This is a relatively short book of personal recollections and hence not an easy book to review; too much information and people will think they know it all and not bother – too little and people will think it is not worth bothering. However, it is worth bothering because Haydn Davies has spent time putting on paper his experiences while serving in Northern Ireland, the result being interesting and well worth reading. For those who have served in Northern Ireland while in the British Armed Forces it will bring back memories of both places and incidents while those who have not served will gain an insight into the thoughts of one of the men who had been part of the troops who stood between during Operation Banner.
- Haydn Davies
- 4 Mushroom Heads
Haydn was a regular soldier who signed on to serve with the South Wales Borderers in 1956, fortunately or unfortunately, in time to serve as one of the units which took part in the Malayan Emergency, a conflict which lasted from 1948 until 1960. In 1969 his Regiment was amalgamated with the Welch Regiment to become the Royal Regiment of Wales. In 2006 further restructuring saw an amalgamation with the Royal Welch Fusiliers to become the Royal Welsh.
His book is not in any particular chronological sequence but seems to be a series of recollections smoothly flowing from one to another. Following the Dedications and Foreword, Haydn begins with his experiences during basic training at the Regimental Depot in Brecon Barracks and the not so delicate introduction to service life followed by being drafted to Malaya with some observations on funny/amusing, and not so funny, incidents. There is, of course, the inevitable observation when obtaining the ration packs of another nation. For some reason or other they are always better.
Following tours in Germany and Hong Kong, Hayden’s regiment was moved to Aden where he found, among other more serious occurrences, that acquaintance with Arab camel drivers could be relatively amusing at times.
Then came the call to Northern Ireland and with the Royal Regiment of Wales having just been formed, the 1st Battalion was one of the first units to be deployed into the province which is where Haydn’s recollections provide the major portion of this book. While he never personally expresses preference for one side or the other, it is interesting to read of the relationships between soldiers and civilians while the situation developed from very personal confrontations to the organised killing of both. There are descriptions of both urban and rural situations, and insufficient inactivity interspersed with periods of almost manic violence which may have involved CS, stones, fire bombs, and snatches during riots. For those not used to the term, snatch was used to describe the isolating and detaining of certain people wanted for questioning. His time with the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) is described in some detail where he was serving with many who were supposed to be part-time soldiers but were willing to give their time, and their lives in some cases, in order to serve.
As Haydn describes it all there is a serious theme running throughout, but at times the black humour of the soldier shows through and I will never be able to think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves without laughing, one of the funnier incidents.
This is an enjoyable book describing some of the things which usually only get recounted or discussed when like minded people get together and, as previously mentioned, it is well worth reading. It is marred only by the change of paper type where both illustrations and text are involved and the use of unsuitable resolutions for many of the photographs.