Almost a quarter of a century on from the publication of Antony Beevor’s groundbreaking and prize-winning Stalingrad, military history is still big business with books by Max Hastings, James Holland and my own SBS: Silent Warriors gracing the UK bestseller charts this year. There is, it seems, an enduring fascination with war that remains undented by Britain’s ill-fated participation in the recent US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? A clue is provided by the great man of letters Samuel Johnson who noted: ‘Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier (or not having been at sea).’
It’s certainly true that many men – and not a few women – ask themselves the eternal question: how would I cope with the unique pressures of the battlefield (kill or be killed)? Yet with no serious existential threat to the West since the end of the Cold War – Islamist terrorists, for example, are a very poor substitute for a nuclear-armed Soviet Union – most Britons will never experience military service, let alone combat. How better to satisfy their curiosity than to read a visceral account of war through the ages by some of our top historians: Antony Beevor, Paul Cartledge, Adrian Goldsworthy, Patrick Bishop, Richard Overy, NAM Rodger, Gary Sheffield, Roger Moorhouse, Damien Lewis and many others.
Times change, however, and today’s lover of military history wants an even more immersive experience than the written word. Why else would more than a thousand followers of James Holland and Al Murray’s podcast We Have Ways… – members of the so-called Independent Company – spend a weekend at ‘WarFest’ in Buckinghamshire listening to talks by World War II historians (including myself), buying books and watching displays?
It was to satisfy this pent-up demand that I created the first global Military History Club: an exclusive forum that allows members to sample digital content (in the form of newsletters, podcasts, videos and magazines), but also the opportunity to engage with top military historians round the dinner table, attend book launches and bespoke history tours, and even try their hand at writing for the club’s annual publication Militaria. So enthusiastic has been the initial response that the first two tiers of membership – Gold and Silver – are already full for 2022 and the waiting list for 2023 is filling up fast. The good news is that Bronze, the third tier of Membership (available for just £100 a year, or under £9 a month), is unlimited in terms of numbers and already attracting applications from around the world.
So if, unlike Groucho Marx, you are happy to join a club that will have you as a member, do visit the website – www.militaryhistoryclub.org – and fill in the online application form. I’m looking for bright and curious individuals of all ages, backgrounds and levels of knowledge. All I ask is that you have a love of military history and a thirst to know more.