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The Elite Leadership Course (Paperback)

Life at Sandhurst


By Garry McCarthy, Foreword by Andy McNab
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 424
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526799999
Published: 1st February 2023
Last Released: 15th February 2024



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'This is a brilliant account of how leadership is made.' - Andy McNab

This is the true story of 21 young men desperately trying to survive the most brutal leadership course of modern times. A throw back to the Highland Fieldcraft Training Centre, the revolutionary brain child of Lord Rowallan during the Second World War, this fascinating insight explains the extraordinary lengths Sandhurst goes to in pursuit of generating the world’s greatest military leaders. No one could have known that the intensity of their training was coincidentally little more than a prelude to a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq where attrition rates became comparable to those reached during the Second World War.

This captivating story is full of emotion brought on by physical and mental endeavour that leads to success and failure. This intimate and revealing story of camaraderie is the first of its kind. But learning how to lead subordinates during the darkest of hours, living in the most austere of environments comes at a price. Unconventional and at times controversial, this is the only authentic account of life in Rowallan Company Sandhurst at a time when the world teetered on the brink of war with insurgents and dictators armed with weapons of mass destruction.

As featured in
August 2022

The Bookseller

Overall a very enjoyable read and quite enlightening in parts. This book will strongly appeal to a niche; especially if you are ex-RoCo or interested in discovering more about a unique part of RMAS history then I certainly recommend it.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

As featured in

Aspects of History Magazine

This is a really important contribution to the library of anyone interested in leadership. Rowallan Company was unique in so many ways. It was also unconventional and ground breaking in the 1980/90s and this is the only account of its methods and ethos.

Graham K. Gibbs, Amazon Reviewer

As an ex serving soldier, I found this book so fascinating. Reading the book was like reliving my life in the Army, I felt like I was there on this course as I turned every page a memory popped up from my past, I could feel the shiver of the cold rain seeping through my clothes, the pain in my feet as they become freezing cold, the tiredness after being pushed to the limit, even contemplating jacking the whole thing in, I too was a normal lad from Liverpool, and it was a massive culture shock to me when I first joined the army, streetwise, yes but it was still a shock and I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that it shaped me to who i am today, I read this book and it brought bad some good memories and some not so good, reading this book was like watching a film, characters became real people with faces, I truly thank the author for opening so many forgotten memories in my life and giving us a true complete look into life on the other side of the coin. A truly fantastic account of hardship and fun and the moulding of potential leaders. I thank you.
C et A

Dave S, Amazon Reviewer

I was one of the lucky ones to be taken through the course under Garry and James; "Francis" is 80% based on me and my time on Rowallan. I can honestly say that I had resorted to burying the worst of my memories, about the pain I went through on Rowallan Company, but detail Garry puts in this book brought them all flooding back. The course was brutal, and the book has dumbed down some of it (the truth might have been too libellous and incredulous to be backed by the MOD), but all in all it is a book well worth reading and an important, unique record, of a course that was completed by few and misunderstood by most.

Francis, Amazon Reviewer

As an academic in leadership, I'm always drawn to authentic tales beyond standard academic theories - keen to, but rarely learn something new. Garry's experience of Rowallan Company (Row-Co) gives an unparalleled, authentic vision of how leadership truly brings out the best in people. This book is not an academic textbook, nor a simple tale. It is a perfectly executed blend of real life encounters, with beautifully woven leadership insights - from the best in the world to give it (Sandhurst).

This book is very immersive, I found myself sweating in compassion and sympathy with the Row-Co cadets! For me, this book was a stand out above the rest. I've read many books with a military leadership slant, such as "Stand up straight" - but this is top of the pile for leadership academics, military historians, those with a general military interest and everyone else. A perfect read, thank you Garry.

Dave, Amazon, Reviewer

This book is top-drawer. The author has authentically captured the demands of Rowallan Company and the story-telling, which evokes a powerful sense of nostalgia for life at Sandhurst, is utterly compelling. Rowallan Company offered a formative experience, unencumbered by political correctness or cotton-wool culture, which robustly prepared young men for the real demands of leadership in the British Army; the military is lesser for its demise. The brutal nature of Rowallan Company combined with the high quality leadership, as exemplified by James and Gaz in the book, afforded cadets a genuine opportunity to develop. To this day, the Rowallan Company experience and staff remain inspirational to me.

This is a story which needed to be told. For anyone who attended the course, pass or fail, or watched the course from the relative safety of the Commissioning Course, this is a must read. It will also appeal to anyone interested in real leadership development, military training or human dynamics. Brilliant.

Matthew E. J Young, Amazon Reviewer

So I'm currently half way through the book, at the end of Plain Jane! I didn't do the course written about , but 95% of the experiences I could relate to. The course for me was a 12 week blur and this book aroused many memories. Lots of shuddering when I read it, and lots of laughter too. I did Rowallan 963 (3rd intake in 1996), and as a complete civvy thinking I'd be doing 3 months of adventure training it was certainly a shock to the system.
Reading the book I'm amazed that anyone stayed the course, and even more amazed that I did!
I'm going to buy a few copies and give them to family and friends who remember me doing it. A university friend who I saw on leave, who couldn't get over my swollen ankles, and a school friend who along with his wife found me on the steps of their London flat at 2am fast asleep in the snow at the end of exercise Red Light, trying to get back from Manchester to Camberley with no money.
A wonderfully written book, weaving both the experience of the students, the thoughts of the instructors along with a few dits on how Gary applied lessons he'd learnt in RoCo to future life.
As I used to say about RoCo: 1. It's like doing a 12 week log race and occasionally having stop and do the Times crossword', and 'I'd recommend it for everybody, but I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.'
And to Gary McCarthy, thank you for writing this book.

D.G Walker, Amazon Reviewer

As a Row-Co cadet who went through this course under Garry McCarthy I can vouch for this book’s authenticity, accuracy and story telling that takes me back nearly 30 years like it was yesterday. McCarthy writes in a style that anyone can enjoy, whether you have experienced such training or not. I recommend this to two particular groups in particular: those who ever scoffed at people on this course... read this and tell yourself you still feel the same; and those who want an insight into how Sandhurst instructors are the best in the world, who bring he best out in everybody.

T. Morris, Amazon Reviewer

This is a brilliant account of how leadership is made.

Andy McNab

About Garry McCarthy

Garry McCarthy was a subordinate and lifelong friend of Major Paul Harding. For three decades they had served together in a family regiment, travelling the world on operational service and duty. Like Major Paul Harding, Garry was selected for a Late Entry Officer Commission after serving 20 years in the ranks and quickly became an expert in soldier welfare. By 2007 he had become one of the most experienced officers in managing the aftermath of servicemen killed on duty. Exhausted and emotionally drained from previous tours of duty, he was given leave to miss an imminent deployment to Iraq. Far from proving to be the required respite it left McCarthy as the only officer available to support the Harding family through the most traumatic period of their lives.

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