Since his death forty years ago, the soldier and ornithologist Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, DSO, CBE, has bagged four biographers. The first two, John Lord and Peter Capstick, were worshippers who believed everything their hero said and wrote. The third, Mark Cocker in 1989, had qualms, but gave his subject the benefit of the doubt. And now we have the fourth, a sceptic: Brian Garfield, 67-year-old former president of the Mystery Writers of America, who has drawn together a decade’s worth of worldwide research to indict the rangy Colonel M as a cross between Harry Flashman and Baron Munchhausen; as a bully, a cheat, and a pathological fantasist. In short, a shit.
Dick Meinertzhagen (1878–1967) overlapped at Harrow School with Winston Churchill, who once asserted that the way to take command of history was to write it yourself. In his seventies, Meinertzhagen did just that. Between 1957 and 1964 he published four books: Diary of a Black Sheep, Kenya Diary 1902–1906, Army