Gethin Jones is in Afghanistan to honour those that have fought there as well as reflecting on all the other servicemen and women who have taken part in past conflicts.
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I am in Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, the heart of British
operations in Afghanistan. In the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday, we
will be celebrating the heroic jobs that our armed forces do, as well
as reflecting on those who have given their lives both here and in
past conflicts around the world. This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday,
the day we all are those who have given their lives for our country.
-- the day we honour those who have given their lives for our country.
We followed D-Day veteran John Shanahan on an emotional journey
back to Normandy. We had to run up the beach and get out of it.
visit an Afghanistan school in the middle of the notorious Green Zone.
Can we shake hands? And we hear the courageous story of
a Royal Marine who survived a Taliban bomb. I thought, this is it,
nothing is going to stop me now. The term band of brothers is often
used to describe the camaraderie in the armed forces. Our next story
shows how deep those bonds are and how they can last forever. In 1982,
these four young lads were just 17 years old and were true brothers in
arms. 29 years on, Mark Eyles- Thomas fondly remembers his friends.
Jason Bert was an eastender, a Londoner, very good looking, a
handsome chap. He knew that and could work that with the ladies.
Neil Grouse - he talked to his family all the time -- talked of
his family all the time. Neil Scriven is was from Yeovil in the
West Country, top funny and had a tractor. But he didn't.
Mark, Jason, meal and Ian were junior Paras, the first step to
becoming part of one of the most elite units in the British Army -
the Parachute Regiment. When you pass out it is the proudest day of
your life. I am not sure a lot of people understand what you have
gone through. It does not matter how bad the situation is, you are
still expected to go one. There is still more you can do. I was part
of one of the greatest regiment's the British Army has ever had.
He in April 1982, at their unit was sent to the Falkland Islands, are
remote UK or overseas territory in the South Atlantic which had been
invaded by Argentinian forces. are with your friends. We were
cocky little 16-year-olds. Imagine what we're going to be like when we
wait -- when we get back - there will be medals, money...
For these inexperienced soldiers, the reality of war was about to hit
home. The command was given to secure Mount Longdon, a key
Argentinian vantage point. Before the operation we managed to stay
together in the morning just to say happy 18th birthday to Neil Grouse.
All we had was a cup of tea and a quick chat, saying happy birthday
and let's hope it's a good party this evening, that kind of thing.
Because of what we're doing tonight, when we get back we will make sure
it is a super special one. But, for this group of boys, success would
come at a high price. As they prepared to go to battle, 3 Para's
commanding officer addressed his men. It ended with the words, may
God go with you. It was the first time I thought, some of us are not
coming back. The realisation hit me like nothing else that hit me
during the period I was there. Mount Longdon was six kilometres
from their base, there for the element of surprise was vital. As
they moved forward, they walked straight into a minefield. All hell
breaks loose -- broke loose from that moment. The whole place
erupted with fire. Your instinct is to go to ground and take cover, but
you are in a minefield. My whole body knew what was going on. The
weapon was shaking in my hand. Whether that was from the cold or
from the intensity of the moment or fear, it does not matter. This is
the biggest fireworks display you have ever seen in your life. There
was no fun behind it. It was just sheer violence.
Mark, Jason, Ian and Neil made it through the minefield unscathed and
continued their advance with the unit to Mount Longdon. The initial
parts of getting up to Mount Longdon were chaos. It is pitch-
dark. You would pick up the occasional silhouette moving. It
could be an Argentinian or one of your own. You did not know. You
could hear Spanish being spoken, or whatever, it was that close. It
would be to the right and to the left. It was absolute chaos. When
they reached the base of Mount Longdon, the atmosphere changed
dramatically. It was a full moon that night and you could see the
glint of the beer nets and the metal. You could see your breath in
front of you. Time just stands still. There is no noise whatsoever.
And then charge. This has to happen quickly and all the time you are
running across that ground you are vulnerable. They were under attack
from Argentinian snipers positioned on high ground. As we were running
I felt Jason go down. I retraced my steps and there he was, lying with
his face down. I turned him on to one shoulder. He had been shot.
