Ferocious battalion has bear on the menu as it prepares for combat; Liz Perkins meets some proud Welsh soldiers training with a multi-national Nato force in Estonia, as Russian aggression continues to worry its neighbours...
Rather Death Than Dishonour is the motto of the Royal Welsh, and something Corporal Christian Long lives by.
His fierce determination in bayonet training in the sub-zero temperatures of rural Estonia shows he's lost none of the grit which brought him into the army.
Now aged 30, he knows it's the one quality that will keep him alive.
"You have to be robust with the bayonet," he says.
"The first time it was obviously daunting, but it's the core of our business - we expect to do that.
"The bayonet is symbolic of the Second World War, but as the characteristics change we need to remember those from years gone by.
"Whether it be warfare in a desert or a trench, we need to train for all eventualities. It's something that gets the guys going, they get aggressive about it. If we run out of ammunition it shows what we would do. Bayonet fighting breeds confidence in the team that everyone can do that duty."
The Iraq veteran revealed that while he had not relied solely on a bayonet in conflict, others around him had done so when that was the only weapon they had left to fight with.
Corporal Long, from Porthcawl, added: "In recent conflicts guys have fixed their bayonets in certain situations, when they have run out of ammunition they have fought at close quarters, or when they turned a corner in a compound.
"For the infantry it's something you need to practise, it's an emotive thing. You know you come into close quarters, there's an old line: 'You have to shoot when you see the whites in their eyes.' "I can 100% say on behalf of myself and the lads we would fix bayonets. I put that down to the past with Rorke's Drift." The legendary film Zulu tells of the Battle of Rorke's Drift, where 150 men from 24th Regiment took on the might of 4,000 Zulus and won 11 Victoria Crosses for their bravery.
B Rorke's Drift Company still exists to this day, and had a pivotal role in protecting Basra Palace during the Iraq war.
Their glorious history continues to be celebrated each January.
"Rather Death Than Dishonour is our motto," said Corporal Long.
"We're a Welsh battalion and we are fuelled by rugby. The men are fierce and they are very competitive. We want to be the best in the armoured infantry."
Some younger soldiers take the quest to be as ferocious as a rugby player so seriously they have even turned to bear meat to beef up their diet.
"A lot of our guys are getting big in the gym so protein is a big thing," he said.
"We have a lot of steak and the rumour was if you had a lot of bear steak it will turn you into a bear!" The troops have proved to be an effective force even in below-freezing temperatures.
"We are the first armoured infantry to operate in minus-19 temperatures," Corporal Long said.
"Our CO (commanding officer) talks about the last time that the armoured infantry was in that temperature, in the Second World War - it's hard soldiering. We did winter camp and were down to temperatures of minus 19 and minus 20, we were quite surprised we were operating effectively - there's a bit of ego here.
"We thought it would affect us or our weapons, but it did not make a difference at all."
But the dad of one did concede some of the newer recruits had found it a challenge.
"A few of the guys had to go through a re-warming drill as our blokes did suffer," he said.
"Because we are in training we do not like to take risks with other people's health."
The Royal Marines, who are mountain leaders, have been offering key hints on different survival techniques in the snowy conditions.
Corporal Long said: "We potentially have to face an enemy - we are professional infantry soldiers. We have been learning from each other with the Danes and the Estonians. The Royal Welsh is writing the coldweather tactics, and I am immensely proud."
He added: "I have been in the Royal Welsh for 12 to 13 years, a lot of the sergeants here joined at the same time - we all came from different sides. We have seen the battalion just flourish, last year we were in Canada, before we were in Kenya, where it was plus 28 at night to minus 19 out here.
"We can operate in the heat and the cold."
Christian, who was adopted and moved from Mountain Ash as a child to Porthcawl, has a real sense of pride in what he does.
At 15 years and seven months old he was inspired by the war on terror to sign up to the Royal Welsh.
"I remember being pulled aside in school and told about 9/11," he said.
"I felt angry and a mix of emotions which pushed me into the army.
"I liked the idea of serving in the infantry and using vehicles."
Iraq, Canada, Poland, Kenya and Germany are all stamps on his passport, but he wished he could have served in Helmand Province - whatever the risk.
"I would have happily done Afghanistan, but was not in the right place at the right time," Christian added. "I was in Catterick training up recruits."
His time with A Company - or the A team as they were dubbed in Iraq on Telic 10 - was not without loss, something he struggles to go into detail about.
"I was hurt - we lost a few guys in Iraq," he said. "It can hurt you emotionally - it's how you deal with that."
He added: "I also think too much sympathy is a bad thing - empathise and pick up and do your job.
"We have done well to face the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan - we used the threats of both conflicts for the future. A lot of the blokes reflect back, but there's a saying in the army, onwards and upwards - that's where we must go."
Until the summer, he and around 400 other troops from the Royal Welsh will be focused on a deter and reassurance operation in Estonia.
The scenario in Tapa, where Welsh troops are working alongside Danish and Estonian forces to protect their Nato ally, is unique.
"We are on a completely defensive posture, we are constantly training to face a future aggressor," he said.
"For myself it's quite easy, but for the new guys it's controlled aggression."
The corporal, who is married to Rebecca, aged 30, and is dad to twoand-a-half-year-old Oliver, said there was a strong bond between the soldiers and their families.
"In the regiment we have a strong sense of family," he said. "We are together and our wives are friends together. Things do get hard, a lot of things in life are hard - it's challenging," he said, adding that he is proud of his time with the regiment.
We did winter camp and were down to minus 20, we were operating effectively christian long
<B Snipers from The 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh in Estonia. The Battlegroup of nearly 1,000 is part of a Nato Enhanced Force Presence Corporal Tom Evans (RLC)
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Mar 9, 2018|
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