A day of rest with a difference

By Richard Edwards in Umm Qasr, Southern Iraq



Even in the midst of a war zone, thousands of miles from home, Sundays are the same. Well… almost.

In Umm Qasr, Royal Marines enjoyed cups of tea, Sunday roasts, church services and newspapers yesterday, before huddling around the radio to listen to the Ireland-England rugby match.

The only difference was that the lunch was boil in a bag, the tea tasted like coffee and the papers were last Sundays.

It was also a tougher 24 hours than most – Mother’s Day – and the troops were caught up in with memories of home cooking and thoughts of worried relatives.

Most have not been allowed to use mobiles in two weeks, some surreptitiously borrowed my satellite telephone, and others wrote long letters. A day of rest it may have been, but the orders came through to have every man ready, so we were all on an hour’s notice to move.

The experienced soldiers, though, knew this situation. They called it “on the bus, off the bus” – on the move one minute, going nowhere the next.

Falklands veteran Dave Pickard has seen it all before and took the chance to catch up on some number crunching.

Known as Crapo – Commando Regimental Aid Post Officer – his duties now are mainly administrative. “It’s a bit surreal to be balancing Plymouth bank accounts sat in a room in Iraq, ” he said, before he disappeared to check the Ireland-England score.

New rations had come in, including the bootnecks’ favourite, chicken and mushroom pasta. As long as they could ward off the hundreds of flies they could enjoy it.

Meanwhile, the regimental padre started a short church service. Two dozen men boomed out the traditional Marines hymn, offered prayers for those lost in combat, and for their mothers and family waiting nervously back home.

By dusk the urgency in the air had been numbed and soldiers relaxed. Captain Tristan Leyden buried himself in his chair next to me. “No matter who you are or where you are in the world, your body knows it’s a Sunday, ” he smiled.


© Western Daily Press