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Every year around Remembrance Day we do a unit study with a military theme. My children have always been interested in the army and the RAF anyway, but I feel it is important for them to know their history - and appreciate the sacrifices made by armed forces. This year our primary focus has been WW2, but my son has recently taken and interest in the SAS as well. Since the SAS was formed during the 2nd World War - it was easy to include it in our unit study - the problem was finding source material. There is a wealth of adult reading material to choose from, but almost nothing for children. I was only able to find one single book - published in America as part of series on elite forces. The other books in this series are Army Rangers, Delta Force, Green Berets, Navy Seals and the British Royal Marines.
Obviously, the main focus of this series is American Forces, which is fair enough as it is produced for American schools. I had a few concerns. I had some concerns as to whether this would get "The Hollywood treatment" or perhaps not be treated with the respect I feel these men deserve. In both cases my fears were groundless. This is very well written, and the author obviously has respect for the SAS. My biggest concern though was that it might be horribly boring as only a school text book can be. Again, my fears were unfounded. This was a very enjoyable book to read and is certainly a book that some children will really enjoy.
I do feel the book is more likely to appear to boys than to girls - but finding good books for boys is a special challenge. It will also only really appeal to children with an interest in the military or weapons, but assuming your child has an interest in the military, this is an excellent choice. I believe this book is an excellent resource for home education, and I very strongly feel that it should be included in classrooms and libraries as well. In fact I am rather miffed that American children will have access to this book in school - and our own will not.
The book begins with the Iranian embassy siege, and this is an area I have heard many Americans speak with envy of the SAS. Sadly there is only one photo, but it is well written and you can not help but feel a bit of awe for how professionally it was carried out. As this is an American book, I feel this beginning is appropriate, this is what brought the SAS to the attention of the world. But thankfully it does not skip the real beginning.
After the chapter on the embassy the book jumps back to WW2 and The Originals. This section is 12 pages long, with only 3 photographs, but the text is fairly large and well spaced. This means they did have to leave a lot out, but it does still give the reader and idea of how the SAS began. I am very dissapointed that Paddy Mayne is not mentioned - but you can't everything. I also would have liked mention of the fact that the SAS took out more aircraft than the RAF in this time period with limited men and equipment. What they accomplished is amazing and you do not get the full scope from this book - but it is a good start.
There are also sections on Malaya, Northern Ireland, Oman, the Falklands and the Gulf War as well as brief mention of several other countries including Columbia and Yugoslavia. We read this section with a globe and had fun looking up each location. These sections are very vague, and while I know the SAS is very secretive, I also know a fair amount of source material is available. Still I appreciate that they were limited for space. I did feel again that things were left out, but there was nothing which I felt was inaccurate in anyway.
Finally there is a fairly large section on selection and recruitment. The best part of this for us was the description of a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons. There was an exercise called a sickener in which the men were forced to crawl through a ditch filled with rotten sheep's entrails. Now the water is only a couple of feet deep - so this doesn't sound so bad - but remember I said crawl not walk. This is only amusing to us because I know the Royal Regiment of Wales was also treated to the exercise many years ago - and my husband still looks a bit green at the memory :) Training and selection for the SAS is brutal and my son looked discouraged to learn that less than 1 in 10 succeed. But then again he says he wants to be a paleontologist anyway.
I think it was the fact that the SAS men were allowed to choose their own weapons which had my son so interested. He does love military hardware and his eyes lit up at the idea of walking into an armory and choosing anything you wanted. The section on equipment was obviously his favourite, but he looked at me like I was daft when I said a soldier's most important bit of kit is boots. He did catch on though after I explained - but boots are not nearly as much fun as a Heckler and Koch and magnesium grenades. After this section he liked the part discussing different parts of the world, but only because we were using the globe, and the Iranian Embassy siege.
Naturally I liked the desert warfare section best, but I also was very impressed by the embassy mission. I was surprised to learn that women are not allowed into the SAS - seems a like that would be illegal now - but then the SAS do appear to make their own rules at times.
This book is only available in library binding as far as I know. This is hardback but it is sturdier than most and very well put together. I have never seen a copy sold in the UK and had to order a copy from the USA. This can take up to 2 months but usually is less than 1 month for delivery. I paid under £5 for a used copy - but I watch several books for ages until a really good bargain comes up. Currently it will cost you roughly £8 with new and used copies being about the same price. An age level is not given but I feel this a relatively easy book to read . I would say age 8 + assuming the child is not put off by a few pages that are all text. The book is 64 pages, and even at £8 I do feel it would be a worthwhile purchase. I believe it is important for children to grown with a sense of history, and pride in the past accomplishments of their country. The Originals are certainly a group for every British child to take pride in, but their more recent counterparts deserve our honour and respect as well. Even if the details of what they do is unknown - they are still the most elite fighting force on the globe and still taking great risks - not for fame or glory - but only for honour.
I do feel some sections were cut short, but I accept that they can only fit so much print into a book like this. I don't feel that there was any fluff or filler, and I am honestly very impressed with this book. I am only irritated that I can not buy a book like this in the UK, but I won't blame the publisher for this and have given the book a full 5 stars.