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This programme contains strong language.
"Dear Alex, application for premature voluntary retirement.
"I am writing to inform you the Army Retirements Board have approved your application for retirement,
"whereupon you will be appointed to the Reserve of Officers.
"Your retirement will be published in the London Gazette on the 3rd May, 2011."
This is Alex Rawlins, a captain in the Grenadier Guards.
Tunic, greatcoat and - what's it called? - cape.
Today, aged just 27, he's leaving the Army for good.
In 2009, Alex led a young platoon of soldiers
into Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
We've come under contact again, so we are now engaging with them.
Not only did Alex fight with his men...
Come on, lads, get a fucking move on!
..he filmed every bit of their lives together.
-Happy Birthday, Stray. 21st.
And his camera saw a young platoon grow up on the frontline.
For the last ten years, young British soldiers across Afghanistan
have been filming the war as only they can see it.
I'm here with the Sergeant Major.
I've been fucking smacked in the eye by shrapnel.
Thousands of hours of that footage
has been held by the Ministry of Defence.
Come on, men, it's life and death!
Now the MoD and the young soldiers
have allowed us to use that footage to tell their extraordinary stories.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is fucking war!
This film starts back in 2006 and meets the first soldiers into Helmand Province
and witnesses their desperate battle for survival...
Give us fucking target indication!
..and it shows how three years later, in 2009, Alex Rawlins and his men
suffered at the hands of a deadly invisible enemy -
the improvised explosive device.
Is that contact IED?
It brought it home.
It's like, "Right, we ain't playing soldiers any more." This is it.
If you fuck up, you die.
If you fuck up, worse off, your mate dies.
In 2006, a small number of British troops
were flown into a province in southern Afghanistan called Helmand.
There were reports that the Taliban had returned to the area and were becoming an increasing threat.
British troops were going in to see how real the threat was.
The first soldiers were dropped into towns in northern Helmand.
In the biggest town, Sangin,
they took over a derelict house
and turned it into their base.
The only footage that exists from that time
was shot by the soldiers themselves.
Among them was Jason Conway.
I knew that this was going to be significant and quite an eye-opener.
It was going to be almost going into the hornet's nest, as it were.
'I wanted to capture how I was feeling
'and what I was going through, along with the guys around me.'
Hello, mate. You don't mind me catching a couple of minutes here?
I'm doing a bit of head-torch filming.
-I have, got a little camcorder on here.
Right, this is our den of iniquity.
That's my pit,
gippin' as it is.
OK. That's where Big Steve lives.
The living conditions in the Sangin house were as basic as it gets.
The only provisions they had were what they could carry in with them.
And we'll pan onto Andy. And this is the tune that sets him alight.
Who else we got?
'You'd be surprised'
how the human body can cope.
You know, guys become quite primal and primitive.
Ah! Right, I'm going to have to really zoom in here, ain't I?
Sorry, fellows. Nope, they've just gone naked on me, haven't they?
Their job was to find out if there was a Taliban threat in Sangin
and they began to patrol the town.
On one of the first patrols was Trevor Coult -
a 31-year-old corporal who had just returned from Iraq.
The locals were a bit surprised to see us.
Every time we went out on patrol
they were just standing staring at us as if it was just...
"Who are these weird guys here?"
Early on, Trevor saw the first sign that the enemy was there.
We did a patrol and we came across a building
and it had Pashto writing on the building
and it actually said, "Taliban Headquarters,"
which was a bit strange and we all thought it was quite funny to have the Taliban Headquarters there.
Adam Swift was another of the first soldiers into Helmand.
He was based in Kajaki and Musa Qala.
One day I was looking through the binos, looking at somebody
in a white dishdash looking back at me through binos.
And he had a white turban on
and we were looking at each other and he was working out his ranges
for his mortars and everything, for his big attack
and I was looking at him going, "This is a bit surreal."
What the Taliban saw was a British Army spread thinly.
They were exposed and vulnerable and the Taliban knew it.
Slowly the Taliban let the British know that they were out there.
Jason Conway filmed the aftermath of some of the first shots fired.
I don't know.
'The threat was
'very, very real.'
The enemy knew that they were in range,
so it was just a matter of time.
The actual firefights didn't start straight away, but there was a lot of probing going on,
messages coming through the locals that it was going to come.
"They know you are here, they know your numbers,
"they know they can take you if they wanted to."
It seemed to change overnight, to be honest.
EXPLOSIONS AND HEAVY GUNFIRE
The Taliban appeared everywhere and began to smash every British base.
Give us fucking target indication!
The men were completely cut off from the outside world.
Jason filmed some of the only footage that exists
of those early Taliban attacks.
You're fighting on every level.
You're fighting for communications,
you're fighting for awareness, you're fighting to see the enemy.
