Photo Gallery: Royal Anglian soldiers describe their experiences in Kenya
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Troops from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment are training in a desolate area of the Kenyan bush. In his final special report from the Vikings' isolated camps, CHRIS HILL hears of the soldiers' experiences in Africa and their messages to loved ones back home.
In the remote and hostile wilderness of northern Kenya, it is the simple pleasures which soldiers miss the most.
With virtually no internet or mobile phone signals, the Vikings crave news on sports results or world events – but what they want more than anything is the chance to talk to loved ones and family at home.
One who feels that separation more than most is Pte Bobby Hardy, whose girlfriend Lucy is expecting a baby this week. And despite being a communications expert, trained in off-road driving and knowing where mobile signals can be found at “magic squares” on the map grid, he cannot contact her regularly.
Pte Hardy, 25, was brought up in King’s Lynn but now lives on Watling Road in Heartsease, Norwich.
When I spoke to him last Friday he said: “The baby is not due until the end of March, but Lucy was having contractions every ten minutes last week. I couldn’t get her last night, but I got a message back saying there had been no mishaps.
“The most important thing is that I will get a month off when I get back, and that’s the main part I need to be there for. I may not be there for the birth, but she will have the support she needs from her friends and family. She is not losing out – it is just me.”
Pte Hardy said his unborn daughter had already been named Jessica Lily. “I can’t wait to be a dad, and I look forward to sharing all these experiences with her,” he said.
Another soldier expecting a baby in June is Pte Lee Southey, 19, from Lowestoft. But having barely spoken to his girlfriend Keely Russell since leaving Britain, he said the isolation was worse than when he served in Afghanistan.
“It was not so bad on tour, but I find this even harder because you get a lot of down-time when you have time to think about things,” he said. “When I have spoken to her she just says: ‘Make sure you take your malaria tablets and drink lots of water.’ I can’t wait to see her.”
In a training area surrounded by wildlife reserves, many soldiers have been in awe of Africa’s natural spectacle, spotting lions, giraffes and hyenas.
Pte Chris Williams, from Spixworth near Norwich, said: “Everyone was worried about snakes, but instead we’ve been out on patrol bumping into elephants. It is so weird – it’s another world.”
The 21-year-old former Sprowston High School student said he had only been able to speak to his girlfriend, Grace, once. “I am missing her lots. Tell her I can’t wait to have a massage when I get back,” he said.
Pte Tom Swarbrick, 21, a former student at Framingham Earl High School, near Norwich, also had a close encounter with Kenya’s wildlife.
“I went out on a night patrol and came across an elephant,” he said. “We were going out to do an attack – I heard a rustling in the bushes and took the safety catch off my rifle. Then I saw its head and ran off to tell everyone to run away.”
Pte Leigh Gedney, 25, said: “You miss the normal things – things like normal toilets and food. You miss your family. You miss what everyone else says is normal.
“I’ve only spoken to my girlfriend once since I’ve been here. I really miss her.”
Pte Gedney, from Castle Hill in Beccles, said his thoughts were also with Beccles Rugby Club, where he played outside centre before leaving for Africa.
“We were in a relegation scrap before, but I’ve got a feeling they are going to slip back into it now they are missing their star player,” he said.
Pte Stefan Marchese from Norwich, another former Sprowston High School student, has served in Afghanistan but said the training at Archer’s Post was the toughest physical challenge he had ever overcome.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coming to Kenya, for the training, the wildlife and everything that goes on around you. It is all about administering yourself out in the field, eating enough food, drinking enough water and dealing with sleep deprivation.”
Pte Marchese, 19, said he had not spoken to his girlfriend, Ashleigh Ruthven, for two weeks.
“I am thinking of her always,” he said. “And I want her to know my tan is better than hers.”
To read previous special reports on the Royal Anglians in Kenya – including videos and photo galleries – log on to www.edp24.co.uk/news/in-depth/royal-anglians-in-kenya.