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 here in Helmand province in Afghanistan, one of the most
dangerous countries in the world. Although 9,500 British troops are
deployed here, and in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday, I am proud to
be introducing both their stories and those from past conflicts
around the world. This is Every day this week, we mark the
build-up to Remembrance Sunday by letting those who march past the
Cenotaph tell their personal stories of strength and courage. We
also commemorate those who have laid down their lives for their
country. Coming up: I get a true taste of how exhausting it is to
work in Helmand Province. There are always four of you? Two of us.
We find out the personal stories behind the headlines in Northern
Ireland. It is not just another soldier, it is my brother, Simon.
And their young family count down the days for their loved one to
come home. No-one in the world could have a better dad then me.
This series is all about exceptional bravery and courage and,
in the case of our next story, the ability to cope in extreme
environments. In the Second World War, Burmah rifleman Orde Wingate
was part of an elite special forces known as the Chindits. Our role was
to challenge the Japanese in jungle warfare. We became special because
we went behind the lines. We went over 100 miles behind the lines.
The Chindits were the pioneers of jungle guerrilla warfare and the
brainchild of Major-General Orde Wingate, the man who named them
after a feature of the army's temples. Chindtat was the dragon
outside temples. It was a forceful men. Before the war Burmah was part
of the British Empire, but in 1942 the Japanese invaded in a bid to
control the country's natural resources and extend their power.
The only way to forge a counter- attack was to have a special group
of soldiers. You did not walk, you did everything in the double, you
trotted the hallway. -- you trotted all the way.
The only way to get supplies in was by year. You were freezing cold.
The pilots released us in a glider. There was no more noise. And then
you're coming down, it is getting hotter and you can feel the heat
going up your nose. You were supposed to come down at 75 miles
an hour, but we came down at around 150 miles an hour. They did not
account for the hills. You hit the paddy-fields and all hell breaks
out. There were brambles, of weeds coming through the windows. --
weeds coming through. My full title was Reconnaissance
Platoon Commander. I would go ahead of the column, that was 400 men and
100 mules. I had to find the way through the jungle, find water,
find the Supply Drop the area. I had to find an area of where light
planes could land to take away the wounded.
In 1944, three -- 3,000 Chindits began an advance. In the jungle,
you had the creepers coming down and you had to hack your way
through. And then there was the elephant grass, seven feet high, it
had serrated edges and your clothes were just form. Then there was the
dust coming down on you. Sometimes the column would do it eight miles
in a day, starting at five in the morning. You could only do eight
miles because the jungle was so thick. All I can remember is the
man in front of me, or the mule in front of me with its tail swishing.
The Chindits were a superior international fighting force.
some wonderful trips, including British boys, Scottish, Welsh, the
lot. Even though I was born and bred in Burma, it was tough for us.
I never saw one person go back by one foot. We were all there to
fight. He initially, the Chindits had taken the enemy by surprise,
but soon the Japanese were fighting back.
I was a soldier, I took what came. Even in the jungle when you are
ambushed, your heart was in your mouth and fear To Cover. Then you
fight and you keep on fighting. Fire, and fire quick dash to get
them first, before they got you. -- fire quick - get them first.
The Chindits had to be supplied by air, but this was not reliable so
they had to be resourceful. You get a thick bamboo that has bought a
remit. We had a Burmese knife that was razor sharp. With bamboo, you
must cut up words. We had to teach the British boys. It is very hard
to. You did it this way. foliage was so dense that it was
easy to get lost, so it was important to follow strict
instructions, even going to the toilet. You had to go in pairs. You
would walk around 20 paces away from the camp, turn your back to
each other, walked for 10 paces, deja business and then came back.
Some of them got lost, having done a slightly wrong turning. Surviving
in these conditions was tough. Always hungry, always dirty, always
wet. You were wet with perspiration, wet with rain, wet with fear. And
just tired of being tired. I cried at night sometimes because of the
hunger. All you can think of his food.
