Bond of brothers pitched into the maelstrom of war

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AMONG the broad melee of Yorkshire accents rising from the checkpoints and patrol bases of Helmand province, one stands out above all.

There are some 100 Bradford soldiers out serving with 1st Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, many of whom grew up on the same estates and attended the same schools.

Lance Corporal Mark O’Connor, 24, is keeping things even closer to home in the Afghan desert because he is posted out alongside his 21-year-old brother, Private Simon O’Connor.

“I signed up first and I told him to come to the Yorkshire Regiment so I could keep an eye on him,” said Mark, whose first child is due to be born this month.

“Our mum was pretty scared knowing we were both going to be out here at the same time but it is a relief for her knowing that we are at least together.

“Sometimes when I hear stuff going on over the radio then I worry about him and every time he goes out on patrol I tell him to keep his head down.

“He never listened to me when we were growing up but he does now.”

Private Richard Buchanan, another Bradfordian serving in the 1st Battalion Company alongside the O’Connor brothers, said: “It is very strange really, I went to school with Mark.

“When we are home we all meet up. Our other friends back home don’t really know what we are going through back home and that helps a lot to have each other.”

The brothers also grew up close to Private Nathan Overend, 21, of Buttershaw.

“I left school at 15 and I wanted to start something and stand on my own two feet,” he said. “It was only when I started the medical training that I realised what I was getting myself into, but you shut it out. You just switch on in this environment.

“We had contact on the first operation we went on. We were only going out on a reconnaissance patrol to build up a picture of the local environment. We were in a field that was pretty exposed with no cover. “We were pushing into some compounds but when the last four men were coming around they opened fire. There were rounds smashing into the floor only 10 or 20 metres away. I was very scared.

“It is funny, I never thought I would be used to getting shot at but it happens near enough every time we go out.”