Chris Cocks
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Survival Course is Chris Cocks' story of his life after he left the Rhodesian Light Infantry. It can be read as a stand alone but works best as a sequel to his first book, Fire Force. It describes his life at the end of the Bush War, working as a farm manager and a Police Reservist, the creation of Zimbabwe and his life beyond this.

The author has retained his clear-cut powers of description. Now part of the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit (a local police reservist unit) and trying to manage a state-owned farm whilst in the early days of his marriage, he has to balance all this with his ongoing drink and drug problems and what soon become the readily apparent mental issues from his time in the RLI. His depictions of action remain superb – be it putting in ambushes (only 400m from his own home!), fighting through against some thirty well-armed enemy with an under-armed five-man stick or being ambushed himself with his pregnant wife and two neighbours (one a grandmother and one a ten-year-old girl) in the car. These are low-key classics of the fighting man in action and deserve recognition.

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Cocks is a no-holds-barred writer. Arguably, his writing is a cathartic process for him and the results are brutally honest – some parts of the story are tear-jerking stuff and others bring a wry smile. He is not shy of talking about when and how he fails – be it at trying to find employment, provide for his wife and family, the end of his first marriage, his business ventures and his drink and drug addiction. He has faults – and he shows them – but you can't help admire him; he keeps trying, no matter what, and seems to achieve a measure of contentment.

Parts of the story are hard to read – his difficulties in finding work and look after his family are challenging as is the realisation that the new Zimbabwe is not the old Rhodesia. Things have changed for all the people involved – his trumped-up arrest reveals his change in position in society and the way that the new rulers are very content to use the old government's laws. No-one comes out of this episode well. The changes in society are shown in other ways – as one employment agency puts it “you 're under-educated and the wrong colour”. You can feel Cocks' pain at being a veteran on the losing side who doesn't understand fully the new society that he is part of and struggles to cope with.

This is a powerful book and I recommend it to all readers. The author is non-judgemental about his experiences – albeit allows the reader to judge him – and and does not attribute his failings to other people. Much like Fire Force, it speaks to a number of audiences, albeit the focus has changed. In this story, Cocks tries to show what can happen to veterans who are cut adrift by the society that they served.

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