This book, previously published as The Skinback Fusiliers, is short, funny, bitter and uncompromising, and retells the real experiences of three young men who join the army because they think it will deal them better hands than life has offered so far. All perfectly intelligent, if short on education, they accept recruitment promises on pay, job training, and future prospects. Andy is white, Ashton is black, and Shahid is a Blackburn Asian. They do not expect that they will ever be friends.
In fact they have to be – and close and vital allies. The novel charts, through a series of actions and events, their growing awareness of how deeply they have been conned, and the vanishing opportunities for doing anything about it. Far from being trained as heroes, they come to see themselves as cannon fodder, face savers, and sacrificial lambs. They are paid, pro rata, far less than the minimum wage, and charged for their accommodation and their food. Their prospects, among other things, are to leave the army as a pale pink vapour in the air, or go home in a body bag.
Being young, they don’t believe that that will ever happen. But they know that there are ways to leave the army, and over time their feelings gel. To talk of leaving is sedition, and walls have ears. But they are determined to get out. There is more to life. For Andy, love with Emma and a second try at education, for Ashton marriage and a daughter, for Shahid the hope to foster peace and understanding. What better place to start than Blackburn!
Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who served four months in jail for refusing to return to duty in Afghanistan. He told ten thousand demonstrators in Trafalgar Square that he thought the war was neither legal nor in Britain's interests:
'Reading it was like being back in the mob'
'Daring, immediate, painful, powerful. It's the stuff we've got to confront in order to figure out what is being done in our name. There's no point in delivering up sanitized stuff. It won't tell us anything.'
'Killing Time at Catterick is an important book about how we lure our young men into the armed forces, how we train them, how we treat them while they're there and how we treat them when they come out. The occasional bits and pieces of bad behaviour that emerge on the news are, as always, the tip of the iceberg and this is a timely reminder than any organisation that trains people to be killers is going to have a dirty side - something which we all find it easy to forget when we want to go to war. If this is the kind of thing we visit on our own forces, it's worth asking what kind of damage we're inflicting on the many equally innocent people who get caught up in our military adventures abroad.
Next time you see an ad on the TV suggesting the armed forces are like some kind of adventure playground for men, think again.
John Thompson (critic and legal draughtsman):
'It was a little like watching a car crash, horrifying but compulsive viewing.'
Frank Cottrell Boyce:
'Reading this book gave me a feeling of inescapable immediacy. It's so vivid and it really buttonholes you and the prose is so urgent and gripping. Envious. It's bloody fantastic.'
Laurence Boswell (director/writer, Royal Shakespeare Co., West End, Broadway):
'Very powerful, very tough, people should know this stuff. Loved that you could make room for the joy of a great curry, amidst all the violence and the bullying. Thanks.'
Carl Grose (writer, director at Kneehigh Theatre and the National):
'BRILLIANT. It's one of the most startling, shocking, funny, tragic, and truly political books I've ever read about this country. I absolutely love it.'