One of my rare non-fiction reviews, a short book by Paul Rees I was alerted to via one of the UK Military/Veteran Fb groups, chronicling not only some of the incredible acts of bravery and self-sacrifice by soldiers and members of Royal Ulster Constabulary during the the ‘troubles’ of Northern Ireland but also everyday accounts of those who simply did their job to the high and professional standards expected of them and whom the author was privilged enough to know at the time. Although not a member of the IASD stable of Indie Authors, Paul Rees is an author I shall certainly be reading more of.
Paul Ree lives in North Wales with his son, Daniel, and have a house on a farm and love the countryside. He served 7 years in the British Army, five of those years spent in Northern Ireland, and so is well qualified to write the following book.
Further links to Paul Rees’ writing can be found at:
A Humbling of Heroes -Amazon Description:
A ‘Humbling’ of Heroes is my way of expressing gratitude to people who, in my humble opinion, played a significant part in bringing ‘Peace’ to Northern Ireland.#ukveterans-one voice.
A Humbling of Heroes
By Paul Rees
(Available in both print & eBook formats from Amazon)
– One man’s sombre and yet surprisingly uplifting perspective of ‘The Troubles.’
A relatively short non-fiction book of some sixty four pages but one that packs considerably more content into it than the page count would suggest. The book is divided into twelve short chapters, some focussing on individual acts of exceptional bravery and the events surrounding them along with the author’s own commentary while others are more personal accounts of the exceptional men and women he came into contact with. Amid the tragedy and senseless killings of the times, the tone of the book often switches between the sombre reality of the times with that of the legendary humour and banter of the army. The last two chapters, though more accurately described as post scripts take an interesting and political change of direction from the preceding ones, one high-lighting the formation of the ‘UK Veterans-One Voice’ Fb group by Nigel Kelsall, a friend of the author, originally set up in support of veteran of the Parachute Regiment being investigated for alleged involvement in the Bloody Sunday incident of 1972 but now instrumental in organising and promoting the highly publicised veteran marches and protests against such investigations and politically motivated prosecutions of vetersans and serving personnel alike. The final chapter is a personal note from the author briefly reflecting on his times in Northern Ireland and its subsequent history and is thoughts on some of the issues and controversy of soldier prosecutions.
Normally I would expect to read such a book easily in the one sitting but not so this time; some of the content is indeed ‘humbling’ as the title would suggest, but more so for those privileged enough to read it, many of whom wouldn’t be around to do so but the courage and self-sacrifice of the brave men and women whose individual stories are told here (and thousands more like them both at the time and since).
The style of writing is clear and succinct, in some chapters alternating between a 3rd person factual overview, and the author’s own personal commentary on the people and events portrayed, and in others an entirely personal account, not of individual well documented acts of bravery (of which there were many on a daily basis, most of which go unheralded but for books such as this) but simply of fellow soldiers and personnel it was the author’s privilege to know. I also liked that the author included photographs of the people and places he writes about, bringing home the reality of the subject matter, that these were real people, real places, and real events that existed and were taking place almost on the doorstep of the mainland UK. With the exception of the final two chapters, for the most part the author steers clear of the political background of the times and events portrayed, concentrating instead on the individuals, their personal bravery and professionalism, and snapshots almost of the times, but not unsurprisingly given his background, the author’s underlying perspective is quite rightly and unashamedly that of the British soldier.
Given the anecdotal style i.e. chronicling individual stories in their own chapters it’s impossible in some parts not to make comparisons with the likes of Ken Wharton’s equally humbling and well researched accounts of the time. For those who served, particularly during ‘The Troubles’of Northern Ireland, much of the subject matter will already be familiar and no doubt bring back painful memories. In contrast though they will also recognise the unique squaddie humour and banter and equally no doubt see echoes of their own experiences. For others this book gives both a factual and personal insight into those dreadful times much like the ‘letters home’ of veterans of the first and second world wars that can be viewed in numerous military museums and archives as well as some light hearted glimpses of the less serious side of life that was such an essential part of coping with serving a tour of Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s.
There have been many books written by ex-servicemen (and a few women) that either focus on or refer to ‘The Troubles,’- some that are quite excellent, others not so bad, and a few that are so far off the mark that I genuinely question the said authors’ right and experience to write such books. I’m pleased to say that ‘A humbling of Heroes’ despite its brevity sits well among the very best of such books, and I would say Paul Rees is well placed and qualified to embark on longer and more ambitious projects in whatever he decides to write in the future.
Books by Paul Rees – Click on titles for Amazon links:
This is the first of my book reviews. You’ll not find any commercial Best-Sellers here, as I’m sure such books are likely to have no end of reviews and a generous marketing budget to aid their sales and popularity. What you will find are mainly self-published works along with those published by some of the smaller, less known publishing houses; some only in e-book format and others in both e-book and print formats.
Whilst not commercially published in the traditional way, all the books reviewed here certainly compare favourably with any you might find on the shelves of your local bookshop… I hope you find these reviews helpful.
Take Him Away by Ron Piper (QueenSpark classics)
There are now three generations for whom the Second World War is little more than a lesson in history, or the subject of quaint old black and white films. But what of the day-to-day lives of those who lived through it, and the sense of spirit and adventure it engendered amid the bomb, danger and uncertainty?
For a light-hearted and entertaining account of a by-gone era, one would be hard-pressed to do better than ‘Take Him Away’. Set against the backdrop of the war, Ron Piper’s book is a humorously written collection of reminiscences and witty anecdotes, some funny, some sad, but all providing a fascinating insight into period of history, seen through the eyes of an innocent seven year old boy, progressing, with increasing daring and wonder, to the age of sixteen.
Another old man writing his life story, I hear you moan? When I first learned of this book, I too was inclined to think the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it is a life story which abruptly ends at the point which Piper identifies as the beginnings of his life as con, in and out of prison for most of his life. What we have here is one young man’s steady progression to a life of crime, a life which he himself describes as wasted.
Throughout the book, Piper’s vivid portrayal of the hardships and brutality of the times bring to life an era most of us can only imagine. In some ways this could almost be placed in the ‘rites of passage’ genre, taking the reader through Ron Piper’s childhood phases: the mischievous pranks of a seven year old with too much energy, those first tentative explorations of the opposite sex, the slow moving away from childlike naivety to gradual adult awareness, right through to the adolescent’s need to stand tall in the eyes of his peers:
“It was only when I heard gossip that Mrs. So and so was ‘having it away with a yank’ that I began to understand. Even then, what hell was she having with a yank still puzzled me…”
“Any male in civilian clothing and sporting a moustache was to us none other than Adolf Hittler himself. One Hittler we followed, and we must have followed many…” On a darker note, through those adolescent years, one can almost see the foundations being laid for the life-long career of crime to which Ron Piper would progress. He does not attempt to lay blame or to judge the milieu of the time. Whatever part the environment or his up-bringing may have played in the future course of his life, this book is not an apology for it. Nor is it an attempt to justify it, just the simple portrayal of life as he experienced it. Through his wit and no-nonsense style of writing, the seven year old Ron Piper transforms the devastation, the people dying and the horror of the times into one of excitement and adventure, an opportunity to let the imagination run wild in that magical way that only the innocent imagination of a child can achieve.
‘Take Him Away’ is an extremely sharp, often funny and nostalgic account of the war as seen through the eyes of a child, but also a social commentary of how people coped, of loyalty and non-judgemental observations of the times. Well worth reading!