From the horror of Iraq to life on the Rock; They saw colleagues blown up and lived in constant fear for their lives during a gruelling stint in the Middle East Now the Welsh Guards David Powell met in Gibraltar face threats of a different kind and not all of them from the enemy.Byline: David Powell
DAFYDD Davies and Mathew Jones are in a serious, unexcitable mood. The two Welsh Guards are on patrol boat HMS HMS
Her (or His) Majesty's Ship
HMS (Brit) abbr (= His (or Her) Majesty's Ship) → Namensteil von Schiffen der Kriegsmarine Sabre scouring territorialwaters surrounding Gibraltar. Brandishing their two machine guns - skewered with a lethal ammunition belt - they eye the glistening glis·ten
intr.v. glis·tened, glis·ten·ing, glis·tens
To shine by reflection with a sparkling luster. See Synonyms at flash.
A sparkling, lustrous shine. waters for terrorists, arms or drugs traffickers and illegal immigrants. They also watch Spaniards, who are entitled to enter this 3.7 mile-wide zone but who doggedly refuse to recognise Britain's 300-year-old claim to the Rock.
"We would use the GPMGs (general purpose machine guns) if there was a risk to life or if someone wanted to hurt us," explains Davies, from Deiniolen.
As for the Spanish, he adds: "They wave at us and we wave back." But as top level talks continue over the future of this UK Overseas Territory, you feel it's an uneasy truce. Does Davies, 27, a former Ysgol Brynrefail student, feel guilty to be here? "No," he replies.
I was visiting Number Three Company, 1st Battalion The Welsh Guards, as they cover for the Royal Gibraltar Regiment The Royal Gibraltar Regiment is the home defence unit for the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. It was formed in 1958 from the Gibraltar Defence Force as an infantry unit, with an integrated artillery troop. which is exercising in Morocco. It was a few days before news filtered through that 11 of their comrades in the 1st Battalion back at base in RAF St Athan, South Wales, had tested positive for drugs. The culprits - five took a Class A substance and six had a Class C substance - may be discharged for the offences.
Back on HMS Sabre, Guardsman Mathew Jones, 20, of Bethesda, a former pupil at Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle, admits: "It's enjoyable here and a change from Iraq. I saw bomb debris and lamp posts broken by explosions. It was tense and I didn't feel safe - I was pleased to get out."
We reach the harbour without incident. Later, I catch up with the Welsh Guards' commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Ben Bathurst, 41. In a blue shirt and beige trousers, he relaxes at a dockside picnic table in nearby Rooke naval base.
He says: "We are helping the Royal Gibraltar Regiment by taking over their duties here for a month, allowing them to go on exercise in Morocco. Welsh Guards are also there helping their shooting practice.
"They've done barrack-guarding duties and ceremonial things - the Corps of Drums are converting themselves from a machine gun platoon to their secondary skills as musicians (flautists, buglers and drummers). Quite a transition."
But how dangerous is Gibraltar? Lt Col Bathurst, awarded the OBE for work in Iraq, insists: "We haven't come here for a holiday. There is a very real threat. The whole point about worldwide terror is no-one is immune. With the proximity to North Africa, Spain, which has suffered terrorist atrocities, and very busy shipping lanes, we realise what an important part the Royal Gibraltar Regiment has."
Welsh Guards also train in Gibraltar's unique caves and tunnels in case they're sent to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.
I watch them exercise in Devil's Bellows that afternoon.
Troops creep along one of the52kms of manmade tunnels, dug as WWII WWII
World War II
WWII World War Two defences. It's pitch dark so they peer through night sights at an unseen enemy. Suddenly, "gunfire" fells one man and the others hastily carry the "casualty" to safety.
Lance Corporal Danny Adams, of Llandudno, explains: "You couldn't see anything in front of you."
This exercise - Operation Dragon's Lair - had been led by section commander Lance Sergeant Ken Jones, 26, of Caernarfon"They didn't do too badly," says L/Sgt Jones, who
instructs his men in cave fighting. "The guys have to get used to fighting in the dark. Sometimes I teach in Welsh. You get the message over quicker."
Gibraltar has many advantages. L/Sgt Jones, who joined the Army at 16 from Ysgol Sir Hugh Owen and returned from Basra in March, reveals: "You do your day's work here, go to the Naafi for a beer and chill out. In Iraq you can't. You're on standby 24 hours a day for six months. I have one guardsman who got blown up twice, once in a vehicle and the other when a mortar landed in our tent.
