In Foreign Fields - the paperback

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Monday books, Sep 2, 2008.

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  1. Just a quick mention to say that we are just about to publish In Foreign Fields as a paperback.

    This is a series of full and frank interviews with 25 soldiers, Royal Marines and RAF men who have won medals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    They include 10 winners of the CGC, 13 MC recipients and one each of the DFC and the DSO.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that some of these stories will leave even serving soldiers open-mouthed.

    The book is priced at £7.99 (for 420+ pages) and is available at Amazon, in Waterstone's (where it's in a 3-for-2 promotion) and at our own website (plus all other good bookstores and online outlets).

    Books ordered from us to be sent to serving soldiers at BFPO addresses are available here at £1.50 off, with a pound going to Help4Heroes.

    There's a blog-of-the-book at - this gives the names and units of all interviewees, together with an initial feed-in to their remarkable stories.

    Thanks for taking the time to read!
  2. And here's one of the 25 stories, to give you some idea of the format and content:


    While Hugo Farmer and his men of 3 Para were fighting the Taliban daily in Sangin, others were engaged in battles of their own in and around the town of Musa Qala to the north west. The administrative centre of the Musa Qala region – a sparsely-populated area made up of many small villages concentrated in the valley cut by the Musa Qala river – had been held for some time by soldiers of the Pathfinders, the elite forward reconnaissance element drawn mainly from the Parachute Regiment.
    In scenes reminiscent of Rorke’s Drift, they had fought off wave after wave of Taliban attacks, running desperately low on food and water, before a Danish column had eventually fought their way through to reinforce them.
    Now the Pathfinders were being extracted, and a group of Household Cavalry armoured vehicles was sent to assist them.
    Andrew Radford, a young father of four from the Potteries, was part of that convoy.
    The convoy had reached a village just south of the town on August 1 last year when a huge Taliban bomb exploded, destroying the vehicle in front of LCoH Radford’s.
    One of the four men inside was his close friend Ross Nicholls; another vehicle further ahead was now being engaged with rockets and machine gun fire.
    Radford was about to perform an act so brave it would earn him the British Army’s second highest decoration.

