Episode 2 Remembrance Week


Episode 2

Stories from people involved in past and present conflicts. A widow pays an emotional tribute to the husband she lost at the Battle of Goose Green in the Falkland Islands.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Remembrance Week.

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I'm in Afghanistan,

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where our armed forces are doing some incredible work

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over 3,000 miles away from home.

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These men and women are the heroes of today, and this week,

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we'll also be remembering those who fought and suffered

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on our behalf in the past.

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Coming up on today's programme:

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What happened to a brave merchant seaman

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when a torpedo hit his Arctic convoy.

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When they said "Abandon ship",

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the captain said, "Go to your lifeboat station, boy,

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"and good luck to you", and I said, "Thank you, sir."

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The extraordinary tale of a Falklands hero,

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and the wife he left behind.

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Gary's actions that day saved a lot of lives,

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without a doubt, and my husband was a hero.

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And a young volunteer relives a fierce battle from the Korean War

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and his capture by Communist forces.

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I realised at any time, they could put a gun to the back of your head

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and press the trigger, and that's it. Bye-bye, you.

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In peaceful times, marrying into the military can take you places

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you never thought you would go.

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It can be a fun, exciting and very sociable world.

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However, when war breaks out,

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the reality of what your loved ones do for a living can really hit home.

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Gary Bingley was home on leave

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when he tried to chat up a girl in his local pub.

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He was absolutely not my type of guy.

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I tend to go for the tall, dark and handsome ones.

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He just had me in absolute stitches,

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and I think it's a standing joke with most women that if they say,

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"What do you look for in a man?",

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it's "someone that can make me laugh."

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And that was him. He had the most amazing sense of humour.

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There was this amazing feeling

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of us both falling in love and both feeling the same way,

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and it was just absolutely wonderful.

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Within weeks, Gary proposed, and they were married soon after.

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It was just four months after that first meeting.

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It was absolutely wonderful. It was obviously a very small wedding.

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I didn't find out until much later, knowing not much about army life,

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that he hadn't actually got permission from the CO

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to get married, but then that was the kind of thing

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my husband would always do.

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He'd be like, "Don't worry, I'll sort it out later."

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But as a young army wife,

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Jay soon faced the reality of being married to a soldier.

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In April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands,

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a British territory in the South Atlantic.

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I remember Gary coming home from work saying, "We're going to war."

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And I was absolutely horrified.

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And I said, "Well, you know, maybe it'll kind of get resolved".

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"No. We're going to war."

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MARGARET THATCHER: 'British sovereign territory

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'has been invaded by a foreign power.'

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Britain was at war.

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THATCHER: 'It is our Government's objective

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'to see that the islands are free from occupation.'

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28,000 British troops prepared to make the journey

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to reclaim the islands.

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Amongst them, Gary, and the men of the Parachute Regiment,

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one of the British Army's elite units.

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He was...excited.

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He was absolutely... so looking forward to it.

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He was a soldier through and through, and Gary...

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absolutely loved his job.

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It was very, very hard saying goodbye,

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knowing this time, they were really going to fight a war,

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and you have no way of knowing how big it's going to be

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or how long it's going to last.

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It was just this awful roller coaster of emotion...

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..and grabbing spare moments, you know,

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going to bed and holding on to each other,

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thinking, "This is an extra night we've got together."

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And we had a ground-floor apartment at the time

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and we tended to use the back door.

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So my last memory of Gary is of him walking through that door.

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And we said goodbye, and as he walked through the door, he stopped.

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And he turned around

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and looked at me and said "Goodbye, girlie".

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The paratroopers travelled for almost a month,

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preparing for a land offensive.

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British ships were hit,

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and many lives were lost as our forces reached the islands.

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The men from 2 PARA led one of the first major land offensives

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in a bid to reclaim the Falklands.

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Gary Bingley was at the forefront of an assault

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against a much larger Argentinian force.

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Gary was killed storming a machine gun nest at Goose Green.

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And...

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He was...

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..right up the front, as he would be, because that was him.

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You know, that was always him.

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He carried on advancing forwards,

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even though he must have known at that moment there was no way,

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there was absolutely no way that he could ever have got out of that.

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I remember being in bed, and at eight o'clock in the morning,

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my doorbell rang.

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And I lay in bed and I thought, "I'm not going to answer that,

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"because I don't want to hear what they've got to tell me."

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And...as soon as I thought that,

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the next thought came into my head,

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"Don't be ridiculous, they'll only come back.

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"You might as well answer the door now."

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And I remember saying, "Just tell me."

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We barely got into the lounge, and I was just...

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sobbing by that point.

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I knew he wasn't injured, I knew he was dead.

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And they confirmed my worst fears in that moment.

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'Lance Corporal Smith.'

