One year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 23-year-old soldier Brian Wood MC would find himself serving there with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
Little did Brian know that this tour, during a year which saw some of the fiercest fighting in recent times, would change the course of his life and career forever.
The British Army hadn’t seen this type of fighting for decades, fixing bayonets and charging at her majesty’s enemies were actions read about in history books.
For his bravery, Brian was awarded the Military Cross for leading a full-frontal assault onto a dug-in and determined enemy stronghold during the Battle of Danny Boy.
Then, five years later, Brian received a letter of summons - he was being made to answer questions relating to the Battle of Danny Boy, this included allegations of murder, mutilation and mistreatment.
After meeting with Her Majesty The Queen and being presented with the Military Cross for his bravery during that operation, Brian was then taken aback when he received news of the allegations. He then spent the following years trying to clear his name.
After the public inquiry Brian was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. This is Brian’s story:
“It was such a long time. It was over 13 years from the Battle of Danny Boy to the chairman announcing the summary hearing.
“So there was a mixture of things, I wanted to put pen to paper, would it help me close a few chapters? It did. But then it also reignited a few situations I was involved in.
“One particular was a suicide that I witnessed on my second tour of Iraq, so yeah it was a doubled edged sword, it closed a few things but then it reignited a few things also.”
It was during an operational tour in 2004 that Brian and his crew got the call to immediately head out in their infantry armoured vehicle to go and help another unit in trouble, they were dealing with multiple casualties. Brian and his section had to deal with the immediate threat or potentially suffer more casualties.
The threat was unexpected, en route to the situation Brian explained they had to travel down one of the world’s deadliest roads. It was a very tense moment sat in the back of the armoured vehicle travelling to the ongoing firefight.
Before they arrived at the scene, the vehicle they were travelling in came under a heavy rate of enemy fire. There was initial confusion as to where the enemy fighters were located.
Once the enemy firing position was finally located, the armoured vehicle's 30mm canon roared into life, suppressing the trench with the enemy inside. Brian explained the moment leading to the action which lead to him receiving the Military Cross. He said:
“It was the 14th May 2004 about 14:30 hours, we were actually called to go and assist with two casualties from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
“We were on the way down on Route Six, which is the main supply route from Basra to Baghdad.
"It is quite a vulnerable road anyway and on the way down we got hit by a violent ambush and there was a little bit of confusion trying to identify where the stronghold was."
Once the commander located the enemy, then came the call for the soldiers to dismount the vehicle and to go clear the enemy position. Brian didn't let the fear take hold. He said:
“The gunner and commander got a fix and started suppressing, then 5 – 10 minutes later I was asked to dismount and launch a close-quarter counter-attack on that stronghold, I had never done anything that extreme really.
“Closing with and destroying is a frontline soldiers job, but not very many people actually get to go in and hand-to-hand fight.
“So yeah, it was a bit of an eye opener, I experienced so many emotions in the back of that armoured vehicle, because you are disorientated.
"It is boiling, it’s like 70 degrees, your adrenaline kicks in, fear also kicks in, but you can’t let it become contagious, you have got to kind of use that fear in the right direction.
“For me, I used it to drag me out of the vehicle and start to conduct a full-frontal assault on that enemy stronghold.
“You have got to believe in the mission command and intent. Because if you don’t then that is when things start to go wrong.
“We needed boots on the ground, we were outnumbered and outgunned.”
Very little was done regarding the investigation post-battle. As a young soldier Brian didn’t comprehend how important these interviews would eventually prove to be.
He didn't realise that years later these same statements would be put under the spot light and that every word in every line would be scrutinized.
Brian has tried to remain positive throughout this ordeal, but admitted that it had been very hard, not only for him, but his family has suffered a great deal too. Even his young son received verbal abuse from the older children at school due to Brian's story being shown in the media.
Telling us how the interviews were conducted Brian said:
“Yeah there were a few interviews which I didn’t really take notice of, I just thought it was standard procedure straight after the battle of Danny Boy, and that was it, I thought it was put to bed.
“Then in 2009 I was on my commando course, because I was going back down there to instruct on their Royal Marines senior command course and then I got a letter through the door, well my wife did.
