I was in Florida when Saddam Hussein decided that invading Kuwait was a good idea.
It was the first time the children had been to Disney and they were having a ball. When the news broke, it was a bit of a shock to say the least.
I remember hoping that some friends, Steve and Jane, who lived in Kuwait were all right.
As it turned out, Jane was back in Blighty with their children and Steve, who worked for Kuwait Oil Company, ended up getting out in a four-wheel drive across the desert with the family photograph album. He left everything else.
My friend Dave used to work for a scientific supply company, which provided equipment for schools and universities. He roamed around the Gulf, flogging glassware and chemicals.
Bad luck landed him in Kuwait on the evening of August 1, 1990. He woke up 29 years ago to the sound of gunfire and the rumbling of tank engines.
He was in a hotel in Kuwait, which was close enough to the US Embassy for him to become a little worried as he looked out of the window.
A grey-haired chap in a dressing gown was busily burning papers in an oil drum in the embassy’s garden. Dave, speedy on the uptake as always, knew that this was unusual behaviour.
He got dressed and went to the lobby, only to be greeted by a group of Iraqi soldiers who rapidly bundled him into a truck and headed off.
His first night in captivity was spent on a mattress on the runway at Kuwait airport – fortunately by now closed to traffic.
The next day saw him driven a long way north until he was prodded out of the truck at gunpoint and forced into a 40-foot container. It was dark and he had no idea where he was.
He was given a bowl of rice and a cucumber.
The next day a German chap arrived and shared the container with Dave for the next 15 weeks.
It turned out that they were on top of the wall of the Saddam Hussein dam, near Mosul, and were part of the so-called “human shield” which was set up to discourage the coalition’s aircraft from attacking strategically important sites.
For the next 22 weeks, Dave had only water to drink and cucumbers and boiled rice to eat. He stopped smoking and lost some 20kg.
Despite the circumstances, he was healthy. He was also rather worried about his wife back in Cheshire, as he had been unable to get a message to her.
The ex-chancellor of Germany, a certain Willy Brandt, negotiated the release of the German, who was asked to learn Dave’s home phone number by heart.
In mid-November, Dave’s wife received a phone call from Germany and was told that her husband was fine. This was the first news she had received. To say that she was relieved doesn’t come close to describing how she felt.
Dave finally arrived home just in time for Christmas. He was a lot thinner and was now a non-smoker. He has never spoken of what else happened to him.
Mike Gaunt is a former assistant headmaster at St Christopher’s School, Bahrain – firstname.lastname@example.org