    I come from Stoke, and joined the army aged 16 – I’m 25 now. It was something I’d always wanted to do, like from the age of four or five. I’m not from an Army family – maybe it was seeing stuff on the telly, maybe the first Gulf War…I don’t know, it just really interested and inspired me. I went straight in as soon as I could, and joined the Engineers at first. I spent six years as a combat engineer but was actually planning to leave until my wife persuaded me to stay in. I think she realised I’d be lost outside – I certainly didn’t know what I’d do when and if I left.
    I scoured all the different websites for the Army – I must have gone through every regiment – and in the end I went for the Household Cavalry, based in Windsor. The regiment’s role just really appealed to me. There are two sides to it – armoured and ceremonial – and I knew that if I ever felt like a change from the armoured side I could do the mounted stuff. You can swap between the two.
    The armoured side is formation reconnaissance. We go out on recce patrols, the furthest forward you can get for non-Special Forces troops, looking for the enemy and gathering intelligence on him.
    We’re split into troops, and within each troop you have four vehicles: the troop leader’s vehicle, commanded by a troop Corporal of Horse, which is our equivalent of sergeant, and two more with a corporal in each. I was a lance corporal at the time (he is now a Corporal of Horse), so I wasn’t commanding a vehicle – I was the troop leader’s operator, a gunner.
    We were in Scimitars. This is like a small tank, with a crew of three – a driver, a gunner and a commander. It has a 7.62mm machine gun and a 30mm cannon, the same as the Warrior’s except that the Warrior’s is chain-fed and we have to load ours manually. The operator works them both, though obviously not at the same time. You move from one to the other by flicking a switch.
    We arrived in Afghanistan on June 20 – the day after my daughter was born. She’s my fourth, I’ve got three boys as well, and I saw her born the night before we left. I was able to hold my little girl and be with her for a few hours, and got on a plane the next morning. It didn’t feel good, leaving, but it was one of those things and I was just glad that I had been able to see her.
    Afghanistan was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life. I’d spent a lot of time on the internet and watching the news about the country before I went out there but what that can’t do is prepare you for the heat. We were there in the summer and it was absolutely outrageous. By 11am, you couldn’t actually touch anything on the vehicle – you would burn yourself if you put your hand on the metal. And they’re not air-conditioned, so you sweat like anything inside.
    But it’s funny how quick you get acclimatised. We spent three weeks in Camp Bastion getting used to the conditions and, to begin with, you were drinking water constantly, litres and litres of the stuff. You couldn’t put a bottle of water down. By the end of the tour, it was like being back in England really, your body just got used to it. So it didn’t degrade our ability to fight.
    I remember the first time we left camp and went out on a limb. It was quite a nerve-wracking time, because although I’d read up on Afghanistan and we’d had intensive briefings before leaving, I still didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew it wasn’t going to be a quiet tour, that’s for sure, so I’d say I was nervous and excited at the same time. You’d see civilians and wonder, Could they be Taliban? You can’t tell who’s friendly and who’s not, because they all dress the same. But after a while you get used to it and go with it.
    We were out on patrol a lot of the time, sleeping out, doing whatever we’d been tasked to do, coming back to fix the wagons, maybe have a couple of days in camp if we were lucky, and then go back out again. I think the longest we spent out of camp was three-and-a-half weeks, up in Naw Zad giving fire support to the Fusiliers. We did a few MOGS (Mobile Outreach Groups) too, integrating with the local population, trying to see what they needed. The local population loved to see us, particularly the children…we’d always give them sweets or food. On one occasion, we were on a hill overlooking Naw Zad and a man drove up on a motorbike with two small children on the back. They had both been badly injured by an old piece of ordnance which they’d been playing with and which had blown up in their faces. Both of them were seriously burned; we arranged to have them flown to Camp Bastion for medical aid. Sadly, one of them died a few days later but I believe the other made it. As a father of young children myself, that sort of thing really got to me, obviously.
    We tried to avoid the towns and villages where possible, and stayed off road as much as we could because of the threat of IEDs, though the nature of the terrain meant that, sometimes, you had to use roads. We’d mostly be moving through the countryside. It was a strange mixture of flat plains and big mountains; there was miles and miles of barren, rocky desert and suddenly you’d come upon a few buildings, with irrigation channels, and the area would be green over with opium poppies and other crops.
    We’d heard about Naw Zad, and how busy it was, and how the Paras and Gurkha Rifles had had such a bad time up there, and we were initially sent up there to give them a bit of protection, with our firepower. We went up there as a squadron complete – that was four troops, three of Scimitar and one of Spartan, a troop carrier with a small crew in the back which can fulfil an infantry role if needed. But when we got there there was nothing going on – not a single shot was fired, and we wondered what all the fuss had been about. And really we saw very little to worry about until we got moved – all except one troop, which stayed in Naw Zad – to the Musa Qala area at the end of July.
    There was a camp there in the heart of the town, with members of the Pathfinder Platoon there. Some Danish forces had gone in to reinforce and then replace them and our mission was to cover the re-supply of the Danes and assist in the extraction of the Pathfinders – mainly by providing a diversion. A squadron of Scimitars knocking around makes a lot of noise and you can definitely see them coming. We were just going to do that, make some noise in and around the area, to get eyes on to us and off them. Plus, obviously, recce any possible Taliban activity.