You are completely focusing in on fighting to your back teeth.
You know, it was proper soldiering.
The Taliban were just unbelievable, to be honest with you. It was like the Alamo.
When you have, let's be honest, the best in the British Army
all pinned down at once, not being able to do a single thing,
you've got to ask yourself some questions.
Jason Conway's job was to find where Taliban rockets were coming from
and order British mortars and artillery to fire back.
Uniform, Quebec, 4522, left...
He filmed the damage inflicted by Taliban rockets
while men from another regiment had been on the rooftop.
One of them struck that building there, you can see
the entrance point.
There was three... three persons killed there.
And that was the first fatality within Sangin district centre.
In the first three months in Helmand, 14 British soldiers died,
more than had been killed in the previous five years of the war.
The men were trapped and facing disaster.
The mortar goes off, it's in camp.
The first thing you know is there's a massive explosion.
White flash, you're on the deck, there's dust everywhere, you can't see what's happening.
You can't hear a single thing cos your ears are deafened with explosion.
You look down, you see yourself,
you've got blood on your legs and arms
and you're wondering what's up. Shock just kicks in.
You look down your left, you see a guy lying to your left,
he's screaming, his abdomen's in bits.
The guy on your right is not screaming, so he's the one you're looking at.
But the first time, it's the first massive contact.
Mortar's landed, guys around you have been killed.
And you're OK, and you're wondering why you're OK.
"8th of June, 2006, got mortared again last night,
"sounds like the fuckers are back. Even longer this time.
"They're getting better all the time.
"Mortars fired at us...
"I'm having trouble identifying the firing point...
"Won't be long before they're landing in camp, just waiting for the next one.
"We're playing a game of making them think there are more of us than there actually is.
"This is fucking mad."
The fight with the Taliban had now lasted months instead of weeks.
The men faced a new threat - running out of supplies.
I went down to about... like, I was about eight stone two.
Just having a drink of water just for the sake of it, that all got cut out.
The way we worked it out,
you went to the toilet, if you were peeing white you were great,
if you were peeing yellow, dark yellow, then get a drink of water.
They were also running dangerously low on ammunition.
'We couldn't have sustained that much longer. I was low on my ammunition. Once that had gone,'
I'd be down to my rifle
and once my rifle had gone, there was nothing else there.
Things were so bad that in the dead of night
a desperate attempt was made to keep the men alive.
They gathered on the rooftop of the house in Sangin
waiting for a plane to drop vital supplies.
This is the moment it passed overhead.
But when the parachutes finally dropped
it was two kilometres away, deep in enemy territory.
With nothing to live on and nothing to fight the enemy with, some men
were told to prepare for being overrun, captured and tortured.
Anything with any of our names on,
any mail that had got out to us, was destroyed.
Any photos that we had of our families we destroyed, anything
with our names on was destroyed, cos we were expecting that this was...
this wasn't going to come out good.
"Last night was mad. About 17:30 the boss came up to my position,
"he told me there was over 1,000 Taliban coming to take our position,
"wished me luck, and fucked off.
"I killed a lot of Taliban last night,
"the fuckers just kept coming."
The British military were left with only one option...
..a massive bombing campaign driving the Taliban back
to save the men's lives.
You know, you're inflicting systematic violence to the extreme,
to say, "You're not going to kill me, I'm going to kill you cos I'm
"going to put something bigger and harder and nastier on you,"
in order to deter him from coming back and doing it again.
We have a splash.
That's fucking bang on, that.
But the bombing also destroyed the homes and lives of the local people of Helmand and although
it created a brief respite, the Taliban were not deterred.
As anyone will tell you that was there, within minutes or within about
maybe an hour someone would pop up from the same position
and engage you from now a pile of rubble.
After six months, the men were finally reached
and could tell the stories of what had happened in Helmand.
We're just trying to get an idea of what it's been like here
in the time you've been here, because no-one really knows.
We've seen this stuff coming in today but anyone in the UK,
they don't really know what's been going on. So give us an idea of...
Paint the worst picture of what it's been like.
That was me. I was a completely broken man there.
Well, it's the worst place I've been to. Worse than Baghdad.
Baghdad's like a walk in the park compared to here.
Do you think you've made any progress
in the time you've been here?
You'd have to ask someone higher than me.
-Yeah. But from your perspective?
-From my perspective, probably no.
And from everybody's perspective here, no. Mmm.
It's like the Alamo. We're stuck in this compound.
That's basically it.
-A tough enemy, as well?
-Oh, yeah, yeah. Toughest.
There was a lot of gruesome stuff took place.
People would go mad with some of the things that you have in your head, you know?
But no tablets can take it away.
The Taliban couldn't match the heavy firepower that was called into Helmand.
It was forced to find a new way of fighting back.
