From The Thames to the Tigris
For a medic, life at the FPIC (Forces Press And Information Centre) was actually quite involved. Y Sqn as a whole was kept busy improving the defensive berms and gunpits, mounting patrols and carrying out VCPs. Our position at the old UN compound on the main Umm Qasr-Basra road, a few kilometres northeast of the town of Safwan, meant we were an obvious target for Iraqi civilians and POWs wanting medical help or food. Most of the squadron was by now together again, along with the QM Tech's packet, the REME, a PBDS, an SMT, and the regimental training team!
Some distraction was provided by patrols to the local farms, escorting Media Ops and press people on fact-finding trips. The area was much greener than Kuwait, with tomatoes seemingly the main crop from the irrigated fields. The people were poor but not destitute, and genuine in their welcome. They were very pleased to see us but reluctant to be photographed, fearing UN action would end the coalition mission, allowing Saddam's people to return to wreak revenge. We saw many scars said to be from torture, and photographs of family members "disappeared". During these visits I would carry out basic health checks, and end up running impromptu clinics – with few resources it’s amazing what rations and sweets will do in place of medicine!
The most memorable incident occurred in the middle of the night on the pitch dark road outside the compound. A vehicle stopped and its occupants laid what appeared to be a body in the road! The squadron stood-to, fearing some form of surprise attack, and myself and L/Cpl Bob Mead (the A Sqn medic) were woken up to attend. We didn't speak Arabic and they didn't speak English but by red torchlight I eventually discovered a woman in her mid 20s in the throes of having a miscarriage. My journalist translator arrived and we did what we could before sending her on for treatment in Umm Qasr – but for a time we thought we might have to deliver a baby, in the dark, on the road, with hardly any equipment!
Living alongside the press proved an interesting, if mixed, experience. When seeing POWs and civilians I often worked with a journalist who spoke Arabic and helpfully acted as translator, but some other members of the press were more of a hindrance, attempting to interfere in my treatment or film inappropriately.
After about ten days, elements of the regiment began to arrive for training in new roles. Some of Y Sqn were involved in this, being trained as Operational Support Teams for the new Light Monitoring Teams, or brushing off their armour skills to join Fuchs crews. I, with three others, left the squadron at this point to join the Special Intelligence Team, not re-joining the squadron until the move back to Kuwait and Camp Eagle.
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