on 19 October 2009
I ordered this book after reading a review for its sequel and wanting to read them in the order written. I do not regret buying either. My immediate interest stems from being a National Serviceman 1952-54 as a non-commissioned regimental signaller in the PBI, serving in Kenya and Germany
'On Fire' gives a picture of the longueurs of army life in Hong Kong and Korea, particularly as viewed from the Officer's Mess. Delightful as the distractions may be, the enthusiasm for the combat posting to Korea is well captured by John Ogden. The contrast between the two situations is well drawn, as is the pre-action boredom and hellish contrast of killing and being killed. It is often said that a good regiment is a true family, Ogden certainly brings that to life, especially where commonality of the field dissolves the strictures of rank.
Lust and love have their place, that of the caring chaplain and good officers being more believable than the male and female variety. Ogden has a fine controlled comic line, this is at its best in the field kitchen chapter.
'On Fire' is a good book, it will appeal to anybody with an interest in military life in the 1950s. It is especially readable for NSmen of that period, it explains what the 'prats' where up to ( they pre-date Ruperts) and how right we were to feel sorry for them along with our laughter.
on 29 April 2008
Perhaps ironically the strength of this novel lies less in its fictional character than the insights it reveals of military experience in that "forgotten" Korean conflict. The author's recall of what it was like to be embroiled in the vicissitudes of attack and counter-attack, and entrapped in meshes of tension, hope, fear and frustration, is tellingly conveyed. Relations between the Yanks and Limeys (mutual astonishment), characteristics of the Chinese (always blowing bugles), the perils of frostbite (losing your skin peeling hands off an iced-up tank), confused perceptions (mistaking wallowing cows for enemy snipers) - these and many such snippets, plus the closely textured account of battle minutiae, all paint a tangible picture of early fifties Korea. Rather less tangible is the depiction of mess life and the relations between individual officers. In this respect there is plenty of material all right, but it is material diluted by its very breadth. The canvas is perhaps too wide, its figures too many to supply strong dramatic distinction. What it does do, however, is to give an authentic rendering of the day to day procedures, difficulties, triumphs, challenges - and sometimes absurdities, of combatants plunged in an alien terrain struggling doggedly to maintain a sense of balance and order amidst threat and uncertainty. It is a book that will undoubtedly strike chords with veterans of the Korean war, but is also likely to appeal to anyone with an interest in military history or in the social and political ethos of that period.