Even as a teenager growing up in Solihull, Matt Croucher was, in Royal Marine Commando slang, totally ‘corps pissed’ – and it is this intense enthusiasm for the Marines that forms the central strand of his account of fighting with 40 Commando in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, such was his dedication to the Marine ideal that he was be prepared to lay down his life for those of his comrades.
Croucher was among the lead troops airlifted into Iraq in the 2003 invasion, and during his two tours of duty in Iraq he narrowly escaped death on a number of occasions, surviving a particularly vicious ambush as well as being blown up by a road-side bomb that left him with a fractured skull. It was while recovering from the latter injury that he decided to quit the Marines, transferring to the Royal Marines Reserves and taking on a well-paid job as a private security contractor. This took him back to Iraq, but there he found himself working as a glorified warehouse guard, while at the same time trying to train a group of volatile, fractious Iraqi soldiers. Although he enjoyed the extra cash, Croucher found the work increasingly unsatisfactory and once back in the UK he rejoined the Royal Marines, which, to his relish, were now to be engaged in the war in Afghanistan.
As a lance corporal in the Commando Reconnaissance Force, Croucher and his unit were operating in the Helmand Green Zone during 2007-8, seeing heavy fighting around FOBs Inkerman and Robinson. While on a patrol in the Sangin valley they were ambushed by a huge Taliban force. At one point Croucher had to apply first-aid to wounded Marines while at the same time firing back at the Taliban. Only the professionalism and bravery of the Marines – along with some excellent aerial support – was able to stem the waves of Taliban attacks.
During a night patrol in February 2008 Croucher set off a trip-wire attached to a grenade. Realising that he had no hope of escaping the blast, he immediately took off his well-packed day sack and threw it and himself onto the grenade, in order to shield his fellow patrol members from the blast. Not only did this demonstrate extraordinary heroism but amazing composure in assessing the situation so quickly – a fitting tribute to his Royal Marine training. The ensuing blast threw him into the air but to his – and everyone else’s – amazement the sack took the bulk of the blast, and he emerged with only minor injuries. Despite his near-death experience, he continued on with the patrol and killed a Taliban fighter. Croucher was awarded the George Cross for his selfless bravery. Bulletproof is a straight-forward, down-to earth account of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan by an exceptional fighting man.
Century, 272 pages, £18.99 (h/b)
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