Britain drafting reservists for service in Persian Gulf

December 29, 1990|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Britain yesterday began drafting military reservists for service in the Persian Gulf after too few responded to a call for volunteers.

The move provoked immediate protests from some reservists, who said they enrolled in the part-time military service to defend Britain from external attack, not to fight in a foreign country.

In a protest broadcast on the BBC, one reservists asked: "Why should I put my life on the line to defend one dictatorship from another?"

A nursing director told Independent Television News she felt "ambiguous" about going to the gulf, reluctant to leave her civilian responsibilities here but ready to fulfill her military role there. Anne Walmsley said she welcomed the draft because "you are told to go, and then the responsibility is taken away from you."

The government wanted at least 1,000 part-time specialists to volunteer, mainly for medical service, but only 700 signed up.

The government yesterday announced a compulsory draft of 390 reservists -- 250 Army medical specialists and 140 Royal Air Force auxiliaries. The medical staff will serve in field hospitals in the gulf -- where Britain has 34,000 land, sea and air personnel -- or replace staff already dispatched from other military hospitals. The RAF auxiliaries will be used for casualty evacuation.

It is the first time since the Suez crisis 35 years ago that Britain has drafted its reservists into forced service. The major opposition parties, who have supported the government's policy throughout the gulf crisis, supported the move.

Armed Services Minister Archie Hamilton said the reserves should be on station within a week or 10 days.

He said draft review committees would "look very sympathetically" at hardship cases, such as self-employed businessmen whose livelihoods could collapse, or people caring for elderly and sick relatives.

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