Colour Sergeant Chris Broome CGC (1 PWRR)

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Monday books, Nov 13, 2007.

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  1. Just thought I'd post this from yesterday's Daily Mail in case people are interested (interest declared – I’m the author).
    Chris is a very brave, modest and human bloke.

    Courage under fire - and the downfall of a hero...

    Two years ago, Private Johnson Beharry became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross since 1969.
    His heroism was astonishing but that of his comrades often gets forgotten. In our second extract from a new book in which soldiers tell their stories, 38-year-old Sergeant Chris Broome, who risked his life to rescue Beharry after he was hit by a grenade, talks frankly of his actions, which earned him the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, and the huge emotional toll they took on him.


    The Challenger tank was in trouble - struggling backwards and forwards as it tried to make a tight turn into a narrow side street.
    There was a fair number of Iraqis about, hanging around little market stalls and carts, watching every move. And the noise was drawing in more and more by the second.
    Either side of the tank was a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle. I'd gone ahead in mine while my mate Lewy - Sergeant Adam Llewellyn - stayed behind to guard the rear. We had both parked our a**es against a nearby building to cover the tank as it manoeuvered. This was definitely not ideal. You do not want to be stationary on a road in southern Iraq when there are lots of Mahdi militia around.
    As you sit in the turret, you're thinking: "Any minute now." You're waiting for the first rocket-propelled grenade, the first burst of fire from an AK47, so you're watching everyone and scanning the rooftops.
    Some of the Iraqis were on their mobiles - were they calling the gunmen in? We all had our personal weapons to hand. Everyone was very, very keyed-up.
    Of course, no one expects the attack to come from kids, do they? But as we sat there, a couple of boys, no older than nine or ten, got on top of a flat roof which hung over Lewy's turret and dropped a petrol bomb on him.
    Lewy jumped up, totally ablaze and screaming in pain. He leapt off the top of his vehicle and started running down the street, before hitting the ground and rolling around.
    All of a sudden, the place went ballistic. Everyone in the street started cheering and jeering and shouting at the injured soldier in front of them. It was like this was their chance of payback.
    I grabbed a fire extinguisher, said to my gunner: "You're in control now", and jumped out and just ran after Lewy. My main thought, apart from wanting to put the flames out, was not to let him run into the crowd. Hostage-taking is the insurgents' number one goal.
    When I reached him, the crowd backed away and I sprayed him down. His shirt and most of his trousers had burned straight off and he was sitting there with his skin dripping off him. He was in a lot of pain.
    Lewy's a big, robust lad and he can stand his ground. But if someone throws burning petrol at you, you can be the hardest man in England and you'll be like a little boy. He's a really good mate and I hated seeing him like this, moaning and writhing.
    I got him back to his Warrior, but my hands were shaking and greasy with sweat. There were Iraqis shouting all around and I knew there could be gunmen closing in. I was fighting to stay calm and think.
    I gave him a shot of morphine, but it didn't seem to make any difference. Lewy was still in terrible distress, so we poured some jerry cans of water over him.
    Big mistake. It was boiling hot from being inside the Warrior - the interior can reach 70C - so we were basically scalding him. He was in agony, poor Lewy.
    Then someone shouted that the turret was on fire. I jumped up on top of the vehicle and used the extinguisher again. By now, stones were being thrown and the situation had the potential to get very unpleasant indeed.
    Ironically, the tank driver had already moved on, completely unaware of what was going on behind him.
    We decided to take Lewy to a nearby police station, but the Iraqis had filled the streets with their cars, deliberately blocking the route. The only answer was to smash them out of the way with our Warriors.
    We tried not to do that kind of thing normally - why inflame the locals? - but it was clear they knew we had a casualty on board and were out to slow us down.
    At the station, a first aid team was lined up like mechanics in a racing car pit. There was a good chance in my mind that Lewy was going to die, but somehow he pulled through and he's made pretty much a full recovery.
    Today, he's got a good sense of perspective on what happened. Basically he thinks: "Yeah, got injured, part of the job, still alive, could have been a lot worse."
    Funnily enough, it's those of us who didn't get injured who've got a problem. We look back on the incident with a lot of aggression. I mean - who would get kids to drop petrol bombs on a bloke?
    Until I went to Iraq, I'd never been shot at or cocked a rifle in anger. Later, when things got lively, I realised my blokes were looking up to me as a kind of father figure. I thought: "Blimey, these guys think that just because I've done 17 years' service, I've got experience". Which, of course, I hadn't.
