Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 12:47 UK

Afghan blog brings soldier fame

By Bob Walker
BBC News

Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders
Michael Saunders: His tone has become more reflective

A blogging soldier is bringing home the realities of life in a combat zone through a series of regular messages to his hometown pub.

E-mails from Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders, currently on a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, are proving popular amongst customers of the Marwood pub in Worcester.

It was William Howard Russell who was the first to use modern technology to inform the public about real life on the front line.

The Times correspondent's despatches by telegraph from the battlefields of the Crimea in 1854 shocked a public who up until then had only read glorified military accounts of derring-do.

He was followed by the soldier-poets of WWI, who strove to paint a realistic picture of life in the trenches, both in their verse and in letters home to loved ones.

I was caused to reflect that perhaps we were destined to be another force who ...would ultimately fail to secure a lasting peace
Michael Saunders

Now in the era of e-mails, websites and blogs, families and friends can catch up with the latest news from the troops within days or hours.

In the United States some military bloggers have become media stars, ending up with lucrative book deals.

And in a smaller yet deeply personal way, Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders is adding to the tradition of military wordsmiths.

He e-mails his thoughts to his sister Tracy Tyrls, who prints them out and pins them to the wall of the high street pub for all to see.

The blog also appears on the regiment's website, where it can be read by comrades in Afghanistan and family back in the UK.

Michael describes life in the Mercian Regiment, partly made up of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, currently in Helmand Province working as mentors to the Afghan National Army.

His sister Tracy said it was Michael's idea to try and portray an accurate picture about events in Afghanistan and the feelings of an ordinary soldier.

"How many of us really understand the situation in Afghanistan?" she said.

Tracy Tyrls
Michael's sister Tracy says she and the regulars have learnt a lot

"I didn't - and Michael's my brother."

Tracy said that appetite runs high amongst Marwood regulars for the day-to-day details of a soldier's life.

"You tend to find - even on a Friday or Saturday night when we're busy - there'll be someone standing at the wall having a quick read, catching up and asking when the next one's coming," she said.

Tracy said her brother is rapidly developing a reputation for his descriptive prose.

Michael's first posts were a potted history of Afghanistan's troubled past and details of his journey to the country, interspersed with vivid descriptions of the desert landscape.

He writes of the "great plains of nothingness" in between southern Afghanistan's scattered villages, the distorting shimmers of heat and the "impression of seeing life in reverse through the mirror of a giant pond".

'Talented side'

As he moved closer to the front line, so Michael's tone has become more reflective and philosophical.

In his latest message he writes: "I was caused to reflect that perhaps we were destined to be another force who even through noble intentions, would ultimately fail to secure a lasting peace either by military or political means."

It is a sobering thought that the Mercian Regiment lost nine men during their last visit to Afghanistan.

Michael's niece Charlotte says she is seeing a side of her uncle she knew nothing about.

She said: "I've seen him as the macho uncle always there to look out for me. I don't see the talented side of him in that (writing) sense."

Soon, Michael's thoughts may not be restricted to just family and friends.

There are plans to move his blog to the Ministry of Defence website, where people all over the world will be able to catch up on a serving soldier's musings.



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