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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
My war: The railwaywoman's tale

The British force which invaded Iraq hoped to break Saddam's regime, without smashing his country's infrastructure. Lieutenant Liz Davies' job was to get Iraq's trains running again.

The Iraqi locomotive we found in the port of Umm Qasr wasn't too difficult to drive.

Some of the switches have English labels on them to tell us what they were for and it only took us a couple of hours to work out what the rest of the buttons did.

It's not a bad loco at all, but it has been really badly maintained over the years. It even has a Mercedes engine. There's another loco around, but that would cost a million pounds to get back in working order.

Easy target

It was really important we got the railway working as quickly as possible, so we could move the humanitarian aid from the port to the warehouses. The aid was badly needed.

I had to get stuck in with my soldiers, because of this really short time scale. We cleaned up the entire line and checked it for faults or boobytraps that might derail the loco.

Fortunately, just before we were posted to the Gulf my soldiers finished a course about how to recce a railway line.

If you don't have a sense of humour, you won't do very well in this environment
Lieutenant Liz Davies

It's not dangerous work, but you've got to be aware. A locomotive is a very vulnerable vehicle. You either go forward or backwards and you're quite slow-moving, so you're quite a tempting target for the enemy.

I'm the rail troop commander. This is a very male-dominated trade. Of the 24 of us in the unit, only two are women.

I'd like to see more women in the trade, but many women seem to avoid it because they think you have to be strong.

Actually it involves lots of thought, common sense and logic - exactly the sorts of things many women are good at.

No privacy

I hope by talking about being a woman in the army I can encourage others.

If you don't have a sense of humour, you won't do very well in this environment. As a woman officer, I have to realise there is a difference between disrespect and banter. It's the banter and humour which keeps people going.

There is no privacy in the field. Our toilets were communal until recently, and so were the washing facilities.

As a woman you have to get over the lack of privacy. There are some idiots, but most of the guys just let you crack on uninterrupted.

Once the routine kicks in, everyone just gets on with living in the field. That said, it's not too rough here in Umm Qasr. There are guys at the front line who didn't have half the things we had here.

Also, having seen the Iraqi children in the town and how they live, I won't complain about not having things ever again.


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