    Our platoon's usual job was to take food, water and ammunition to an Army base in Al Amarah, which was surrounded by suicidal Mahdi Army fighters. There were only a few routes in and only one way into the compound - so every time we went, we knew we were going through prepared ambush positions.
    And they did ambush us! Bloody hell, they hit us hard. We had days of it.
    At the start of May 2004, one of our Warriors was badly malleted by multiple rocket-propelled grenade strikes. Among the injured was the driver, Private Johnson Beharry, yet he drove on for a kilometre and a half with his head out of the wagon and rounds flying everywhere. That was one of the two actions that later won him the Victoria Cross.
    A couple of weeks later, the mosques in the area were all singing away - nothing unusual in that. But this time, it turned out that the message was: "This is an uprising, kill them!"
    That day, I was driving down a road with another Warrior when we were suddenly ambushed. There were 60 or 70 men firing at us from the other side of an embankment and a deep drainage ditch. All we could see was the tops of their heads and the rocket-propelled grenades coming down at us.
    Within a matter of minutes, my vehicle caught fire. Then the engine started stalling. We were close to stationary on open ground - and if the enemy had managed to fire straight through the centre of Beharry's Warrior in a town centre, then exposed as we were . . . well, it didn't bear thinking about.
    I gave the order to fix bayonets, get out and push into the ditch for cover. Without a second's hesitation, the lads got going. Just then, my driver, Private Taylor, said the engine was working again. And, all credit to him, he said: "I reckon I can get across that ditch."
    It was really far too deep for a Warrior crossing, but before I knew it, we'd tipped down at a crazy angle, hit the bottom and then flown out over the top of the bank. We were now on the same side as the Iraqis.
    The lads on the ground were struggling against far superior numbers so I jumped out and ran over to join them. I didn't have a weapon and there was heavy fire coming in - I swear every Iraqi seemed to have two AK47s - but the lads needed someone to take control on the ground.
    They'd done brilliantly already, killing three enemy and taking four prisoners, who were face down in the dirt. There were also some dead people, the first I'd ever seen.
    The surviving Iraqis - they were only young lads - were very scared, but then so was I. My heart was beating so hard I had to undo my body armour.
    The first thing I did was offer the prisoners a bit of water. I wanted to reassure them that we play by the rules. One took a sip, the others didn't - they were just in shock.
    There were so many rounds flying around now that you didn't know what was outgoing and what was incoming. The noise was incredible, with people screaming and yelling orders, and you had to shout to someone only a foot away. It seemed as if the whole town had come to stand its ground against us.
    The way I'm saying this, it sounds like it was really quick and confused, yet it wasn't. We were doing what we'd been trained to do and it was all very slow and methodical. Everything seemed to slow down - it was exactly how we had rehearsed it so often.
    All of a sudden, the driver shouted out: "The company battle group is on its way down." With the help of the new arrivals, we started getting the upper hand - and that night, after four hours of fighting, we took four prisoners and nine dead Iraqis back to the base in Al Amarah.
    Piling those bodies into the back of my wagon was not nice work. There was a lot of mess. Two of the Iraqis had been hit by our 30mm chain gun, and when you get hit by those rounds there's not a lot left.
    When we got back to base, one of the bodies had shifted, jamming the door shut from inside. Pte Taylor, my driver, volunteered to go in through the turret and open it up.
    You don't want to think about what it was like in that baking, pitch-black wagon. When he finally emerged, he completely freaked out and just ran into the distance.
    It had been a massive day, but there was more to come. About a month later, the base was mortared by the enemy. My Warrior and one other - driven by Johnson Beharry - were sent out to pursue the team who'd just attacked us.
    It wasn't long before we were ambushed again. Beharry was in front, and we saw one of the rocket-propelled grenades detonate on the frontal armour about six inches from his head. But I assumed he hadn't been badly injured because his Warrior stopped and then reversed.
    Then, when it stopped at a funny angle against a wall, I thought: "OK, they're in trouble."
    It turned out that, somehow, with blood in his eyes and a gaping head wound, Beharry had managed to reverse out of the killing area and come to rest some way back.
    After that he'd lost consciousness. His commander, Lt Richard Deane, was also temporarily incapacitated and a number of his soldiers were hurt.
    There's no doubt at all that Beharry saved the lives of the guys he was with: that was the second part of his Victoria Cross. A good lad, Johnson - and we were all delighted when his VC was announced.
    At the time, though, it looked as if he might not get out alive. After he came to a halt, I drove up and put my Warrior between his and the enemy to try and shield it. The amount of fire had now increased dramatically.
    I jumped down from my Warrior, but as I tried to climb up the other one to check out Beharry's condition, I fell over. I thought: "Weird, what happened there?"
    Then I realised I'd been clipped by a couple of rounds that had gone through my webbing and spun me round. They hadn't hit my body or hurt me at all.
