Excellence in Action

Excellence in Action: A Portrait of the Guards With a preface by Her Majesty The Queen. General Editor Rupert Uloth (Third Millennium Publishing, £29.95)

Excellence in Action is as good as its word. This new publication by Third Millennium on the Household Division, or ‘The Guards’ is excellent. Profusely illustrated with historical prints and paintings neatly accompanied by recently taken photographs, it is a high-class book of its type. The message is clear: here is an organisation, renowned around the world for its ceremonial and red tunics that we are all familiar with, but, actually, it is one that spends far more time seeking excellence on operations all over the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The emphasis of this book is, therefore, on warfare and where the Guards have fought, whether on foot or horse. There are only six pages dedicated to ceremonial. So if you are after a book on buttons and Changing the Guard, this is not the one for you. This is an analysis of a unique institution, which is both interesting and skilfully written. The history is covered in a galloping 24 pages, but quite why the Crimea receives its own chapter is rather lost on me. Perhaps it is the British fascination with failure I would have chosen Waterloo, where more regiments of the Household Division distinguished themselves.

Each regiment receives its ration of 10 pages, and it is interesting to read the choice each has made in selecting its heroes. One caught my eye: Hugh Dormer of the Irish Guards, killed in Normandy, whose last entry in his diary read: ‘God grant me the courage not to let the Guardsmen down, knowing, as I do, how much they count on me.’ There is an original chapter on ‘Life beyond soldiering’ that features a certain pop singer who entered Kosovo in June 1999, a garden designer and a footballer, all international figures, making the point that excellence’ gained in the Guards is useful thereafter. But the heart of the book is the section entitled ‘The Guards in Action’, where all operations since the war are described through the eyes of those who took part. So we have Maj-Gen Anthony Leask, a former Com-mander Land Forces, in the Province dealing with Northern Ireland, and Maj-Gen Mike Scott, who commanded 2nd Battalion Scots Guards at Tumbledown, telling the Falklands story.

The sections on Iraq and Afghanistan are the most absorbing, and, again, are covered by the experiences of participants and richly accompanied by some really excellent photographs taken by Julian Andrews. Here, one reads of some remarkable feats of courage, an we are reminded all too clearly by The Queen’s message that this book is a tribute to those who have died or have been wounded. There are some inaccuracies in the description of the illustrations. On page 26, it was, in fact, a bearer party from the 2nd and not the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards who bore Winston Churchill up the steps into St Paul’s.

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The great man had served in the trenches with the 2nd Grenadiers when it was commanded by ‘Ma’ Jeffreys, one of the heroes in the Grenadier section. Also, on page 194, the Commanding Officer of the Mounted Regiment is described as a Lieutenant. I think the editor, who hails from the same regiment, may owe him a drink! I was particularly pleased to hear that the Major General Commanding the Household Division, Maj-Gen Bill Cubitt, who wrote the section on the Balkans, has arranged for every serving soldier in the Household Division to receive a free copy. They will enjoy the book for many years to come, and I hope many others will, too. Excellence in Action but also excellence in production. ‘Excellence in Action’ will be available in bookshops from July 1, or direct now from Third Millennium Publishing, priced at £29.95 plus p&p. Telephone 020–7336 0144, email guards@tmiltd.com or visit www.tmiltd.com