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The Papers of Correlli Barnett

Reference Code: GBR/0014/BRNT

Scope and Contents

This small collection mainly consists of Barnett's correspondence with Major-General Eric Dorman O'Gowan (formerly Dorman-Smith) for his research for The Desert Generals. The date range covered by the collection is 1958-1963. The collection largely comprises O'Gowan's side of the correspondence (although there are occasional copies of letters from Barnett). The correspondence is lively and detailed and covers O'Gowan's experiences during the desert war and arguments and events supporting his firm belief that General Sir Claude Auchinleck's achievements had been underestimated. O'Gowan himself described the correspondence as Dear Bill: Letters from an Angry Old General to an Angry Young Writer (BRNT 2, letter dated 5 August 1958).

O'Gowan had held the position of director of military operations in Cairo and was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff by Auchinleck in 1942 and became Auchinleck's personal chief of staff after the loss of Tobruk. In August 1942, Winston Churchill replaced Auchinleck as Commander in Chief Middle East with General Sir Harold Alexander and made Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Montgomery General Officer commanding Eighth Army. In writing The Desert Generals, Barnett sought to refute the myth that "all in the Western Desert was defeat, retreat and confusion...[until] the Battle of Alamein in October 1942, which...went exactly according to Montgomery's Master Plan, demonstrated his military genius, marked the turning point of the war and constitutes one of the decisive battles of history. (The Desert Generals, 2nd edition, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1983, page 7).

Later additions to the collection are (BRNT 6-7) material relating to the History special subject on British Grand Strategy (1933-1939) taught by Barnett at Cambridge and a record of an interview with Lord Attlee and Lord Chandos.


  • Creation: 1958 - 1983


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Correlli Barnett was born on 28 June 1927, the son of Douglas and Kathleen Barnett. He was educated at Trinity School in Croydon, then at Exeter College, Oxford where he was awarded a second class honours degree in Modern History (with Military History and the Theory of War as a special subject), gaining an MA in 1954. In 1950, Barnett married Ruth Murby, having two daughters. He died on 10 July 2022.

Barnett's work and positions include: Intelligence Corps, 1945-48, North Thames Gas Board, 1952-57, Public Relations, 1957-63. Vice-President of the Eastern Arts Association, 1978-91 (Chairman of the Literature Panel, and Member of the Executive Committee, 1972-78); President of East Anglian Writers, 1969-88; Member of Council, Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 1973-85; and Member of the London Library Committee, 1977-79 and 1982-84. In 1976 Barnett was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. In 1980 he was appointed Lecturer in Defence Studies at the University of Cambridge (resigning in 1983 to devote more time to writing). Barnett has been a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, since 1977 and was Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre, 1977-95.

Barnett is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Historical Society and has been awarded an honorary DSc Cranfield (1993), the Chesney Gold Medal, Royal United Service Institution (1991) and a CBE.

Publications: The Hump Organisation, 1957; The Channel Tunnel (with Humphrey Slater), 1958; The Desert Generals, 1960 (and 1983); The Swordbearers, 1963; Britain and Her Army, 1970; The Collapse of British Power, 1972; Marlborough, 1974; Bonaparte, 1978; The Great War, 1979; The Audit of War, 1986 (published in the United States as The Pride and the Fall, 1987); Engage the Enemy More Closely: the Royal Navy in the Second World War, 1991; The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities 1945-1950, 1995; The Verdict of Peace: Britain between her Yesterday and the Future (to be published in August 2001). Barnett has also worked as historical consultant and writer for BBC Television series: The Great War, 1963-64; The Lost Peace, 1965-66; The Commanders, 1972-73; and has written reviews on military history for The Sunday Telegraph; contributed to: The Promise of Greatness (a symposium on the Great War), 1968; Governing Elites (a symposium), 1969; Decisive Battles of the Twentieth Century, 1976; The War Lords, 1976; The Economic System in the UK, 1985; Education for Capability, 1986; and edited Hitler's Generals, 1989.


1 archive box(es) : paper

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was deposited at the Archives Centre by Barnett in 2001, with a later addition in 2009.


The Desert Generals, 2nd edition, (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1983).


This collection (fonds) level description and catalogue was prepared by Natalie Adams of Churchill Archives Centre in April 2001. Information was obtained from Correlli Barnett's entry in Who's Who (A and C Black), The Desert Generals (2nd edition), Who's Who in World War III by David Mason (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1978) and from the papers. Updated by Natalie Adams in July 2009 after incorporating additional material.


Barnett, Correlli Douglas, 1927-, author and historian

2001-04-24 12:26:06+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087