Magazine article The Spectator

Lust for Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Lust for Life

Article excerpt

The Junior Officers' Reading

Club: Killing Time and

Fighting Wars

by Patrick Hennessey

Allen Lane, £16.99, pp.352

ISBN 9781846141867

£13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Patrick Hennessey was one of the British army's selfproclaimed Bright Young Things, an Oxford graduate with a lust for combat and a literary bent. Born in 1982, he belongs to a generation of uniformed men and women who would, as he puts it, 'do more and see more in five years than our fathers and uncles had packed into twenty-two on manoeuvres in Germany and rioting in Ulster'. Hard on the older generation, perhaps, but such have been the opportunities afforded by the War on Terror.

The Junior Officers' Reading Club charts Hennessey's four-year journey from the square-bashing of Sandhurst to front-line duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Grenadier Guards Platoon Commander and Operations Officer, and his subsequent departure from the army. If the journey itself is unremarkable - the usual suspects of barking NonCommissioned Officers, a general disdain for Rear Echelon Motherfuckers or REMFs, high-octane thrills of men with guns and the camaraderie forged under fire are all present and correct - what impresses is the sheer candour and immediacy of his reporting. A literary soldier, especially one still in his twenties rather than a bewhiskered sixtysomething general penning his memoirs, is something to be treasured.

We can therefore excuse the gung-ho tone of much of the book. This is a young man fortunate enough, unlike so many soldiers of a previous generation who missed out on a good war, to be doing just what he has always dreamed of. During one particularly intense fight with 'Terence' Taliban in Afghanistan, he says he wants to sit down with the Major who has come along for the ride and try to understand the adrenaline and euphoria of it all and ask what could possibly compare.

'. . . the winning goal scoring punch, the first kiss, the triumphant knicker-peeling moment?

Nowhere else sells bliss like this, surely? Not in freefall jumps or crisp blue waves, not on dance floors in pills or white lines - I want to discuss with him whether it's sexually charged because it's the ultimate affirmation of being alive. . .'

The answer is very little or nothing can compare because war is uniquely different.

It confers an experience that those who have not donned uniform can ever quite understand. As the Company Sergeant Major puts it in a dash of graffiti at the Sangin District Centre when the tour comes to an end, 'for those who have fought for it, life will always have a flavour the sheltered cannot taste'. …

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