    The whole of Musa Qala was infested with Taliban and they were determined to retake the town. Afghans suspected of collaborating with the British had been publicly hanged along entry routes and huge caches of weapons and ammunition were being built up. On the morning of 1 August 2006, the Troop moved through a small village to the south of Musa Qala. As they reached the middle of it, the lead two vehicles were ambushed by Taliban forces with a combination of RPG fire, heavy machine guns and a large IED.
    There were three vehicles within the ambush area – two vehicles in front of mine – and probably another three behind, with others further back still. Probably 12 vehicles in total. It was a well-planned ambush. In fact, from their point of view, it was perfect. They knew it was our only route through the area and they also knew we were in the area because we’d had a mine strike the night before and one of our vehicles had been taken out – luckily, no-one was injured.
    At the time, because we didn’t think the threat level was that high, I had my head out of the turret scanning my arcs. On a normal day-to-day basis, when you don’t feel threatened, you stick your head out and have a look around. The commander was to my side, and the driver down below, also open. We’d stopped short of this village a couple of minutes previously and the commanders had had a brief on what we were going to do – I think it was simply who was going to go where as we were going to go through this built up area. It was a series of compounds, houses with walls going around the garden. Maybe five or six of them, but with more than one house to a compound. From memory, they were on our side of a ditch, and there was a bridge across the ditch.
    We drove through, and almost immediately the first vehicle got hit. We saw the first RPG hit him, and heard the vehicle commander, CoH Mick Flynn, on the net, saying, ‘Contact. RPGs.’ He’s not so much talking to us, because we can see what’s happened – they were probably only 50 metres ahead of us. Basically, it’s an instant heads-up for HQ, to let them know we’ve been attacked.
    His mic button stuck so we could hear his whole conversation and everything that was going on in his wagon. He was really out of breath, trying to tell the driver where to go, and talking to the gunner, telling him what to do. They decided to move back through the ambush area because they were isolated where they were and they were still being engaged with machine guns and RPGs to the front.
    They took a second RPG as they were trying to fight their way out, though we had reversed out of the line of sight by the time that one hit. There’s no point of trying to drive through if you aren’t in the ambush yet.
    Then the second vehicle, a Spartan, got hit by a huge IED. I saw a massive, literally huge, fireball and then a billowing cloud of smoke and dust.
    By this stage, we’d moved back forward, with other vehicles, and we were putting down maximum fire power, trying to get the first vehicle out.
    We knew that the second vehicle had gone. There was no way that anyone could have survived that blast. It was on fire, well ablaze, and the whole of the back had been blown off. They’re all my close colleagues in there, as they are in the Scimitar, but you can’t allow yourself to think about that just at that moment. It’s like, Forget that for now, put it to one side, our job is to try to help the first vehicle to get out.
    There were Taliban with machine guns about 75 metres ahead, and to the right there was a little wooded area where the RPGs had been fired from and where we later discovered the IED had been initiated from, by command wire. There were probably only about three or four enemy in each of the two positions, but we were in such a small area that that was enough. Luckily, we had left two of our own vehicles short of our position before we were driving in, to cover us. They were on high ground and had a good view into the town and beyond. It turned out the Taliban had held a number of motorbikes and Toyota Hilux-type vehicles, all kitted out with men with RPGs and AKs, in reserve. They had tried to come around the right hand side and take us all out but our lads behind had wiped them out.
    We’d been hearing all the chat in the front vehicle, as I say, and it suddenly all went quiet. We couldn’t see them for the smoke and flames from the Spartan, so I just presumed that they had gone as well. I just kept firing while my commander assessed what was the best thing to do.
    I remember thinking about my family, and especially my little daughter who I’d only seen for an hour or two. I didn’t want to die here and have her never know her dad. I think it spurred me on. As soon as you think about your kids…well, you’ll do anything to stay with them.
    Then something sort of caught my eye. I noticed someone moving around over at the base of the wooded area. We assumed it was one of the enemy at first, but when we looked really closely we could just make out that it was one of our boys. As soon as I realised he was one of ours I knew we had to go and get him. There was no way that we would leave him there. No way. The Taliban are evil, and they don’t treat prisoners well at all. We couldn’t drive the vehicle closer, because the threat was too high in that situation. The vehicle attracts rounds, you don’t know whether there are more IEDs in the area, it’s just too dangerous.
    The citation makes clear just how brave Andrew Radford was, acting in the highest traditions of his regiment and the British Army. “Without hesitation or prompting from the officer commanding his vehicle,” it says, “and seeing the imminent danger that the injured soldier was in, Radford dismounted his vehicle and, under sustained enemy fire from the Taliban fighters and with total disregard for his own safety, ran into the ambush killing area towards gravely injured man.”
    My boss, Lt Tom Long, turned to me and I think he was just about to say, ‘One of us is going to have to go and get him,’ but I’d actually already started putting my helmet and webbing on. I jumped off and just legged it down towards him. As I was running, there was a lot of incoming fire, I don’t know where from because the noise was so great you couldn’t tell the direction. I was putting as many rounds down into the trees as I could with my SA80, away from the lad and off to the side, just suppressing fire. I didn’t stop to aim. I couldn’t have stood around.
