Friday, October 9, 2009
AN Army captain said he owes his life to a comrade who helped him to fight off the deadly Taliban.
Capt Terry Harman was leading the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards through the war-torn Helmand Provence in Afghanistan, when he was ambushed by enemy fire.
But back-up from Sergeant Gavin Evans’ patrol vehicle allowed troops to overpower the opposition.
At an emotional homecoming ceremony on Wednesday, the men were reunited after what became the guards’ most “brutal and bloody summer”.
The battle-scarred battalion lost seven of its men including commanding officer Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 39, who was the most senior British Army officer to die in action since the Falklands War.
Speaking to the Daily Post from the guards’ base at Lille Barracks in Aldershot, Capt Harman, 45, from Talysarn, Caernarfon said the 130 returning soldiers received the heroes’ welcome they deserved from tearful loved ones.
Arriving back before them, he too had prepared his own 15-year-old son for the gruelling possibility that he may not come back home himself.
“Homecomings are an emotional experience,” said the father-of-three.
“It is very overwhelming coming back and realising the enormity of what you’ve been through.
“Before I went off to Afghanistan, I told my eldest boy he would have to be prepared to step into my shoes if anything happened to me. I am proud and very lucky to come back home to my wife and children as we’ve lost some good friends along the way.”
Speaking of his experiences in the troubled country, he said he was eager to shake hands with Sgt Evans and thank him for saving his life.
“Our mission was to help remove the Taliban from local communities as well as support and engage with the village elders,” he said.
“People there were lacking their most basic of needs, they had no electricity and we did our very best to ease their suppression by building schools and helping the farmers get back into the fields.
“But while we were doing this, we got caught up with the Taliban who launched an attack.
“Sgt Evans came to my rescue by providing back-up, allowing us to overpower the enemy. “Luckily we all escaped with our lives but I never saw him again properly after that until now.”
He added: “My emotions were already running high when the men stepped off the coach and onto home soil.
“I’ve been back for a few weeks now but it was still emotional, particularly as I was keen to see Sgt Evans again, I couldn’t wait to thank him and shake his hand.”
After flying in to RAF Brize Norton on Wednesday evening, family members rushed to greet their relatives with a loving embrace.
Fathers cradled their newborn babies for the first time at the welcome home ceremony.
Some children held up home-made banners bearing the signs: ‘My daddy’s a hero.’
For the wives, the wait was an anxious one as the death toll within the battalion rose.
But guardsman Sion Griffiths, 19, from Blaenau Ffestiniog modestly brushed aside controversy, insisting the troops had a job to do.
“Being in Afghanistan is frightening at times but you just have to carry on through the fear,” he said.
“Coming back feels strange, I am happy and overwhelmed.”
Guardsman James Salisbury, 22, from Wrexham, arrived back from the country over a month ago and welcomed his fellow comrades off the coach.
He said: “You go through every emotion from fear and sadness from losing soldiers, to frustration at living in the most basic of conditions but you have your battalion keeping you going.
“It’s good to be back.”
The men who didn’t come home included Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe from Oxfordshire, Guardsman Christopher King, 20 from Devon, Pte John Brackpool, 27 from Crawley, L/Cpl Dane Elson, 22 from Zimbabwe, Maj Sean Birchall, 33 from Surrey, Lt Mark Evison, 26 from London and Lt/Sgt Tobie Fasfous, 29 from Bridgend.
Major Dai Bevan paid tribute to the fallen soldiers.
He said: “We have lost seven very fine men and our thoughts and prayers are with their families.
“It is clearly a very anxious time for the loved ones of our soldiers for they realise the dangers we face.”