Book Review-‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the empire 1756–1956’ by [W.] Clements
The so called ‘castle doctrine’ was put perhaps most famously by the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke when he wrote in a legal opinion of 1604, ‘the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.’ Coke’s comment came just a few years after Shakespeare put these famous lines describing England herself as a fortress into the mouth of the dying John of Gaunt, ‘This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war.’
It follows that anyone seeking to write about the fortress in British history does so carrying the cultural baggage of the most resonant images in the national story, to some the national myth. However, in his new book Bill Clements does not engage directly with such issues. Instead, as is entirely appropriate to a skilled researcher with a background first in the military, including a posting as military attaché to Beijing, and latterly as a leading member of the expert body the Fortress Study Group, which supported this book with a grant towards some of the illustrations, the text is a lucid and detailed outline report into the history, construction, operation and ultimate demise, of some of the British Empire’s best-known fortress islands, and a few of the least known.