Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2003, Private Jason Smith, 52nd Lowland Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, died of heatstroke in Iraq. He had been enduring temperatures of over 50C (122F) and complaining of feeling ill, so reported sick. In his last letter to his mother he told her that he was so dehydrated the medic could not find a vein for the drip. On the day of his death he was found lying on the ground, having collapsed; he was taken to hospital but was found to have suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be saved. His family launched a legal bid against the Ministry of Defence, which resulted in a landmark ruling on human rights for troops. Private Smith’s mother fought a legal battle for a second inquest after discovering that the Ministry of Defence had failed to disclose a Board of Inquiry report during the original inquest. After a judicial review, the Supreme Court ordered a second inquest in 2010.
Giving evidence in 2006, Private Smith’s former commanding officer broke down as he told of the conditions under which his men worked: "It was extremely hot, we were extremely busy, too busy, and we didn't have enough resources - be that manpower, be that equipment - to do what we were asked to do. My best resource available, as ever, were my soldiers, who never let me down. Official army guidance on coping with the heat was wrong. Five litres was not an adequate amount of water. The guidelines were written for Salisbury Plain, not Al Amarah.” The heat was so extreme that soldiers did not wear body armour most of the time, as the risk of heatstroke seemed greater than that of being shot. Where Private Smith was based, there was no mains electricity, running water nor air-conditioning and each soldier was allowed just one shower in the morning and another at night "because that was all the water we could give them," reported the officer. Another officer got his mother to send Dioralyte as it was in such short supply, and there was only one trained medic available. The officer went on to say that Private Smith’s death came about due to "relentless tempo of operations, stretched manpower and extreme heat." Air-conditioning units had been requested but took weeks to arrive, turning up two days after Private Smith’s death. According to one of the soldiers, they were operating in a "hot, dusty hellhole.”
The coroner at the second inquest stated: "When climatic conditions deteriorated and the number of heat casualties increased, there was a missed opportunity to intervene." An MoD spokesperson said: "A number of changes have been implemented in the 10 years since Private Smith's death in order to reduce the risk of heat-related injury. All personnel are now given extensive briefing about how to identify and treat heat injury."
Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Wilson said of Private Smith: “Jason Smith was a very well-liked and much respected member of 52nd Lowland Regiment and of D Company. He joined the Regiment in October 1992 and, since then, has taken part enthusiastically in all regimental activities, including exercises in Cyprus and Slovakia, demonstrating great commitment to the unit. He genuinely loved being a member of the TA and was thoroughly excited at being mobilised. He saw it as his chance to do his job for real and to contribute to the restoration of Iraq. He will be sadly missed by all his friends and colleagues in the Regiment.”
Jason, from Hawick in Scotland, was 32 years old.