Book Reviews

My thanks to Keith Flett, Hilary Kitchin and Rachel Taylor for their kind reviews about my book, Sadism, Songs and Stolen Liberty. If you have read the book and wish to send me your review please email it to me at: and/or post on twitter and let me know at: @stephenmann12


“There are numbers of memoirs written about the radical politics of the 1960s but Stephen Mann offers an important new perspective to the historical record. While still serving in the Navy he went on anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and attracted the attentions of Whitehall and the Special Branch. The book is both highly readable and an important addition to our knowledge of the history of the 1960s from someone who played a part in them.” Dr Keith Flett, Convenor, Socialist History Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London.


“Having worked with the National Council for Civil Liberties I enjoyed reading Stephen Mann’s personal experiences of the NCCL campaign for justice for boy servicemen. Although the subject matter is serious Stephen manages to make his book an entertaining and amusing read, taking us through his adventures in the Navy. This is a story of despair but then hope for a reluctant serviceman who made the mistake of joining the armed forces at the age of fifteen without realising that he had signed away the next twelve years of his life. I thoroughly recommend you to read this book.” Hilary Kitchin, former Lawyer NCCL.


“Stephen’s story should be required reading for all those, whatever their political persuasion, who claim that enlisting at 16 is a “good thing” for young people. He reveals how easily a child is manipulated by exciting recruitment materials, how little they understand or consider the legal implications of their terms of service until it’s too late, and how desperate many are to get out once the boredom and bullying begins. Half a century since the NCCL campaign, Stephen’s cautionary tale is still all too familiar among child recruits today.”  Rachel Taylor, Research and Advocacy, Child Soldiers International


2 thoughts on “Book Reviews

  1. mbriathra

    Dear Stephen
    I’ve just seen a review of your book in Voice. My friend old friend Steve is a postie in Torrington, Devon where I now live.

    He knows my past. I joined the Royal Navy on 5 October 1967. Long John Baldry’s Let the Heartaches Begin was in the Top Ten unless memory is playing tricks. I signed on as a Junior Seaman on 6 October 1967 at HMS Raleigh. I was 16 years and 2 months, One of us decided it was not for him and was given a rail warrant home. I think he was called ‘Digger’ Gardner. I thought he was an idiot. What a fool I was.

    I loved all the training to start with. I thought I was being a man etc. After 6 weeks I chose to join the Fleet Air Arm, so was sent to the then HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent to do a Radio Electrical Mechanic (Air) course. My number was L106083.

    I had a three mont option to get out. Still I didn’t leave. Did well on the course and achieved a high percentage. Missed Mechanician’s course by a couple of marks. They then found out that I was still an Irish citizen so asked me to become a British citizen, which I did. Yes, what a young fool!

    They sent me to the recruiting centre in Holborn for a couple of weeks as I had done so well before going on to Lee-on-Solent. That was the very last time I wore my uniform in public, barring Divisions etc.I lived in Tottenham. Strangely (having read about your early days) when we emigrated from Dublin in September 1957 we moved to Archway (Elthorne Road). I went to Christ the King school in Tollington Park and went to Mass at either St Mellitus Church, Tollington Park, or St Gabriel’s at Archway.

    After initial training I was drafted to Portland, HMS Osprey and worked on the air station there. I can remember pitching up on the front in June/July 1968 having walked up fro the station. It was a beautiful day and I thought ‘This is pretty good’. I was in uniform. It proved to be the last time I would be seen in full uniform in public, barring Divisions etc.

    I moved out into ‘Approved Lodgings’. That’s when things started changing. We were living like civilians. My friends hung around with civilians, listened to soul music mainly but also Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen etc also.We used to walk down the Weymouth Front with a ‘discotron’ which played singles. My friend Maurice (John) Asdshead, who had come from Ganges, was into soul big time and that fitted with my interests too. I’d been to ‘Long Life’ parties in Tottenham where I first mixed with African Caribbean people, ate jerk chicken etc.

    We were Mods really and then ‘Skinheads’, but in those days Skinheads were anything but racist. It was also partly to distinguish ourselves from ordinary sailors who could be picked out a mile off! Later the Skinheads became something rotten.

    So it was after about a year that I became disaffected. we civilianised or ‘de pusserised’ everything eg Skipper became Managing Director etc. I eventually retracted my British Citizenship but still they kept me in. My mum and my girlfriend Liz, who was a trainee teacher at Weymouth College of Education, now my wife, wrote to the Navy to plead for me to come out. No luck.

    I went to see the Skipper. Surname Brown. Still no luck. I remember him talking to me about George Brown for some motivational reason I think. I played lots of sport and represented the Fleet Air Arm Under 19s and also the RN Under 19s. That was good fun. I also tried for the Field Gun Crew and failed three times!!

    Eventually I was drafted to a helicopter support ship called HMS Blake. This was i my fourth year in the Navy. I decided I wasn’t going on the ship voluntarily, they’d have to carry me on. I went to the ship’s doctor , a civilian called Dr Lusk. He was quite elderly. and had played rugby for Ulster in the 1930’s I think. So that was always part of the conversation, as I was mad on the game. I told him that I was depressed. He gave some pills. I never took them. After a few weeks I went back and said that they weren’t working. I had worked myself into a depression and even had the odd suicidal thought. He decided that I should go and see the ‘trick cyclist’ at RH Haslar. This had been my plan all along. I had discussed it with friends.

    A number of friends did different things to get out. Nick Golding went down the same route as me. He was a Naval airman and into Bob Dylan big time. He knew every song all the way through back then. Him and me and another couple of friends went to the first Bath Blues Festival in 1969. It was fantastic. We went from Weymouth in a Ford Prefect “Sit up and Beg’. It was the best. We saw Rory Gallagher and Taste, Champion Jack Dupree, Chicken Shack with Christine Perfect, Ten Years After, John Mayall and Led Zeppelin. Lots of others such as Roy Harper, Carol Grimes and Babylon (I think). Emerson Lake and Palmer. What a line up!

