Veterans – History in the Making 10
This year in the Tommy Atkins Diary we will be looking back one hundred years to the events leading up to the Centenary of the Armistice. But in between that we will also be looking at other history changing events that have occurred since that time. In the early 1990’s British Servicemen were called upon to take on a Peace Keeping role which was quickly going to develop into something more than just keeping the peace. Britain was drawn into a conflict and witnessed some of the worst atrocities carried out by former friends, neighbors and work colleagues against each other and the term Ethnic Cleansing came into our language.
On 13th January 1993 two Warrior armoured vehicles made their way along a road in the area of Gornji Vakuf heading towards the main town. Between them was an ambulance carrying three female civilian casualties. Earlier in the day the Warrior team had been providing a personal escort for the Commanding Officer of 1 Cheshire’s, Lt Col Bob Stewart, who was visiting Gornji Vakuf to try to broker a ceasefire between the Muslim ARBiH troops and the Croat HVO troops.
Shortly after the negotiations started a call was received requesting an armoured escort for an ambulance and two warriors were assigned to the job. The convoy of three vehicles set off at around 1030, the lead vehicle commanded by Corporal Furniss and driven by Lance Corporal Wayne ‘Eddie’ Edwards, attached to the Cheshire’s from the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Eddie drove with his hatch open for greater visibility and all seemed okay. Then around twelve minutes after leaving the base as the lead warrior crossed a bridge a single shot rang out hitting Eddie Edwards in the head. Despite the efforts of a senior medical officer in the rear warrior Eddie died at the scene.
Wayne ‘Eddie’ Edwards was the first British casualty in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Yugoslavia following World War II was set up to include six republics;Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia. There were also two autonomous states, Kosovo and Vojvodina. Each republic had its own branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia with the President for Life being Josip Broz Tito. And under this regime the Country became politically and economically powerful in the region with peace across the Country. But in May 1980 President Tito died and over the next ten years the whole Country and all the individual republics became embroiled in a fight for power and with killing men, women and children on a daily basis.
Things came to a head in the early 1990’s and the United Nations with its supporting nations including Britain formed the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), established as a peace-keeping force and included British deployment of troops into Bosnia-Herzegovina in October 1992 under the codename Op Grapple.
But following the death of Eddie Edwards in January 1993 the British Government changed the philosophy to that of peace-making. Following news of the first British casualty, the Minister of Defence at the time, Malcolm Rifkind, announced that a Royal Navy Task Force would be deployed to the Adriatic which included an Aircraft Carrier. This was to be the first deployment of a carrier on active service since the Falkland Islands War in 1982. The British Government was determined that any further attacks on British UNPROFOR troops would be met with artillery and air attacks.
British armed forces from all three arms of the Service continued to serve in Bosnia for another fifteen years and would see more than fifty casualties and many more wounded.
BRITBAT and its supporting sub-units won great praise by becoming the guardians of the only functioning main supply route into the core of Bosnia and ultimately Sarajevo and Tuzla. The maintenance of Routes Triangle and Diamond would remain a critical combat engineering task, the Royal Engineers carrying out their usual high standards of work.
Three days after the death of Eddie Edwards Bob Stewart managed to broker a temporary ceasefire in Gornji Vakuf in order to lay a wreath at the spot where Edwards was killed. At exactly 2.00pm both sides paused hostilities while four Warriors drove to the bridge. Accompanying the British troops at the ceremony were the commanders of the ARBiH and HVO units. The Warrier Commander that Eddie was driving, Cpl Furniss tied a wreath of yellow and red carnations and pine branches, spelling out the name ‘Ed’, to the bridge. After a minutes’ silence the opposing commanders saluted and the British withdrew. Hostilities recommenced moments later.
Lance Corporal Wayne Edwards’ funeral was held at his home town of Rhosymedre, Wales on 25 January 1993.In May 1993 Eddie’s Mother attended a parade at the Cheshire’s’ home base in Germany where medals for service were awarded. She was presented with her son’s United Nations Medal by Lt Col Bob Stewart.
On 1st October 2011, as a tribute to him and the other peacekeepers that lost their lives during the conflict, the Mayor of Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje renamed the bridge where the driver was hit to The Lance Corporal Wayne Edwards Bridge. The official ceremony was attended by Wayne’s sister, the British Ambassador the Defence Attaché and Col Bob Stewart.
Do you have memories of Op Grapple or the Bosnian conflicts? However difficult they may be to talk about you can guarantee there will be others that will share your memories and we are all here to support each other.
We would like to hear from you here at Forgotten Veterans UK.