Tony Banks served with 2 Para during the Falklands War. When the war was over, he didn't hang around too long in the Paras (having become an angry young man after his experiences) and he went on to be successful as an entrepreneur, owning and running a chain of old people's homes. This led to him being invited to guest as a Secret Millionaire where the realisation hit him that his Angry Young Man persona was down to PTSD from his Falklands experience and that he was not alone. Far from alone: the more he dug, the more he found that PTSD was practically endemic among Falklands veterans.
Banks came to the conclusion that he needed to confront his Falklands ghosts. Having liberated a regimental trumpet from a POW in Post Stanley in the aftermath of the fighting, he determined, having located the trumpet's rightful owner via the power of the internet, to visit the Argentine mainland to return the trumpet and to revisit the Falklands.
That's the nuts and bolts of the story. The book starts, as ever, with the author's childhood. As the son of an airman, the family had been about a bit, including Cyprus during their troubles. When his father left the RAF, they emigrated to a wonderful new life in Canada. However, when he fell ill and needed a major heart operation, the family returned to Scotland with just the clothes they stood in. The young Tony Banks quickly discovered the power of income, especially in the depressed Dundee of the early 70s and he demonstrated early his readiness to work hard (on a milk round) to bring in money. His elder brothers had become a lawyer and an accountant and his parents had high hopes for him.
Then he saw an advert for the TA Paras. He applied and was accepted. He got into university, but decided he preferred things maroon to things civilian and joined 2 Para.
As he walks into his home on leave after exercise one Easter, his mother hands him a telegram bearing the simply the codeword Bruneval: "return to barracks immediately". He finds himself on his way on the long journey to Goose Green.
Two chapters describe his experiences in the Falklands and they are not pretty, though his description of a Para standing on a land mine on a beach is laugh-out-loud funny. I'll not spoil it for you.
So to my thoughts on the book?
Banks's description of his childhood and his teenage years do an excellent job of putting the reader inside the mindset of the young man who sails down south. The two Falklands chapters give an excellent, X-rated account of life on the blunt end of the bayonet he fitted and used in the Falklands.
I was disappointed when the story abruptly went post-Falklands and post-army to describe his years building up an empire of old people's homes and doing well for himself. However, throughout this phase of the story, PTSD lurks forever as a shadow at the back of the picture, growing ever blacker as the story unfolds. During the filming of Secret Millionaire in the deprived Anfield area of Liverpool
(his description of Anfield makes his earlier description of run-down Dundee sound like deepest darkest Surrey), the blackness explodes on him and Tony the tough guy breaks down in tears.
He heads off to Argentina and meets countless veterans who greet him as a long-lost friend, enemies only for the duration of hostilities, thrown together as comrades in arms by their shared experiences. (The vitriolic imperialist rubbish spouted forever by Argentinians who don't know, and repeated in anti-British rags ever since the war is refuted in the strongest terms by every veteran he meets.) The cathartic healing process starts, to be completed by his return to the Falklands where again he is greeted as a liberator and friend.
So, my thoughts on the book, really?
It might very easily have become "I was a Para, I had a hard time on the Falklands and suffered as a result, but I worked hard and aren't I a clever boy for making it rich?" But it wasn't like that. Well the last bit wasn't. Clearly he did work hard and do very well for himself, but there is no crowing about it: it's simply a true and necessary part of the story. For every Falklands veteran who turned his life around after seeing things nobody needs to see, there are plenty who have not been so lucky.
I actually felt the story was well-balanced, more than worth the telling and importantly, well told. If you expect 300 pages of blood and gore and Sven Hassel-esque war-porn, you are set to be bitterly disappointed by this book (you'll only get two chapters).
Did I say 300 pages? Yes I did. I always feel that 300 is a good number of pages for a book: any less and I might feel cheated; more and maybe the story is overcooked. 300 pages? Well, yes but ... One thing I couldn't help but notice was that the font is quite large and the line spacing is, shall we say, generous. So does the book contain 300 pages of story? Maybe not, but ultimately, the font and the spacing made the book easy to read (aided obviously by the author's easy style: sow's ear, silk purse, etc). Oh and there are photos.
Did I like the book? Yes I did. It threatened to bog down in the middle and it wasn't, ultimately, the book I had expected to read, but it did a good job of telling a story that needed to be told and it did it well.
Mushroomheads? Difficult. I have already stated that it didn't turn out to be the book I expected to read and I doubt there are many who would go out of their way to buy the book it turns out to be. But that is their loss. For Joe Punter, I'll award it three MRHs. For anyone who wants a private soldier's account of the Falklands War, it's worth four MRHs for the two relevant chapters alone.
Importantly, for any parliamentarian planning on sending our boys into any future conflict, let him read this and know exactly what the members of our Armed Forces give and lose forever on his and our behalf. If reading this makes him think twice, it will be worth five MRHs.
AlienFTM Storming the Falklands
; my war and after by Tony Banks published by Little Brown Books Click here to buy from Amazon