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Published on 1st November 2019

John Ogden: Antique Drum 
the final volume of the trilogy 'A Military Education' ,  sequel to 'On Fire' and 'Silken Dalliance '(see below)

Antique Drum completes the trilogy A Military Education in which Miles Player, a young officer in the Prince Regent’s Light Infantry, narrates his experiences of growing up in the British Army in the 1950s, which in many ways were closer to the 1930s than the 1960s and were the final days of the British Empire. 

The first novel On Fire was set in Hong Kong and Korea and was the vivid story of a harsh war. 

In the second novel Silken Dalliance the regiment served in West Germany as Cold War frontiersmen.  Life was complicated by the antics of a commanding officer who had a Jekyll and Hyde personality; and was foreshortened by orders to move to Kenya to fight in the Emergency. 
We left the characters in their troopship  in the Arabian Sea off East Africa stunned by the Commanding Officer mysteriously falling overboard. 

In Antique Drum  Miles continues the story covering fighting in Kenya, the Suez Crisis and a small war in the Aden Protectorate. 

ISBN-10:  0-85455-047-X   ISBN-13: 978-0-85455-047-0 £ 8.50

You can send in an ORDER for Antique Drum here

Published in 2009 
Silken Dalliance
Hardback    978-085455-040-1 
220 x 145mm 

302 pages 
published by Thornton's

Order here

Asparkling and racy story of regimental life in the 1950s
The Book
Miles Player the narrator is a young Englishman growing up in the British army of the 1950s, which in many ways were closer to the 1930s than 1960s. After nearly two years fighting in the Korean War (narrated in On Fire the first of the trilogy A Military Education) Miles and his regiment The Prince Regent’s Light Infantry, find themselves on the frontier of the Cold War in West Germany. Battle-worn and oblivious to the outside world the officers set out to pursue a life of pleasure, comfort and fun. Their lives become complicated by a new commanding officer who turns out to be a paranoic martinet, the arrival of a clever and louche young officer, and – for Miles – a girl he still loves who is now married to a brother officer. We watch their lives unfold, sometimes hilariously and sometimes tragically, in the closed society of a regiment undermined by amorality and the abuse of power.

The Author. John Ogden was first a professional soldier who helped give away the British Empire and then an advertising man who helped build and sustain commercial empires. In 1952 he was commissioned into The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, with whom he served in various parts of the world until he resigned his commission in 1964. He then joined J. Walter Thompson in London, moving, in the 1980s, to Ogilvy & Mather. He now lives in Oxfordshire. 

Andrew Roberts writes:‘Ogden’s ear for the dialogue of all ranks of the British Army protecting West Germany in the 1950s is at perfect pitch. The psychological insight into the motivation of his characters is equally superb. Just as its predecessor On Fire examined the concepts of comradeship and courage, so Silken Dalliance inquires perceptively into the nature of leadership. The A Military Education trilogy is shaping up well to become one of the great Cold War novel sequences.’ 

Review in the Tablet 19 September 2009:
Beware of Toadstools 
Silken Dalliance
John Ogden
THORNTON'S / Faringdon, 302 pages. £8.50
This is the second part of John Ogden's  military trilogy, the sequel to On Fire. It is set at the start of the 1950s in Western Germany, which had only recently ceased to be an occupied country and become one to be defended. It describes the life of an infantry regiment, as experienced by Captain Miles Player; the sub-plot concerns a tragic reunion with his former girlfriend, now married to a brother officer. The regiment spends a large part of its time recuperating from the hardships of the Korean War, the hero and his comrades indulging in wildly extravagant parties with a hedonistic superfluity of wine, women and song. In contrast, back at home, Britain was only just emerging from a bleak existence of socialist controls and ration books under Clement Attlee's austere government 

The 1950s are a curiously neglected if fascinating period, possibly because they looked backwards so much, in an impossible attempt to rebuild the world as it was before the Second World War. These were the days of National Service when during then- short stint young officers - the vast majority from public schools -absorbed their seniors' determination to restore "pre-war standards". (It is too often forgotten how much the ending of National Service contributed to the revolution of the 1960s.) Where the writer is so clever is in recreating the period with all its nostalgic ambience. 

A splendid gallery of officers and men, career or National Service, is portrayed. The colonel who commands the regiment is a truly awful if hilarious figure, a manipulative martinet intoxicated by his power over others, expert at blighting the careers of anyone under his command, while so incompetent that he and his driver are the only men taken prisoner during the fantasy battle of the annual army manoeuvres. His horrible end, en route for Kenya, is a deeply satisfying piece of black humour. The colonel's favourite is a totally amoral young captain, lustful, sponging and dissolute, who borrows money right and left that is never repaid, and even betrays his patron. There is a wonderfully funny map-reading and mushroom-hunting Exercise Fungi, ‘to hone your soldiers' personal and individual skills, and identify the true soldiers and NCOs among them", during which the troops are terrified of being poisoned. The uneasy, yet increasingly friendly, attitude towards our former enemies, the Germans, is conveyed with considerable sensitivity. Above all, there is a brilliant delineation of the subtle relationship between officers and men, with their shared amusement at the more ridiculous aspects of military life. 

