This is the elite band of brothers, including Prince Harry, that were sent on a top secret mission to take on the Taliban in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.
Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed how one of the courageous soldiers pictured here, Warrant Officer Nathan Hunt, is believed to have tragically killed himself after struggling to cope with the effects of battlefield trauma.
Since then two more members of Harry’s desert reconnaissance unit have come forward to say they too have suffered serious mental health issu
This shocking revelation comes as The Mail on Sunday joins forces with Lord Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, in a campaign to dramatically improve the provision of mental healthcare for serving soldiers, a service which medical experts say is ‘on its knees’ due to spending cuts.
Prince Harry is also committed to improving mental healthcare for traumatised veterans.Last night, the campaign was backed by Warrant Officer Hunt’s parents Maria and Derek Hunt, from Lincoln, who also expressed concerns that more troops could take their own lives unless Government Ministers invest in the healthcare needs of traumatised troops.
They also claim the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the Armed Forces persuades members of the Army, Navy and RAF to suffer in silence rather than seek help.
It was in February 2008, close to the end of their bloody tour of duty, when 23 of the war- weary soldiers, including a barely recognisable Prince Harry, lined up deep in the desert for this dramatic photograph.
It was taken during a rare lull in the fighting – Prince Harry’s presence there at the time was top secret and subject to a news blackout.
The exhausted troops from the Household Cavalry and Royal Engineers had spent the previous ten weeks on a strategically imperative mission to seek out and destroy enemy positions around the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in northern Helmand Province.
The requirements of their highly dangerous role, far in advance of other British troops, put Prince Harry, Warrant Officer Hunt and their comrades in harm’s way day and night.
They faced constant attacks from the battle-hardened Taliban who were determined to stand firm. To protect their territory the enemy littered the ground with mines. As a result, 12 out of 30 of the unit’s heavily armoured vehicles were destroyed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Some of the crews suffered life-changing injuries. Revealed for the first time today, the recollections of these soldiers surely shatter once and for all the myth that Prince Harry was somehow kept away from danger during his first tour of Afghanistan. This popular misconception could not be further from the truth.
Lance Corporal of Horse Mark Kershaw, from Windsor, who was 21 at the time, said the Prince’s coolness under fire was remarkable. ‘He was my vehicle commander. We would be huddled together bracing ourselves as we approached enemy positions and the Taliban engaged us. We’d watch their Chinese rockets arcing through the sky towards us. This was early on in the tour and surely the first time he’d ever been under fire but he came through it like a hardened veteran.
‘We’d hear the piercing whistle of the incoming missiles, then feel the shudder as the warheads landed close to our vehicle but his demeanour never changed.’
He added: ‘Some guys would be rushing to find their protective helmets and body armour but Harry would be there wearing his baseball cap and calling in air strikes on to the enemy positions.’
One incident, later in the tour, has stuck with Mark Kershaw. The daily flashbacks, which are part of his anxiety disorder, led him to wonder what effect the same incident had on Prince Harry.
HE SAID: ‘Definitely the worst time for me, emotionally, and maybe for him, was when we came under fire near Musa Qala.
‘The enemy’s rockets missed us but landed on a village nearby. Ten years have passed so I forget the name of the village but I cannot forget what I saw. Harry and I were standing together as the villagers lifted the de*d and wounded from this airstrike on to wheelbarrows and pushed them up a hill towards us. They were desperate for help, pleading with us. There must have been ten bodies, decimated by the explosives, with limbs hanging off. It was horrific. Prince Harry and I did first aid on three of them, hopefully they survived.