A Motcombe man will share personal reflections on his military peacekeeping duties as a fundraiser for the village church this Saturday evening.
Graham Dunlop served in the Royal Marines at home and abroad between 1965 and 1997. He was keen to talk about his experiences to help raise money for St Mary’s Church. “The idea originally was it was going to be about military history but that is full of battles and bloodbaths and they are not really very suitable for raising funds for a church,” explained Graham.
Graham then considered preparing a presentation about his time as a peacekeeper in Bosnia but rejected that idea as he said that it was a depressing subject matter. He settled on explaining what happened during his three months in the Kurdish area of Iraq. Graham assisted with the Kurdish relief crisis that followed the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. He says that experience was ‘more uplifting’.
Graham’s talk will put the need for the NATO peacekeeping mission into historical context. “I will talk about the background to it, who the Kurds are and what created the problem that had to be solved. It was a Kurdish rebellion against Saddam Hussein and the counteroffensive triggered by our victory in Kuwait. That persuaded the Kurds to rebel. The Iraqis pushed them back out of their lands onto the Turkish border. The first half is building up the situation, the second half will be talking about what we actually did when we got there,” he explained.
Graham recalls that the peacekeepers were generally welcomed. “Everybody wanted it to succeed. Everybody except the Iraqis. Luckily, they didn’t really count by that stage,” he said. “Everybody else influenced by it wanted it to work, which was a pretty strange position to be in. Normally when you deploy military force in some way or another, you’re stopping somebody from doing what they want to do. Hopefully, the person you’re stopping is the bad guy. In this case, they wanted to go home and we wanted to help them. We wanted to create a secure environment that they needed. They’d fled from their homes into horrible camps up in the mountains on the Turkish border and were in serious danger of a humanitarian disaster happening up there.”
Although Graham was not deployed there for long, he was able to see the impact of his group’s peacekeeping actions. “While we were still there, a number of families and individuals who had got home and got their business and their lives going again came back and visited us. That was lovely. We had met them first and got to know them early on. When we had seen them first, they were refugees in rags. They were like vagabonds. When they came back to see us, we realised that they were lawyers, engineers and teachers. The transformation was lovely.”
Graham remembers the warmth and hospitality of the Kurdish people. “The Kurds were fabulous people, very resilient and they have had a hell of a time in their history. Nobody wants them, they get kicked, oppressed and what have you. And that’s by another lot of people including us in history. Given the circumstances, they were very well disposed towards us and were very hospitable and supportive. They were lovely people to deal with,” he said, adding that he enjoys talking with the staff at the hand car wash at the Udder Farm Shop, many of whom are Kurdish.
He recalls the stunning scenery of the region. “That part of Iraq is beautiful. It’s in the foothills of rugged mountains with lush valleys in-between. There are great rivers and gorges. It could be a real tourist haven if it wasn’t such a troubled area,” he said.
Graham’s talk takes place at 7pm on Saturday, 1st February, at Motcombe Memorial Hall. Tickets are £15 per head, which includes supper. They are being sold in aid of St Mary’s Church.
“I think it will take about £1,000 after costs. I hope I will bring in around £800. Even if you don’t go to church or don’t believe in God, most people still like to have a nice church in the village. It’s a good place to get christened, married and meet your maker when it’s all over,” said Graham.
The event is almost sold out. “We have got three tickets left,” said Graham. If you want a ticket, you can call Liz Pocock on (01747) 852647.