Tag Archives: British Army

“IRISH UP AND OVER!”

At 06.30 hours on this day in 1915, on the command “Irish Up and Over!”, Riflemen Frank Edwards lobbed his football into the No Mans Land which separated the British and German positions at Loos-en-Gohelle. Frank, along with his London Irish team-mates, Mickey Mileham, Walter ‘Jimmy’ Dalby, Bill Taylor and Bert Coward spread out like a line of forwards and went after the ball, “all the while shells bursting among them and shrapnel screaming overhead”.

So started the Battle of Loos, the first large scale British offensive of the First World War, referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions but the reserves had been held too far from the battlefront to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.

The football continued in play, ending up somewhere on the German wire, but Frank was not so lucky. Going down wounded, it was Micky Mileham who stopped to fix the tourniquet that saved his pal’s life.

In a different war in a different century, fighting for our survival, trapped and cut off from our resupply chain and slowly but inexorably running out of supplies and ammunition, I experienced the same sense of belonging that sustained my London Irish forbears and which had convinced them it would be a good idea to “charge across No Man’s Land passing the ball forward” .

capi041_youbelong_6sheet_fin_uk41

 

It is such a potent force that the British Army has harnessed it for its latest advertising campaign. “Belonging sees you through whatever life – on or off the battlefield – may throw at you.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

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Are you an amoeba, Sir?

I’ve been invited to give a book talk at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst tomorrow. I shall be very careful not to park on Skid Dorney’s parade square:

‘I BECAME AWARE of his presence before I actually set eyes upon the Colour Sergeant for the very first time. Viscerally, I knew I’d properly fucked up well before I knew the reason why. The year was 1988 and I was trying to extract an ironing board from the back of my MGB GT, a vehicle not best suited to the carriage of such an unwieldy item. It was my first day at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst where I was embarking on a six month leadership training course which, if successful, would culminate in a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army.

On arrival I had been directed to a car park some distance from my new home in Victory College, and instructed to get my kit unloaded and up to my new quarters in double quick time. In addition to the ironing board now stuck between the rear parcel shelf and the seat backs, the kit list of requirements had been extensive, running to several pages of curious back to front wording which transformed seemingly mundane items such as trousers and shoe polish into trousers, civilian w. turn‑up and polish, shoes, black.

Getting this kit into my little car had been a gargantuan task in itself and I did not look forward to the multiple journeys to and from the car park that it would take to unload it all. In a flash of initiative that I reckoned would serve to highlight my suitability for commissioning, I resolved to bring Mohammed to the mountain and drive my car to an empty car park I had observed directly adjacent to the college. This would more than halve the unloading time.

Having put this unilateral change of plan into action I quickly completed the task, with the exception of the ironing board, which refused to budge. In an attempt to identify the cause of the obstruction I had somehow managed to squeeze my torso into the space between the parcel shelf and the seatbacks when I became aware of the Colour Sergeant at my back.

I inelegantly extricated myself from the vehicle. His towering presence loomed over me. It was obvious that I had transgressed in some way and was about to experience the wrath of the Colour Sergeant.

Immaculately dressed in blue tunic with red sash, brandishing a highly varnished wooden pace stick, the Colour Sergeant opened and closed his mouth a few times as he struggled to find the words to adequately express the full depth of his rage. The effect was like that of a pressure cooker about to explode. His arms and shoulders began to rise and fall in a series of short violent movements, but still no words emerged from his soundless lips. In an effort to diffuse the situation I stuck out my hand and attempted to introduce myself. The Colour Sergeant appeared truly affronted by this gesture, recoiling as if I had slapped him hard across the face. His impressive moustache twitched alarmingly and he finally found his voice.

“I know who you are, Sir. What are you doing on my parade square?”

He managed to make this prior knowledge of my existence sound deeply sinister. It was clear from his intonation that the ‘Sir’ was not intended as an honorific. Unsure how to answer without enraging him further it was my turn to be lost for words. The Colour Sergeant filled the void.

“Are you an amoeba, Sir?”

“Are you pond life, Sir?”

“Have you recently crawled out of a nearby swamp, Sir?”

“Are you not aware of the difference between a car park and a parade square, Sir?”

“Can you get anything right, Sir?”

I was dumbstruck. I had no idea how to respond. After a further few moments of uneasy silence the Colour Sergeant appeared satisfied that he had made his point.

“Cut away, Sir, cut away.”

And he walked briskly off in the direction whence he had come.

The Colour Sergeant was none other than Richard ‘Skid’ Dorney who would be my principal instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst for the next six months. He would rule with a rod of iron and on one memorable occasion I found myself incarcerated in the Academy cells for the heinous crime of harbouring fluff in the turn‑ups of my civilian trousers. In truth, I was not the best student to pass through the Academy gates, and it was largely because of rather than in spite of Skid’s efforts that I was eventually commissioned in the spring of 1989.’

Sandhurst logo

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 

On Love and War

Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO is the British Army’s ‘LGBT Champion and straight ally’.

In a message to the Army LGBT Forum he talks of soldiers’ love for one another: ‘I have found that soldiers inspire and give profound love and loyalty to each other. I still feel deep love for the soldiers and officers I have been lucky enough to serve with.’