    Another friend ‘Spider Bryson’ cut the electrical looms on a Wessex 3 helicopter and then told then Chief “I’ve killed your budgie”. He was locked up and dishonourably discharged. His voice later appeared o a TV programme about the length of service we were having to do. I related it to ‘press ganging’, which I know much more about now, having read Jonathan Neale’s The Cutlass and the Lash, Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History, Villains of All Nations re piracy in early 18th Century plus other works and also Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged.

    1972 was also the time when the IRA campaign started on the British mainland. I was hauled in by my divisional Officer Lt’Crash’ Evans who quizzed me about what I’d do if asked by an Irish person in a Weymouth pub the best place to put a bomb. I said I didn’t know.

    I went to see the psychiatrist and felt I’d blown it in the interview. He did have all the letters I’d written plus the ones from my mum and Liz on the table in front of him. He asked me “You want to get out don’t you?” I said that I did and explained why, but dried up a bit.

    I went on Summer leave. When I returned to Portland I asked my new DO Sub Lt Woodward on 771 Search and Rescue Squadron if he had any information on me. He said “come back in half an hour”. He told me that I was going out on Wednesday week (it was the first Monday back of leave). He came back a few minutes later telling me that he’d made a mistake. I was to be discharged this week. The next day I went to Portsmouth to return my uniform etc. I can’t remember one thing about that day except travelling down with another person in my position, ‘Taff’ Robinson, who I remember used to read the Guardian in the crew room. I also had a Zippo lighter with HMS Bulwark’s badge on it.

    I returned to Weymouth on the same day. I received one month leave and pay and an honourable discharge. I hung around for a week or so, drinking, watching the Munich Olympics then headed for home. My leave finished, believe it or not on 5 October 1972, exactly five years to the day from when I joined.

    I was chucked out of home because my mum found out I had been ‘shacking up’ with Liz at the College. I’d boasted to my best mate from school (St Ignatius College Tottenham) Tony Boyle. He’d told his mum, who was friendly with mine. Our dad had died back in 1964. I had an older brother John. He died in 2008.

    I headed for Birmingham, where Liz had found a job. I lived with her for a year during which I worked for Nationl Carriers after a six week period on the dole. Later in the year I managed to get on to a HGV1 course for British Road Services. I moved back to London and worked at BRS in Tuffnell Park for while, then moved to the BBC as a driver. Ileft there because I wanted to study for A-Levels. Cutting a long story short I then had several driving jobs plus a post as Circulation Manager for The Catholic Herald. By that time I’d given up on God, religion etc but a friend worked there an it sounded interesting. In those days it was in Charter House St Smithfield Market.

    I was hopeless at it, but by then I’d made it into St Mary’s College Twickenham to train to become Physical Education teacher. I went there because friends a London Irish RFC where I played rugby were at the college. Although it was a Catholic college there was no religious pressure on us. I taught in Lewisham at Forest Hill Boys for 5 years and for over 15 years at what was then Crofton school, now Prendergast Ladywell Fields College. Best years of my teaching life. I did a further 8 years at Ilfracombe Arts College, now an academy, sadly.

    For most of my time in teaching I was an NUT school rep. In the last five years I was elected to the Devon NUT Division Secretary post. It’s the toughest job I ever did. Huge casework load, mostly defending teachers against managerial bullying by misapplying policies etc. I’m sure you know the score from your own work in CWU.

    I joined the SWP in 1987 after having left the Labou Party in 1985 after Kinnocks appalling attack on th miners re violence against the police etc. Still an SWP member, still active. Currently involved in a campaign to reinstate the inpatient beds at Torrington Community Hospital. 99% vote in a Parish Referendum on a high turnout to reinstate the beds. It’s not binding but the moral imperative is with us. Fantastic campaign which is far from ended.

    One more thing springs to mind. The Daily Mirror at the time ran a campaign to stop boys being press ganged for such long periods. They did a good job. I think it was the Lord Donaldson report which changed things. Roy Hattersley was Minister for the Navy

    I did meet a young 23 year old guy home on leave the other day at an open mic I was playing at in Braunton. He’s been in for five years. He said he’d signed up for 18 years. He has to give 1 yr notice if he wants to leave. He’s on HMS Illustrious which is going to be scrapped. The conditions on there sounded awful.

    That’s it> I’m ordering your book from Bookmarks. I’ll probably have nightmares after reading it. It was such a long time ago. No regrets but acknowledgement of stupid mistakes. It took while but I sorted it it out with help from Liz mainly. It used to sadden me when students said they wanted to join up. I tried to offer alternatives. I knew that if they were anything like I had been there was no chance of persuasion! I met one ex student whilst on an anti war stall in Barnstaple. He said that he’d joined the army. I could have cried. I thought of my own son, now 33 years old, and would have cried if he had joined up. It’s heartbreaking to see students, young people joining the services. Many don’t have much of a choice. Economic recruits. Perhaps the campaign to reduce signing on time has made it easier for the disillusioned to leave. I do hope so.

    There’s much more, but that’s enough!

    In solidarity

    Dave Clinch
    skypename: dpclinch
    Facebook: thepipercallsproject Clinch
    Twitter: @dpclinch

    Tel: +441805 624938 h
          +447887 650671 m

  2. mbriathra

    Hello Stephen

    I’ve tidied up the above and sent it to you via email. There are mainly typo errors above plus an error of memory re the last time I wore my full naval uniform. It’s rectified in the email!. Please feel at liberty to delete the above.

    In solidarity

    Dave Clinch


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