Neville and his comrades ate whatever they could find. I taught
them how to eat monkey because monkey flesh is lovely. They had
blow pipes because we could not fire a gun. It would give our
position away. Neville fought and survived for
four months deep in the heart of the jungle but the severe
conditions caught up with him later in 19 night -- 1944. I was in
hospital, having been bitten by rats. I hat typhus, pneumonia and
malaria. Dame Vera Lynn came round. I said, kiss me, Vera. I saw how a
few years back and I told her, you kissed me in July 1944. She said,
how can you remember that? I said, because I was 21 years old then.
Neville met the girl called Glory Rose. By the Thai my got to our
camp -- by the time I got to our camp, there was no more fighting.
did not believe that anybody could do so much. If she was cooking rice
cakes. I thought it was a bit of a nuisance, disturbing the cooking!
Happy, always smiling. A darn good cook. He made me very happy.
Neville and Glory Rose were married in 1949 and celebrated their sixty-
second anniversary this year. Former Neville and his fellow
Chindits, their legacy lives on. What the SAS is doing now, be
learnt from us. -- they learned from us. We were proud to be
Chindits. Everyone did their bit to, otherwise we could not have overrun
Burma. I am so proud of all of them. For his contribution to the
Chindits and the Burmese Army, Neville was awarded an MBE. We hope
that his efforts and those of his comrades will never be forgotten.
Camp Bastion is situated in the middle of a harsh Afghanistan
desert. Our front line troops are based hundreds of miles away, the
pain more hostile territory. The only way to get vital supplies to
them is by air or by vehicle. We are travelling in a heavily
armoured vehicle. But it is the fear of the unknown that is
unsettling as we travel in one of these. Moving anywhere outside camp
increases the danger. That was completely disorientating,
but luckily it is just a training exercise. It is something all the
soldiers have to do when they get out here in Afghanistan. The thing
is, that is a reality. That can happen at any point when you're
travelling on the roads out here. These vehicles have saved countless
lives, but the hostile environment and hidden bombs puts them through
their paces every day. I am about to meet the team of specialists
whose job it is to maintain them. Working out here is tough, even
right now - it is windy with dust flying about. For a mechanic that
is a nightmare scenario, isn't it? Yes. We can fix anything anywhere.
Matt is part of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Any move about here is relatively dangerous. The routes we have to
take are varied so that we do not use the same roads over and again
in set patterns. The guys will drive across conditions like this
where it is lumpy, uneven and without tarmac.
It is a full-time job to keep their vehicles in Afghanistan on the road.
Sometimes that means fixing them in the middle of a Taliban firefight.
You are in a really dangerous feria. It goes with wearing the suit. We
are soldiers first and tradesmen always. The guys are prepared to go
into battle and put their lives in danger. If an explosive device goes
off and endures the vehicle, the guys will get out. The guys will go
and assess the vehicle, pull it to safety and administer first aid
where they can. To see how physically punishing it
is to recover vehicles, the engineers are going to put me
through my paces. Every second counts because, when one vehicle
stops, so does the convoy. And then you are sitting target. -- you are
Is it always four of you? usually it is two. Come on! It is
so hard, I cannot get any grip underfoot. Doing this for real, it
could take 10-15 minutes, it could take two days. This is perfect
conditions. Perfect conditions? It is dusty, it is windy. There is
loads of space to manoeuvre the vehicles, this is perfect
conditions, suck it up, big man! After just 25 minutes, this
specialist team have recovered the vehicle and moved it away from
That was absolutely epic, something very, very difficult made to look
relatively straightforward. I think to be honest, the boys have quite
enjoyed bossing me around a bit, which is fine, because it has given
me a real idea of what they have to go through a day in, day out. It is
so hard. I cannot tell you, these conditions, the wind, the dust,
pulling heavy equipment, you have got no grip on the ground, either.
Add to that the dangers of being in the Green Zone, it gives you an
idea of how hard it is. But there is another job which REME take an
immense pride in. They make this cross for any service person who
falls here in Helmand province. Do you take a lot of pride in this
work? Yes. It is something of the boys will stop everything to do.
