17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2008
With regards the content of the book, Dan Collins states that the purpose of 'In Foreign Fields' is for the winners of gallantry awards in Afghanistan and Iraq to tell their stories in their own words, however in doing so he has achieved much more. Of course the book allows the reader to get a better feeling of the incidents that took place and how these individual's actions during those incidents won them their gallantry medals, but more importantly it demonstrates the humility and selflessness of British servicemen and women with much more clarity and credibility than I have experienced from other books regarding current military conflicts.
In my opinion the only exposure the majority of the British public appear to get regarding British Forces involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is largely negative and impersonal, 'In Foreign Fields' to my mind is the perfect antidote to that. It is almost impossible for someone sat in middle England, whose only exposure to the wars is via snippets in newspapers or television news regarding the tragic death of a serviceman or the politics of the conflicts, to have any grasp of what is really occurring on the ground. For me, 'In Foreign Fields' provided that insight in a unique and tangible way.
What also struck me about the book were not only the insights into current operations but also the very real and personal insights into the life and psyche of the modern British serviceman. Without exception, the individuals who contributed to the book all talk about how they were thinking of others at the time of the incidents and the safety and welfare of their comrades rather than their own. They state that they feel there may have been others worthy of recognition who did not receive it and how their awards were as much for them as for themselves. They also talk about the enemy and how it feels to take another man's life. Again, without exception, the contributors do not glorify killing the enemy but speak of how it has affected them and how they think about the families of those they have killed. For me this aspect provided an insight into battle rarely spoken about from such a personal viewpoint and certainly not one that tends to grace the pages of tabloid newspapers, the editor's of which would prefer to print much more negative and salacious stories regarding the military.
In general I think that 'In Foreign Fields' is one of the finest books available at the moment for providing an insight into current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the modern British serviceman. This may seem a strange statement when you take into account the fact that the book provides no strategic assessment of either conflict, it does not deal with the politics behind the deployment (a subject that remains so emotive for the general public - see William Podmore's review) and it does not talk of the future impact of either operation regarding long term security in the UK. However it is for that very reason that I feel the book sits apart from those that do deal with these subject matters and should be read by as large an audience as possible, not just those from a military background or with an interest in the military and most certainly by those detractors of the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and those who continue to link service personnel with the politics behind them.
'In Foreign Fields' does not censure the violence or the realities of modern warfare, it talks about them in stark reality but in doing so provides example after example of the bravery and determination of our Armed Forces. Even if you do not agree with the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you cannot help but feel an immense sense of pride not only in these individuals but also of their comrades and the Armed Forces as a whole.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2007
It's been done before, but it is still a clever idea - an anthology of interviews of military men, describing their wartime experiences. In this case, it is 25 medal-winners from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, assembled by Dan Collins, writer and former journalist, who freely admits that he "has never fought a day in his life".
His lack of military experience, however, does not hinder the enterprise. Collins does not seek to impose his own personality on his subjects and lets them talk freely, describing their own experiences, subject to only the lightest of editing. The hand of the author though, is present throughout, as he frames each interview in a coherent structure, deftly interwoven with extracts from each of the medal-winners' citations.
Of the twenty-five, it is impossible to pick favourites. Every one of the accounts is riveting and unique. Not in any order, therefore we pluck Lance Corporal Dickson, MC., a Territorial Army soldier deployed to Iraq. He was caught in an ambush while riding an open-topped Land Rover, part of an escort for a convoy of water tankers driving through Basra.
Braving a withering hail of fire, IEDs and RPGs, he stayed at his highly exposed post in the back of the Land Rover, even after being wounded. Mind you, such is this man's Army that, after taking a round that went in through his rear deltoid and followed a track down his rib cage, lodging in his back, his Sergeant told him to get back to his post and "...stop being a lazy sod!". No mummys' boys these!
Then we have Major Mark Hammond, something of a rarity - a Royal Marine Chinook pilot. He led the Immediate Response Team and Quick Reaction Force in Helmand, based in Camp Bastion, his duties including taking medical teams out to evacuate casualties, flying in to "hot" landing zones in often perilous conditions.
