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A British Rifle Man | Major George Simmons (1899)

A British Rifle Man (1899)

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The Journals and Correspondence
of Major George Simmons, Rifle Brigade

Edited with an introduction by
Lieut-Colonel Willoughby Verner

A. & C. BLACK,  London, 1899

The 1899 edition of A British Rifle Man by Major George Simmons is a vivd and fascinating account of the life of an officer in the Rifle Brigade during the Peninsular War. Beautifully produced, with a highly decorative gilt illustrated cover, it is a very interesting book in its own right. But it's associations are what make it particularly special.

The book is introduced by Lt-Colonel Willoughby Verner, soldier, author and inventor, best know for his Verner's Pattern service compasses. These were standard issue in  the British army from before WW1 to the late 1930's. There is also a bookplate showing  that the book originally came from the library of Gerald and Carola Lenanton of Bride Hall, near Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire. Carola was a very well known author and historical novelist, while Gerald was the director of Britain's timber production during WW2. Their home, Bride Hall, is now best known for its wartime role as SOE's 'Station VI', a top secret experimental weapons establishment.

Major George Simmons (1785–1858):  was a British Army officer who served in the Napoleonic Wars and was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo while serving with the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). During the Peninsular War he was wounded at the Combat of the Coa in 1810, he was present at Pombal (1811), Fuentes de Onoro (1811), Cuidad Rodrigo (1812), Badajoz (1812), Salamanca (1812), Vitoria (1813), Nivelle (1813), Orthes (1814) and Tarbes, where he was once again severely wounded. At Waterloo the 1st/95th were engaged at Quatre Bras on 16 June 1815, ″Until dark we had very sharp fighting″. During the battle he was shot through the liver, had two ribs broken and took a bullet in the chest. His watch stopped at 4 pm, the time that he was hit. Simmons was evacuated to Brussels where he remained convalescing for several weeks. In October he was well enough to travel back to England, and was sufficiently recovered from his severe wounds to rejoin his regiment on 1st January 1816. He served with the British army of occupation in France for nearly three years, returning to England with the 1st Battalion in November 1818. Simmons retired from the army in 1845, a Battalion Major, after thirty-six years' service, and died in Jersey on 5 March 1858.

Lt-Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner (1852-1922) served on the staff in the Egyptian campaign of 1884-85 and during the Boer War. He retired as a Lt-Colonel in May 1904. He is probably best known today for his compass designs. The earliest Verner designs were simple pocket compasses, with the various models of the Service Pattern, MK III to MK VII, appearing between c.1900-1918. His prismatic service compasses were essentially a development of the Schmalcalder patent design of the early 19th century, but they remained the standard service compass of the British Army until the start of WW2. As well as designing compasses, Verner was a prolific author, military historian, and chronicler of the Rifle Brigade.

Carola Oman (Lenanton) (1897–1978) was an English historical novelist, biographer and children's writer, best known for her retelling of the Robin Hood legend and a 1946 biography of Lord Nelson. Carola was born on 11 May 1897, the second of three children of the military historian Sir Charles Oman (1860–1946) of All Souls. As a child she wrote several plays that were performed by friends. The family moved in 1908 into Frewin Hall, now part of Brasenose College, Oxford. She was married on 26 April 1922 to Gerald Foy Ray Lenanton (1896–1952), son of a timber agent.

Carola's war work as a probationary VAD nurse in Oxford, Dorset, London and France provided the inspiration for poems that were published in The Menin Road and Other Poems (1919). Her poems also appeared in the 1931 edition of The Bookman Treasury of Living Poets. Some of her work in the 1920s and 1930s appeared initially under her married name. Gerald Lenanton was knighted in 1946 after serving as director of home timber production in World War II. They lived at Bride Hall, a Jacobean mansion in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, which became the SOE top secret weapons research establshhment, 'Station VI' during WW2.

Carola produced over 30 books of fiction, history and biography for adults and children, including Henrietta Maria (1936), The Winter Queen in 1938, and her authoritative prize-winning biography of Nelson in 1946. Carola Oman's 1953 biography of Peninsular War general Sir John Moore won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in that year.

S.O.E. Station VI, Bride Hall: The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was established in July 1940, intended, in Churchill's words, to “set Europe ablaze”. Placed under the control of the Minister of Economic Warfare, SOE’s purpose was to damage the Axis war effort by helping to create and sustain resistance groups and to disrupt the enemies’ war effort, at first in occupied Europe and later in Asia. This would be achieved by supporting indigenous guerillas or through the use of trained and specially equipped agents

In addition to its supply and coordination role, SOE made a significant contribution to major military operations. These included: Operation Gunnerside, the attack on the German heavy water facility in Norway; Operation Harling, the destruction of the Gorgopotamos viaduct in Greece; and Operation Jaywalk, the sinking of 30,000 tons of Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour. A large and highly efficient infrastructure supported SOE’s work in enemy territory, with scientists and technicians designing and developing a wide range of specialist equipment.

SOE’s research effort into weapons and devices and their manufacture was managed under the cover name of the Inter Services Research Bureau (ISRB), which operated several workshops and laboratories throughout Britain. The Research and Development department, Station XII, was based in Aston House near Stevenage. In addition, there was an experimental  weapons section at Bride Hall, another country house in Hertfordshire, known as 'Station VI' which, among other assignments, was tasked with gathering weapons. One way of doing this was by public appeals in July 1942, September 1943 and early 1945, asking the civilian population to donate any weapon in their possession to the good cause. In this manner alone, more than 10,000 “untraceable” small arms were acquired for the use of resistance movements in Europe. Station VI sent more than 100,000 pistols and automatics of non-standard type, donated, captured or purchased, for use in the field. Station VI also developed numerous extraordinary secret weapons, including the remote control pistol and other specialist assasination devices.


In good condition. The boards are in very good condition, with bright gilt titling and decorations to the front and spine. The binding and hinges are very good and secure. The text is in good condition, with some marks, foxing to the outer edges of the text block, and some scattered foxing in the text. There is a National Army Museum collection 'Withdrawn' stamp to the front endpaper, a newspaper cutting, and a bookplate of 'Gerald and Carola Lenanton, Bride Hall'.

Published: 1899
Green boards with gilt decorations and titling
Dimensions: 145mm x 210mm
Pages: 385