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Fred Majdalany
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The author was a Company Commander in the Lancashire Fusiliers and this book, while being fiction, is based on his experiences in North Africa in 1943. Majdalany was a journalist who returned to his trade after the war, writing several novels and military histories. He died relatively young aged 54 in 1967. During his time with 2nd Lanc Fus he rose to command a Company and was awarded a Military Cross.

This book is one of the series of books from the Imperial War Museum ‘Wartime Classics’, three of which have been reviewed on Arrse already. As ever, the IWM have found a beaut of a book told with knowledge and passion. The writing is good and very easy to follow. Not very big it covers one patrol by a group of riflemen in N Africa. A normal recce patrol against a position which the patrol has to find out if it is still manned by the Germans or if they have pulled out.

Now life is never that easy and we are treated to a front-line Company Commander’s view of staff officers many miles behind the line! The story opens with a staff officer whose mind is more on getting a selection of good wines for the Mess than on his job. When asked by his General what was planned the Captain took a look at the map, saw a feature called White Farm and said that there was intelligence that the Germans may have pulled back from there and a patrol should be sent out to check. Complete fabrication and done just to impress his Boss but the end result is the request for a patrol goes down the chain of command, finally ending at Major Tim Sheldon’s company.

Sheldon was leading a Company that had been in the line for a long time, were reduced to nearly half strength, fielding only two reduced platoons instead of three. Sheldon himself was exhausted but nominated himself to lead the patrol as the only other officers were one who had been out the night before and one who had arrived just that day. The Patrol was therefore made up of Sheldon, a Sergeant who was a regular soldier, and five riflemen, but carrying three Brens. The task, patrol to White Farm to ascertain the strength of enemy in the position. An artillery barrage was planned for just before the time the patrol was due at the target and fifteen minutes later to assist withdrawal.

Here the book becomes the story of Major Sheldon, how he approaches and carries out the patrol. He asks for volunteers and gets several names; he then says married men are not going leaving the five that he needs. He then sets time for patrol briefing and rehearsals, telling the patrol members to rest while he goes off to the Bn OP to recce the target and plan routes in and out.

While in the OP, the exhaustion of the past few months weighs heavily on Maj Sheldon and he thinks back to the last happy time he had – when he was wounded badly enough to be taken out of the lien for a few weeks, his journey through the CCS to a field hospital finally back to a real hospital with nurses where he is sent to recover. The irony of course being it took a wound to give him some peace and quiet.

Now I won’t go in to the detail of the patrol itself as that is what the book is about, but suffice to say that the Germans have not bugged out and a fighting withdrawal becomes necessary. Two men are killed during the withdrawal back to the Company lines and Major Sheldon is wounded yet again and is helped to walk back by the Sergeant. When he gets in and makes his report to the CO he lies back and lets the MO treat him, his thoughts going back to the hospital and clean, crisply dressed nurses. The book however has a sting in the tale which is a bit surprising and makes one think a bit.

The book is written by someone who was there, did that and got the bling. It therefore has authenticity and factuality written throughout. It is a really great read and one I would recommend that you get and keep as I am sure you would read it more than once. Majdalany was a journalist so the prose is crisp, tight and to the point making reading a pleasure.

5/5 for this wee gem.

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