Kent soldiers at Camp Bastion reflect on WW1

Image copyright Dominic King
Image caption Sgt Jonathan St Paul (left), L/Corp Chris King (centre), and L/Corp Ricky Beal (right) hold the photographs

Britain declared war on Germany exactly 100 years ago, changing the lives of millions of people across the world for ever.

BBC Radio Kent's Dominic King visited Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and spoke to three Kent soldiers about how they see their predecessors who fought for their country between 1914 and 1918.

"I think they were probably a lot tougher than us. You can only imagine the difference back then in trenches," says Sgt Jonathan St Paul, from Tunbridge Wells.

"Same sort of guys, same sort of age groups," said L/Cpl Ricky Beal, who comes from Ramsgate.

In the dusty heat of Afghanistan I asked three soldiers from Kent, serving in the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (PWRR), about what common ground connected them with the soldiers of WW1.

'Same camaraderie'

Before embarking on my trip to Camp Bastion I had visited the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London and seen the vast collection of Victoria Cross medals.

Image copyright Dominic King
Image caption Dominic King spent several days at Camp Bastion speaking to soldiers

What struck me were the photographs of the young men that went with them.

Their youth stared out at me from the display cases; some will have died and never aged beyond those pictures while others survived.

They had the same look of those young soldiers I have met during the past year while reporting for BBC Radio Kent.

Sgt St Paul and L/Cpl Beal, along with L/Cpl Chris King, from Tenterden, are all attached to the Brigade Reconnaissance Force of the Queen's Dragoon Guards.

I handed them the photographs of 2nd Lt Cyril Balmforth, who was awarded a Military Cross for Gallantry and devotion to duty in action near Ypres; Cecil Blinkhorne, a New Zealander serving with the Australian Imperial Force who was admitted to a convalescent home near Sevenoaks in 1916, and Pte Charles Wells, who served with the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment (a forbear regiment of PWRR) and who died in a French hospital and is buried in Rouen.

'Following footsteps'

As we stood in their military compound, protected by razor wire and standing next to huge shipping containers, the three shared their thoughts with me about the lives of those whose footsteps they have followed.

Sgt St Paul reflected on their differences: "Our generation, the PlayStation generation, has wi-fi and we can talk to our families on a daily basis.

"They probably had to wait weeks at a time to get their letters through."

"It's 100 years on and we're still serving the military," said L/Cpl King. "I had family in the First World War and I'm the first since then."

L/Cpl Beal said the only things that had changed were the kit and equipment.

"The camaraderie would have been pretty much the same, looking out for each other," he explained.

"I know how it makes me feel thinking about the guys from 100 years ago and it's good to follow in their footsteps."

I was left in no doubt about what had made these young men become soldiers and sign up for Queen and country.

The way they talked and felt about those who had come a century before was a clear indication of why their military service is more than a job title and a pay slip.

It is just as much about duty, honour and history.

Dominic King in Afghanistan can be heard on BBC Radio Kent's Breakfast and Drivetime programmes all this week

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