A soldier has spoken of his experience during humanitarian work to help Bosnian families who had “lost everything during flash flooding”.
Platoon Sergeant Steven Beattie from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, based in Holywood outside Belfast, spoke after around 100 soldiers were this week awarded ‘Op Althea’ operational medals for their work in June 2014 in Tuzla in northeast Bosnia.
In May 2014 the Balkans was hit by the worst floods in more than a century.
Constant rain left many areas flooded, damaging homes, bridges and agricultural land. Flooding was worst in the Sarajevo and Tuzla regions, as well as in central Bosnia.
Sgt Beattie, 29, said the platoon was initially deployed to Bosnia to do an exercise and training – but they ended up joining forces with the Bosnian and Slovenian armies “in a big clean-up operation which went on for three weeks”.
He said whilst he and his soldiers saw “great upset from families at what had happened” they were “the most hospitable people I think I have ever met”.
“Even given the circumstances where they had lost everything, as soon as we got there they laid on huge trays of food for us and drinks and were constantly coming out with water,” he said.
“Based on what had happened they were really nice people.”
The senior officer said “for many of the soldiers it was a real eye-opener”.
“We like to sit in the UK and complain about taxes and government but if you go to somewhere like that you get a sudden realisation that life isn’t that bad and we are pretty well off in the UK.
“You realise how fortunate we are to have the NHS and to have a good solid roof over your head.
“None of the families I met had insurance and they had lost everything.”
Sgt Beattie said they had arrived in Tuzla “during the clean-up operation”.
“Where we were operating there were nice houses but you could see the water marks three-quarters of the way up some of the houses,” he added.
“Their stuff was destroyed, every personal belonging they had was destroyed.
“There were photo albums and everything they had lying on the streets, totally ruined.”
Sgt Beattie said Tuzla residents were unable to safeguard their property as “the flood came on very quickly when the river burst its banks and it was uncontrollable”.
He added: “People died and people lost everything.
“During the clear-up – which we helped with because the families did not have the capacity to move the stuff – we filled large trucks with what was lying on the roads and took it to a dumping area.
“It was a big job.”