The Battle of Danny Boy and Overcoming Challenges | A Q&A with Brian Wood

22 January 2018

Brian Wood MC, former Colour Sergeant, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, has spent most of his adult life in the military. Being faced with the prospect of making life-threatening decisions on a daily basis, he shares his experiences from the battleground with great integrity and candour. Brian Wood was awarded the Military Cross, one of Britain’s highest awards for gallantry in combat, by Her Majesty The Queen II, following his courageous leadership under enemy fire in Iraq. He told us a bit about his unimaginable experiences and his involvement with the difficult battle of Danny Boy.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

During a 16-year military career on the frontline, I led British troops across the full spectrum, from training to fighting; from operations in the Balkans to high-intensity combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Throughout my Army career I have made life-or-death decisions, frequently in hazardous battle situations, usually under great pressure and often against the clock. There is no greater leadership challenge than motivating men to put their lives on the line. To succeed, they have to know that you are a meticulous and competent planner and commander who can be trusted with their lives.

It sounds like an incredibly difficult challenge that is hard to imagine away from the battleground. We know you were involved with the battle of Danny Boy - can you tell us a bit about what happened here and during the aftermath?

In the heat of a lethal close-quarters battle, fighting outnumbered, I seized the initiative, taking a split-second decision to lead my men into the teeth of enemy fire. This was the first bayonet charge by British soldiers in 25 years. Leading from the front, I put my own life in great danger. Under my command, my men defeated the enemy without sustaining any serious casualties themselves, and their actions that day saved many other soldiers’ lives.

The aftermath of the battle left soldiers with severe PTSD; and led to the Al Sweady inquiry, a public inquiry reporting allegations of unlawful killing, mistreatment and abuse on Iraqi nationals in the aftermath of the battle. The public inquiry was irrevocably dismissed and proved to be completely vindicated in 2017. It ruled that the accusations of murder and torture were 'deliberate lies' and were based on 'reckless speculation' and were 'without foundation'. This was no compensation for the 10 years of hurt that me and his family were put through.

How did you deal with the trauma of what happened on the battlefield being skewed in the media?

I tried to maintain a sense of purpose, putting myself on a number of military courses such as the physical training instructor course, battlefield medical course and the commando course. This helped as a distraction for me from all of the lies that were being spun by Phil Shiner.

"I would say speaking to the right people at your time of need is the best thing you can do."

The whole ordeal must have involved some incredibly tough mental resilience. How did you manage the mental obstacles and what advice would you give to those in a similar situation?

I tried to maintain the belief that I did the right thing. I set myself challenges to complete.

But in terms of advice, I would say speaking to the right people at your time of need is the best thing you can do. I chose to try and cope with everything myself, but the bottom line is that it was too much for me.

What or who has been the greatest influence in your life?

My father, he is a real inspiration to me. He has incredible values and standards. He spent a lot of time with me when I was going through this demanding time in my life.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm currently writing a book that will be published by Penguin Random House in September. I also keep trying to be the best version of me.

Thank you, Brian, for speaking to us with honesty on this difficult topic.

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