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'Lance Corporal Bingley.'

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I wasn't to know at that point,

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until much, much later,

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how brave he had been and how much he had done in that battle.

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Gary Bingley was just 24 years old when he died.

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For his actions during the victorious battle of Goose Green,

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he was awarded the Military Medal.

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Gary's actions that day saved a lot of lives.

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There was no hesitation with him,

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he just carried on, steamed in like the soldier he was.

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Without a doubt, my husband was a hero.

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Gary was my lover.

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He was my husband, and he was my best friend.

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And you can't ask for anything more than that in a marriage.

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For years, Jay struggled to come to terms with Gary's death.

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A visit to the National Memorial Arboretum helped change that.

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I remember getting to the roundabout just to turn into the car park,

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and thinking "I think I just need to go round this roundabout

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"and go away again, because I don't think I can face this."

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It's just the most wonderful place.

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The whole area is the most

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wonderfully designed memorial, you know.

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It's actually designed so that it looks like a door.

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But they've done it in such a way that on 11th November,

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the sun shines just through that gap,

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and all the names of everybody who has served are engraved on that wall.

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And my husband's name is one little name...

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..amongst all of those.

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And then the enormity of war...

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..really hits home to you, and you realise that your broken heart

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is just one of those names amongst so many.

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You have to be in awe of it, and the sacrifices all of those men made.

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If I could say one thing to Gary now, I would say to Gary,

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"I love you. I always have, I always will."

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"But you died doing what you loved."

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The Battle of Imjin River in 1951

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was one of the most intense of the Korean War.

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The British were massively outnumbered.

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Many who survived were captured, and became prisoners of war.

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Being kids, we were so patriotic for the war, it was unbelievable.

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Not just me - everyone was patriotic.

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As World War II ended, Bill Fox was full of admiration

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for the brave men of Britain's armed forces.

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National service gave him his chance to join their ranks.

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We always believed that the British Army was the best army in the world.

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Our air force was the best.

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I was dying to get in the army to be like the other soldiers and fight.

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In 1950, just five years after World War II,

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a new conflict broke out on the other side of the world

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between North and South Korea.

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REPORTER: 'For hundreds of thousands of civilians

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'trying desperately to outrun the advancing Communists,

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'children who had no part in the causes of war

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'receive full measure of its hardships just the same.'

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Supporting South Korea in their battle against the Communist North

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was the United Nations.

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'The UN was facing a new enemy in Korea, and a new war had begun.'

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They wanted ex-soldiers who had just been in national service

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to volunteer for 18 months.

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I thought, "18 months - not bad, that."

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At the age of 22, Bill volunteered to join UN forces

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to fight the North Koreans,

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who were backed by China and the Soviet Union.

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I was in a group of about 20 or so of us when we went to Colchester

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to join up the Gloucestershire Regiment.

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In September 1950, it was time for the regiment,

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known as the Gloucesters, to say goodbye to friends and family

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as they began their long voyage to Korea.

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One of them, I will always remember to the day I die.

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His name was Derek Ball.

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I recall his mother, and I think it was his sister.

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We were all meeting and shaking hands with them,

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and they was a bit sad about Derek and we were saying

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"Don't worry, it's all right, we'll all look after each other."

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I thought it was marvellous, going off to Korea.

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To see the world. And seeing so much of the British Empire. Gibraltar.

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We sailed through the Mediterranean.

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We passed Malta, Aden, the Red Sea.

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Even at night time, to see these cities all over the world lit up...

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After a long journey, they reached their destination.

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All the troops, myself included,

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went up to have a look at what Korea looked like.

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All we could see were the shape of the dark hills.

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It looked frightening. It looked deadly. Something about it.

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And everyone just stared at it. Don't look nice at all.

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'Units north of Seoul were forced back across the Imjin River.'

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In April 1951, just a few months after their arrival,

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Bill and his comrades were to take part in what would become

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one of the most intense confrontations of the Korean War -

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the Battle of Imjin River.

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We got up to a position overlooking the Imjin River.

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It was a very important place where we was,

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because it was a main centre where people could cross safely.

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The UN forces needed to hold their position

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to prevent the Chinese from crossing the river

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and invading the nearby city of Seoul.

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We was overlooking this crossing point.

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We were told the Chinese were liable to attack any time.

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As night fell on 22nd April, the Chinese launched an attack.

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One of our companies right on the riverbank

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caught them crossing the river.

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They'd hear the bugle call.

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They'd go...

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HE IMITATES BUGLE

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It was like a horn kind of sound.

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The sound seemed to waft up the hills

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and came up to the village, to where we was. We were really scared.

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There's an animal thing in your body that takes over.

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I couldn't breathe proper.

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I'd not been going running or anything,

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I was just in the trench, panting like that.

