Shat Al Arab Hotel,
27th April 2005
The British Army Hospital in Iraq is like a prison in more ways than one, wonderful services and you are looked after very well, but once you are in, you aren’t coming out. They confiscate all your stuff so you have to stay in till they give it back. Fortunately the nurse in charge of the “confiscation” succumbed to my charm and I was able to pull of the great escape last Friday. I managed to find the Heli pad and commandeered a helicopter to take me to Basrah shortly after my escape, a bit of an exaggeration I bumped into a friend of mine who was the pilot and he mentioned he was on his way up there, but nearly true.
So here I am in the Shat Al Arab Hotel in the north of Basrah, my new home for the summer. What a pleasure it is too. Basrah is an extraordinary city, I am not sure what i was expecting but it hasn’t quite lived up to my imagination.
I suppose it is a combination of Katmandu, Delhi, Bombay, Kampala, Entebbe and Brixton. All the third world countries rolled into one. Raw sewage runs down the streets when it isn’t baked hard by the sun, the rivers run red from the slaughter houses, the smell of poverty and disease is everywhere, the traffic is appalling, the shops are made of collapsing concrete, but the people all seem quite keen to try and improve their individual lot.
So far they have been relatively friendly to us, only a handful of shootings, all with no casualties thank God, and no bombings at us just yet. Of course they kill each other all the time, but we sort of have to let them crack on with that, after all they think their off somewhere better than here don’t they, can’t say I disagree if this place is all they know. I have a two part job out here, one half is as dull as listening to paint dry but quite important, the other is a lot more fun. For the best part of the day I help to “control” the city from our Ops room and however much I talk up the responsibility, the experience, and the control its 99% dull. The other side is controlling the night illumination of Basrah City.
Not quite Blackpool, closer to Guy Fawkes night. Basically we Mortar from within both the Shat Al Arab Hotel and Basrah Palace into all the likely insurgent mortaring and ambush sites, in theory deterring any attack they have planned. Well it seems to have worked so far, and we are the only people to have fired our weapons to date. We also get to burn up and down the river on boats as we move from the hotel in the North to the palace in the South. Which brings me neatly on to the river and an idea I have been working on.
The Shat Al Arab river runs down the side of the city touching both the hotel and the palace perimeters. I am in the infantile stages of developing a plan to water ski from the hotel to the palace, obviously trying to get as much press coverage as possible. Don’t hold your breath, as there are a couple of minor hurdles to get over before it will happen, like a pontoon bridge half way down with four foot clearance underneath it, and the fact that the Commanding Officer told me to stop being stupid and shut up. But I have six months to work on him.
I don’t want to bang on, so I will finish up now, so much more to gas on about. Have started to write real letters home as well, giving me a further chance to prattle on about not a lot. Am trying to up load some piccys of my gammy hand after my small self mutilation incident, pretty rough so you might not want to see, getting very quickly better, apparently the sun means it shouldn’t scar too badly as well, which is great news.
Hope you are all well, missing you all terribly, missing London, missing porcelain loos, missing running water, missing mobile phones, missing driving, missing booze, missing girls, missing a proper bed, missing real knives and forks, missing plates, missing glasses, missing real food. But loving it.
Keep me updated on any excitements
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.
My God Tom. What a story. Keep it going. CX
Tom, another even more fascinating post from you. They’re always fun and energetic but this Basra message allows us all to get a hint of the kind of life that professional soldiers experience in hostile environments. Your mood in it is upbeat, adventurous and yet realistic. It will be intriguing to see how that evolves through subsequent letters. I’m hooked. Congratulations. Ian