I couldn’t agree more. I witnessed this love firsthand every day in Afghanistan. Of course, hard bitten combat troops don’t like to speak of love or admit to feelings of fondness, devotion, tenderness or affection for their comrades in arms. It doesn’t seem appropriate somehow when your business is defined by effects terms such as destroy, degrade, deny and disrupt.

This is perhaps why General Sanders declares: ‘Search for the word “love” in a book of military quotations, and you will come up empty handed.’  But on this point I disagree. Warrior poets of the first world war frequently wrote of their love for their fellow man. So too did Alexander the Great and Napoleon. Field Marshal Montgomery preferred the term comradeship  declaring it ‘makes a man feel warm and courageous when all his instincts tend to make him cold and afraid’, but it sounds a lot like love to me.

Somewhere along the way love has become unfashionable in war, just as it has in business. Search for the word love in a book of business quotations and you really will come up empty handed.

It’s odd because, at our core, love is what drives us all.

Isn’t it?

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back (but check the smallprint first).

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 

British Army in Crisis

I see I made it into the Express this week, (front row, seventh from the left) helping to illustrate an article by Siobhan McFadyen about the army’s recruitment crisis. There seems to be a theme emerging. Last time my picture appeared in a National Newspaper it was under the headline: “Red Tape chokes Army’s vital recruitment drive.”

The Times, 05 November 2012

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

Britain has never been more ready for conflict

On this day 26 years ago, the shooting started in Gulf War One.

As military tradition dictates, the British Army was ill-prepared. Insufficient desert combat uniforms and body armour to equip the entire force; a shoddily manufactured and woefully unreliable personal weapon system in the SA80 Mark 1 and no doctrine or training in desert warfare. I know, I was there.

In the intervening 26 years, despite the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, things have got worse rather than better for the British Army. While personal issue equipment and clothing has improved substantially, there are now 60,000 fewer soldiers than there were in 1991. Training budgets have also been slashed meaning those that are left are less well trained.  And, thanks to increased demands coupled with diminished terms and conditions of service, morale is at rock bottom.

Based on the long-standing British military tradition of running down its armed forces prior to committing them to battle, we have never been more ready for conflict. Which is just as well given the multiple threats we face today.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

 

Why is the Sergeant leaving?

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The British Army continues to laugh in the face adversity, but how on earth did it get to this point?

The Army’s senior commanders have failed to understand that loyalty, a central tenet of the Army’s Values and Standards, must first flow down the chain of command before it can be reflected back up.

In placing career before duty, commanders have not only been disloyal to the men and women under their command but have also undermined the principles of selfless commitment, respect, integrity and moral courage.

The very principles on which the British Army is founded.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

Phil Shiner: Greedy, unscrupulous w#nker.

Phil Shiner is one of the UK’s top human rights lawyers. He’s also a greedy, unscrupulous wanker. So it’s good to learn that he is to be struck off after admitting a string of misconduct charges. Johnny Mercer MP, will be pleased.

Let’s hope he is the first of many and that this marks the beginning of the end of the cynical gravy train that has hounded honourable British soldiers for years.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

Attention to detail

royal-irish

The Army is struggling to meet recruitment targets and wants LinkedIn members to sign up for the Irish Guards. Motto: Quis Separabit. (Who shall separate us?)

To give you an idea of the team you’ll be joining they have confusingly posted a picture of a different unit, the Royal Irish Regiment. Motto: Faugh A Ballagh. (Clear the way.)

When I was in the British army attention to detail was important, although fortunately not being Irish did not preclude me from joining the London Irish Rifles. Motto: Quis Separabit.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

The headline photo is of Irish Guardsmen (motto: Quis Separabit) and me in Helmand Province in 2012.

Army Top Brass have been in touch

While serving in Afghanistan in 2012 I grew accustomed to regular bollockings from the Task Force Helmand Top Brass. My off-message evaluations were a constant thorn in their side and I was frequently silenced by an utterly charming but equally adamant senior officer. As the tour went on our conversations became increasingly strained.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I received a letter yesterday from a Brigadier General to inform me that he had ‘thoroughly enjoyed reading’ SPIN ZHIRA. He went on to state: ‘It also gave me a new perspective on what was going on’

The British Army currently employs fewer than 150 Brigadier Generals and it would be extremely indiscreet of  me to reveal which one was kind enough to get in touch. However, I can say that it was not my charming, former nemesis in Task Force Helmand.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

brigadier

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood

‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak

‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zoneand An Active Service

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘A journey of love, service and adventure. Excellent.’
Amazon Customer

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

 

 

Too Old for Combat

It was great to talk with John Darvall at BBC Radio Bristol this morning about my book and how I’m really getting too old for combat.

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You can listen to John’s show on the iPlayer Radio. My interview is from 2:10 to 2:32

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Amazon Five Stars A JOURNEY OF LOVE, SERVICE AND ADVENTURE. EXCELLENT!

Amazon Five Stars A MODERN WARFARE LITERARY CLASSIC! OUTSTANDING READ.

Amazon Five Stars ENTERTAINING, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND COMPULSORY TO READ.

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.