Northern Ireland

Derek Eland: Diary Rooms book records soldiers' thoughts of Afghanistan

Derek Eland
Image caption War artist Derek Eland went out on foot patrols with soldiers in Afghanistan to collect their thoughts and feelings

In February 2011, I was in Afghanistan compiling a series of reports for BBC Newsline as soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards were nearing the end of their tours of duty.

I was flown to Khar Nikah Forward Operating Base in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province to spend some time with soldiers from the Irish Guards.

It was here that I bumped into war artist Derek Eland. He was going out on foot patrols with the soldiers and getting them to write down their thoughts and feelings on little post-cards or anything else that came to hand.

These were then collated and displayed in a diary room back at their base and would eventually become part of an art project that has toured the world. Those front-line diary notes have now been published in a book, Diary Rooms.

Earlier this week, Derek travelled over from England to Bangor in County Down to meet the parents of one of the hundreds of soldiers who took part in the project.

Exhausting

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Media captionSusan said she was delighted to see the footage war artist Derek acquired

Gordon and Susan Dalzell's son David was killed in Afghanistan. Not by the enemy but by a friend and fellow soldier.

They had just returned from another exhausting patrol when the young Royal Irish Regiment soldier was killed by an accidental discharge from his colleague's rifle.

The diary note written by David a short time before his death, is included in the book, and the foreword to the publication is by his mother.

The postscript is written by another soldier from Northern Ireland, Colum McGeown from west Belfast.

The Irish Guardsman had both legs blown off when he stood on an improvised explosive device, three days after writing his diary entry.

Image caption The diaries project was a modern day take on the First World War letters from the trenches and was first exhibited at the Imperial War Museum

The diaries project was a modern day take on the First World War "letters from the trenches" and explored, among other things, whether soldiers in the age of instant tweets and texting were still capable of expressing their innermost thoughts through the written word. The artist believes the project has proven that they can.

Afghanistan then and now is another world away from Northern Ireland, however it can be a surprisingly small world when considering the connections made between people moving through it.

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