Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘SAS

Yet Again the MOD Fails Our Heroes

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Hercules XV179, Call Sign "Hilton 22"

Hercules XV179, Call Sign Hilton 22

I hope that I never have to experience the reality of war. but, I think like every man, I am fascinated with how I would behave in combat.  We all want to be heroes and, as I have read, courage is often forged from the fear of disgrace.  The idea of letting down one’s comrades can be more frightening than bullets or explosions.

Even during the Second World War, I would now be deemed too old to fight.  They won’t even have me in the TA, much as I would love to volunteer.  Yet every day, right this very minute, there are men and women younger than my own children, who are being called on to put themselves in mortal danger on our behalf.

Our Hercules Heroes

Our Hercules Heroes

These people deserve the very, very best that we can do for them.  Clearly, the reality of combat means that there will be times when circumstances are less than ideal.  Ammunition may run out.  It might have been preferable to have larger calibre weapons given the force that the enemy deployed.  If air cover had arrived earlier, lives may have been saved. The very nature of combat is that it is unpredictable but when there are lessons to be learned it is imperative that they are studied in depth and acted upon.

Why, oh why, is there episode after episode where the MOD refuses to acknowledge its failings and seems to duck and dive to avoid responsibility? This isn’t about civil service office politics, about covering one’s back or manouvering for promotion.  This is about death and pain and blood and grief.  It’s about mothers who will never see their sons again, about fit, healthy, beautiful bodies and minds that are broken, twisted and consigned to the scrapheap with – yet another scandal – insultingly inadequate financial support.

The Steve Jones Memorial Bench

Steve Jones was an SAS Lance Corporal on board the Hercules shot down over Baghdad in 2005. When I first came across the memorial bench on Thorney Island (see http://pjroldblog.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/walking-the-dog-2/) I was deeply moved and when I returned there a few months later to find a memorial book full of glowing tributes and commendations, I felt that this story was one I wanted to take further.

So I made contact with the MOD press office and very tentatively enquired what support they might be able to offer me with a further story, perhaps even a documentary.  A very charming female Wing Commander seemed interested and said that two of the men on the Hercules had been personal friends.  The Army though were different.  I received a courteous but frosty reception and was told that there was no question of being put in touch with the victims’ families.

I can understand, of course, that some of the families will just want to move on and that journalistic investigation may prolong their grief.  In the end it was made clear to me that while the MOD wouldn’t stand in my way, it believed that the story had already been exhausted and wouldn’t offer me any support.

I have been an MOD spin doctor myself.  Some years ago I was the communications advisor to the Assistant Chief of Staff, UK Support Command on the launch of the British Forces in Germany Health Service. The year that I spent working at Joint Headquarters in Rheindahlen gave me an insight into the services that I am very grateful for.  One memory is of the extraordinary combination of austerity and luxury that I experienced while staying in the Officers Mess.  My room was like a prison cell but in the morning there was silver service at breakfast as I sat at a huge four inch thick mahogany table surrounded by oil paintings, regimental colours and memorabilia. There was no menu.  I could just order whatever it was that took my fancy.

My overwhelming memory though is of the incomparable integrity of the people I worked with.  It left me with a feeling (entirely undeserved) of connection with the military and an understanding of how one really could trust the man next to you with your life.

In the extraordinary age in which we live, when cocaine-fuelled w**nker bankers abuse their customers and the taxpayer, when venal politicians grub around in the muck on billionaires’ yachts, whilst in Afghanistan our boys lay their lives on the line in medieval conditions, it is time that the MOD displayed a fraction of the courage that men like Steve Jones have and admitted its failings to start the process of putting them right.

For the full story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7683909.stm

Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08