SW: the story of the British soldier jailed for turning against the Iraq war
Ross Williams for Socialist Worker
Ross Williams is 22 and from Neath in South Wales. He joined the army in 2007 and was sent to Iraq in 2008. Ross went absent without leave (Awol) for one and a half years and was sentenced to nine months in Colchester military prison. He was released last week and spoke to Siân Ruddick.
“I think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong. These wars are illegal and we shouldn’t be out there,” says Ross.
“The people at the top are risking the lives of others when we shouldn’t even be there.
“Troops are coming back destroyed and devastated. The military and the government just use people up.
“Soldiers’ careers and lives are ruined by what they have seen and what they’ve been put through.
“I joined the army because there is nothing here in Neath, no jobs and no future.”
“It seemed like a very tempting offer. I went down to the careers office and they sold me the world. But it was a load of bollocks.
“In the recruitment office, they get bonuses for recruiting people to their department, even if it’s not suitable.
“The guy who was in there when I went was from the artillery, so that’s what I got signed up to.
“I was operating an AS90 155mm self-propelled gun in Basra. The training before I went was appalling. On the plane there were a few of us on our first tour and I began to realise we were not prepared. There are loads of boys out there who don’t know what they’re doing.
“Attacks and live rounds were common place.
“At the base in Basra, where most of the British soldiers were based, there was ammunition being fired into the camp. We’d have to jump up and take cover.
“I injured my knee when we were on patrol. We came under live fire and I was jumping down from the vehicle because you’re supposed to just get down.
“The guy behind me was scared and untrained—he pushed me off and I landed on my knee.
“This was early December 2008. I’d hurt my knee before and wasn’t really fit for Iraq but the army didn’t care.
“I spent two weeks in hospital and it was the worst time of my life.
“One day two Gurkhas was brought in with shrapnel wounds. They couldn’t move from their beds.
“An attack began and everyone got under their beds. I could tell the rounds were landing very close. I looked up and could see that the Gurkhas couldn’t move. So I got up and took my body armour and lay it on one of them.
“I got back under my bed and could see an officer under the table. I shouted across to him, ‘do the same, give someone your jacket’. He said, ‘No, you have to look after number one.’
“He didn’t care about anyone but himself. I was there, trying my best and this officer just didn’t care.
“I lost all my confidence at that moment, with the army.
“We were supposed to be helping people in Iraq but we were just making a mess.
“I was sent home when I came out of hospital and was flown into Brize Norton RAF airbase.
“I should have been met by an army official and be checked out in a military hospital.
“But no one met me. It was 3am and I had to call my parents to pick me up. They had to drive for over four hours to get me. The army abandoned me.
“My head was messed up, I’d just come out of a fight zone into civilian life with no support whatsoever.
“They were supposed to set up physiotherapy for me. But I ended up having to drive myself to my first appointment with an injured knee.
“I crashed the car that day because I couldn’t press the brake.
“That’s when I hit my limit, my breaking point and went Awol. I thought, ‘I can’t risk my life for this shower of shit.’
“It’s always in the back of my mind, I get nightmares and have flashbacks to Iraq. I keep questioning why I did it, why I put myself through it.
“When I was Awol, it drove me to money problems and all sorts. In the end the past caught up with me.
“I had a court martial and served four and a half months in prison. There were other young guys in the court that day for going Awol.
“The outside world doesn’t always get to hear about them but there are quite a few soldiers going Awol.
“Before sentencing I was told by an army CPN [community psychiatric nurse] that I might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“In prison I tried to get seen by the nurse but they cancelled the appointments. They said they were treating me the best they could, but it was a nightmare.
“I felt totally alone and had no one to turn to. One day the medic came around and gave me someone else’s medication.
“I didn’t feel safe in there. No one had a clue or cared.
“I couldn’t believe this was what I got in return, after I’d given them everything. I want to do meetings and stand up against the army. Now I’m out I want to ruin them.
“After I served my sentence I was just thrown back onto the street.
“I feel so distant, I’m not Ross any more. I can’t stop thinking about it all.
“When I was getting on the train back from prison some guy stopped me and asked me if I’d been in MCTC [Military Corrective Training Centre].
“He said people like me should be shot for being cowards. I just said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you get all this from the media but the truth is different.’
“Now I want to clear my head and get a job and move on.
“I’m not getting any help or treatment from the army, they don’t give you any back up. I’ve just got to carry on with my life.
“I’ve been betrayed by the army—and it’s certainly not what is advertised to the public.
“When people die they get talked up, but these generals and government ministers don’t give a shit about us. It’s not their kids being killed.”