For Ross Kemp, it felt natural “signing up” with the Royal Anglian Regiment when making a series about what life was like for British troops on the frontline in Afghanistan.
He comes from Essex – one of the recruiting areas for the 1st Battalion along with Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. And his father John, who lives in Norfolk, served with the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the 1950s.
Yet a motivating factor behind his portrayal of army life in a war zone was a desire to “give the British squaddie a voice.”
He said: “I have felt for some time that if we are to send our young men to fight in places like Afghanistan, they should have a voice. A lot of the time, that voice has been from media-trained officers out of Sandhurst but we have not heard what the squaddies think. We do not hear from 18-year-olds from Thetford who have been sent to fight in Afghanistan.”
Ross Kemp In Afghanistan gives the young troops voice; it vividly portrays them in the line of fire, you hear what they think, how they react and how being in a war against a resilient enemy impacts on them.
In the five-part series, Kemp joins the troops on operations in the “stifling and intolerable” conditions in Afghanistan and comes under intense fire in the notorious “green zone”.
He spends time living and working alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment for the Sky One documentary that starts on Monday.
Speaking to the EDP, he confessed there were times he thought he could be injured or worse.
“When there are bullets and rocket propelled grenades flying over your head and you are pinned down on the ground, it does cross your mind that you could be killed,” he said.
When you are under attack human instinct takes over. You want the ground to swallow you up because you know how vulnerable you are. You just don’t want the bullet to hit you.
“I will never forget what we faced. Sometimes the firing was behind me, sometimes in front.
“That is why I am so proud of these men and the job that they do. I hope that this programme will make people aware of that.”
Kemp was with the battalion when Cpl Darren Bonner, whose mother Chris lives near Wisbech, was killed when his Viking troop carrier hit a landmine. “I was well aware we came through the same space that Darren Bonner’s Viking came through,” he said.
Kemp admits it was tough in Helmand but facing the families of soldiers killed in action was even more difficult.
“It is hard out there but when you look into the eyes of Helen Gray, who lost her 19-year-old son, that is a damn sight harder. She will want people to see what it was like out there and I think we have a duty to try to make people understand what these young men have been through. I also wanted to understand what makes them tick, especially when they risk their lives daily. This is supposed to be the ‘hoody’ generation sitting in their bedrooms with computer games and Nintendos but I think this film puts that myth to rest.”
Kemp portrays the realities of war in the series, shot with cameraman Andrew Thompson, and comes away with a greater understanding of the British soldier and the difference they are making in Afghanistan.”
The series chronicles the experiences of the British soldiers . It follows Kemp training with the battalion on Salisbury Plain before arriving in Afghanistan, taking casualties in the war zone, looking at life on the frontline, meeting their families and the homecoming.
Ross Kemp In Afghanistan is on Sky One at 9pm on Monday.