The lovingly recreated world of Ogden, a former professional soldier, is clearly based on fond recollection, altogether convincing. For its humour, and for the easy, unaffected elegance of the writing, this trilogy should rank with Evelyn Waugh's "Sword of Honour", even though the background is the Cold War and the hero not a Catholic. Unlike Waugh, however, the melancholy alternating with the fun is never boring.

Review in The Bugle – The Journal of The Rifles

Number 5 Autum 2009:


Now out of print: 

John Ogden
On Fire. a Novel of the 1950s. 

Miles Player is a young army officer serving in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. When his regiment is called to the Korean War he finds his real military education starts. The polo and partying of colonial high life and the arms of his beloved Kitty are left behind. Nothing could be more real than his new life with his soldiers and the dramas and feelings they share. As Miles and his men face the harsh reality of battle we witness, through his eyes, acts of friendship and enmity, ambition and frailty, courage and cowardice, and love and betrayal. We also see the caprice of fortune. Yet there are moments of hilarity and periods of great fun. The intensity of life in the front line - makeshift living conditions, constant shelling and ever-present fear - casts Miles' earlier days into sharp relief. And, as he comes face to face with the impact of the war and his times, he also senses that Britain's power and prestige are dwindling. 

2007, 312pp., hardback in  dust jacket 
ISBN-10: 1846241553
now out of print
one complete set of the 3 volumes available
On fire, a good 2nd hand copy the other 2
volumes new. £ 35.00
Praise for On Fire 

‘I enjoyed On Fire enormously. It presents a wonderfully vivid picture of the experience of Korea.’
Sir Max Hastings 

‘An excellent read and a haunting evocation of a long vanished era.’ 
Professor Gary Sheffield 

‘It is years since I enjoyed a novel quite so much and I recommend it unreservedly to readers.’ 
The Tablet, Novel of the Week 

‘A compulsively readable story, the Forgotten War comes vividly alive.’ 
Country Life 

Perhaps ironically the strength of this novel lies less in its fictional character than the insights it reveals of military experience in that "forgotten" Korean conflict. The author's recall of what it was like to be embroiled in the vicissitudes of attack and counter-attack, and entrapped in meshes of tension, hope, fear and frustration, is tellingly conveyed. Relations between the Yanks and Limeys (mutual astonishment), characteristics of the Chinese (always blowing bugles), the perils of frostbite (losing your skin peeling hands off an iced-up tank), confused perceptions (mistaking wallowing cows for enemy snipers) - these and many such snippets, plus the closely textured account of battle minutiae, all paint a tangible picture of early fifties Korea. Rather less tangible is the depiction of mess life and the relations between individual officers. In this respect there is plenty of material all right, but it is material diluted by its very breadth. The canvas is perhaps too wide, its figures too many to supply strong dramatic distinction. What it does do, however, is to give an authentic rendering of the day to day procedures, difficulties, triumphs, challenges - and sometimes absurdities, of combatants plunged in an alien terrain struggling doggedly to maintain a sense of balance and order amidst threat and uncertainty. It is a book that will undoubtedly strike chords with veterans of the Korean war, but is also likely to appeal to anyone with an interest in military history or in the social and political ethos of that period.
Review written by Suzette A. Hill (UK) on

And also reviewed on Amazon by By  B E Openshaw 

I ordered this book after reading a review for its sequel and wanting to read them in the order written. I do not regret buying either. My immediate interest stems from being a National Serviceman 1952-54 as a non-commissioned regimental signaller in the PBI, serving in Kenya and Germany

'On Fire' gives a picture of the longueurs of army life in Hong Kong and Korea, particularly as viewed from the Officer's Mess. Delightful as the distractions may be, the enthusiasm for the combat posting to Korea is well captured by John Ogden. The contrast between the two situations is well drawn, as is the pre-action boredom and hellish contrast of killing and being killed. It is often said that a good regiment is a true family, Ogden certainly brings that to life, especially where commonality of the field dissolves the strictures of rank.

Lust and love have their place, that of the caring chaplain and good officers being more believable than the male and female variety. Ogden has a fine controlled comic line, this is at its best in the field kitchen chapter.

'On Fire' is a good book, it will appeal to anybody with an interest in military life in the 1950s. It is especially readable for NSmen of that period, it explains what the 'prats' where up to ( they pre-date Ruperts) and how right we were to feel sorry for them along with our laughter.