The latest expanded edition of AFN Clarke's bestselling and controversial memoir CONTACT is a raw, visceral, "no-holds-barred" account of his two tours in Northern Ireland as a Platoon Commander with Britain's elite Parachute Regiment in the blood-soaked 1970s during "The Troubles".
When first published in 1983 it became an instant bestseller and caused a furore for its devastating honesty and chilling revelations. 2023 marks the 40th Anniversary of the book’s publication. That it’s still selling strong after 40 years is a testament to its deep resonance with readers.
In CONTACT Clarke takes us into the private world of soldiers operating under extreme stress and living each day with their senses on high alert. Where the enemy wears no uniform and shoots from the shadows, and the bomber's trip-wire is an ever-present nightmare. We experience their emotions, fear, courage, humour, bravado and the anguish of death.
The dangers, political agendas and religious roots underlying the conflict are eerily and heartbreakingly similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, where soldiers were ordered to hold the lines in an ancient quarrel they had little affinity for, but whose consequences were deadly.
In this expanded edition (including a section omitted from the original version at the insistence of the publishers) Clarke reveals what it was like to be in his twenties, go to hell and come back having nearly died with half his insides missing, suffering from physical, mental and emotional upheaval and being expected to return to a "normal life". It’s a story of the scars of war that affect generations on all sides of a conflict. Of heartache, courage and hope for peace.
Book length: 224 pages.
CONTACT is available from Amazon as an eBook, Paperback and Hardback.
CONTACT is also available on DVD. It was made into an award-winning film by BBC TV.
AFN Clarke’s first tour in Northern Ireland with 3PARA took place in Belfast's Loyalist Shankill Road area in 1973 and the second with 3PARA during 1976 in the IRA stronghold of Crossmaglen, South Armagh, also known as 'Bandit Country' where the roads were mined with 500lb homemade bombs, now referred to as IEDs.
Praised by reviewers from various sides of the conflict for its honesty and courage the book became an instant best seller and was serialised in Britain's National Newspaper The Daily Mirror. In 1983 Clarke (and his book) were the subject of BBC Television's prestigious Newsnight program. Clarke was also interviewed by renowned TV host Michael Parkinson. CONTACT was made into an award-winning BBC TV film which is still available today through the British Film Institute.
In 2010 – in support of their efforts at peacebuilding and conflict resolution - AFN Clarke accepted an invitation from the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation to participate in a Peace & Reconciliation conference in Warrington, UK which was attended by individuals from various 'sides' of the Northern Ireland conflict as well as individuals from other parts of the world embroiled in similar multi-faceted conflicts.
Clarke also agreed to travel to Derry in Northern Ireland, to take part in an associated educational program about 'The Troubles' designed for school children and to also participate in a panel discussion on 'The Troubles' with representatives from various sides of the conflict.
“…the best account we have had of what it is like to serve in Northern Ireland."
“…an unashamedly personal account...a fascinating view of fighting a war from a perspective which we very rarely experience or hear about.”
“…its honesty and passion cannot be denied….Mr Clarke has sent out a powerful and disturbing early warning signal.”
“…a devastatingly realistic book, as realistic as this morning’s headlines…the writing is taut and dramatic…”
“…a major contribution to our understanding of war and how people act…Contact is the work of a brave writer.”
“Captain Clarke is more than a serving soldier. He is a writer of distinction.”
In my view the best book written by a soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the 1970s which were the really dangerous and difficult years. … mirrors my own experience very closely….
‘Contact' is an evocative portrait of warfare … With considerable skill and eloquence the author describes in detail what life was like under fire - the frustrations, the anger at the loss of comrades, the hatred on both sides. It is a soldier's story, no punches pulled, no truths varnished over, no cover-ups. As such it is important, a witness statement written by someone who was part of that episode of history.
A good exposure of what actually went on. Not from a Catholic point of view or a Protestant point of view but the poor bugger in the middle whose main object was to keep his men and himself alive.
"...Contact is one of the best military stories that I have ever read and I recommend it to you in the highest terms; it's a book from a past conflict that has timely and resonant lessons for a present one." Steven McLaughlin, Author of Squaddie: A Soldier's Story. UK 2010.
I was gripped when reading Clarke's experiences and after reading so many books about Northern Ireland I found this added another layer of perspective that was refreshingly honest, well written and somehow makes you feel like you are living it yourself. Fully recommended.
This book approaches the realities of war rather than the glories and heroics. He tells the truth about the fears, the questionable moralities of war itself and strips bare the thoughts of a soldier on the front lines.