Professor Peter John Simkins MBE, FRHistS

Department of History
Visiting Lecturer

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am now approaching my fiftieth year as a professional military historian. Over the past twelve years I have been privileged to be involved in the development of a centre of excellence in war studies at the University of Birmingham.


BA Hons (History), University of London, 1961


Peter Simkins began his working life in 1962 as Archivist and Research Assistant to Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart before embarking upon a long and distinguished career at the Imperial War Museum from 1963 to 1999, latterly as its Senior Historian and Head of the Research and Information Office.   During that time he played a central role in the reorganisation and modernisation of the Museum and in the development of its out-stations at Duxford airfield, HMS Belfast and the Cabinet War Rooms (now the Churchill Museum).   He also established himself as a leading authority in 20th Century British military history, especially that of the British Army in the Great War.   He was Historical Editor of the Imperial War Museum Review, 1986-1998.  After his retirement from the Museum in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his services to that institution.   The same year he was elected to an honorary chair in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, a post which he held until 2010, when he became Visiting Lecturer.   He remains an enthusiastic participant in the programme of the University’s Centre for First World War Studies and since 2005 has helped to teach, supervise and examine Graduate students undertaking the MA Course in that discipline.

His book Kitchener’s Army : The Raising of the New Armies, 1914-1916, which was first published by Manchester University Press in 1988 and reprinted by Pen and Sword in 2007, was awarded the Templer Medal by the Society for Army Historical Research.   An edited list of his numerous other publications is appended below.   Peter Simkins has acted as historical consultant or advisor for several major television series and documentaries, including 1914-18: The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (KCET Los Angeles and BBC Timewatch, 1996). In addition, he was one of the principal historical consultants for the development of the new Visitor Centre at Thiepval, on the Somme in France, which opened in 2004.   He is an accomplished jazz pianist, having recorded three LP albums and a recent CD as well as having accompanied many leading American and British jazz musicians since the 1960s.   In 2002 he co-edited and co-wrote a history of traditional and mainstream jazz in Brighton. He is a devoted and long-suffering supporter of Ipswich Town FC, though, having moved to Gloucestershire in 2005, he now also watches Cheltenham Town, his new local team. 


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Peter Simkins was a tutor and examiner for the Diploma of the Museums Association, specialising in military history. Between 1999 and 2005 he was a tutor and lecturer for the Diploma in Higher Education in War Studies, at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Birmingham. Since 2005 he has served as a tutor, supervisor and examiner for the University’s MA programme in First World War Studies. In 2010 he was tutor for a Workers Educational Association course in Cheltenham on the British and Dominion Experience on the Western Front in the First World War.

Peter Simkins has acted as an Internal or External Examiner for Higher Degrees and Diplomas at the University of Birmingham, the University of London, the University of Leeds, the University of Kent, De Montfort University (Leicester), Cranfield University, Murdoch University (Western Australia), the Museums Association and the Council for National Academic Awards.

Postgraduate supervision

As well as supervising, each year since 2005, various Graduate students undertaking the University’s MA Course in First World War Studies, Peter Simkins is also currently co-supervising, with Professor Sheffield, a student engaged in research for a doctoral thesis, at Birmingham, on the British Fourth Army in 1918. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Professor Simkins supervised a postgraduate student at the University of Worcester who was awarded a doctorate for a thesis on the socio-military history of Lancashire battalions on the Western Front in the Great War.

Find out more - our PhD History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


His research interests centre upon British and Dominion military history in the twentieth century, particularly the British Army in the First World War. Professor Simkins is currently working on a major study of the command, organisation, composition and operational performance of British and Dominion divisions in the Hundred Days offensive of August to November 1918.

Other activities

Professor Simkins is currently President of the Western Front Association and Honorary President of its Cheltenham and Gloucester Branch ; a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society ; a member of the British Commission for Military History (of which he was Secretary-General from 1982 to 1990) ; and a member the Army Records Society, having served several terms of office on the Society’s Council.   He was a member of the Curatorial Board of Studies of the Museums Association, 1981-1984 ; a member of the Board of War Studies of the University of London, 1978-1993; a member of the Conseil Scientifique of the Research Centre at the Historial de la Grand Guerre in Péronne, France, 1993-1998 ; Visiting Fellow at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in 1993 ; and a member of the International Board of Experts overseeing the development of the Allied Museum in Berlin, 1993-1998.

He has presented papers and chaired sessions at many international museum and historical gatherings since the late 1960s.   These include major conferences in British Columbia (1972), Amsterdam (1982), Stuttgart (1985), Canberra (1993), Leeds (1994), Berlin (1995), Bonn (1996) and the University of Kent (2006).   In 1997, at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he co-organised and led the British team of historians at a joint Anglo-Australian Historical Symposium held in both London and Canberra that year.


