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Moving On

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Sphere, London, 1968
(price: 5/0; 144 pages)

The blurb on the back:

Taffy Thomas lay to attention, nose pressed to the white line on the floor between Staff Tucker's gleaming boots.
‘Repeat after me,’ intoned Tucker, ‘That is the Fence, I must not cross the Fence.’
‘That is the Fence, I must not cross the Fence,’ mumbled Thomas into the concrete.
Tucker smiled coldly. ‘You are not a human being any more . . . you are a soldier under sentence. You cannot go any lower. You have no rights. None whatever. When you see the Commanding Officer's dog, you will stand to attention until it passes you. When you see a worm, you will call it 'brother'.’ He looked down, the smile etched in ice on his face. ‘Either you bend ... or I'll break you,’ he said softly.
the military corrective establishment , . . A hell of chains and bolts and barbed wire, where men are made to run until they drop, kicked until they rise again, bullied until they live in constant terror. For aficionados of brain-washing at its worst.

opening lines:
It was cold. Siberian wind razored from the tundra, slicing through the combat clothing of the walking wounded who wove down-hill through conifers, boots crunching clean patterns in the frozen carpet of pine needles, shallowly breathing to keep the ice of its passing from their lungs.

Following on from his success with The Division, a tough, no-holds barred account of life in a youth remand camp, Bill Meilen gave us this tough, no-holds barred account of life in a British army glasshouse. Again, he can claim personal experience of the institution (‘This is a story about hell,’ he writes in the Preface. ‘I was there’), and again it’s excellent.

Set during the Korean War, it concerns a ‘young and skinny medic’ who accidentally shoots dead a comrade and is found guilty by a court martial of ‘a grave breach of Military Discipline and Good Order, in that you have negligently discharged a firearm, the property of the War Office.’ (p.16 – Don’t you love the wording of that charge?) Sentenced to six months inside, he finds himself the target of a particularly violent Staff Sergeant.

It’s a brutal piece of work, but it’s efficient and effective, showing us the dehumanising effects of martial law on both the prisoners and the guards. Originally it was a TV play, broadcast in 1965, with this novelization following on.

I have to admit that I’m baffled by the claim on the back that it’s for ‘aficionados of brain-washing at its worst.’ Are there such people? If so, are they sufficiently numerous to warrant a paperback imprint? Anyway, ignore that – it’s actually recommended to anyone with an interest in military culture or in the psychology of imprisonment.


from the maker of:
The Division
The Division
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