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The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas

The Virgin Soldiers (1966)

by Leslie Thomas

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The book takes as its base the experience, or lack of, of young conscripts sent to Malaya. As Private Briggs is put through his paces along with the other new conscripts, but this is not WW2. There is a lot of slack time and the conflict is indirect, a series of guerrilla attacks rather than face to face contact. This gives the young lads time to dream, time to obsess about sex. Briggs fixes his eye on Phillipa, the daughter of the RSM, and she also seems keen. As both are virgins, they decide to find partners with more experience, with Briggs visiting a prostitute and Phillipa having her eye on the Sergeant Driscoll.

Thomas himself was a conscript in Malaya, which gives the book such an air of authenticity. The writer plays on the humour in the interactions, the desperation of the young people to lose their virginity, to live life to the full far from home caught up in a war, yet freer than their counterparts back in Blighty. I found the book really enjoyable, funny and tragic, but certainly entertaining. ( )
1 vote soffitta1 | Apr 4, 2012 |
This book's not half bad. The dedication gives a clue abut how it is to be read: 'Dedicated to my wife Maureen with the assurance that hardly any of this happened to me'. So by implication at least some of it did happen to the author and there's a teasing suggestion that more of the book than he wants his wife to know is based on direct personal experience. Its characters are a group of British National Servicemen stationed in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency. There's not much of a plot, but as a fictionalised memoir, or a detailed treatment for a film, it conveys graphically the long stretches of boredom and short bursts of terror of being young, conscripted into the army and a very long way from home. And when the sex scenes do arrive (as arrive they must), they are, well the word that comes to mind is sweet. When the main character, Briggs, admits to the prostitute Lucy that the sexual encounter they are embarking on will be his first, she is delighted to be dealing with a virgin soldier and treats him kindly, taking things very slowly. She shows him 'the big secret', and whispers, 'How the virgin like?' The chapter, and the description of the encounter ends: '"Oh, it's lovely, Lucy," he shivered. "It's lovely, really it is."'

A lot of the humour stays flat on the page, as in the episode where a number of the conscripts volunteer to be circumcised in the mistaken belief that the operation will get them ten days' extra leave, and it's not The Red Badge of Courage, but the harsh realities of the young soldiers' life are served up to the reader, made palatable by a comic mix of camaraderie, eccentricity and mild bawdry, but still starkly recognisable. ( )
1 vote shawjonathan | Aug 14, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 009949003X, Mass Market Paperback)

The Communist guerrilla war in Malaya kept a whole British army occupied . They were the virgin soldiers. Idle homesick, afraid, bored, oversexed and unsatisfied. A young virgin like Brigg had to grab his fun where he could in one frantic attempt at living before he died or got demobbed...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:05 -0400)

One way or another the Communist guerrilla war kept a whole British army occupied from 1948-1952. A young virgin like Brigg had to grab his fun while and where he could - in the Liberty Club, in Juicy Lucy's flat or up in Phillipa's room.

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