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This delightful book is based on the diaries of Dick Eberlie who was posted as a National Service officer to the 1st Battalion The Dorset Regiment, based in Hong Kong and training for deployment to Korea. It is therefore full of reminiscence and anecdotes of life on the front line between Mainland China, with its massive army, and the British colony, with its one brigade. It is not a treatise on British foreign policy at the time but rather a unique insight into the life of a young man, like all of his generation, forced to do military service often in somewhat uncomfortable circumstances. That young man joined the army on leaving school at 18 and, shortly after celebrating his 21st birthday, he was back home and free to take up his place at University.
In those three years he packed in a great variety of roles, was given considerable responsibility and, most importantly, turned from being a schoolboy into a man. He certainly did not need a modern ‘Gap Year’ to ‘find himself’! Although the sub-title of this memoir is “An account of the Dorsets in Hong Kong 1952-54”, it includes so much more than that. It shines a light on the joys and travails of National Service and no doubt will bring back many memories for a whole generation born too late to be part of the Second World War but still forced to do their bit for Queen and Country at a time of considerable worldwide insecurity.
Dick Eberlie has brought to life the atmosphere of the time and demonstrated the considerable responsibilities given to a young officer just out of school. He also shows how beneficial National Service could be to so many of that generation – albeit that they did not necessarily appreciate it at the time - and also the effects of this vast turnover of personnel on the standards of training and on the skills of a modern army.
Putting this memoir into context are three chapters by Christopher Jary whose research and interviews with others provide the outer layers of this personal reminiscence. As always his skill in extracting the story from those he interviews ensures some fascinating additions to the book.
For those who have served in the Dorsets, or their successors the Devon and Dorsets, there will be many familiar names. But it is not just for the regimental family to enjoy, this book is a great addition to our modern history of a time when Great Britain was still attempting to maintain the pre-war imperial stance of a colonial power with very limited resources on the other side of the world.Major John Gaye: 5th Aug 2015 15:30:00