The final touch is the badge of the unit. Sadly in this case we have
Still to come, we hear from the original sweet heart of the Armed
Forces, Dame Vera Lynn. I thought, just a lipstick will have to do,
and that is how I used to work. Margaret, James and Sophie are
counting down the days until Neill, the missing part of the family, is
back from Afghanistan. He is due back on Tuesday, four days away.
will be a bit cheesy, but I would really like to just give him a hug
again. He is an amazing dad, no-one in the world could have a better
dad than me. He's coming home, four days! Neill and Margaret got
together in 2003 after tragedy struck her young family. With Neill,
it wasn't just walking in on a ready-made family that was all OK,
it was walking in on a ready-made family that has been ripped apart,
basically. It was the day before Sophie's second birthday. Singing
Happy birthday to a two-year-old less than 24 hours after finding
out that your husband had died in a road accident... James took it
really hard. He had just started school and come home one day and
Dad had not come home from work. I probably could put it down to one
of the hardest days of my life. from the moment Neill stepped into
their lives, he has been their rock. For everything that happened,
everything that went wrong, every struggle that we had, he was there
for us. Neill has been a great father for the 13-year-old and the
11-year-old. He has been amazing, he helps with your homework and he
is extremely cuddly. He's basically one big teddy bear. I'm lucky to
have him. He's spot on, he's great. James and Sophie are actually quite
desperate for Neill to be their dad. Whilst we tried to explain that he
could be, without being married, it was not a concept that they were
happy to go with. It was Bonfire Night in the local area, and we
went to a firework display, and when the fireworks were going off,
he turned round and asked me to marry him, with the Ring! Neill and
Margaret married in 2008, and, for this new military family, the
inevitable happened earlier this year. I found out in one fell sweep
that we had been re-posted, and he was going to Afghanistan. I was
absolutely gutted, but it was always going to come. You just pick
yourself up and have to get on with it, that's what I signed up for,
not literally, but it is what I married into, and it is what Neill
signed up for. But breaking the news to the children was always
going to be difficult. We were sitting down, all relaxed with hot
chocolate and drinks and things like that, then Mum said, kids, I
have something very important to tell you. He looked at me and
Sophie, straight in the eye, and said, I'm going to Afghanistan. I
knew that Mum was very upset so I tried not to show that I was upset,
to make Mum feel better. I really felt for James, because Neill is
everything for him now, he really looks up to him. And it all the
other stuff, will he be saved, will he come home? And what will I do if
anything happens to him? The RAF Flight Sergeant was posted to Kabul,
the capital of Afghanistan, where he is a mentor to the Afghan
National Army. It is his first tour of duty since meeting Margaret.
Neill got upset, and I have never really seen him upset. Which told
me actually this time was probably going to be a bit harder for him,
because it was the first time he was ever leaving children behind.
The bit I miss most is the laughter that we have together, and just him
being around. Sometimes when I'm on my own, just playing a game or just
doing something, he will just pop into my head, and I will think, I
wish he was there. I missed him every minute of every day.
James and Sophie, Neill's absence has had a huge impact on their
lives. Because they have known him for five years before we were
married, he was Neill. And we had conversations about starting to
call him Dad. They were try, Neill, Dad, and it ended up being quite
funny. But while Neill has been in Afghanistan, James has pretty much
decided it is Neill. They do not forget their dad, but it means they
are working towards the family that they want it back again. After four
months, Neill returned home for his mid tour break. We were going,
where is he? Here he is a! We saw the car come up, as soon as he came
out, we went straight into his arms, it was really special, one of the
most special moments ever. We were arguing who would sit next to Neill
at the table when we went for a meal. Needless to say, I was across
the table, and the two children were next to him, I got chucked
out! I did not win, and I don't think I will win this time, either!
