As John Major led a Commons debate on the Bosnian hostage crisis yesterday, the people of Wrexham, home of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, were praying for their captured sons. Mary Braid spoke to them
In the cluttered living room of their Wrexham council house, John and Rose Jones are watching their son David, 20, on television. It is the umpteenth time they have played the video clip, but their fascination shows no sign of flagging.

Even now they have trouble taking it in. Here, hastily relayed from a Bosnian Serb hospital into their home, are images of their only son, one of 33 Royal Welch Fusilier hostages forced to act as a human shield against further UN air strikes. And he is laughing like the star guest on a chatshow, making a special request to his mother to get in his favourite food - milk and a burger - for the leave he is due to take in a fortnight's time.

As if the scene were not surreal enough, David's nephew, Robert, aged two, sits close to the television, aiming a plastic pistol at the screen and shouting, "Bang, bang Davie". He keeps asking when his uncle is coming home. It is a question to which his distraught parents wish they had an answer.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers are a tradition in the Jones family. Mr Jones, 46, spent 12 years in the regiment. His arms, hands and even his stomach are crowded with tattoos of regimental insignia and emblems. The fusiliers belong to Wrexham. In 1870, the regiment set up its main depot there and the town remained its base for more than 100 years.

Today the fusiliers are barracked in Pembrokeshire, but Wrexham remains its spiritual home, the town and surrounding area still acting as a fertile recruiting ground. Local pubs bear the regiment's name, the spoils of war from historic campaigns are on display outside the town hall, and the RWF territorial unit is still based here.

Despite the loyal tattoos and a little nostalgia, Mr Jones might have chosen a different career for his son. "When I left the army in 1980 it didn't want to know any more," he says. "I couldn't get a decent job - just low-paid ones. We had moved around a lot and it took us years to get a council house. The council didn't want to know either." Unfortunately for his son, choice of career is in short supply around Wrexham.

"John joined up because he wanted to see the world," Mrs Jones says. "David joined because he couldn't get work. There is nothing in Wrexham for lads. I have a few nephews waiting to go into the tank regiment right now for the same reason."

Given the dearth of local job opportunities, Mrs Jones was even pleased when David opted for the regiment. It offered escape of some sort. "There's nothing but trouble around here," she says."Lads are always getting into trouble because there is nothing to do."

But if politicians cannot supply civilian jobs for young men, in the Joneses' eyes the least they can supply is a coherent strategy when the recruits end up fighting for their country. Carefully filed in the scrapbook of their son's Bosnian adventure is a newspaper clipping outlining his narrow escape during a sniper attack in March. He has been there since February without home leave. The Joneses feel their son has taken enough risks for a dithering government.

"Our simple position is get our lads out and get them out quickly," says Mr Jones, who stopped work as a petrol tanker driver after his son's capture and admits to crying even more than his wife. "There is no co- ordination between Nato and the UN and our soldiers are just piggy in the middle. There is no peace to keep and it's not our war."

For Mrs Jones, the issue is even simpler. "Would John Major change places with my lad?"

Four miles west in the village of Brymbo, Pauline Jones (no relation) echoes the sentiment. Her youngest child, Lee, 19, is nicknamed "mummy's little soldier" by his older siblings. He has been in Bosnia on his first tour of duty since March. He had two weeks' leave in April, which coincided with his birthday. Now he has become one of the youngest of the hostages.

Like the other Mrs Jones, Pauline tortures and comforts herself with the weekend video of her captured boy. Lee, like David, joined the army because he could not find work.

Brymbo, built on steel and coal, is a sad little place. Five years ago, its steelworks closed and took 2,000 jobs with it; coal had long since gone. Around the village young men are surprised to find themselves whiling away their days pushing prams or hanging around the village's few shops.

"The village is terrible since the works closed," says Mrs Jones. "They got their redundancy, but very few got new jobs. Lee left school at at 16. His dad had worked in the steel works, but Lee couldn't get a job. He went on lots of government training schemes, always with the promise of a real job at the end. But they never came."

She insists she understands that men join the army knowing they may have to fight. But she complains that politicians have created a kind of schizophrenia among British servicemen in Bosnia. Lee was never sent there to fight, and peace-keeping restrictions prevented him from defending himself.

Mrs Jones says that until last week's air strikes, her son and his comrades, as peace-keepers, were on friendly terms with Serb soldiers. "It's not that long since they bought a puppy from the Serbs with four tins of fruit pudding. Now the men they were friendly with have taken them prisoner. It makes no sense.

"They should come out now. That's what all the other parents think. This morning I got a letter from a woman whose son is now on his way out to Bosnia. She is 51 and a divorcee like me. Her son is also just 19. The letter had me in tears. I don't care what John Major says. He hasn't got a son out there."

Outside the special service held for fusiliers' families at St Giles Parish Church in Wrexham yesterday, girlfriends and parents of captured soldiers embraced and cried. Inside, there was overwhelming sympathy for their pleas for an immediate withdrawal.

Beneath the fusiliers' colourful banners, Pauline Jones sat a few benches from Rose and John. St Giles is as much the regiment's church as the town's. At the back, scores of brass plaques commemorate fusiliers who have died on far-flung shores over three centuries. One of the church's stained- glass windows was inserted four years ago to mark the regiment's 300th birthday.

Among the 200-strong congregation were other relatives of captured fusiliers. Six live in and around Wrexham. Thirteen others come from neighbouring areas of north Wales.

The parish priest, Canon Barry Smith, pulled no punches during his sermon: "There is a powerful irony about a situation in which soldiers go to try to keep the peace and then find they cannot defend themselves properly as they try to keep it." Later he said British troops were in a "totally impossible and humiliating" position.

Many of the young captives, he suggested, would be finding themselves in a losing position for the second time in their lives. "I have been in this area for 20 years," he said. "I served 10 in a post industrial village and the last nine here in a post industrial town. At one time the lads could have expected to follow their fathers into steel or coal, but that's all gone. It's depressing. They were proud traditions. I remember men coming in for communion at 7am before shift and putting their snack boxes on the church window sills. Now there are few real job opportunities."

Cr Bob Squire, 73, a former mayor of Wrexham whose grandson, Kevin Jones, 20, is serving in Bosnia, is even more critical of the captured soldiers' predicament. He laid the blame at the door of politicians. "Like others, Kevin joined because he could not find work. The RWF has a proud tradition, but I think it is a gross mistake to have them out there. I call the politicians responsible the Westminister wimps. The kindest description you can give is that they have misread the situation. The truth is we have no interests in the Balkans and we should pull out for good."

While Mr Major warns that withdrawal could lead to the conflict spreading throughout Europe, Mr Squire insists it is interference that could cause such an escalation.

He says the Serbs should be tried for war crimes, but believes the time to face withdrawal has come. "We have done more than our fair share in trying to achieve a peaceful solution. Having failed, I think we have to leave these people to their own devices. All those negotiations, drawing up maps and putting signatures to agreements, it was all kidology. Kevin and the boys have their lives ahead of them."

South of Wrexham, in the village of Cefn Mawr, fusilier Wayne Edwards's mother, Barbara, and stepfather, John, are still suffering the agony of losing a son to Bosnia's conflict. Wayne was 26 when he was killed by a sniper. Today would have been his 28th birthday.

"Wayne wanted to help in Bosnia," says Mr Edwards, 62. "Even when he was on leave he wanted to go back. He said it was the children and old people who got to him. But my wife and I now feel his death was a waste. We watch the news every night and there's no change, no progress. I know there will be a lot of bloodshed if they pull out, but what else can we usefully do? It's time to face up to that."

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