17-year-old Jason Bert died instantly but Mark had no time to
grieve as another of his friends was badly winded. It was then that
Scrivs called out again to say, he is in a bad way. Scrivs had
stabilised him and the dressing over Derwent. -- all over the
warned. Scrivs said, we cannot stay here. We are out in the open and
eventually the snipers will get us. I put my hand on to say, we will
move the mind what we will do is... And as I did that he was shot and
he just slumped. Ian Scrivens had lost his life in
the line of duty. On his birthday and in a life-threatening condition,
Neil Grouse was stretchered off the mountain. I held Grouse and I think
he knew that this was it. He spoke of his family, of how much he loved
them. Incredibly brave with his impending fate. He actually thanked
me. He said, thanks, Tom. Two words. Just personal moments. Very
difficult. Mark's three best friends had all made the ultimate
sacrifice. You know it is all over. Jason's bet, Ian is dead and Neil
is dead. -- Jason is dead. Their lives and those of other
soldiers are commemorated here at Aldershot Cemetery. I love coming
here. I sit on a bench, have a drink, have a chat, tell them what
is going on in my life. These are just their new bed spaces. That is
where the rest. The truth is that you're coming to visit friends,
Afghanistan has been a war zone for over 30 years and, as a result,
local communities have been destroyed. Everything we take for
granted back home, like running water, electricity and education,
are non-existent here. There is a team in the British armed forces
working alongside the local people to change this. I am flying to
Checkpoint Jeka in the heart of Helmand's infamous Green Zone. In
the past, areas like these have been ruined by brittle fighting, so
I am here to find out from Sergeant Neil Shinner how the British troops
are helping to rebuild these local innocent communities. Back home in
the UK, we hear a lot about the bad news, the fighting, the kinetic
activity. It is not all negative, is it? You are part of the positive.
It can be positive. I operate as a stabilisation operator.
Stabilisation seems to be the big word here - what does it mean?
put it in context, in the UK we take everything for granted. We
have schools, hospitals, medical centres decent roads. In this
country, there is nothing. British troops like Neil are walking hand-
in-hand with Afghan soldiers and civilians in a number of community
projects. They build roads and drilled wells, but the most
important thing is education. Neil is taking me to see a newly built
school. We're going to be on foot patrol. We still have to be in all
the gear. My particular favourite is the nappy. It might not look the
best but it is all about protection. It is just up there. That is
Helmand, that is where the danger is. We have a team around us, just
in case. The moment we walk out of these gates we will be exposed to
the threat of attack. We are in the heart of the Green Zone, then.
Very peaceful, isn't it? At the moment! However, I would probably
say that, two years ago it would have been a different story around
this area. It is predominantly a farming community. A lot of them
have fruit trees, pomegranates. This is the school. This is it?
It is not the kind of standard you would probably see in the UK. This
is a typical classroom. As you can see, anyone looking at this in the
UK will probably think that it does not look much, but once we have
carpets down, pillows that they sit on, the drawing board and a teacher,
we have kids learning. The school is a massive part of any community.
Restoring trust in the local authorities and local police, you
can do that through a school. I think we have our first pupils.
Hello. Shake hands? When you can count to 10 I will give you my
watch! The children I have met today will
finally have a base, somewhere to come to every day to get their
education. Hopefully they will not be influenced in the future by the
Taliban and they will take a different route. That route will be
As we head back to the base, the atmosphere changes around us. Have
you seen something? Just to be on the safe side. The guards have been
spooked by something. It is such a strange thing, but such a peaceful
community can change just like that. But improvements are being made, so
hopefully, these children will have a safe place to live very soon.
have a saying, the people are the prize. Everybody here believes that.
Eventually, we will be able to leave this country in a better
During the Second World War, the role of women was vital, whether it
was delivering Speck fires or working the fields for the Land
Army. But there was another theatre nurse and they were indispensable.
It has been 70 years since Jane took to the season as part of the
war effort. And she returns to where it all began, at the Royal
Naval College in Greenwich. I was just an ordinary country girl, and
to come here, to something so special, it really took my breath
away. All these windows were blacked out, and there was a
minimal of lighting. I don't know, it's just as wonderful memories,
I'm just so lucky to be back here. In 1939, Jane Eldridge was just 19
years old, working as a driver on the Isle of Wight. The war had not
actually started, but everybody was prepared. It was while I was
ambulance driving, I thought, one wanted to do more than this. And so
I applied to join the Wrens. I did not know anything about it. My
mother was most upset. She said, you're living at home, earning �3 a
week, what more do you want? Jane's application was successful.