They perfected a deadly weapon
that became not only a physical threat but a psychological one.
Thousands of improvised explosive devices - or IEDs -
were hidden across Helmand.
The devices were triggered when soldiers drove over them...
Or stood on them...
-Jesus! Get back, now!
Despite efforts to stop them being laid, once concealed,
it was very difficult to combat the invisible threat of IEDs.
From 2006 onwards, the number of IED attacks soared.
By 2009, they were the number one killer
of British soldiers in Afghanistan.
In September of that year,
Captain Alex Rawlins led his men into Helmand on his first tour.
'I wanted to capture something to remind us of our tour.'
I liked the idea of being able to show my friends, or whoever,
"This is what we got up to in Helmand."
Alex was the commander of a platoon whose average age was 21.
This was the first tour for most of them as well.
How are you doing, you all right? Introduce yourself.
-I'm Guardsman Ashley.
All right! How are you feeling?
Yeah, not too bad. Nervous, but...
I suppose it's normal.
I kind of like had a bit of an ignorance to it.
I didn't really know too much about it,
so I was more than happy thinking,
"Oh, I'm just going to go in, a bit of John Wayne action,
"shoot the place up and do my own little bit."
My favourite chap from Folkestone. How you doing, all right?
When I first got out there, I didn't really know what...
what was going to happen. You see it on the news,
you're seeing fighting in the news and stuff like that.
You sort of...you think of the worst all the time,
you always think of the worst situation.
-Hello, what's your name?
Oh, I knew that! What's happening now?
I ain't got a clue to be honest with you, sir.
6 Platoon, it was a very, like, close platoon, everyone was like...
it was a small platoon as well so everyone was, like, very close.
We kept ourselves to ourselves.
It was good, like a big family, really.
-What's your name?
-Lance Corporal Maynard.
And what are you doing in Afghanistan?
Just in the gun group, pull the heavy machine gun.
You know, you need some big boys to fire the big fucking guns.
You know what I mean, son?
I had a great platoon. I mean, every man in my platoon,
I thought was brilliant. They all connected well and there were characters.
The platoon were based in the Nad Ali district of Helmand
and were responsible for an eight kilometre square area.
They lived at Forward Operating Base Wahid.
2 Company, baby!
All in all, not bad living for an Army soldier.
Those of us who are used to go on exercises and living in pretty dire
surroundings, this actually, believe it or not, is quite comfortable.
And I myself now have my own little room.
Check this out!
I went to Sandhurst in September 2006.
After university it was one of those things, all my friends
going off to the City and doing all their other jobs.
And I just knew that wasn't for me and that I wasn't ready for that.
So the obvious thing for me was to join the Army.
Officer admin right there, chucking your clothes all over the place.
Got my mortar tins to keep my stuff in, and my huge bed,
which is very comfortable.
Then obviously I need a divide.
Sometimes we need a separation between the men.
There is and there always has been an officer...officer/soldier divide.
And it needs to remain that way, you know?
And it's certainly...that's the way it is and that's the way it works.
I can guarantee it's more so the soldiers need to be away
from the officers, otherwise they get irritated with us because we're daft.
That fucking trumpet!
What a fucking idiot!
He's just a dickhead, in't he?!
Oh! Let's zoom in on that tense! Ooh!
Tense it! Come on, big guy!
Keeping Alex and the rest of the platoon in check
was Platoon Sergeant Chris Dougherty.
Doc had been in the Army for ten years
and was on his seventh operational tour.
-Film your boyfriend.
-There's only one man for me here.
Well, that's standard.
-Film him, then.
-Snap that f...finger...
The way that we'd try to run it,
myself and the Platoon Commander, we didn't want it to be strictly
a hardcore tour where they're always into a routine, you know,
they've got to be able to relax.
They've got to be happy, they've got to just chill out, you know?
And if they're not taking the mick out of each other,
there's something going wrong.
-Is that it?
Is that really it? You're an infantry soldier and that's it?
Yeah, but I still carry more shit than most of you lot, yeah?
-Remember that, yeah?
Oh, right in the fucking...!
Oh, what's happened, you all right?
Stray, you all right? You OK?
-Let me rub them.
Oh, don't worry, you've already had two kids, you don't need any more!
It's fine, you've got the twins to look after now.
That really hurt, didn't it?!
19 year-old Roy Stray left for his six-month tour
of Afghanistan just weeks after his twin daughters were born.
Joined in 2006.
It was about a week before my 18th birthday I joined the Army.
And my grandad, he said, "You get to travel the world,
"you meet really good friends and that." He says,
"The money's good," and he said,
"You get a lot of things out of the Army, which will...
"they'll look after you in years and years to come."
Right, our mission today is to clear compounds 24 and 23...
As Platoon Commander it was Alex's job to brief the men
before they went out on patrol.
