In Foreign Fields by Dan Collins

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by scarletto, Nov 14, 2007.

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  1. A review by Scarletto

    Dan aka Northernsoulboy asked for some Arrsers to review his forthcoming book, so I thought id try my hand at a review, now this is a bit long, but the book and Dan deserves it. Also the Arrsers, who are in the book, also deserve it. Why well you will see.

    Never judge a book by its cover is an old statement, so let’s start there at the cover. Many of you will have seen the picture of 42 Commando in Afghanistan which adorns the front, and striking it is, something that will make you just pick the book up to see what it is about. However it’s the back of the book which conveys more in my mind about what’s inside, than the front. Using what may be called sound bites from the 25 Medal winners. It certainly conveys what is inside.

    So to the meat of the matter, the book. The preface of the book sets out what it is about, the words of 25 medal winners, no politics, no rights or wrongs but their words, obviously with some work by Dan!!

    Now Dan wasn’t allowed to pay the people whose stories they have told, is giving 5% of the £17.99p to SSAFA, and this is from every book sold, not what you pay say to Amazon or

    So into the book itself, a list of who is in it follows at the end, but basically the book starts in 2003 in Iraq and goes through to 2006 in Afghanistan, it shows to the uneducated how things slowly changed, again not through Politics but by the Blokes on the Ground.

    Each story (though that’s the wrong word I feel, as well it’s not a story but real life but maybe memory would be a better word to use), is the Guys and Gals words, broken with bits from their citations and a very basic note on what was going on around them or what they were tasked to do.

    So how are these memories dealt with, as I said there not, they are basically the words from the Heroes, though each of them makes it clear their not Heroes, If there was one book which has been needed, if their was one book every Politician, every armchair warrior and yes I include my fat self should read, it’s this book.

    If every member of the public and every School had or read this book, then finally the Lads n Lasses now would get the Respect they so deserve.

    The 25 in this book tell their memories, with nowt much held back if in most cases anything, funny, scary and of course very sad memories, whilst they all say that others did more or others didn’t get the respect they deserve, after your read their memories you think, Heroes by heck you are, okay easy to say, but again this book will tell you otherwise.

    The memories aren’t just about the way they won their medal, it deals with the aftermath, and again this is what has been needed, and sadly something that isn’t thought or cared about by most in Civvy street.

    There is so much in this book that would have just been forgotten, that would have only been heard maybe one day in the Naafi or the Mess, by a few like minded people, that finally is going to be read and remembered. The book whilst it is about 25 Heroes is also due to their words, and no one else’s, a testament to the Squaddie of today, be he Para or Cav, Infantry or Gunner.

    It’s actually humbling to read how self depreciating they are about what they did. And yes Dan is to be congratulated for getting them to speak.

    A list of those in the book follows.

    Lt Campbell, MC. Lt Head, MC. Sgt Heley, MC. Lt Farebrother, MC
    LCpl Thomas, CGC. CoH Bell, MC. Cpl Jardine,CGC. LCpl Balmforth, MC
    Major Featherstone, MC. W02 Evans, MC. Sgt Broome, CGC
    LCpl Dickson. MC. Sgt Bryan CGC. Cpl Thomson, CGC
    CSgt Tomlinson, CGC. Cpt Bratcher, MC. Major Woodham, MC
    CSgt Harkess, CGC. Pte Norris, MC. Wcomdr Sampson, DSO
    Flt Carter, MC. Lt Farmer, CGC. LCoH Radford, CGC
    Major Hammond, DFC. LT Illingworth, CGC

    Also included in the book, are pictures of most of the recipients, and a glossary of terms for the uneducated.

    So there you are a basic review, i must add after talking to Dan, the man who without his work, these Heroes memories would never have been heard. A Big thank you, a very nice and genuine bloke, him and his missus deserve all the praise they will get for this book. Though even he says, its not his book, it’s the 25s.

    To the Lads n Lass who allowed their memories to be used, I can’t personally say anything, nothing id say would cover how I feel about you, how proud or honoured I am. Some on here may think bit OTT, but well not bothered what you think bout that, tis the internet after all.

    It is actually very rare for me, to not put down a book, but this book I just couldn’t put down, 25 memories of very Brave people, well more than Brave, though none think their special, Dans Book and through it their Memories may do more for others, than they will ever know.

