Shat Al Arab Hotel,
10th Sep 2005
As I raced past the forty days and forty nights left in the wilderness I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of sympathy for old JC. Not long now and I am back in the happy throng of London, I think it is something like 32 days till I am scheduled to be home. Worryingly, I am in charge of flying my whole regiment home, and even at this stage, I don’t know when my own flight is. You think Queezyjet provide a bad service, you haven’t really traveled till you have been anywhere with the RAF, having been subject to one flight home, I can’t wait for the next one
All flights are subject to a 24-hour change of timing in either direction, up to 25 hours before the scheduled flight time. The RAF Tristars that we use were all built in the ’60s, and have had little to update them since, I believe the odd oil change might have happened and the carpets get Hoovered every year, but other than that there is little gaffa tape and string can’t fix. All passengers must ensure they have their helmets and body armour with them when they board the plane, this is so we can wear them during takeoff and landing, quite how a thin helmet is meant to save us if we collide with the ground at 500mph no one knows, but we all sit there like World War 2 glider passengers about to jump into Normandy.
By far the most ridiculous element is the security checks. Through the x-ray machine we pass, each of us beeping merrily. “Do you have any metal in your pockets, sir?” Always seems a bit silly when I am carrying a gun in my right hand! They have confiscated nail files of female soldiers carrying weapons. One soldier was questioned quite aggressively as to why he had a bayonet with him, they simply couldn’t understand why we all thought his answer of “It goes on the end of this gun” was so funny.
The blindingly inefficient RAF are truly a wonder to watch, in order to leave Basrah you have to spend 4 hours in a very hot room sat on a hot marble floor with no air-conditioning. We will then be herded into another room this one also has no aircon and is just a little bit hotter than the sun, however, they provide you with seats in Room 2, only enough for the first six people to sit on, but its a start. After spending two hours in room two, they will call us all forward to move to Room 3. Room 3 is the piece de resistance, a very small room, with very large windows and a glass roof, no aircon. The temperature in there is not safe for cooking chips but we will all be made to sit in there for at least 1 hour before being allowed to board the plane. There is no point to any of these moves, but what it does mean is that we are all six stone lighter and the plane can actually take off.
But with that to look forward to, it really is starting to feel like the end of my little trip away. The excitement of coming home to the chill of October is starting to sink in, I am especially excited about sustained periods of rain, log fires, red wine, and real food. There is of course nothing I look forward to more than seeing all my friends and family again, but that goes without saying.
In the meantime we seem to have stirred up a bit of hornet’s nest in the city at the moment, and the locals are being particularly tiresome. They seem adamant to make the back end of our holiday in Basrah as miserable as possible for us. In order to counter the new heightened threat, we have moved to what the Americans would probably call DEFCON 2. I have absolutely no idea what that actually means, but it sounds damn cool. To us, it means wearing body armour all day and sweating just a little bit more, both in anticipation of inevitable attacks and from the relentless heat.
You have all been distracted by this email for far too long now, so back to work you must go, I’m off to play volleyball whilst dodging mortar bombs.
Hope you are well, see you soon.
All my love
The letter above is part of a series of letters I sent home from Basrah, Iraq in 2005 republished here for the first time since they got sent exactly 15 years ago (I will try and sync them with the real dates sent)
I suppose this was my very first attempt at blogging, before blogging was ever a thing!
I was a Captain in The British Army at the time and was in the middle of an unremarkable 7 month posting to Basrah surrounded by the remarkable men of the Coldstream Guards, my regiment for 7 years. I loved and adored my time in the Coldstream and look back at all the fun and silliness with incredibly fond memories. I hope these letters go some way to show the amusing side of our tour, they are not designed to be a factual representation of the hard work, pain and suffering that so many endured. They do not talk of the ultimate sacrifice made by too many of our soldiers during that extraordinary year.