Soldiers

Richard Kemp on interviewing for Attack State Red:

I have written Attack State Red from the point of view of the fighting soldier. Soon after the battalion returned from Afghanistan, Chris Hughes and I went to Pirbright to do the intital interviews, while memories were still at their freshest.

For me, this was one of the most rewarding experiences in writing Attack State Red. I had served in Bosnia in our 2nd Battalion with Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Carver, the Battle Group Commander. Every one of the company commanders had been lieutenants or captains when I commanded the battalion myself seven years earlier. I also knew many of the soldiers from corporal upwards during my time with the battalion, and had met many of the junior officers. At the same time gratifying and worrying for me, in the case of a surprisingly large number of the younger soldiers, I had served with their fathers or older brothers!

These relationships, as well as being a member of the regiment for 30 years, enabled the interviews to take place on a level that is rarely possible and certainly could not be achieved by anyone outside of the military family. I think this, above all, makes Attack State Red unique.

It was an honour and a privilege to listen to these incredibly brave men, hardened by six months of sustained, toe-to-toe combat against a determined enemy in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Without exception they told their stories willingly, in graphic detail and with great candour. There was often a good deal of emotion, as many of these men recounted, often for the first time, the details of how their close mates had been killed or wounded right next to them.

What I found most humbling was the amazing modesty of every person I interviewed, and their determination to give credit to others rather than themselves. Amazing, but not surprising to me, as this attitude is the hallmark of the Royal Anglian soldier, who, whatever other faults he may have, is not given to bragging.

Below is a selection of some of the Royal Anglian soldiers I interviewed. The photographs were taken at the time of the interviews.

Private Barker
Private, now Lance Corporal, Aaron ‘Ronnie’ Barker, a B Company soldier, who risked his life by dashing out of cover into the teeth of heavy enemy fire in order to rescue a comrade who had been shot in the stomach. Having dragged the wounded man into cover, Barker then gave him first aid that saved his life.
Private Bailey
Private Oliver Bailey, a Royal Anglian sniper, who twice during the tour met Taliban fighters literally at arms reach, and killed them with his pistol. This is the opposite of what snipers like Bailey are trained for – to engage the enemy at long range.
Private Facal
Private Kennet Facal, a Filipino C Company soldier who never managed to make the battalion cricket team, yet astonished his fellow infantrymen by accurately hurling high explosive grenades while under fire at enemy fighters many metres away during a bloody battle in the Taliban stronghold of Mazdurak.
Lance Corporal Duffy
Private, now Lance Corporal, Matt Duffy, an A Company soldier who, at the very start of the tour, ran towards enemy fire, shooting several Taliban in the process, and then administered first aid to his closest friend who lay fighting for his life after being shot at close quarters by a Taliban fighter.
Lieutenant Seal-Coon
Lieutenant, now Captain, George Seal-Coon was commander of 7 Platoon throughout the tour. 7 Platoon probably saw more action, and sustained more casualties, than any other platoon in the battalion. Seal-Coon led them with valour and distinction during an intensive battle at Heyderabad Bridge and in a vicious Taliban ambush south of Sangin. Despite himself being right beside a 500 pound aerial bomb that exploded, tragically killing three of his soldiers in a “friendly fire” incident, Seal-Coon personally evacuated the dead and wounded at the scene.
Corporal Willan
Corporal Matt Willan was a section commander in C Company when one of his men, Private Tony ‘Nicey’ Rawson, was fatally shot right next to him in an intense fire-fight with the Taliban in the village of Regay. Willan and other members of his section evacuated Rawson’s body over several hundred metres under heavy enemy fire.
Corporal Parker
Corporal Stuart Parker, a section commander in 7 Platoon, was faced with an amazing weight of enemy machine-gun, rifle and rocket propelled grenade fire at the “Bridge Too Far” in Heyderabad. Despite being severely out-gunned by the Taliban, Parker stood his ground and played a key role in fighting off the Taliban and ensuring the safe extraction of his men. He was later severely wounded in a “friendly fire” incident when a 500 pound bomb was dropped on his section at Mazdurak.
Corporal Moore
Corporal Robert “Billy” Moore won the Military Cross at Nowzad on Friday the 13th of April, right at the start of the Royal Anglians’ tour, when his section had a meeting engagement with a strong group of Taliban. During the ensuing fire-fight, one of Moore’s men, Private Chris Gray, was fatally wounded, and Moore himself was shot in the arm.
Major Messenger
Major Phil Messenger was C Company Commander. The company had the greatest number of intensive battles with the Taliban. They began the tour at the strategically important Kajaki Dam, where Messenger led them in fighting the Taliban back from the hydro-electricity plant to enable strategically vital reconstruction work to go ahead. Later, after C Company came under sustained attack at Forward Operating Base Inkerman, Messenger led the fight-back. he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for gallantry.