In Slightly Foxed No.33, Andrew Nixon paid homage to George MacDonald Fraser’s splendid creation, the appalling Flashman; and Patrick Mercer, himself an infantryman, drew attention to Quartered Safe Out Here, Fraser’s autobiographical account of his own service as an Other Rank in the Border Regiment. But both omitted mention of Fraser’s other marvellous creation, the infamous Private McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier ever to grace the tartan of a Highland regiment.
McAuslan, whose adventures are described in three books – The General Danced at Dawn (1970), McAuslan in the Rough (1974) and The Sheikh and the Dustbin (1988) – is an invention whose time has now passed. He is, in the words of any regular soldier, ‘A Thing’. Always offending the tender susceptibilities of the professional soldiers among whom he is deposited, Private McAuslan, a shrunken, grey, greasy and shambling figure, is the very antithesis of the elegant Flashman. The premise is simple – whatever is good and noble about soldiering is subverted by the shameful conduct of McAuslan, who never intentionally behaves badly, but who is such an excuse for a soldier that disaster trails him.
His time has passed because the books were written in a period when many readers had an extensive memory of serving in one of the armed services, either during the Second World War or as part of National Service. They – we – all knew about similar ‘Things’. We had encountered them throughout our service, however short. The perspiring figure pan-bashing in the cookhouse, the perpetual adornment of the guardroom cells, the one man who could be relied upon to leave his weapon behind or drop a shell on his foot – they are familiar. I had one called Gunner . . . but I won’t name him, for that would be cruel. The brilliance of McAuslan was that George MacDonald Fraser could use him as a vehicle to tell the story of soldiering
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