Collective British Army Interview with Nick Hackworth
NH: If you each just tell me first of all your names, your age, where you’re from, and how long you’ve been in the army.
DT: Okay. Sergeant Dougie Thompson. I’ve been in the army now for sixteen years,—six years left to do. I’m currently living in Chester, originally from Glasgow in Scotland.
MR: My name is Matthew [Rhode]. I’ve been in the army nearly three-and-a-half years, and I’m living in Derby. I’m 20 years old.
DH: I’m Daniel Hoyland. I’ve been in the army nearly two years, and I’m 19 years old. Living in Chesterfield.
NH: And your nicknames are?
NH: What are your favourite bands?
DT: Proclaimers is always one of my best. [Laughs] I like Oasis.
MR?: I haven’t really got a favourite band—
NH: Or you could mention a couple if you like?
DT: He listens to noise,—pure racket! [Laughs]
MR?: Uh—, I’d say Oasis would be one of my favourites.
DH?: Maroon 5 and Avril Lavigne.
NH: Favourite films?
DT: Black Hawk Down’s a classic at the moment,—that’s popular. I’ve watched it lots of times. And Last of the Mohicans as well,—I like that.
NH: When we were in the Humvees one of the guys was in that.
DT: Was he? I’ve read the book as well,—the actual real, true-story book,—and that was quite good.
MR: Top Gun is one of my favourites, and I quite like The Girl Next Door,—chick-flick! [Laughs]
NH: Okay! [Laughs]
DH: The Girl Next Door and Snatch.
NH: Snatch, and other gangster movies as well?
DH: Layer Cake’s good as well.
DH: Lord of the Rings.
MR: Freak. [Laughs] [1.58 – kind of an aside to DH I think? Quiet on the recording, not 100% sure]
DT: I only like non-fiction books, mainly sorta SAS stories, like your Bravo Two Zeroes,—stuff like that. I don’t like any fiction stuff. I like proper non-fiction,—true, real-life stuff that’s happened, mainly military stuff,—SAS and all that.
NH: Military history and that kind of stuff as well?
DT: Yeah, I like a lot of the major battles. When I was in Ireland I read the book about Stalingrad, and that was a mission just to read it! A lot of our tactics now is related to that stuff,—the lessons that they learned, even all that time ago.
NH: Why did you join the army when you did? What made you join up?
DT: For me, I didn’t really have a—, I didn’t enjoy school at all, I came away with no education,—mainly my own choice. But as a young lad I always wanted to join the army. There was quite a lot of young lads around my area that joined the army, so that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know what I wanted to join, at the time. I originally joined the tankies, but after a couple of years realised it didn’t really suit me. I went to the First Gulf War in a tank, and that wasn’t very nice,—sat in a tank just waiting for someone to shoot at you,—said I’d rather be on the ground where you’ve got a fighting chance.
NH: Did you see a lot of action?
DT: Saw a fair bit, yeah. All over quite quick. The ‘hundred hour war,’—didn’t last very long at all. A hundred hours was from us moving in, so the only fighting was for about two days.
NH: When you say ‘from a young age,’ what kind of age are you first thinking like ‘I want to join the army’?
DT: About 11-12 years old.
NH: And that’s there pretty constant, all the way through?
NH: How old were you when you actually joined up?
DT: I was 16.
NH: So basically as soon as you could?
NH: How about you?
MR: Basically joined the army because, like Tom I left school with not much at all, didn’t really enjoy school, and the are I lived in, I didn’t really enjoy it either. I just wanted to get away, travel the world, and that’s what the army had to offer,—that’s why I joined up, basically.
NH: And does it fulfil that?
MR: Yeah, it does, yeah.
NH: I guess you’re here,—it’s pretty far away!
MR: Yeah, far away from home. You miss your parents and that, but at the end of the day I’m travelling and doing something with my life, so—.
NH: And why was it you wanted to get far away?
MR: Well, it’s just the area I lived in. I was living in a small area, and it’s just the sort of thing—, I didn’t wanna end up in an office or end up in a factory like most of my friends did. I joined the army and I got away from that.
NH: How about you?
DH: Just the excitement, really,—bit bored at home, never really want to settle down or anything like that,—just wanted pure excitement, which I get from the army.
NH: And how old were you when you joined up, again?
DH: I’d just turned 18 when I started?
NH: And how many of your friends have joined up?
DH: I’ve got quite a couple of people from my old school, which are here,—so that’s alright. [05.00 – audio cuts out for a sec]
NH: So quite a few have joined as well?
NH: How about you,—any of your friends or anyone from back home?
MR: There was three of us from my school that joined up, and the other two got out because it wasn’t for them. I’m probably the only person left from my school in my year stayed in the army, so—.
NH: What about family,—have you got any family in?
MR: I ain’t got any other family in the army, no.
NH: Has anyone got a family connections with the army?
DT: I have, yeah. All my dad’s family were always connected to Scottish regiments, as far back as he could find out [5.34]. My dad was in the army,—he was in one of the Scottish battalions,—and my brother’s also in the army,—he’s in the 1st royal Tank Regiment, which is the tank regiment I used to be in. He’s sergeant-major in that.
NH: And that’s why you joined up with the tank regiment initially?
DT: Yeah, initially, yeah,—until I discovered I wasn’t that keen on it. It took the Gulf War—to actually go to war—to realise. If I hadn’t done that—volunteered to go to that—I’d have probably still been sat there, just—
NH: And you much prefer being infantry?
