Soldiers Always Moan but This Time They Have a Point; War on Terror: WAR BRIEFING

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBERT FOX

THE first thing armies do when they go to war is moan, and British soldiers over the centuries have turned moaning into an art form. Twelve years ago in the Gulf the black humour was based on Blackadder, and the patron saint of moaning was misery guts Baldrick. This time round the cocktail of fact and fantasy reaching mums and dads and partners back home is particularly exotic.

First of all the weather has been "gibbering" - the catchall term for wet, windy, full of sandstorms and unseasonably cold. All the tents blew down in a freak storm shortly after the first troops arrived in Kuwait.

As last time round, there has been ice and strange pieces of grass springing up in the desert.

Besides, the food has been "gopping" mucky, cold and nothing like the Americans get - or at least so you would believe from messages sent to anxious families. Food queues in the tented barracks have been nearly half a mile long.

Food is always a problem: in the first wave of operations it is a struggle to get field kitchens up and running. The British Army loves to show off "the bakery that last saw service at Alamein"- banks of gas-fired ovens and rings enough to fry a troop of boy scouts. On the whole the standard has been high, though US rations are preferred for variety and taste. Most rations are "boil in a bag" and require ingenious customisation, even though they are carefully selected by the likes of Delia Smith.

Experienced soldiers often carry embellishments, from Marmite to pickle.

In the Falklands a Royal Marine colonel took a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Biggest moans appear to focus on three areas: troublesome equipment, creature comforts such as loo rolls, and phoning home. Equipment presents a serious problem. Last time round some scout cars and personnel carriers were up to three times the age of their drivers. The standard infantry rifle, the SA80, has continuously suffered a bad press, particularly over its efficiency and ease of use in extreme desert conditions, and this has shaken morale. The rifle has had an u80 million refit and is now supposed to be among the best available according to the Ministry of Defence, but it is still requires elaborate maintenance. Many assault units have gone back to the tried and trusted General Purpose Machine Gun and the old . …