Coventry’s Military Heritage – a new book by David McGrory

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Coventry’s military heritage goes back to the Middle Ages. Coventry Castle was built by the Earl of Chester in the early 12th century. It was fought over during the civil war in King Stephen’s reign and demolished afterwards, although one tower remains as part of St. Mary’s Guildhall, which was built on the site. In the later mediaeval period Coventry grew into one of the leading cities of England and continued to thrive in the Industrial Revolution as an industrial centre. Coventry was held by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War and during the Napoleonic Wars a barracks was built in the city which remained in use until the early 20th century.

A major munitions producer during World War 1, Coventry sent many young soldiers to fight abroad in the conflict while thousands of women worked in its factories. At the time of World War 2 it was a leading centre of motor vehicle, aviation and armaments manufacturing and became the target for German aerial bombing campaigns. The Coventry Blitz destroyed a large part of the historic city, including the Cathedral, but the city was reborn after the war and is a thriving major city in the Midlands today. This book will be of interest to all those wishing to know more about the military heritage of Coventry through its history.

Covsoc Chairman, Paul Maddocks, has read the new book and provides us with this review:

“On the surface this looks like many of Dave McGrory’s books on various aspects of Coventry’s History – this time its Coventry’s Military Heritage. It starts from Prehistory with early Bronze Age battle axes, through the Roman occupation in and around the city and the Danish invasion that involved the sacking of St. Osburga’s nunnery around AD 695. The book covers the history of the Motte and Bailey Coventry Castle, where it was and what remains, going on to the City’s defensive wall and gates. The book is well illustrated mainly from Dave’s own personal collection of images. Coventry played a major role in the War of the Roses; it is where King Henry VI in 1455 brought the Royal court for safety and later Parliament was held in the Coventry Priory. Parliamentarian and Royalist battles, armour and troops are all covered in the section on the Civil War and Coventry’s major part in it story.

“But among the pages of the book there lies a small nugget of information which I have never heard before. It is in the chapter about Coventry being a Garrison City, and all the different Regiments, troops and horses that were stationed or passing through Coventry on their way to different conflicts. Among this Dave has quoted from a book called ‘An Impartial History of the War in America between Great Britain and her Colonies’ by Edmund Burke 1780.

“Edmund Burke wrote that George Washington was born in Coventry on 3rd September 1727.

“Yes George Washington! It goes on to say Washington discovered an early inclination to arms and first entered as a private man in General Wade’s regiment in the year 1746 – and served against the Scottish rebels. When the French War broke out in America in 1755, Mr. Washington went over to that country. It continues saying that in the War of Independence he was raised to Colonel, then General, then Supreme Commander-in-Chief of all the Forces of the United States?

“Dave checked out the parish records of the time in question and found the marriage of a John Washington to Mary Remington in Holy Trinity Church in 1725. Did they have a baby? John Washington died and Mary married again to a John Smith in 1735. There is no record of George Washington’s baptism in the Holy Trinity Church records but strangely the Saint Michael’s Church records have a page missing where such a birth would have been recorded.

“I am not one much for conspiracy theories but if you are going to have the first president of America you want him to be American not British, but it is well known George Washington did serve in the British Army in his career.

“So were there two George Washington’s both fighting in the same regiments in the same battles?

“History books say George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 at Popes Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and was the first of six children of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President on April 30th, 1789. Edmund Burke’s 1780 book had been printed nine year before this. So Edmund wrote his history without knowing that George Washington was going to be the first President of the USA and therefore had no axe to grind about whether he was born in England or America.

“The book is packed with other interesting facts such as George Neal from Coventry, born poor, spent time in the workhouse, served on Admiral Rodney’s flagship ‘Formidable’ but was injured by shot that broke his leg and was discharged. Later he joined the 77th Regiment and went to India and served with (later to be) the Duke of Wellington. He was injured again by grapeshot which shattered his hip. Years later he was shot in the leg and later again part of a grenade hit his head causing part of his skull to have to be removed. But he survived and lived his days out back in Coventry selling oranges to soldiers in the streets around the barracks. When he died the 11th Hussars gave the old soldier a full military funeral.

“There are also many interesting accounts of the Barracks and the different troops stationed in the city covering the Napoleonic Wars, survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Boar War, the First World War and finally the Second World War.”

David McGrory is one of the foremost historians of Coventry. He was born in the city, has ancestral connections with the city going back at least 300 years and has always been fascinated by its remarkable past. He has published at least 26 books and articles on the city’s history.

David McGrory’s latest book, Coventry’s Military Heritage, is 96 pages and was published in July 2019 by Amberley Books. The book is available from all good bookshops and from Amazon for £14.99, or £12 on Kindle.

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