I have to say though, that this book left me somewhat hanging. It did not seem to get to the bottom of what life is like as a soldier prisoner, what it really meant to go there and what the Centre was all about. Is it a place of punishment or rehabilitation? Well in today’s climate it is definitely about rehabilitation, whether training to go back to soldiering or preparing the soldier for life in civvy street, and that is to be applauded. So where does the mystery come from and the horror stories which made up the legend?
The book opens with a brief history of military detention, how it went from sending soldiers to local prisons to having custom built military facilities which take in soldiers from all three Services, including women. I found this part of the book fascinating and very informative. The majority of the book though is about MCTC Colchester and how it evolved from a former Prisoner of War camp to a modern facility where the military sends its miscreants for what could be classed as re-training. The stories are from both guards and inmates, although neither party go by those names!
This is done chronologically running from the end of WW2 through to the modern day. The training of the staff is explained. But not in any real detail – I wonder if that is to ensure that future ‘clients’ are not given any ideas! What is very clear though is that staff are well prepared for their task and regardless of which Service, Arm or Corps they come from they are able to take on the tasks required. The book mentions that staff are employed elsewhere, especially in Iraq where they were required to run detention facilities in the period that the British Army were there. I would like to have had a bit more on that, but this book concentrates on MCTC Colchester, so perhaps there is a niche there for another book.
The stories from inmates are peppered throughout the book, as one would expect; but I must say I found them a bit sterile. No real criticism, all were very happy with their time at MCTC. I am sure that life for the staff was not as easy as comes across in the book. The tales of escort commanders are different though and it is obvious that the reason for this was to spread the word about MCTC Colchester back to their Units. Indeed the escort commanders, almost to a man, say they would not like to go back there. The inmates, on the other hand all seem to enjoy life once they have settled in and many found it just like basic training again, especially the teeth arms people. One Guardsman says he found Pirbright a harder and scarier place than MCTC!
OK, that is the negative side of the book. What we have overall is a very good over view of the growth of MCTC Colchester, moving from a military prison with no real purpose other than to hold prisoners until their discharge whether back to their Unit or to 1st Civ Div to a modern facility, inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons with a defined aim of turning out better, more confident and mature soldiers able to take their place in whatever life they have in front of them. There are instances of soldiers doing their time at MCTC, returning to their unit, obtaining promotion very quickly and having a full career. The work of the various Commandants in pulling the Military Correction process up to scratch is also well documented. This was not only the buildings but also the staff training and the building up the competences of the Military Provost Staff Corps into a Corps which was exceedingly and rightly proud of their job and abilities.
All in all this is a very good overview of the Motor Cycle Training Centre, as it is jokingly known, and is well worth a read by anyone interested in what we do with soldiers who just can’t come up to the mark, for whatever reason. This is an important part of military life and will affect every unit at one time or another so I would recommend this book to anyone with a long term view of life in the military.
One note to the author/publisher – please take a bit more time on proof reading. There are several typos which detract from the book, well do to a reader like me. Things like Sgt xxxxx of the Royal RAF, or Lieutenant Corporal and in one bit a former CO goes from Lieutenant Colonel to Lieutenant in the space of one page – any more and he would have been an inmate! A bit of time spent on this would greatly enhance a very good book.
4 Anchorss but half off for typos 3.5 overall.