World Book Day – John Grehan
HISTORY – BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT
History. We define history by periods – Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Victorian, Second World War – and so many of us are wedded to one particular era, some even to one singular event, such as the Battle of Britain. Yet in doing so, we miss so much.
Every political or military move is not taken in isolation. Each is the consequence of actions taken previously and its results determine the direction of the events that follow.
It is easy to be drawn deeply, even exclusively, into one period. I know. My interest in history was sparked by the dramatic, climatic, career of Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose from being a virtually penniless alien to become Emperor of the French and the conqueror of most of mainland Europe before he was 40 years old. I then found the campaigns of the Duke of Wellington, battling in the Peninsular War with the odds stacked against him, just as absorbing. The uniforms, the great strategic moves, the complex tactics – I was hooked.
It was only when my mother asked me to find out the full details of my father’s Mention in Despatches in the Second World War that I began to realise that there were other events just as intriguing as the battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
In the end, this led me to write a book about the campaign in which my father featured: Churchill’s Secret Invasion: Britain’s First Large Scale Combined Operations Offensive 1942. I learned so much when writing this – about Hitler’s plan for the Jews of Europe to be shipped to Madagascar, and how much fighting British forces had to undertake against the French, our former allies.
Napoleon and Wellington were pushed aside, as I pursued my new interests. This has led to travels from Hitler’s Wolfsschanze in Europe to Pearl Harbor in the Pacific. And, as I looked into other periods of history, I walked the valley into which the Light Brigade charged in the Crimea, traversed the Normandy beaches, wandered in and out of the trenches of the Ypres Salient, and stood and stared the length of Runway Able on the island of Tinian from where Enola Gay took off to deliver the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
My eyes had been opened to new horizons and, at last, I could see the whole course of history spread out before me. As a result, my books now range from the Battle of Hastings to the final act of the Second World War. The wonderful thing for me is that there is still so much more history for me to investigate, and more mysteries to uncover.
So, even though you may regard other periods of history other than the one in which you are most interested in as dull and uninspiring, I say that this is only because you have not truly explored beyond that narrow confine. If you take the leap, I am sure you will find yourself being drawn into another exciting epoch, introducing you to stories and characters you never imagined, all linked inextricably to each other in the enchanting, unending story of mankind – it is called history.
View all of John Grehan’s books here.