I was born in Glasgow, but lived in London as a child and then largely in and around Brighton and Hove. My father, Thomas Gordon Walter (1917-2003), son of a professional soldier, was trained as an engineer largely in the RAF and had ended the Second World War in charge of the Air Ministry team responsible for the maintenance of all the B-24 Liberator bombers in British service. He subsequently worked for—among others—Dobbie McInnes, Sperry and Epsilon Research & Development, designing tape recorders and guided-missile components. My mother, Isobel Agnes Douglas (1920-2012), daughter of a headmaster, had worked for the London Midland & Scottish Railway before joining the WAAF in 1943. So it's fairly obvious where the influences on my career came from!
I attended Stanley Road Infants School, Hampton Hill, before moving on to Balfour Road Primary School and then Varndean Grammar School in Brighton. Even before leaving school I worked on a casual basis for the Benedict Press, a small printing business just a few doors away from where I lived. My tasks included camera-work, platemaking, running the small offset-lithography presses, and preparing artwork. In collaboration with Gordon Hughes, a well-known dealer in bayonets and militaria, I then illustrated (and largely wrote) the first Primer of World Bayonets booklet while supposedly concentrating on A-Levels! A second booklet followed soon after I left school, and proved to be surprisingly successful with sales (ultimately) of many thousands.
By 1969, although I had been offered a place at the University of Newcastle to read chemical engineering, it was clear that I was no scientist. My classmates expected me to go to art college, but there had been several pointers, largely overlooked in what was still a somewhat classics-obsessed school, that I had an innate ability to write. Consequently, when I was offered a chance to enter military-orientated publishing, my life changed. I worked until 1973 for Lionel Leventhal’s pioneering Arms & Armour Press. Shelford Bidwell's Gunners at War (below) was the first book-jacket I was allowed to create entirely by myself.
I left A&AP in 1973, by mutual consent. I wanted to write books instead of simply helping to produce them, and The Sword & Bayonet Makers of Imperial Germany 1871-1918 was the immediate result. After a long and convoluted career, this modest little book evolved into Anthony Carter’s German Knife & Sword Makers. The definitive directory of makers and marks, from 1850 to 1945 (International Military Antiques, Inc., 2015)...which I helped to complete after Anthony’s unexpected death in 2002. But the transformation still took more than a decade!
Working in the mid 1970s for Kearney & Trecker-Marwin (KTM), a major British machine-tool manufacturer subsequently absorbed by Vickers, I developed signage which allowed first Polish and then Korean apprentices to understand production-line operations without the barriers created by language. This was a challenge, but the symbols, some of which are shown below, were successful enough to be used for some years afterward by the technical college in Gdansk.
In 1980 I joined Kwik-Kopy, based in West Hampstead. Initially studio manager, I became a director of Pacific Press Ltd in a management buyout when Kwik-Kopy decided to replace its centralised print-works with ‘in-shop’ reprographics. By 1984 we were employing twenty people, working for a client-base that included multi-nationals such as AM-Varityper and ICL. After teaching myself how to use a variety of phototypesetting systems, including the Compugraphic Editwriter, the AM Comp-Edit and the Bobst Eurocat, I wrote two modest typography manuals, and created the Typometer (a copy-fitting aid in slide-rule form, one of the four prototypes is shown here).
In 1985, I returned to writing and producing books, including Guns of the Elite, published in 1987, which became—and still may be—the best-selling 'single edition' gunbook of all time. Thanks to the involvement of book clubs in Britain and the USA, and a Japanese translation, sales of the original version exceeded 100,000. This was the only time I have ever had a five-digit royalty cheque where the numbers didn't include pence.
One of the most interesting projects was Emden: the Last Cruise of the Chivalrous Raider, published in 1989 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of SMS Emden by HMAS Sydney. This involved Prinz Meinrad von Hohenzollern-Emden, son of the ship’s second torpedo officer and the Kaiser’s great-nephew, the Royal Navy, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Australian Navy and the multi-national NATO North Atlantic Fleet. The commemorative book-plate is shown below.
Simply by asking for access to its library, I became associated in the early 1990s with the British Engineerium (formerly the Goldstone Pumping Station in Hove), which was then among Britain’s leading engineering-conservation agencies. There I learned a lot from Dr Jonathan Minns, laid the ground work for several exhibitions, and undertook research into the history of the steam engine and the development of Brighton’s water supply.
