Sir, They're Taking the Kids Indoors: The British Army in Northern Ireland 1973-74 (Book) Review
by Cathryn J. Prince
Publisher: Helion and Company
Author: Ken Wharton
Buy Sir, They're Taking the Kids Indoors: The British Army in Northern Ireland 1973-74 from Amazon
Ken Wharton’s most recent book, ‘Sir, They’re Taking the Kids Indoors’ chronicles the Northern Ireland troubles from the perspective of British soldiers. An incredible collection of photographs and copies of newspaper clippings supplements the extensively researched book. The result is a rich oral history that combines the author’s experience as a soldier on the streets of Belfast as well as contributions from others who served during these years of unceasing violence and mayhem.
The title refers to a cry heard by British soldiers while serving on the streets of Northern Ireland. Quite simply it was an IRA tactic of warning the civilian population in Republican areas about the impending arrival of one of their gunmen. Upon hearing the cry soldiers knew to prepare for anything: bricks flying through the air, Molotov cocktails, and of course bullets. Nothing about Wharton’s book romanticizes this time period. To read this book is to learn in detail just how base, cruel, and painful these years were for soldiers and civilians alike.
Much of the book reads like a diary; each chapter represents one month. Each chapter is packed with details of what soldiers on either a 4-month emergency or 2-year resident battalion tour faced. Wharton assumes the reader knows the history of the time period and does not explain what preceded the years known as “the troubles.”
Because Wharton makes no pretense of objectivity it should be read as a supplement to other books on the subject, Lost Lives by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeley and Chris Thornton and The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick. Wharton makes no apologies for his bias. He recounts several instances of US soldiers and German soldiers committing atrocities. Wharton does cite one instance of a British atrocity in Palestine. Instead Wharton writes about how “it is all the more comforting that the British demonstrated their famous fair play and conducted themselves with professional restrain.” ‘Sir They’re Taking the Kids’ would carry more weight if it mentioned British atrocities during the decades long conflict in Northern Ireland.
This is Wharton’s third book regarding sixth book on the subject. ‘Sir, They’re Taking the Kids’ will likely appeal to anyone who served during this time or knew someone who did. The book is most engaging, and perhaps most heartbreaking, when readers hear directly from soldiers like Dave Parkinson, Royal Armoured Corps.
“For this is Belfast, a town, a city even where hate breeds. I’m tired. We are all so very tired. Not just a sleep tired, but a body and mind exhaustion. The tears are running down my face. I’m not crying; it’s just sheer fatigue,” wrote Parkinson to his mother. “Oh mum, I want to come home. I want to see you again, and see your house, sit in your garden, and go for a pint with dad…I don’t want to die here, to rot in this stinking place, with its stinking people. I just want to come home.”
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