    So, I aint going to give it stars or points, I am just going to say BUY THIS BOOK!!!
    No borrowing, stealing or using the Library, BUY IT.

    To the two arrsers who are in the book :wink: , hope the review is good enough!!!!!

    To Dan must buy you a pint after that phone call,didn’t realise I waffled on for so long. :lol:
  2. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Mods if you feel this should be amalgamated with Scarletto's please do

    Written By Dan Collins who according to his mini biography 'Has never fought a day in his life'

    25 Medal winners ranging from an RAMC Private to a RAF Wing Commander

    From the moment you look at the cover photograph of Royal Marines with fixed baynets to the last page there is a feeling that Dan Collins has got it right and indeed a book can be judged by it's cover

    On opening we are greeted by an extract from Kipling's Tommy reminding us that the general public can be a bit ignorant to the soldiers cause

    The preface states "Whatever your views [on the two campaigns being fought] you must realise that the troops have no say in when and where they fight"

    Dan Collins takes time to explain that the book was to be called Heroes but the title was changed after the heroes themselves insisted it would embarrass them

    Staring with Telic 1 in 2003 and coming right up to date with Op Herrick in 2006 in Afghanistan the book takes us through 25 tales of heroisim

    The book follows a basic pattern:
    There is a brief explanation of the general events leading up to the action for which the awards were won

    Each soldier gives us a description of the events leading to their award in his own words

    The author will use a paragraph of narrative and the citation to convey 'the bigger picture'

    This is sometimes needed as all of the soldiers and Airmen interviewed tend to play there part down and are keen to emphisise that it was a team effort

    There seems to be a why did I get an award when x,y and z where right next to me and was working just as hard attitude from our servicemen

    All are frank and honest about their feelings some admit to being terrified,some admit that they have struggled once they returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and how it has changed them forever.

    For some this is the first time they have opened up about the action they were involved in

    It may be the first time mothers fathers and wifes find out the true story instead of a watered down version they may have been given because as stated some of those interviewed find it difficult to admit that maybe they did deserve an award

    Credit should go to Mr Collins as I'm sure a certain amount of persuasion may have beeen required to get these servicemen to talk in the first place

    Also the reader is struck by the get on and go attitude of our servicemen
    Once they have been out on the ground involved in a major contact they go back to camp 'bomb up' and set out to go through it all again

    In more than one case after having to clean blood etc from the back of their vehicles and finding replacements for injured soldiers

    It's not doom and gloom all are upbeat about service life and how they are getting on with their life though in more than one case the humor of the British tommy comes out one extract:

    I felt a thud a bit like being hit with a sledgehammer
    I shouted to the guys in front I think I've been shot
    Have you or havent you came the reply
    Yep I've been shot
    Probably shrapnel any way get back up (on top cover) you lazy little sod
    So I got back up

    This book should be read by as many people as possible and I can't recommend it enough

    If you were to stop someone in the street and ask them to name a hero they would probably state Beckham,Hamilton,Gerrard maybe Beharry VC or Budd VC

    Dan Collins has gave us 25 more to add to that list and their story deserves to be told (plus 422 names of all ranks who have won an award)

    As some one who served in Iraq whilst 6 off these medals were won it was an eye opener for me to read some of the things that had gone on sometimes just up the road from where I was trying to make myself as small as possible

    Dan Collins has put together a piece of work that should be of intrest to every Arrser serving, ex service, civvy or walt

    Don't forget 5% of £17.99 will go to SSAFA regardless what you pay for it so buy a couple for Christmas presents
  3. Thanks for nice review Syrup, much appreciated.

    For those remotely interested, I am on the radio tomorrow talking about the book.

    On the Jon Gaunt show on Talk Sport (1053, 1089 mw) from 11.30ish along with Major Justin Featherstone MC of 1PWRR/Cimic House/Al Amarah

    then on the Simon Mayo Show on 5 Live with Justin and also LCpl Justin Thomas RM CGC; Justin was in 40 Cdo and won his award for getting up onto a Pinzgauer and engaging a large number of enemy forces during Operation James (Abu Al Khasib).

    He stood silhouetted, making a nice target of himself, for an estimated 15 minutes while Iraqi machine gunners and mortar and RPG teams tried to kill him. At one point an RPG came between him and another Marine who had jumped up alongside him to feed him his ammunition.

    Eventually, he suppressed the enemy to the point where the battle was won with assistance from his comrades.

