Author spotlight - Jon Cooksey

Posted on Tuesday 12th June 2012


Jon Cooksey is a leading military historian who takes a special interest in the history of the World Wars and the Falklands War. He is the former editor of Battlefields Review and the current editor of Stand To!, and his articles have appeared in many of the foremost military magazines and in national newspapers. As an experienced battlefield guide, he regularly leads tours to the battlefields of both world wars as well as the Falkland Islands. His TV and radio appearances include the Channel 5 programme on the 1914 Christmas Truce and and Great War soldier Ronald Poulton Palmer and Gallipoli Victoria Cross winner Frederick Potts for the BBC. His books include The Barnsley Pals, Flanders 1915, Calais: A Fight to the Finish and 3 Para Mount Longdon – The Bloodiest Battle.
On the anniversary of the death of Sergeant Ian McKay VC, Falklands Hero, Jon Cooksey tells Warfare how he came to research the life of his fellow Yorkshireman Ian McKay, how he went about writing the biography of the last British hero of the twentieth century, and his plans for future projects.
How did you come across Ian McKay's story - how did you come to write this biography?
I remember the Falklands War vividly being fought in 'real time' on our TV screens when I was a young man. In the autumn of 1982 I also remember the award and investiture of the posthumous VC to Ian McKay's family and the attendant media interest which surrounded it. In later years my interest in the Falklands War from an historian's point of view deepened and when I came to research The Bloodiest Battle – my book on Mount Longdon – several years ago, I became more aware of what a remarkable feat of arms Ian McKay achieved on 12 June 1982. as a fellow South Yorkshireman, I became interested in finding out what made the man tick, what shaped him and drove him on to do what he did thirty years ago. It was a remarkable journey of discovery in which I had the support of his family and many of his Army colleagues.

If you were to meet Ian McKay, what would be your first question to him?
A very, very difficult one this! I think my question would be: 'would you have done anything any differently?'

You travelled over to the Falklands several times during your research, what did that mean to you? How did it feel to stand on the spot where Ian lost his life?
Travelling to the Falklands was a very special journey for me after researching the war and in particular the Battle for Mount Longdon. The distance from the UK, the absolute peace and the often rapidly changing weather conditions coupled with the tangible reminders and scars of a war which is still so recent in our memory were powerful elements for me as an historian. Travelling over 8,000 miles to finally stand on the spot where a man who had had an upbringing very similar to mine – a man whom I felt I had come to know through my research and whose path ultimately led to an act which I cannot ever fully comprehend on a bleak and lonely mountain was a truly sobering experience.

This is your third book on the Falklands, are there any more in the pipeline?
Yes, Falklands Hero: Ian McKay – the Last VC of the Twentieth Century is my third Falklands book and it has received a good deal of national and regional media coverage and although I have ideas for further research on that war I am excited by the prospect of flying out to the Falklands in mid-July to accompany the paratroopers of the present B Company of 3 Para – Ian McKay's battalion – on to Mount Longdon. In a touch of pure military symmetry, 3 Para are on deployment in the Falklands at the moment and I have been invited out. It will be a real honour to walk in the footsteps of Ian McKay and those men of 3 Para of 1982 – some of whom I am proud to call friends – with their direct descendants and to share the history of what 3 Para achieved in 1982. It will be the middle of a South Atlantic winter and the weather will probably be atrocious – just as it was for 3 Para in 1982.
As far as further book projects are concerned I have gone back a lot further than 30 years for my current projects. I have just completed work on a co-authored cycling/walking guide to the battlefields of the Western Front in Belgium, which is due to be published later this year. Walking and cycling is the best way to get a real feel for a battlefield and how the terrain shapes the course of a battle. Cycling on the many cycleways in Belgium in particular, enables the rider to cover greater distances than on foot and provides more opportunities for numerous perspectives. It is great exercise too! The first volume takes twenty-five routes from Nieuwpoort on the North Sea coast down to the Franco Belgian border at Ploegsteert, and further volumes will cover French Flanders, Arras and the Somme. I am also working on a book for the Images of War series, dealing with unseen photographs from the Western Front in 1914 which I hope will be as successful as my earlier Flanders 1915 in the same series. I am also in discussions with Pen and Sword to republish some lost Second World War escape stories and diaries which I feel deserve to be read by modern audiences.
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Jon Cooksey.

'Jon Cooksey's spare, direct prose puts us right there with B Company that night on Mount Longdon, "among rocks in the dark", facing Argentine snipers armed with night-sighted rifles, with two protected machine guns pouring fire into the British lines... Readers will agree that in the long and impossibly glorious history of the ultimate award for personal courage, none has deserved the Victoria Cross more than Sergeant McKay... I cannot recommend this book more highly.'
(Andrew Roberts)

Further Reading


Falklands Hero
(Hardback - 256 pages)
ISBN: 9781844154937

by Jon Cooksey
Only £19.99

At the height of the bitter battle for Mount Longdon during the Falklands War , 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment’s assault has stalled in the face of determined resistance. With his platoon held up by an Argentine machine gun, it falls to Sergeant Ian McKay to act. The machine gun has to be silenced to break the deadlock. Gathering a small group together, Ian McKay leads them in a headlong dash into the teeth of a withering fire. One by one they fall until only Ian McKay is left, charging on…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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