Our boys in Afghanistan depict a suffering not a winning army
The bonds between two parents who lost their sons were the most touching aspect of this documentary
BRITISH soldiers in the raw are always a joy to watch. The screenwriters of MASH would have given their eye-teeth for some of the lines we heard in the latest episode of Our War broadcast on BBC3 last night.
Into the Hornets' Nest was the much-vaunted documentary – because it used footage from the soldiers' own helmet cameras - about the men of Arnhem Company, 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment in Afghanistan.
Filmed in the summer 0f 2010, it followed a group of marvellously laconic and profane Scousers as they mounted an aggressive diversionary attack against a Taliban stronghold - in order to draw them away from a strategic road under construction.
Sergeant Mark Wilson, a platoon sergeant in Arnhem Company was the star of the show and I suspect the battle – the essence of the British non-commissioned officer.
The way he teased a shaken young soldier who had had a narrow escape made me laugh out loud. The way he comforted and encouraged both a badly wounded young soldier and his badly wounded platoon commander was extraordinarily moving. Platoon sergeants are the bedrock on which the British infantry has been built these last 400 years.
There was a wonderful moment of high black comedy as a Chinook helicopter sent to evacuate a casualty very nearly landed on two young soldiers securing a landing strip under enemy fire. Sergeant Wilson was splendidly unamused.
Eskimos are said to use more than 50 different words to describe different types of snow. To describe his feelings on this occasion, Sergeant Wilson needed just one - but used repeatedly, almost symphonically, with impressive force, imagination and feeling.
The most difficult scenes involved the parents of the two soldiers who died of wounds sustained during the operation: Brigadier Mike Griffiths, the most senior officer in the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, whose son Captain Andrew Griffiths was Sergeant Wilson's platoon commander, and Julie Baxter, the mother of a young Kingsman (private soldier), Darren Deady.
Griffiths was unlucky enough to step on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and Deady was shot in the chest. Both made it back to the hospital at Camp Bastion, courtesy of RAF helicopter crews unconcerned about their own safety. Both even made it back to Selly Oak military hospital in Birmingham.
Griffiths and Baxter met up in the ward where their severely wounded sons were being treated. The bonds between them based on their love for their dying boys were the most touching and in a way most positive part of the programme. Julie Baxter summed it up: "There were no need for words."
Sadly, overall, Into the Hornets' Nest was a curiously depressing experience. The high professionalism, exemplary bravery and stoic humour of the soldiers involved could not camouflage the uncomfortable doubts lurking behind some of the interviews – they were part of a suffering rather than a winning army.