Family affair - father and son's paths cross in Helmand

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The paths of a father and his son have crossed in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, as one tour ends and another begins.

By a fortunate twist of fate, Territorial Army Captain Christopher Wilcock, aged 41, of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), serving with the 1st Battalion Irish Guards Brigade Advisory Group, met up with his son, Marine James Hoyes, aged 22, of 40 Commando Royal Marines, who was heading back to Taunton after a tour of Helmand province.

Captain Wilcock said:

It’s surreal to end up together with so many factors conspiring to keep us apart and yet here we are in the same place. I doubt if we will ever be in this situation again. I was as happy as ten men to see James safe and well, on his way home for some well-earned post-tour leave.

I am extremely proud of what James and his mates have done. 40 Commando have had a difficult time in the last six months in a notoriously difficult place.

On meeting for the first time since Marine Hoyes’ departure six months ago, Captain Wilcock surprised his son with some cigars which they shared over non-alcoholic beers on the veranda of the Danish coffee shop in Camp Bastion.

Marine Hoyes was inspired by his father and followed in his military footsteps, joining the Royal Marines in 2008. Ever supportive, Captain Wilcock completed the last ten miles (16km) of his son’s gruelling ‘30-mile test’ (48km) alongside him, and then had the honour of presenting him with his Green Beret on Dartmoor.

Now, Marine Hoyes is on his way back to the UK having spent six months in the infamous Sangin area of Helmand province.

During his time in Sangin he patrolled around the district on a daily basis, interacting with the local people, speaking to them in Pashtu.

He said:

Pashtu skills helped break the language barrier; the locals were definitely more friendly to me. They like banter and having a laugh and a joke.

It was different to what I had heard of previous tours in Afghanistan. We made a positive impact but it was a hard fight where we were.

But two kilometres down the road 120 shops opened during the last six months. We definitely made Sangin a better place.

My experience out here has made me look at life differently. I can now see how much people take the small things, like hot water, for granted, especially after you see how the Afghans live.

Marine James Hoyes and his father Captain Christopher Wilcock each enjoy a cigar and a non-alcoholic beer at Camp Bastion
Marine James Hoyes and his father Captain Christopher Wilcock each enjoy a cigar and a non-alcoholic beer at Camp Bastion [Picture: Lt Jonathan Boardman AGC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Captain Wilcock is on his second tour of Helmand as part of an Army advisor team working side by side with the infantry and engineers of the Afghan National Army (ANA), providing leadership advice and support in order to help the ANA provide security and a better future for the people of Afghanistan.

As a civilian, he is a chartered civil and structural engineer and has been a member of the TA since 1989, having passed the Commando Course in 1995 and P Company (pre-parachute selection) this year.

In a slight role reversal, Marine Hoyes had some words of advice for his dad:

Be careful how you interact with the locals, they can take you pretty literally!” he said.

Captain Wilcock is looking forward to ‘a challenging six months ahead’. He said:

I am very pleased to be advising Afghan engineers to further develop their capacity to help them stand on their own. I’m also relieved that James will be safe at home in the UK.