It is 25 years since the 1991 Gulf War when British troops contributed (OP GRANBY) to the successful Allied operation which prevented Saddam’s invasion of Saudi Arabia (DESERT SHIELD) and then liberated Kuwait (DESERT STORM).
Capt Tim Purbrick commanded a Troop of Challenger Main Battle Tanks during the 1991 Gulf War. This blog is written from his diaries, notebooks and a tape recording he made during the war.
The blog will follow his work up to the war and then the war itself, day by day 25 years on.
We were bussed back from Hanover to Fallingbostel where a large crowd was assembled on the Irish Hussars’ parade ground to welcome us home. Of course, they were all the wives of the pads (married officers and soldiers). Us ‘singlies’ had no one there to greet us. And, for the 17th Lancers, this was no longer our Regiment and Germany was no longer our home. Once everyone was squared away with flights back home to Tidworth, I fled to Munster.
Hetty flew out to Germany as I had to wait for my shiny, new, red Alfa Romeo to be ready for collection. Hetty hated the car from the start. She said that it was a complete waste of money and was chuffed to bits when I smashed it up in a crash a year or so later. We drove back to England. On the way into London, flashing blue lights suddenly blew up in my rear view mirror.
I was pulled over by Metropolitan Police Traffic cops. ‘Who do you think you are, sir, Nikki Lauda?’ Very bloody funny. ‘No, I have just got back from the Gulf War’, I said opening my boot to show them all my military gear. ‘Oh, very good, sir, very good. And here’s your ticket with some points.’ What a welcome home. I was fuming for the rest of the journey. That’s a grateful nation for you.
And that was my Gulf War.
Every year we hold a dinner for the officers of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars Battlegroup on the Anniversary of the end of the war. To qualify for membership of the Basra Road Dining Club you have to be a member of the Battlegroup who was on the Basra Road at the end of the 100 Hours War. James Moseley is an honorary member – after all, he was sunk in a bunker somewhere to the west of the highway as the war ended!
Toby was awarded the Military Cross for his command of the action on our first night in Iraq. He left the Army to live in Africa where he farmed flowers. Col Arthur went on to become a Major General and ended his military career as the senior British officer in Cyprus. Maj Patrick Marriott became a Major General and the Commandant at Sandhurst before becoming the Colonel of The Queen’s Royal Lancers. Lt Col Robert Gordon became a Major General and ended his military service as the military head of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and the Sudan. Capt Alastair Todd retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and is now a Private Secretary in the Royal Household. Lt Mark Cann recovered from his broken collar bone and is now the CEO of the British Forces Foundation. Martin Bell went on to report in his white suit from many more war zones before becoming the MP for Tatton. Kate Adie is still on the BBC weekly with From Our Own Correspondent.
The rest of us left the Army over the years after the Gulf War, some staying for longer than others. Willy Wyatt into the City. Nick Cotton went into banking. Tim Buxton into property. Chris Franklyn-Jones has fallen off the edge of the world – Arthur (Daly) did see Gungy walking past the restaurant he was in during a business trip to Prague – but does any one know where he is? Capt Al Murdoch went into fast food. Lt Robin Murray-Brown is a headhunter. Capt Alex Paine went into banking. Ct David Webb went into marketing.
Ann Furstenberg married James Frost, an officer from 14th/20th Hussars, and they live with six sons on a Quinta in Portugal where James makes some truly excellent wines and they run holiday lets. Twice (Daly) runs Guardsman Cleaning in London. Maj Richard Shirreff went on to become a General, knighted and the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) before retiring. Gen Sir Charles Guthrie went on to become the Chief of the Defence Staff, the most senior officer in the Armed Forces. He was elevated to the House of Lords and became Tony Blair’s Pakistan emissary. The Government believed that they had abolished the five star rank of Field Marshal in the Armed Forces. That was until The Queen made General Lord Guthrie into Field Marshal Lord Guthrie.
Lance Corporal Bob Hawksley was tragically killed by artillery fire in a training accident at BATUS in Canada in June 1994.
A few are still serving. Capt Tom Beckett is a Lieutenant General. Capt Ed Smyth-Osbourne is a Major General. Capt Piers Hankinson is a Brigadier. Capt Andrew Cuthbert is a Colonel. Lt David Madden is a Colonel. Lt Chris Millet left the Army, went to an accountants and joined the Paras (V), before re-joining the Army in the Royal Army Medical Corps on the non-medical side. He now has more medals than Kenny Everett ever had. Lt Jonny Ormerod is now a Lieutenant Colonel. Capt Philip Napier was a Brigadier until he retired in mid-2015. Capt David Swann became a Colonel before retiring in 2015.
I served in the Regular Army until 1998 when I left for Civvy Street. I joined the Army Reserves as I left the Regular Army and have served as a Reservist ever since.
A couple of memories from the Gulf War have, perhaps, stuck out more than others over the last 25 years, probably because they are single events that I have been asked about over the years.
First, Gus’s 4,700m first round FIN kill. It was a supreme technical achievement for man and machine. 4,700m, a shade under 3 miles, is more than three times the 1,200m battle range of the Challenger. The shot is written up in books, sometimes incorrectly, with one book saying it was a Depleted Uranium (DU) round, it wasn’t, it was a normal service FIN round while another book said it was at longer range, it wasn’t, it was 4,700m. I believe that it is the longest range direct fire kinetic round kill ever achieved by a tank on the battlefield.
Second, the sheer exhilaration of leading the Squadron during the Charge of the Heavy Brigade on that last morning of the war. I believe that it is the longest and fastest cavalry charge in history.
If you have made it this far, thank you for travelling on this journey with me.
It was a privilege to serve in the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars Battlegroup for the Liberation of Kuwait. It was a greater privilege to serve alongside soldiers of the 17/21st Lancers. They were the best of the best and true to our Regimental motto, Death Or Glory.
After the 1991 Gulf War Lt Col Tim Purbrick went on to serve in the Regular Army until 1998 in appointments which included: the Army Spokesman in the Defence Press Office, the Army Combat Camera Team Commander, serving in Former Yugoslavia, and as a staff officer on the Digitisation Team.
On leaving the Regular Army Lt Col Purbrick joined the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) in the Army Reserves. During his time in the Group he served in Iraq in 2007 and, post his command of the Group, in Afghanistan in 2011. Today he does his ‘Army Reservist day a week for The Queen’ at Army HQ in Andover where he is a staff officer in the Concepts Branch responsible for Media, Information Warfare and Cyber Warfare.
Lt Col Purbrick is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group and leading the re-introduction of the ‘Monuments Men’ capability into the British Army.