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Underground Reading: The Conscripts by Walter Winward

The ConscriptsThe Conscripts (1968) is an early novel from action-adventure writer Walter Winward. The novel follows a half dozen boys as they join the British National Service. The boys come from a variety of backgrounds - including a blue-blooded student, a genial farmer, a sociopathic bouncer and even a Jewish kid from East London. 

Winward punctuates the book thoroughly with flashbacks, but the main action is sequential. The reader follows the young men through their training, then through their service in Cyprus and Egypt. Although they're only signed up for two years, it seems like a lifetime. Winward does his best to capture their growth and development, but due to the length of the novel (short), the passage of time seems awfully choppy.

Like many other books and films about joining the military life, the training camp scenes are the most exciting. While in camp, their problems are tough, but understandable. It doesn't take a particularly skilled writer to convey the pain of marching for dozens of miles in the heat - or having to wash out a massive kitchen on a Sunday morning - or getting caught after curfew. These are human miseries and very easy for the reader to understand. The boys are also fresh from the 'outside' world at this point - the reader is still connected with their background and has no choice but to cheer for them. 

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