..to assess atmospherics and to pick up a greater understanding of our area to the south.
Before I go on to the summary is everyone happy with that?
No-one's any confusion about what'll happen when they come under contact?
What are you smiling about?
-Guardsman Stray, how are you doing?
-All right, sir, cheers.
-How did you feel when you were back in England? Were you excited about coming out here, or...?
and I was a bit apprehensive about things, cos... I don't know
-what to expect. IEDs and stuff.
-Yeah, I was the same.
-You happy about what we're doing today, yeah?
-Yeah, I'm happy, sir, yeah.
-Bit nervous, like, but...
-This your first patrol?
It's one of those things. I went on my first one yesterday.
It was exciting.
It was the platoon's first patrol out on the ground.
Everybody's nervous before they go out. Anyone who says
they're not nervous on their first patrol is simply lying.
There's just no way. It's just not human to not care.
If something happens to me, don't forget to tell your mum I love her.
The first patrol, obviously everyone was a bit like,
nervous, obviously just going out on the first time,
no-one knows what to expect, obviously.
It was weird, everyone weren't talking. Even though everyone knows what to do, no-one was talking.
Yeah, when we were waiting for the all-clear to go, that's me there,
waiting to go out, waving to the camera.
You do expect to be literally sort of running for cover and expecting
explosions and bullets to be whipping round
and obviously that's not the case.
How are you, fellas, you good?
At the moment we're in a nomadic area and this is an influence patrol,
sort of maintaining the hearts and minds of...
the aspect of things. So we're up here visiting local nationals.
Alex and his platoon needed to get information
from the locals about whether the Taliban were in the area.
The first week or two, you get to know where you can fight
and where you can influence.
So the first few weeks you go out and do the influencing side of it,
so people get a feel for the locals and on the ground and all that sort of stuff.
You do the safer side first,
get used to it before you start going in and getting kinetic.
Would you say there's a lot of Taliban?
-It's the first time I'm going there.
It's the first time? Where's he from?
-We're living in a compound.
'It's sort of like going on a date, sort of thing.
'You try and find out things about them,
'they'll try and find out things.
'You've got to build their trust.'
Especially if you get things done for them,
they'll tell you more and more information about what
you want to know, sort of thing.
Enjoy your chocolate, your Wispa.
It's Wispa. We ain't got any more, you greedy thing!
Share it, OK?
The first couple of weeks passed
without 6 Platoon seeing any sign of the enemy.
-How's Afghanistan, is it living up to what you were expecting?
What were you expecting?
I was expecting
a lot more, you know...
Yeah. There's been a little bit here and there.
-What was that, for example?
-There we go!
-That was a pretty big bang!
What was that?
The platoon found themselves under attack from the Taliban
just after returning from a patrol.
-Come on, Ash, get a fucking move on!
Scotty, get your head down!
It's from Compound 24! Rapid!
Message for the Taliban, come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.
Cos we're actually from Bristol...
-Come on, you Taliban buggers!
11 o'clock, 600 metres. Right of Taunton...
Who fired the 66, you fired the 66?
No, you fired it. Was it a good shot?
-No, I slipped.
-You slipped? With a rocket launcher?
Fell about 40 metres short.
-That's a good waste of the taxpayers' money!
Parcel day at FOB Wahid.
Helicopter's just come in and brought us all the mail
that we haven't received for a good few weeks.
There's quite a lot of it.
Oh! By absolute chance, there's one for me!
You got anything, Iggy?
Iggy-Iggy boom, biggy-biggy, diggy-diggy-diggy, hey!
When you know there's mail,
you build yourself up so much, "Yeah, I got mail,
"I must have, there's five bags."
You start sieving through it and you're looking for your name.
And you're like, "Yeah, Jones, here you go, mate.
"Oh, shit, Jones, here you go again, mate. Oh, Jones again."
-Just a load of shit, that's not for me.
-You got anything, Tommo?
I'm not going to get anything, cos my missus is shit.
Take that back!
Are they all for you? No, Jones.
Oh, thank you! Oh, Christmas time...
'But then, give Jones... Fair one to them, he did come over and say,'
"Here you are, mate. Here's some chocolate biscuits," or whatever.
"I'm going to make some scoff in a bit, come have some with me."
-What are you doing?
-Just writing a letter, sir.
-Who are you writing a letter to?
-To my fiancee.
-Just got one today.
-Bit of morale.
More importantly, what have you done to your face, then, hey?!
You don't want to know, sir.
-What did you do to your face?!
-Well, do you want the real story...
..or the story which will be going around at home?
Whichever's more interesting.
No. I was in a sangar, gobbing off, doing my job like usual and...
..hit myself with a mini flare.
-I said, "I hit myself with a mini flare."
-You hit yourself with a mini flare?!
