Sir Michael Howard, 1922-2019

Long-time Eastbury resident Sir Michael Howard, a man once described as ‘Britain’s greatest living historian’, died on 30 November 2019, the day after his 97th birthday. Mainly known for his work on 19th and 20th century military history, he was also involved in founding a number of organisations and academic programmes, including the Institute for International Studies and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.

His work encompassed a far broader scope and depth than the term ‘military historian’ generally denotes, being concerned also with the wider context of the issue. It was perhaps this that informed his deep concern about nuclear weapons and, later, his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His knowledge of warfare was by no means purely academic, for he served with distinction in the Second World War and was awarded the Military Cross. He is survived by his long-time partner Mark James.

Several obituaries have appeared since his death. This one, from The Guardian, was published on 1 December 2019.

I met Michael several times, first at some of the early screenings by the Valley Film Society. When I was told who he was I was at first too over-awed to speak to him: I am a history graduate myself and therefore perhaps even more aware than most of the gap between his intellectual capacities and my own. When I did get to know him better I found him charming and unassuming, a man who wore his erudition and his numerous achievements lightly.

About five years ago I was writing about some of the early battles of WW1 for a publishing project. I asked for his help and advice and he was kind enough to point me towards some useful works and, better still, read through what I had written. To my great delight and satisfaction, when we discussed this over a glass of wine in his living room he found fault only with a few passages. These were the very ones with which I was least happy and where I realised I was skating over thin ice; which he spotted immediately. He also gave me the run of his library at his home, a beautiful and astonishing circular room on two levels. Although the publishing project never reached fruition, I was profoundly grateful to him for his support and interest. To spend even a small amount of time of the company of a great mind is an edifying experience and one I was lucky enough to have experienced with him.

During the course of this work, I bought and read his excellent book The First World War: A Very Short Introduction. Anyone wanting a clear, concise, authoritative and beautifully written account of the momentous and complex subject need look no further. This will perhaps not be regarded as his greatest work: The Franco-Prussian War would probably claim that title. The Very Short Introduction is, however, a book of a different kind, a synthesis of a lifetime’s study. To be able to craft such a brief and compelling summary of such a conflict requires a complete mastery of the subject matter and the ability to communicate the results with complete clarity. Both of these rare qualities Michael Howard possessed to a very high degree.

Brian Quinn

The main image is taken from the cover of his autobiography, Captain Professor: A Life in War and Peace, first published by Continuum in 2006.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Wrong Door
Town Council of Hungerford – Vacancy for Three Councillors
Hungerford’s Freedom of the Town 2020
Part-time Receptionist required at Lambourn Surgery
Collective Energy Switching Scheme – Spring 2020
West Berkshire Dementia Action Alliance sets ambitious 2020 target
Foster carers needed in West Berkshire
Ridgeway Rise Care Home

Coverage Area

What's On

2:00 pm English Conversation Group @ Hun... @ Hungerford Library
English Conversation Group @ Hun... @ Hungerford Library
Jan 29 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
English Conversation Group @ Hungerford Library @ Hungerford Library | England | United Kingdom
English Conversation Group Is English your second language? Get help with everyday conversation at this friendly session. Every Wednesday, 2.00-3.00pm at Hungerford Library. For more
2:30 pm Knit & Natter @ Newbury Library
Knit & Natter @ Newbury Library
Jan 29 @ 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Knit & Natter @ Newbury Library | England | United Kingdom
Knit & Natter at Burghfield Library Drop in and bring your knitting with you. Starts Wednesday 16 May, then fortnightly on Wednesdays, 2.30-4.30 pm. For
3:00 pm Newbury Ecobrickers @ Lock, Stock and Barrel
Newbury Ecobrickers @ Lock, Stock and Barrel
Jan 29 @ 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Newbury Ecobrickers @ Lock, Stock and Barrel | England | United Kingdom
An Ecobrick is a plastic bottle packed to a set density with used, clean and dry plastic to achieve a building block that can be
7:30 pm Newtown Road Cemetery Friends We... @ St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church Hall
Newtown Road Cemetery Friends We... @ St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church Hall
Jan 29 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Newtown Road Cemetery Friends Welcome Evening @ St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church Hall | England | United Kingdom
CEMETERY FRIENDS WELCOME EVENING: 7:30 pm The Friends of Newtown Road Cemetery are holding a get-together for existing Friends and inviting others who may be interested
9:00 am Pop-Up Dress Agency Sale @ Mrs B's Kitchen, Newbury
Pop-Up Dress Agency Sale @ Mrs B's Kitchen, Newbury
Jan 30 @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Pop-Up Dress Agency Sale @ Mrs B's Kitchen, Newbury | England | United Kingdom
The Frankie & Ruby Dress Agency pop-up shop is at Mrs B’s Cafe in Newbury for just two days this January.  Enjoy a browse of

Sign up to the free weekly

Penny Post


for local, positive news, events, jobs, recipes, recommendations & more.

Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale