The foreign-born fighters who risked it all for Britain in Afghanistan
In 2006, the soldiers of C Company, 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, posed for a photo at their base in Sangin in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. At that time, Sangin was the most dangerous place on earth, the centre of British forces' fight against the Taliban. The Paras were sent to Helmand Province after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a response to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. The campaign lasted 20 years and cost the lives of 457 British soldiers. ITV News has tried to trace the people on the C Company photograph 15 years on to tell their stories, in our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline.
By ITV News Senior News Editor Paul Tyson
Posing for the photograph below, the men of C Company, 3 Para. They wear the uniform of the British Army but at least 18 were foreign-born.
The army has long made up for a shortage of volunteers at home by recruiting abroad, most famously from Nepal, whose Gurkha regiments have been part of the British Army for over 200 years.
Other nationalities do not boast their own units, but can be found right across the armed forces.
About seven per cent of the British Army is foreign-born, a figure reflected in the Afghanistan roll of honour that shows 33 foreigners among 454 dead.
After the Gurkhas, the most prominent nationality in the British army is Fijians, with about 1,300 currently serving. Among those in C Company to hail from the tiny Pacific nation was Semi Wara.
“I think it goes back to the warrior background, most of the Fijians were warriors back in the days so I think coming into the British Army is like carrying that forward in a modern way,” he said.
Having survived the dual culture shock of a new country and basic army training, Semi was posted to the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment as a clerk, based in Colchester. His wife Linda followed him to Essex with their two boys.
Then came orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
“It started becoming real when we got shot at nearly every day, well every single day, every single day [in Sangin] we got shot at.”
Contact with Linda and his boys consisted of a weekly call on a satellite phone, often interrupted by attacks on the base.
Semi Wara who served with 3 PARA, reflects on his time in Afghanistan and keeping the reality of war away from his weekly calls home, ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies reports
Halfway through his Afghan tour Semi was told that a friend from Fiji had been killed in Iraq and he was asked to accompany the body home.
"When I left it was all new opportunities, new country…but when that happened I was asking myself ‘why am I doing this?’
"Seeing Joe, he was the only son, he was the only kid in the family and that was that…his mum was sitting there just crying and and saying ‘Semi why? Why?’ and I just couldn’t answer, just stood there speechless, knowing that the only son they had was gone.”
After Afghanistan, Semi left the army and settled with Linda and their boys in the Potteries, but there were still some cultural challenges to overcome.
“In Fiji you never walk past a house closed, you hardly see a house closed, everything is open, windows open ‘yeah, hello, hi, everyone on the street,’ you know everyone but here in England it’s like ‘everything is closed, where’s everybody gone?’ that's one of the things that we found weird.”
Among six South Africans in C Company were Ryan Brotherton and Kyle Deerans, a sniper.
“There was a South African in every Company in 3 Para, at least one in every company…they called us ‘the Colonials’," said Kyle.
“There’s a long history of South Africans in the British military, it is renowned throughout the world and for me particularly the Paras have got a great reputation in South Africa that’s what stuck in my head, and when the opportunity came to join that’s what I thought of.”
The South Africans had no problems with culture or language but their government regarded the Afghanistan war as a colonial adventure and South Africans who served there as little better than mercenaries.
At one point the government threatened to withdraw their citizenship if they continued to serve with the British Army.
“My mentality during that process was, well I am fighting for a good cause so if they want to persecute me or prosecute me then so be it” recalls Brotherton.
'There was a voice that we may lose our South African citizenship'
Though fighting for a country that was not their own they shared the risks, and the losses.
Both men knew Luke McCulloch; born in Cape Town, he was killed when a mortar round landed inside C Company’s base in Sangin.
“It doesn’t make any sense, how can you be talking to someone ten minutes earlier and then later on you find out you’ll never talk to them again,” said Kyle.
Ryan remembers his friend from training, Damien Jackson, who was posted to A Company and killed in a firefight in Sangin.
'If someone dies, you're going to have that natural guilt
“The bloke didn’t even live his life, he was just nineteen, that’s what I found hard” he said.
Both have forged successful careers back in Johannesburg, Ryan owns a high-profile security company and Kyle a school, but his time in Afghanistan stays with him: “When you leave the army you go from hero to zero, all of a sudden all the things that you’ve done doesn’t really mean anything… that was very difficult for me and I know if was difficult for many of the guys.”
Read more stories from our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline