Chantelle Taylor is an articulate, well-spoken woman who lives in a nice house in a lovely part of Devon. She is also the first woman serving in the British Army to have killed someone in combat. Whilst she herself downplayed her gender she did acknowledge the historical power of her status (and noted that it’s better than being a footnote in history for having won Big Brother) and during an enthralling interview with Mary Ann Sieghart she also discussed why she was in the army, the lack of emotion she feels about what happened and the violent death of her own brother.
Taylor joined the army at 22 in 1998 as a “Combat Medic”. It sounded better than working in supplies. In 1999 she deployed to Kosovo and during the 2000s served in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. In the latter tour she was in a two-vehicle convoy that was ambushed by the Taliban and they had to fight off their attackers with small arms fire. Taylor killed an enemy fighter from a distance of about 30 metres. It took seven bullets to take him down. She did not see the whites of his eyes (“I wasn’t looking for them; that’s a bit Hollywood”) but could see enough detail to note his expression. There were no immediate feelings about it at the time as she straightaway had to deal with a casualty and now, when looking back, she notes that she is pleased that she and her unit escaped unharmed and that it is memories of child soldiers in Sierra Leone or comrades who have lost limbs that cause her regret and sadness. The killing of an enemy trying to kill her was simply part of her job. A job that she expects other people would find as boring as she does accountancy.
Sieghart probed a lot about Taylor’s feelings and emotional state and was maybe disappointed to find that nothing particularly deep came back. What was fascinating was the way in which Taylor spoke about her training, her comrades, her role as a soldier and her anger that society weeps more tears over the death of women in battle than of equally brave men. Her description of the ‘atmospherics’ that led up to the ambush was compelling, all the more so for being so straightforwardly told. She told her life story either side of the defining moment in the same simple but engrossing style.
When the subject moved to honour and purpose the interview became even stronger. Taylor’s brother died when he tried to stop two drunks fighting and a single blow sent him to the ground where he hit his head against the kerb and died. This was in 2002. “I decided then I didn’t ever want to be a victim”, his sister said. When asked if she felt her brother’s death would have been more honourable in combat Taylor agreed completely and spoke of her disgust that her brother’s killer could only make excuses in court rather than acknowledge what he had done. War, soldiering and exchanges of fire in battle are noble and correct; drunken brawling is not.
Chantelle Taylor has now left the army and despite Devon being a tranquil place she earns a living as a bodyguard of wealthy men in the Middle East. She watches the atmospherics intently, hoping to avoid rather than deal with a ‘situation’. But she does so calmly. She has killed once in her job and would, without regret, do so again.
There are two more interviews in this series to come. If they are even half as gripping as this then they will be well worth catching. Simply superb radio.
(Listen via iPlayer here.