‘Our War’

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September 12, 2012 by hattersleysmith

Snuggled tight for an early night, Horlicksed-up in my bunny rabbit onesie and browsing through BBC iPlayer for something to send me into dreamland, I stumbled upon ‘Our War’, recently recommended by a friend, a three-part documentary following British soldiers on their missions in Afghanistan.  Since April 2010, when my boyfriend at the time departed for Helmand province for six months, I’ve consciously avoided all war-related news, switching station when Newsbeat aired on Radio 1, turning two pages of the Times at once, peeling myself from the sofa, my family’s company and the BBC at 10pm.  I just didn’t want to know in case they announced his name or platoon.  Sure, we’ve all been aware of the war fizzling on in the background of our hectic what’s-for-dinner, make-sure-you-record…, bugger-it’s-raining lives; but, for me, the frenzy of starting university in September 2010, the dash-dash of 2011 all topped off by this Summer of All Summers for the UK the conflict in Afghanistan has almost drifted into a floating memory of a nightmare gap year experience, my red, blue and aquamarine wristband gradually finding itself permanently relegated to a drawer.

WOOO OLYMPIANS!

WOOO THE QUEEN!

WOOO BRITANNIA!!

Wrapped up warm at 9pm, cosy and safe from the Yorkshire end-of-summer-2012 drizzle I was jolted to remember.  For the past few months we’ve been bombarded with The Heroic Sportsmen and women, The Heroic Games Makers, The Heroic Danny Boyles who have left us awestruck, patriotic, indescribably proud to be part of this incredible country, but what about those men and women whose job is to risk their lives every day for six months to fight for Queen and country to guarantee the safety of the British people and to help those less fortunate achieve relative freedom and peace, whose job is Heroism?

‘Our War’ reminds Britain of the sacrifices they make.  Each episode features a different regiment, charting their missions through post-tour interviews and footage taken by soldiers in the warzone from helmet cameras, handheld camcorders and phones, providing a shocking and at times utterly heart-breaking authenticity.  These are real men, some boys, risking their lives against the Taliban (some women still feature, but as they’re still not posted to the frontline they don’t form a core part of the stories portrayed).

The direct address interviews interspersing the action makes the whole documentary a personal experience, drawing the viewer into the stories of the individual soldiers and officers as we join them for the thrill and complacency of patrols, Christmas dinner, grotesque talent competitions, the seemingly endless boredom of days of ceasefire, the excitement of going home, the excitement of coming back, but there’s always the knowledge that these soldiers have been featured for a reason, to demonstrate to the public the atrocities of the Middle Eastern conflict.

We witness bullets dkkr-dkkring from all sides of a compound, huge explosions, doomed forays out into Taliban territory, frantic scurryings to get the wounded Apache’d out.  In the final episode of season 2, The Lost Platoon, we join a fatal patrol with the Welsh Guards in which they lose radio contact with Bastion and therefore all air-support.  During a blistering fire fight, Lieutenant Mark Evison is shot, the moment recorded by one of his men’s cameras with desperate shouts of ‘Man down!’.  My own heart thuds not inconspicuously.  His muffled repeats of ‘I’m going down…I’m going down’ as he bleeds to death, his men urgently trying to keep him conscious, etch deep.  Evison died soon after the footage was taken.

Lieutenant Mark Evison

I watched the three episodes back-to-back.  It brought back so many nightmares from 2010, the visions of explosions, guns shots, desert, heat, wind, the crackling of the radio phones which broke a part of me every time I picked up one of the few phone calls I received from Helmand, the imagined letter.  Yet here, the imagined is real, the real experience of so many still living with the direct consequences of the injuries and deaths caused by the war.  I post a link on Facebook, wanting my friends to watch it too, to experience something of the horrors of the Afghanistan war.  An old friend emails me the next day.  He was best friends with Evison and Griffiths, another officer whose death was featured in an earlier episode, and hasn’t been able to watch the series yet.

Yet despite the tears hastily smudged from the soldier’s cheeks as they recall the most catastrophic moments of their tours to the camera, the helpless looks of the parents who have lost their sons, the aura of PTS (post-traumatic stress), there is a sense of positivity which rises from the desert sand as fond memories glint through the haze of the scarring, there is a sense of things moving on.

This Summer of All Summers brought hope to injured soldiers across the globe with the strongest and best attended Paralympics on record in which injured service men and women were able to reclaim, if not their limbs, their Glory.  The Former Royal Marine Lance Corporal Jon Flit suggested “It’s a shining beacon that people can come back from adversity. Injured servicemen coming back from it and winning gold medals for ParalympicsGB. Hopefully it will continue to inspire people”.

As a nation, we have been inspired so much this summer by the dedication, resilience and strength of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.  Now summer is over, it’s time for us to be reinspired by the armed athletes fighting for Queen and country in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe every day.

By midnight, knocked beyond comfort, I didn’t feel like sleeping, reminded starkly that war isn’t a dreamland and that these Heroes, even more than the Olympians, deserve our absolute respect and admiration and remembrance.

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