"He had to be flown to the UK for an emergency op and has a massive scar on his leg. If I'd been in my bed space five minutes earlier I'd have had some. I feel lucky."
Next day, I meet Lance Sergeant Andy Williams, 36, a physical training instructor Physical Training Instructor (PTI) is a term used primarily in the British Armed Forces and British police for an instructor in physical fitness.
In the Army, there is a separate branch, such as the Army Physical Training Corps, who oversee physical training and from Holyhead. Dripping wet after a swim, he says: "I enjoy training the boys to be qualified instructors."
Williams and wife Natasha, 33, have children Zachary, 11, and Imogen, seven. He says families struggle to cope with Army life. "Ask any wife, they're never happy their husbands are away, especially when children are involved. But they're in your mind, you're in their mind. Sheaccepts what I do and stands by me. "But wives are in a close-knit community back home in the quarters. We boost our morale here and they boost theirs there."
Yet Army life mightn't be for everyone. Sergeant Paul McIlvogue, 36, wouldn't advise son Sean to enlist. "I'd prefer him to be a civilian because places like Iraq are so dangerous," admits Sgt McIlvogue, originally from Conwy but now Penrhyn Bay. "Sean is proud of me. He was six when I was in Iraq. He missed me and wanted me to phone him every week."
The danger in Iraq is real to Guardsman Sean Williams, 21, of Colwyn Bay. "I got a brick in the face. It crushed my cheekbone cheek·bone
See zygomatic bone. and fractured my nose." His partner Tracey Woosnam, 27, and children Kieran, two, and Teagan, one, were horrified hor·ri·fy
tr.v. hor·ri·fied, hor·ri·fy·ing, hor·ri·fies
1. To cause to feel horror. See Synonyms at dismay.
2. To cause unpleasant surprise to; shock. . Happily he recovered. So how does she feel about his posting to Gibraltar? He grins: "She's jealous."
Welsh Guards chaplain Stephen Lodwick, 41, sums up the stark difference between Iraq and Gibraltar. At a pub table in the thronging Casemates Square that evening, the Llanelli-born padre says: "In Iraq, a Guardsman would come to me and ask deep, theological questions like 'Is it right to kill?' and ' What happens to me if I die"In Gibraltar, they might complain that they have to pay pounds 3 to use a washing machine to wash their kit and pounds 2 for a dryer. They get seawater seawater
Water that makes up the oceans and seas. Seawater is a complex mixture of 96.5% water, 2.5% salts, and small amounts of other substances. Much of the world's magnesium is recovered from seawater, as are large quantities of bromine. and dirt on it and need clean kit in case of an infection.
"I can pass their concerns up the chain of command. It might sound petty but the Army wants happy soldiers." He also deals with men's homesickness by "helping them realise it's not just them".
In April 2006, the Welsh Guards move from RAF St Athan to London for Trooping the Colour before tours in Bosnia and Kosovo until April 2007. Visit www.welshguards.net
BREAKFAST show DJ Annwen Smith, 28, of Betws-y-Coed, broadcasts on the Gibraltar radio station near the Welsh Guards' officers' mess.
"I love waking up the Rock," beams Annwen, who has 80,000 military and civilian listeners in Gibraltar and Spain. "It's an amazing feeling waking up thousands of people. There is a sense of celebrity but only because we're in the public eye. Children come in to collect prizes and say ' It's the lady from the radio!"' Annwen left Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy is a Welsh comprehensive high-school located in the town of Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley. There are around 800 pupils in the school and most of them are bilingual. in Llanrwst to do media studies at Edge Hill College, Lancashire. She worked as a reporter in Porthmadog for the Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald before applying for a traineeship with British Forces Broadcasting Service The British Forces Broadcasting Service was established by the British War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) in 1943. Today it provides radio and television programmes for HM Forces, and their dependents, in Afghanistan, Belize, Bosnia, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, the Falkland . The producer-presenter has worked in Cyprus, the Falklands and Bosnia for BFBS BFBS British Forces Broadcasting Service
BFBS British and Foreign Bible Society
BFBS British Forces Broadcasting System Radio One. She will marry Royal Navy medic medic: see alfalfa. Stuart
Campbell, 31, in April next year
Guardsmen Mathew Jones, of Bethesda, and Dafydd Davies, of; Deiniolen (main picture); Guardsman Sean Williams, of Colwyn Bay (inset); Lance Corporal Danny Adams, of Llandudno (below; Pictures: WILL CRAIG and DAVID POWELL; Army DJ Annwen Smith