-Well, I didn't hit myself.
-It popped up on the side...
-What's it done to your face?
-Just gave me a couple of burns on the side, that's it.
Nothing dramatic, still going out the next day,
doing my job like usual.
That'll teach you for being a mong, really, won't it?
-I'm not really a mong, sir.
I can think of plenty of other people who are mongs.
Oh! There's no-one behind me, so you must be looking at me.
No, I'm just looking at, um... um...
Isn't it great?
The morale board.
Each girl here, a genuine girlfriend of one of the platoon.
HE HUMS ALONG TO THE MUSIC
Wooh! Here comes the moves!
We used to have a dance-off, like, whenever, whenever we could.
We'd always have an iPod and a docking station, so there was always music.
Everyone was listening to all different types of music,
bar Fridays, we couldn't play dance music on a Friday or a Saturday,
cos then it would make everyone want to go out on the town,
so we had to stop playing all that stuff.
-What are you eating?
-Er, chocolate pudding and custard.
Straight from the ten man ration pack. Ration pack's finest.
This is a tune, here. This is the Audio Bullys.
# There's things I haven't told you I go out late at night... #
HE STRUMS GUITAR
So my mood's cheered up
since I got this thing, it's worked.
# Hope floats through the waters
# Cushions the fall
# We've seen it all
# It's all in your hands
# Do you understand you can do what you wa-a-ant? #
Oh, he's got an audience!
Where the civvies are now, where they're congregating...
The platoon started to patrol further afield, led by Alex and Doc.
'So if I was to suggest that, obviously, as Platoon Commander I was the daddy of the platoon,'
then you being Platoon Sergeant, that makes you the mummy of the platoon,
-would you agree with that?
All the time, he used to say that. He just wanted a reaction.
Because he knew that he was my bitch, and, er...
the boys used to come to me before him.
Like you were told from the beginning of this tour, you're the figurehead. You sign paperwork.
Alex is a bit of a joker, he just messes around all the time.
Give me that fucking camera.
Now, look at him now, look.
Now he's getting into a fucking firing position.
I'll have you know, I'm always, always ready for action.
But he's brilliant out on the ground.
Professionalism, he's on the money.
When it comes to it, he is on the money, he's got it.
I'd never tell him that, though.
I'd never tell him that.
Just as Alex and the platoon were getting comfortable,
they came face-to-face with Helmand's biggest threat.
I've just found an IED up on the road.
Well, potential, what we think could be...
As you can see, it's disturbed earth, plastic bag there with metal inside it.
And that'll be the pressure plate, it looks like it's more for a vehicle.
And that's the boom.
If one of the platoon had stood on this metal plate, it would have meant serious injury or death.
'You are very conscious'
of where you put your feet, and it was as simple as that, I think.
It just meant that we had to be more cautious and more diligent
in the way that we patrolled and applied ourselves to patrolling.
-Well done, H! Happy with that?
Right, we'll crack on, then.
'You find one'
and you take care of it but you know there's hundreds more out there.
It's literally just picking
a safe route through them all.
BLAST OF EXPLOSION
In 2009, IEDs caused three-quarters of all British casualties in Helmand.
To counter the threat, every patrol had a soldier at the front
with a metal detector called a Vallon.
In Alex's platoon, the two main Vallon men were Jamie Janes and Rob Ashley.
Me and Jamie used to take it in turns, and it is a really difficult job.
I mean, when you're swinging your arm for that amount of time,
and the Vallon, it's not heavy but it's not a light bit of kit.
Really, the front man, he's going to have his eyes fixed on the floor.
He's going to be sweeping,
he's going to do everything that's possible
to clear the route, so really, technically, your front man is a blind man.
'So he's sort of the blind man leading everybody else.'
Go left, that's it.
'You've got the threat of the IEDs, whether it be in a tree, on the floor, in a wall.
'And then you've also got the threat of being shot as well.'
In-between my legs, lads.
But you do get used to it. You sort of put it all to the back of your head
and you sort of just crack on, really.
Pushing east towards one-five.
You've got to have pretty big balls to do it.
At first I thought, "Why would you want to do it?"
But then you realise that, at the end of the day,
you are looking after your mates.
Despite the IED threat, 6 Platoon were settling in well and beginning to feel at home.
You know, if you weren't out on the ground
because you're either looking for insurgents
or you weren't doing something soldierly,
you could enjoy yourself and think, "This is a really lovely place."
Oh, my lighter!
-Why are you wet?
-Been in the river?
-Yeah. Nice and refreshing.
Everybody was sort of getting confident
and you was getting used to everything about it.
It was like, "Yeah, this ain't that bad."
Op Massive is on the go. There's, like...
Oh! Don't even need to zoom in on those bad boys!
-You're not doing a workout, why not?
