Whenever people mention the subject of "great" British military commanders they might be forgiven for automatically thinking of Montgomery and Slim for their's were the battles on which the future of the free world was to depend. In a post-World War Two Britain, however, the names of few senior commanders from any of the three British armed services spring readily to mind. Within her army, however, the Parachute Regiment is able to claim more than it's fair share. Names like Anthony Farrar-Hockley, Geoffrey Howlett, Peter De La Billiere - to name but three. Now the name of Mike Jackson may be added to that august list of the greatest commanders of modern times.
It was 1971 when I first met Mike Jackson. I was a corporal attached to 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment in Palace Barracks, Northern Ireland. He was battalion adjutant in the rank of captain. The next time we met was some 18 years later in that same barracks. By then I was the captain - and he the brigadier. No, we were not in uniform, in fact he was playing a very hard game of rugby and I was a mere spectator. He was running down the wing at the time when an opponent bundled him off the field of play. He landed right beside me. "Hello Ned, good to see you again" he said and promptly got on with the game.
Since retiring as the professional head of the British Army, much has been said and written about General Sir Mike Jackson. Only he will know which plaudits are true and which are not. The one single characteristic for which he will always be remembered is, of course, the fact that he cared about the men under his command and when finally appointed Chief of the General Staff, that meant every single soldier in the British Army.
This autobiography is, of course, his story and, at a time when peace has finally returned to Northern Ireland and the Balkan states but with wars continuing in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is an important story for those who want to know what it is that makes a commander "great" over so many years of such troubled times. Unlike many other biographies, Mike Jackson makes no attempt to write this account through rose-tinted glasses or rewrite events to reflect what he might have wished had happened. This account is how it happened - warts and all.
It is a fascinating and engaging read and a book that should be read by every single person with an interest in what our forces are doing - and have been doing, for the past 45 years. As far as the British armed services are concerned, it is a story which should be read by officers and soldiers alike. They will all be the better for having done so.
Retired British Army major.