The Virgin Soldiers

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The Virgin Soldiers
Author Leslie Thomas
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Published1966 (Constable)
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages256 pp (hardback edition)
Preceded byThis Time Next Week (1964) 
Followed byOrange Wednesday (1967) 

The Virgin Soldiers is a 1966 comic novel by Leslie Thomas, inspired by his own experiences of National Service in the British Army. [1] It was Thomas' debut novel; he had previously published an autobiography. The Virgin Soldiers sold millions of copies during the author´s lifetime. [2]

A comic novel is a novel-length work of humorous fiction. Many well-known authors have written comic novels, including P. G. Wodehouse, Henry Fielding, Mark Twain, and John Kennedy Toole.

Leslie Thomas, OBE was a Welsh author best known for his comic novel The Virgin Soldiers.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.


Plot summary

The core of the plot is the romantic triangle formed by the protagonist, a conscript soldier named Private Brigg; a worldly professional soldier named Sergeant Driscoll and Phillipa Raskin, the daughter of the Regimental Sergeant Major. The location is a British army base in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency.

Conscription in the United Kingdom has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1920, the second from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963. Known as Military Service from 1916 to 1920, the system of conscription from 1939 to 1960 was called National Service, but between 1939 and 1948, it was often referred to as "war service" in documents relating to National Insurance and pension provision.

Singapore Republic in Southeast Asia

Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island city-state in Southeast Asia. The country is situated one degree north of the equator, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, with Indonesia's Riau Islands to the south and Peninsular Malaysia to the north. Singapore's territory consists of one main island along with 62 other islets. Since independence, extensive land reclamation has increased its total size by 23%.

Malayan Emergency guerrilla war from 1948 to 1960

The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought in the Federation of Malaya from 1948 until 1960. The conflict was between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military wing of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The fighting spanned both the colonial period and the creation of an independent Malaysia. Although it was referred to as "The Emergency" by colonial authorities, the MNLA referred to it as the "Anti-British National Liberation War".

Brigg and Phillipa are virgins in every sense of the word; they're both barely out of adolescence. Brigg is fearful of Phillipa's father and hardly dares go near her. He is equally afraid of the Malay and Chinese prostitutes in the nearby city. His only outlet is with his mates in the barracks, who fantasize endlessly about what they might do without actually knowing how to go ahead and do it.

Virginity State of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse

Virginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions that place special value and significance on this state, predominantly towards unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth.

Phillipa is getting more and more rebellious, eventually setting herself up with Sgt. Driscoll as a lover, while she leads Brigg on in the romance department. Brigg finally summons up the courage and the cash to approach a prostitute, called Juicy Lucy by the troops. The encounter starts disastrously but after Lucy realizes Brigg is a virgin, she takes pity on him and begins his education in her own way. This develops into a long-term relationship, at least for Brigg, who she calls affectionately "Bligg". Brigg tries not to think about what Lucy does when he is not with her.

Driscoll is seething with his own inner demons. He keeps taunting a Sgt. Wellbeloved with the phrase "Rusty nails!". Wellbeloved boasts constantly of keeping the Japanese busy during WW2, as a one-man guerilla army. Towards the end of the tale, the secret is revealed: Wellbeloved was a coward, and Rusty Nails was the nickname of the soldier he betrayed to the Japanese. Driscoll beats Wellbeloved to a pulp on behalf of the victim.

The novel crystallizes around violent incidents involving rioting in the city and an attack by Communist guerillas on a train. Several of Brigg's friends are killed. Brigg tries to find Lucy for solace, only to be told she was beaten to death by soldiers. (In the film, the locomotive destroyed was one of the last four used to haul mainline BR steam - the famous Fifteen Guinea Special.) Days before he is to be sent home, he confronts Phillipa with his frustrations, with unexpectedly pleasant results. For Phillipa, however, he is a passing fancy. Her sergeant awaits ...

Fifteen Guinea Special last British steam-hauled main-line passenger train

The 1T57 'Fifteen Guinea Special' was the last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power on British Rail on 11 August 1968 before the introduction of a steam ban that started the following day. It was a special rail tour excursion train organised for the occasion from Liverpool via Manchester to Carlisle and back, and was pulled by four different steam locomotives in turn during the four legs of the journey . This was a special excursion. The last scheduled steam-hauled passenger services ran on 3 August 1968 from Preston.

Eventually Brigg and his remaining friends are about to embark for home. The final scene has them shouting the name of a laundryman, whom Brigg has mistakenly shot in the hand in an earlier episode, a certain Fuk Yew. It symbolizes their relation to Malaya and Malaya to them, when the tailor responds with the appropriate hand signal, using his damaged hand.

Film adaptation

The novel was turned into a film in 1969, directed by John Dexter, with a screenplay by the British screenwriter John Hopkins. It starred Hywel Bennett, John Scott, Nigel Patrick and Lynn Redgrave. David Bowie cut his hair short to audition for a role but can only be seen in a brief shot in the finished movie, being pushed out from behind a bar. A sequel, Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers , followed in 1977 with Nigel Davenport repeating his role as Sgt Driscoll.

<i>The Virgin Soldiers</i> (film) 1969 film by John Dexter

The Virgin Soldiers is a 1969 British war comedy-drama film directed by John Dexter and starring Lynn Redgrave, Hywel Bennett, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Patrick and Rachel Kempson. It is set in 1950, during the Malayan Emergency, and is based on the novel of the same name by Leslie Thomas.

John Dexter was an English theatre, opera and film director.

Screenwriter Writer who writes for TV, films, comics and games

A screenplay writer, scriptwriter or scenarist is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

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  1. McKie, A (May 2014). "Leslie Thomas". The Herald . Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  2. "Leslie Thomas, Author". New York Times. May 2014.