With understated bravery, Maj. Hammond is "mega-impressed" with his surgical team. "It's easier for us flying the thing (helicopter)," he says. "They have to sit in the back watching the rounds go past the window and there's nothing they can do".
After one aborted mission, when the fire was too heavy for Hammond to bring his helicopter into a landing zone in Musa Qala, he returns to Camp Bastion (his machine is found to have four bullet holes in vital parts) and has to break the news to the surgical team. He takes up the story:
I remember, we came off the cab and the medics were all sat down the back. Their boss was a colonel - he was pretty ashen-faced, and I had a smoke with him. We were sucking down this smoke, and I said, "You realise we are going to go back?" He took just about the longest drag I've ever seen, stubbed it out and said, "Yeah, I thought we might". And he just walked off. Immensely brave ...
If understatement is a quintessentially British characteristic, then we also see this aplenty, but no more so than from Lieutenant Timothy Illingworth CGC. He is attached to the Afghan Army and, in contact with the Taleban and engaged in a ferocious firefight, he borrows an RPG, fires off a few rounds, and then, he recalls ...
I got back onto my rifle, moving forward, identifying individuals if they left cover and shooting them if I could. I finished my magazine, went to change it and that's when I noticed no-one else was firing. I changed my mag - it was my seventh and last, which is an indication - and turned round. And there was not a soul in sight.
And when any one of us would be a cowering, gibbering wreck, he adds laconically ...
Which concerned me slightly.
With the enemy only yards away, he works out that, as soon as he had stopped to change the magazine, it would only be a "matter of moments" before the Taleban worked out he was on his own. Then it was going to be "game over". Against such a horrendous possibility, Illingworth tells us that this was:
Quite a worrying moment.
It is impossible to do justice to the cool bravery displayed by these men and their comrades, But Dan Collins does. For that alone, his book is an essential read, but Collins also allows each of his subjects to ruminate about what their awards meant to them, and their feelings about themselves. The narratives are often poignant, and revealing, especially Major Justin Featherstone, MC. Having led patrols into al Amarah at the height of the Mahdi uprising in 2004, showing quite extraordinary heroism and leadership, he praises particular men he worked with, and then turns to consider the rest: "But it's the ordinary Toms I'll remember most," he says...
I joined the Army for the privilege of commanding and serving with the best soldiers in the world. Because of my seniority, I am now in an instructing role at Sandhurst, and I will never have that opportunity to command men in battle again. That's what I will miss the most, to the point where I've actually decided to leave the Army. I don't want to sit behind a desk. I've no interest in the bureaucracy of that, necessary as it is. How can I spend my time worrying about my triplicate return for my motor mileage expenses?
That says so much, and speaks so much of the man. Dangerous it is, and full of tragedy, but for many, leading men in battle is the finest thing they will ever do. We are fortunate that we have such men, but it is a shame that, somehow, we cannot find a greater reward for them than a desk in some obscure corner of the Army.
Nevertheless, through Dan Collins and his magnificent book, we leave the last quotation to Major Featherstone. Ruminating that "people say that modern recruits aren't what they were", he delivers a pithy response: "Bollocks!"
This is definitely a book to savour.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2008
I've never served in the Army or the Marines, and have to admit I have no more than a passing interest in what they do. Sorry, make that 'HAD no interest'.
I was given this book as a Christmas present and spent most of Christmas Day and evening totally engrossed in it. From the front cover picture, which apparently shows Commandos in real-life battle action against the Taliban (scary) to the back cover, which is packed with quotes from the 24 men and one woman featured inside, it has you absolutely hooked.
It's a rich and varied collection of stories - from the bomb disposal expert who defused the biggest bomb ever found in Iraq right under the noses of the enemy, to the 18 year old girl who climbed up on to an armoured vehicle in the middle of a huge battle to save the life of her sergeant who had been shot in the face, to the sergeant who counted out enough bullets to kill his men and commit suicide as a howling mob closed in, to the corporal who ran through a huge barrage of machine gun fire and grenades to pick up and carry back a terribly injured mate... these are the stories you just don't get to hear about in full in the papers. Why? I don't know. Maybe the soldiers (and Marines and RAF) don't like talking, because they come across as amazingly modest.
