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Imperial War Museum North seeks Afghanistan stories

Corporal Ben Mitchell in Afghanistan
Image caption Cpl Mitchell described the helmet as his "most important bit of kit"

The Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) in Trafford will record the experiences of men and women on the frontline in Afghanistan in a new project.

The museum is opening the War Story project by displaying a donated British flag and helmet, which were in Helmand province with personnel in 2010.

IWMN staff have also collected stories from troops and their families.

Corporal Ben Mitchell, who donated the helmet, said War Story "matters a lot" to public perception of the conflict.

Cpl Mitchell, who was raised in Stalybridge and is based in Taunton, Somerset, said he had submitted his helmet as it was "the most important bit of kit".

It will be the first of its kind to be displayed at the IWMN and will allow visitors to see its special design, which is shaped to prevent it tipping over the eyes when the wearer lies down.

'Methodical peacekeeping'

It was one of several items - including the flag, which flew at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin - to be collected by IWMN staff from the 40 Commando Royal Marines, the first unit to be involved with the initiative.

Troops from the unit served on Operation Herrick 12 in Helmand province from April to October 2010.

It is their experiences that will begin the War Story project.

Cpl Mitchell said that it was important to have the stories told and objects shown, as the conflict was quite unlike what the public might imagine.

"It is a counter-insurgency, not a conventional war, so it's a lot more complicated than people think," he said.

"It's not a theatre of war anymore, like you see in the films, it's a slow methodical peacekeeping, [battling for] hearts and minds, with obviously war fighting as well."

Despite such conditions, Cpl Mitchell said that the situation was "quite easy" to deal with on a personal level.

"With the people that you work alongside and the character that you form in your career, you learn to cope with it and get on with it," he said.

The Ministry of Defence's director of media and communications, Nick Gurr, said the IWMN had a role to play in the documentation of ongoing conflicts as well as those in the past.

Image caption The flag was lowered in 2010 and donated by Regimental Sergeant Major Martin Pelling

"We hope that War Story will help the public gain a greater insight into what our servicemen and women are doing in Afghanistan by providing an opportunity to hear first-hand what life on the frontline involves," he said.

Director General of the IWMN, Diane Lees, said that through War Story, "servicemen and women are being given the opportunity to describe experiences that for many of us remain indescribable."

"It will play an important role in raising public awareness of the personal experiences of servicemen and women involved in contemporary conflicts and the significance of their role in making and preserving history," she said.

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