Jac Holmes, the 24-year-old Bournemouth man who was killed this week while fighting Isis in Syria, had planned to write a book about his three years as a sniper. It was not to be.
But in his last webcast, filmed this month when he was holed-up in a bullet-ridden building on the east side of Raqqa, he told a unique story that gave a fascinating insight into the grim life at the centre of the battle against Islamic extremists.
In a two-hour question-and-answer video broadcast, smoking cigarettes as he answered hundreds of questions sent to his phone from his 200,000 followers on Facebook, the former Dorset IT expert and painter who first volunteered in 2015 to fight alongside Kurdish militia the YPG gave a poignant, blunt and witty account that is the modern-day equivalent of the letters from the front in the First World War 100 years ago.
In this portrait of a brave man who died fighting against evil, The Independent publishes extracts from a young man’s story that might have made a best-seller. The extracts are all in his own words…
Why am I here?
Because I was sick of seeing what was going on in Syria. The Western governments were not doing enough to help, nobody really gave a **** so I decided to come over and fight myself. I wanted to help people but there’s not a lot I could do from home.
What’s life like as a volunteer?
It’s hard mate, a lot of work. You either sit around doing nothing for six months or be in the **** all the time.
How long are your tours?
As long as you want, minimum six months.
What’s the most risky thing about fighting in Raqqa? Dying?
Are you ex-Army?
No, I had no experience. I never fired a gun before I came here. I’ve been fighting here for two years.
Have you met any Daesh fighters who were born in the UK?
No. Wish I had, that would be nice, that would be a good conversation.
What is day to day life like on the front?
So, typically you’ll sit in a building that you’re not supposed to leave and you’ll sit there all day, all night, doing guard, waiting for Isis to attack you. There’ll be air strikes going on in various places around you most of the day. Mortars. You can’t stand in windows and look around because you’ll get shot by snipers. If you’re lucky Daesh will attack you. If you’re unlucky you’ll sit there hungry, bored and tired.
How many friends have I lost in the war?
I’ve lost about 200 friends. I’m lucky not to be dead. There’s a lot better guys than me who have died out here over the years. I’d like to write a book when I get home, but I’ll have to get someone to ghost it as I’m too lazy. What titles? Maybe Minimum Wage Mercenary.
What are Isis like as fighters?
Isis are very well-trained, most of them are very experienced. The morons you see on the videos are not your average Isis fighter. Your average Isis fighter is smart, well-trained, experienced and crazy.
Did Isis set fire to a building I was in?
Yeah, me and Robin, one of the guys in my team, went to a front line position to cover those pushing forward a couple of streets. After three or four hours two positions in front of us came under attack and there was a car that blew up a couple of hundred metres away. One team of Daesh came to our building, snuck in downstairs, we were on the top floor of a four-storey building. There were supposed to be some Arabs on guard but they were too scared to go down there. Daesh came in, we didn’t know they were there until they lit a fire. All the smoke was coming up and there was a lot of movement and shouting downstairs, so we started shooting down the stairs and throwing grenades. We threw four or five grenades and then I threw out the window one of the suicide belts that I’d taken that morning off a dead Daesh. And then after seeing how ****ing awesome the explosion was, I threw the other belt down the stairs. Massive explosion, it threw a lot of dust up and we were choking, blind for about 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure they ****** off after that.
Will Raqqa be the end of it?
The end fight won’t be in Raqqa as they [Isis] still have plenty of territory elsewhere.
How far away are Isis?
They are about one and a half kilometres from here.
Are you scared of being captured rather than being shot and killed?
Er, I suppose.
Do you have a side arm?
No side arms bar a knife.
Someone has to get you a pistol?
Yes, they do. There’s plenty out here but they are not issued to foreign fighters.
What’s the best life lesson that you’ve learnt in Syria?
That we have it ****ing easy where we live and the only problem we have to worry about is finances.
What are my future plans?
No idea, I’m not thinking about the future, just taking it day by day.
What beer do I like?
I don’t drink beer.
How many Muslims have you killed?
That’s a good question. I haven’t ever killed any Muslims.
What did you do before you went out there?
I fixed computers and I was a painter.
Are you at the Front?
I’m not at the Front right now but when we do go to the Front I like to be as close to it as possible.
Can you be tracked by Isis when doing this [broadcast]?
Honestly, I hope Isis are tracking me and I hope they attack the building ‘cos I’m so ****ing bored. It saves me having to go to them.
Do you enjoy the lifestyle?
Yes and no but mainly yes.
When did you last get laid?
A long time ago.
Do I have second thoughts about what I’m doing?
No. If I did, I’d go home, no problem.
What do you miss?
A lot of things; food, sleep, being clean, being safe.
Do I have underpants?
You’ll be surprised that I only have two pairs and I wash them regularly.
Do you think you’ll have issues getting back into the UK?
Yes, my issues will be in Northern Iraq. Once I get out of Northern Iraq, I’ll have no problem.
What are your views on the private ownership of firearms?
If you’re not a ****ing psycho who likes to kill people then yeah, you should be allowed to own your own guns.
Do I watch Match of the Day?
