British Soldiers’ Thoughts in Afghanistan


Imperial War Museum North is located at The Quays – Greater Manchester’s unique waterfront destination, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, opened in July 2002, has won lots of awards or prizes for its architecture, is currently holding an exhibition to mark the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan exhibition by Derek Eland, a former paratrooper turned artist. Mr. Derek visited the members of 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand last January, where he asked the troops to pen down their thoughts on everything from fighting the Taliban to their families back home.

400 cards along with small pieces of papers have been put on the display, which reflect the honest and personal thinking of British soldiers about the everyday life activities, fighting Taliban and families back home. The exhibition started on October 1st, 2011 and will come to an end on 24th of June 2012. Mr. Derek is reported to have said that “he wanted to find a different way to get inside the heads of the soldiers on the frontline” and described the cards and pieces of the papers a “self-portrait of a modern conflict”. “It was an enormous privilege to spend time with these soldiers at the front line and to help create this extraordinary piece of artwork written at the time by the soldiers in their own words. This is their story.”

A range of emotional phrases and sentences coated with mixed feelings, honest opinions and unrefined comments could be observed on the cards, which exhibit the reality of everyday life of the British troops in a war-torn country.

From crude to poetic and emotionally charged sentences could be found on different colourful papers and cards, which show the aesthetic sense of the British troops and attract the visitors’ eyes to read. Some speak of experience and girl friend: “This tour has been a sobering and maturing experience.

Most of all it’s made me appreciate the little things that we take for granted. I miss my girlfriend”, while some speak of Christmas Day knocking in pickets for a road repair. Can’t wait for my birthday. One soldier tries to understand that I could never really understand the afghan people in Nad-e-Ali.

We build new schools, new roads and put money back into their community, fight against the Taliban and they still steal our shovels, while another soldier seems to advise that small things like driving my car or going to the shops has made me appreciate hard work and changed my train of though and my view of life and death completely. We are on borrowed time, so use it wisely.

A medical officer recalls seeing a friend blown up by a bomb. “The young soldier was brought to me following an IED blast. His injuries were serious though, the medic in his patrol had already saved his life. All I could add to this was a reassessment of his injuries and an offer of stronger analgesia.

He declined the latter and lay in silence on the stretcher amongst the dust. I didn’t need to ask many more questions. His eyes told the whole story. As wide as possible and conveying such a sense of bewilderment, uncertainty and terror that I shall never forget them.”

Another soldier writes: “We have two wars. One is shooting and fighting and the other war is what goes on in a soldier’s head when the fighting stops.” Some soldiers write about the fear of fighting: “To go forward could have meant death by a command wire IED (a roadside bomb).

To go back down the alley could have meant death by small arms fire while another expressed his fear that he had to make a hasty decision and seldom felt so alone in his life, or so scared. Another soldier continues that nothing compares to the first time getting shot at.

Adrenaline is sky high and lasts ages. But saying that, think the first time, saw one of the lads getting injured was probably one of the worst things I have ever had to deal with. In one card a soldier writes poetry “sometimes I’d rather be nowhere else.

Sometimes I’d rather be anywhere else. Sometimes it feels like home. Sometimes home feels a long way from here. Sometimes time flies. Sometimes the clock stops. Sometimes we have to withdraw. Sometimes we care the fight to them. Always we’re in it together.” While on another card a soldier admits that it is really very difficult to explain what it feels like to know that one of your friends has been hit.

It’s easy to feel like you will be the next. “Your mind clicks into a gear that you never knew you had, and you bark orders like your life depends on it… and GUESS WHAT: IT DOES!” Thinking about his memoirs: “My abiding memory of Afghanistan? … It will be a humble local farmer who one day took me by surprise by asking after my family. “You are far from home.

You must miss your family very much. We are very grateful.” Talking about his personal experience, one soldier continues that memories of this tour will stay with me forever. The memories of people who under such tough conditions only care about the well being of their friends, who always put others before themselves. In the worst times, the best in people shows.

Nearly all messages have been exhibited in simple drawings not in words, while some have expressed their feelings in a very brief phrases, like “War is not about who is right or wrong. It’s about who is left.” Another simple phrase says: “I’m an infantry man with hell on my shoulders.

Many write about their hardships of being away from the family members described as a “day to day struggle.” Some with a light humour mood as if they were sending a postcard on holiday: “Dear Mum, weather lovely, locals friendly, food fantastic.” Small pleasures are also celebrated: “Just back a 5-hour patrol.

Received parcels on 21/01/2011 — 17H51 Afghan time: tortilla wraps, corned chicken, corned ham, coffee, gloves, sweets — It’s such morale; it’s unbelievable.” The cards were reported to have been first displayed in a “diary room” on the military base in Helmand, where the armed forces were allowed to read each other’s contributions, and Mr. Derek has put the cards and the papers on view with the exact set-up in Imperial War Museum North, Manchester.

Some comments can be seen written on the ration boxes held together with tape. Mr. Derek photos can also be seen on display for the first time, alongside the artist’s diary. Visitors have also been asked to pen their own thoughts on the wall of the display.