Published over twenty years ago, The Grand Old Lady of No Man’s Land has long been considered the bible on the Vickers Machine Gun. Unfortunately it has long been out of print and prices have reached an astronomical figure on Amazon (£600+). Happily the decision was taken to reprint the book, with an extra 270 pages of content, and offer it at the far more reasonable price of £129.95. The book has seen the original author, Dolf Goldsmith, work with other Vickers historians Richard Fisher, Robert Segal and Dan Shea to create a 910 page behemoth of a book that weighs in at over 7lbs! The book was funded by a Kickstarter and my copy is that for the backers of the project, a standard version is available for sale at retail now.
The book picks up from the author’s previous work on the Maxim machine gun (The Devil’s Paintbrush) and looks at the technical work needed to turn the Maxim into the Vickers. The development story is followed, as is its service life with the British Army right through to it final retirement in 1968. As well as the guns service life, the book covers export sales, use in aircraft, accessories, souvenirs, modifications and potential stoppages that might occur when firing the weapon. The level of detail is astounding, as is the level of illustration. Nearly every page has one or more photographs and with the combination of text and original quotes form users and manuals the book builds up into a wonderfully comprehensive survey of the life and times of this weapon. Rounding out the book is an extensive interview with the author, covering his long and fascinating life with all things firearms and this is a fascinating addition to the book and opens your eyes to the very different world of firearms collecting in America in the 1950s and 60s.
The book is very readable, with the author having a brisk, engaging style. Some of the reprints from technical manuals are a bit too deep and I skipped past small sections, however it is good to know they are there if you ever do need to refer to them. The book is not a quick read, by virtue of its extreme size, however it never felt like a difficult book to read or a slog in any way and I personally enjoyed it very much.
Even though the price of the reprint is far lower than the second-hand price, this remains a pricy book, however the page count alone makes this excellent value for money, and the content inside is superb. If you have a deep interest in the Vickers gun, its tactics, use and deployment then this is an essential purchase. If your interest is more cursory, then the Haynes manual or the Osprey volume on the subject may be a better choice for you. Personally I am very happy to have this volume on my shelf at last, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The book can be purchased form Chipotle Publishing in the USA and from the Vickers Machine Gun Research Group in the UK here.
Quite a useful piece of kit in many unexpected ways.
One of my Uncles was in a weapons platoon in Korea and he recalled to me once how on particularly cold mornings they’d fire a belt from a Vickers ‘in the general direction of the chinese’ and use the now hot water from the gun to shave with 🙂