Photographer Lalage Snow photographed and interviewed members of 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland before they were sent to Afghanistan, after three months' service, and days after they returned home. Their faces show the toll that fighting in Afghanistan takes on our troops.
Private Chris MacGregor, 24
11th March, Edinburgh: “Obviously I’ll miss family but other than that I am going to miss my dogs more than anything. They are my de-stressers and keep me sane. I think I’ll miss TV too though. I try not to think about the worst case scenario.”
19th June, Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED incident: “Most people get used to being away from home but I find it hard. It’s your fear that keeps you alive here. But I believe if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and theres nothing you can do about it. If the big man upstairs could do anything, there’d be no dead soldiers. They’d all be alive. It still hurts when you hear about a soldier dying. You think about what their families are going through. You ask what they died for and what we are achieving here. I am not sure any more. That Afghan soldier losing his legs just now… I don’t know….”
28th August, Edinburgh, after being evacuated due to sustained knee injury from Iraq: “My legs just gave up. I think it was the weight – 135 pounds or something. I just had to accept, my body was telling me to give up as I had pushed it. I was telling it to go, it was telling me to stop. When squaddies come back they still have a lot of adrenaline and anger in them. I had to have anger management after Iraq. If I get like that now, I just go for a walk with the dogs. It is the best way to deal with it, instead of being all tense and ready to snap at folk. The first thing I did when I came back, appart from kissing and cuddling the misses and my bairn, was go for a massive walk with the dogs. I walked for miles and miles not caring where I stepped.”
Second Lieutenant Adam Petzsch, 25
6th March , Edinburgh: “I suppose I am a bit apprehensive but I want to see what it is really like. It is what I joined the army for but I don’t know what to expect.”
19th June, Compound 19, Nad-Ali, after an IED incident: “It was my first IED incident and first casualty. You don’t think about it till afterwards though as your priority is getting the guy away and back into safety. Then you start thinking about what happened, if it was preventable, if it was your fault in anyway and how the others are doing. Before we were on this op I was thinking about how quiet the tour had been and that we had to be careful and fight complacency.”
10th October, Edinburgh: “We took over a new compound and if we ventured any more than two or three hundred metres we got shot at. At the start of the tour you could patrol kilometres away and no one would touch you. But I think yes, in parts we are making a difference.”
Private Sean Patterson, 19
11th March, Edinburgh: “I am going to say goodbye to my family early as I hate goodbyes. I am going to miss them. I’m not scared though, I can’t wait! I joined the army when I was 15 — it is all I wanted to do and I can’t wait to get out there.”
20th June, Camp Tombstone, being ‘TRIM’med (Trauma Risk Management): "It was horrible. When we got back to safety I broke down crying. We all did. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was thinking about home and staring at the stars. I had R and R a few days after that and for the first couple of nights I had nightmares and flashbacks; I woke up in pure cold sweat. When I got back and out on the ground again we were under fire and another two guys had to be evacuated after losing limbs. It was s**t seeing it happen all over again. It wasn’t nice at all. I say a prayer before I go on patrol now but I still think ‘am I going to come back in one piece or with a leg missing? I’m scared every time I leave for a patrol. I hate it. It is 84 days left until I go home.”
7th October, Edinburgh: “People think you can just sail through life but it is not as easy as that. You could get hit by a bus and that would be that. You never know what is going to happen - especially out there. You could go out on patrol and that could be you. Finished. I reckon we should leave them to do their own thing. We have lost too many. You see guys coming back missing three limbs. They’re not going to be able to get a job on civvy street are they. So I don’t really see the point. It’s not as if we are going to gain anything in Afghanistan, are we? It’s their own problem. Deal with it.”
Private Jo Yavala, 28
9th March, Edinburgh: “I am going to miss my family. I have been to Iraq before but not Afghanistan. I don’t know what to expect but am looking forward to getting out there now.”
Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED: “I had a funny feeling about this patrol. heard the bang and heard on the radio ‘man down’ It was the first casualty I have seen. It was pretty awful. I saw the medic treating him, He had no leg. I went back to where it had exploded and then saw his boot floating in the water. Just an empty boot.”
10th October, Edinburgh: “In the morning when I wake up and in the evening before bed. But out there I was just praying all the time, thinking of my family at home. Sometimes I’d pray during during a patrol itself. I was scared. Especially when in contact, you don’t know what will happen. I was expecting the worst. Right now I feel a little bit angry, sometimes my temperture rises very quickly especially if I stay too long inside. Sometimes I miss being with all they guys. For the first few days I had difficulty sleeping. I dreamt about different things that happened in Afghan. A few nights I woke up crying.”
