'We want to know what is going on,' say frontline troops

Out in the desert, the lads from the 7th Armoured Brigade had been listening to the radio and the comments they heard from Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary, did not impress them.

"I was a bit pissed off really," said Richard Ashley, 18, a crew member on a four-man Challenger II tank. "We want to know what is going on. It does make you angry."

Mr Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that America had plans to invade Iraq without the support of Britain if Tony Blair found it politically impossible to offer the support of his armed forces. He later backtracked, saying he was entirely confident US troops would be fighting alongside the British forces.

But at the desert camp 50 miles north of Kuwait City, where about 25,000 British troops are massing, the damage had already been done.

"If he is saying that, he is a bit stupid. We are the best forces in the world," boasted Andrew Hopkinson, a fresh-faced 19-year-old from Rotherham. "They need us as much as we need them."

Senior officers with the 7th Armoured Brigade – better known as the Desert Rats – insist, unsurprisingly, that morale among the men is high. One of the officers even organises a nightly pub quiz for his men, albeit without the pub and the pints.

But the soldiers themselves admit the going is not all easy. Camp Coyote, which is in featureless desert 30 miles from the Iraqi border, is hot and dirty and looks like nowhere on Earth. Yesterday the temperature was no more than 28C but in high summer the mercury can top 50C.

What makes it particularly difficult for the soldiers is not the isolation but rather that they know all too well – through e-mails, letters and the use of satellite phones – what is going on back home. They are aware of the wrangling at the United Nations, they know that perhaps only 20 per cent of the British public supports military action without a second UN resolution and they learnt yesterday that the British Government had been told that without that resolution soldiers could face charges before an international court over the deaths of any Iraqi civilians. Mr Rumsfeld, they said, would have done better to think before he spoke. "Of course it's demoralising," said Troop Serg-eant Andrew Wallbank, 36, a veteran of the first Gulf War. "It's demoralising when you think the British public is not with you. We can only do what the politicians tell us. We can't go on strike." Sgt Wallbank's wife and seven-year-old son live at the regimental base in Osnabruck, Germany. "It's hard," he said. "I have had a couple of letters from him saying, 'Why did you join the army?' It's hard for him that his dad is going away to war."

If there is a war against Saddam Hussein, these soldiers – all members of the Queen's Royal Lancers regiment – will be at the forefront of any attack, punching through Iraqi defences and hitting enemy tanks.

The young men admit to being nervous at the prospect but the worst thing is not knowing when they might be called upon. "It's one of the main worries," said Ritchie Smith, from Brigg, a 19-year-old with two years' service. "If we were told [we were going in] I would be happy to do so. It's not knowing that is so difficult."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary teachers required for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successfully con...

Marketing Executive (B2C, Offline) - Wimbledon, SW London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An established and highly...

Financial Controller

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style