Former undercover soldier and best-selling novelist Andy McNab has said his work in the SAS and his career as a writer was only possible because the Army taught him reading and writing.
He was talking at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, as part of The Six Book Challenge, a charity initiative aimed at getting more people to read.
Speaking to Junior Soldiers from the college, Mr McNab said, “I came out of a youth detention centre and after three months of Army Junior Leaders something happened that changed my life.”
Admitting he had the reading age of an eleven year old when he was 17, McNab said, “We were taken to a part of the camp where I’d never been before: it was the Army Education Centre and a captain came in and said, ‘That lot out there think you’re thick, but you’re not. All that’s going to change today.’”
Hundreds of soldiers who are training at the college gathered to hear the former SAS soldier speak about the value of reading. Last year 35,000 people took part in The Six Book Challenge, which involves reading six books or magazines and completing a reading diary.
The former soldier, who never allows his face to be photographed, spoke of the missions he had been sent on, and said he could never have succeeded if the Army had not given him decent literacy skills.
“The Army gave me a “Janet and John” book to read and helped me with it. My reading got better, and I realised that every time I read a book I learnt something and that gave me a great feeling.
“The only reason I couldn’t read and write was because I didn’t read and write. But when I started, I got knowledge and that gave me power to do the things I wanted.”
In 1984, McNab joined 22 SAS Regiment, rising to fame after breaking an SAS confidentiality code to give an account of his experiences during the First Gulf War in his book Bravo Two Zero. He is now an established author and travels the world as an advisor for films and computer games.
One of the Junior Soldiers in the audience, Baz Bradshaw, 17, from Barnsley,said, “It was brilliant to see Andy McNab and to hear him talk about reading, which is great because it just blocks everything else out and you learn so much.”
Joshua Rudgard-James, 17, from Hereford, said. “It was really inspirational, and I got him to sign a book for my dad, Peter, who’s read all his books.
“Because of the Army he got himself educated, and it’s good that someone of his stature now comes and encourages other people to read.”
Junior Soldiers at the college are given vocational and military skills as well as teaching them essential education.
“Today may well have been life-changing for some of our students,” said Miss Tiffany Duff, who teaches English and Maths. “It’s good for these young soldiers to see such an iconic role model saying how important reading books is, and brilliant that he’s supporting the work of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jane Hunter, Commander Educational and Training Services, added: “Reading books brings a whole new world to life, whether in fiction or non fiction books.
“That means they think more, and can take on training far better – which is important for what they do in the Army, but can also offers better job prospects when they leave.”
Photo credit: © Crown Copyright 2014, Sgt Paul Morrison