Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 2nd 2014 Contents JOSHUA SURTEES
Awhistling sound was
coming from the sky,
so Maurillia Simpson
up to see what it was.
Two mortar rockets. She had just
about enough time to bellow
"incoming!" before she was buried
under a wall that one of the rockets
"I thought I was dead," Simpson
says, on a Skype call from England.
"Well, I didn t know if I was alive
or dead. And I started to sing His
Eye Is On The Sparrow. You know
that old gospel song? I was thinking
of my surrogate mum. She used to
sing me that song. It s all I could
remember to do. I was trying to say
It was 2007 and Simpson was
coming to the end of her second tour
of duty in Iraq with the British Army
in Basra. She had been getting ready
to shut down the base when she
heard the whistling.
Buried under rubble, she could hear
a voice calling to her "Simi," the nick-
name the squaddies gave her, "we re
not going to leave you, we re going
to dig you out."
It was a brush with death that
became a frighteningly familiar pat-
In three tours of Iraq, she wit-
nessed the invasion in 2003, the
withdrawal of British troops in 2009
and, in between, the ferocious mil-
itant insurgency and civil war which
ripped through the country after Sad-
dam had been deposed.
She came close to death on another
occasion, on a night mission deliv-
ering supplies to the Blackwatch reg-
iment, bedded down near enemy lines
in a place called Amarah, several
hours drive across the desert north
of Basra. The convoy of 12 army
trucks and Land Rovers she was lead-
ing unknowingly drove into a mine-
"Blackwatch were undercover so
you get to a certain distance and then
they call you in on the radio," she
"I saw a soldier come out, he must
have been a Sergeant Major or a Staff
"He waved his hands, signalling
us, so my commanding officer told
me to verge off into the desert. After
we d gone a little way they came on
the radio and told us to stop imme-
diately and don t move. He hadn t
been signalling for us to go that way,
he was trying to tell us it was a literal
Words cannot describe the feeling,
she says, when her commanding offi-
cer then told her, "Private Simpson,
put the tyres of the truck exactly
where I tell you...just like you learned
The trucks behind her, weren t in
as deep and were able to reverse out.
Simpson had to keep going forward,
through the minefield.
"At that point I thought: why did
I have that dream when I was seven
years old!" she laughs.
Born in San Fernando, Simpson
left school and home at 16, harbour-
ing a dream she d had since she was
a little girl, "to join the British army
and live where the Queen lives."
While working a series of menial
jobs and living with the family in
Cascade who took her in as their
own, "my surrogate parents" as she
calls them, she took the T&T Defence
Force exams and interviews, passed
them, then waited interminably for
the call to start training. It never
Her dreams of being a soldier were
revived in 1999 when she was given
a visa from the T&T government to
move to England. She applied for the
army three weeks into her stay after
seeing an advert.
"Be The Best, it said. I couldn t
resist. There was six months of back-
ground checks then finally I was at
training at Purbright in Surrey."
She passed the tests with a score
of 70 per cent and was assigned to
the Royal Logistics Corps as a radio
communications specialist and driver.
The camaraderie she felt later in
her army career, bonding with her
colleagues in combat zones, was
in scant supply in the early days
at Deepcut barracks.
Four trainees died at the base
between 1995 and 2002. Offi-
cially their deaths were recorded
as suicides, but the families have
never accepted the army coro-
ner s version of events.
"The culture of the army
was very hard," Simpson says.
"They say they ve tried to put
equal opportunities in place but
there are times when you have to
defend who you are and where you
are from. It s very stressful. When
I joined I was the only black
female in my regiment and I
was older than the other NCOs
They couldn t understand what
I was doing there or why I wanted
to be there."
In Iraq things were different.
Flown in on RAF air carriers, the
privates each had their own tents
to sleep in at first. "Just a tent
and a mosquito net. There was
no base at Basra in 2003, we were
there to build it."
A typical day involved a 12-
hour shift working on the radio
picking up messages from the
infantry, recording and relaying
their locations and whether
they were engaged in combat
with the enemy, giving her
officers information to give the
orders, "it s like a chain reac-
tion of events on the ground.
I was communicating with
the air cover flying over scan-
ning the area, giving instruc-
tions on taking evasive
action, surrounded by maps,
And all this with incoming
fire and sirens going off left,
right and centre.
• Twitter: @GuardianTT • Web: guardian.co.tt
Some San Francisco-area residents
are flush with cash, thanks to an
anonymous donor who has been hid-
ing envelopes full of money in secret
spots around the city.
The donor has been conducting the
Northern California treasure hunt by
posting clues to a Twitter account
called HiddenCash, sending followers
to uncover envelopes filled with about
US$100 taped behind stop signs, bull-
dozers, fire hydrants and dumpsters.
By late Wednesday, more than
190,000 people were following the
The donor describes the five-day-
old game as way to give back to soci-
ety after making millions in the city s
real estate market.
"I want the spotlight on what I m
doing and trying to do," he told CNN.
"I have no plans to stop anytime soon.
I m planning to continue this indefi-
nitely into the future."
The donor has encouraged winners
to tweet photos of their winnings. So
far, the experiment has appeared to be
a success. (Reuters)
Continues on Page A34
Trinidad-born Lance Corporal
Anonymous donor leaves San Francisco fans searching for hidden cash
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