Authored books

  • The First World War : The Western Front, 1914-1916 and The First World War: The Western Front, 1917-1918 (Oxford, Osprey, 2002) [ These two books were combined and republished, with contributions from Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey, as The First World War : The War to End all Wars (Osprey, 2003)
  • Chronicles of the Great War : The Western Front, 1914-1918 (Godalming ,Colour Library Books, 1991, reprinted, London, Bramley Books, 1997)
  • Kitchener’s Army : The Raising of the New Armies, 1914-16 (Manchester University Press, 1988, reprinted Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2007)

Edited Books (as contributor)

  • “Each One a Pocket Hercules : The Bantam Experiment and the Case of the 35th Division, 1914-1918”, in Scraping the Barrel, edited by Sanders Marble (scheduled for publication by Fordham University Press, New York, in 2011)
  • ‘Herbert Plumer’ in Haig’s Generals, edited by Ian F W Beckett and Steven J Corvi (Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2006)
  • “Building Blocks: Aspects of Command and Control at Brigade Level in the BEF’s Offensive Operations, 1916-1918”, in Command and Control on the Western Front : The British Army’s Experience, 1914-1918, edited by Gary Sheffield and Dan Todman (Staplehurst, Spellmount, 2004)
  • “The British Contribution to the Creation of the Allied Museum in Berlin : A Personal View” in Le Musée des Alliés de Berlin ou Berlin et la Liberté Preservée, 1945-1989, edited by Helmut Trotnow and Florian Weiss (Berlin, Allied Museum, 2003)
  • “For Better or For Worse : Sir Henru Rawlinson and his Allies, 1916-1918”, in Leadership in Conflict, 1914-1918, edited by Matthew Hughes and Matthew Seligmann (Barnsley, Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, 2000)
  • “Haig and the Army Commanders” in  Haig: A Reappraisal 70 Years On, edited by Brian Bond and Nigel Cave (Barnsley, Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, 1999)
  • “Somme Reprise: Reflections on the Fighting for Albert and Bapaume, August 1918”, in Look to your Front : Studies in the First World War by the British Commission for Military History (Staplehurst, Spellmount, 1999)
  • “Das Imperial War Museum im London und seine Darstellung des Krieges, 1917-1995”, in Der Krieg und Seine Museen, edited by Hans-Martin Hinz (Campus, Frankfurt, 1997)
  • “The War Experience of a Typical Kitchener Division : The 18th Division, 1914-1918”, in Facing Armageddon : The First World War Experienced, edited by Hugh Cecil and Peter H Liddle (London, Leo Cooper, 1996)
  • “Co-Stars or Supporting Cast : British Divisions in the Hundred Days, 1918”, in British Fighting Methods in the Great War, edited by Paddy Griffith (London, Frank Cass, 1996)
  • “The Four Armies, 1914-1918”, in The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, edited by David Chandler and Ian F W Beckett (Oxford University Press, 1995)
  • “Everyman at War : Recent Interpretations of the front Line Experience”, in The First World War and British Military History, edited by Brian Bond (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991)
  • “Soldiers and Civilians : Billeting in Britain and France” in A Nation in Arms : A Social Study of the British Army in the First World War, edited by Ian F W Beckett and Keith Simpson (Manchester University Press, 1985, reprinted 2004)

Journal articles

  • “The Very Model of a Modern Major-General : Major-General H W Higginson CB, DSO and Bar, Royal Dublin Fusiliers” in The Blue Cap : Journal of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, Vol.14, December 2007
  • “A Man on the Spot : Brigadier-General R E Sugden, CB, CMG, DSO and Bar” in Firestep : The Magazine of the Western Front Association’s London Branch, Vol.8, No.1, May 2007
  • “Just as Much as is Humanly Possible : The 10th Essex at Thiepval. September 1916”, in The Eagle : Journal of the Essex Regiment Association, Issue 87, Spring 2007
  • “The Black Man, The Brat and Londoners on the Somme : Some Reflections on the Capture of Thiepval, September 1916”, in Firestep, Vol.5, No.2, November 2004

Encyclopedias, etc

  • Major contributor to The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Warfare, edited by Noble Frankland (London, Mitchell Beazley, 1989).   Contributor to Enzyklopadie Ersten Weltkrieg, edited by Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich and Irina Renz (Paderborn, Schoningh, 2003) ; and Twentieth-Century Britain : An Encylcopedia, edited by F M Leventhal (New York, Garland, 1995)
  • Entry on Brigadier-General Hanway R Cumming DSO in Dictionary of National Biography (on-line edition,, Oxford, 2008)
  • Book reviews (since 1999) for English Historical Review, Journal of Military History, Journal of British Studies, War in History, The International History Review, History, Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association, and Wartime : Journal of the Australian War Memorial.