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Beckenham soldier welcomed home

Oliver Denne

Oliver Denne

Archant

A soldier has spoken to the Times about his six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan where he faced ambushes while trying to gain the trust of locals.

Private Oliver Denne, 22, serving in the Territorial Army with the Duke of Lancaster 1st Battalion, received a welcome home at Guildhall in central London on Sunday after returning from the war on September 13.

He spent his days patrolling, trying to get Afghans to grow wheat instead of poppies and repairing bridges and roads.

The former Langley Park pupil said: “I did my calculations and worked out my life was in danger about 15 times, which is nothing compared to some of the troops out there who are in contact every day.

“I was lucky. Every location I moved to got hotter after we left. I was ambushed a couple of times. Your mind goes somewhere else for a few seconds. You think: ‘Am I really here doing this? What’s going to happen next?’ But after it’s happened you get a buzz, you’re not as scared. You can’t constantly think: ‘Is that going to hit me?’”

Asked if he would feel differently if he had a partner or children, he said: “It was a question I wanted to ask the lads out there with families. But people push it to the back of their minds, not being shot.

“I did think about it. I get a bit morbid sometimes but I don’t have too much to worry about – my family would have the insurance money and be sorted.”

Mr Denne said the worst part was compound guard duty, a gruelling two hours on, four hours off for five or six weeks.

Describing it as a “testing time”, he said: “We had a low number of people in the compound. It was 57 degrees in full kit in a tower with a tin roof. It was like an oven. You can feel your mind and body deteriorating. You don’t even talk to people in the compound because you just want to get to bed when you’re not on duty. It was pretty horrendous.” Speaking about morale, he said: “Some dodgy times come around but morale perks up after a short time. I had the choice not to extend my tour because I’m in the TA. But when the lads had their tour extended morale went right down.

“That’s one thing the lads don’t like – having their dates toyed around. At the end of a tour you get a lot more cautious, you just want to get home.” The government is to conduct a six-month study into the future role of the reserves. So far, the conflict has claimed the lives of 341 British troops.

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