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An overwhelming 27,000 Chinese soldiers

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advanced on Bill and the 4,000 men

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defending their stretch of the river.

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They came up in waves, a huge army of them.

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They fired all the ammunition they'd got,

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threw all the hand grenades they'd got.

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And when they'd done it, they ran back.

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In the relentless firefight,

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Bill was alongside one of his Gloucester comrades.

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Derek Ball joined me in the trench, and we were taking turns each,

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myself and Derek Ball, firing this machine gun.

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The fire then was getting terrific against us.

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They were firing, blasting us and everything.

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Derek Ball had his head up firing away at them,

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and he was firing away,

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and a big blast of this machine-gun fire got him.

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Shattered his head.

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His flesh went on me. I could feel him,

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when he got his face battered.

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He dropped at my feet.

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And I never had the chance...

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..you know, to kneel down with him, or anything. Didn't get a chance.

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Isolated on top of a hill,

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outnumbered and running out of ammunition,

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the Gloucesters suffered heavy casualties, losing 59 of their men.

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We had to get up, keep fighting.

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You had to just leave them down there. Just leave them.

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For three long nights, the Gloucesters held their ground

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in what was the bloodiest battle fought by British forces

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since World War II.

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Of the 700 Gloucesters at Imjin River,

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nearly 600 were taken prisoner,

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including Bill.

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It was a frightening time, because you realise

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that you don't know what's going to happen to you, and you realise

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at any time, they could put a gun to the back of your head

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and press the trigger and that's it, bye-bye, you.

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Bill and his fellow captives endured a gruelling trek north

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in harsh conditions across Korea's tough terrain.

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It were a long, bloody way.

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Must have took us a good few weeks.

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Anyone who dropped out, couldn't do it,

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you never saw them again.

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Some people said they could hear a shot fired.

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I didn't actually hear anyone being shot, but I never seen them again.

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Having survived the battle, Bill now needed all his strength

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to survive the rest of the conflict as a prisoner of war.

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It was terrible conditions. It was really bad,

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and I honestly think I would never have survived the coming winter.

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It had been a chaotic battle,

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and the fate of many soldiers wasn't clear.

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Back home in Manchester,

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Bill's mother received the news every family feared.

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They received a telegram saying I was killed.

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Soon after, they got a telegram saying

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"Your son, previously reported killed, has been found wounded."

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Receiving conflicting messages, his mum's relief

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was shattered when a third telegram arrived.

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"Sorry about the mix-up.

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"The first telegram was correct. He was reported killed."

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After so many months, they got my death certificate, you know.

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Your mother going through all that.

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She wouldn't settle for that. She still believed I was alive.

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After so much heartache,

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his mother finally received the news she'd hoped and prayed for.

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Eventually, she got a letter from me

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that was posted from our prison of war camp.

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The relief for her, knowing that I wasn't killed...

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Receiving a letter back was just what Bill needed.

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I remember vividly when I first got that letter from home.

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Oh, God, from my mother as well.

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Just knowing that she knew I was safe.

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No words can say how uplifting it was to hear things like that.

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'The world listened for news

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'of the final signing that would mean ceasefire in Korea.

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'It came on July 27, 1953.'

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After spending two years as a prisoner of war,

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Bill's ordeal finally came to an end.

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They told us, "Good news for you." And we were all cheering already.

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"Hush, hush, hush," they were saying.

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"The war is over". I remember the words.

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We have stopped the shooting.

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That means much to the fighting men and their families,

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and it will allow some of the grievous wounds of Korea to heal.

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We all cheered like mad. We were all jumping up for joy.

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Of course, we were so happy. We were so relieved.

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Now free men,

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Bill and his fellow prisoners were transported from the camp,

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on the way passing Chinese prisoners.

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We passed each other.

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The Chinese were going wild, singing patriotic songs.

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Don't know what the songs was. They were cheering like mad.

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But as we passed each other, they seemed to go a bit quiet.

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We just looked at each other, and just...

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I don't know, we just looked at each other and thought,

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"Hello and goodbye", you know.

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"Best of luck to you."

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The three-year conflict led to over 100,000 UN casualties.

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Having made it back home,

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Bill has never forgotten his young friends who died in battle

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and the families they left behind.

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You know, the mothers and wives, what suffering must they go through?

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Well, I made it.

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Thankfully.

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Back here in Afghanistan, I'm in the capital, Kabul.

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The NATO-led International Security Force

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have been in the country since 2002.

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I'm meeting Lieutenant-General John Lorimer,

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the UK's most senior officer

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and second-in-command of all international troops.

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Since 2001, 2002,

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virtually every aspect

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of life in Afghanistan has changed.

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You've been in Kabul. You've seen it's a buzzing city.

