Norwich soldiers’ messages home from Africa

Norwich soldiers are among those training in Kenya the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment. Reporter CHRIS HILL heard about their African experiences and their messages to loved ones at home.

In the remote and hostile wilderness of northern Kenya, it is the simple pleasures which soldiers miss the most.

With virtually no internet or mobile phone signals, the Vikings crave news on sports results or world events – but what they want the most is the chance to talk to loved ones and family at home.

One who feels that separation more than most is Pte Bobby Hardy from Norwich, whose girlfriend Lucy is expecting a baby this week. And despite being a communications expert, trained in off-road driving and knowing where mobile signals can be found at 'magic squares' on the map grid, he cannot contact her regularly.

Pte Bobby Hardy, 25, was brought up in King's Lynn but now lives on Watling Road in Heartsease.

When I spoke to him last Friday he said: 'The baby is not due until the end of March, but Lucy was having contractions every ten minutes last week. I couldn't get her last night, but I got a message back saying there had been no mishaps.

'The most important thing is that I will get a month off when I get back, and that's the main part I need to be there for. I may not be there for the birth, but she will have the support she needs from her friends and family. She is not losing out – it is just me.'

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Pte Hardy said his unborn daughter had already been named Jessica Lily. 'I can't wait to be a dad, and I look forward to sharing all these experiences with her,' he said.

Despite the separation from family and the gruelling training regime, the soldiers said they were enjoying the experience of training in Kenya. In a battleground surrounded by wildlife reserves, many were awe-struck by Africa's natural spectacle and have spotted lions, giraffes and hyenas.

Pte Chris Williams, from Spixworth near Norwich, said: 'Everyone was worried about snakes, but instead we've been out on patrol bumping into elephants. It is so weird – it's another world.'

The 21-year-old former Sprowston High School student said he had only been able to speak to his girlfriend, Grace, once. 'I am missing her lots. Tell her I can't wait to have a massage when I get back,' he said.

Pte Tom Swarbrick, 21, a former student at Framingham Earl High School near Norwich, also had a close encounter with Kenya's wildlife.

'I went out on a night patrol and came across an elephant,' he said. 'We were going out to do an attack – I heard a rustling in the bushes and took the safety catch off my rifle. Then I saw its head and ran off to tell everyone to run away.'

Pte Stefan Marchese from Norwich, another former Sprowston High School student, has served in Afghanistan but said the training at Archer's Post was the toughest physical challenge he had ever overcome.

'It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coming to Kenya, for the training, the wildlife and everything that goes on around you. It is all about administering yourself out in the field, eating enough food, drinking enough water and dealing with sleep deprivation.'

Pte Marchese, 19, said he had not spoken to his girlfriend, Ashleigh Ruthven, for two weeks.

'I am thinking of her always,' he said. 'And I want her to know my tan is better than hers.'