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Let's not forget the British soldiers at war

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: July 04, 2009

British soldiers are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

British soldiers are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

YESTERDAY, we heard the news that two more British soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan bringing the death toll of our troops there to 142.

One of those killed – Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 40, – was the highest ranking British officer to die in action for almost 30 years. The second solider to be killed by the roadside bomb, Tpr Joshua Hammond was just 18.

Coincidentally, I have just received what I think is a rather moving e-mail sent to me by Joyce Auld, from Churchdown.

I have decided to use it in full because I believe, that on a day like this when we are mourning two brave soldiers at either end of the age spectrum, it does make you think about the role of The British Soldier.

I hope readers agree with me that this is an appreciation of their bravery and would welcome your thoughts on it to me by email at: ian.mean@glosmedia.co.uk

I also think it is timely, coming exactly a week after the people of the county came out in their thousands in response to a plea we made in The Citizen to support the Freedom Day organised by the county council for the returning soldiers of 1 Rifles based at Beachley Barracks in the Forest of Dean from Afghanistan.

This weekend, our brave forces in Afghanistan deserve our prayers.

Ian Mean - Editor, The Citizen

THE average age of the military man is 19 years. He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances, is considered by society as half man, half boy.

Not yet dry behind the ears, just old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to die for his country.

He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father’s, but he has never collected unemployment either.

He’s a recent comprehensive school graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a 10-year-old jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away.

He listens to rock and roll or hip-hop or rap or jazz or swing and a 155mm howitzer.

He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk.

He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark.

He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional.

He can march until he is told to stop, or stop until he is told to march.

He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity. He is self-sufficient.

He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry.

He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts.

If you’re thirsty, he’ll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food.

He’ll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low.

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands.

He can save your life – or take it, because that is his job.

He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay, and still find ironic humour in it all.

He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime.

He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed.

He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to ‘square-away’ those around him who haven’t bothered to stand, remove their hat, or even stop talking.

In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.

Just as did his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless or not, he is not a boy.

He is the British fighting man who has kept this country free for more than 200 years.

He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding. Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.

And now we even have women over there in danger, doing their part in this tradition of going to war when our nation calls us to do so.

As you go to bed tonight, remember this shot. . . A short lull, a little shade and a picture of loved ones in their helmets.

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