I must confess I have a bit of a problem when it comes to books; I can’t stop buying them. My living room resembles a library and there are few rooms in the house not filled with shelves and books. However as a collector they are an incredibly powerful resource; if you don’t know your subject you end up wasting money on fakes, reproductions or just plain wrong bits of kit. There are many books out there aimed at the historian, collector or reenactor and some are better than others. What I intend to do here is just to look at a few of the most useful books on my shelf when it comes to collecting and offer my opinions on them. I will follow this up later with further titles as I get to them.
I will hold my hands up now, whilst I do have many books about other countires and periods, my focus in the British Empire in the twentieth century so these are the books I feel most qualified to comment on and the books below are all books I own- other useful books are out there, I just don’t feel qualified to comment on them as I haven’t read them.
The World War II British Tommy (Martin Brayley and Richard Ingram)
If you are going to start collecting British WW2 kit this is the place to start. Made up of recreated photographs of people wearing all original kit, this book is a delight to dip into and is full of information. Its greatest strength is that you can see the kit being worn and the sheer variety of uniforms displayed. It is far easier to understand the differences between US manufactured War Aid battledress and British made battledress wehn you can see pictures. Where the book perhaps falls short is that sometimes, because the kit is being worn, an item referred to in the captions is not clearly visable, in these cases a kit layout photographed from both sides would be better for the collector. Despite this, I would say that this is the book to start with if you want to get into the hobby. I’m afraid some of the pieces illustrated are so rare all you can do is drool at them, but that only adds to the joy of the book.
Khaki Drill and Jungle Green (Martin Brayley and Richard Ingram)
By the same authors as the last book, this book covers the uniforms worn by the Britsh Empire in the desert and jungle in the Second World War with the same style of reconstructed photographs. I must confess this is one of my favourite books as it includes examples of Indian, South African and New Zealand uniforms and webbing. It suffers from the same drawbacks as the author’s other book, and i would love more detail on Empire kit, but as the only book I know of on this subject, if you are interested in this area- buy a copy!
Various Histoire and Collections books (Jean Bouchery)
I have lumped these various books together as they follow the same formula and often the same ground. Originally published in French, these have been translated into English fairly competently althought the odd phrase forces you to do a double take. These books have some lovely layouts of kit and insignia and useful tables covering the compositions of the various forces. Again they are a good introduction ot the subject and fairly comprehensive. the biggest flaw with them is that a lot of sectiond are repeated between volumes. For example the sections on weapons are identical across the British, Canadian and Paratroopers books as one would expect- all used the same weapons. There are also a number of errors within the book that are a bit off putting if you know about them. Despite this I am pleased with my copies of these books and do refer to them quite frequently and they include some very rare bits of kit- no one I know has ever seen a tin of lemonade powder outside of these books!
I hope this brief intorduction has been useful and next time I return to the bookshelf I will take a look at a couple of very useful WW1 and Royal Navy books.