21 Oct 2013

Marine Hailed for Interpreter Role

Translators, by their very nature, are among the first wave of retinue sent by any organisation trying to open new territories and emerging markets.

However, sometimes those initial meetings can be worlds away from ‘tea on the lawn’ at the local embassy. Sometimes they can take on an altogether grittier hue, requiring nerves of steel.

One such intrepid translator is Captain Owen Davis, who has been recognised for his efforts as an interpreter in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The 25-year-old Royal Marine, from South Wales, shadowed members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) as they took over from international troops in the region.

To train for the crucial job he spent a year learning Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan (the other being Dari).

Swansea-born Cpt Davis, who speaks five languages, admitted that immersing himself in the role did send him “a bit Lawrence of Arabia”.  To fit in with his Afghan officers, Cpt Davis grew a beard, listened to Pashto music and poetry, and even physically shared a bed with several of his Afghan colleagues for weeks at a time.

The officer, who has been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, was one of a small number of military men entrusted with crossing cultural boundaries in the province.

However, Cpt Davis also experienced something that most translators will be very happy isn’t usually on the job description – live fire. His medal not only honoured him for his cross-cultural activities, but also his military prowess and ability to stay cool in a gun fight.

Cpt Davis’s role as fighting Marine brought him into close contact with death on both sides, and tested his mettle to the core.

Talking of the Afghan personnel he worked with, Cpt Davis said: “I fully trusted them after about a month, or a month and a half of working with them.

“But yes, everyone knows someone who is in the Taliban, and often if you have two brothers one might be in the security forces and the other an insurgent.

“But if there had been the slightest suspicion about one of the guys the others would have picked up on it very quickly, much faster than I ever could.

“You just get on with them, it is like anyone you meet.

“The language was the main thing because you can share a joke, enjoy some banter.

“They were young guys from the villages who were keen to do their bit.”

Cpt Davis, who speaks English, Welsh, Pashto, Dari, French and German, has now decided to put combat behind him and has started a degree at Keele University to become a doctor.

Talking about the importance of education, he said he believes Britain’s legacy in Afghanistan will be positive if the country’s young are allowed to be educated.

“If we have provided enough security for that education to move forward, then we have done a good thing.”

From dodging bullets and roadside bombs, Cpt Davis is now most at risk from the dangers of freshers’ week at university.

Though he has not ruled out a return to the military as a surgeon, he is devastated to have left the Royal Marines.

“I am distraught to be leaving,” he said.

“I have been really really fortunate during the last couple of years with the job I was allowed to do. I will miss it massively.”


Sign up to our newsletter

Get our blog articles straight to your inbox.