-Because I'm going to go out and kill people.
You need to get all pumped up before you go and do that.
Yeah, but then in case somebody else gets hurt, I need my energy to fucking get them back.
That's...might be true.
But no-one's going to get hurt, are they?
-Come on, Stray, get yours out. Let's see what you've got.
My Op Massive...
TRUMPET IS PLAYED BADLY
'They'll always arse around. Blokes will always arse around,'
which, to be fair, they should do, cos they are young lads.
'However, you've got to keep an eye on it because it is easy to get complacent.
'In fact, it's not even complacent.'
It's more relaxed.
You know, you just relax into it so quickly and so easily,
and then the blokes will just sort of skim across it.
There was one occasion which I particularly remember
where they were out on patrol and they literally...
Nobody was injured from it, but it didn't feel right.
It felt as though they were cutting corners. I got the whole platoon together,
had a word with them all -
it was more the confidence was just too high.
You go in front of me.
It's like seeing your kids off to school, isn't it, hey?
-Got to look after them, haven't you?
-Off they go!
Look at you, this little sweetheart.
Early one morning, a small section of Alex's men went out with another platoon.
Jamie Janes was the Vallon man.
Went out on patrol, everything was fine.
No dramas there.
So a section moves up with Jamie in front Valloning.
And he sort of stood there for a second. I looked around.
He was sort of there, shaking his head,
"Oh, it's fucking hot," or whatever it was. I was like, "Yeah, I know.
"I'm shitting it, mate." Carried on observing.
I turned back round, I'm sort of like sat down now,
with my back away...towards Jamie,
and then there was an explosion, er...
I looked round and there was fucking dust everywhere.
Well, I weren't that far away from it,
I was only about seven or eight foot away from it, from when it went off.
So I just heard the explosion.
I seen a load of dust everywhere.
I thought, "Right. It's obviously an IED."
I looked at Jeffs cos he was the end man, and I was like, "Fuck!"
I just remember shouting, "Fuck, fuck, what the fuck's going on?!"
All the stones and the debris comes raining down and you just feel it pinging on your helmet.
It was weird, it was like kind of a silence.
It was quiet and then next thing you know, erm...
heard a bit of screaming up at the front.
I could hear, "Ash! Ash! Medic! Ash! Ash!" screaming and shouting.
I was like, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, what's going on here?"
I go over, straightaway I see a number of bodies lying round.
I was like, "Oof! Fucking hell," like...
And I seen, obviously, Jamie.
And it was horrendous.
He was one of my mates.
Rob, the trained medic, had to deal with injuries to four of his mates
but the most badly injured was Jamie, who had stepped on the IED,
losing both his arms and both his legs.
Straightaway I was wanging tourniquets on both Jamie's legs.
Wanged one on his right arm. Stray was there.
I was like, "Stray, start smashing a tourniquet on his other arm."
It happened so quick that you sort of...
You haven't got time to think, sort of thing,
but then your training just kicks in straightaway.
We were getting a response off Jamie. We was getting something.
I was like, "Jamie, what have you gone and done now?
"Fucking showing off, ain't you?"
Chatting away, trying to talk and to get a response.
And he was like, "Errr," making noises.
And I thought, "Fucking hell," do you know what I mean?
And in my mind I was like, "He's going to be all right.
"A bit roughed up but, you know, he should be all right."
Back at base, Doc and Alex could only listen to events unfold on the radio.
I heard the explosion and I remember literally thinking, "Boom,"
and everything was going off. I went straight to the Ops room
and remember hearing Sergeant Harris' voice
and thinking, "Shit. It's my platoon."
As a Platoon Sergeant, how does that make you feel?
Erm...to be honest, it was crap.
It was, it was shit, because obviously it was my section,
it was my platoon, and we weren't out on the ground with them.
Cos at the beginning of the tour I said to the guys,
"You're not going to always agree with what I say, you're not always going to like me,
"but I will always get you out of danger if it arises."
But I wasn't there for that, you know, so useless, really.
The guys on the ground fought their way back to base, where they were met by Doc and Alex.
To be able to actually be there when the guys came in
in that situation was a good thing.
Because, you know, obviously, er...
it was a very, very difficult situation.
It sort of doesn't hit you when you're out on the ground, it's when you get back in.
That's when it hits you hard.
And then Afghan starts to hit home then.
It starts to hit home then.
It's not training, it's real life then. It's real life.
The way in which I felt best to cope with that situation
was to just let them talk,
because their adrenaline was sky high, you know.
I had to reassure them.
When Rob Ashley...when he came in, he was like, "I did all I could, I did all I could.
"I tried my best, I tried my best." You've got to reassure him, because he did his best.
And what he did was right, he didn't do anything wrong.
The same as Roy Stray, he was high as a kite.
