“SIX OF THE BEST” – A Pantheon of Great British Heroes

Click here to purchase ‘Six of the Best’

By Sean Brunton

(Austin Macaulay Publishers ISBN 978139849024 (Paperback)

9781398429031 (ePub e-book)

This book might accurately be sub-titled “An Antidote to `Woke`”. A passage in the introduction reads “Great Britons deserve great heroes, not manufactured myths nor tinsel-town trash. And if we pause for a minute and think beyond the chat shows and the chat rooms, then we find them scattered through our nation`s rich history in abundance”. The book`s message is further re-enforced by its cover – a Union Jack and a multiplicity of British Lions. All six of the heroes are white, male military figures. The book would have fitted comfortably into the library of the kind of prep school in which most members of the current cabinet were probably educated.

And yet… maybe a publication of this kind is overdue, the pendulum having swung too far the other way, with historical figures being judged by the fashionable standards of the present rather than those which prevailed in their own day? As L.P. Hartley wrote in his novel “The Go-Between”, “`The past is another country; they do things differently there.” And the `Great Man` theory of History, made fashionable in the nineteenth century by the writings of Thomas Carlyle, does indeed still have its place.

Of the six heroes in question, one (Richard Coeur de Lion) was Norman-French, another (William Wallace) a Scot. Two are English and famous (Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington) and the others (Albert Ball and Roger Bushell) virtually unknown English heroes of the First and Second World Wars respectively. All are included more for their actions than the importance of their contributions although Nelson and Wellington, via Trafalgar and Waterloo, qualify on both counts, as does Wallace through his impact on subsequent Scottish Nationalism (“Braveheart” etc.). Of neither Ball nor Bushell can it be said that their actions had any bearing on the outcome of either War. And Richard Coeur de Lion was a disaster in almost every respect save his own bravery, playing his part in the problems which are the scourge of the Middle East to this day as well as paving the way for Bad King John at home. (Incidentally Brunton does find space for one of the best jokes in “1066 And All That” – “Whenever he returned to England he always set out again immediately for the Mediterranean and was therefore known as Richard Gare de Lyon`).”

No doubt if asked to name our own six heroes we would come up with a variety of answers based on sometimes widely differing criteria. And one cannot help but wonder whether the elevation of Mary Seacole`s reputation, for example, is totally unconnected with her sex (or should I say gender?) and colour; certainly there`s no way in which she would ever have made an appearance in this book. But it`s a good read, only 140 pages and does something, albeit extreme, to redress the balance.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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