Ex SAS-man and thriller author Andy McNab takes a back seat for this project, acting as compiler and editor in a selection of accounts drawn from British servicemen and women fighting in Afghanistan. McNab provides both background and commentary to the ‘voices’ he has chosen; their extracts – interviews, diary entries, letters home, emails and award citations – are arranged in chronological order, covering the period from the Spring of 2006 to the end of 2008 (Operation Herricks 4 to 8).
The book includes some 25 people: Royal Marines, infantry, military police, engineers, medical personnel, Army, RAF and Navy helicopter air crew, and even a press officer from the MOD (though, interestingly, no one from the Paras). This has the obvious advantage of allowing a variety of differing and interesting perspectives on the conflict, each reflecting the individual’s particular responsibilities.
The stories have not been polished up by McNab and, accordingly, have a raw-edged immediacy that also provides an insight into how these British service personnel think and operate in the field. Inevitably, the quality varies but the best are very good indeed. Among these are a gripping and informative account by Army doctor Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Parkhouse. He describes the employment of the new MERT (medical emergency response team) methods in treating a severely wounded soldier: instead of flying the man back to the main hospital at Camp Bastion, senior medical staff fly out with the evacuation Chinook and actually operate on him during the return journey – almost certainly saving his life.
Another excellent story comes from Royal Engineer Captain Dave Rigg, who led a four-man team in the daring but ultimately tragic Jugroom Fort helicopter rescue mission (Ed Macy was one of the pilots involved, although not mentioned here). This was an attempt to rescue a wounded Marine left behind in an operation against the Taliban stronghold. Time was of the essence: two men apiece were strapped to two Apache attack helicopters, and precariously clinging to the weapon pods they were flown to the Fort to pick up the Marine. Unfortunately, he had already died of his injuries but his body was at least rescued from the Taliban in a demonstration of the everyday courage and ingenuity of British soldiers. Rigg also writes well of the near impossibility of successfully completing reconstruction projects in the face of the corruption and incompetence of the various Afghan government agencies.
Spoken from the Front does full justice to the efforts of the armed forces in their unenviable struggle against the Taliban in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.
Corgi, 496 pages, £7.99 (p/b); Bantam Press, 347 pages £18.99 (h/b)
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