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In 2002, it certainly wasn't like that.

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There's trade, there's commerce, there's the internet.

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There's far greater access to healthcare.

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So almost in every facet of Afghan life, things have changed.

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As NATO troops prepare

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for their withdrawal from Afghanistan next year,

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the Afghans have begun to take the lead for security in their country.

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We're getting a smaller force.

0:23:310:23:32

We're decreasing the number of servicemen and women out here.

0:23:320:23:35

A lot of it has been due to the effort the Afghans have done,

0:23:350:23:38

but more importantly, the work that we've done

0:23:380:23:41

in terms of training them and getting them there.

0:23:410:23:44

To equip the Afghans

0:23:460:23:47

against the continuing threat from the Taliban,

0:23:470:23:50

this training academy has been set up using the model of Sandhurst,

0:23:500:23:54

Britain's top military institution.

0:23:540:23:57

'The British will remain here as mentors

0:23:580:24:02

'as the Afghans select new recruits.'

0:24:020:24:03

It's all Afghan-led? Yeah.

0:24:030:24:05

We had a short, four-week period where we instructed the trainers.

0:24:050:24:10

We're now here just advising them

0:24:100:24:12

on matters that they may need some advice on.

0:24:120:24:15

Why the bibs and the numbers?

0:24:180:24:20

To ensure that the candidates remain anonymous

0:24:200:24:22

throughout the actual process.

0:24:220:24:24

Their family name isn't brought into question.

0:24:240:24:26

It's so that all the candidates are treated fairly

0:24:260:24:28

and they're marked, across the board, as equally as each other.

0:24:280:24:32

Once fully operational, the academy will train

0:24:360:24:40

up to 1,500 students every year, both male and female.

0:24:400:24:44

But first, the hopeful recruits

0:24:440:24:46

have to pass a demanding selection process

0:24:460:24:48

that tests their mental and physical abilities.

0:24:480:24:51

One of the tests the cadets have to face

0:24:520:24:55

as part of the selection process is the obstacle course.

0:24:550:24:59

It measures determination, motivation and physical fitness.

0:24:590:25:03

The idea is to do as many obstacles as possible in two minutes.

0:25:030:25:07

And the guys have challenged me to have a go.

0:25:070:25:10

Three, two, one, go.

0:25:100:25:12

Stop!

0:25:290:25:30

GETHIN GASPS FOR BREATH

0:25:320:25:35

Have I made the academy?

0:25:360:25:37

'One of the men who represents the future of the academy

0:25:400:25:44

'is Second Lieutenant Kambez Esmati, a mentor for new officer recruits.'

0:25:440:25:48

Are you proud of what you're doing

0:25:480:25:50

here at the academy? Yes, of course I'm proud.

0:25:500:25:52

That I can say, because I have trained well

0:25:520:25:55

and I am going to train them well.

0:25:550:25:58

When you went to Sandhurst,

0:25:580:26:00

what was the biggest thing you learnt from there?

0:26:000:26:02

The biggest thing I've learnt from them,

0:26:040:26:06

there were the officers with their sergeants.

0:26:060:26:10

They care about each other, they have a lot of respect, help each other.

0:26:100:26:13

Teamwork. Teamwork. And discipline, especially.

0:26:130:26:16

How do your family feel about you being in the army?

0:26:160:26:19

My family feel proud, especially my father and my brothers.

0:26:190:26:23

And I am happy. I love my job.

0:26:230:26:25

This country has seen so much trouble,

0:26:260:26:29

but what does the future hold?

0:26:290:26:31

The future of Afghanistan will be very beautiful, a peace country.

0:26:310:26:34

Freedom. Everyone will have their rights to live.

0:26:340:26:37

I was impressed from the moment I walked through the gate.

0:26:390:26:42

It's all Afghan-led,

0:26:420:26:43

and despite the fact it is humble beginnings,

0:26:430:26:46

there is a real determination and steel

0:26:460:26:48

to make sure that this academy is a success

0:26:480:26:51

which will give the Afghan people the bright future they so deserve.

0:26:510:26:56

This Remembrance Sunday, the nation pays their respects

0:26:570:27:01

to those who have suffered and died for their country.

0:27:010:27:04

Millions of people pause for silence and a moment of reflection

0:27:040:27:08

to ensure those brave men and women are never forgotten.

0:27:080:27:12

Helicopter pilots here in Afghanistan are vital.

0:27:170:27:20

Their skill and calmness under immense pressure

0:27:200:27:23

ensure that our troops are transported safely

0:27:230:27:26

to and from the battlefield.

0:27:260:27:28

This next story shows just how important

0:27:280:27:30

these brave men and women are.

