Sunday, 23 September 2012

A book review on Return to Tumbledown: The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited

by Mark Sandman.

I look forward to reading an historical account of an armed conflict with a certain amount of anxiety and trepidation. As most of us already know who have been through these kinds of experiences it is always a two-edged sword to read a veteran or soldier vividly recall the sights, the smells and the thoughts of their own private hell. When known already that reading these vivid recollections is asking our own selves to relive our own vivid memories, because stimulation of any one of our senses is one of the strongest reminders of our past (our memories). Reading personal accounts of individual combat experiences is an event in itself for us and Mike has pushed all the buttons for me once again with his new book Return to Tumbledown, causing me to relive my own combat exposures fresh and vivid. Remembering times I thought to be long ago dead and buried with the passage of time.

Return to Tumbledown really asks a lot of the reader emotionally, especially when we must read through the book peering into the Falklands-Malvinas hell through the prism of our own combat exposure and traumatic experiences. It all comes rushing back smack into your face as I read “Ossie” Osborn’s night time combat experiences and his narrowly escaping a “friendly” grenade thrown in his direction mistakenly. Then I read about Nicol unable to accurately call in artillery support. All the confusion, all of the chaos, all of the fresh and pungent smells you recognize but don’t dare to really think about too long. All training, order and discipline seem to evaporate in the eternal hellish instant that is night time combat. I bounce around from page to page trying to find a light moment and it is not there. It is at this point that I feel I must take my first break from reading precisely on page 91. I open the book up again to find Cocks and the Right Flank pinned down by “friendly” machine gun fire. What the hell is going on, were these guys somehow with me in the A Shau Valley in Vietnam? Time has ceased to have any relevant meaning for me at this moment, so I stop again and take another break. I think “Mike you asshole you have to stop writing this stuff, it is not helpful.” So I continue to skip around the book and find McTeague’s haunting post-war account and this does a real J  O  B on my head.

Jeremy’s recollection of his “welcome home” are timelessly accurate and sadly they reflect what many of us have had to endure when we came home. “Hey Mark (Jeremy) the Giants won the World Series isn’t that wonderful?” or “Jeremy (Mark) the Spanish just won the World Cup.” Yeah Jeremy welcome home and get your shit together because life goes on. My own memories of moment to moment depression have now flooded in and I start to think once again how fucking hard it was most days to just put one foot in front of the other and move, when your head feels that heavy and dull not much makes any sense and Jeremy does a Wonderful job of communicating this level of despair to the reader.

Return to Tumbledown clearly illustrates the value and importance of Veteran Peer Support and our motto. That when all is said and done, “nobody can do for us (the combat veteran) the way that we can do for each other.” That we must always keep in the back of our own minds, that we are there for each other in our greatest time of need. Stating the origin of this attitude in a crude and awkward way, we are truly all members of a small and exclusive club I refer to as the “brotherhood of the gun.” We have these experiences seared into our core, the very essence of our being. In the end, what we do not do for each other, somebody else must do for us. Return to Tumbledown has worked its way inside me like very few things can. I do not wish to relive my own personal events like this but I will and I am a better person for doing so. Read it and come away thinking no more war.

(Mark Sandman is a US Army Vietnam War veteran, psychologist and practitioner for combat veteran peer support).

The book, Return to Tumbledown: The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited, was published on 10 June 2012 by CCC Press, 80, Sherwin Road, Nottingham, NG7 2FB. It is priced at GBP 19.99 and can be purchased on-line by inserting the title Return to Tumbledown into Google and clicking on the link “New Ventures”:

Postage is free to any part of the world.

A Book Review on Return to Tumbledown – The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited.

by Nigel Price.

In Return to Tumbledown, Mike Seear gives the most comprehensive account of the battle to date. Indeed, short of additional personal testaments, it is hard to see how anyone else could ever produce a fuller overall account.

Firstly Seear was there, as Operations Officer of the 1/7th DEO Gurkha Rifles. He was involved throughout the battle. Secondly he has walked the battlefield and revisited the various locations where the action was fought and decided.