    The enemy now sensed we were in trouble. They started getting more confident, and more and more people were showing up.
    When I finally got to Beharry, I could see he was badly hurt, so I dragged him out and down, got him on my shoulders and carried him into my wagon. The other soldiers were putting down fire, giving us some defence, but there were rounds coming down all over the place.
    Inside, I laid Beharry down, with his head in my lap. He was conscious again, but the top half of his skull looked like a jigsaw, with lots of pieces missing. I remember thinking: "There's no way you can put this lot back together."
    Meanwhile, a lad called Cooper, who didn't even have a driving licence, jumped straight into Beharry's seat and got the other Warrior started. We were under grenade and small-arms fire all the way back to the base.
    I was cradling Beharry in my lap, just talking to him. We gave him morphine, which you're not supposed to do for head wounds. I got a b******ing for that, but he was in a dreadful state and I honestly thought he was going to die anyway.
    Afterwards, it took me a long time to calm my guys down. Some of them were crying - tears of anger as much as anything. They wanted to get back in the Warriors, go back down that street and mallet everything in their way. They were feeling so aggressive that it got a bit scary, actually.
    We were all warned that Johnson might not make it. But, thank God, he eventually made a pretty good recovery.
    A day or two later, when his Warrior was getting stripped out and cleaned down, we found his helmet. There was so much shrapnel inside that you could have just about built a rocket-propelled grenade with it. How the hell he had reversed out of there, I will never, ever know.
    When I got home to England, there was a new baby waiting for me - born three days before I'd gone to Iraq. But I didn't like the sound of my daughter crying, and I didn't like loud bangs.
    There were loads of things I couldn't tolerate. I couldn't stand my wife Lynsey twittering on about everyday rubbish. "Look what I've seen in the Littlewoods catalogue - aren't those curtains nice."
    Or she'd say she'd had it hard, with the new baby. I'd say, "That's f*** all, compared with what we've been through."
    I knew I was being selfish - she's the one who should have been given a medal, for putting up with me and my negative attitude - but I couldn't help myself. The only way I could cope was to disappear for a week. The only person I felt safe with was myself.
    I was never an emotional guy, but I dwelled on having killed people and I felt bad about it. Really bad. And you feel like you can't talk about it.
    My wife is always saying: "You don't talk to me." And I think: "Well, I can't explain it to you because you probably won't understand - and do you really want to sit and listen to how I piled nine bodies in the back of a Warrior?"
    You stand there in the pub with your civvie mates, or your dad, or your brother. And they say, "How was Iraq?"
    You go: "It was all right. I took a fair bit of incoming, got someone in my sights and had to put them down."
    They go: "That's good. Did you hear about David Beckham? And what about Rooney?"
    You think: "Hang on, I'm struggling here. You've asked me and I want to get it off my chest."
    Or they'll say: "How's that mate of yours, Lewy?"
    "Well, not great." "He'll get better. Anyway, what about West Ham?"
    And I'll think: "You've just asked me how my mate is - he was on bloody fire. At least let me have the chance to finish what I was saying. I want you to understand about pain, about someone being on fire."
    They don't understand, and they don't want to know.
    After Iraq, I was posted to Winchester as a trainer. No one there believed what had gone on - though nowadays, everyone knows Iraq's like that all the time. I got into a few fights about it, to be honest. I remember being dumped on my a**e in a pub by some students one night.
    The only time anyone stood up and took notice was when I went to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace to receive the medal. Then they started phoning me up and saying: "All right, mate? Want to go out for a beer?"
    "Well, no, I don't." I carried that attitude through to training. Lads would arrive late on parade, or with an empty water bottle. They'd say: "It's only water." So I'd start shouting: "Only water? What about if your mate's on fire next to you? What if you're on fire?"
    I was too aggressive, but I wanted to make sure they understood the importance of the drills. I didn't want them coming home in body bags. I wanted them to understand that a rifle is only used for one thing, and it makes a mess.
    In the end, I was court-martialled and fined £1,000 for hitting a recruit over the head with a stick. I shouldn't have done it, it was totally wrong and I bitterly regret it.
    That was a big wake-up call. I'd been having flashbacks and I needed help, basically. And I did see the doctors to talk things through, which was very helpful. I look at blokes who fought in World War II and I think: "How did they deal with it?"
    I know that one day, we'll be watching TV and there'll be pictures of people in Iraq shaking hands and drinking tea - as though nothing ever happened there at all. Shame we can't do that now.
    • Extracted from IN FOREIGN FIELDS: HEROES OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN IN THEIR OWN WORDS by Dan Collins, to be published by www.mondaybooks.com
     
