3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
From the Horse's Mouth., 5 Jan 2012
Having not expected too much from this tome when it dropped out of my Xmas goodie bag I ended up being pleasantly surprised by it. It wasn't what I had expected. I expected a one sided commentary style narrative by an ex-soldier turned mercenary who was only in Sierra Leone for 6 months or so but instead got the inside story from a man who was there pre and post coup as well as being an individual who, having outgrown and surpassed his original role as a paid member of a private security firm, stayed and played his part admirably, together with amazing characters like Juba the South African chopper pilot, during the toughest fighting the country saw. And who proved himself to be an invaluable cog in the slim mechanism that helped to prevent the collapse of Freetown and, God only know what, apocalyptic scenes that that would have brought. The testament of men like Chief Hinga Norman, Sir Peter Penfold and many others to Fred's courage and dedication is impressive. Equally impressive is his honesty and candour which seems to be without ego. I have found that that rare quality is almost always one held by members of the Special Forces rather than those who never quite made the grade. Easy to understand why the British Military hierarchy specifically requested Fred and his colleagues assistance with the UK government sanctioned Op Barras in 2000, the joint Special Forces and Para operation to rescue the Royal Irish Regiment soldiers captured by the West Side Boys, an operation which brought the belated intervention of the British government and helped finally restore lasting stability to the region.
Fred's ridiculously impressive memory, aided by what appear to be meticulous contemporary diary notes means that although, as with any, it is story told through his eyes, via the clean and insightful pen of the excellent Hamish Ross, his recollections are backed up by an impressive regurgitation of facts in the form of dates, timings and cross references that make the mind boggle. In fact, my only real criticism is that for a good old fashioned military tale sucker like me the book is almost too factual at times.
Often I have wondered if important global conflicts hinged on the decisions individuals made by virtue of their character and whims rather than through the weight of a popular consensus or reasonable deductive thought. Reading Fred's recollections I realise it happens more often than one might believe, especially in the developing world. Did anyone outside of Sierra Leone for example even realise that the coup (against an elected government) actually started initially as a junior officer's revolt against rice rationing and was not in the slightest bit political or idealist? What is truly shameful though was the failure of Western powers to act until the situation in this part of West Africa threatened not just an innocent population but their own interests. Thank God for men like Fred Marafono who bridged that gap in the meantime and prevented total chaos and bloodshed. Don't expect Bravo Two Zero but if you want what must be as close to an account of what 'real war' must be like, buy this book. It is a book historians will turn to in years to come when they want to make sense of the mess that was Sierra Leone during that period.