    I know he's not Army but the other Justin is and I hope both will be of interest to any who can listen in.

    Apologies for self-biggage.


  4. AlienFTM

    AlienFTM LE Book Reviewer

    I was quite surprised yesterday evening to find TWO PAGES of the Southern Daily Echo devoted to this book.

    They rated it - obviously.
  5. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    Dan, caught the talk sport show by accident, reception is not too hot in Holland but it was great around Utrecht yesterday for some reason, and I'll be buying the book. It really sounds like a cracking boys own stuff read. Hats off to all those brave souls who've earned an award.
  6. I'm listening to it at the moment on listen again:

    (click on Friday, 1hr30 in)

    Good stuff. The book will be on my Christmas list.
  7. thanks tom, alienftm and ord sgt for comments
    much appreciated
    dan :thumleft:

    edited to add - anyone who wants to know a bit more about the people in the book can go here
  8. Mr Happy

    Mr Happy LE Moderator

    My review:

    Dan Collins through interviews with almost no editing (and no MOD interference) succeeds in capturing in 25 first hand stories more frontline gritty realism than any other "I was there" book or journalists newspaper report has managed in the past 6 years. In just over 300 pages 25 recipients of the the CGC, MC, DSO and DFC medals are allowed to tell their stories of how they came about to win those medals. The accounts are for the most part from members of the British Army however the Royal Marines and RAF (incl RAF Regt) are included and the author has clearly, with only the smallest amount of prompting allowed them to tell their own tales. Serialised in the Daily Mail the stories are bloody first hand accounts of the actions, the feelings of those involved and their lives. A typical chapter will start with an introduction as to who the interviewee is and how they came to be in the forces, tells the story of the action or actions and finishes with their thoughts on receiving their medals and their families thoughts. It pulls no punches allowing (largely) Soldiers to voice their own varied opinions on their participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the positive and negative effects as well as, in a very nice touch, allowing the interviewees to mention their friends and colleagues who have supported them or for whom they have respect for. Interviewees range from a 19 year old female medic who administered her Warrior Commander first aid whilst under fire to an RM Maj flying the Chinook IRT in Afghanistan. Dates and times and units are all mentioned so that any of us may have a chance to identify ourselves and our friends and colleagues.

    Apart from the excellent documenting of their stories the stories themselves are fascinating and occur around or at many of the more (in)famous occurrences in these two ongoing wars. The interviewees explain things like their rules of engagements at the time, what the activities were trying to achieve and why they did what they did, they are a sort of combination of official report and diary entry and frank opinion that you can get by speaking to any serving soldier in the NAAFI. A number of lessons come out of the book which have been repeated again and again on arrse but to see them in print in such a professional book one can only hope they also hit the right spot amongst the wider audience.

    If there is a criticism of the book then it could be that the stories as reported are slightly formulaic, allowing the reader to identify them as such when reading. This both acts as a structure and as a disappointment as you almost know what the final paragraphs of each interview will say - however, on balance, it is the author that wanted to tell as many stories as possible and so perhaps he should be credited with leaving nothing out. In addition, it is worth noting that the MOD facilitated the interviews but didn't edit the book in anyway and the opinions are quite clear that this was the case though the stories generally maintain a positive angle and criticism of other units or facilities is light (especially if your source of information is the Sun where apparently everything is falling apart).

    In summary, an excellent read for serving and those close to serving personnel and for those who have never thought that the military might be for them. Pure civilians, I imagine, will gain less before they switch over to Coronation Street but if they buy it, they may, just may start to understand what it is like for the British forces fighting these two wars.

    Lastly, the author's introduction is a DS solution on how to introduce, in the humblest way, the subject of war and personal experiences and he is to be credited for his tact. I can only hope to read more from him in the future.
  9. I was the very fortunate winner of the signed copy of ‘In Foreign Fields’ in the Arrse RBL Charity Auction back in November. As a result Dan asked me if I would review the book sometime ago and to my shame I have only now got round to doing it, so I apologise to Dan and will endeavour to do this fantastic book some justice in my review. By way of a disclaimer, I have never written a review before, the measure of a good book for me has always been if I see fit to pass it on once I have finished it so trying to put into words how I felt about this book has proved somewhat difficult. In short I doubt the following will make the literary review pages of any broadsheet, however I do hope it conveys what a great book this is.

