Britain’s Small Wars – interview with James Paul

“Most people have heard of Britain’s involvement in military conflicts in the later half of this century, such as the Falklands War and the Gulf War. What the younger generation does not realize is that soldiers, sailors, and airmen from Britain and the Commonwealth have been fighting small wars to defend Britain’s shrinking empire since the end of World War Two.

“From the insect ridden jungles of Malaya to the frozen hills of Korea, in the back streets of Aden and Cyprus, from the African bush of Kenya to the rain soaked hills of the Falkland Islands, young National Servicemen and regular British soldiers have been defending the British empire and her allies for the last 58 years.”

(Taken from the front page of the website, Britain’s Small Wars.)

Britain’s Small Wars is an independent, non-profit site founded by James Paul and run by volunteers that aims to cover “the history of British military conflicts since 1945”.

What hits the first time visitor is the number of conflicts Britain’s forces have been involved with since the end of the Second World War. Borneo 1962-1966, for example, or Kenya 1952-1960. The big conflicts are of course covered in depth – the Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Gulf and right up to date with Iraq and the current conflict in Afghanistan, plus a page devoted to the SAS.

Britain’s Small Wars is a treasure trove of a site – there’s so much to view and read. The page of anecdotes is great fun – one can’t resist tales with titles such as Sir I called him a Big Fat Bastardor Are they real bullets? Of greater depth is the Your Story section where old soldiers relate their experiences, and there are many fascinating entries to be found.

The Guest Book shows how well used the site is. The first entry is dated March 2000 and in the intervening decade there have over 3,600 additions. Not bad for a site that survives without funding or a dedicated marketing team behind it.

The Memorial page is naturally sobering; an “attempt to remember some of the fallen of Britain’s Forgotten Wars” Again, the number of entries is testament to how seriously the site is taken. One recent entry relates to a corporal killed in a vehicle accident whilst posted out in Aden in 1967 and, from the photograph, a good looking and personable looking chap. The person who added the entry concludes with the words “Still thinking of you, mate.”

There are book reviews, a news section and an interesting medals page.

For anyone with an interest in military history, this site is a must.

History In An Hour interviewed Britain’s Small War’s founder, James Paul.

So, James, when did you start the site?

Britain’s Small Wars was launched in January 1999

And when you set out what were the original objectives? Did those objectives change as you went on?

The original plan was to cover those conflicts that the cold war overshadowed and weren’t covered by larger sites, primarily ranging from 1945 until 1992. By necessity these changed as we were approached by veterans of conflicts we had minimal information on and more chapters became necessary.

You maintain the site with a partner – how do you split the work?

The main design and photo sourcing and main contact were done by Martin for the first few years of the website while I undertook some of the early research, processed the day to day updates and dealt with some of the larger projects. Due to circumstances, I am now doing the website solo apart from the help of our museum curator, Peter Jordan, and of course our readership who continue to provide fascinating articles and photos across the period covered by our website.

Looking at the site it’s amazing how many small wars Britain’s been involved in since 1945. What are the conflicts that most interest your readers?

Cyprus is a big one, and one of the most deeply covered, although the Aden, Falklands, Korean conflicts are among the main points of interest as well.
Some of the smaller conflicts do have surges of interest as anniversaries come and go.

Tell us a bit about the site’s Museum page.

One of the best ways to keep history alive is to have material that provides depth to the articles, items of interest to the casual reader and the more experienced researcher, it also serves as an online museum to stop some of these articles from disappearing into attics and hopefully keeps the memories alive.

What are some of your own favourites within the Museum?

The material covering the little known conflicts such as the Radfan and Oman are among my favourites, although the scans and photographs of documentation are of great interest.

Who do you find are your main visitors to the site?

Veterans and their relatives comprise the majority of our visitors,

And what about the future – what plans do you have for Britain’s Small Wars?

I have a few things in mind, but time is sadly against me, hopefully we will be able to launch a Media section in the future, expanding on the books section and covering documentaries, films and dramatizations in much the way we currently do our book reviews.

If you had to name your top three military films, what would they be?

Battle of Britain, Battle of the River Plate and Sink the Bismarck.

And your favourite military novels?

That’s a tough one, I think Darkest Hour by James Holland stands out from my recent reads.

There have been a lot of first-hand soldier accounts recently, covering experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are there any that have particularly caught your eye?

There are far too many for me to be able to pick a single account out, every one is interesting and every one is fascinating yet sobering.Above all, my respects and admiration to the veterans and those still serving who keep us safe.
My ongoing thanks to the veterans who keep our site going.

Many thanks, James.