Book Review: Leslie Thomas ~ Virgin Soldiers (1966)

Spike Milligan wrote his brilliant war autobiographies1 to considerable acclaim but he was building on this autobiographical novel by Leslie Thomas. Unlike Milligan Thomas took part in one of a series of grim colonial wars, which are now forgotten. The British attempt to retain empire after the second world war was quixotic. Britain was bankrupt and receiving huge sums of aid from the USA, Marshall Aid, and yet they retained the fantasy of Imperial entitlement. Attempting to keep Malaya was so improbable that you’d imagine it was done by some frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative government. But no it was Attlee’s government. A Labour government attempting to turn the tide of history. When the Malayan war began India had already been lost.

Obviously this is a re-read. Has it stood the passage to time? Well yes it has. It’s full of ordinary soldiers fighting far from home. Attempting to survive and showing bravery. Thomas has written an excellent book which is the equal of the Milligan books. This book Wikipedia tells me sold four million and made his reputation. Thomas has faded from popularity but you will enjoy this military romp.2

1 Monty: his part in my victory, 1976 and Mussolini: his part in my downfall, 1978
2 Available for 99p on Kindle

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