Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book of the Day: Delane's War by Tim Coates

Delane's War is one of the first books published by my new book publishing company, Biteback. It tells the story of how the Times newspaper forced the government of the day to conduct an inquiry into the conduct of a war - sound familiar? But this tale is about the Crimean War. The results of the inquiry led to the downfall of the government. I'll leave the author, Tim Coates to tell you more....

I imagine most writers sit, like I do, at the laptop wondering what comes next- until it comes in a bus load. Delane’s War took a long time to write. It started when I came across some official Government reports about Florence Nightingale which complained, with evidence to support the objections, that she was procuring huge quantities of port wine for the use of her patients in the hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War.They were drunk to avoid the pain of death. Those comments come from a Select Committee report of 1855 which is in five volumes, in the last few paragraphs of which she is named as one of the handful people who had acted, in the view of the Committee members, honourably in the appalling events into which they had been asked to inquire.

I followed the trail back, not just for her but for the other people on that short list, of whom I had never heard. There was the Reverend and Honourable Sidney Godolphin Osborne, who turned out to be the vicar of a tiny parish church in Dorset, but who wrote letters to The Times and frequently had them printed. Augustus Stafford the independent MP for Northampton who had travelled to the Crimea to observe for himself the appalling events in the war zone, and John MacDonald the printing engineer of The Times newspaper who had been sent out to administrate The Times Fund – which had been set up by the editor to help bring comfort to the soldiers injured and made sick in the war. The assembly of the stories of all the people gave many possibilities for the tale that needed to be written; the Rev Osborne, when asked about supplies that failed to reach the Crimea, told the committee that he believed that the whole subject should be handed to the police to investigate.

Florence Nightingale, from what I was reading, was most certainly not the angelic lady of the lamp we have all been told about in school and the writings and speeches of Augustus Stafford could hold their own anywhere. But the siftings and tellings of the story in the end all pointed to the person who was driving the moral backlash against the government and the army and he, too, was someone lost in the obscurity of Victorian history: John Delane the editor of The Times, who never put his own name to any article. I then read the daily editions of the great newspaper in the original copies that are held, neatly and magnificently bound in the basement of the London Library, from July 1854 to March 1855. And from these the real story became clear: it was the editor who had fought his own war against the Government of the day, in a way that showed courage almost beyond our experience and conception. I was writing this at the same time that the Blair Government and Alastair Campbell were locked in battle with the BBC and Andrew Gilligan over the reporting of the Iraq war, and the story each day was almost identical — except that in the version of 1855, the journalists held out to win, which sadly was not the case one hundred and fifty years later.

It's a terrific tale. Buy Delane's War HERE.

UPDATE: Tim Coates is giving talks on his new book, Delane’s War, at the following venues. It’s a terrific book and he speaks well so if you find yourself in the vicinity, do drop in.

Tuesday 3rd November 7pm - Swiss Cottage Central Library

Thursday 5th November 7pm – Westminster Reference Library

Thursday 12th November 7.30pm – Fulwell Cross Library


Roger Dodger said...

"except that in the version of 1855, the journalists held out to win,"

Vocations were replaced by occupations.

Today a victory or stand only witnessed by yourself and your conscience are worthless. Why would a BBC man ever push things to their logical or moral conclusion when they can give in and keep their positions.

Funny to think that if we were to lynch Campbell then we would be considered in the wrong. Funny old world.

David Boothroyd said...

If Andrew Gilligan's contributions to journalism are fit to be mentioned as comparable to John Delane's, then I'm a Dutchman.

dearieme said...

Some of 'em was Giants, them Victorians.

Anonymous said...

A good choice of subject to publish.

In my view Afghanistan holds more of a comparison with WW1.
There a whole new series of problems of warfare were brought into play which took many years of harsh effort to resolve.
Also the politicians wanted to win the war but did not want to suffer casualties or to actually encourage fighting on the one front which would bring victory.

If Boothroyd wants to know the name of a good clog shop I can let him know.

Anonymous said...

out of stock.

Mike Law said...

Will we be getting a list of ALL the books published by your company?

Not a bad idea, as your blog is an excellent way to get the authors you support some publicity.

JBW said...

You almost had me there - just about to put in an order and its out of stock. Good grief - I have hear of vapourware but this is ridiculous.


Unknown said...


If i could offer you a book suggestion- I know your a big supporter of the Tories going into NI Politics but hopefully are you read these books you will have a change of heart.

How the Troubles came to Northern Ireland by Peter Rose.

British government policiy in Northern Ireland- Michael Cuningham

The Origins of the Troubles- Thomas Hennessey.

I recommend these books to anybody who wants to understand the origins of the NI Troubles.

Tim Coates said...

Iain. Thank you for your support and your kind comments. Copies of the book have been seen and will be in shops and available on websites this week, one hopes. Tim