You went straight to work. You had these awful thick tights, and you
had a great big knickers with elastic around the knees, they were
called Taxi cheaters. We had to carry gas masks and tin hats. You
used your gas mark as a handbag, for your lipstick. Jane originally
joined as a driver, and after only 18 months, her talent was obvious.
I think it was the best promotion one could possibly have. Wrens,
Jane had married early, before their husbands were sent to fight
for their country. They did everything they could in order to
meet their husbands, or to know how they were getting on. Jane's
husband, Jim, was posted to Italy. Then, an amazing opportunity arose.
They asked for volunteers to go and work on troop ships. I thought, it
sounds wonderful, I might see my husband. But they had to have a
naval officer on board to button up or unbuttoned messages, because it
had to be an officer for secret messages. And so it meant if we
went, it would release men to go and do rather more serious jobs.
Suffering was decoding covert communication, and now Jane was an
officer, she readily accepted. In 1943 she received instructions for
her first mission. A signal came through to say, would I take a
fortnight's leave, collect tropical kit and report to King's Cross
station? The train was in, so we were sent to a particular carriage,
which I did. I found two or three other girls like myself, and none
of us knew why we were there, none of us had a clue. And so we just
watched. As we watched, it got later and later, and rather more
important people kept on passing us as we looked out of the window.
little did she know just how important this entourage would be.
She soon found out, when she arrived at her destination and
boarded one of the largest ships in World War II. Queen Mary, which had
been an ocean liner, she was now a troopship. She had thousands of
people on board. On board there was a great big lady's bicycle,
extraordinary, we used to call them sit-up-and-beg bicycles. It was
rather strange. But when we got on board, we found that we were with
Churchill and his chiefs of staff, and the bicycle had been a decoy,
to think that we were probably taking Queen Wilhemina from Holland,
we were going on board as her staff, and she was being evacuated to
Canada. Queen Wilhemina was famously known for cycling around
Amsterdam. Although the chiefs of staff were on board, we did not see
them at all. There was really no communication, except the signals
that came through. We had to put all of this into cipher, all their
discussions, and send it back probably to the Cabinet in England.
Working in pairs, Jane was among those translating secret messages
to the Prime Minister, who was on his way to a secret conference in
Canada. And then we had messages back from the Cabinet which we had
to decipher for the Chiefs of Staff. You read the message afterwards to
see if it made sense, but you did not really take it in, because you
had to get on with the next one. And some of them were very long,
because they were beginning to plan the invasion. Preparations were
already under way for D-Day, so these messages were vitally
important. We had these huge books which we had to refer to, and these
books had covers that were made of lead, so that they were desperately
heavy. So, if they had these books at sea, they would sink. If you
made one mistake, that could mean a whole ship, for some reason or
another, could be identified by the enemy. The Royal Navy fought
admirably in the Second World War, but it came at a high price, with
over 50,000 souls lost at sea. did not think about danger, you
were too busy. You just joined in with it. When you think, there were
hundreds of other people all in the same boat, as it were! It did not
worry you. Being at sea for months at a time, it was important to keep
fit. We used to go for exercise on board, and it was a long way around
the ship, it really was. And it was very windy, I don't know how many
knots we were doing an hour, but it was pretty fast. Jane has
successfully completed her first tour of duty, and she then went one
step further to spend time with her husband. All leave had been stopped,
and I thought, how am I going to get back down to Camberley to meet
him? We hardly ever saw each other. I had this sore throat business, so
I went to see the local doctor and said, do you think it would help if
I had my tonsils out? He said, yes, I do. He said, when can you come?
So I said, next week. For four years, Jane sailed around the world
decoding messages, and then some unexpected news came, to put an end
to her OC adventures. I found there was having my daughter, so I came
out of the Wrens. And that was the end of that. I had never dreamt
that I would have the privilege of doing things like this. It is a
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the British mission
here in Afghanistan. And for many, it has changed their lives for ever.
This couple met when they were just 16 years old. Little did they know
it would be the beginning of a very special journey. As corny as it
sounds, I was the waitress and he worked in the kitchen. I really
enjoyed working with her, she had a great personality and sense of
humour. And good looks, which always helps! We had a little bit
of an involvement then, but it never became anything special. So,
we go back a long way. But they soon drifted apart, and Peter
decided he needed a serious challenge. I don't know what, it
just went off in my head, what about the Marines? Why not? Let's
give it a go. I definitely felt I was bulletproof, I was 6 foot tall,
I think every Marine feels like that. In 2008, he was nearing the
end of his second tour of Afghanistan when his life was
turned upside down. That morning we were literally just packing up the
vehicles, the mission had been finished, and we were on the move
back to Camp Bastion. And then it would have been just 10 or 11 days
and we would have been flying home. Ours was the second to last vehicle,
and military just started to move off, and that's all I can remember.
