This week Mike Edwards reflects on two military campaigns of the past - and wonders what they might tell us about the war that is dominating the present.

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The man’s words still haunt me, day and night. Three short, sharp words which screamed into my radio headset while I was the duty officer in Iraq: “Lightning, lightning, lightning.”

This was the coded message from HQ to tell us that Iraqi Scud missiles had been launched and were heading for my location.

In the intervening moments before they impacted, I raced outside the ops room tent, screamed the warning to everyone else, and sprinted towards the shelter – a wide and deep trench in the sand covered in part by a camouflage net.

The book gives you eight seconds to get your respirator on – I could get mine on in four. Putting on the heavy and deeply uncomfortable charcoal-lined cotton protective romper suit over your clothing took longer, but was just as deadly serious.

Then we waited for the missiles, baking in the sun, nerves screeching like someone playing a saw up and down taut guitar strings.

When they exploded nearby, we faced a dilemma – laugh because they had missed, or scream because the premise for going to war was Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and we didn’t know what was being carried towards us on the wind – anthrax, botulinum toxin or plague.


Mike Edwards in Iraq, where Allied troops were attacked by scud missiles launched by Saddam Hussein’s forces

Mike Edwards in Iraq, where Allied troops were attacked by scud missiles launched by Saddam Hussein’s forces


This horror was played out dozens of times round the clock over three days.

Finally, on day three, the gaps between the alarms lengthened until they stopped, never to resume.

Given where we are, we know full well the import of the weaponry held just a few miles up the loch from Helensburgh.

There are those reading this who will be more intimate than I about the posture at Faslane since Russia invaded Ukraine.

There is, of course, a terrible finality of what we have termed down the years the Armageddon brought about by the use of nuclear weapons. But in a sense, there is a fate worse than death.

President Biden has warned that Vladimir Putin might use chemical and biological weapons in his continued mission to destroy the infrastructure – if not the spirit – of Ukraine.

READ MORE: Mike Edwards: Worrying times for us all as Putin highlights the nuclear option

This would be a catastrophic escalation of an already desperate situation. Worryingly, the Putin-backed Assad regime used these cruel weapons during the Syrian civil war.

The tension of the Iraq situation was dissolved by my sergeant major, who quipped that we were lucky because Saddam’s aim was rotten and the missiles launched at us ‘only’ carried high explosives.

I fear there will be no such humour, or good luck, if these ‘fate worse than death’ weapons are used in Ukraine.

The missile incidents were 19 years ago. There is an event being planned for next year so that those of us who were there can mark two decades since the worst day of our lives.

This year, however, is the 40th anniversary of another conflict which will no doubt encompass the worst day of other people’s lives.

I was 17 when the Falklands War broke out – Argentina invaded and occupied the islands on April 2, 1982 – and I was old enough to understand what was what, because my father had been in the Royal Navy during World War Two.


Argentinas invasion of the Falkland Islands was launched on April 2, 1982 (Photo - PA)

Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands was launched on April 2, 1982 (Photo - PA)


He talked me through the emotions, if not the tactics, because of course things had changed quite a bit since his day.

Adding a certain something to the situation was the fact that we were in Gibraltar on holiday for two weeks right at the height of the situation.

The place was busier than usual with soldiers, sailors and airmen, and military aircraft came and went round the clock as part of the air bridge from the UK to Ascension Island.

Twenty years later I would go to the Falklands to make a television documentary and see for myself the places for which people fought to the death.

There are parallels with the current situation, many thousands of miles closer to home than the Falklands. A neighbouring aggressor invading, bent on destruction and dominance but totally misjudging the strength of feeling of the population and their desire to fight to the death for liberation.

And, we hope, the same ultimate ignominious defeat.