The incredible story in Sheffielder Mark Foster’s book about his father started to unfold for him as they watched the World Snooker on TV in 1980 – and coverage switched to the Iranian Embassy siege in London.
“I knew they would get our lot to sort this out for them,” Jack Foster said as they watched the SAS storm the building, which made Mark start to ask more.
In An Arbourthorne Lad, The Story of Jack Foster, Mark recounts his father’s role in jungle warfare against Communist guerillas in Malaya.
The Malayan Emergency took place from 1948 to 1960, when Commonwealth troops fought the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).
Mark said: “This book has been something of a long-time ambition and a road to discovery about my own father, in his earlier years.
“The writing of this book has allowed me to research in detail some of the snippets of information with regard to his earlier life, that he has previously mentioned to me, and much happening at a time before I was born.
“An Arbourthorne Lad - The Story of Jack Foster is the experiences of a boy raised on the Arbourthorne estate in Sheffield, who went on to fight in the ‘Malayan Emergency’ as a member of the Special Air Service Parachute Regiment.”
The book looks first at 83-year-old Jack’s early life as the son of a steelworker. The family were moved from Shalesmoor as part of slum clearance to the new Southey Green Estate, and later to Daresbury Road, Arbourthorne, to be closer to family.
Mark writes: “Arbour-thorne was such a transformation from the smoke, dirt and noise of the industrial city, with the fresh air blowing directly from the Derbyshire hills”. There was countryside around before the Gleadless Valley estate was built.
Jack’s dad John worked in munitions in the war and mum Lilly was a Woman of Steel, driving a crane at Firth Brown’s.
After attending Sheffield Grammar School, Jack went on to become an apprentice bricklayer and his military career started with National Service.
He volunteered for service in Malaya and trained in jungle warfare, encountering dangerous snakes, ticks and leeches.
Despite the tough conditions, he volunteered for the Special Air Service.
He underwent tough training before being dropped by parachute into hostile areas.
Mark’s account doesn’t pull punches about the conflict, including the destruction of MNLA-sympathising villages.
Jack got lost for 60 days on an operation in dense jungle, surviving with bad injuries.
Following a spell in Hong Kong, Jack returned to civilian life in Arbourthorne and bricklaying and was in and out of trouble with the police at first, taking part in fights.
Mark said that meeting his mum Brenda helped his dad to settle down.
The couple have been married almost 58 years.
His love of boxing brought Jack into close contact with the late Brendan Ingle.
Also a talented footballer, he coached the team at Midhill WMC for years and was also involved with Arbourthorne Tenants’ Association. The book is a great read, engagingly written and full of interest, both to those who look back to Sheffield in those days and to anyone with an appreciation of military history.
An Arbourthorne Lad: The story of Jack Foster is available for £5.99 paperback from www.amazon.co.uk