An explosive novel about the army that no publisher will touch while Britain is involved in bloody conflicts is being serialised free online.

The international web publication openDemocracy put the first chapters of The Skinback Fusiliers up today for anyone to download.

The author, a highly acclaimed novelist and scriptwriter, will only use the pen-name Unknown Soldier. He said yesterday:

Inevitably, this book is going to be seen as an attack on British soldiers, because it is unusually frank. It is absolutely not. I have nothing but praise for the way fighting men do their job. But I think ­ I know ­ they are exploited and abused by an uncaring system. From the scandalously low wages they are paid to risk their lives to the way they are shunted from pillar to post if they are injured and repatriated, these men and women are being conned. The thing that amazes me most is the dignity and courage they display.”

In the book, named after a bitterly obscene song from World War II, three young men ­ one white, one Asian and one black ­ join the army because they see it as their only way out of poverty and failure. They are all under-educated, and they are all bright. They quickly realise that the promises they were made in the recruitment process are completely cynical.

In the final analysis, they are cannon fodder. And the government’s appetite for foreign war adventures seems insatiable.

They do not go to Deepcut ­ although they fear the word ­ but they find life at Catterick in Yorkshire is challenging in the extreme. If you fit, you are fine. If you don’t fit, then God help you. They see bullying, dishonesty, racism, crime. And at the end of it, the chance of being turned into a pink mist, or brought home in a body bag.

Although the book has only just been released as a Kindle ebook, it has already attracted extraordinary praise. The author has priced it at less than a pound because he wants it to be available to people who don¹t normally buy books at all.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, author, film and TV writer, said: “It’s so vivid and it really buttonholes you and the prose is so urgent and gripping. It’s bloody fantastic.”

Novelist Melvin Burgess wrote: “It’s an important book about how we lure our young men into the armed forces, how we train them, how we treat them while they’re there and how we treat them when they come out. This is a timely reminder that any organisation that trains people to be killers is going to have a dirty side.”

Michael Rosen, author and broadcaster, described it as “daring, immediate, painful, powerful. It’s the stuff we’ve got to confront in order to figure out what is being done in our name. There’s no point in delivering up sanitised stuff. It won’t tell us anything.”

Joe Glenton, the lance corporal jailed for refusing to return to duty in Afghanistan wrote to the author: “I thought your grasp of the slang and culture was excellent Were you in? Reading it was like being back in the mob.

And available on KINDLE price 86pence


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