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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 09:38 GMT
Preparing to do a job

By Mark Simpson
BBC correspondent in Germany

The worldwide rallies for peace have not gone unnoticed by British soldiers preparing for possible combat in Iraq.

Thanks to satellite television and daily newspapers flown in from the UK, troops training in Germany were made well aware of the scenes in London and the rest of the world last weekend.

The soldiers knew the tens of thousands of people who crammed into London's Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon may well have included people from their home towns, friends or even relatives.

Irish Guards
The soldiers are training in freezing weather
Asked how the protests affected them, most soldiers I met simply shrugged their shoulders and said everyone was entitled to an opinion.

As is often the case with military men, actions spoke louder than words.

First thing on Monday morning, they were down on the firing-range. Peace protests? What peace protests.

The firing was so intense, and the weaponry so powerful, that at one stage the grass caught fire, even though the temperature was minus five degrees celsius.

"It's my job and I'm going to the Gulf to do my job. Others can have their own opinion," said Lance Corporal Richard Hamilton, with rifle in hand.

Freezing temperatures

Having grown up in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, he knows all about conflict. But war in Iraq will be very different to anything he ever witnessed at home.

It will also be a world away from the freezing temperatures he and his colleagues are operating in at the moment.

Major Alun Powell says the men will quickly adapt from the cold German countryside to the heat and sand of the Gulf.

"Last week, it was down to minus ten so it is getting warmer," he says with a smile.

In everybody's hearts they are anti-war
Major Ben Farrell
He dismisses any talk of low morale and doubts about the reliability of new weaponry.

On the evidence of a morning in front of the cameras at the firing range in northern Germany, spirits seemed to be good.

If I had a euro for every soldier who told me he was "looking forward to getting stuck in" I could have bought a new Mercedes Benz on the way home.

One of the troops, a marksman, admitted he was not particularly looking forward to combat. The rest, particularly the younger ones, were upbeat.

To those back home who think it is a war not worth fighting, one of the officers had a very public message.

Major Ben Farrell, speaking in a personal capacity, said: "In everybody's hearts, they are anti-war but there may come occasions, such as this one, if you are anti-war that doing nothing seems to be the easy option.

Relic

"Actually doing something will get rid of Saddam Hussein. Therefore by doing nothing you're not necessarily pro-peace. What you're doing is maintaining a status quo in Iraq which seems inhumane."

If a political solution can be found, all the better. But Maj Farrell says his troops will play whatever role they are asked to perform.

He will be one of 530 Irish Guards in the Gulf should war break out. They will be part of the Desert Rats in the 7th Armoured Brigade. They are due to leave their base in Muenster shortly.

The German Government may be opposed to military action in the Gulf, but among the British soldiers left in their country as a relic of the Cold War, there are no such qualms.




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