He really was, his adrenaline was pumping so much, you know.
And as it started to come down, that's when they need you to be there,
you've got to reassure and listen. When they come down, you're the shoulder to cry on.
Shortly after the men returned to base, Doc and Alex called them all together.
Doc came over and said, "I want to speak to the whole platoon."
And I remember looking over at Doc, and his face.
I just knew it straightaway.
His eyes started filling up.
It was a complete nightmare.
And that's the stage I had to say to them unfortunately Jamie hadn't made it, erm...
and that was it.
As soon as the boys found out,
some of them didn't really know what to do,
some of them didn't know how to cry or what.
But some of the lads, like myself, just broke down.
Jamie was the 220th British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.
He was the fifth generation of his family to have joined the Army.
Erm...well, there's no set...
It's not written how you deal with it.
The thing for us was that we did know each other well at that point.
And we separated ourselves, it was us,
the platoon, was on our own and we sort of, we sort of...
we, um...yeah, dealt with it as a platoon.
For it to happen to a man who's already been out there and a senior bloke,
and Jamie was a switched-on bloke as well, you think,
"Right, you're not invincible."
Regardless of who you are, where you've been, what you've done.
It don't matter. You're not fucking Rambo.
It was massive.
and it brought it home.
When any British soldier is killed in action,
the Prime Minister writes a letter to the bereaved family.
Gordon Brown sent a letter to Jamie's mum,
Jacqui, littered with spelling mistakes,
and he mispronounced Jamie's name in Parliament.
..Grenadier Guards, Guardsman Jamie James.
Tonight, a mother's despair - a gesture by the Prime Minister, exposure by a newspaper.
It caused a political storm
and Jamie's death marked a turning point in the public's awareness
of how many young soldiers were being killed by IEDs in Helmand.
2009 had become the bloodiest year of the war so far.
NEWS REPORT: But Gordon Brown has spoken to Jacqui Janes,
and is said to be mortified by any upset he may have caused her.
But for Alex and the men, it was an unwanted controversy.
It was...huge frustration, really.
It's irrelevant, isn't it?
All of that was irrelevant for us, when we were out there.
But the general frustration was more that that was happening as opposed to simply
the memory of him and of what had happened.
The rich man stores up all his possessions,
gets all the good and nice things in life,
and yet when confronted with death,
it counts for nothing.
Jamie's death had shaken the whole platoon and morale was low.
It would be the toughest test for the soldiers and Alex and Doc's leadership.
Use the time wisely.
Think about the big things.
Don't just let it drift past you.
Alex continued filming as the platoon moved to a new base in Helmand.
This one is slightly different.
We've got compounds surrounding us on all sides
and the atmosphere here is, er...
slightly less friendly.
But Alex's time with his men was nearly over.
He was going home for good just after Christmas.
-How are you?
In the few weeks he had left, he had to make sure no more men were lost and no mistakes were made.
They were angry. They WERE angry.
The guys had a hunger to go out and try and get a bit of...
How should I say it?
How do you say it? Is it trying to get a bit of, erm...
Soon after they arrived at their new base, they got into a Taliban firefight.
RAPID AND PROLONGED GUNFIRE
It does feel like that, revenge.
It does feel like you want to get your own back,
because it feels like they've got one up on you.
I mean, yeah, obviously, you do get massively angry.
I mean, at the end of the day they've hurt your mates,
they've killed one of your mates, and they're trying to shoot you.
Swifty! Get your breath back before you go out there!
Get your breath back!
If the men let their anger get the better of them,
it could put their lives or the lives of civilians at risk.
They had to fight by the rules.
-Where are you, mate?
-'It's very, very frustrating, erm...'
because, you know, if you knew where someone was shooting at you from,
you'd just think, "Let's just drop a bomb on him."
But the reality is that's not the only problem.
There's a guy shooting at you but that's not the ONLY problem.
The other problems are, "Where are the civilians? Where are my men?"
So there's a lot more to think about and it is frustrating
but at the same time, actually, it keeps you in check
and it prevents you from being rash
and it prevents you from making decisions that you shouldn't make.
The pace of life has not slowed down necessarily, but it's more controlled,
as it was slightly... slightly crazy at times.
In Alex's final days, the men open up to him about how the loss of Jamie had affected them.
-A lot of people say that they've seen a change in me since I've been out here.
I've grown up a lot more, because I was...
I was childish before I come out here, very childish.
I'm, like, thinking of things, I sort of...
I don't know, I sort of...
How do you find the best way to deal with difficult situations out here has been?
Um...just talk about it. Talk about it as much as you can.
Get as much off your chest.
I think the more you think about it,
the more it's going to affect you and fuck your head up.
It sounds selfish and horrible
but you've got to push it to the back of your mind and just think,
"Right, what's happened happened. I'm still here.
