on 18 October 2006
Regiments are, in many ways, like families and this book is as much a biography as a history. However, unlike a typical biography that examines the life & times of one person, "Horse Guards" recounts not one but four parallel "family" histories over a period of 350 years.
Given that, during those 350 years, the two Regiments of Life Guards, the Royal Horse Guards and The Royals fought in many of the same campaigns and shared many of the same duties, this must have posed General White-Spunner with the problem of how to narrate these four stories without endlessly covering the same historical ground. That he has been able to do this without repetition is a triumph.
In addition to this, General White-Spunner has pulled off another significant literary achievement in turning dry historical and military facts into a compelling narrative that bowls along at a spanking pace. The book is full of quirky stories that amuse as well as inform: the transvestite Colonel of The Royals who went on to be an unpopular Governor of New York and was immortalised in a painting depicting him in drag; how, in 18th Century campaigns, there was an official allocation of soldiers wives who accompanied the troops and performed their uxorial duties on a communal basis; the tales of life in a mid-19th Century Cavalry barracks where lavatory paper was issued on the basis of one sheet per soldier every four days; and Queen Alexandra's lobbying to get a Boer war campaign medal for Freddy, the only Life Guards horse to return from the war. These, and many more stories, leaven a tale that would otherwise be strictly for the military history wonks.
If you enjoy "Flashman", you will certainly enjoy "Horse Guards".
on 13 May 2011
I've just finished reading Spunner-White's magnificent history of the Horse Guards. It was clearly a labour of love for the author and an enjoyable and thorough regimental history.
Its covers the formation and changing story of the four regiments that now comprise the Household Cavalry. Presenting battles, politics and characters in a comprehensive, yet easy to follow, way. It places the regiments' development in their historical contexts and brings to light many of the amazing individuals. This I think the key to its effectiveness as a history, by highlighting the good, the bad, the inept, the brilliant, the cowardly, but mainly, the heroic, people involved.
There are no lengthy orders of battle or extensive appendices that are found in some histories, but that doesn't detract in anyway. Still I felt that coverage of the post-WWII conflicts a bit too brief and would have liked to have extra detail in this section.
Overall it's a marvellously presented book, with many original and unusual illustrations and, for once, decent and clear maps. Actually if there can be one criticism it's that the book is printed on a very heavy paper, as such it's perhaps too weighty a tome to read comfortably.