This book is largely a result of the chance discovery of a chocolate box of letters, discovered in an attic many years after the Cyprus Emergency, 1955 – 5. The letters were written to his family by a National Service soldier, who served in the Suffolk Regiment, just before it amalgamated with the Royal Norfolk Regiment to form the Royal East Anglian Regiment.
- Martin Bell
Martin Bell was called up to basic training at Gibraltar Barracks in Bury St Edmunds in June 1957, then served in Cyprus from October 1957 to May 1959. He was sore about failing the War Office Selection Board and felt he had let himself down. The book contains many excerpts from the letters, some of which puzzle the writer some 50 years later. Largely serving in the intelligence section, Bell describes patrols to hillside villages and Nicosia, riot control, listening to radio traffic, creating maps, guard duties, long nights in Central Police Station etc. Camp life in summer dust or winter rain led a lifelong dislike of tents. Naturally, entertainment, football, even a spelling competition were more popular aspects of life. There are explanations of history, including Operation Matchbox, informative but not intrusive. His recollections of his regiment are warm, and obviously played a part in his understanding of soldiers' experiences in his later career as a war reporter in Vietnam, Middle East, Nigeria, Angola, Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia. One chapter deals with his thoughts on media coverage of military and emergency matters – interesting in view of later work. There are unexpected tales, such as a few days leave in Tel Aviv. Several chapters recount the background to the suppression of “Flaming Cassock”, written by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Campbell. Bell obviously admires the officer, and hopes the book will be declassified and published.
In summary, a book about national service and a specific period of history and how these affected the life of the author. Well written, satisfying to read, with appeal to readers beyond those who shared similar experiences.
4.5 out of 5.
Hardback ISBN 978 1 47384 818 4 [inside]. 1473848180 [on cover].
Publisher Pen & Sword. Published in UK 2015.