  2. That's a nice read that. Put together well. I hope your recovery et al is going well.

    T C
     
  3. I know Chris, he's a top bloke!!!

    And so are all the other Toms in the Bn.
     
  4. I didnt realise they had challengers out there?
     
  5. 2 RTR are there amongst others and at least 2 Challengers have been penetrated! :x
     
  6. Thanks bj. Now that is scary if chob has been penetrated.
     
  7. NSB, thank you for posting that report, much appreciated!
     
  8. I enjoyed reading that northernsoulboy.

    Interesting, enlightening and moving.
     
  9. My pleasure Banjotrooper.
    Just a quick clarifcation - slightly paranoid that The_Cheat thinks I'm Chris Broome... I'm not, I'm the author of the book, not this specific piece. (And an utter coward and would never dream of doing these kind sof things, I'm afraid.) Sorry for any confusion.
     
  10. Indeed I certainly enjoyed reading a more detailed account of Johnson Beharry's gallant action.

    Sniper One the book is another publication covering the incidents in Al Am but that doesn't go into as much detail about this particular action.

    Looks like if it was not for this action under fire 2005 would not have seen a 'living VC' awarded.
     
  11. I am in the process of reading "Sniper ONE", which is a really gripping read.

    FOREIGN FIELDS is top of my shopping list come pay day.
    Well done Dan, some really hairy stuff you have written about.
    And of course well done to the Bn they have my utmost respect.
     
  12. Thank you, very moving piece. All of you fighting out there not just for us but for your own lives have my love and respect.

    Take care all.

    Andie
     
  13. FOREIGN FIELDS .... well i received a review copy of the book, which i will be writing about later, However i suggest that anyone slightly interested buys this book.

    BUY IT not borrow, steal,library or whatever BUY this Book. Besides the money which is going to SSAFA, (many thanks Dan.) Just Buy the book.

    A couple of the people in the book are Arrsers, the book is probably the first that gives a real picture of what is and went on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Very Moving in places, funny in others (the backpacker incident is well wierd!!!) Beats any book ive read on the subjects covered.

    So there a basic review of which the answer is Sodding BUY this book. You certainly wont regret it.
     
  14. Excellent story, well done, please make a complete recovery fella


    Oh, and i just got to get my hands on one of those "30mm chain guns"

    Just joking.
     
  15. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    I echo Scarletto's comments
    I to have a book to reveiw and the first couple of chapters are very good
    However thanks to Northern_Soulboys kindness a cut of the money will go to SSAFA so make sure even if you blag a freebe you still buy one as a gift or for someone else