Keith recalls waiting game in the desert 30 years on from first Gulf War

For Keith Hodgson, the hardest part was the waiting.

Sgt-Major WO2 Keith Hodgson from Rugeley with enemy equipment seized during the liberation of Kuwait. (for Mark Andrews)
Sgt-Major WO2 Keith Hodgson from Rugeley with enemy equipment seized during the liberation of Kuwait. (for Mark Andrews)

It is 30 years since Britain first went to war with Iraq, following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait the previous summer.

The campaign began with the biggest air raid in history on January 16, 1991, but for Keith and the men on the ground it was simply a question of waiting. And waiting. And more waiting.

“We just wanted to get out there and get on with it,” says Keith who was a 38-year-old sergeant-major with the Staffords at the time the war broke out.

He had been in the desert since October, and says the hardest part was the waiting at camp before the fighting started.

Sgt Major Keith Hodgson in newly-liberated Kuwait, waiting to go home.

Now 68, Keith, from Rugeley, recalls a terrifying moment when he feared Saddam would unleash chemical weapons against the nuclear-armed Israelis.

“The big thing we were all worried about was a gas attack, we had been told the Iraqis had all these horrible gases which they were going to use," he says.

“Just before Christmas, about December 13, it was the time when the Iraqis were sending all these missiles into Israel to test their range.

“We had a machine called the Niad to detect for gas, and it came over the radio ‘gas, gas, gas, this is not a drill’.

“We all had to put our gas masks on, and it seemed like an eternity. In reality I suppose it was probably a few hours.

“It turned out that the Israelis had sent their planes over to Iraq, and it was only at the last minute that the Americans had persuaded them to turn around. We were that close to World War Three.”

Keith Hodgson, back row, centre, with the signals platoon that was under his command

But while the ground troops may have been itching to get on with the job in hand, the waiting would have to continue for a while longer. The ground invasion did not begin until February 24, and was over almost as soon as it begun. It became known as the '100-hour land war' for good reason.

Keith soon realised that the Iraqis were ill-prepared for the war, and that their equipment was no match for the weapons of the Allies.

“I had some sympathy with the ordinary Iraqis, they weren’t fed and watered like we were,” he says.

“There was one Iraqi, he had a picture of himself with his wife, and in that picture he was a big fat bloke, about 16 or 17 stone, but here he was, about eight stone.

“We thought it was a different bloke."

Ready for action - Keith Hodgson waiting for the land invasion in 1990

He also discovered that, probably in an attempt to make them fight harder, the Iraqi troops had been brainwashed with stories that they would face barbaric treatment by the British and American forces if they were captured.

"There was a bloke who took his wedding ring off, he kept it in his pocket," says Keith.

“They had told them we would cut their fingers off if we caught them.”

But he also remembers some of the Iraqi troops using dirty tactics themselves.

“There was one Iraqi who had a white flag, but he had a gun, and has he came towards us he killed one of our troops while he was waving a white flag," he says.

Keith Hodgson, from Rugeley,.in the desert

"I didn’t have much sympathy with people like that.”

Keith's men were quickly overwhelmed by the number of Iraqi troops wanting to give themselves up.

“There was one point when there were so many Iraqis, we couldn’t cope,” he says.

Keith worked as a security guard after leaving the Army, but is now retired.

Keith recalls catching his wife unaware when he returned from the battle at the end of the conflict in 1991 earlier than he was expected.

“When I came home, I rang my wife from Germany to tell her I was on my way, but I got an earlier ferry, and it was a bit earlier than she had been expecting.

“When I got home, there were was a big banner outside saying ‘Welcome home Keith,’ but I put my key in the lock and the door wouldn’t open for me. My wife told me ‘not yet, can you come back in half an hour’, and I said ‘Why? I’ve been waiting six months for this.’

“She then went away and put Welcome Home by Peters & Lee on the record player. She wouldn’t let me in until that was on.”

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