Seriously, and I'm not the sort of person to say this, you will weep tears of pride for these people. Makes you proud to be British once again.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2007
Written By Dan Collins who according to his mini biography 'Has never fought a day in his life'
25 Medal winners ranging from an RAMC Private to a RAF Wing Commander
From the moment you look at the cover photograph of Royal Marines with fixed baynets to the last page there is a feeling that Dan Collins has got it right and indeed a book can be judged by it's cover
On opening we are greeted by an extract from Kipling's Tommy reminding us that the general public can be a bit ignorant to the soldiers cause
The preface states "Whatever your views [on the two campaigns being fought] you must realise that the troops have no say in when and where they fight"
Dan Collins takes time to explain that the book was to be called Heroes but the title was changed after the heroes themselves insisted it would embarrass them
Staring with Telic 1 in 2003 and coming right up to date with Op Herrick in 2006 in Afghanistan the book takes us through 25 tales of heroisim
The book follows a basic pattern:
There is a brief explanation of the general events leading up to the action for which the awards were won
Each soldier gives us a description of the events leading to their award in his own words
The author will use a paragraph of narrative and the citation to convey 'the bigger picture'
This is sometimes needed as all of the soldiers and Airmen interviewed tend to play there part down and are keen to emphisise that it was a team effort
There seems to be a why did I get an award when x,y and z where right next to me and was working just as hard attitude from our servicemen
All are frank and honest about their feelings some admit to being terrified,some admit that they have struggled once they returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and how it has changed them forever.
For some this is the first time they have opened up about the action they were involved in
It may be the first time mothers fathers and wifes find out the true story instead of a watered down version they may have been given because as stated some of those interviewed find it difficult to admit that maybe they did deserve an award
Credit should go to Mr Collins as I'm sure a certain amount of persuasion may have beeen required to get these servicemen to talk in the first place
Also the reader is struck by the get on and go attitude of our servicemen
Once they have been out on the ground involved in a major contact they go back to camp 'bomb up' and set out to go through it all again
In more than one case after having to clean blood etc from the back of their vehicles and finding replacements for injured soldiers
It's not doom and gloom all are upbeat about service life and how they are getting on with their life though in more than one case the humor of the British tommy comes out one extract:
I felt a thud a bit like being hit with a sledgehammer
I shouted to the guys in front "I think I've been shot"
"Have you or havent you" came the reply
"Yep I've been shot"
"Probably shrapnel any way get back up (on top cover) you lazy little sod"
So I got back up
This book should be read by as many people as possible and I can't recommend it enough
If you were to stop someone in the street and ask them to name a hero they would probably state Beckham,Hamilton,Gerrard maybe Beharry VC or Budd VC
Dan Collins has gave us 25 more to add to that list and their story deserves to be told (plus 422 names of all ranks who have won an award)
Dan Collins has put together a piece of work that should be of intrest to every reader, serving, ex service, civvy or walt.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2014
I chose this book because I have a son showing interest in joining the forces, so I thought I'd do a little reading up on the worst aspect of what he might be in for. It turned out to be a real eye opener.
Each of the accounts here (not stories) is magnificent. Time and again it shows the best and worst aspects of war, because that's what these 'conflicts' are, whatever the politicians call them. Each episode shows the tremendous camaraderie and incredible selfless bravery of the people concerned. What also come through is the huge professionalism of our forces in the face of incredible pressures.
I found the individual accounts both moving and shocking, both on the day and in their aftermath, injuries both mental and physical described. The aftershock is not talked about too much in the media, although things seem to be better than they were. This book gives a glimpse of that side too, although I fear it only scratches the surface.
The accounts are written in a genuine first hand style, with both humour and horror. You can almost hear the individuals talking, including phrases unique to where they were brought up. The accounts are probably 15-20 pages or so, so its easy to pick up and put down in that respect.
The book left me with a feeling of even deeper respect and gratitude to the people who serve in the armed forces on our behalf.
As far as my son goes, its his choice. After reading this, I don't have the right to stop him joining if that's what he wants. It doesn't seem fair to just hope some other parent will let their child fill the gap. I've no doubt he would have the greatest time of his life.. and maybe the very worst, just as the book shows time and again.