In Memoriam: Dr Neil Faulkner

(22 January 1958-4 February 2022)


It is with profound sadness that we report the death on 4 February 2022 of Neil Faulkner, Editor of Military History Matters. Neil, who had edited the magazine since its first issue in 2010, was a distinguished historian and archaeologist, a brilliant and prolific writer and editor, a political activist, and the author of many books. Despite his illness, he worked until very recently, and, as you will see when you read on, his masterful copy fills many pages of this issue of Military History Matters, and will also feature in the next.

It is hard to be brief in remembering Neil, but as all who worked with him here would agree, he was not just a man of extraordinary and wide-ranging intellectual and professional ability, but also a hugely generous, thoughtful, and kind collaborator and colleague, who gave his time freely to act as a mentor to younger members of the team.

Everyone at Military History Matters and Current Publishing will miss him greatly, and our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family and many friends. Here, some regular MHM contributors pay tribute to Neil.

Maria Earle

Everyone, staff and readers, lost a great friend when Neil Faulkner died aged just 64. He’d been ill with lymphoma for several months, but his irrepressible cheerfulness, positivity and great drive convinced many that this was a crisis from which he would successfully emerge. It did not happen, and that’s a huge loss to the military history, archaeological, and revolutionary political communities.

From Kent, Neil was born in 1958 and educated at the Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells and King’s College Cambridge. His choice of degree – Social and Political Sciences – signalled his enduring belief in and activism for left-wing causes. Indeed, he was never happier than when writing and presenting his political views.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with his polemical opinions, he never let that influence his extraordinary work as a distinguished archaeologist and military historian. Two major archaeological projects were founded by him which, he punned, were ‘ground breaking’. The Great Arab Revolt Project lasted a decade and allowed Neil’s dual interests to overlap, discovering and illuminating so many unknown aspects of Lawrence of Arabia’s operations. Second, he initiated, then led and nurtured the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project, exploring several sites in Norfolk ranging from a Christian Anglo-Saxon cemetery to a Second World War aerodrome. The project continues, owing everything – and serving as a tribute – to his drive and energy.

Having been a teacher for a while after university, he brought a great rigour to his writing. His myriad books that were published ranged from Empire and Jihad to The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain, but it was his editorship of Military History Matters where the full gamut and elasticity of his knowledge became apparent. As a contributor, heaven help you if copy was late or, worse still, you’d made a mistake. But it was his manner of correction that was so remarkable and pointed to the essential characteristics of the man. He demanded the highest standards of both himself and his team, while ensuring that he got them with a lightness of touch, charm, and ever-present, self-deprecating humour. It’s a reflection of the power of his character, though, that this obituary is being written in the certain knowledge that Neil, the lynx-eyed editor, stands ready with his correcting pen!

This was never more evident than when he presented his studies or guided audiences in the field. He made no secret of his politics, so there was trepidation among elements of the House of Commons Defence Committee when Neil led a battlefield tour for them around Cassino, cutting a memorable figure. Among a Barbour and cloth-capped gang on a rainy, Italian riverbank, he stood in shorts and plastic cape, with straggling beard and wayward hair being kept dry by a tiny, pink umbrella that he’d borrowed from his partner! No one laughed or tutted, though, because his words and views were irreproachable.

Neil is survived by his partner Lucy and his three children Tiggy, Rowena and Finnian. He was stoical (almost to the point of insouciance) about the invader in his body, and I shall miss his Zoom calls with the poster of Che Guevara in the background. Sharp as a tack, eccentric as hell, and dogged as a terrier, his humour and stainless-steel resolve made him everyone’s favourite stormy petrel and our hearts go out to his family.

Patrick Mercer

BELOW Neil in November 2011, at a Great Arab Revolt Project site named as Siddons Ridge, Jordan.

I worked with Neil for well over a decade, both on MHM and on Military History Live.

Four years ago, together we formed King’s Lynn under Siege, an archaeological project investigating the town during the English Civil War. It is a project that is now coming to fruition (thanks in part to it being featured in the TV series Great British Dig). Alas, although Neil and I remained in contact until shortly before his death, he was unable to see things for himself.

He was indeed an extraordinary man. His breadth of knowledge, and his skills as an archaeologist and historian, were inspiring, and at the same time he was incredibly kind and generous.

It is safe to say that Neil had more impact on my ‘career’ as a military historian than anyone else. He was a colleague, a mentor, and, most of all, a friend. I will miss him greatly.

Knowing Neil’s politics, the fact that The Daily Telegraph carried one of his obituaries will probably make us all smile.

David Flintham

I had the privilege of writing for, and with, Neil Faulkner for the greater part of the last decade. As an editor he was efficient, energetic, and dedicated. He had an instinctive feel for subjects that would work well on the page, combining an impressive breadth of knowledge with a gift for narrative drive and incisive analysis. These attributes were on display latterly in the occasional series we co-wrote on ‘Great Commanders’. I would outline the career of an individual leader and Neil would bring to life a key battle, vividly sketching the action while anchoring the events securely in the wider military, political, and social context. He was equally at home in Nelson’s navy, or on Ulysses Grant’s Wilderness campaign, as he was in what was to be our last collaboration, writing about Edward III’s victory on the medieval killing fields of Crécy (MHM February/March 2022)

Neil’s enthusiasm for the subject shone through in all he did. In his vision for military history, he insisted on high standards of scholarly rigour alongside accessibility to the widest audience. We all owe him so much. It is beyond words that he has been taken from us so suddenly, and when he still had so much to give.

Graham Goodlad

Over the past few years of our association I have become very fond of Neil. He was a thoughtful editor, a brilliant and driven historian, and a very kind soul. I will very much miss his editorial support, guidance, and good humor. Neil was the heart and soul of Military History Matters, and we had hoped he would soon recover and be able to visit several sites of interest to him here in the United States. He will indeed be missed.

Frederick J Chiaventone

Neil was the ideal colleague, friend, and collaborator during the nine years we spent together as co-directors of the Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) in the deserts and wadis of southern Jordan from 2006 to 2014. My abiding memories of those days include his busy marshalling of people and supplies for the early morning departure south to the field; his long striding steps across the landscape, taking in the extraordinary views; and his focused attention to the details of the sites we were surveying and excavating. Neil had rampant energy and enthusiasm, matched by the vision to see and understand the potential of what we were hoping to achieve. In the beginning, he was new to Modern Conflict Archaeology, but soon became a convert, and then a vocal champion. To my delight and appreciation, he was always ready with a view, an attitude, and an interpretation, yet remained open-minded, willing to listen, and to change his mind when convinced by a counter-argument. And, as we all remember, his jazz-hand gestures emphasising his pronouncements, sitting down to make copious notes, and his ‘power sleep’ sessions (required, I always thought, to recharge his formidable mental batteries). Neil was a one-off, a gifted human being with a sharp mind and boundless energy. It was a privilege to have known and worked with him.

Nick Saunders