Action At Badama Post - The Third Afghan War

Action At Badama Post - The Third Afghan War

Paul Macro
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
“Action At Badama Post” relates a real life derring-do tale of British Forces in Afghanistan, centring around a downed RAF aircraft, and British and local troops’ efforts to rescue them against the efforts of a savage foe. Not unusual fare for a book review on Arrse you might think, until you see the date: 1919.

Written by Paul Macro, a Royal Tank Regiment Lieutenant Colonel, this is a hardback book with 270 pages, 30 interesting and useful black and white photos and five relevant line drawn maps. It is exquisitely researched and endeavours to not only explain the background of the conflict, but also recounts the histories of the major units involved, as well as dealing in detail with the action in the title. Macro’s interest in the subject matter is personal; not only is a unit central to the tale (22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service) a predecessor to his own capbadge, his grandfather actually fought in the action.

The story is played out against the backdrop of the Third Afghan War, the least known of Britain’s campaigns against the wily Afghan, where the Afghan Army, in an effort to distract from political woes at home, fomented rebellion amongst the tribes of the Hindu Kush on the India / Afghanistan border region, and actually invaded British Imperial India.

Macro is an excellent researcher. Each relevant topic, from the political situation to histories of the main units involved, are forensically examined. Chapters on the formation of and service history of the MMGS, another on 22Bty itself, the war service of 20 Sqn RFC/RAF, the Kurram Militia and the opposing Afghan forces both formations and irregular tribal groups are clear and detailed. He also narrates in some detail the stories of certain key players: the aircrew, his Grandfather, the senior officer present, and gives a good account of many of the other combatants’ experiences and actions. His own words are interspersed with excerpts from official histories, personal letters and contemporaneous magazine articles.

Of all the varied topics Macro covers, by far the most effort has been expended on 22 Bty MMGS. As a work of reference on the history of a relatively obscure fighting unit of the British Army in the aftermath of the Great War this book is peerless. His piecing together from fragmentary official records and personal accounts a contiguous and in depth history is a real gem of detective work, and quite obviously a labour of love.

I cannot praise Macro’s research highly enough. Sadly, his style of writing is not that of a natural story teller; rarely have I seen true story which deserves to be told so poorly delivered. His pace is glacially plodding, and his focus on honesty, accuracy and detail actually works against him. Every other statement is cavilled, prefaced with the level of trust to be put into it, where the evidence was gathered, and other possible options which might or might not have occurred. It translates from painstaking to painful:

Lapraik’s injuries were almost certainly sustained as the Bristol fighter crash landed. His casualty card records that he suffered the loss of three teeth and his face and lip were cut; conceivably he could have sustained such injuries by falling on rocks as he came back to Badama Post. The injuries of both Eastwood and Lapraik are confirmed by most sources including the No20 Sqn Operations record book which states “The pilot Capt Eastwood was shot in the chest, and his observer 2/Lieut Lapraik suffered a lacerated face”

Just typing it out made my eyes bleed; and sadly the majority of the book is like this, bogged down in minutiae. Whilst everything Macro says is no doubt true, it is pointlessly detailed, fixating on the veracity of inconsequential occurrences to the point of destroying all narrative flow. He has become so fascinated with the process of gathering the information that he's forgotten to tell the story. That is fine for a Historical thesis, but in a book it's unforgivable.

It’s a desperate shame. This is a story which should be told well, offering as it does a direct link from the soldiers of the Great War and the Empire’s twilight, to modern day troops still on damn near the same ground, doing very similar tasks and facing almost identical problems. There is much to admire in this book. Its writing style is not one of them, but as a piece of investigative research, it would stand up to the most rigorous criticism. If only Macro had given his research to someone who could write.

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