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Last night another soldier ... by Andy McNab

Last night another soldier ...

by Andy McNab

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Last Night Another Soldier

Friday, October 26, 2012

This is what is called a quick read book. It serves to get you by if caught in a queue or on a short train journey. I grabbed it quickly in a second hand book shop and read it while abroad. What surprised me about it was the degree of entertainment value it contained. I had read the war accounts of Mark Baker and Antony Beevor on the same trip, so some lighter battlefield reading was a welcome detour.

Andy McNab is a former SAS trooper who has fought in a few places but has allowed a pen to displace the gun. It seems he used both as efficiently although his outlook has hardly been displaced in similar manner. He creates the character Briggsy to tell the story. At 18 in 2009 the youth is in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban during a six month tour of Helmand Province. His company frequently lose their comrades to death and injury.

In this account McNab conveys combat in a way that makes it real, unattractive, sans the glorification that a Rambo type character might bring to battle scenes, where ‘soldiers don’t fight for Queen or country, like they say on telly. They fight for each other.’

The male culture was pervasive and was reinforced by the mate bonding that burgeons in situations of shared danger. When John dies his mates go through his mail before sending them back home to his family. They dislike the invasiveness involved but opt for protecting his wife from any letters he might have got from a girl friend. They remember their mates like John because there is no chance that the ‘pencil necks’ at desks will. Their ire is spurred when his death gets ten seconds on the news ‘shoved between a slapper and a dog’.

A subtext is the soldiers’ unhappiness with the government that wanted to fight a war on the cheap. ‘Why ain’t we got loads of helis and gear like the Yanks got?’ one of the squaddies asks. Theirs was not a moral critique of a warlike government, just a functional one: simply not enough gear with which to kill the enemy or whoever else got in the way.

An enduring fear was getting kidnapped by the Taliban although it never seemed to occur to the soldiers to heed the advice of comedian George Carlin when he heard that a Westerner had been beheaded in one of America’s foreign wars.

" Ahhh, Beheading, beheadings! What are you fucking surprised? Just one more form of extreme human behaviour. Besides, who cares about a mercenary civilian contractor from Oklahoma who gets his head cut off? Fuck him! Hey, jack, you don't want to get your head cut off? Stay the fuck in Oklahoma. They ain't cutting heads in Oklahoma ... as far as I know."

Briggsy was luckier, getting a wound in the backside. He immediately becomes ‘the man with two arseholes’ the guy who will now use up twice as much toilet roll and talk double the shit he used to, given that he always ‘talked out his arse.’

Si, another character, reckoned if he hadn’t joined up he ‘would be in prison by now.’ The type the British like to send to stop ‘criminality’ in foreign countries.

Obsessed with drinking tea, the soldiers claimed that without the beverage the army would grind to a halt. It must be British army custom. During the battle for the Normandy beaches the British troops would use every opportunity for a good ‘brew up’. The cookhouse too figured prominently in their belligerent universe. And they liked porn as well.

In many ways not all that different from prison culture. During the blanket protest the day was largely structured around the three meals that were shoved unceremoniously into the cells. In an eight H Block jail it was said that the IRA leadership were being held in the fictional H9 because they were so dangerous and had to be kept isolated and subject to particularly intense privations. And while porn was never available it would have received a better welcome than the only reading material, put in the cell solicited or not, the bible.

If your light reading needs to pass whatever ideological test you set it this is probably not recommended. If picked up to read for reading’s sake, or pure escapism, it will deliver.

Andy McNab: Last Night Another Soldier. Corgi 2010. ISBN 978-0552-16168-8 ( )
  Susini | Jan 2, 2013 |
(BBC Radio 4 radioplay, broadcast 1 August 2009)
This was in some way a surprising play. It's a glimpse into the life of Briggsy (18-year-old David Briggs), who is in Afghanistan on his first tour with the British Army. We get to accoustically accompany him and his platoon on patrols in the Green Zone along the Helmand river, where Afghan farmers plant their maize, but also poppies. The platoon regularly engages Taliban fighters, and soon they suffer the first casualty. Briggsy gets shot as well, but the location of the wound makes him the target of a few well-aimed jokes. After a chat with the nurse at their base, Briggsy decides that he wants to reconnect to his father who left the family long ago, an alcoholic. He suspects that the old man might suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), acquired when he went to fight in the Falklands in 1982. His mother does not want him to, nearly shouts at him over the phone, but he writes to his father anyway, trying to convince him to get help or at least get into contact.
This radioplay is no well-defined drama with set-up, middle part and resolution, rather a glimpse of the situation soldiers find themselves in, in Afghanistan. It also does not shy away from drastic depiction of what happens in a fight. The ending would have had me throwing pillows at the radio, had I not been sitting in a train coach. ( )
  GirlFromIpanema | Jan 10, 2010 |
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Afghanistan, 2009. A Rifle section is halfway through their six-month tour of duty in Helmand Province. 16 men from their Battalion have already been killed. 47 others have been wounded and flown back home. This is the story of four of the young men in this Rifle section.… (more)

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