Private Steven Anderson, 31
March, Edinburgh: “I think its going to be horrible to be honest. The work will be intense and there are going to be a lot of casualties. I am scared not of dying but of losing my legs – that would be the worst.”
June, PB Pimon, Nad-Ali: “Its hard to explain the conditions, how dirty it is. Often when you phone your girlfriend or something and she asks why you aren’t talking normally, it’s… you're drained, you’re tired, you’re dirty, you’ve not eaten properly for a few days. Lack of water. You’re just drained. I was scared on the first patrol but you think back to the training and remember all the drills. I haven’t been in any fire fights and am happy for it to stay that way and to go back home with all my fingers and toes intact.”
October, Edinburgh: “We try and go there to win their hearts and change their minds… but those people are living until 45 and dying as there’s so much poverty and not the medicines to treat them. And they put different value on life. A child got killed, it was nothing to do with the Army it was just ill. They brought the body of that child to an army camp having shot it saying that it got caught in a fire fight and demanding money. How can you change the mind of someone like that?”
Corporal Steven Gibson, 29
11th March, Edinburgh: “I am afraid of not coming back home. I have two children and a third on the way in August and I love them and my wife more than anything in the world. Not coming back and seeing them again… that would be the worst.”
10th June, Nad Ali: “A lot of the guys have bibles with them — they know it’s a split second from going from bad to worse. I have read up to p27. I have never read the bible before. This place opens your eyes up. You hear op minimise come one and it brings it all home. You know that somewhere a soldier has been badly injured or worse and you think about their famillies. So reading the bible, well, it is like trying to make peace with someone, the big man upstairs.”
15th October, Edinburgh, Blown up in an IED. Sustained back injury: “Without fail I always had my St Christopher on my dog tags. Apart from one day when I couldn’t find them anywhere and had to use my spares. And then three hours later, boom. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like... you know when you are about to faint and you get that fuzzy feeling? I never heard the bang but I went up and over. Everything was fine until 10 minutes later when the adrenaline stopped. It was like someone had stuck something in my back. I fell to the floor and was just in agony. I didn’t want to get sent home but had no choice. Without a shadow of doubt I am still finding it hard to adjust; I still look back. I’ll go out for a cigarette and constantly thinking about Afghan.”
Private Matthew Hodgson, 18
11th March, Edinburgh: “Aye I am looking forward to it now that we are going but I am scared of losing my best mates more than myself. It's the casualties that I am afraid of. There are going to be so many.”
19th June, Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED: “It was really frightening. You see the IED blast and you wonder who got hit. It wasn’t a nice thing to see. It dawns on you how real it all is and then you try not to think about it. You try not to think about it at all. That patrol was pointless and now an Afghan soldier is missing his legs and for what?”
12th October, Edinburgh: “You try and explain what it was like where you were but people have not got a clue. The food — not getting a proper meal or sleep. And you are just drained after a patrol. Absolutely drained. And it was pretty scary at times. When you are in contact at first it’s just ‘get down’. Afterwards it hits you… ‘I was getting shot at, that was close’. At the time you don’t think about it you do what you have to. Now I am home I find I get frustrated at smaller things. I get wound up. I never used to though.”
Lance Corporal David McLean, 27
10th March, Edinburgh: “I’m not really bothered about going. I’m a soldier and it’s my job. We’ve been training for so long it will be good to finally get out there.”
12th June, PB Pimon, Nad Ali: “Nothing has really happened so far, it’s quiet and I’m a bit bored. When we are at canal checkpoint there is only 10 of us so we are quite close knit. The food is a bit stinking and you get sick of pasta and rice. What do I miss? Home, women and alcohol. Simple.”
11th October, Edinburgh, shot in the leg: “I only had 10 days, a week or so to go. I was front man of the patrol. We crossed a wee ditch I turned round to give the second man a hand out. We patrolled through a set of trees and as soon as we broke through someone opened up on us. I could just feel warm on my calf and we rolled into the ditch. We shouted ‘man down’ and the boys came out with a stretcher but the ditch was too narrow and that’s when I started casevaccing myself. You don’t really think about it at the time, the adrenaline was buzzing. Within half an hour I was on the chopper and the next day in Selly Oak.”
Private Fraiser Pairman, 21
11th March, Edinburgh: “Aye I suppose I am scared of IEDs but I just can’t wait to get out there now. I am going to miss my girlfriend and deep fried pizzas though.”
