They are bankers, abattoir workers, solicitors and HGV drivers, but they also have a second job - part-time soldiers. Foreign correspondent of the year Audrey Gillan was given unique access to the Territorial Army in southern Iraq, where she found out what it's like to be fixing the office photocopier one day - and getting shot at the next.
Read part 2
Thursday October 14, 2004
The shots are not quite as loud as you might expect them to be, but still they are too close for comfort. The bullets fly past the head of a shocked Territorial Army soldier and embed themselves in the wall, just inches from where he is standing. A sharp voice shouts: "Contact to our left, three or four rounds." Seconds later, there is a small burst of fire.
They call it a contact and what it means is that somebody, somewhere, shot at British troops. It happens every single day in Iraq. Today they think it might be a warning that they have stayed in this area for too long, but in truth they really don't know. It is one of the first forays British sol diers have made into the town of Amara, north of Basra, for quite a while and the locals aren't happy. On the wall of a nearby community centre, a scrawl in red paint reads: "Dawn No No USA Brtish [sic]".
This group of 12 Territorial Army soldiers from 52 Lowland Regiment Y Company have been escorting a man from the Ministry of Defence to another British-built community centre. The civil servant - known as a political adviser, or "polad" for short - has flown up from Basra to check that British government funds are being properly spent. Colour Sergeant Keith Irving from Hawick in the Scottish Borders is in charge of this expedition, and is standing on a street outside the community centre, watching for possible trouble, his SA80 rifle at the ready. He is surrounded by dozens of cheeky-faced children shouting, "Mister, mister, Saddam donkey," while showing him the soles of their feet. But as the convoy pulls off later, the children's faces turn resentful and they start throwing stones.
It's just another day for the Territorial Army soldiers serving in Iraq - people who, most of the time, live daily lives every bit as ordinary and banal as yours or mine, but who find themselves, in times of war, called upon to do an extraordinary second job in a very dangerous place. The mobilisation of reservists for the war in Iraq was the biggest since the Suez Crisis, and it continues to grow through the postwar phase. There are 1,210 Territorial Army soldiers serving on Op Telic 4, as the current operation in Iraq is known, making up 14% of the 8,069-strong British force. Roughly 10% of the TA contingent are female, many of them nurses.
As the British army has come to rely ever more heavily on part-time soldiers, the contrast between the jobs they do at home and what they do in "theatre", as the military call the Iraqi conflict zone, has become more striking than ever. There is the Calor Gas tanker driver who is currently gathering intelligence; the joiner who runs a job creation scheme for Iraqi people; the marketing officer for the National Archive at Kew who now spends his days trying to liaise with public service officials; as well as the mechanics, plumbers and City analysts doing guard duty. Then there are those on a busman's holiday of sorts: the two electricity specialists working on the Basra power grid; the doctors and nurses working in the military field hospital; the chefs now preparing meals for thousands of soldiers stationed in the desert.
The soldiers from 52nd Lowland Regiment have spent most of their time in Iraq on force protection, interspersed with what they consider the more boring job - guard duty. They are coming to the end of their six-month stint in Amara and their morale is still pretty high. At home, they belong to various TA units, training in their different bases in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ayr and other towns across Scotland during the week, coming together as a brigade at periodic short residential camps. While they may have met each other's wives and families at dances and other TA events, they don't like to talk about home too much.
Irving, the broad-accented Scotsman, is typical of the TA soldiers here in that he believes that he is just as professional as any regular in the field. He served in the regulars for five years, then signed up with the TA 10 years after leaving the forces. "Having seen it from both sides of the fence, I think commitment-wise the TA guy is the better soldier," he says. We are standing outside a British-funded blacksmith's shop. Inside, the owner is telling the MoD man that he is now employing five members of his family because of the funds he received to kit out his workshop. The MoD man is happy, even though this marks just a small success in terms of the British attempt to h