"I've still got to get through this, through this tour."
You just have to try and forget about it.
-It sounds horrible, but you think about it when you get home...
-..and mourn over it then.
That's why... That's the way I'm playing it.
'The ability to be able to talk to each other
'and be very honest and open is what pulled people through.
'Personally, if I'm being very honest about the way that I dealt with it,'
something for me closed off for the rest of the tour
and I just didn't think about it.
I'm being very honest about it because, you know,
you'd expect to say it was something that I thought about
and I really, really, you know, but I didn't.
Psychologically I just went joof.
Ah, Sergeant Dougherty.
Not in a good mood today, I see? HE LAUGHS
-Do you want a hug?
-No, I don't want a...
-Is now a hug time? Now's a hug time, isn't it?
-I don't want a hug.
-Now is a hug time.
-I don't want a hug.
-Come on, let's hug!
'You change things, blokes notice the change.'
And he knew that. He knew the minute he stopped getting that stupid trumpet out
and waking people up in the mornings, they'd be like,
"Well, hang on, this is all changing, this isn't right."
He kept on annoying people.
He'd still be an idiot, he'd still play his guitar and all that sort of stuff.
# If I was a woman
# I'd be so good-looking
-# And my breasts would be perfect... #
-'The morale that that brought was priceless.
'Everyone used to just get together and used to just sit around, you know, in the dark or whatever
'with the candles on and he'd be sitting there playing, singing along.'
# With our girlfriends Wearing so little, little things
# We'd dance, yes, and drink until we're drunk
# Hoping to meet a boy like me. #
APPLAUSE All right!
'They're brilliant. They've come through it well.'
They've got each other through it.
Obviously there's moments where they all think about it.
They've got their own way of dealing with things, but they just fight through.
They're going to be a bit gutted. Obviously, they know that you're going and that,
but it's going to be different.
Not in so much a bad way, but it is going to be different.
Because they ain't going to suck you off but you are all right.
-I'm all right?
-You are all right.
-All right! I've passed the Platoon Sergeant test!
It's Christmas morning
and we're going round from tent to tent
waking everybody up with a little bit of Christmas grog.
PARTY BLOWERS BLARE
There you go, mate. Merry Christmas.
PARTY BLOWERS CONTINUE TO BLARE
Pack that in, would you?
-So you're going to have to open these doors.
-I can't see.
Got all the Christmas presents. You're like a military Santa Claus.
-Turn the light off already.
How are you? You all right?
-Happy Christmas, boss.
-Happy Christmas. When are you on stag?
-Oh, that's all right, isn't it? You get to sleep some more.
I need it.
-This is our Christmas lunch!
-Not bad for Afghan pizza.
Can't complain about that in the field.
-Fucking hell, that's hot.
-Look at that!
Having Christmas pudding tonight and tomorrow.
-Does it feel like Christmas?
-Does it fuck?
-How's life, Straz?
-Yeah, all right.
It's good. Going home today on R&R.
-What time are you flying out?
-You looking forward to it?
Really looking forward it.
I won't be around when you get back.
-That's the worst thing about it all.
-How are you going to cope?
-How are you going to sleep at night knowing that I'm not there?
-Don't know. I really don't know.
-I understand your pain.
I understand yours too, boss.
I haven't got any pain.
-You have a good R&R.
-I'll try to. I will try.
You don't need to try, just go back and enjoy it.
-Have a nice R&R, Stray.
Have a nice R&R. Have a good one.
Soon after, Alex left his men behind and flew back to the UK.
Three months later, the platoon followed.
They completed the rest of the tour without taking any more casualties.
Since returning from Afghanistan, Alex has decided to leave the Army.
'You've got to take that risk of leaving something that you love in order to see what else can happen.'
That was always the plan.
But it's not as if... it's not an easy decision.
And a year after returning from Helmand,
the other members of the platoon have an equally difficult decision to make.
-Do you want to go again?
I thought... I've said within myself,
"I'll do another tour, see where it goes from there, really," you know.
The choice is still mine at the moment.
But I'm waiting out for the moment.
I don't want to start doing anything too crazy.
'I've worked with some of the best guys I think I'll ever work with,
'and it was just good to see
'the bond that people can form in such a short period of time.'
So it's a bit of both, really, it was good and bad.
I don't want to go back. No, I do.
'Do you want to go again?'
I don't know yet.
I don't know. It's still niggling at the back of my mind, but...
I'm sure I'll probably end up going again.
BLAST OF EXPLOSION
IEDs had turned the war into a nightmare,
but British troops now had a new challenge...
Get down! Get down!
..finding a way out of the chaos by training an army...
You've got to ask to what extent can these guys be trusted?
Watch where you're fucking shooting!
..and protecting those caught in the crossfire.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd