Paul Johnson, a bank officer in Manchester rebels against his father’s wishes and joins Her Britannic Majesty’s Corps of Royal Marines at the age of 19.
It’s 1960 and Paul finds himself with a motley group of recruits whose backgrounds are in stark contrast to his own. Sergeant Boswell is assigned to lead their Squad and his first introduction leaves you in no doubt that the reader is in for a no-nonsense ride.
“Now we’ve got you, the molly-coddling is over. When I say jump, you dinna ask how high; ya just put one-hundred-and-ten per-cent into it. Like it or not, you are going to be the best squad that ever passed through recruit training. If you canna make what I deem to be the acceptable grade, I will have you put back to the next squad. Hear me well. If I canna find a legitimate reason to have you back-squadded, I will beat the living shit out of you.”
The reader winces with Paul as he quickly learns the harsh realities of life when he realises his mistake right before he receives his first punishment.
“I almost laughed. Perhaps I did laugh. It was an involuntary reaction that I immediately knew was wrong, so all that escaped me was, I thought, an inaudible hiccup. Although we were already quiet, we seemed to become instantly quieter. I saw Boswell’s eyes widen. A cloud moved in front of the sun, as if to protect it. I’m sure birds stopped singing. The fearful silence seemed palpable. Only the innocent wind could be heard blowing around us.”
Paul becomes friends with ex-wrestler, Jack Mason and together they settle into the rigors of intense training to earn the coveted Green Beret with H squad, strangely nicknamed as Boswell’s Fairies. When not learning to be a marine, Paul and Jack go in search of romance, learning a lot about themselves and each other as they undergo the gruelling lessons of what it is to be a man, to love and to belong.
The writing is excellent, peppered with humour as the author takes us on a journey through England of the sixties. The language is as it should be, coarse and authentic. It made me laugh, it made me smile and it made me squirm. It’s a gripping tale of what was and now can never be in today’s world. A raw and honest portrayal of life as a marine in training. A powerfully written debut novel which takes you to another place.