Soldiers' tales: from a corporal who opposed war to the major killed by a roadside bomb
Wednesday 01 February 2006
L/Cpl Allan Douglas
Shot dead on patrol. 99th soldier to die
L/Cpl Allan Douglas's winning ways had endeared him so much to the local Iraqis he worked with that many turned up at his camp yesterday to offer their condolences.
However, as his commanding officer, Lt-Col James Hopkinson, described the intelligent, self-disciplined 22-year-old as "the perfect soldier for service in Iraq", his mother, Diane, insisted he was among a growing number who did not believe that they should be in the country.
"Allan did not want to go back to Iraq after he came home on leave. But he said that he was in the Army and it was his job.
"He said that morale was quite low. They did think it was wrong to be out there. An awful lot of them thought that," she said, adding: "I did not think it was his place to be there, it was not his war.
"Tony Blair should get them home. Get them out before any more get killed.
"I think it is a damn disgrace - these lads should be taken home to their parents. They shouldn't be there at all. I don't think Tony Blair should have put any kids out there," she said.
The young soldier from the 1st Battalion, The Highlanders was shot dead on Monday after coming under small-arms fire while on patrol in the country's volatile Maysan province.
Born in Aberdeen, he joined the Army at the age of 17. During his time with the regiment he served in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Mrs Douglas said that her son was a "magical" young man who was "daft" about racing cars and had enjoyed socialising.
His father, Walter, added: "Allan was against the war. He couldn't see the point of it - but he thought it was his duty to be there and he had no choice."
Mrs Douglas said the whole family, including his older sister Donna, 23, were completely devastated: "You just don't expect them to come knocking on your door. Most of my life is gone. There is just one great big hole left now."
Lt-Col Hopkinson described L/Cpl Douglas as a bright, intelligent character who had recently been promoted and was extremely fit. He was a man who was at ease in often-difficult situations where he never seemed to get down or become tired. He added: "He had a tremendous style, in the true tradition of the Scottish soldier, with the Iraqis whether they were policemen, civilians or children and with his winning smile he soon had them on his side.
"Allan was a natural team player who always looked out for others, was quick with a joke, but above all else was professional and dedicated to his task.
"He made a true difference in Iraq. It is telling that since this sad incident a great many Iraqis, both civilian leaders and members of the security forces have called to pass on their condolences."
Major Matthew Bacon
Killed by a roadside bomb. The highest-ranking soldier to die
Major Matthew Bacon's parents remember their eldest son as a schoolboy who always refused to sit still. He grew into a man who loved to skydive, snowboard, ski, mountain-climb and - perhaps more crucially - help others do the same.
A cadet at the age of 13, he joined the ranks of the Army Air Corps after leaving school. While serving as a lance-corporal in Bosnia, his commanding officer encouraged him to apply for officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
His father recalls: "I remember his passing out parade. He appeared in his No1 uniform and he had this enormous grin on his face. That is something else everyone remembers him for. Whatever happened, whatever the situation, you could always guarantee Matthew would be smiling," his father said. As a new officer, he secured a position in one of the most competitive and secretive parts of the Army - the Intelligence Corps. "When he was still a captain, the squadron he was with in the Air Corps had a reunion. Apparently the word was that it would be interesting to see if 'Biffa' turned up now that he was an officer. Of course, he did," his father said.
In the summer of 2005, he and his girlfriend, Natasha McLellan, a Royal Military Police corporal, attended both of their best friends' weddings on separate weekends. His parents hoped that their son and Cpl McLennan would be next.
The following month, days after his 34th birthday, he arrived in Iraq. Weeks later, on 11 September, he was returning from a meeting at Saddam Hussein's old palace when the new Merlin helicopter he was due to get on developed a hydraulic fault and he had to travel by road.
A roadside bomb tore through his vehicle. Three of his comrades were terribly injured - two lost legs- as well as an Iraqi worker. Major Bacon was, however, killed instantly by the explosion.
The day is etched on his father's mind - the exact time that officers turned up at his London home and asked him and his wife Maureen to sit down. Mr Bacon had always known the risks but he said he thought his son was invincible.
"You see what has happened since the Iraq conflict began and you hear of people who have died out there and you take it in, you sympathise, you empathise but only when it happens to you do you have any idea what they are going through," said the 63-year-old former Metropolitan Police detective. Major Bacon was buried with military honours. On the back of the order of service was printed one of his favourite phrases "Come on old boy - there is no time to waste."
The family had had, Mr Bacon explained, the "Rolls-Royce" treatment from the Army, which handled funeral arrangements. But for the past four months, they and their younger son Nick and Major Bacon's girlfriend have been left to cope with the aftermath. "The Army has a good support network but it is aimed at the living rather than the dead," explained Mr Bacon.
For many parents, the violent and unusual nature of the death and the controversy surrounding Iraq only makes their solitude even more acute. "You don't want to talk to people who are not connected to what has happened. Every day you have periods. It would be very easy just to sit down and stare at the wall and hope the world will just go away. It is all just too awful to contemplate but we do. We have to talk about it and we do talk about it and we make an effort to try to get on with things.
"But life is different and you end up looking at it in a different way altogether. The loss is there all the time, all the time. You feel you are living in a parallel world. The pain numbs you."
Captain Philip Guy
Killed in a helicopter crash. First fatal incident of the war for British military
Emily Catherine Guy was born on 2 April 2003, just 12 days after her father died in the early hours of the Iraq conflict. Captain Philip Guy, 29, was killed when a US Sea Knight helicopter crashed in the Kuwaiti desert, killing eight British and four American servicemen on board.