DT: Yeah, I do, I like—, it’s a lot more active when you’re doing things. With the tankies you’re just sat around a lot, fixing wagons. The wagons—the vehicles—take your priority,—they have to, they take a lot of maintenance, where here we haven’t—, the only things with have to look after is our feet and our guns,—that’s it, it doesn’t take a lot of time! [Laughs]
NH: So, you guys have been here a month. How exciting or boring has it been?
DT: Hectic! Well, the first week, there was so much happening, and second and third we were the run up to elections as well,—the first major elections in Afghanistan, and we were really busy on that, all out on the ground, making sure it was all safe,—people could get to the votes without being attacked or whatever.
NH: So you guys were actually guarding polling stations and stuff like that, yeah? Did you have any trouble when you were there?
[All]: No, not really.
DT: The people were pleased to see us. There was lots of things happening in other areas, but because our—, thirty years in Northern Ireland has taught us a lot of lessons, and us being out and mixing with the people, people are confident with us, and then they’ll be round us because they know they’re safe. A lot of the other armies don’t do that. They like to drive through with their big vehicles and big guns, and that’s about it, but we get out and stop and talk to them and reassure them, because we’re on the ground all the time,—a presence on the ground,—people that are going to do attacks will think twice twice about attacking us. Just down the road there’s gonna be another army that—.
NH: Yeah. So when you talk to them, you talk to them through the interpreters, or directly, or—?
DH: Yeah, through interpreters. Some are good at English though,—take good English lessons,—and you can have real good chats with like the little kids. From the school they’re learning good English, so—, yeah. And if you have trouble listening to somebody else, they’ll jump in and offer to interpret for you, if there’s not an interpreter around.
NH: So you’re general reaction from the Afghan population has been, in your opinion, good?
MR: It’s good yeah.
NH: Absolutely no problems at all,—no?
DT: With the population itself, no. I think ninety-nine percent of the population want us here, and they’re happy, and they enjoy us being here, and we enjoy being here because we know we’re only here six months. But there is that one percent that are bad eggs, and that’s the one percent that we’re trying to keep out of the way and, if we can, put them in prison, where they belong.
NH: So you got here a month ago. How long before that did you know you where coming?
MR: When I joined the battalion I knew I was coming here, yeah. December, yeah. [9 or 10 months]
NH: How much did you guys know about Afghanistan before you came? Did you read much, or—?
MR: Just basically the news reports on the TV you used to see half the time. I didn’t really read about it much, it’s just only since we started the training,—we start to learn a lot more about the country and what’s going on.
NH: Do you learn about in kind-of a structured way, or is it just up to you guys to—?
DT: No, there’s a training package in place specifically for Afghanistan, and they teach you the languages, teach you cultures as well,—‘cos we’re guests in their country so we don’t want to upset people,—and their religion’s quite a difficult religion,—we’re not used to it,—so we’ve been taught that, taught how to—. For us it’s different, it’s a whole country, so we’ve been taught how to to sorta look after ourselves as well,—drinking water, what food to eat, what food not to eat. So, a good training package to get us in the right mindset for coming out here.
NH: And how much debate is there about where you are, and where you’re sent as soldiers? Do you debate the rights and wrongs of it at all,—like whether armies like the British or Americans should be in places like Afghanistan or Iraq,—is there debate amongst you guys like that?
DT: At this level, no. If anybody’s got a serious problem with anything they’d go and talk about it. Most people don’t,—they’re just happy to—. Cos there’s people higher, up there, that’ll do the fighting for us, and get all the worrying things—, they’ll answer the questions before we get a chance to think about them.
NH: Can I talk to that guy? Is he busy?
DT: Yeah, you can talk to him. He can still do his job.
NH: Are you busy? Can I talk to you?
KR: Yeah, I’m alright!
NH: I’ll just catch you up with the questions I asked those guys. So, what’s your name?
KR: I’m Kevin Richardson.
NH: How old are you?
KR: I’m 19.
NH: Where are you from?
KR: From Nottingham.
NH: How old were you when you joined up/
KR: I was 17 when I first joined.
NH: And what made you join up to start with?
KR: I’ve always been a physically demanding lad, and independent lad, so basically when I left school the first thing I thought of was the army, because you get to travel a lot, and you get to do a lot of physical activity,—so that’s basically why I joined up.
NH: And is it—, you’ve done all the physical stuff you want to? [Laughs]
KR: Well,—still doing it! And I enjoy it, yeah.
NH: So it’s good, and you’re glad you joined?
NH: Have you got any friends or family who joined up as well?
KR: I actually joined up because of one of my friends talking about the army. He’s now in the army,—he’s an engineer. And my brother has just recently joined up for the REME now.
NH: What’s that?
KR: REME,—Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He’s been in there six months now.
NH: A couple of pop-cultural questions. What’s your favourite band, or couple of favourite—, or what kind of music do you listen to?
KR: I wouldn’t say I’ve got a favourite band. I listen to R’n’B and garage and dance and stuff like that, 50 Cent, Eminem,—a mixture really.
NH: What about a favourite book/
KR: I like reading James Patterson books,—they’re quite good, they’re psychological. Along Came a Spider,—that’s a good one, I like that.
NH: What about film?
KR: Film? I’d have to say, at the moment, I like films like Fight Club, and Snatch, Layer Cake, and stuff like that.
NH: Did you watch them out here when you’re in the army, or when you’re on leave?
KR: Some of them on leave, and some here.
NH: How have you found being in Afghanistan? You’ve been here a month,—what do you think of the place?
KR: Well, because I’ve done a tour before, in Ireland, I’m finding this similar, really,—it’s just the same.
NH: Similar to Northern Ireland?
KR: Yeah. It’s just a little bit harder, because there’s more stuff happening compared to Ireland, but I’m enjoying it.
NH: Okay, thanks very much!