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Soldiers: Fighting Men's Lives, 1901-2001 Hardcover – 1 Feb 2002
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The men interviewed for this book all pretty much had hardscrabble lives in Britain and sought out the army as a means of escape. They had an almost fatalistic and long suffering relationship with that army. Many were often content to take any deal that institution dealt out to them. The traditions of regimental life engrossed many and created a devoted following to those cherished ideas. Duty, service and self-sacrefice for ones mates were the enduring ideas they learned. Surprising also how many served through WW2 yet often saw little or no combat due to the vagaries of army posting and assignments. This reinforces the notion that military bureacracy often resulted in a relatively small number actually facing daily combat.
To read this book is to understand how the army works and how its moves around its soldiers. Most of the men here were more than willing to serve wherever they were posted. Overseas postings to India and Malaysia often had its perks. NCOs and their wives often had posh accommodations the like of which they would never have had in Britain. The downside was that most postings were temporary and the career soldier often had to be prepared to move around at short notice. If they were married then wives also had to make do with any new postings.
Most of the soldiers here would have stayed in the army as long as possible, but the downsizing of the Britain's armed forces after WW2 and the reduction of the Empire meant that they often had to return to a difficult civilan life. Yet many would prosper after a hard period of adjustment, the values learned in the regiment and army serving well in civvy street. In the end, as old age creeps on the Chelsea Hospital becomes a beckoning that lures them back to a softer army in retirement.
This book is a salute to those old veterans, many gone now, who maintained an Empire and saw its demise. They fought the good fight against Nazism and went along in their duties with that nonchalant English swagger and determination to do their duty against all adversity. They fought w/o emnity and usually conducted themselves with steady professionalism. Soldiers today would have a hard time enduring the lives these men had with the colors. A classic study of a bygone era of soldiering when tradition and comradeship mattered much in that profession.
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