Deadly serious side to Camp Tombstone cricket

Soldiers from 1 Scots play cricket at Helmand base with Afghan troops. Picture: Greg Macvean
Soldiers from 1 Scots play cricket at Helmand base with Afghan troops. Picture: Greg Macvean
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AT CAMP Tombstone, Afghan soldiers lined up against their British rivals, as scores of comrades shouted support from the sidelines.

The cricket match offered much-needed light relief, designed to raise morale among troops stationed in a war zone. It was staged at the Helmand base of 1 Scots, the battalion of Captain Walter Barrie, just two weeks after he was shot dead during a football match by an Afghan soldier he was training to fight the Taleban.

When Capt Barrie is buried at Glencorse Kirk, Edinburgh, tomorrow, flags there and at Dreghorn Barracks, the home of 1 Scots, will be at half mast.

But hundreds of mourners, devastated by his passing, will be missing. Capt Barrie’s 420 comrades from 1 Scots will remain in theatre, continuing the work they were sent to do, despite the crushing blow brought by the charismatic 41-year-old’s death.

Each soldier will instead be called to a muster point at the various checkpoints, patrol bases and training centres they occupy in Helmand to pay their respects, synchronised with the start of the funeral service.

Some Scottish soldiers were among those watching the Afghan side win the cricket match, which would inevitably have evoked thoughts of the murder of Capt Barrie at the nearby Forward Operating Base Shawqat.

Others were busy at work, mentoring scores of Afghan National Army trainees in drills such as firing weapons, firing mortars and defusing IEDs, as part of the battalion’s “brigade advisory support” role for Task Force Helmand, which is enabling the Afghan army to fight all its own battles.

Last night, one of Capt Barrie’s closest friends gave an insight into the will and professionalism of the Scots soldiers who manage to press on with their mission despite the “green on blue” murder.

Captain Bob Stuart, 1 Scots quartermaster at Tombstone, on the edge of Camp Bastion, was 
a pallbearer at an emotional 
memorial service held for Barrie in Camp Bastion before the Scot’s body was flown back to Britain last week.

He had met Barrie 20 years ago when they were training at Glencorse. The men’s careers saw them both rise through the ranks. The men had moved between different regiments but their friendship stayed strong. They were finally reunited to serve in 1 Scots before the current tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Capt Stuart, 42, said the murder of his friend would not wreck the good relations between the 1 Scots soldiers and the Afghan National Security Force men they are mentoring, despite the undeniable fear and wariness that exists. He said football, cricket and other mixed sports would go on, as soldiers refuse to let the enemy score a moral victory.

Capt Stuart said: “The threat will always be there around the camp. There are risks involved, but the football is an important way for the boys to relax and for soldiers to bond with each other.

“Walter was so well respected by all the men, including the 
Afghan soldiers he was mentoring. Their reaction was one of great sadness.

“Walter was a really lively and charismatic character. You would be hard-pushed to come across anyone with a bad word against him. If you wanted something, he would insist on getting it for you, he was that kind of guy.

“He would talk to anyone and always had a bit of banter for the soldiers.”