Veteran calls for memorial 25 years after Gulf War

A Gulf War veteran says those who fought 25 years ago have been forgotten.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 29th February 2016, 5:30 am
Former soldier Mick Orr
Former soldier Mick Orr

Ex-corporal Mick Orr took part in a ground offensive which booted Saddam Hussain’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991. But a quarter of a century on, there is still no memorial to the troops who died, despite a nationwide campaign.

“We’ve been forgotten. There hasn’t been any official recognition of what we did back then, not a thing,” said the Preston 48-year-old.

“We got a nice shiny medal. But that’s all.”

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And 25 years on he still asks the question: Why were coalition troops stopped from pushing on to Baghdad?

“We all felt that if they had just let us have a few hours sleep and a good feed we could have carried on,” he said at home in Ashton, Preston. “We had been on the go, constantly moving, for 100 hours. The majority of the guys out there felt as I did. We could and should have gone on.”

President George Bush called a halt once the invading Iraqis had been driven out of Kuwait and he drew a line in the sand. It took another 12 years before the US and its allies decided to complete the job and topple Saddam Hussein.

Mick, a corporal in 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment, was stationed in Germany in 1990 when the call came - on November 11, his birthday. He flew out to Saudi Arabia on January 6 - his first wedding anniversary - and his wife had just told him she was pregnant.

The job he and his comrades were given with their Chieftain Bridgelayer vehicles was to overcome ditches which the Iraqis had filled with oil and set alight to halt the coalition advance.

“They used to call us the Antiques Roadshow because a lot of our vehicles were 45 to 50 years old,” he joked. “But they still did the job.”

After Saddam’s troops had been driven back, it was down to Mick and his mates to clear the notorious Highway of Death where hundreds of vehicles had been destroyed by coalition air strikes as the Iraqis fled.

He was in the Gulf for only a fraction of the time he served in the Balkan conflict.

“My Bosnia medal doesn’t mean the same as the Gulf War one,” confessed the former publican who spent 22 years in the Army. “I was in Bosnia for two-and-a-half years, but I’m more proud of what we did in the Gulf.

“We got a nice medal in ‘91, but a lot of us feel like we’ve been forgotten. It’s the forgotten war.

“It seems like there’s never been any official recognition of what we did. There’s no memorial for those who lost their lives.

“There’s a campaign on Facebook to get a memorial in the National Arboretum, but that’s all.

“The Government just seems to have ignored us. Like Gulf War Syndrome they have just swept it under the carpet.”

While Mick has suffered no lasting after-effects of the cocktail of drugs given to troops going to the Gulf, he still believes it could have hit his family. He has a son who was born with a genetic disorder, who was conceived after he had taken the pre-Gulf medication, including nerve agent tablets.

“I lost count of the number of injections we had before we went out there,” he said. “We were inoculated against absolutely everything - we had four or five in one day.

“My son was born with a genetic disorder and has special needs. To this day we still don’t know if it was caused by the drugs I was given. And we will probably never know.”

A quarter of a century after the Gulf War, Mick and his old comrades will be getting together at “Sapperfest” in the summer in Manchester. Last year’s attracted 750 including a soldier he hadn’t seen since Kuwait.

“He was shot in the stomach and they recovered the round from the back of his webbing. He now wears it on a chain around his neck.”

Meanwhile, -RAF flier Drew Steele doesn’t need a 25th anniversary card to remind him of the first Gulf War – it is with him every day.

The 56-year-old suffers from a chronic kidney disorder which doctors say could be life-limiting and which Drew believes stems from the course of inoculations all forces endured before they were deployed to the desert.

“I had the full cocktail of drugs and it knocked me out for more or less 24 hours,” he recalled. “But on top of that I was up in Kuwait operating in all the oil smoke where day could turn into night in a matter of seconds and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

“Within a year of coming back I was diagnosed and I’ve been living with it ever since.”

While many veterans of the 1990/91 conflict have sought recompense for Gulf War Syndrome, Drew refuses to play the blame game.

“I am not complaining because I signed up to whatever was going to happen,” he said at BAE Systems in Warton where he now works on the development of unmanned aircraft.

“What I’ve got is just a consequence of war. A specialist told me it would be life-limiting and probably be the death of me eventually.

“I am on constant drug treatment, but it doesn’t stop me working and I’m not disabled.

“I am completely happy to tolerate it because I went into it with my eyes open. And if they asked me to go again I would.”

Around a third of the 700,000 US troops who served are said to be affected. It is estimated 33,000 UK troops are suffering from illness as a result of the Gulf War.

Drew was posted to Oman in the build-up to hostilities and then moved to Saudi Arabia and finally Kuwait as the invading Iraqi forces were driven out. He worked on Nimrod surveillance as an ops officer and went on sorties to pinpoint enemy radar positions and Iraqi mines.

“I live in Blackpool and I’m used to the fireworks championships every year,” he said. “Well, one night in the very north of the Gulf it was just like that as the attacks were going in and the sky was lighting up. As soon as the button was pressed for the ground troops to go in it was staggering how quickly it all happened.

“When I was in Kuwait City hearing the gunshots going off, none of them were probably aimed at me, but you don’t know that at the time. I suspect in reality I wasn’t in mortal danger. I guess we all want to know how we will react to the fear of being in those situations and I’m lucky to have found out how I reacted. I also saw that, while we are all for Queen and country, the driving motivation of troops is not to let their mates down on either side of them.

“I’ve got to say I was fairly flabbergasted when I heard President Bush ordered a stop. Clearly there was still work to be done. But it’s not up to us, we’re just there to do the politicians’ bidding.”

Drew, who left the RAF to join BAE in 2007, was in Kuwait City when it was liberated.

“Seeing the gratitude of the people was absolutely staggering. They couldn’t find the words to thank us enough. I was very proud we did it.”