Deep underground, morale is everything

Article published in The Times, 26 August 2010. © Richard Kemp

Chile’s miners need military tactics to survive. Identify the ‘corporals’, keep busy and don’t ring home

I was buried alive when a powerful IRA mortar bomb, improvised from a gas cylinder packed with 200lb of explosives, detonated on the rim of the trench above me, blasting down sheets of corrugated iron revetment, earth and rubble. Mercifully, my soldiers managed to dig me out in a few minutes. Minutes that seemed like hours. Even that brief experience in South Armagh of being trapped, isolated, utterly helpless, was enough to make me shudder when I heard about the horrible fate of the 33 miners in Chile.

The terrors they have endured over the past three weeks, and the horrors that they will face over the next few weeks are of an order rarely experienced outside the Armed Forces.

When I heard yesterday that the men sang their national anthem as the rescue team first made contact, I again thought back to that desolate South Armagh hilltop. Private Dale Robbie had taken a direct hit from another of the ten bombs that had pulverised our position and was entombed beneath his destroyed concrete pillbox. He was badly wounded and bleeding hard.

As Robbie’s rescuers worked feverishly to get him out, they could make out from beneath piles of shattered concrete the muffled tones of the battalion song, The Lincolnshire Poacher — an expression of gratitude, relief and hope beyond the power of mere words that became as legendary within the regiment as the miners’ anthem has already become around the world.

It will be a long time before those men again see Chile’s “blue sky” or feel the “pure breezes” described in the first lines of their national Continue reading

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