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Gavin Mortimer

Biography

Gavin Mortimer is a best-selling writer, historian and TV consultant whose books have been published in Britain and the USA. Gavin is the leading authority on World War Two special forces having interviewed over 100 veterans from the UK, USA, Germany and elsewhere. He is currently researching a groundbreaking biography of SAS founder David Stirling, which will be published by Constable in 2021, while next year will also see the publication by Osprey of Gavin’s history of Z Special Unit, one of the most audacious (and little known) special forces’ outfits of the war. Later this year his battlefield guide to SAS operations in France in 1944 will be published by Pen & Sword.

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In 2015 Gavin was the guest speaker at the annual SBS Frankton Dinner, and he has made presentations to serving members of the SAS and SBS about the wartime history of their units. Gavin prides himself on putting truth before political correctness and has argued on BBC radio against the cultural appropriation of World War One.

Gavin’s other interest is sport and his 2007 book, The Great Swim, the inspiring story of the first woman to swim the English Channel, was dramatised on BBC Radio 4. Gavin has acted as a consultant to a number of documentaries including the BBC three-part series about the wartime SAS. He has also worked as an adviser for the National Army Museum for their 2018 exhibition about the history of Britain’s Special Forces, and he will be assisting the Museum of Liberation in Paris for their 2022 exhibition about the war in North Africa 1940-3.

Books

Click on any of the books covers below to either buy or get more information on Amazon

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Articles

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The Cultural Appropriation of the First World War

The Cultural Appropriation of the First World War

This article first appeared in The Spectator.In October 2018 I was at the Somme, visiting the first world war battlefields before the great and the good descend on the region this week to mark the centenary of the Armistice.In one cemetery I found propped against the headstone of ...
Who Dares Lies

Who Dares Lies

This article first appeared in The Spectator.Sir Christopher Lee, who died in 2015 aged 93, knew how to play a part. One of the consummate actors of his generation, whose career spanned nearly seven decades, his versatility on stage and screen was legendary.At first glance his military ...
The Poppy Industry Blooms as our Hold on History Withers

The Poppy Industry Blooms as our Hold on History Withers

This article first appeared in The Spectator.When England played Germany on 10th Novemer, 2017 at Wembley, it seemed as though the football was incidental to the virtue signalling. Not only were the two teams  sporting poppy armbands but there were poppies on sale, poppy T-shirts given ...
The Birth of the SAS in WW2

The Birth of the SAS in WW2

The Dawn of the SAS in WW2Eighty years ago, on the night of January 31/February 1 1941, three troopships sailed from the Firth of Clyde. The ships, the Glengyle, the Glenearn and the Glenroy, carried nearly two thousand soldiers, most of them commandos. Only a handful of officers knew they ...
Do the Greatest Deserve Their Sobriquet?

Do the Greatest Deserve Their Sobriquet?

‘The average young man of today aged something under thirty, whether he be a social butterfly or a junior clerk, is a stupid, conceited creature,’ thundered the Daily Mirror in its editorial. ‘Few men are much good until they are thirty.’ Guidance from the GreatestThe year was July 1912, ...

Author Interviews

Gavin Mortimer

Gavin Mortimer

What first attracted you to the period or periods you work in?Action Man, the toy. When I was about six I got a Long Range Desert Group Action Man, and it was my pride and joy. It started my obsession with World War Two special forces, so when I actually got to meet some real life LRDG action men it was a magical moment.Can you tell us a little more about how you research? Has the process changed over the years?I love researching. There's a bit of a geek in all of us and for me it's researching. Persistence is key; I can't tell you the number of times I've unearthed a crucial nugget of information when I'd thought I'd surely mined one particular archive. Obviously the internet has made life immeasurably easier. One example: in 2013 I was researching a book about Merrill's Marauders, the US special forces unit that fought in Burma in 1944. I read an interview with a Marauder veteran in his local Ohio paper and the journalist had left his email address at the foot of the article. I dropped him a line, asking if he might put me in touch with the veteran, and within 48 hours I had him on skype. Without the internet that interview would not have happened.The common phrase is that history is written by the victors. Do you think this is true?In the immediate aftermath, yes. The losers have got other things on their mind than penning their memoirs, the clearest example being WW2. Of equal importance in my opinion is that history - particularly British history - is almost exclusively written by the middle and upper class. This gives a skewed version of history. Take World War One. Our view of that conflict has been heavily influenced by the likes of Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Blunden and Vera Brittain. They were sensitive, artistic middle or upper class people; it wasn't until Lyn Macdonald's books in the late 1970s and 1980s that we heard the authentic voice of the Tommy, many of whom - while they found going over the top terrifying - described the thrill of war, and their time in the army as the best years of their lives. I heard the same thing when I interviewed WW2 working-class veterans; most of them thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of the war.Are there any historians who helped shaped your career? Similarly, can you recommend three history books which budding historians should read?I read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth when I was 17 and it had a profound effect on me. Not in a pacifist sense - I'm certainly not a pacifist - but in understanding the humanity of war, and understanding that the greatest courage in war isn't the soldier who charges the enemy machine gun nest but the soldier who endures and who retains his humanity amid the slaughter. Also, a lot of my books concern the passive courage and stoicism of women in war, for too long overlooked; the grief suffered by Vera Brittain was unimaginable.Other books I'd recommend: Lord Moran, An Anatomy of Courage [1945], again a powerful insight into the psychology of war and what makes men react the way they do on the frontline.Lastly, and changing theme, the polar historian Roland Huntford's book, Scott and Amundsen, is a masterly work, shattering the hagiography of a figure (in this case, Captain Scott) through meticulous research and brave, bold prose.If you could meet any figure from history, who would it be and why? Also, if you could witness any event throughout history, what would it be?Paddy Mayne, DSO and three bars, the man who did more than any other to establish the SAS. He was a consummate guerrilla fighter, and a former rugby international, so we we would have lots to chat about.  He acquired a reputation as a wild and unruly drunk but in my opinion this was slander spread by his enemies - mainly upper-class British officers who were jealous of the grammar school Ulsterman (it also explains why he wasn't awarded a VC in 1945).I would have liked to have witnessed the Battle Of the Little Big Horn in 1876 when the Sioux (and other tribes) avenged decades of betrayal and brutal oppression; it was a pyrrhic victory but one that nonetheless humiliated an arrogant and mendacious nation in who Custer was the embodiment. The Lakota Sioux were magnificent guerrilla fighters.If you could add any period or subject to the history curriculum, what would it be?The history of free speech, and how men and women have fought to hard to retain it. We are in a frightening age of illiberalism, driven, ironically, by people who call themselves liberals, but who have all the characteristics of fascists.If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, either as a student or when you first started out as a writer, what would it be?Some reputations are too good to be true. Don't be afraid to delve.Can you tell us a little bit more about the project you are currently working on?A biography of David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, which will be published in 2021. The main focus will be on David but I will also be bringing his eldest brother, Bill, out of the shadows. Bill founded 2SAS but was actually involved in irregular warfare when the SAS was but a twinkle in David's eye!