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I guess the time comes in an exile’s life when they pass a tipping point when it comes to language. When I first came to Canada just over 15 years ago I was constantly translating British English into American English in my head when I spoke. The one I remember having to be most aware of was that here in Edmonton, the pavement is called the sidewalk and to some people the pavement is the road. Then on visits to Scotland I had to be careful not to use North American words or phrases when I spoke to people in case they thought I was showing off. I realised recently that I was beginning to have to translate in my head from North American to British English when communicating with Brits and that the language tipping point was near. Last Tuesday I realised I’d crossed over. I was speaking to a Scottish woman at the local supermarket and I said “pants” instead of “trousers”. And let’s not go into Scottish words. I think the one I miss most is skelf. Having to say I got a “splinter” in my finger just isn’t the same. One of the things that is the same is that Canadians understand “stay” for “live” as in “Where do you stay?” When I first stated working as a reporter in Newcastle upon Tyne folk used to look at me in bewilderment when I asked that question. I had to remember to ask “Where do you  live?”

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Last time I was in Afghanistan as a reporter, which is more years ago than I care to think, one of the Canadian units was far from co-operative. I eventually found out that one of the guys had told the rest of the unit that I’d mis-quoted him in an article I’d filed from Kandahar a couple of years earlier. And that was why they were being so obstructive. But here’s the thing – no-one would tell me who I’d misquoted or how I’d misquoted him. Now, everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps I did misquote guy, or maybe unintentionally used a quote out of context. It’s possible. But in most cases of someone claiming to be misquoted they haven’t been. What’s just as possible is that his wife or girlfriend saw what he said quoted accurately in the paper and went ballistic. It’s only human nature to claim then to have been misquoted. My point is that I was found guilty and sentenced without knowing the details of the charge and without the chance to defend myself. The one thing I know for sure is that I didn’t deliberately misquote the guy. I’ve worked in enough small communities to know that misquoting or distorting what people say comes back to bite a reporter on a local paper pretty quickly and pretty hard. I couldn’t help feeling that reporting from Afghanistan was challenging enough without the kind of stunt that unit pulled.

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The Germans had a secret weapon during the Second World War that’s seldom discussed. It was called the Red Book. It was American. It was the standard school history text book read by many American kids. All nations need myths and new nations need them more than others. American nation building required a rather black and white account of the American War of Independence. The truth is that it would be better described as The First American Civil War. The subtleties of the conflict were lost in the Red Book and the British were reduced to brutal redcoats serving a tyrant king. This probably wasn’t much of a problem until the British and the Americans had to work closely during the Second World War. Many American commanders came to the war table with a deeply ingrained dislike and distrust for their British colleagues. The patronizing attitude shown by many of the Brits didn’t help. What the Americans didn’t realise was that those self-same Brits were equally patronizing to many of their fellow countrymen. The Red Book did much to lay the groundwork for American Anglo-phobia. Perhaps one of the miracles of the war was that so many American generals managed to hide it until the closing months of the war. Some of the smarter, or wiser, ones even managed to look beyond the Red Book, but truth to be told, not many and not enough of them.

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I’ve got an odd sense of humour. A while back I sent an email to one of Britain’s top military historians. It purported to be from an organisation called the Military History Writers Association, or some such name, and told my friend that his latest book was in the running for Book of the Year. But there was a £100 “administrative fee” for processing the entry. My friend tells me he was reaching for his cheque book before he realised it was my way of trying to start an email a little differently. You’d be surprised at how many writing awards and competitions require an entry or processing fee. Not that I’m saying they’re all scams. Anyway, I think I will start awarding a Book of the Year, selected from the books reviewed in this site’s Book Briefing. This is partly because I don’t give them stars, or maybe it should be claymores, out of five in that section and that might make it tougher for you to work out which books I really recommend. Sadly, I can’t offer a cash prize to the winner. What I can do is give them what they call here in Canada “bragging rights” by giving the books a place in Recommended Reads, also known as Worth a Look. Recommended Reads started life as a place to mention books that I’d read before I started doing reviews in Book Briefing (The full reviews of the three winners so far can be seen at Book of the Year ). So, drum roll maestro, the winner of the 2012 Book of the Year is …… Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen. I’ve also decided to make two retrospective awards. So the 2011 prize goes to Tim Cook for The Sharp End and the 2010 winners are Doug Beattie and Philip Gomm for An Ordinary Soldier.

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Most of you know that many of the British generals in the First World War were cavalrymen. And most will know that the cavalry was one of most redundant arms in the British Army on the Western Front. So, the number of “cavalry” generals is often cited as an example of how out of touch the British High Command was. But actually, there might be reason, beyond the Cavalry Club Old Boys’ network, for why so many former horsemen were in command positions. The place of the full-blooded cavalry charge against an enemy armed with magazine rifles and quick-firing artillery, never mind machine-guns, was in doubt long before 1914. Even before the Boer War of 1899-1902, it had been realised that the cavalry would probably see more use as mounted riflemen. And mounted riflemen; often working hand-in-hand with horse-artillery. That meant that cavalry commanders had to master not only cavalry tactics but also infantry tactics. Whereas an infantry commander only had to know infantry tactics and drill. Add in the British obsession with offensive warfare, supposedly the speciality of cavalrymen, and you have a disproportionate number of cavalry generals in the British Army between 1914 and 1918.

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