Peter Hore served 38-years in the Royal Navy (retiring as a Captain) and 10-years in the film and TV industry, all the while developing a third career as a freelance journalist, biographer and obituarist. He is book-reviewer and op-ed and feature writer for Warships International Fleet Review with a monthly readership of 40,000, and the author more than a dozen works on naval history, strategy and biography. His latest book is Nelson’s Band of Brothers from Seaforth. He has recently been appointed editor of the Trafalgar Chronicle and can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At school in the 1950s we did proper history – with dates – from the Vikings to the Chartists, but my A-level GCEs were in pure and applied maths, physics, and chemistry. I joined the Navy in 1962 when in my third year at Dartmouth I was fortunate to have Ruddock F Mackay as my tutor (he seemed as old as Methuselah, but he was of course only a few years older than me). Nevertheless others portrayed Nelson as an authoritarian, establishment figure (everything was ‘good enough for Nelson’) – until I read Dudley Pope’s Great Gamble: Nelson at Copenhagen and I realised that Nelson with his mistress, his Norfolk whine, and ‘I see no signal’ was quite different. Then in the long nights at sea in HMS Jupiter I began my study afresh by reading Herodotus and Thucydides.
In mid-career I studied languages, qualifying as an interpreter in Spanish, Swedish and a linguist in Cantonese. Then as a mature student I studied for an MPhil at the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies at the University of Exeter under the excellent Mike Duffy.
I discovered that the blackest day in British and world history was 23 August 1911 when faced with the choice of whether to become involved in a continental war or to maintain the maritime strategy which had served her so well for several centuries, Britain made the wrong choice. On that infamous day the Navy presented its case poorly, and the lesson for me is that the navy and the nation needs less emphasis on its traditions (subjectivity) and better understanding of its history (objectivity) and to enunciate its ideas well.
There’s room in the world for subjectivity, and I’m a great reader of novels and a fan of Western movies, but I try to remember that these are largely fiction. As a writer of non-fiction, I believe in the necessity of studying original sources, and it distresses me when historians, even senior ones, sometimes plagiarise others works and – worse – repeat mistakes. I also believe that our studies are incomplete if we only use Anglo-phone sources.
With my background I was able to direct the Royal Navy’s applied research programme (1992-94) and its non-technical research programme – surely an unusual double. My last appointment (1997-2000) was as Head of Defence Studies during the British government’s Strategic Defence Review in 1997-98, the rewriting of British Maritime Strategy, and the launch of a new concept of operations, the Maritime Contribution to Joint Operations. As well as being responsible for researching defence doctrine and operational concepts, I was supposed to facilitate the exchange of views between the defence-academic community and the Ministry of Defence’s central and naval staffs – communities who frequently are deaf to each other. I also began to write articles and books which supported my role as Head of Defence Studies.
Then on a day in 2002 the Daily Telegraph invited me to join its team of freelance obituarists. In the years since then I have written more than 600 obituaries – some 600,000 words – on British, Commonwealth, and foreign sailors, marines, WRNS, yotties, naval architects, shipping magnates, in fact anyone with webbed feet including a few naval historians.
In my latest book, Nelson’s Band of Brothers, (there is no entry for Nelson) I have tried to show by their example, incident and anecdote what a varied, interested and talented group of men they were, and to suggest that with their understanding from the first principles of seamanship, tactics, strategy and grand strategy, several of them were capable of victory on the day.
I did not set out to become an historian, but if any of the above makes me one, well, so be it.