"She phoned me and said, ‘there’s going to be a public inquiry, and the allegations are murder, mutilation and mistreatment’, which kind of threw me into a bit of a spin.”
“I was on an arduous course, I was trying to focus on that, then all of a sudden this came from nowhere, so I phoned my adjutant back in my regiment and asked him if what my wife had been speaking to me about is happening, and he said ‘yeah’.
“So that was the start of It then, it was like weekly visiting doing statements after statements.
“It was a battle that I never knew how to fight, because I wasn’t prepared for and I wasn’t educated on it, so yeah it was graft.”
Brian has tried to use this situation to help others and highlight his situation to see if it will bring about change for others that may be going through a similar situation to him. He said:
“It is hard for me to criticise the Army because it has made me the person I am today. Are there lessons learnt? Absolutely.
“Did they get around us, me, my fellow soldiers, the regiment. No."
WATCH: In this clip Brian welcomes the support that he has received
“I hope the book just highlights key points, failings and findings and if it does happen again, or like it’s continuing at the moment with Northern Ireland they’ve got to get around the individual and the families because it can destroy, like it did mine, and it can ruin careers and can fuel post-traumatic stress.
“Because when you are under the most extreme allegations when you haven’t done it and you are acting on your decision making as a young 23-year-old, to then be in the dock and getting everything pulled apart and stripped of my values and my integrity, you know, it just wasn’t very nice.”
WATCH: In this clip Brian explains that there are lessons to be learnt
Telling us the reason for writing the book Brian said it was to clear the air and to bring closure, and he has been surprised with the reaction it has received. He said:
“It has blown me clean away, it really has.
"I am proud to be British, the support that I have had from the public has been amazing. I couldn’t even have wished for that kind of support, even from military people that I have never served with, contacting me and saying it’s [book] a credit to you, your regiment and the British Army for what you’ve done.
“Look, I just told my story, I think it was a story that needed to be told. It took two years to write the book, it was difficult, it was put on pause a few times for a number of reasons, now it’s launched and seems to be doing well.
“It is a Sunday Times bestseller, which is beyond my wildest dreams, I’m just pleased it is doing well.”
Not only was Brian effected by the investigations and years of torment, but he told us that his family had also been burdened with the stress and strains of life while his integrity was in question and told us if others are being dragged before the court, the Ministry of Defence needs to do all they can to protect its Personnel. He said:
“Another point I spoke about within the book, a statute of limitation, there has got to be a timeline where there is a cut-off.
“If there are allegations made and there is the credible evidence it needs to be looked at, because we adhere to the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement, and we have to continue doing that - though you can’t just keep bringing up and re-visiting these allegations decades and decades after.
“People are in their 70’s & 80’s and from personal experience I know how hard that is on the family and you as an individual.
“It is just a horrendous feeling and I hope that if that is happening I just hope that the MoD and the government are getting around these families and supporting them and giving them a bit of reassurance and guidance, because I never had it, and it was a tough ride.”
WATCH: In this clip Brian discusses life after the military and provides advice for those facing the same challenges
Since leaving the Army it has been a challenging ride for Brian and his family, dealing with the transition of leaving the Forces ‘bubble’, then trying to adapt back into civilian life has brought a lot of uncertainty.
However, Brian’s advice to anyone else going through the same change is to use the skills you have gained from military service, and put them to good use in whatever your passion is. He said:
“It is a big step for anyone, regardless if you have done four years or 22 years.
“Coming from an institutionalized bubble when you’ve got clear structure, direction, you’ve got mutual support, the belonging, the comradery and break that bubble then to come into, I call this the ‘real world’, it is difficult, but you’ve got to be brave enough to reach out for the support, you’ve got to be brave enough to get that direction.
“You’ve got to educate yourself, because no one does that for you, you have got to be self-sufficient and have the resilience to keep going.
“Sometimes you may not get the job you want and sometimes you may be threaders and upset about a few things, but that is life out here.
“You’ve just got to keep going, because if you do, then you will definitely find something. But I am not going to lie, it is a difficult transition.”