British man held as 'human shield' by Saddam relives nightmare three decades on

He was among hundreds of UK citizens held by forces loyal to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein

(FILES) In this photograph made available by the official Iraqi presidential photographer on 26 April 2002, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (L) is seen sitting in a tent in Najaf (Irak) in 1991 during Gulf War, with unidentified others. Thirty years have passed since Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein invaded neighbouring Kuwait, but despite hints of a diplomatic rapprochement, people both countires say the wounds have yet to heal. On August 2, 1990, Saddam sent his military, already exhausted by an eight-year conflict with Iran, into Kuwait to seize what he dubbed "Iraq's 19th province." The two-day operation turned into a seven-month occupation and, for many Iraqis, opened the door to 30 years of devastation which is still ongoing. / AFP / PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / -
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A British man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers for about five months after the invasion of Kuwait has spoken about his harrowing experience for the first time in more than 30 years.

Jon Godsall was among hundreds of UK citizens held by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein in 1990 after the dictator invaded the neighbouring Gulf state.

The Welshman and other detainees were whisked from Kuwait hours after the invasion and spent months being moved around Iraq where they were used as “human shields”, while coalition forces from 35 countries led by the United States waged war against Iraq in response to the invasion.

On August 2, 1990, Godsall was heading to work at the British embassy in Kuwait City, where he worked for his family’s air-conditioning business, when advancing Iraqi soldiers surrounded his car.

The man from Swansea told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “probably one of the most vivid memories I have of all my life”.

He said he was held face-down on a road “with an Iraqi soldier’s boot at the back of my head, a gun at my neck, lots of shouting and activity increasing by the minute around me”.

After being loaded into a military Jeep he was driven to the city centre, right into the middle of a firefight between Iraqi and Kuwaiti forces.

Seeking shelter behind a wall, a local teenage boy sought to reassure him, saying: “Don’t worry mister, the Americans will come now and kill all these Iraqis.” Moments later the boy was dead.

“I’m kneeling down and before I had a change to grab him and pull him to the ground, I didn’t realise for the first fraction of a second what it was but his clothing just turned red and he fell to the ground,” recalled Godsall, fighting back tears.

A day after invading Kuwait, Iraqi forces entered the hotel in which he was staying and rounded up foreigners, taking them hostage. They were transported to Basra and moved to 10 more locations across Iraq before their release in mid-December 1990.

Another group were held in a room at Kuwait University. Harvey May, a banker from Kent, was among those kept in the building, where he occupied himself by reading books and writing short stories.

Following his release, Mr May revealed soldiers had fed hostages a diet of “slops” each day which consisted of bread and watery soup and caused them to quickly lose weight.

Months later, there were emotional scenes at Heathrow Airport when May was reunited with his wife Barbara and 12-year-old son David.

The group Godsall was with was brought to army camps, power generation plants and other locations likely to be targeted by coalition forces where Iraqi soldiers were “using humans to shield” themselves.

On one occasion, the hostages were paraded through a town where locals spat at and threatened them in what Godsall summed up as “the most ridiculing experience ever”.

“I thought they had exhausted their imagination of finding ways to ridicule us or drive us into the ground any further,” he said of the Iraqi troops.

“It got quite aggressive, quite violent and we were basically surrounded, [they were] spitting their food at us, waving these knives, coming at us.”

Godsall recalled how soldiers “took great joy" in teasing hostages by saying they would be released that day only for nothing to happen.

“I didn’t for one minute accept that it was true until I was walking through the tunnel at Heathrow Airport,” he said.

The First Gulf War ended officially on February 28, 1991 after Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait.

Once hundreds of British hostages were released and repatriated, there was a misconception among the public that they had been fairly treated in Iraq, Godsall said.

After more than 30 years of keeping his experience to himself, during the Covid-19 pandemic Godsall decided to write a book about it, which he is still working on, to help his relationship with his family.

Those decades of silence have shaped his aim to “create a more positive life ... for myself and those around me”.

“The further I go into this, the better person I’m becoming because of it,” he said.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:08 AM