11th June, PB Tofan, Nad-Ali: “It’s been alright apart from the heat. The locals are nice and we bought water melon off them. But the first time I was contacted I kept thinking, how the f**k did I end up here? And then just wanted to get out. I keep a St. Christopher in my sleeve. If I lost it I wouldn’t go on patrol.”
6th October, Edinburgh: “You get used to the sound of gunfire quickly and don’t think about being scared. There was one time we got ambushed from all sides and were stuck there for 24 hours.People were running all over the place with no order. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away for six months but it is good to be back and good to see the relief on my mum’s face. I stood in the shower for half an hour the other day. And I like clothes so it is a relief to get back into normal clothes and to try and be normal. It will take a few weeks but you have to get used to it.”
Second Lieutenant Struan Cunningham, 24
9 March, Edinburgh: "I am looking forward to getting out there. This is what we have been training for."
12th June, PB Zeal, Nad-Ali: It is important to be confident on the ground so there is no room to be scared to be honest. Training doesn't allow for fears. The Afghans we are working with are good and it is satisfying when they take on what you teach them. We are lucky that we have a good tolay to work with here though. Not everyone does. I don't really miss anything. Wait no, I miss rain and having cold water literally on tap.
14 October, Edinburgh: "In a contact you don’t have time to be scared or excited, you just have to ride it out. In two and a half months I lost four men to injury. The first time I wasn’t on patrol at the time and it’s weird; you feel responsible that you weren’t out and you can't do anything to support or help them. You’re just listening to it on the radio. Helpless. It’s almost worse than being in the contact yourself. Another time we got severely ambushed... that was the only time I thought, ‘this is it for me’. Now that I’m home, I think I’m a lot more calm. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen things I do not want to see again.You’re fighting for survival at the end of the day. I think being in those kind of situations makes you realise you are pretty lucky with your life, with what you have already so why flap about the most simple of things
Lance Corporal Martyn Rankin, 23 (Mazzer)
Before: "Not scared, no. Just a bit apprehensive. I am going to miss my mates, time off and Tennants."
During: "We are undermanned but managing. We heard on the Taliban radio chatter that they wanted to overrun us in this PB. Their commander said it would be too easy. I think about the enemy threat and different scenarios in my head all the time. What would I do if... I haven't been scared here at all as the locals are okay and we haven't been contacted. Until we are, I won't be. I want to be contacted, I want to be tested - it's what you join for - its' not about shaking hands with locals."
Private Ben Frater, 21
11th March, Edinburgh: "Yeah I am afraid. I am afraid of not coming home. I'll miss my weekends, going out partying with friends and that."
10th June, Nad Ali: "It has been easier than I thought it was going to be but I cant handle the heat. It makes you go mad. Our training should have been done in a hot country as you feel unprepared for how hot it is. The area is pretty quiet so going on patrol feels like going for a walk but you never know. And as it's quiet it gives me more time to think about home. I miss it. And I miss showers and clean clothes."
6th October, Edinburgh: "Guardsman Warton from the Scots Guards. The day he got shot, that’s the one thing I’ll never forget. We were out on patrol working our way away from where the insurgents were. It turned out they had followed us onto a track and ambushed us. Warton couldn’t find any cover and was shot in the leg. It was just a nightmare trying extract him and get the chopper in while we were in water up to your chin, it was horrible. And now we are home? It’s strange. Quiet. I find that im getting bored easily after 10 minutes. I feel anxious all the time that I should be doing something."
Alec McBroom, 24
11th March, Edinburgh: "I am not worried about going out - it is my job after all, but I’ll miss the family so much and also carpet and slippers - it sounds weird but it is the little things that make a difference."
12th June, PB Pimon, Nad-Ali: "It's been an eye opener - especially the limitations of the ANA. But now we are in Pimon life has a routine. I miss my wife and kids though. I miss their characters - their comfort. I just miss them and I think it is worse for them waiting for us to come back. Oh, and I do miss walking on carpets, too. I haven't been scared - the last time I was properly scared was Northern Ireland and that was a long time ago."
12th October, Edinburgh: "It is always that fear, that apprehension, what is going to happen if I get blown up? When it happened, straight away it was the world's biggest surprise, the world's biggest scare. The whole reason I went to Afghanistan was to justify the soldiers who went before me. Why should I sit with my comfy slippers on any my carpet, not having done my bit. But it’s as though ive got two lives: one where everything is dangerous and everyone is trying to kill us and the otherone where you look out of the window in Edinburgh and there are people with pink hair, proper civillians. It’s just a different world. I’ve always been quite religious and I’ve spoken more to the big man lately. I’m thankful that someone is looking after me."