More importantly he has gathered an extraordinary number of detailed accounts from the participants on both sides, British and Argentine. He has made numerous visits to Argentina, contacted and cross-examined key players on the “opposing” side. Through several years of painstaking work, he has interwoven all the many accounts into a chronological narrative of the battle from start to finish. His achievement is breath-taking, and the end result is one of the most fascinating accounts of combat I have read.

Of course there are personal accounts from far larger and more bloody battles from other wars, but here in microcosm Seear presents the reader with most of the elements which make combat arguably the most extreme experience of the human condition.

The book falls into three main parts. The Scots Guards lead, and rightly so. Thereafter Seear turns the camera right around, so to speak, and shows the whole event from the Argentine perspective. Finally he looks at the battle from the point of view of the Gurkhas. In this latter stage he has achieved the remarkable feat of finding a wealth of additional material not included in his earlier War Journal, With the Gurkhas in the Falklands.

But the crown goes to the several personal testaments given to Seear by members of 2nd Bn Scots Guards. These are truly riveting. There are contributions from the Commanding Officer, as well as from the Company Commanders. Most fascinating however are the barely edited words of the young Guardsmen themselves. The men who have entrusted Seear with their personal stories have spoken with complete candour.

However, it is when we reach the second and central segment of the book that we encounter material equally as fascinating but possibly even more startling. For here the enemy speaks out. Here our picture of the battle becomes ever more complete as Seear interweaves the narratives, Scots Guards and Argentine marine. The fog of war lifts and we see the flow of events with increasing clarity. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Lastly the Gurkhas have their say. From extracts taken from the Commandant’s diary, to personal accounts from others, both British and Gurkha, the reader is given the fullest picture of the Gurkha contribution to the battle, their involvement, their frustrations and – being Gurkha – their humour.

Nor does Seear stop there. Towards the end of the book he has included extracts from the diary kept by a Stanley resident during the fighting, Rosemarie King. There are some wonderful anecdotes as she describes kneading dough in time to the gunfire outside, or mixing shortbread while the world around her is going mad. Her laconic, drily witty, often touching observations portray better than anything else, the British character under stress.

Indeed there are many incidents that linger in the mind long after the book has been put down, too many to quote here. Mostly the sheer guts of many of the Scots Guards, but also the doggedness of many of the Argentine defenders. It is tempting to mention names but that would do an injustice to those omitted for reasons of space.

In researching and writing this book, Seear has walked a tightrope between British and Argentine sentiments. Only by exercising the greatest delicacy and tact has he been able to make the connection with Argentine veterans, gain their trust, and thereby hear the story from their side. In doing so he will undoubtedly alienate some on his own British side. I understand that at least one Falkland islander has taken exception to Seear’s use in the title of the word Malvinas; there will probably be other similar or related objections.

It is likely that Seear has only been able to achieve such even-handedness due to his own catastrophic personal journey, a journey he described in his War Journal, but which he also revisits here towards the end of the book. Once again, with complete candour he lays before us the struggle with his inner demons, a struggle that resulted in eventual collapse. It has been during his long, hard climb out of that terrible place that he has acquired the sensitivity and – dare I say – the wisdom that has equipped him for this particular task.

This also answers the question that some might ask - Why bother? Why write about the battle of Tumbledown at all? Why rake over old coals? Why not simply file it away and move on?
Because for some, at least, it is necessary to understand. To understand the context of their lives, and nothing is more pivotal to a life than the experience of battle. This shines through the testaments of the young Scots Guardsmen, the young Argentine marines. It is why, as middle-aged men they traipse over soggy hillsides, revisiting the sites where they came closest to death. Where they did things of which they were proud, or perhaps ashamed. Possibly both.

Return to Tumbledown grasps the battle and presents it to the reader in as whole a state as I believe it is possible for a writer to do.

(Nigel Price is a 7th Gurkha Rifles Falklands-Malvinas War veteran and published novelist under the pen name of Anthony Conway).

The book, Return to Tumbledown: The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited, was published on 10 June 2012 by CCC Press, 80, Sherwin Road, Nottingham, NG7 2FB. It is priced at GBP 19.99 and can be purchased on-line by inserting the title Return to Tumbledown into Google and clicking on the link “New Ventures”:

Postage is free to any part of the world.