2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment return from Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Skynet, Oct 25, 2007.

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  1. After a tour that saw them suffer heavier losses than any unit, troops tell of bitter fighting and losing friends.

    They thought their tour was over. On Monday, Company Sergeant Major Pete Lewis and some of his men were waiting for a helicopter to take them out of Gereshk, Afghanistan, and on to the British base at Camp Bastion when they came under heavy fire from the Taliban.

    Less than 36 hours before they were due to be reunited with their families in Britain, the soldiers had to move back out two miles into the desert as the landing site had been "compromised".

    It marked a hairy end to what has been an unremitting six months in Afghanistan for the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, until a few months ago known as the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters.

    It saw nine men killed in action, 17 suffer serious battle casualties - including one double amputee - and a further 37 were returned to the UK for treatment.

    Hugging his wife, Sgt Major Lewis, of A Company, said: "It's been very emotional. It was a hard kinetic tour. There has been a lot of close-quarter fighting and the boys have acquitted themselves brilliantly. Everybody has been on tenterhooks for the last two weeks.

    "My company has lost four on this tour and I didn't want to lose anybody else at that late stage. Everybody is just so glad to be home. We need a rest."

    The soldiers returned yesterday to their barracks in Hounslow, west London, to be greeted by their families and yellow ribbons tied to trees. Maria Blower, 24, who is to marry Lance Corporal Jason Birch, 22, in three weeks, said: "It's been a nightmare with all the casualties. Jason got to come home for the birth of our son, Cory, but other than that I've been worrying all the time."

    The fiercest, longest and most lethal firefight took place in the early hours of Saturday September 8 south of Garmsir in Helmand province.

    Corporal Ben Umley, 26, fingered a hole in his helmet where a bullet penetrated and fell out inside.

    Some time before, he had drawn a smiley face in white marker just next to the hole. It may have brought him luck but the corporal doesn't like the word; his friend died in the attack and later, a sergeant died trying to bring out the friend's body. "I can smile, but he can't," he says. "It's not about luck."

    The corporal's platoon was crossing open ground when it came under fire from the Taliban. In the chaos, it was difficult to work out who was hit and where they were, and where the enemy would attack from again, and when.

    Two soldiers were shot, one in the head and one in the leg and stomach. Then Private Johann Botha, a South African soldier, was hit and could not be found. Screaming could be heard over the radio: "They're coming to get him," and "Don't leave me."

    Sergeant Michael Lockwood, 27, extracted his injured men and knew he would have to leave his fatality behind. "I got them behind a position called the three walls and I radioed Brels [Sergeant Craig Breslford] and told him about Botha, that I didn't want to go anywhere till I had got him out. He said 'No dramas, I'll get him back for you'. He was moving forward in sections and Brelsy got shot in the neck. [He died in the attack]. They had to extract him." After stocking up with more ammunition and water, the men returned to the combat zone. "We had to find Botha and extract him," said Sgt Lockwood.

    "When we got back that night we felt like shit. Everyone was crying for six to eight hours solid. I'm still not sure that it has really hit me yet."

    Brigadier John Lorimer, commander of 12 Mechanised Brigade, of which the Mercians are a part, said: "Over the last six months, 30 UK soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, all but two in Helmand.

    "Our main effort now is to look after those who have been injured - both physically and psychologically - and their families."

    He added that the brigade had "a quiet sense of professional satisfaction that we had done a good job", though there was a "hell of a long way to go". He said: "It has been worth the effort and the sacrifices the brigade has made."

    But one soldier, who preferred not to be named, disagreed. "Did we make a difference? Yes, we have killed Taliban but the worst thing you ever want to do is lose a man and at the moment I don't think it's for a valid reason or a cause."

    Regiment toll

    The names of the Mercians who died during the regiment's six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan

    Drummer Thomas Wright, 21, from Ripley, Derbyshire, June 24

    Captain Sean Dolan, 40, from West Midlands, June 30

    Private Damian Wright, 23, from Mansfield, September 5

    Private Ben Ford, 18, from Chesterfield, September 5

    Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 25 from Nottingham, September 8

    Private Johan Botha, from South Africa, September 8

    Colour Sergeant Phillip Newman, 36, September 20

    Private Brian Tunnicliffe, 33, from Ilkeston, September 20
  2. At the risk of being ripped into by the ARRSE Heroes, RIP Wrighty & Phil. You'll be missed.


  3. Well done the Woofers have a good Christmas you earned it.
  4. dont forget sandy,
  5. And all the others.

    Welcome back mate.
  6. Grownup_Rafbrat

    Grownup_Rafbrat LE Book Reviewer Good Egg (charities)

    Tell me, are these lads, and the others, to have their names added to the War Memorials where they live? Or is the new memorial opened by HMQ last week to be the only one?

    The RBL in our village has talked of adding names to our memorial if, God Forbid, anything happens to lads or lasses serving from here.
  7. In the majority of cases I imagine that the new memorial will be the only place that their names are added. Probably in the year after their deaths. Most memorials I have looked at have a list of names from ww1, most of those includes the list from ww2 and the majority have the caveat "and the fallen in all other wars" or something similar. That seems good enough for me unless you want to change the nature of almost every memorial in the nation.

    If you are interested in memorials I would like to recomend a book by Neil Oliver "Not Forgotten". He is the historian from TV programmes "2 men in a trench" and "Coast". It taught me a lot about the history of how they came into being. Very interesting and moving. After reading that I would object to any government/nation lead demand to alter them. The local RBL/council/local demand, maybe.


    EDIT to add: Sory for going so off-topic and welcome home to the troops. Well done.
  8. Good question. Public war memorials are normally a local authority responsibility and it is ultimately their responsibility to deal with requests. The views of bodies such as local Royal British Legion branches should be taken into account. Some memorials are campaign-specific and not intended for subsequent names to be added.

    Central Government advice is that even if a memorial is a "listed structure" for its architectural or historical interest, that should NOT prevent the addition of names.

    The dedication of the new Armed Forces War Memorial should make no difference to the decision, although I suppose some may try to use it as a justification for not adding new names to local memorials. In most cases, if a local family request the addition of a name to a public war memorial then that is what should happen.
  9. I am not convinced about that. Would you also allow Korea, Aden, the Falklands, N.I. etc?
  10. Welcome back Mike L and the rest of the Woofers.
  11. Personally, I would, and I can think of war memorials in my part of the world where that is exactly what has happened. The practice does indeed vary from area to area and ultimately (in most cases) it is up to the local authority who maintain the memorial. Ideally a local consensus should be reached and then stuck to, otherwise there will be inconsistencies in the treatment of different conflicts.

    There is a case to be made either way, but I wanted to make it clear that "listed structure" status under conservation legislation should make no difference to the decision whether more names can be added or not.

    Bit of a deviation from the thread anyway. I just wanted to help with the question which had been asked.

    Welcome home woofers.
  12. Aye, this is without doubt off-topic. It could be an interesting discusion though on it's own thread if you are interested.

    Sorry to detract from welcoming the Woofers back home. I was also just reacting to posts asking questions.
  13. And the poor quality barrack accommodation the Woofers are returning to at Cavalry Barracks Hounslow is a disgrace. What a way to treat soldiers.
  14. Second that. The place is vile.
  15. Today's Sun - From Helmand to Hellhole - Barracks worse than jail (LINK)

    Includes quotes from former CO Patrick Mercer MP ; from BAFF ; and from the Army Families Federation.