0:27:300:27:32

In 2011, Flight Lieutenant Dan Cullen

0:27:380:27:41

conducted a feat of such incredible gallantry

0:27:410:27:45

that he was given the distinguished Flying Cross,

0:27:450:27:48

an award which recognises him

0:27:480:27:50

as one of the country's most outstanding pilots.

0:27:500:27:54

I'd always had a keen interest

0:27:540:27:55

in flying and air shows

0:27:550:27:57

and watching aircraft when I was a child growing up.

0:27:570:27:59

I joined the Air Training Corps when I was about 14 years old,

0:27:590:28:03

and I decided I would like to have a career in the RAF.

0:28:030:28:06

Dan joined the RAF in 2004.

0:28:060:28:10

Three years later, he was a fully qualified pilot,

0:28:100:28:13

flying one of the British forces' greatest assets,

0:28:130:28:16

the Chinook helicopter.

0:28:160:28:18

I can certainly remember

0:28:200:28:21

getting back from my first trip in the Chinook with a grin on my face.

0:28:210:28:25

The Chinook was first used in action by British forces

0:28:260:28:30

during the Falklands War in 1982.

0:28:300:28:32

It's featured on the battlefront ever since.

0:28:320:28:34

The helicopter is vital in Afghanistan

0:28:380:28:40

for transporting troops and cargo

0:28:400:28:43

and also operates as a flying hospital.

0:28:430:28:45

Dan was posted to Camp Bastion

0:28:500:28:52

for his fourth tour of Afghanistan in February 2011.

0:28:520:28:56

You're entering a war zone. You step off the aircraft

0:28:560:28:58

and you get hit by a wall of heat. That's when it really sinks home

0:28:580:29:02

where you are and what you've got to go and do.

0:29:020:29:05

Dan would be operating in Helmand Province.

0:29:060:29:08

In the first three months of the year,

0:29:110:29:13

11 UK personnel had been killed in the area,

0:29:130:29:16

and there remained a threat from the Taliban.

0:29:160:29:18

You're constantly on guard.

0:29:210:29:22

When you do carry out a shift, you're on for 24 hours.

0:29:220:29:26

You're always waiting for the phone call to go

0:29:260:29:28

and you know that if it does go, you need to go to the aircraft

0:29:280:29:30

and get airborne as quickly as possible.

0:29:300:29:32

The thing is, you'll never know where you're going,

0:29:320:29:35

so you could be going to a hostile site.

0:29:350:29:38

The issue of not knowing where you're going

0:29:380:29:40

or what you're doing until you're effectively airborne

0:29:400:29:42

is a bit of a weight to hold on your shoulders,

0:29:420:29:45

particularly when you become the aircraft captain

0:29:450:29:47

and everyone's looking to you to make those decisions.

0:29:470:29:49

In April, Dan captained a Chinook on a routine mission.

0:29:510:29:54

His job was to pick up 30 British troops

0:29:560:29:58

who'd been clearing a Taliban IED factory.

0:29:580:30:01

Flying a Chinook is a two-man operation.

0:30:040:30:07

On that day, Dan's co-pilot and navigator

0:30:070:30:09

was Flight Lieutenant Rich Anderson.

0:30:090:30:12

We were visual with the troops on the approach to the site

0:30:120:30:14

and we positioned so they could get on as quickly as possible.

0:30:140:30:18

But in the latter stages of the landing,

0:30:180:30:20

we get enveloped in a dust cloud,

0:30:200:30:22

and we can see very little, other than our reference to land on.

0:30:220:30:25

They had reached the most dangerous part of the airlift,

0:30:250:30:28

where the aircraft and troops are at their most vulnerable.

0:30:280:30:31

Everything seemed to be going fine at that time.

0:30:310:30:34

But insurgents had obviously been keeping an eye on what was going on.

0:30:340:30:37

As the troops began to board, the Chinook came under sniper fire.

0:30:370:30:42

GUNFIRE

0:30:420:30:43

Bullet literally passed within an inch or two of my legs.

0:30:450:30:49

Rich shouted - I looked at him

0:30:510:30:53

and it dawned on both of us that he had been shot.

0:30:530:30:55

I had to overcome that natural fear and instinct

0:30:580:31:02

to just want to take off and get out,

0:31:020:31:04

because I did think there was a very high chance

0:31:040:31:06

that another bullet would be headed for me.

0:31:060:31:09

The bullet had pierced the cockpit, lodging into Rich's foot,

0:31:100:31:15

and he began to lose consciousness.

0:31:150:31:17

It felt like an eternity,

0:31:170:31:19

waiting for the guys to get on the back.

0:31:190:31:21

I'm sure it was probably no more than a minute

0:31:210:31:23

for all the guys to get on our aircraft.

0:31:230:31:25

Once we got everyone safely on board,

0:31:260:31:29

I lifted the aircraft out of the situation.