Peter's vehicle had driven over a buried bomb. He lost both his legs,
suffered severe burns and had a fractured spine. I first real
memory of it, I was lying in Selly Oak Hospital, and obviously I could
not sit up. In my head, I was just thinking, this is it, that's me,
done and dusted. What have I got, got no legs? Can't even sit up,
can't do anything, who's going to love me? Despite being a double
amputee, the first hurdle he had to face was a major back operation,
which was successful. After that, I knew, this is it, nothing's going
to stop me now, simple as. This is done, I'm getting out of here.
in an awe-inspiring three months, he was ready to be fitted with two
prosthetic legs. When I put them on for the first time, it was
brilliant, I just felt, nothing's going to get in my way. He quickly
mastered the art of walking, but this was just the beginning. I had
the offer of doing two weeks skiing in Bavaria. So I thought, why not
try it out? It took a lot of messing about to get the balance.
At the start we were trying to guess how many falls I had each
week! But now, it is just brilliant. I loved flying around the piste at
stupid miles an hour, and getting told off for going too fast.
Through the grapevine, Laura had learned of Peter's injuries. I just
wanted to be friends again, because I realised that actually, life is
too short, and it was very nearly him not coming home. So I thought,
right, stop being too proud. So I dropped him a message and very
quickly got a reply back. I replied, of course I remember you, could not
really forget you. We just started chatting, then we met up. When he
gave me a hug outside the pub, it was like we had just rewound a
couple of years, and we could still be 16. When we first met up, I felt,
yes, I do still have feelings for her, obviously, otherwise I would
not be feeling like this right now. It did not take long for a bit of a
romance to start-up. Then he told me that the ski season was about to
start. Although we went on our first proper date, and we could
officially be a couple, he was going to leave the country for the
best part of six months to learn how to ski, and to ski race, and
that was going to be a big turning point in my life. Peter was
learning to take part in the original. And Lawro would be there
for him wherever he was in the world. -- Laura. If I was ever
feeling low, I would phone up, and within five minutes I would have a
big smile back on my face. highs were him picking up gold
medals. I have had phone calls at work to say, I have just won a gold.
You want to be there to give that person a big hug and kiss. Whenever
possible, she travels to be by his side. The cheering him on from the
sidelines is not always easy. I heard that he had crashed out and
the doctor was with him, it was very much just basically waiting
for every minute to take by until I saw something that showed me that
In March 2010, Pete was asked to carry the Paralympic torch in
Vancouver. I couldn't ask for anything better, really, to be
honest. I had a proper, cheesy, proud girlfriend grin.
Pete had a sudden change of plan. Next minute, he gets off the bus
and I am thinking, what are you doing? We have already said goodbye
I am just waiting -- goodbye,... texting a couple of the lads on the
coach to say, do me a favour, get everyone to look this way. He was
texting on his telephone and I was thinking, I am upset, we're going
to have to go through all the rigmarole of goodbye again and you
are texting somebody. I said, of course, darling, I am going to miss
you very much. I was keeping an eye out and she could see me. She said,
what are you looking at? Everyone was there. I got down on one knee
and asked her to marry me. And I was just so blown away. Obviously,
the answer was yes. And the next thing was, you better be able to
get back up of that need! I cannot live duo of the floor!
Then Pete was offered the chance of a lifetime - to be part of the
British Paralympics ski team. offered a challenge. We will just
need to wait and see what happens. Obviously, he is representing his
country again, this time on the ski slopes rather than the battlefield.
I am proud of that, proud of what he does. It has been a roller-
coaster ten years for Peter and Laura, and it doesn't look like
stopping. In February this year, they found out they were expecting.
If we have a lot going on. We have the baby arriving at the start of
the ski season and a wedding at the end. Lots to get organised. It is
brilliant -- Laura is brilliant. just love having p 10 my life. I
could not imagine not having him around. I just love her to bits.
