Favoured Irregulars

Andy Beckett

  • Our Boys: The Story of a Paratrooper by Helen Parr
    Allen Lane, 382 pp, £20.00, September 2018, ISBN 978 0 241 28894 8

Sentimentality about soldiering can be a powerful thing in countries where few people have ever done it. In the United Kingdom, the last national servicemen were demobbed 55 years ago. According to the latest figures, the armed forces have 192,130 personnel, including part-time volunteers – less than 0.3 per cent of the population. The number of full-time servicemen and women has halved since the Falklands War in 1982, and has been falling steadily for much longer. Yet the status of the armed forces in wider society has risen sharply, to a level that can feel uncomfortable to anyone with reservations about military violence. The annual pressure on public figures to wear Remembrance Day poppies; the reverence surrounding parades and flypasts; the acclaim for plays such as Gregory Burke’s Black Watch, about Scottish soldiers in Iraq; the ease with which most newspapers and politicians use military metaphors and support armed conflicts; and the efforts to shout down and delegitimise those who don’t, such as Jeremy Corbyn – all these are signs of a country that has come to see military service, especially in wartime, as an extraordinary occupation, which should not be scrutinised too hard.

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[*] Viking, 480 pp., £25, May 2018, 978 0 670 91866 9.