0:31:290:31:31

But it became apparent at that stage that Rich was going into shock.

0:31:320:31:35

He slumped forward onto the cyclic control stick

0:31:360:31:39

that controls the aircraft

0:31:390:31:40

and by pushing the cyclic forward, the aircraft would have nosed forward

0:31:400:31:43

and potentially dived into the ground.

0:31:430:31:46

With 30 troops on board

0:31:460:31:48

and the life of his co-pilot in danger,

0:31:480:31:50

everything rested on Dan.

0:31:500:31:52

I was having to do a bit of a juggling act

0:31:540:31:56

to keep Rich off the controls.

0:31:560:31:58

Dan fought to keep the helicopter in the air,

0:32:010:32:04

flying one-handed away from the danger zone

0:32:040:32:06

and back to safety.

0:32:060:32:08

It wasn't really until I got back on the ground

0:32:100:32:12

that the adrenaline kind of subsided

0:32:120:32:14

and you get the shakes and you just think,

0:32:140:32:16

"Wow, that was quite intense, quite close."

0:32:160:32:19

Um...and it could have ended a lot worse.

0:32:190:32:22

Rich had survived the gunshot wound

0:32:340:32:36

and was rushed to hospital for medical attention.

0:32:360:32:39

After completing his ten-week tour of Afghanistan,

0:32:410:32:44

Dan returned to the UK to become an RAF flight instructor.

0:32:440:32:47

Six months after the incident, out of the blue,

0:32:490:32:51

Dan was summoned to see the commandant.

0:32:510:32:54

Ordinarily, that means you've messed up in some way -

0:32:540:32:57

probably in the bar, on a previous night -

0:32:570:33:00

and you need to go and give your apologies.

0:33:000:33:02

So I was quite worried at that stage.

0:33:020:33:04

His worries soon faded, as he was given the news

0:33:040:33:08

he would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

0:33:080:33:11

I was a bit gobsmacked, initially.

0:33:110:33:14

I wasn't allowed to tell anyone for a couple of days,

0:33:140:33:16

so I then had to go back and just carry on

0:33:160:33:18

as though nothing had happened.

0:33:180:33:19

In 2012, he received his award from Her Majesty the Queen.

0:33:230:33:27

I was actually, believe it or not, more nervous about meeting the Queen

0:33:270:33:32

than I ever was out in Afghanistan.

0:33:320:33:35

Dan's citation highlighted "a sublime level of composure,

0:33:350:33:39

"along with personal courage, leadership and flying skills."

0:33:390:33:43

I'm sure everyone else on the Chinook force

0:33:430:33:45

would have tried to do exactly what I did on the day.

0:33:450:33:49

I know it's become a bit of a cliche,

0:33:490:33:51

but I do feel like I was just doing my job

0:33:510:33:53

and trying to do the best for both the guys on my crew

0:33:530:33:57

and the guys that were in a sticky situation on the ground,

0:33:570:34:00

so...I don't think I'm a hero.

0:34:000:34:02

During WWII, we relied heavily on nearly 185,000 Merchant Navy seamen

0:34:140:34:19

who transported food, equipment and people

0:34:190:34:22

in and out of the country.

0:34:220:34:24

Our next story highlights just how dangerous

0:34:240:34:26

life on the seas could be.

0:34:260:34:28

As a boy, all I'd wanted to do was go to sea.

0:34:300:34:34

I'd always been interested in going abroad

0:34:340:34:36

and I'd always wanted to go abroad.

0:34:360:34:38

When the war started,

0:34:380:34:40

I joined the Sea Cadets to learn about it.

0:34:400:34:43

Two years after the start of the war,

0:34:450:34:47

Austin Byrne's love of the sea

0:34:470:34:49

saw him signing up for the Royal Navy.

0:34:490:34:51

Now 91, Austin recalls his first - and almost last - voyage.

0:34:530:34:58

When the Royal Navy said we were going on merchant ships,

0:34:580:35:03

I thought, "That sounds good. I'll stick with that."

0:35:030:35:06

REPORTER: Merchant ships at sea -

0:35:060:35:08

these are the men who, for three years,

0:35:080:35:11

have kept us in arms and food.

0:35:110:35:13

During WWII, Britain's Merchant Navy -

0:35:130:35:16

a fleet of commercial ships - played a vital role.

0:35:160:35:19

Merchant Navy was like transport wagons at sea -

0:35:200:35:24

you carry cargo from Point A to Point B.

0:35:240:35:27

Food or war materials or everything.

0:35:270:35:29

Travelling in convoy,

0:35:320:35:33

these merchant ships were extremely vulnerable to German attacks,

0:35:330:35:36

from sea and air.

