Dr Helen Parr, from Keele University’s School of International Relations, will be visiting Newcastle on Tuesday 11th December to talk about her book Our Boys. The event will be at Blackwells Bookshop on Percy Street in Newcastle at 6pm. Our Boys is an excellent book and highly recommended, and if you’re able to come to the event, please join us – all are welcome.
At the core of the book is the story Helen has woven together from multiple sources, about the Paratroop Regiment’s experience on the Falkland Islands in the 1982 war and more specifically the participation and loss of her uncle Dave Parr during the conflict. Helen brings a historian’s sensibility to the task of telling the story, with her meticulous use of a wide range of sources from official or quasi-official records, through to published memoirs and personal papers, to interviews and conversations with former Paras and their families. She is insightful about these sources; where there are gaps or half-truths or common misconceptions in the public memory and discourse on the Falklands War, she is able to speak with authority about why it is that some things are well known and some not, and how fuller details about incidents during the war have come to light. What we get in this book is an account that can stand on its own merits as a book about the Parachute Regiment’s experience in the Falklands War, but which can also sit alongside older, sometimes quite well-known, narratives and shed new light on them. For me, having read most of the first-person military memoirs of the Falklands War, Our Boys provided a really authoritative contextualising of the narratives I know well, by positioning them within a wider framework. So I learned a great deal by reading it. The book is a nuanced, readable and insightful narrative.
What is particularly interesting, too, is the framing of this Falklands War account around the men of the Parachute Regiment. As the books’ title suggests, it’s in part the story of a paratrooper, her uncle Dave Parr. But because of the efforts Helen has taken to engage directly with others serving in the regiment at the time, it’s also the story of the collective group of men enlisting in the Regiment in the late 1970s. She explores the patterns that emerge when their backgrounds are considered, and the context for recruitment at that time of national industrial decline and the lack of opportunities for young working class men. She provides us with details of significance to understanding the Regiment at the time, the importance of particular modes of training, the capabilities in terms of physical robustness and endurance abilities developed in recruits, and features common to the backgrounds of many recruits on enlistment that pushed them to military service and gave them the necessary resilience to cope with its demands.
Our Boys, in Part 3, then turns the focus outwards to consider the aftermaths of the conflict, for the soldiers themselves, for their families, for wider social understanding of military participation, and ultimately for the nation state. As Helen puts it, ‘The hours of intense combat on the Falklands were in some ways the crucible into which 1970s British life was poured and came out altered’ (p.293). Through this book, Helen makes the connections crystal clear, between individual deaths through armed conflict, and the national narratives that try to account for these losses.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed reading this book. More information on Our Boys can be found here.