The Rifles Regiment members speak of life on the front-line at Winchester event

Basingstoke Gazette: (left to right) Corporal Gill Avtar and Lance Corporal Andrew Borthwick at the Green Jackets Museum at Peninsula Barracks. (left to right) Corporal Gill Avtar and Lance Corporal Andrew Borthwick at the Green Jackets Museum at Peninsula Barracks.

MEETING serving British soldiers always tends to abruptly shove the mundane problems that riddle our comparatively safe lives straight into context.

Those who leave their families for war, missing death by centimetres only to immediately return to the frontline, often display more courage in one day than some can muster in a lifetime.

As a result the British public possesses a bottomless pit of affection for its armed forces.

So when two serving members of The Rifles Regiment spoke candidly about their lives on the frontline at an event in Winchester, there was a full house.

Corporal Gill Avtar and Lance Corporal Andrew Borthwick addressed guests at the launch of a new collection of artefacts at the Green Jackets Museum at Peninsula Barracks.

Lance Corporal Borthwick, from Reading but now based at Bulford Camp, told how he had done one tour of Iraq and two of Afghanistan.

During his first Afghan deployment the 30-year-old was injured, shot in the chest when ambushed by the Taliban during a foot patrol.

Stabilised at Camp Bastion, he was then flown back to Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital, where he declined a stretcher and insisted on walking off the plane.

“I had half a lung removed and an artery tied off,” he explained, adding that returning to fighting levels of fitness was “arduous”.

“I was keen to get back to the battalion and my brothers in arms. I was missing the banter.”

Corporal Gill Avtar’s grandfather was in the Indian Army, fighting alongside British forces during WW2 – a fact which hardened the youngster’s resolve to join up.

The 23-year-old, from West London, said there was a “strange normality” about fighting every day and he didn’t dwell on the fact that his life was on the line - because there wasn’t the time.

Based in Musa Qala during his first deployment, he used his knowledge of Pashto, Dari and Punjabi languages to work with the Afghan National Army, living and patrolling with them.

“I was 18 when I first deployed, where I was mentoring Afghan soldiers who were battle-hardened – so you just grow up because there’s no choice,” he said.

“I found Afghanistan amazing and harsh: amazing because of the people, who are very resilient, but harsh because of the action we saw there.”

But Corporal Avtar said there was also a resilience about the men he served with: “When you looked left and right, you saw everybody going towards the same goal, and got strength and a sense of unity. You knew they would never let you down.

“At first I just didn’t have that fear, I had no fear. But when I went back to Afghanistan, because I’d picked up a rank, I felt that my decision-making needed to be spot on and felt a real responsibility.”

Both soldiers paused when asked about fallen friends, the pain of their loss briefly flitting behind their eyes.

“I owe it to my friends and comrades to continue the good fight,” commented L Cpl Borthwick.

“I think the country acknowledges the contribution we make. It’s great to know there are so many people out there supporting the armed forces.”

The Rifles Collection is a new museum recording the work of the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, which comprises five frontline battalions of about 650 soldiers, and two reserve ones.

As well as frequently deploying to Afghanistan, the regiment also supported the 2012 London Olympics and this spring’s flood relief efforts in the south west.

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