Counting the human cost of war

A soldier in Afghanistan

11% of servicemen in the armed forces are recruited from Wales

Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick, a bomb disposal expert from Llanelli, has become the 311th British servicemen to be repatriated to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, after being killed in action in Afghanistan.

As the battle between Nato and the Taliban intensifies, it increasingly appears that Wales is bearing a higher and higher proportion of the casualties.

But is that necessarily the case? And if so, is it necessarily surprising?

Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures show that 11% of servicemen across the armed forces are recruited in Wales.

The figure for Welsh recruits to the Army, (which has suffered by far the most casualties) is only between 7% and 8%. However both these statistics are remarkable, when you consider that Wales represents 5% of the UK population.

But how does this percentage compare to the number of Welsh servicemen killed in Afghanistan? The answer is unclear.

The problem is that there is no universally accepted criteria for what constitutes a "Welsh serviceman".

Start Quote

It's certainly true to say that Wales punches above its weight in the armed forces, so statistically you'd expect a higher proportion of fatalities”

End Quote Paul Barnard, Ministry of Defence

According to the official MoD statistics, 19 of the 311 fatalities in Afghanistan were Welsh.

That represents 6.11% of the UK-wide figure.

But as Army spokesman Gavin O'Connor explained, that is not necessarily the full story.

"For the purposes of the MoD, a Welsh serviceman is one who was recruited in Wales, or who gave an address in Wales as his next of kin," he said.

"We do include people who don't fall into either of these categories, if it becomes clear that they have strong Welsh links, although this is on a case by case basis.

"It's really impossible to give a more accurate answer than that. The problem you have is that some people may be born in Wales to Scottish parents, but lived in Kent all their life - it rapidly becomes impossible to nail down exactly what constitutes a Welsh serviceman."

A search of Google finds anywhere between 30 and 40 entries for fallen servicemen, with varying degrees of connections with Wales.

Cpl Jamie Kirkpatrick Cpl Jamie Kirkpatrick was repatriated after being killed in action

This unscientific approach would put the proportion of Welsh soldiers killed at anywhere between 9.67% and 12.86%.

However, even presuming that this figure could be relied upon, the MoD is at pains to point out that it would only ever be accurate for the day on which it was calculated.

"Thankfully we had a spell earlier this year when very few Welsh soldiers were killed, but if you'd have tried to make a similar calculation at the height of Operation Panther's Claw last summer, then the percentage would have been much much higher, possibly even 20 or 25%," said MoD spokesman Paul Barnard.

"The nature of Army deployment makes it appear to the public as though their region or nation is suffering an unfair proportion of the casualties, because their local regiment is the one currently on the front line.

"The Welsh Guards were very active in Helmand last year, but when they come home, at another time it would seem as though more soldiers from Scotland or the north of England are dying.

"It would be impossible to come up with a meaningful number until the campaign is over.

"It's certainly true to say that Wales punches above its weight in the armed forces, so statistically you'd expect a higher proportion of fatalities.

"And for that Welsh people should be proud, and the rest of the UK should be grateful."

But for the family of Cpl Kirkpatrick, who leaves his wife Heidi and their 16-month-old daughter Holly, the numbers are irrelevant.

For them their one loss is devastating.

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