John Ogden: Antique
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.
To be published in the autumn
of 2019 at £ 17.99 0-85455-047-X
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and racy story of regimental life in the 1950s
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.’
the Tablet 19 September 2009:
Beware of Toadstools
THORNTON'S / Faringdon,
302 pages, £17.99
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
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
The Bugle – The Journal of The Rifles
Number 5 Autum 2009:
(A limited number of copies )
On Fire. a Novel of the
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
Praise for On
‘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
‘A compulsively readable
story, the Forgotten War comes vividly alive.’
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 Amazon.uk
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.