Emily's father, a paratrooper skilled in Arctic and mountain warfare who had served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, died on his last mission before a scheduled return to Skipton, North Yorkshire, to witness her birth. When she was just 10 days old, Emily was taken by her mother, Helen, to the town's Holy Trinity Church, where her father's flag-draped coffin received full military honours. The couple were married at the church in 2000 and their son Henry, 20 months old when his father died, was christened there. Mrs Guy said her husband was "the most brave, courageous man you could imagine; tough and steadfast, honest and true. He was so looking forward to coming home and was hoping to be back in time for the birth of our second child. All he ever wanted was to provide for us, to be a good husband and father."
Six other British children lost their fathers in the crash. Also on the helicopter were Naval Rating Ian Seymour, Warrant Officer Mark Stratford, Marine Sholto Hedenskog, Colour Sergeant John Cecil, Major Jason Ward and Sergeant Les Hehir. The eighth British victim was Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans, whose death was witnessed by his brother, Lee, whose helicopter was travelling behind.
Pte Phillip Hewett
Killed by a roadside bomb. The same age as the PM's son
As Tony Blair was enjoying his son's graduation this summer, Sue Smith was waiting for her boy's body to be flown back to RAF Brize Norton.
Pte Phillip Hewett was the same age as Euan Blair but while the Prime Minister's son was celebrating a 2:1 at Bristol University, the 21-year-old soldier was returning home for his funeral.
As news of the 100th death sank in, Ms Smith said: "While Tony Blair was chatting with his son at the graduation, I was sobbing my eyes out. Mr Blair's son had every opportunity, but Phillip's were limited to joining the Army or to becoming a bricklayer. He chose the Army because he wanted to make something of his life. His repayment? To die in a war we shouldn't be in."
Pte Hewett died alongside two other Staffordshire soldiers - Pte Leon Spicer, 26, and Second Lieutenant Richard Shearer, 21 - when a roadside bomb hit their patrol in al-Amarah in July.
With Euan Blair beginning work as an intern in Washington Ms Smith said: "I am sure the Prime Minister will be missing his son. But he will soon receive a phone call or e-mail. The only way I can be with my son is by going and standing by his grave."
"Chewie", as he was known to friends, saw few faults in people and gathered friends easily. The last time he was home he made sure he saw everyone important to him, his mother explained.
He outlined exactly what flowers - white lilies - he wanted at his funeral and decreed that no one should wear black: they should wear ripped jeans and T-shirts instead. Four days after he returned to Iraq, he was dead.
'How many will die before we say enough?'
SIR IQBAL SACRANIE
Secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain
"This is obviously deeply tragic news, for all the families, and for the country. It underlines the need to bring all British soldiers back without delay. Our soldiers should not be exposed to terrible danger in Iraq because of catastrophic misjudgements of the current incumbent in the White House. Our deepest condolences go out to Cpl Gordon Alexander Pritchard."
Mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, 19, killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in 2004
"How many of our boys are going to die before we say 'enough' and put an end to this bloody illegal war? Is Blair willing to have as many troops killed as the Americans? They've had the elections, they've got Saddam on trial. We need to bring the troops home now. I know how those families feel. I just wish I could reach out and give them a big hug."
"This is a matter of great sadness not only for the families but for the armed forces and the nation. It's an appropriate time to reflect on the determination, courage, professionalism and sacrifice of our armed forces, and of their families who also sustain them there. It's also a time for all of us to consider the contribution that they and others have made to lift the burden of tyranny ... Every single one of the deaths is a tragedy."
Anti-war protester, 26, arrested last year for reading out the names of the British dead within 1km of Parliament. She returned last night to repeat the act
"The Government needs to look carefully at their aggressive foreign policies. It is very poignant considering there was an Afghanistan reconstruction conference on the same day whereby a decision was made to send further UK troops abroad to fight the war against terror."
Shadow Defence Secretary
"We express our sympathy with the family of the soldier. We also praise the bravery and professionalism of all our armed forces in the region. It is important to remember that the conflict in Iraq is about giving the Iraqi people freedom, allowing them the benefits of democracy and the rule of law, and the chance to determine their own destiny. These are all noble purposes. But, sadly, such freedom is never won cheaply."
British citizen of Iraqi origin, who was in Parliament Square last night to commemorate the Iraq dead
"I felt 100 lives need not have been lost, and that most people in this country agree the Iraq war was not called for. It is young lives that have been lost and I am sick of Tony Blair's crocodile tears."
Stop the War Coalition
"We will be there reading the names of the dead at Parliament Square to mark the terrible number of soldiers who have died so unnecessarily. Iraq has receded a little bit recently in the headlines - this will bring it back in the public's focus. It will remind people that there are soldiers in Iraq who do not want to be there and the Iraqis do not want them to be there. Obviously the soldiers are very brave, but what are they doing there?"
Leader of the Scottish National Party
"Our deepest sympathy and condolences go to the two families involved. The loss of 100 soldiers and the injury of many hundreds more hangs as a badge of shame on Blair's arm. The bravery and solidarity of our troops stands in stark contrast to the duplicity and chicanery of the Government, who sent them into an illegal and unnecessary conflict."
"It's a tragedy when we lose any soldier. But we have to understand why it's important that we see this through. What is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the people of those countries want to leave behind terrorism and extremism and they want to embrace democracy."
"The people of Iraq have already paid a high price for the conspiracy between Mr Blair and Mr Bush. And increasingly our own young men and women in Britain and the United States are having to pay that price. What a melancholy milestone this is. Of course, nobody is counting the number of Iraqis killed. If we are a democracy we should hold Mr Blair to account, but as long as we have a parliament of poodles, that won't happen."
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