Huddersfield soldiers are heading back to Iraq, a year after helping to oust Saddam Hussein. RICHARD PORRITT has seen their preparations.
THE vast wastelands of western Canada are normally home to little other than rattlesnakes, black widow spiders and gophers.
But they also provide a temporary home to one of the British Army's biggest training grounds.
The 1st Battalion Duke of Wellington's Regiment, who recruit extensively from the Huddersfield area, have been at the Suffield base, taking part in one of most gruelling training exercises any soldier will ever experience.
The squaddies, who are preparing to go back to Iraq in the winter, spent 30 days and nights living out on a prairie about the size of Luxemburg.
Over that time they took part in war games against other soldiers, using Challenger tanks, Warrior armoured vehicles and Gazelle helicopters, as well as lots more heavy metal.
L-Cpl Karl Mowatt, 22, from Honley, now lives in Osnabruck in Germany where the regiment, better known as The Dukes, are based.
Incredibly. he dashes home every weekend to Honley to see his two-year-old daughter, Naomi.
He said: "The worst thing about being out here in Canada was that I had to be away from my daughter for so long.
"I do the `Dover dash' most weekends in the car from Germany to see her, but I could not do that from out there.
"It gives you something to aim for when times do get hard."
Former Honley High student Karl, whose mum, Annette, and dad Michael, live in Honley, is set to go back to Iraq in November.
"I went out there last year when the war started. It was a good experience, but it is very hard work. It is in places like Iraq where the sort of intense training we are doing here in Canada comes into its own."
The youngest Huddersfield Duke in Canada was Pte Chris Drain, 19.
He has only been in the Army for two years, but has already fought in Iraq.
He said: "When we went out there at first it was very difficult for everybody. The facilities were terrible because we were sent out at really short notice. We did not have much time to think about it before we went. But it did get better after a while.
"You just have to get used to the difficult conditions and get on with it. After all, this is our job.
"My mum and dad were not happy when I told them I was going out there. I don't think any parents really believe their child will be sent to war.
"Once I had come back though, they were very proud."
Pte James Cheesman, 20, has been in the Army for 16 months.
He said his mum, Catherine Walter, was distraught when he said he was going to a war zone. "She said she was coming to Germany to take me home," said James. "But she did calm down after a while.
"It must be hard for all families," he added.
* The Challenger 2 has been used by the British Army as its main battle tank since 1998
* Challenger 2 has an L30, 120mm rifled gun
* The turret is capable of 360-degree rotation
* Challenger 2 was designed and made by Vickers Defence Systems, based at Barnbow in Leeds and Newcastle
* The tank has a crew of four and a combat weight of 62.5 tonnes
* Challenger 2 is 27.2ft long, 11.4ft wide and 8.2ft tall.