The largest seaborne invasion ever assembled landed on the Normandy
coast on D-Day. And the huge loss of life on Omaha Beach is probably
the story that gets told most of them. There were four other beach
landings and next we follow the story of a British veteran on a
journey he made 67 years ago. 90-year-old John Shanahan is
turning the clock back over six decades to remember his comrades
who gave their lives in one of the biggest battles of the Second World
War. They shall grow not all as we that are left grow old.... We will
remember them. The memories of that time come back
now that I am actually sailing over and approaching the coast of France.
Or 6th June 1944, over 160,000 allied troops stormed the beaches
of Normandy. This was the beginning of the invasion of German-occupied
Europe. Feeling rather nervous, not knowing what was waiting for me
when I got there, but knowing I had a job to do and hoping I would not
fail. It is the first time John will be returning to the village
where his battalion lost so many lives. If I had never wanted to go
back before but I am going this time because there is a memorial to
my regiment, who liberated Cans, and paid a big price in doing it.
D-Day had taken almost four years to plan, so 23-year-old John and
his fellow soldiers were given orders that would not compromise
the operation if they were captured. We were told that we had to take a
big town and that the enemy would have fled because all of the
pounding that we would have given them beforehand they would not have
put up with. They would all retreat into Germany. Like his comrades,
John was weighed down with equipment. If that was not enough,
they were also issued with a folding bicycle. The impression was,
once we get in there they will all run away and we will need our
bicycles to catch up with them. weather had delayed the advance,
but two days later the conditions had improved. You wondered whether
it was right of whether you were going to do another exercise. Gore
around a bit, lads and get used to it. But we were going.
Like every soldier Renton, John arrived off the coast of Normandy
in a landing craft, and his foot step in history was about to be
made. The ramp went down with a lot of noise. We got the order to get
off. We jumped into the water, not knowing how deep it was going to be.
It turned out that it was around four feet deep. It was every man
for himself, just keep going until you were at the beach. You could
not run because of the weight of the water pushing against you. We
waded, I suppose. It has been over 67 years since John stepped foot on
Sword Beach on just after 10am on 6th June 1944. As we came to the
beach I was feeling afraid about what was going to meet me. The
noise was absolutely deafening. All the ships at sea were sending this
terrific bombardment over. The enemy mortars and shells were
coming the other way. The crackle of machine guns. The sea was
covered in ships wherever you could look, and all of the landing craft
coming in, and some of them wrecked. You thought, well I ever be able to
get there, run up the beach can get out of it? There were people
shouting and people falling down. The invasion of Normandy was the
largest and biggest assault ever launched. There are 75,000 British
and Canadian troops landing on the beaches. It was like a whole world
was coming to an end. I felt lucky every hour that I hadn't been hit.
When I felt the beach under my boots, I thought, right, I have got
this far, I will get on with it. There were people on the beach,
called beach masters, swearing at you. It soon became clear that not
all of the equipment was essential. I realised that we were not going
to cycle anywhere. We were told to throw our bicycles at the side of
the road. And we did. It was another lump off your back. Within
a few hours, John left Sword Beach behind him and was then tasked with
liberating French villages. We were liberating towns. We drove them out.
If they had already gone out, we did not mess about, we followed
them. We advanced to a place called tier Kyi. -- Cambes-en-Plaine. We
had to advance through open ground, fields of corn.
Cambes-en-Plaine was a village situated in the heart of a dense
wood. We were dug in at certain points which would be available for
attacking Cans. We thought the enemy was not all that strong there.
We thought that one company would attack and overcome the enemy.
the Germans were prepared and the battle was bloody. After retreating,
it was decided to send in the old Italian, a force of 1,000 soldiers.
-- the whole battalion. The enemy fire was coming towards you, going
through the fields with a few dropping down amongst the corner
The enemy decided that we were too powerful and they retreated to.
Eventually, by the end of that day, we had liberated Cans. It was our
first big battle and it sort of showed us what was likely to come.
I realised then that maybe I would not get through another battle like
that. So many did not. This battle claimed the lives of a 44 riflemen,
the largest loss in John's battalion during the Second World
War. This is the first time in 67 years that John has felt able to
return to the village to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.
They gave their lives in the battle but we fought together. -- that we
fought together. I am very pleased that I have been able to come back
today and do them the honour of remembering them in this sport. --
For so many like John, the memory of being part of such a historic
event will never fade. And the courage of his fallen comrades
Gethin Jones is in Afghanistan to honour those that have fought there as well as reflecting on all the other servicemen and women who have taken part in past conflicts around the world.