    With regards the style and format of the book, I will not steal the thunder of or plagiarise the words of scarletto, the_boy_syrup or Mr Happy by attempting to review those aspects, I concur fully with what they have already written (much better than I ever could). However I would like to emphasise one point and that is how Dan has brought each story together with the minimum of input from himself. I think this aspect enhances the personal nature of ‘In Foreign Fields’ and far removes it from any other book in its genre. For me this was one of the most important aspects; the fact that the book is written in the first person by each individual involved in the incidents with no ‘spin’ or MOD censorship. In my opinion, had the book not have been written in this way, it may well have lost that personal edge.

    With regards the content of the book, Dan states that the purpose of ‘In Foreign Fields’ is for the winners of gallantry awards in Afghanistan and Iraq to tell their stories in their own words, however in doing so he has achieved much more. Of course the book allows the reader to get a better feeling of the incidents that took place and how these individual’s actions during those incidents won them their gallantry medals, but more importantly it demonstrates the humility and selflessness of British servicemen and women with much more clarity and credibility than I have experienced from other books regarding current military conflicts.

    In my opinion the only exposure the majority of the British public appear to get regarding British Forces involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is largely negative and impersonal, ‘In Foreign Fields’ to my mind is the perfect antidote to that. To put it into context, I spent two years working in Iraq, the majority of that time spent in Basra Palace and I was unaware of much of what was going outside the palace walls. If I could be ‘in-country’ and not be aware of what these guys and girls were being exposed to, how can someone sat in middle England whose only exposure to the wars is via snippets in newspapers or television news regarding the tragic death of a serviceman or the politics of the conflicts, have any grasp of what is really occurring on the ground. For me, ‘In Foreign Fields’ provided that insight in a unique and tangible way.

    What also struck me about the book were not only the insights into current operations but also the very real and personal insights into the life and psyche of the modern British serviceman. Without exception, the individuals who contributed to the book all talk about how they were thinking of others at the time of the incidents and the safety and welfare of their comrades rather than their own. They state that they feel there may have been others worthy of recognition who did not receive it and how their awards were as much for them as for themselves. They also talk about the enemy and how it feels to take another man’s life. Again, without exception, the contributors do not glorify killing the enemy but speak of how it has affected them and how they think about the families of those they have killed. For me this aspect provided an insight into battle rarely spoken about from such a personal viewpoint and certainly not one that tends to grace the pages of tabloid newspapers, the editor’s of which would prefer to print much more negative and salacious stories regarding the military.

    In general I think that ‘In Foreign Fields’ is one of the finest books available at the moment for providing an insight into current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the modern British serviceman. This may seem a strange statement when you take into account the fact that the book provides no strategic assessment of either conflict, it does not deal with the politics behind the deployment (a subject that remains so emotive for the general public) and it does not talk of the future impact of either operation regarding long term security in the UK. However it is for that very reason that I feel the book sits apart from those that do deal with these subject matters and should be read by as large an audience as possible, not just those from a military background or with an interest in the military and most certainly by those detractors of the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and those who continue to link service personnel with the politics behind them.

    ‘In Foreign Fields’ does not censure the violence or the realities of modern warfare, it talks about them in stark reality but in doing so provides example after example of the bravery and determination of our Armed Forces. Even if you do not agree with the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you cannot help but feel an immense sense of pride in these individuals but also of their comrades and the Armed Forces as a whole. I would like to say thank you to Dan who has brought into the public domain a book that provides much more than a collection of stories of bravery and to the guys who told their stories and cannot recommend it highly enough. Not only that, but as already mentioned, for every copy purchased a donation is made to SSAFA. Now go out and buy it.
  10. Mr Happy

    Mr Happy LE Moderator

    Beatus, you are too modest by half. Your review is as personal and professional as one of Dan's interviewees..
  11. Beatus, an excellent review, i hope by now that most who have read this page, have bought the book, because well if you havent your missing something very important i think.
  12. Bugger! I picked this up before Xmas but bought "Barefoot Soldier" (Johnson Beharry) instead. Will deffo go back and get it now though. Nice reviews.
  13. Beatus you just reminded me to buy it

  14. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    I have it on the book shelf but haven't had the time to read it yet. I guess thats Sunday booked then. :D
  15. Mr Happy

    Mr Happy LE Moderator

    I'm bumping this because in an idle moment I picked up my old copy and ended up re-reading about two hours worth. Its a damned good book.