Thursday, July 05, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die...

Sir Jason notes that they live forever in their biographies...

War memoirs are easy to find. Soldiers are always publishing their experience. Of course mathematics suggests that at least some memoirists are "garrittroopers" (boastful liars who actually saw little action), probably those that tell the most about their extraordinary deeds. However at least some correspond roughly to the truth.

They have their cliches. Americans are always earnest, Israelis even more so. British are cool and professional about the whole thing and seem to be rather "comfortable" with it. Germans are rather self-pitying and wonder why anyone would do injustice to them ("I'm shocked, shocked that the godless Bolsheviks have so little respect for life unlike us civilized Aryans..."). Then there are the standard complaints, "journalists are all blankety-blanks" (well yes,one might suspect that sometimes but Churchill and Ernie Pyle were journalists), "If politicians ever saw what it was really like" (Of course until a few hundred years ago politicians were there too and even now a lot of them saw it in their youth), "My recruiter lied to me" (recruiters lie - no kidding). I have two I am reading, or re-reading: "Quartered Safe Out Here" and "To the Last Salute".

Quartered Safe Out Here by George Macdonald Fraser is a fine read. The author tells the story of his service in Burma with a regiment from the Scottish border. It is not told as a narrative which is realistic - it is doubtful that many remember it that way. Fraser gives the tales of how he and his comrades who seem a rather piratical lot, campaigned through the wild, chasing the Japanese. Fraser is very opinionated and very old-fashioned in his views - to the point of praising the virtues of the Lee-Enfield rifle against the AK-47. He writes in a sardonic manner that sounds rather soldierly. Interesting people are described, such as one who had served as a mercenary for so long that one might almost consider it chance that he was serving his native country. Fraser also gives a rather convincing "transliteration" of conversation. Of course border dialect is apparently rather obscure, and the writer can't put as much profanity in as there actually was, even though he puts enough in to be convincing. There is also the bits of slang - soldiers have a curious love of slang - much of which was adopted from India. All in all it is a fine piece.

To The Last Salute by Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp is interesting because of the author's chief claim to fame. Captain von Trapp led a multi-national submarine crew for the Hapsburg navy during WWI (the Hapsburg empire was several nations glued together by their allegiance to
The Family). The Hapsburgs don't have a spectacular martial history though they were in many a famous battle and tended to hold their own. They seem to give the impression that they don't have their hearts in it and would prefer to listen to opera. Captain von Trapp is like that with the comments about "poor Austria" which isn't as well equipped as the Germans but somehow muddles through. The Captain tends to have a reasonably good humor about the whole thing and performs fairly well. Interestingly the only man he loses is through an accident. That is not uncommon in submarines where either the whole boat comes back - or it doesn't. To The Last Salute is an interesting piece and worth acquiring.

Sir Jason

1 comment:

  1. The Steel Bonnets (1971), a history of the Border Reivers of the Anglo-Scottish Border.

    is another very good one

    Sir Jason