What does Remembrance Day mean to me, a Veteran?
2011, Age twenty-one
Sitting in a small mud structured room referred to as Check Point (CP) Karim, a compound situated in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Listening to the Company debrief with my notebook in hand. Every night, the multiple (team) commanders would gather in the Operations Room to receive debrief reports over the radio. However, on the 20th of November 2011, we received a report which would trigger many emotions.
We were devastatingly informed, that Pte Thomas C Lake had been killed. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Lake and a friendship was never formed, he was still a soldier of my regiment. The pot of emotions began to stir, not just within myself, but also within the men of CP Karim. The sadness, the bitterness, anger and furthermore, we had to contend with the shock of reality.
We knew the dangers and we knew the risks, nonetheless, everything just became more real. Laying in my sleeping bag on that cold night, I knew every man in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR) would have Pte Thomas C Lake in their hearts and on their minds.
There are three things I usually think about in those two minutes of respectful silence on Remembrance Day. The first and foremost being Pte Thomas C Lake being killed in Afghanistan on the 20th of November 2011, I think about his friends and I think about his family.
Secondly, I can’t help but think about the 11th of November 2011 (11.11.11), how ironic that this would be my most memorable day for the rest of my life. A Company (the company I was in) conducted a large offensive operation in Loy Mandeh, Afghanistan. My multiple moved out at 0500hrs, under the cover of darkness in order to secure a HLS (Helicopter Landing Site). The security we provided allowed for a chinook to drop off two more multiples. These two multiples then proceeded North, clearing through the compounds of Loy Mandeh, while my multiple provided protection on the Eastern flank.
Two or three more hours into the op (operation) and there was a large explosion two hundred meters to my West. The chilling words from an unknown soldier came through on the radio and to my headset;
“Man down! man down! man down!”
At this moment, there are only two things going through every soldier’s mind. Who is it and how bad is it? Unfortunately, Stephen Bainbridge of the The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, had initiated a pressure plate I.E.D (Improvised Explosive Device). He lost both legs and sustained other fragmentation wounds, however, thanks to the quick life-saving actions from Lcpl Goode and those men on the ground, from the Black Watch and the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, Stephen Bainbridge survived.
Not only on Remembrance Day but quite often, I think about Those men who were wounded in combat. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been if I had initiated an I.E.D or if I had been shot, which on many occasions, must have only of missed me by the skin of my teeth.
Following the successful casualty extraction of Stephen Bainbridge, my callsign (team) was then tasked to push North-East, to exploit further Taliban compounds. My callsign was familiar with the atmospherics in Loy Mandeh and they were always bad atmospherics. There was always potential for something bad to happen, but you just didn’t know how bad it would be or when it would happen.
We had reached our limit of exploitation in the North-East of Loy Mandeh, at which point we decided to patrol back south to regroup with the rest of A Company. Myself, Matt and Callum, stepped off and began to head back South, however, we lead our patrol right into the killing area of a Taliban ambush. I took a massive rate of incoming effective enemy fire in the forms of 7.62mm and UGL (Underslung Grenade Launcher) rounds. Initially, we couldn’t even return fire, we all just scrambled across the deck and into the closest ditch. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been hit, I wasn’t even sure that I hadn’t been hit. Having said this, Callum and Matt were still in the open taking extremely close incoming. I could see the dirt kicking up around Callum’s feet as the Taliban continued firing at him, like a scene from a war film.
I then switched my rifle to automatic, taking a deep breath before kneeling up to return fire in the general direction of the enemy. I sprayed the whole tree line until the magazine on my rifle was empty and it was at this point that I started taking the incoming. I then took cover in a gully on the edge of the field that wasn’t quite deep enough and no matter how fast or how far I would crawl, my rucksack would still be protruding out of the ditch like a floating target for lead wasps (bullets). I was pinned down but Callum and Matt were now in the trench which was better than being out in the open. All I remember now while wondering if I was ever going to survive this, was a sixty-six (LAW – Light Anti-Tank Weapon) finding its way into the likely area of the Taliban. Thanks to the men of my callsign, who suppressed the Taliban, the firing had come to a stop and I was somehow still alive.
On Remembrance day, we take the time to remember and honour the fallen and wounded. That being said, there are many Veterans who remember every day, not only on Remembrance Day. I’m fortunate enough to not suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but there are guys and girls who have these traumatic moments on their minds on a daily basis. I regularly have this particular moment playing out in my mind. I don’t necessarily dwell on those many occasions where I could have died, though I find it hard to ignore how different things could have been for me and how lucky I am to be alive.
I believe that Remembrance Day isn’t just about remembering the fallen, I think we should honour the fallen but we should also remember those who are surviving. So on this particular day, I like to take not just those two minutes of respectful silence, but I like to use the whole day to really think about the fallen, the wounded surviving and those men who were fighting by my side on those dark days in combat.
I would like to dedicate this blog to Pte Thomas C Lake and his family, may you rest in peace, but never to be forgotten.
This blog simply couldn’t come to an end without expressing my gratitude and recognition for the men of ‘Two Three Delta’, who fought alongside me.
and the Search Dog Gracie
Honour the fallen, remember the wounded and surviving.
Jamie R Kennedy