It is with mixed emotions that I sit down to write this, the final installment of ‘War’ Diaries. What started five months ago as an update email to let friends and family know that I was still sitting comfortably behind my dusty desk has since evolved into a humbling following of dedicated readers, for which I thank you all- I hadn’t realised that there was so little else to do back home, I suppose one must keep up to date with pressing current affairs somehow now that News of the World has closed down. So I will be sad not to be able to continue the stories of dashing exploits of the modern Cavalry Officer. That sadness however all but ceases to exist when I realise just how much I cannot wait to get home and return to the relative normality that I have been looking forward to for some time now.
At the risk of overusing the school analogy (I’m assuming those reading this have been to school at some point, even if just for an open day in some cases, so I feel it’s safe territory) the final stages of an operational tour feels very much like the end of term at school, you just have to update the narrative which I will illustrate in brackets.
All of the children (soldiers) are far happier than they had been in the middle stages of term (tour) because they are looking forward to going home and playing and relaxing in their neighbourhood playground (drinking and fighting down the local pub) and maybe even talking to the pretty girl next door who they have a crush on (generally sleeping with anything vaguely female and with a pulse). Conversations turn to upcoming family holidays (how many women they are going to sleep with in the first weekend back) and what sweets they plan to buy with their pocket money (how they intend to purge their bank accounts of six months wages plus tour bonus in as short a time as possible through the three key mediums of boozing, gambling and shagging). The mood is generally lighter and everyone is looking forward to the final lesson of term (final excursion) when Miss Jones is guaranteed just to put on a video for everyone to fall asleep in front of. This is the only real difference as the annoying thing about fighting religious fundamentalists is that most of them didn’t go to boarding school and so the concept of winding down gently isn’t something they are overly familiar with. Also, it would appear that they are far keener on fighting than they are on watching videos (which explains a lot) so they stuck with more of the same curriculum up until the final bell.
With morale so high over the past few weeks the troop have been very easily entertained especially when faced with the familiar topic of sex. A few weeks back my gunner, with much glee, had borrowed my camera to take a picture of two flies who were mid coitus on the side of our vehicle and was overjoyed with the resulting photographs. So much so that he felt it necessary to exhibit these X rated snaps to the troop when we were next all together. I think it is the happiest I have ever seen some of them. Some were visibly crying with laughter at the sight of the two flies embraced on the side of my tank while others let out cries of “YEAH! DOGGY STYLE!” and “Get in Son! He’s really goin’ for it ain’t he?!”. I didn’t want to point out that where flies are involved it’s not strictly called ‘doggy style’ nor was it likely that he was ‘really going for it’ as much as simply reproducing. As long as the troop were happy.
Not long afterwards we were treated to the joyous show of a male dog chasing a bitch around the desert with the determined sole purpose of, as one of the guys put it, ‘getting his leg over’. Every time he caught her up and looked to be getting somewhere she would turn around snarling and biting at the excited pursuer prompting much laughter and remarks like “It’s just like you on a night out Jack” or helpful advice such as “Don’t give up mate, she’ll give in eventually!”. This advice clearly worked however as the dog continued in this vain for some time. However, before long he was not alone. Out of nowhere came 5 other dogs in equally hot pursuit of the now very pissed off bitch. The chaos that ensued was a scene similar to what you might expect to find were you to drop a scantily clad Nun into a working man’s club as last orders is called an hour early at the bar. Anyone who wasn’t fighting, virtually to the death, was having their strong advances violently beaten off by the female cause of the unrest who by this point was clearly wishing she was anywhere else in the world. It was canine chaos and would have made for a top notch David Attenborough programme. Eventually, in the true spirit of natural selection, defeated suitors lying exhausted on the battlefield, the one triumphant male made his move and, for want of a better expression, ‘mounted up’ cueing an uproarious cheer from the troop. The mood was wonderfully summed up as the excitement died down when one of my Troopers said “Oh, that were mint. Easily the best thing I’ve seen out here that was.” Like I said, easily entertained.
And so with the final excursion done and dusted we are back in camp Bastion awaiting various flights out of theatre and feeling pretty jovial about the thought of not going back out ‘on the ground’. They even have local curio type shops in Bastion where you can practice your haggling skills – as this part of the world is famous for its rugs I thought I would invest some hard earned cash in a lovely Afghan rug that would last me for years to come. As it turns out, unsurprisingly the chap in the shop was far better at haggling than I was so I bottled it and ended up buying a prayer mat sized rug with tanks and AK47s stitched into it and saying ‘Afghanistan 2012’ on the bottom- I think it may be the best thing I have ever bought but almost everyone who has seen it seems to differ in opinion. I’m also fairly sure I paid well over the odds for it but it’s a worthy investment it in my opinion.
On a more serious note I feel I should point out that these ‘War’ Diaries have been deliberately light hearted to make a change from the obvious negative press that comes out of a war zone – this is not to undermine what goes on out here, numerous lives have been lost or irreversibly changed just in the time that I have been out here and I feel immensely proud to have served alongside such incredibly brave souls. My thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those soldiers from my Regiment and beyond who find themselves caught up in the agonising mess that such tragedy creates. We will remember them.
In closing I would like to point out that I had initially intended to write a post tour reflections edition having returned to Blighty until someone reminded me that I am highly likely to spend the entirety of the next month blind drunk, inadvertently purging what little memory I had of this place, so it may be safest just to draw a line under it here. We shall see, I am open to offers…
By Rich Glover