    As I ran towards him, I looked into the back of the destroyed vehicle. One of the guys in there was LCpl Ross Nicholls, one of my closest mates. They were obviously all dead. It wasn’t a nice sight. I remember seeing two of the crew of the first vehicle running in my direction. I think they thought I was coming to help them, and they were trying to let me know they’d extracted OK. I shouted something like, ‘You’ve got to put rounds down…there’s one of our guys up there.’
    They started firing into the tree line and I carried on running. I’d got to within about 20 metres of the injured man when Mick Flynn, the commander of the first vehicle, appeared.
    As a senior NCO is his 40s and a Falklands veteran to boot, CoH Flynn was the old man of the troop though his fitness levels and fighting prowess were those of a man twenty years younger. He had left the Army to run a village post office but had rejoined after six years. Alongside Radford, he was about to win a Military Cross to go with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross he had already won in Iraq during Operation TELIC One.
    Mick’s wagon was stuck in the ditch and they’d had to abandon it. He shouted,’ What are you doing?’ And he joined me while his driver and gunner gave us covering fire with their personal weapons.
    A few seconds later we got to the injured guy and did a quick assessment. He’d stopped moving, and I actually thought he was dead. I could see that it was Tpr Martyn Compton, the driver of the Spartan. He was burnt to a crisp, with all his clothing sticking to him or burned away. He’d also been shot twice in the legs. But as we started moving him, he began making noise…moaning but not really speaking. He managed to say, ‘Radders…help me,’ just about, but he wasn’t really with it. It was distressing, seeing him like that, especially such a good bloke like he is. You can never be trained for this exact experience I don’t think, but all my instincts for personal survival and to get Martyn out of there really kicked in.
    Mick was checking his gunshot wounds and I got my morphine out. He was clearly in absolute agony. But because he was in such a state I didn’t know whether the morphine would just finish him off, so I put it back in my webbing. He looked like he was on his last legs, to be honest. I didn’t think he was going to make it. We picked him up and put him over my shoulders and I sprinted as fast as I could back to my wagon.
    Taliban machine gun fire and RPGs kicked up the dirt at his feet as he ran.
    You find strength that you didn’t know you had – I didn’t even notice I had him on my back.
    By now, the whole thing had probably taken about half an hour, tops.
    The weight of fire was massive, with the lads in the vehicles covering me and Mick, and we made it back without being hit ourselves. I laid Martyn down on the front decks of our vehicle as best I could, the other three from the first vehicle jumped on alongside him, and we drove off as fast as possible to where we’d left the HQ element, probably two to three kilometres away. We took our time because it was rough ground and we didn’t want to hurt him any more than we had to, because he was in such a bad way.
    I was brought up in a religious family and I think I said a prayer of thanks at this point.
    We had a brilliant medic attached to us, a lad called LCpl Paul Hamlet, and he did some really good work out there. I think he administered morphine to Compo while they called in the casevac Chinook and he was taken away.
    I still didn’t think for one minute that he was going to live.
    After we had got him back, we had a quick brief. The squadron leader explained what had happened, for anyone who didn’t know, and basically hit us with it, that we’d have to head back down there and retrieve what we could. The company that was on QRF in Camp Bastion got crashed out on a couple of Chinooks, there were Apaches in the air and some 105 guns further away were also giving fire. There was fast air. It was a massive operation to go back in. I didn’t personally come across the enemy again, though – I think the Apaches saw them in and around the area as we were extracting and they had sorted out anything that was needed.
    We did manage to retrieve the bodies of the dead from the second vehicle. You cannot imagine what it’s like. You see things on the television, but it’s not the same, and you never think you’ll ever see the things that you’re seeing. Absolutely unbelievable. Ross Nicholls was one of them, as I said. Ross had transferred over from the Royal Signals at the same time as I did, and we’d done a few courses together. We were very alike and we had just bonded straight away and been great mates ever since. He was a really nice bloke, a Scottish lad with a very dry sense of humour. Married, had a young boy and a young girl, the youngest born a couple of months before my little girl. All you could say is that he wouldn’t have known anything about it. I was amazed that Martyn Compton had survived. I’d assumed he’d been blown out of the vehicle and landed where we found him but it turned out the explosion from the IED had caved the front decks of the vehicle, basically the bonnet, down onto him. We’re talking aluminium armour, really heavy stuff. And he’d managed to push it off himself. It must have been pure will to survive. He was on fire – totally ablaze – and he rolled around on the floor to put himself out and crawled to where we saw him.
    We got back to Bastion a day later. I rang my wife as soon as I could. She wasn’t happy. She’d seen it on the news, the initial ‘three soldiers killed in Afghanistan’, but there are so many of us out there that she didn’t really worry about it too much. Then she heard that two were from the Household Cavalry (the other men who died were 2nd Lt Ralph Johnson of the Household Cavalry, 24, and Capt Alex Eida of the Royal Horse Artillery, 29) and that did worry her because there were 88 of us out there, so she knew there was a 1-in-44 chance I was involved, and she hadn’t heard from me.
    When I phoned her and she found out how close to it I had been she started sobbing.
