Gwen joined the Military Police when she was aged 24. After 3 years in Germany she returned to the UK and was then posted to Iraq.
She was attached to an American unit and recalls. “It was a bit strange really because the Americans treat their women a bit differently. In the British Army you are quite equal but the Americans didn’t really know what to do with me as I was a woman attached to a group of Infantry. They dug me my own toilet and gave me a solar shower and they gave me a sanitary pack with cleansers and toothpaste. I thought that was nice!
We were in front of a lot of the British Army brigade putting all the route signs out so everything was in place for everyone to come through. We eventually set up in a big sports stadium, like the Etihad.”
As a Police Officer Gwen had to investigate crimes that had happened before and during the war. “If anyone opposed Saddam Hussein they put them on coaches and took them to the middle of the desert, make them dig shallow graves and then just shot them and buried them there.
We also had to investigate honour killings. It was mainly older female children who had done something to disrespect their family and they would basically kill them. I remember one young girl – probably about 18 – they had left her at the side of the road with a sandbag on her head. She was tied up and a bit of her body was exposed because she had been out all night and the dogs had been eating away at her. The men were really offended by seeing her uncovered and kept asking me to cover her up. I was more concerned that this poor girl was dead!”
At the end of her tour they asked for volunteers to stay in Iraq but Gwen just wanted to get home. However, some of her friends decided to stay. Shortly after arriving back in the UK she heard that they had been killed. “You don’t believe it at first. They were all boys I had worked with and were friends. They had gone to a Police Station as there had been some unrest in the village. We never got to the bottom of what had happened but a mob had gone into the Police Station and assassinated them all. It had been a long, drawn out process of killing them all one by one. These boys were all good, trained soldiers and some were Para trained too. “
You never think for one minute that you aren’t coming home.
Gwen met her future husband via her friend while serving in Iraq. He was her friends Drill Instructor from training. “I said ‘I’m not chatting to him, he looks like a right one. ‘ He was saying ‘I’m going to marry you next year!’ and I was just laughing thinking it was hilarious. I thought, ‘He’s not my type. He is a right wide boy, this one.’ But sure enough we did get married a year later! We used to write to each other in the blue envelopes. If we went to Headquarters I would turn up just as he was leaving or we would be driving along and wave. It was a proper old fashioned courting.
I wish I had stayed in really but I had a bit of a knee jerk reaction because of all that had happened. I wish I had joined when I was younger. It’s an amazing life and I think it’s good for you as a person. “