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Chris Cocks
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Fire Force is the autobiographical account of a young soldier who served three years in the Rhodesian Light Infantry. The author, Chris Cocks, fought in the late 1970s in the Rhodesian Bush War and his story is simply epic

I've read a number of accounts of the Bush War, some general history, some biographical. This is easily one of the best first-person accounts and, like so many stories written by soldiers is by turns, sad, funny, visceral and blunt. This is very much Cocks' story and does not present the fighting nor the lifestyle from any other perspective but his – a trooper and then a JNCO in the RLI.

The lifestyle is unrelenting. This is not the story about a six-month tour but about a seemingly never-ending war where the RLI provide a nationwide quick reaction force and seem to be permanently in action with only occasional respite. Seemingly always outnumbered and with contacts frequently taking place at 1-2m, you have to admire the RLI soldiers – coming from a wide range of backgrounds – and their consistent return to action. His descriptions of sweep operations in close bush, hunting an enemy who always seem to have the advantage of being static, are stark and graphic. You can sense the fear and the courage of the RLI troopers in dealing with this and their determination to win.

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Cocks captures the different national traits of his fellow soldiers (there is a wide range of them in the RLI), their individual personalities and their varied speech superbly – having a soldier's sense of humour as a reader occasionally helps – and also the effect on the different soldiers that he fights alongside (and sometimes with). This is perhaps the saddest part: the long-term impact on the physically wounded; the psychological impact on both the author and his comrades (spoiler – there are a number of post-war suicides); and the the descent into a casual acceptance (at the time) of killing routinely – this including the execution of prisoners and the, sometimes accidental, death of civilians

Alcohol figures prominently in the narrative and then drug use becomes quite normal for the author and a number of his friends. This is evidently a way of taking the edge off for them as there seems to be no respite apart from occasional R&R periods. He quotes at some length from contemporaneous letters to his fiancée and these give a clear insight into his way of thinking.

Quite simply, I recommend it to everyone. It's a superb story from which you might learn more about the fighting in Africa in the 1970s, something about white Rhodesia at this time, tactical lessons that could be applied now, enjoy a cracking story that is well told or perhaps a combination of some or all of these.

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