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"It's only afterwards that it really hits you – you nearly got killed there"

In 1942, the RAF Regiment was formed as an integral Corps within the Royal Air Force aimed at providing combat support and defence to the RAF bases and overseas operations. It was the Gunners that carried out these specialist and often dangerous operations across the globe, deploying to countries such as Iraq, the Falklands, Burma and the Balkans.

Former Flight Lieutenant Carl Harding served with the Regiment for 16 years. In this guest blog, Carl fondly recalls his time as a Gunner and opens up about an incident in Sarajevo that will stay with him forever.

Former Flight Lieutenant Carl Harding

I joined the RAF Regiment when I was just 20 as Flight Commander I'd wanted to join since I was eight-years-old and I have to say I loved my time in the Regiment, doing what I wanted to do with the people I wanted to do it with.

I was very sad when I was forced to leave. We were a band of brothers, the military part of the RAF and we all looked after each other.

My time as a Regiment Officer was extremely varied and I served in a number of different theatres in several countries. From a light armoured tour in Cyprus through to ground launch cruise missiles at RAF Molesworth where we were combat ready with 16 nuclear missiles. Each day was different.

I went on to do ground defence training at RAF Cosford and later moved to RAF Catterick, the former depot of the RAF Regiment, as an instructor. In 1994 I became the Regiment Officer for 1 (F) Squadron, based at RAF Wittering which was arguably the RAF’s oldest unit and at the time, and home of the Harrier.

In 1992, I served in the besieged Bosnian city of Sarajevo during the Balkans war, with 27 military observers under my command. I was there at the start of the conflict, where 12,000 civilians died from the constant barrage of shelling by Serbian forces. This role as an unarmed military observer for the United Nations was by far my most intense tour and frequently saw me in the thick of the action and the danger.

Part of being an Officer is that you have to react rapidly to the changeable conditions. I remember one occasion on 31 October 1992, at precisely 10am, the Serbians opened fire on the whole of the city and a shell landed right outside our small head quarters.

A distressed civilian came in and led us to the casualties all of which had numerous severe shrapnel wounds.  One of them was a 60-year-old man who was severely injured with shrapnel holes in his legs and groin. As there were no nearby hospitals and only one ambulance on the road I had no choice but to give him a shot of morphine as his prospects were bleak, he was deteriorating quite quickly.

The policeman volunteered to drive through the artillery barrage in a VW Golf. We quickly dropped the rear seats and loaded the stretcher into the car but the hatch wouldn’t close, the stretcher was too long. I had no option but to get in the back of the car and hold the hatch open along with holding the man and the stretcher!

The shelling was still very heavy and as we drove off through an artillery barrage I looked back at HQ. When we got to the hospital we dropped the man off and drove back through the artillery barrage. It's only afterwards that it really hits you – you nearly got killed there. I wrote in my diary I was quite prepared to die that day because I was doing my duty, it had to be done.

In 1997, my career in the RAF Regiment was dramatically cut short when I was smashed into whilst riding my motorbike. Overnight, life as I knew it changed forever. My back was broken and I subsequently spent a year in hospital. When I was medically discharged from the service I felt detached from everything. That's when the RAF Benevolent Fund stepped in and bought me a home through their Housing Trust.

Thanks to their support, me and my family had somewhere to live, enabling me to adapt to life as a wheelchair user. Not only were they a shoulder to lean on for me but they also supported my wife while I was in hospital.

Further information

If you served in the RAF Regiment, or are currently serving, and need support, please get in touch with us today.

The RAF Regiment Heritage Centre is based at RAF Honington and is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To visit, you must pre-register first on the website.

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