0:35:360:35:38

Protecting them were fully equipped military vessels known as escorts,

0:35:390:35:44

and the merchant ships' own gunners.

0:35:440:35:46

They told us straight out that we would be gunners,

0:35:470:35:50

and a very pompous naval officer said,

0:35:500:35:54

"You people, we are going to train you to be on merchant ships

0:35:540:35:59

"and bring these bombers down - we've found the best way to do it..."

0:35:590:36:04

I can't talk as posh as him, so I'm not going to try.

0:36:040:36:07

"The best way to do it

0:36:070:36:08

"is riddle their bellies with bullets."

0:36:080:36:10

In 1942, aged 19, Austin prepared to set sail on his first mission.

0:36:130:36:20

The Induna, it was my first ship.

0:36:200:36:22

I was brand new, I was very full of enthusiasm

0:36:220:36:26

and I wanted to learn.

0:36:260:36:27

And they issued us with Arctic clothing.

0:36:270:36:31

And that's when we knew we were going to Russia.

0:36:310:36:33

With the German invasion of Russia,

0:36:350:36:37

Churchill called on the Merchant Navy

0:36:370:36:39

to provide essential supplies to Soviet forces battling the Nazis.

0:36:390:36:43

Facing harsh, icy conditions,

0:36:480:36:50

their perilous route crossed the Arctic Ocean.

0:36:500:36:53

First few days at sea, you got the shock of your life.

0:36:540:36:57

It was work and bed, work and bed.

0:36:570:37:01

You slept in your clothes, you did watch-and-watch,

0:37:010:37:05

which was four hours on watch and four hours off watch.

0:37:050:37:08

And we were just permanent lookouts.

0:37:080:37:11

You'd never been as tired as you are then,

0:37:110:37:14

and that's how you learn.

0:37:140:37:15

You get the shock of your life - well, I did.

0:37:150:37:17

REPORTER: In the far north, where the battle raged fiercest,

0:37:170:37:20

great convoys carrying tanks and aircraft to Russia

0:37:200:37:23

fought grimly through Arctic seas

0:37:230:37:25

in which a man can only live five minutes.

0:37:250:37:27

There was a tremendous storm.

0:37:270:37:29

The storm lasted about three days and split the convoy up.

0:37:290:37:33

When the weather cleared, the ships were gathered together

0:37:330:37:36

and there were about five ships got together.

0:37:360:37:38

Separated from the other ships in the convoy,

0:37:380:37:42

they were left with just one escort

0:37:420:37:45

and now were vulnerable to an attack.

0:37:450:37:46

Then, all of a sudden...

0:37:460:37:48

The first thing we knew was three bombs.

0:37:490:37:52

WHISTLING AND EXPLOSION

0:37:520:37:54

And they weren't a long way from the ship -

0:37:540:37:56

"whomph, whomph, whomph."

0:37:560:37:58

It were the first time I'd seen a German aeroplane -

0:38:000:38:03

it were a fighter bomber.

0:38:030:38:04

It were coming that fast between the ships

0:38:040:38:06

that we couldn't fire at it.

0:38:060:38:08

The bullets from our gun that didn't hit him

0:38:100:38:12

would have gone in the other ship.

0:38:120:38:14

You waited - you'd loaded your gun and you waited.

0:38:160:38:19

Then, all of a sudden, they were in range and you started firing.

0:38:190:38:23

You don't fire at the plane, you fire where the plane will be

0:38:230:38:26

when the bullet gets there.

0:38:260:38:28

You fire in front of the plane.

0:38:280:38:30

The skipper was shouting, "You hit him, boy!

0:38:300:38:32

"You've hit him, you've hit him, you've hit him!"

0:38:320:38:34

Austin had shot down his first enemy plane.

0:38:340:38:38

Now on high alert, they had to divert their course.

0:38:400:38:43

After the aerial attack, they all went north,

0:38:430:38:47

out of the range of the planes.

0:38:470:38:49

But heading north had brought a new threat.

0:38:490:38:52

The ships found themselves in icy waters.

0:38:520:38:55

The ice was four foot thick. It were like steel.

0:38:550:38:59

He'd to manoeuvre it and find cracks and push them,

0:38:590:39:03

and backwards and forwards.

0:39:030:39:04

It were hours in the ice.

0:39:040:39:06

Isolated from the other ships,

0:39:060:39:08

the Induna battled its way through the thickening ice.

0:39:080:39:11

He got her out, but it were...

0:39:130:39:14

It were a very, very difficult job.

0:39:140:39:16

Having kept watch since the early hours,

0:39:160:39:20

Austin was coming to the end of his shift.

0:39:200:39:23

The cook came out and said,

0:39:230:39:25

"I'll do your breakfast when you come down.

