and what we accept as the truth about war. Truly a humbling experience!

So what’s next? – Next we are going right back in time, from the Falklands War to Caesar. Due to be released in time for 15th March on the 2,061st anniversary of his death, this is the first book to cover all of Caesar’s battles and campaigns – full of battle maps – all drawn from Caesar’s own unique point of view. It is the story not just of Caesar himself, but of his very own history as the first commanding general to write and record his memoirs on campaign. What follows is the most in-depth look at the man and his career ever produced, as we understand both the man – and the legend that history has made of him. This one will be easy to write…it was written last year. The maps are good too. It is going to be a cornerstone of any serious military history collection.

After that – Hannibal – yes we’re going back even further to a real ‘pet-project’ which began about three years ago. A quest to find Hannibal’s lost battlefield – and I did. This story takes us from the very dawn of military history to the birth of Carthage, the world’s first true global superpower, through her wars with Rome in the First Punic War and on to a war, a campaign and a battle, lost to history, by the man who would become Rome’s worst nightmare. This truly is ‘making history’ and won great applause from the real experts of battlefield archaeology in the UK. To complete the story of the world’s greatest battlefield commander – Hannibal. Release date is scheduled for summer 2017 – it is about 60% complete but is going in all the right directions. Keep ’em peeled, this is really the stuff that history is made of.

To end the year we are going back to WW2 and indeed a little bit before with a previously unpublished war memoir which I have been asked to work with. This is an amazing story of a Royal Navy officer – himself a great military history fanatic – who tours the world showing us the last day of the British Empire, talking us through ancient battles and meeting some of the most colourful, deadly and sometimes unscrupulous characters in history along the way. His style is excellent, his stories fantastic and his description of Naval life, of great ships long gone to include the famous Hood and Barham as well as so many others will delight and inform anyone. This memoir was unputdownable and my own additions are mainly in the notes and appendices as well as pictures and maps which will help the reader on their journey with him and some of the most amazing characters from the last day when Britannia really did rule the waves.

Now…that should do me for 2017 but who knows? I’ve got a new ‘pet-project’ brewing which is actually relatively quick and thoroughly charming and something I really want to write. If I can get it out for the end of 2017 then it will be amazing. I know, those who follow me want the seven-volume history of Napoleon. Well these things take time. It’s basically done in text but the maps, the proof-reading, the checking, some new sources…well it comes when it comes. Consider this the ‘Magnum Opus’. They are all pretty much done. I’d say four are perfect. But at 400-500 pages apiece they are a bit big. We are getting there!

And 2018? – A long holiday probably but in truth, by then I can take my pick. My ‘back catalogue’ of books is extensive. Too much for me to ever manage to write. So it comes down to what is good, what is most important and what will change our understanding of our history for the best. To put it another way, if I’m on schedule and on track, I might even be able to pick and choose a bit. It’s a lovely thought.

Stay tuned…the band is just warming up!

 

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