Honouring our heroes: Lieutenant Colonel Harold Jarvie

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An explosion rang out over the harsh Afghan landscape. A young boy lay motionless on the ground. Before Captain Harold Jarvie could get to him, he had to cross a minefield filled with dangerous unexploded material. Harold had to get there – but how?

Born in the small Western Australian town of Southern Cross on 21 April 1966, Harold James Jarvie was the youngest of eight children. Growing up near the Swan River in Perth, Harry and his mates spent many hours swimming and jumping off the Guildford Road Bridge, often trying to splash tourists taking cruises up the river.

As a young man, Harry worked as a labourer and bank worker before joining the army in 1986. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1987 and was appointed to the Royal Australian Engineers.

In late 1992, after many engineering exercises and various command and training positions, Harry was posted as a technical adviser to the UN Mine Clearance Training Team (UNMCTT) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A group of men standing together learning how to clear mines. One man is squatting in the foreground holding a mineThe Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the ten years of fighting that followed, had left the country littered with more than ten million mines and other dangerous unexploded materials. Several million Afghans had been displaced, unable to return home from nearby Pakistan and Iran because of the threat of mines.

With many thousands of lives already lost to mines in Afghanistan, the UNMCTT, under Operation Salaam (which means "peace"), had many roles. They monitored mine-affected areas, and trained civilians in mine awareness and the basic procedures of mine clearance.

UNMCTT members grew beards and dressed in local robes to gain the trust and respect of the locals. They taught demining courses, accompanied locals on training missions and, in Harry’s case, assessed demining methods and surveyed minefields for later clearance.

During one survey mission near a minefield on 23 August 1993, Harry and his colleague, Lieutenant Colonel Greg McDowall, heard a mine explode. Told that a young Afghan boy had been badly injured, the pair hurried to the area. Following a local guide along a goat track through an uncleared minefield, they reached the boy and did their best to ease his pain. While Greg organised his evacuation to a nearby medical facility, Harry applied first aid and helped lift him onto a stretcher.

Sadly, the boy did not survive. For his actions Harry was awarded a Land Commander’s Commendation, which stated:

"I commend you for your courage in entering the unsurveyed lane through the minefield, and for your calm and competent handling of a critical first aid situation."

When Harry left Afghanistan in late 1993, the mine clearance program was well established. It was able to continue on a local level, with the help of external advisers and former UNMCTT members.

After returning to Australia, Harry married Helen Rankin in October 1998. The pair moved to Queenscliff, Victoria, where Harry attended Command and Staff College. They had their first son in 2000.

Their second son was born a year later, while Harry was deployed to East Timor. For his command of the Engineer Component of 4RAR Battalion Group Harry was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service. He went on to serve in Iraq, where he organised the training of new local Security Forces and served with Headquarters Land Command Engineers, for which he was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross.

In 2007, Harry commanded Reconstruction Task Force 2 (RTF2), which helped build medical centres, schools, and bridges in southern Afghanistan, despite constant threats and violence from the Taliban. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership in action in 2008.

Today, Harry lives with his family in northern New South Wales, and still serves in the Army Reserve at the Army’s Combat Training Centre.

In 2013, Harry spoke of his service in Afghanistan:

"I often reflect on the tragedy that is Afghanistan, particularly the devastation that the landmines and other explosive hazards have inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan, and the one young boy I attempted to help, who I will always remember."

In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014-2018) we are sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts through the Honouring our Heroes series. Visit the Anzac Centenary website news page to read more from this series.