I will have to run quickly. And then of course, two weeks later you
have got to say goodbye again. Being back in Afghanistan is
challenging for Neill as well. Being away from the family so long,
it is difficult at times, not being able to see the children, going
through the highs and lows of their life over the last six months, just
missing holding them and being there when they need it. After a
tough six months, Neill is finally on his way home. We were all really
excited. I'm looking forward to the -- hugs ever. I'm so proud to be
his son, I'm just so proud of him. The first thing I will say to him
is, I love you, because I have not been able to say that properly to
I'm very pleased he's home. It is good to see the kids so happy, they
have been waiting for this day. just really happy to be back with
my family again. Just finally, things are back to normal. Happy,
Next, we hear from Darren Ware, who has returned from the place where
he laid to rest his only brother, Simon, 20 years ago. When I'm here
at the graveside, it is me and him, it is just a small way of saying,
we have not forgotten about you. From childhood, these brothers were
inseparable. Simon was a huge influence on me, he was my elder
brother. We used to play cops and robbers and soldiers, like other
kids. Even though we were in a different year, we went to the same
school. We would make up at playtime, and occasionally, we
would go out and get up to boisterous mischief. Simon joined
the army cadets, sparking his ambition to be a professional
soldier. When he left school, isn't In front of Darren, their family
and friends, Simon passed out in February 1987. I was very proud of
him. It was very wet and windy, but it was a really good day. And where
Simon went, Darren followed. When he left school and joined the Army,
I followed his footsteps. I went straight to the same Careers Office,
and I said, I wanted to join the Coldstream Guards, just like Simon.
They measured my height and said, you're not tall enough to join the
gods, so I ended up joining the Royal green jackets. Simon ended up
taking the Mick, because according to him, the regiment I joined was
insignificant, not as good. And I would say the same thing to him. It
was always good-natured banter. two brothers were posted to
different parts of the world but always managed to stay in touch.
did not have mobile phones, it was a case of winning the operations
room, and getting them to ring you back. We kept the conversations
pretty short. But it is traditional for soldiers to say, keep your head
down. It speaks for itself, really, just keep safe and look after
yourself. So, at the end of every conversation, it would always be,
keep your head down, you, too. soldiers completed tours of
Northern Ireland, and then, in 1991, they returned. Simon was posted to
the notoriously volatile south Armagh. Every soldier knows that it
is rough, South Armagh. It was known as bandit country, it was
such a dangerous place for soldiers and police officers to patrol.
Known as the Troubles, the years 1969 to 1998 were a period of
conflict in Northern Ireland. And the main group resisting British
rule and targeting our Armed Forces was the IRA. They only have to be
lucky once. They plant a bomb, soldier goes past, the bomb goes
off, that is their luck. But for the soldier, you have to be lucky.
You're always thinking in the back of your mind, anything could happen.
It was a difficult time for both brothers. Simon was worried, he
knew what he was going to, he knew it was tough. But he was like any
11 phone call, Simon had a special request for his younger brother.
rang me up, asking, do you want to be my best man? I was pleased to do
it for him. We both had our Northern Ireland medals on. He was
proud as punch. He was the tall, handsome Guardsman. He got married
on the Saturday and had to go to Northern Ireland on the Monday, two
days later. I remember the last conversation quite vividly. He let
me know that he was going out on a three-day operation and would be
back on Saturday. At the end of the conversation, we said, keep your
head down. What 17th August 1991, Darren's
commanding officer would give in use that would shatter his world.
Sitting in the chair in his office, with my helmet on and my camouflage
cream, gun and ammunition, he told me, your brother has been killed by
a bomb in South Armagh this morning. It hit me. Suddenly, everything
just sort of fell apart. I remember just bursting into tears. I did not
know what to do. The only brother I had, a big chunk of my life, had
suddenly been killed. Darren was immediately flown home to be with
his family. I remember the first radio broadcast on the news.
NEWS reader: A soldier was killed today in South Armagh.
The soldier died at the scene near the Irish border.
I was thinking, they are talking about my brother. It is not just
another soldier, it is my brother, Simon. I think the first broadcast
on the television showed the scene of the explosion. They showed the
wood where he patrolled. I asked myself, what was he doing in the
wood? How was he killed? How big was the bomb? How was it
constructed? I was determined to find out.
As his brother and as a fellow soldier, Darren needed to know what
happened to Simon on that fateful morning. After months of research
he could finally answer role of the questions that he had.
