A brief biography...

I was born in Scotland, 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. Long 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 partly 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.

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 ability to write. When I was offered a chance to enter military-orientated publishing, therefore, my life changed. I worked for Lionel Leventhal’s pioneering Arms & Armour Press until leaving in 1973, by mutual consent, as I wanted to write books instead of simply helping to produce them.

After working with a machine-tool manufacturer, to develop signage which allowed first Polish and then Korean apprentices to understand production-line operations without barriers created by language, and for a printing company with clients including multi-nationals such as AM-Varityper and ICL, I returned to writing and producing books. Guns of the Elite, published in 1987, 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 aproached 100,000.

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. Shortly after the Emden book-launch had been held in Devonport, I began an association with the British Engineerium (formerly the Goldstone Pumping Station in Hove), which was then among Britain’s leading engineering-conservation agencies.

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, 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, with elections looming, could not be seen to be involved with shooting in any form.

I returned to freelance research and then, in 2000, was unexpectedly appointed Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering of the University of Brighton. I’d 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. I duly 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.

When the course finished, I went back to the Engineerium, acting briefly as Chief Executive in 2002–3 and as supervising engineer during the final stages of the reconstruction of the Crux Easton wind engine. However, the increasingly unstable finances of the Engineerium forced me back to freelance work, which proved to be 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. 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 as a vineyard tour guide. In 2016, however, I returned, once again, to nuts-and-bolts military history.

Publications in brief

I have written seventy books and more than 150 articles. The books have been translated into Arabic, Czech, Danish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian (including the Greenhill Military Manual Kalashnikov!) and Swedish. 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 interests in heraldry and genealogy.

Recently, and 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).

Snipers at War was published in 2017 by Greenhill Books (www.greenhillbooks.com) and The Sniper Encyclopaedia will be published this Spring as part of the Greenhill Sniper Library, which is now also promoting Lady Death, the fascinating memoirs of Lyudmila Pavlichenko—the highest-scoring female sniper of all time.

I'm also responsible for the ‘Man Behind the Gun’ articles that appear regularly in The Armourer, incorporating Classic Arms & Militaria.

More details

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