In the early sixties bored bank clerk Paul Johnson joins the elite Corps of Royal Marines where he and Jack Mason, once a professional wrestler, become friends. They and other recruits form H Squad, a unit impressed by and proud of their drill instructor, Sergeant Francis Boswell. The self-proclaimed ‘finest Sergeant this man’s outfit has ever produced’ gives his squad the collective name of ‘Boswell’s Fairies’, which, he commands, they must declare to the world. Nobody foresees the consequences.
Boswell’s Fairies is the story of a ten-month period of basic training. It isn’t exactly the story of Paul’s romance with a girl named Mary, or Paul’s shattered illusions about Boswell, any more than it is about his efforts to impress his father. The book is about Paul’s largely successful effort to experience two things concurrently; freedom (from banking, his class and his family) and the lack of it (the discipline is much stricter than that he previously encountered). He has devotion to a strong mentor while later having to admit his hero is not wholly admirable; he has plenty of female company while living in an all-male environment, and finds considerable fun and entertainment while facing physical hardship and learning a very serious business.