The last 15 minutes of the patrol that morning, his team had entered
a track which went through the middle of the wood. There was a
bend and the terrorists had buried the the bomb. It just happened that
the piece of equipment that Simon was carrying was compatible with
the initiation device for the bomb. He was so close to the end of his
tour. He was due to come back only It does not get any easier. There
is no-one there to share those experiences, what soldiers talk
about, what brothers talk about. Everything, everything I miss about
In the Second World War, British efforts to keep morale high a gave
rise to one of our most treasured entertainers. Dame Vera Lynn is
without doubt the original forces sweetheart. It all started when she
joined ENSA. All of the boys had their run idea of what it stood for
- every night something awful. The performers were not always that
good. Formed in 1939 by the impresario Basil Dean and the
British Government, entertainers were posted around the world to
entertain our troops. If you were a performing artist and he joined up,
be made good use of you, I can assure you! They may not have been
fighting but they certainly did their bit.
Dame Vera Lynn was just 20 when she signed up for ENSA. My mother put
me on the stage when I was seven. I went through singing with dance
bands before I started in the real profession. It was great experience,
a good background to be able to old people's attention in a smoky hall
or a working man's club with no microphone.
By 1940, her sweet voice was already a huge hit with the armed
forces. If I had been broadcasting to the boys overseas and I thought
it would be nice to go and see them in person, actually where they were
fighting and sing to them as me and not just over the radio. So why
approached ENSA and suggested that I could go overseas somewhere. They
said, where do you want to go? I said, Europe gets a lot of ENSA
parties, so I want to go somewhere where they are not getting a lot of
entertainment, if any. They said, Burma is the only place that nobody
wants to go to. I said, that is where I want to go.
In 1944, Dame Vera arrived in Burma. Although everything was rationed,
it was still important for the young singer to look her best.
took a pretty dress with me because I thought I would need it. I only
wore it wants. It was much too hot. I lived in khaki all the time. I
thought, just a lipstick will have to do. And that is how I worked -
khaki and lipstick. A little bit of lipstick went a
long way, as thousands turned out to see her. I never imagined
singing to 6,000 in one go. It was rather wonderful, really, you know,
just to be on a little platform and look out and see all of these chaps
out there, spread quite a long way away. It was rather nice, really,
to be the only girl amongst so many chaps. People ask me, how did they
treat you? I say, absolute perfect gentleman and they treated me with
the utmost respect. There was never any saucy calls or anything like
that. It was not only large groups that
Dame Vera sung to. 11 occasion, two injured soldiers had a special
request. They were poorly and could not go to the concert. I went to
visit them and sat on their bed, chatting. They said, will use in
We'll Meet Again? So I sang it to them. -- will use saying We'll Meet
It is just something from home, and that means everything.
That became her signature tune. Wherever she went, a pianist went
as well. But it did -- but it did not always go to plan.
He started playing the piano and the sides came off. A couple of
guys jumped upon the stage and put them back on and we carried on!
A making the best of a challenging situation was part of the job.
appreciate what they were doing, you had to live with them. I would
not have felt comfortable if I had lived a few miles out in a hotel.
There were no hotels. There were not any hoses even, let alone what
else! Being in tropical climates, she had to learn and adapt quickly.
With a bowl of soup, you would have to be nifty with your spoon and get
it under the flies and whip out a spoonful quickly. I came back a bit
thinner than when I went. And I was not fat to start with! During the
Second World War, thousands of ENSA artists perform over 2.5 million
show so worldwide. I just talked to them. They did not care whether
Raeside are not. It was just that I was there, having a chat, talking
about London and the Blitz. To be able to pass on messages and tell
them, do not worry about us, we are find, to reassure them that we were
doing all right. For the troops who had been away
from home for so long, the morale boast was massive. -- morale boost.
One chap said to me, now you are here, home does not seem so far
away. Dame Vera signed to British troops in Egypt, India and Burma,
and will always be our forces' sweetheart. The war brought out a
lot of talent. Some of it was not so good, but a lot of celebrities
were made by entertaining during the war. It is one of the most
important things that I did in my career. I always look back on it
with happiness, actually, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I know
that the boys enjoyed it, and that was all that mattered. I wouldn't
have missed the experience for the world. Just been out here amongst
today's servicemen and women, I can see how important it is to have a
small bit of home nearby. I camp -- I am glad to say that the tradition
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.