0:39:250:39:27

"Give you a good breakfast, boy."

0:39:270:39:29

I thought, "Really?" Cos I hadn't had nothing to eat for a long while,

0:39:290:39:33

I was really hungry.

0:39:330:39:34

And then, all of a sudden - bang! She got hit.

0:39:340:39:37

The Induna had been hit by a torpedo

0:39:380:39:41

launched from a German submarine.

0:39:410:39:43

The deck was covered in drums of aviation spirit,

0:39:430:39:47

which were exploding - bang, bang, bang!

0:39:470:39:50

The sea were on fire. That was burning like mad.

0:39:500:39:54

When they say, "Abandon ship", the captain said,

0:39:540:39:57

"Go to your lifeboat station, boy, and good luck to you."

0:39:570:40:00

And I said, "Thank you, sir."

0:40:000:40:01

I was frightened, but there were that much happening,

0:40:010:40:05

you didn't have time to be frightened.

0:40:050:40:07

But, you know...you didn't know what were going to happen next.

0:40:070:40:10

The ship was now sinking.

0:40:120:40:14

Two brave crewmen on board lowered a lifeboat for Austin

0:40:150:40:18

and eight other men.

0:40:180:40:20

The deck what they were stood on were covered in ice -

0:40:210:40:25

it were like a skating rink.

0:40:250:40:26

They got their feet firm and they lowered the boat.

0:40:260:40:30

It was a fantastic piece of seamanship.

0:40:310:40:35

With the ship listing dangerously to one side,

0:40:360:40:39

the lifeboats had to cast off.

0:40:390:40:41

But there were still men left on board.

0:40:430:40:45

To rescue them, Austin's lifeboat had to try and get around

0:40:450:40:48

to the other side of the ship.

0:40:480:40:50

We could see the mate, then, lowering a ladder,

0:40:510:40:55

and we were getting quite near it.

0:40:550:40:57

And all of a sudden - bang!

0:40:570:40:58

EXPLOSION

0:40:580:41:00

They put another torpedo in.

0:41:000:41:03

And then she just went up and down.

0:41:030:41:05

She went as quick as it takes to tell you.

0:41:070:41:10

Penny dropped on you that them that were on it hadn't come up.

0:41:110:41:14

They were still there. You felt absolutely devastated.

0:41:140:41:17

The two men who had saved my life went with her.

0:41:190:41:21

All those left on board went down with the ship.

0:41:250:41:28

The crew in Austin's lifeboat

0:41:300:41:31

now faced a real battle for survival.

0:41:310:41:35

He and fellow gunner Robinson desperately fought to keep afloat.

0:41:350:41:39

There were a bucket in the lifeboat.

0:41:390:41:41

I were bailing and Robinson was steering.

0:41:410:41:44

And...I used to bail.

0:41:450:41:48

And I used to say my prayers as I were bailing -

0:41:480:41:51

"Hail, Mary, full of grace."

0:41:510:41:52

I could get three buckets out to the Hail Mary

0:41:520:41:55

and four to the Our Father.

0:41:550:41:56

Austin and Robinson continuously bailed out water for three days,

0:41:560:42:02

keeping everyone safe.

0:42:020:42:04

On the fourth day, Robinson said, "Hey, I can see a ship."

0:42:040:42:07

And he said, "I can see another."

0:42:070:42:09

And there were these three ships coming towards us.

0:42:090:42:12

Having drifted around 100 miles,

0:42:120:42:15

they were finally rescued by the Russians.

0:42:150:42:18

They gave me and Robbie a vodka - a big vodka.

0:42:180:42:22

"Eh, eh, eh!"

0:42:220:42:23

And you'd to drink that down

0:42:230:42:25

and they poured one in the same cup for Robbie

0:42:250:42:28

and I had three big vodkas -

0:42:280:42:30

one after other on an empty stomach.

0:42:300:42:32

During the war, around 3,000 sailors lost their lives

0:42:350:42:39

in perilous Arctic convoys.

0:42:390:42:41

I've thought about the ones who died every day.

0:42:430:42:47

All my life.

0:42:480:42:50

On tomorrow's programme...

0:43:010:43:04

The tragic story of a Royal Marine

0:43:040:43:06

who kept a remarkable and moving diary

0:43:060:43:08

of life on the front line in Afghanistan.

0:43:080:43:11

It's very much as if he's in the room with you. Yeah.

0:43:120:43:15

I can hear his voice, pretty much.

0:43:150:43:17

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:440:43:47

A widow pays an emotional tribute to the husband she lost at the Battle of Goose Green in the Falkland Islands. A soldier describes the brutal war in Korea and how his family was told he was dead. And a sailor in the Merchant Navy tells an extraordinary story of survival aboard an Arctic Convoy in the Second World War.


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