    They’d sorted out the bodies and put them into coffins and I actually managed to put Ross on the plane, I was one of his pall bearers. I followed him up to Kandahar and they had a huge ceremony up there. All the Americans and all the NATO Forces lined the airport. But I wasn’t able to come back to the UK, which was a shame.
    And then we were all just in camp, fixing the wagons again. We all talked a lot, shared our experiences of what happened, because everyone can give a little bit more information and it does help. We had a remembrance service for the guys who died.
    I was nervous when we went back out again. I didn’t fancy it, but we were asked if we were ready and if anyone hadn’t been they would not have been sent back out. My feeling was, if you put it off you’re just going to keep putting it off, so the quicker you do it the better. And that was the general feeling. We got back out, there were initial nerves but after a couple of days you know that that sort of thing is not going to happen everyday.
    When I got back home at the end of the tour, I was dreaming about it every night. I’ve only just stopped to be honest. My wife would wake me up some nights because I was distressed, and she’d say I was talking in my sleep.
    I still think about it every day. I see Ross’s wife Angela quite a bit. I think it helps us both to talk about him, though I don’t really talk about that day in particular. I’ve not actually spoken about it before now to anyone, really.
    The Army are quite good about helping you with this sort of thing now. You’re offered the chance to talk to people, like the Padre, the doctors and other specially-trained people. It’s definitely there for anyone who wants it. But I didn’t want it. I’m quite philosophical – it’s one of the risks of being in the Army. Death is part of the job. You know when you join the Army that things could happen, and Ross would have known that. Onwards and upwards. I certainly have no plans to leave because of what happened. I get asked about the people who laid the IED, how I feel about them. The thing is, life is cheap out there. They had the Soviet invasion, there’s all the inter-tribal stuff, they’ve been doing this sort of thing since they were little boys. It’s all they know, I think. I don’t feel anything towards them, not hate, not anything. Obviously, I wish it hadn’t happened, and it does sadden me, but it’s part of being in the Army.
    Martyn Compton is making a good recovery. I think technology now, what they can do compared to what they could do maybe twenty years ago, is amazing. When he got back, they initially sedated him so that he was unconscious and I think he was in an induced coma for at least a couple of months. He’d only been out of that for about a week, I think, when I got back. I went straight to see him and he was still in a terrible way, physically. He was still in a wheel chair because of being shot in the leg but now he’s walking around again. Morale-wise, he seems to be totally sound. I think the plans are for him to stay in the Army if he wants to, and he’s making damned good progress. He’s extremely strong, mentally and physically, and you can only admire and respect him for how he has coped throughout the whole ordeal. I was at a party last Saturday for our awards and Martyn came to that and he was drinking with me and having a good time. We’ve talked a bit about what happened, but not in any detail. It’s awkward for us, I think. I think it’s a bloke thing. I’m not sure whether he wants to talk about it, and he’s not sure whether I want to talk about it. I’m sure one day we will.
    LCoH Radford’s citation is very clear as to his awesome bravery: “He showed a complete disregard for his own safety and acted completely on his own initiative. A father of four young children, he deliberately put himself in harm’s way to rescue a fellow soldier. He showed an almost superhuman effort to rescue Trooper Compton and extract him uphill the 70 metres back to his own armoured vehicle…all the more remarkable as he was still under fire from a mixture of AK-47s, machine guns and RPGs. At no point did he think of himself, utterly focused on saving his fellow comrade in trouble, who had suffered horrendous injuries. Without doubt, his immediate action saved Trooper Compton’s life. It is this act of selflessness, conspicuous gallantry and bravery in the face of a well co-ordinated and sustained enemy ambush that merits public recognition.”
    I am very proud to have received the CGC, but if I hadn’t received anything it wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest. You don’t do things for medals, you do them for your mates. I’d like to think that if that had been me lying there that someone would have come and got me. In the Household Cavalry, we are all very close and we look after each other and look out for each other. Mick Flynn got a Military Cross, and he’d already got a CGC from Iraq, too, so there’s plenty of braver blokes than me out there. And it was down to the efforts of every man involved that day that the Taliban didn’t kill any more men than they did.
    My wife is happy and proud of me, but she reckons it was a one-time offer. My luck might run out next time. But she knows that I have a huge love for the Army and always will. She knows it’s my life, so if I died that way I would have died doing something that I love. My mum was the same – not happy, to say the least, but very proud. She knows the job I’m in and she appreciates what we do.
    I say I think about the incident every day, but now it’s not from a bad point of view. Whenever anyone mentions Afghanistan it’s in my mind, but it doesn’t trouble me. It did at the time. Just seeing that sort of thing, and coming so close to dying, is not good. Not something that you expect. When you come so close to death you start to think about whether you’re in the right job, and what’s all this for? I got over that. It was just the nerves of, This could happen again. But just last week a lady died in a car accident down the road from our barracks, while walking her child to school. Who expects that? When your time’s up, your time’s up.
    One thing about what happened, it definitely makes you realise that there’s more to life than people think. You laugh at people who think they’ve got worries. There are people out there doing a hard job in very difficult circumstances, and I don’t think the British public really appreciate that.
  3. Thanks, inspiring, book ordered.