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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Back from the Front

Jeremy Paxman speaks to three soldiers back from the frontline

By Jonathan Bell, Newsnight producer

A helicopter touches down in Afghanistan

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dominated the news for several years now. Each conflict covered in detail by Newsnight.

Our correspondents have followed the troops on to the frontline; they've revealed not only the political and diplomatic developments of the war, but the human stories of those Afghan and Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire.

On the frontline
And we've done more than our fair share of cataloguing MoD shortfalls, equipment shortages and broken Covenants.

'Queen and Country'

But what about soldiers returning home to the UK? How does that feel?

It's long been said that far too few politicians have military experience and so have little understanding of what it means to "serve". And the same can only be said for the rest of us.

Britain's Armed Forces have shrunk dramatically in a generation - far fewer people now serve.

Consequently, most of us have only the vaguest idea of what it means to be a soldier - and therefore little idea of old fashioned notions of "Service to Queen and Country" and "sacrifice".

We wanted them to tell us about their experiences in battle, we wanted to find out how they dealt with the death of a comrade - and with personal injury
How do you describe that? Now, I'm from an Army family and have some insight into service life. I also served for several years in an infantry Regiment.

Drawing on some of my own experiences in the Forces, we wanted to explore some of these issues.

Returning to Civvie Street

After much thought we decided to make a film about the ordinary men and women who choose to join the Armed Services.

On the frontline
What's it like to go from the front line back to Civvie Street?
We wanted them to tell us about their experiences in battle. We wanted to find out how they dealt with the death of a comrade - and with personal injury.

And we wanted to focus on their experience of returning to life in Britain.

Broadly speaking we knew what we were looking for, but as is often the case, it was only when we started to talking to people that it became clear which strands to pursue.

Our cast of three

We wanted three very different characters for our film. All would have recent operational experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Lorna Kelly
For Lorna, returning to civilian life has been challenging.
During the research, we talked to a lot of people who had served, and plenty more still serving, trying to find the perfect line-up for our film.

Talking to potential characters is the best part of making a film, and I was struck so often by the modesty and understated "matter of fact-ness" of soldiers describing intense battles with the enemy and the physical hardships in hostile terrain.

At the end of their operational tour, we wanted them to describe what it was like returning home to a country that didn't appear to understand what they'd been doing - much less appreciated.

And so, at the end of this process we came up with our cast of three - Martin, Lorna and Simon. Each very different, each with their own tale of real sacrifice.

As the characters in the film describe to us, a soldier's life can be tough - away from home and family for long periods. Friendships are strong. Casualties are deeply felt. It's not for everyone. For many it's just for a few years of adventure before settling down into "civvie street" and doing something else. For others it's a career.

But as I was reminded so often during the interviews there's something that stays with you long after you stop wearing the uniform - there was a pride in what they had been part of, pride in their Regiment or Unit. Or maybe it's just about hard times shared with a bunch of mates.

For me, the process of making this film has been a nostalgic reminder of what is best about the Army. As the characters in the film show us, it doesn't go away.

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