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Hearts of Steel: Peace & War in the Royal Navy 1918-1941

15 Aug 23


(New Generation Publishing – £21.99)

ISBN 978 1803696324

524 pages

BR Editor Note: A revised edition incorporating corrections will be available in due course.

Jim Carter’s great-grandfather, Herbert Leeder, joined the Royal Navy in 1918. Having done some work researching the lives of the men listed on his village’s war memorial for the 100th anniversary of World War 1, and having been given Herbert’s S459 Record of Service by his mother, Jim set about researching the Royal Navy between 1918 and 1941, a part of the time when Herbert served. To support his book, Jim Carter has posted six, short, YouTube videos, online, which I found interesting, helping me to understand the book’s “back-story”.

The book is not intended as a biography of Herbert Leeder, (in fact he rarely seems to be named), more an attempt to describe what he may have experienced, based mainly on secondary sources and some speculation. I was looking forward to reading this book, and Jim Carter has indeed written some really informative and engaging sections. However, I soon became frustrated by what I felt were shortcomings. My main frustration was the seeming lack of good proof reading and editing, and this started to spoil the book for me.

As I say, some of Jim Carter’s writing was extremely engaging, but sometimes I felt that there were long sections of the book which although they provided interesting, background, information, were too long, or irrelevant to me, detracting from the overall story, something that a sympathetic editor could have helped with.

There were other problems, including ships’ names being italicised sometimes and not others. Apostrophes were frequently noticeable by their absence, or incorrect use, as when we read of HMS Mohawk, “….who’s guns continued to pour consistent fire…..”.

There was also a mention of the channel from the Scottish port of Methil being marked by ‘lighted boys’ and of an Italian pilot, flying into heavy flak and having to make a sudden ‘coarse’ correction. Mistakes like these detracted from the text, and should have been picked up at the editing stage.

I also felt that Herbert himself got lost in the text, although use was made of other autobiographies and accounts of the war off Norway and in the Mediterranean, where Herbert served on HMS Nubian. Not relating these to Herbert was, I feel, an omission, a missed opportunity to put Herbert’s naval career, and his experiences, into a wider context. I know that it is impossible to empathise with people in the past, and that doing so is not always, “good history”, but it could have produced an engaging book on this occasion.

There are also some factual mistakes that shouldn’t really have been there, and which could have been easily checked by a quick examination of Jane’s Fighting Ships, or another reference book. The armament of the World War 1 German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, were not 21” guns, the J.K and L class destroyers had two, not four sets of quintuple, torpedo tubes and HMS Formidable was not armed with 6-inch guns. Nor was Force ‘H’ commanded by Admiral Sir James Somerville, (not Sommerville), present at the Battle of Matapan.

It was obviously important for Jim Carter to try to understand more about his great grandfather, who died the year Jim was born and he is happy to have “….been able to place his presence amongst some of the most incredible naval operations…..” (p509).  Regrettably though, for me, for the reasons I’ve mentioned, he didn’t succeed. I also felt the lack of at least one map, to help with locating the various actions and I also missed an index. To me, the choice of photographs was also disappointing and did not support the narrative. Even the cover shows HM Ships Kimberley and Kingston, from HMS Jervis and not HMS Nubian. So, sadly I would only cautiously recommend Jim Carter’s book to members.