Relatives of Black Watch wave goodbye to Christmas reunion

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The Independent Online

For many of the families of Black Watch soldiers in Basra, the countdown to a Christmas reunion with their loved ones had already begun.

For many of the families of Black Watch soldiers in Basra, the countdown to a Christmas reunion with their loved ones had already begun.

But yesterday their excitement turned to anger after reports that the regiment's planned return to their base in Perth by the end of the year was increasingly unlikely.

Their return has apparently been delayed following a request from America for British assistance in Baghdad. Relatives described their anger over any extension of their six-month tour of duty.

The news was a particularly bitter blow for the wives and children of Gary Buchanan, 27, and his brother Craig, 25, both corporals in the regiment. Gary has a six-year-old son he has not seen in more than six months.

The corporals' father, James, 56, from Arbroath, said: "Let's not kid ourselves, my sons were due to be on leave, they have been told they will not get their leave, and why? It's because they will be redeployed into Baghdad. Any chance of a Christmas reunion is out the window. They are not only not coming home, they are going to be sent into a very volatile area.

"What is about to be done is the equivalent of invading the Vatican City in Rome - Fallujah is an important holy place and the soldiers are putting themselves in the firing line."

Urging the Prime Minister to call the troops back to the UK, he said: "They went out there two years ago to do a job and they have done a job, but it is now time to leave. Morale is at rock bottom among the troops. They don't know when they are coming home and they are being told very little."

He added: "My boys joined the army because they wanted to, and because they're proud to be soldiers. They know they have to fight but they hate being lied to. It's a bloody disgrace how the Government has treated them, they're stabbing them in the back and trying to disband them at the same time."

His criticism was echoed by Rob Scott, 61, from Methil, Fife, whose 18-year-old grandson, Private Charles Scott, is serving with the Black Watch. Mr Scott, a former Black Watch warrant officer whose family has served in the regiment for five generations, warned of an electoral payback for Chancellor Gordon Brown in his constituency of Dunfermline East.

"I wrote to Gordon Brown about my fears of body bags of Black Watch soldiers coming home to Fife and he responded saying: 'Your comments are noted,'" said Mr Scott, a former Labour councillor.

"I think that's disgusting when lives are at stake. He'd better watch out because the Black Watch families are going to be after him at the next election and he might just come to regret that."

Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, was also outspoken in his criticism of the decision.

"It's bad enough young men from Scotland's housing schemes and towns are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed for Tony Blair and the Union Jack but they are being sent into even greater danger for the disastrous incompetence of George Bush who is pulling the world into catastrophe."