Waveney soldiers battle the African heat
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Two soldiers from Beccles and Lowestoft found conflicting fortunes during a mock assault on an enemy-held village as part of their regiment's tough training regime in the African bush.
The 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment is currently undergoing a six-week exercise in the punishing heat and desolate terrain of Archer’s Post in Kenya.
C Company comrades Pte Leigh Gedney, 25, from Beccles, and Pte Lee Southey, 19, from Lowestoft, were both involved in a training assault to reclaim a village from enemy invaders.
When the simulated attack lost momentum their reserve platoon was thrown forward and Pte Southey, who completed a tour of Afghanistan last year, was “killed” along with most of his comrades.
Despite his contrasting lack of operational experience, Pte Gedney survived the onslaught to regroup and help take the village with a Kenyan army platoon.
“These exercises feel quite real compared to others we have done,” he said. “When the wounded come through it is not just: ‘you’re dead’, it is: ‘head wound’ or ‘missing limb’. It makes you think a bit more and better prepared.”
“I have never been to war, so I will never know what to expect – but training in this heat and the reality of the DTES exercise will help.”
Pte Southey, a former pupil of Denes High School in Lowestoft, said the realism of the exercise was invaluable for training but could not compare to the tension of a genuine fire-fight.
He said: “They try everything they can to make it real, but once you’ve been in your first real fire-fight it never seems the same.
“When I’ve done stuff before it was like: ‘Wow’ – but when you’ve done a tour it doesn’t seem so realistic. But this is probably the best thing you can do apart from being on tour. It is as accurate as you are going to get.
“The terrain out there is ruthless. We have got these bushes with thorns as big as cocktail sticks, so at night you get ripped to shreds. But we all know we have got a job to do, so we just get on and do it.”
With mobile phone signal and internet connections virtually non-existent in the isolated training area, many soldiers have been struggling to reach their loved ones at home.
Pte Southey’s girlfriend Keely Russell is expecting a baby on June 30, but he has barely spoken to her since leaving Britain.
“It is pretty hard,” he said. “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. I know it’s only an exercise, but she still worries about things like dehydration and diseases. I can’t wait to see her. I miss her and want her to know I will be back soon.”
Pte Gedney 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 didn’t bring my phone, because they said there was no reception here. 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 Southey said Africa’s exotic wildlife had made parts of the training tour similar to a safari.
“I have seen giraffes, zebras, lions – I was sitting on a sentry position once and a whole pack of hyenas ran past,” he said. “I’m really enjoying it. It is hard to get used to the weather, but it is a great experience.”