Is that a serious question? No, we don’t get Match of the Day here and I’m glad we don’t because I don’t like football.
Did you do any training or did you jump straight into fighting?
Umm, I had a bit of training from some other foreign fighters when I first got here but apart from that I went straight into combat and in the first hour I was shot, because I didn’t know what the **** I was doing, and I was just unlucky.
My favourite gun?
Probably mine, I have to say that really. I like the AK104, if I didn’t have a M16 I’d have one of those.
How do you spend your downtime?
Eating, sleeping, sitting on the internet, cleaning clothes and weapons.
Tell us about the food?
The food, most of it, comes from Turkey and Northern Iraq. Umm, a lot of canned meat, canned tuna, bread, bottled water. Normally the logistics truck comes around at least once a day and you get a cooked meal. For a couple of months it was fried chicken and chips every night, which sounds awesome but after a couple of days it was **** and we used to dread it. But chicken and chips, you can’t really complain can you?
Is there anything I can do to get you out of Northern Iraq?
Yes you can. Just put it really big in the media and they’ll let me out, ‘cos it’ll disgrace them, me fighting Isis for them.
Will they think I’m with Isis?
Britain will not think that I’m with Isis because I’ve dealt with counter terrorism a lot and they know what I’m doing, but I could still be in trouble.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
I don’t know, I’ve seen a lot of crazy ****. People blowing themselves up I guess, bodies flying in the air after an air strike.
Would you consider an interview for a magazine?
Yeah, why not? Come to Raqqa mate, I’ll do it.
Are you Labour or Conservative?
One hundred per cent Labour, the Conservatives are disgusting subhumans, vampires who don’t give a **** about people or the country.
Where did you get shot?
In the arm.
Is it easy to get to where you are?
Yes, basically, is the answer.
Do you wear body armour?
No, I don’t.
Would you wear body armour?
No, I would not. It’s too heavy and I’m a small guy, my kit’s heavy enough already.
Are you combat trained?
Er, by experience, yes.
Do Isis use drones?
They were using drones and dropping bombs on us a few months ago, but I’ve not seen ‘em for a while.
Who has the top score in your unit?
I don’t know. Hopefully me.
Do the Kurds have a hard time getting you ammo?
The Kurdish armourers treat us very well. Whenever I go there they always give me more than I ask for.
How do the wounded get treatment?
Er, they get taken back to a hospital in an armoured vehicle, a field hospital, and then they go to a proper hospital.
Do you think you will suffer from PTSD?
What do your family think of your decision to fight?
They probably prefer I don’t because it’s ****ing dangerous, but they’re supportive.
Do you have good comms [communications] in battle in terms of radios?
No, we don’t.
Do you have any night vision gear?
How many rounds do you have on you at any time?
Er, nine full magazines, 28 rounds in each magazine. Let me work that out, 280 minus 28, 252.
If Britain went to war tomorrow would you come back and join them?
Er, depending on who it was against, I’d probably go back and help my country.
Do you have many jams in your weapon?
Not that many. I actually had a really bad jam the last time we went out and I thought it was just because it was as dirty as **** because I had a silencer, which makes my weapon a lot dirtier, the carbon gets blown back into the chamber. But it was nothing to do with that, it was a bullet was crushed so it didn’t extract properly. So now I check all the bullets before I put them in my magazine.
How close to death have you been?
Do you get paid?
A small amount. Not really.
What have you learned?
Was your first battle nerve wracking?
Yes it was.
Did I have shaky hands?
Don’t know, can’t remember, maybe.
What gear do you carry?
Not a lot; knife, multi-tools, frag grenade, smoke grenade, magazines, rifle, bag of food and water.
Is there a language barrier?
Yes, if you don’t speak Kurdish and my Arabic is not 100 per cent.
How are the bugs?
The bugs are terrible. The flies are disgusting and there’s way too many of them. And there’s no wind so there’s lots of mosquitos.
What’s your favourite thing about Syria?
Getting to walk everywhere with a gun and it being normal.
Are there any $10 Isis fighting just for money?
I think so, I’m not sure honestly. I’ve never had the chance to speak to one. But I’m sure not all of them believe all the ****. They just want to rape people and kill people for money.
How close are you to Isis when in combat?
It can range from five metres to 100 metres. It’s a big city, so it varies.
Do you miss Sunday roast?
Yes, I do.
Apart from mines across the roads are they elsewhere?
There’s mines everywhere mate. There’s one group that took a building the other week and it had 14 mines in it.
Are you planning to come back home any time soon?
How old were you when you joined the YPG?
- I’m 24 now, 25 in a few months.
When are you next at the Front?
I don’t know. I could go to the Front tomorrow but I want to stay here, I want to chill out.
What are your views on Syrian refugees in the UK?
As long as they come there to work and to escape war, and they’re not Islamic extremists, OK.
Do you plan this to be your final trip there?
I’d like this to be my final trip, but you never know. That’s why I’ve made this [webcast] so long, because I don’t want to go back home and then come back here again.
What’s the closest you’ve come to death?
I’ve been shot. Nearly been shot by bullets, rockets. Nearly been blown up by a suicide bomber. The only thing I haven’t experienced is a mine blowing up near me.”