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The Maroon Machine
on 14 November 2009
Military reportage has a long history, extending at least as far back as Julius Caesar's Gallic War, still read today. Since that time, while not every writer has had the rank of a Caesar, most writers or memoirists have held high rank. Admirals, Field-Marshals and general-officers of all services and nations still pen their accounts of battle. The accounts of lesser officers and or ordinary or private soldiers have only been around in any number since WW2 and have been penned by the combatants of all the participating states: Sajer's Forgotten Soldier is famous, as is Viktor Nekrasov's Front Line Stalingrad. 3 Para is in that tradition.
The book details the basic seclection and training of the soldiers, though compared with some accounts of the same (e.g. Point Man) the narrative was peculiarly bloodless, I felt. I was interested to read that the Paras in training still practise "milling" (presumably from the Anglo-Norman "melee"), which is a kind of brutal ritualized boxing-for-a-minute, a proletarian equivalent of the Heidelberg University scarface fencing-in-position which is still seen today). I thought that milling had been done away with years ago. Apparently not.
I found the book interesting to start with, but perhaps inevitably a little same-ey or repetitive later on. This may be unavoidable in a book which deals with the combat lives of particular small units in a few specified places. It is no criticism of the book to say that it contains no strategic sweep. It does not pretend to that. It is just a solidly written account of combat as experienced by front-line soldiers. A good read but in my opinion not a great one.