Monday, March 20, 2023
HomeGlobalIraq War: I saw horrific things. But we believed it was the...

Iraq War: I saw horrific things. But we believed it was the right thing to do, says veteran 20 years on

An Iraq battle veteran has described her time working as a navy nurse in a warzone as “being like in a film”, making an attempt to sleep whereas rockets and missiles had been going off round her.

Captain Julie Thain-Smith labored as a navy nurse with the British Military in Iraq in 2003, arriving within the nation simply days after the invasion started. She helped construct a hospital within the nation and handled wounded Britons, coalition forces and native folks, spending three months within the besieged metropolis of Basra within the early days of the battle.

You are reading: Iraq War: I saw horrific things. But we believed it was the right thing to do, says veteran 20 years on

Chatting with i on the twentieth anniversary of the 2003 invasion, the Scottish captain, who has now retired from the forces, described her deployment as like “being in a film”.

Captain Thain-Smith was in her 30s and a lieutenant commander within the Navy in early 2003, working as a nurse in a area hospital in Gosport. She had by no means labored in a fight zone earlier than, and even with the military, however was chosen to arrange a hospital in Iraq with every week’s discover, travelling throughout the UK for speedy coaching earlier than her deployment.

{A photograph} taken by Captain Thain-Smith whereas deployed in Iraq (Picture: Provided)

The military truck that collected hospital waste was inscribed with the phrases ‘Basra Borough Council’, a joke which Captain Thain-Smith mentioned “made her smile” each time she noticed it (Picture: Provided)

“It was a little bit of a rush on the finish,” Captain Thain-Smith mentioned. “I used to be all around the nation in every week.”

“I used to be within the navy, so I had no military package. We bought issued with winter fight gear, however the place had been we going? To Iraq, the place it’s sizzling. [We had] hardly any, and it was all a darkish inexperienced color. They saved saying, you’ll get [the kit] in theatre. Don’t fear that you just’ve solely bought huge black boots which might be completely no use within the desert, you’ll get it in theatre. However that was a whole lie.

“The Submit Workplace was sensible, and my household purchased stuff and despatched it to me. All people needed to do the identical. My brother despatched me a pair of desert boots. My mother and father despatched me T-shirts. A photo voltaic bathe, a blow-up mattress. However you probably did it. There’s no level being depressing. The one little bit of camo desert package I ever had was a canopy for my helmet and a floppy hat, the entire time I used to be there.”

The Chilcot report, which examined the UK’s involvement in Iraq, discovered that the invasion had been rushed and marred by shortages of apparatus.

Readmore : Crisis over suspected Iran schoolgirl poisonings escalates

Captain Thain-Smith started her deployment in neighbouring Kuwait, spending two weeks near the Iraqi border because the invasion was ready. With fears that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”, which triggered the invasion and has since been disproved, the navy captain remembers spending hours in bunkers sporting stuffy chemical safety package as chemical alarms rang out.

“I keep in mind throughout one of many chemical alerts, we had been sat with our respirators on for hours. This man beside me mentioned: “I don’t consider it. I’ve bought a f****** fly in my respirator.” You couldn’t take them off, so he sat for 2 hours with this fly buzzing inside his respirator,” she mentioned.

A day or two after coalition floor troops, led by the US, invaded Iraq from its southern border, a small crew of navy medics had been despatched to Basra to construct a 25-bed hospital to deal with the mounting casualties. Captain Thain-Smith entered Iraq just a few days later, constructing a 200-bed hospital from scratch along with her crew.

“It was all occurring round you. Once we arrived, we had been sleeping in an enormous tent, a few hundred of us, and there have been rockets going off and patriot missiles. You had been mendacity in your mattress, and the entire floor was shaking with AS-90 weapons. It was like being in a film. I mentioned to one of many military folks, what do I do? He mentioned, put your helmet on,” she mentioned. “I used to be anticipating to enter a shelter or a trench, however no – simply put your helmet on.

“Within the hospital, you had been doing shifts: I labored in orthopedics however ended up in an infection management. Then you definitely did one other shift cleansing the hospital and sandbagging, and there have been a number of additional duties. After which in fact you needed to do your washing. You had been by no means bored.”

Julie Thain-Smith getting ready for a sandstorm in Iraq in 2003 (Picture: Provided)

She mentioned that from the primary days of the battle, the smaller hospital was “getting a number of casualties.” They handled primarily British Military forces, but additionally coalition forces and native folks in Basra. At some point, a tanoy rang out within the hospital asking for a midwife for an area girl who was giving beginning. Captain Thain-Smith had been skilled as a midwife within the UK and rushed to the scene: as soon as she bought there, the newborn had already been born.

“It exhibits, life goes on,” she mentioned. “It goes round. Individuals are born, folks die. You simply must get on with it.”

Requested if she felt on the time that she was at a pivotal second in historical past, she mentioned: “Oh sure. Whenever you began getting information in regards to the toppling of Saddam Hussein statues. And there have been two helicopter crashes: once you hear information like that, it actually sinks your coronary heart. You realise that you just’re in the midst of a battle, an operation, you’re really there. We bought informed our area hospital was the furthest ahead since Crimea. It was like, crikey, I did that in school.”

The captain when she left the navy (Picture: Provided)

Readmore : ‘More Russian agents than police here’: Bellingcat director Christo Grozev forced to flee Vienna

A whole lot of 1000’s of Iraqis misplaced their lives within the battle, together with 4,431 US troopers and 179 Britons. Round 15 per cent of veterans from Iraq are considered dwelling with PTSD, and this – alongside the battle in Afghanistan – is likely one of the conflicts with a better proportion of trauma among the many survivors.

Captain Thain-Smith, who additionally served in Afghanistan, mentioned she had not suffered trauma, however had seen it “constantly”. She now works with Assist for Heroes supporting veterans and their households.

“There are triggers, you realize. However I solely keep in mind the happiness, and the humorous bits. The those who I help now with Assist for Heroes, I attempt to get them to recollect not a lot the traumatic incidents however the good issues, just like the camaraderie. So, sure, some folks bundle the reminiscences on this means. I bundle them in a cheerful means. Different persons are not ready to do this. I noticed some horrific, horrible issues, however I don’t wish to carry them out in that means. You don’t go residence and ruminate about them, you simply assume, that was my job.”

The choice to invade Iraq sparked protests within the UK and world wide. However Captain Thain-Smith mentioned that “on the time, folks believed it was the correct factor to do”.

“Whenever you’re a member of the armed forces, you consider in your leaders, whether or not your defence leaders or political leaders. You’re there to fulfil defence coverage. I’ve bought an enormous factor about loyalty. I’m loyal to my leaders, whether or not they be in defence or the Authorities,” she mentioned.

“They’re not my politics. They’re the elected physique, and in case you didn’t comply with that, there’d be anarchy. I don’t have any situation about why we went, as a result of on the time folks believed it was the correct factor to do. On reflection? Mr Hindsight is all over the place. However I simply assume, what are the teachings we will be taught from this? On the time that you just had been there, you probably did the perfect you would. That’s how I rationalise it.”


Latest Articles

Related Posts