In 1996, however, I briefly became Managing Editor of Guns Review, the internationally-respected firearms magazine to which I had been contributing articles for more than twenty years. Unfortunately, a forty-year pedigree counted for nothing as the owners of Teesdale Publishing Company promptly sold-out to Haymarket Publishing. Haymarket, Michael Heseltine’s ‘family firm’ wanted control of Teesdale’s motor-sport magazine and could not be seen politically to be involved (shock, horror!) with shooting in any form. Questionable accountancy ensured that publication of GR ceased after I had completed work on the first bi-monthly issue. But I had managed to embark on what, given a chance, could have been a successful redesign (below—old, top; new, bottom).
I returned to freelance research and then, in 1998, joined Personal Fundraising Partnership, a Brighton-based but nationally renowned organization which raised millions of pounds annually. We worked with many charities, but among my personal favourites were Sight Savers, The Children’s Society, Childline, Y-Care and the Woodland Trust, all of whose representatives worked tirelessly to provide support.
In 2000, I was unexpectedly appointed Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering of the University of Brighton. I had been involved in the development of a postgraduate Conservation of Industrial Heritage course, simply because this was being promoted by the University’s School of Engineering in collaboration with the British Engineerium. So when the Course Leader had a serious heart attack, I was nominated as his replacement. With no academic background, but possessing at least some of the necessary skills, I persuaded Professor Fred Maillardet and Dr Mark Jones, heads of Faculty and School respectively, to take what they probably saw as a huge gamble.
I passed the Facilitation of Learning in Higher Education (FLIHE) course, allowing me to give lectures personally, but the conservation course closed after its trial year—even though we achieved a pass-rate of 100% and had won the 2001 Association of Industrial Archaeologists ‘Student Prize’ for Saving the Survivor, the project report on the only Éolienne Bollée to survive in Britain. I still remember with gratitude the assistance I was given, particularly by Dr Mathew Philip, appointed as my mentor (a daunting task!), and our External Examiner, the renowned industrial archaeologist Dr Stafford Linsley.
When the course finished, I went back to the Engineerium, serving briefly as Acting Chief Executive in 2002-3. During this period, I worked with Dr Minns on a highly-regarded conservation report on Cobb’s Mill, Hurstpierpoint. However, the increasingly unstable finances of the Engineerium forced me back to freelance work, cataloguing the contents of the Royal Armoury of Nepal. Enough material to fill more than thirty shipping containers had been purchased by Christian Cranmer and his partners: Guns of the Gurkhas was duly published in 2005. A sketch of the mechanism of the Gehendra rifle, unique to Nepal, is shown here.
From 2007, I ran Firepower International Ltd for International Military Antiques Inc., its USA-based parent company. This supposedly short-term arrangement continued until UK operations came to an end in 2012. Cataloguing and researching material from Nepal continued, however, and I returned once again to industrial history, genealogy, graphic design and book-production. In June 2014, however, work for IMA ceased and I went to work for Bolney Wine Estate, qualifying as a vineyard tour guide. I continued to explain the fascinating and ever-broadening story of English wine until the summer of 2016.
In the intervening period, somewhat unexpectedly, interest in my books revived, thanks largely to Michael Leventhal, son of my erstwhile boss Lionel. Work began with new editions of Guns of the Elite Forces and Guns of the Third Reich (both published by Pen & Sword), then proceeded to Luger: the Story of the World’s Most Famous Handgun and The Iron Horse (both published by The History Press in 2016).
In February 2017 I delivered the manuscript for Snipers at War, which is expected to be published by Greenhill Books later this year. I'm also responsible for the ‘Man Behind the Gun’ articles that appear monthly in The Armourer, incorporating Classic Arms & Militaria, while still busily seeking new material for the AI website. The pioneering Archiving Industry: identifying items by marks and materials should be available from Lyon Publishing International in May.
I have written seventy books and more than 150 articles. The books have been translated into Arabic, Czechoslovakian, Danish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian (including the Greenhill Military Manual Kalashnikov, below!) and Swedish; worldwide sales probably approach half a million copies. Most of the books deal with military, naval or engineering history, often scrutinised from a ‘nuts and bolts’ standpoint. They range from The Kaiser’s Pirates (1994)—the story of the German sea-raiders in the First World War—to directory-style listings. However, I have also have a very real interest in heraldry and genealogy.
Some of the individual topics can be accessed by clicking here:
HERALDRY AND GENEALOGY
CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO HOMEPAGE