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Joe Glenton – an anti-war soldier the army couldn’t keep a lid on

This article is over 10 years, 10 months old
Joe Glenton’s book Soldier Box is a riveting read about the reality of life in Britain’s imperialist wars—and the brave fight to expose it, says Judith Orr
Issue 2365
Outside Joe Glentons military court hearing in 2010

Outside Joe Glenton’s military court hearing in 2010 (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Joe Glenton joined the army in 2003—the same year his mum marched with two million others on the monster Stop the War Coalition demonstration on 15 February. 

Soldier Box is his account of his experience as a soldier during the Afghanistan war and his realisation that the war was a “sordid adventure”. 

It tells of how he began as a young working class army recruit and ended up being a celebrated army deserter and anti-war activist. 

He portrays the routine of army life, the camaraderie among ordinary soldiers and the bullying from the officers. He also shows how casual racism and sexism pervades the forces. 

Joe began to question what the war was about at the end of his first tour of Afghanistan. He could see that the military were not “guests but invaders”.

When he returned to Britain he vowed not to go back. This decision changed his life. Joe went Absent Without Leave (Awol) and went to live in Australia. 

He wrote the number of an Awol helpline on a post-it note and stuck it above his kettle. It stayed there for months before he finally decided to call it.

After taking advice he decided that he needed to return to Britain and face the army so he could carry on his life without running away.

His account of how the army treats you when you break is fascinating. 


The officers are used to blind obedience from the lower ranks and rely on fear to enforce their power. But once Joe had lost his fear the army could no longer cope with him. 

He flew back to Britain and walked back into his barracks to face charges of desertion and was appointed a solicitor who “appeared uninterested”.

Joe didn’t want his case to be “read on the day of the trial over a Frappuccino on the train from London.” 

So, on the recommendation of his mum, he met with an old friend of hers, John Tipple, a legal case worker. Joe immediately saw John as a “scrapper” and the fight against the army began. 

Socialist Worker was the first newspaper to interview Joe. We put him on our front page in 2009. When military intelligence found out, they pulled him in and warned him against working with the left. 

But by that time Joe had already spoken at a Stop the War public meeting and was travelling the country for rallies and protests.

But it wasn’t just in the anti-war movement where he found support.

Once, after defying an army instruction not to take part on an anti-war demo, he returned to the barracks and got a “round of applause from a section of the lads”. 

Joe’s story is a powerful read, but not just because it’s a good story. It reveals how the army and those in power have to try and crush the human spirit to pursue their aims. But Soldier Box shows us that they don’t always succeed.

Soldier Box by Joe Glenton is available at Bookmarks bookshop for £12.99. Go to or phone 020 7637 1848

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