From The Thames to the Tigris
The war ended with no real celebration or excitement but filtered into a drift of uncertainty. Were we to be sent home and reunited with our families or tasked with assisting the Americans with their capture and securing of Baghdad? Eventually answers appeared from the top, somewhat diluted and vague, but this part of the tour proved for many of us to be the most enjoyable and rewarding.
Three of us remaining with G Squadron from the Westminster Dragoons (Cpl Bowater, Tpr Hill and me) were to work alongside 20 soldiers of the RTR and RAF Regiment under 2Lt MacEvilly’s command in Gallipoli Troop (named by the OC after one of the WDs’ battle honours). The other, Tpr Hairsine, was given the role of OC’s driver.
Our job was to assist the unit with peacekeeping in Al Qurnah and the area around it. We resided in the old Ba’ath Party headquarters, which once set up proved to be luxury compared to the open desert we were used to. Whilst showering and sanitation remained basic at best, it certainly brought joy to see fresh food for the first time in almost six weeks.
It was evident from carrying out our various tasks that the Iraqi people rejoiced about our presence. Children would flurry around our passing vehicle and foot patrols, which were shadowed by flocking people, curious and excited.
The Troop’s rotations were changed every three days: guarding the Ba’ath Party headquarters, our new accommodation; protecting the local hospital; patrolling the town and surrounding areas. Patrolling the streets gave us an opportunity to work under our section commanders again. Vehicle checkpoints were carried out in accordance with our orders along with house searches and providing a visible presence to locals. There was a tremendous sense of self worth as we helped sort out their problems and disputes. Never before had we seen people fighting over a glass of fresh water, or become involved in evicting a homeless family from a chicken hut in which they were squatting because they had threatened to murder its owner in front of the Troop Leader!
As time progressed the locals volunteered information about weapon sites, local militia and potential hot spots. There was so much needed to rebuild their infrastructure and very often we lacked the resources and manpower to assist. We would have loved to do more but, stretched to the limit, we could merely watch them continue to destroy their environment. As we left there, we couldn’t help thinking they expected us to do it all for them. Time will undoubtedly tell what the future holds, although they are surely now in charge of their own destiny. Nevertheless our thoughts and prayers remain with the people in Al Qurnah.
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