He went to fight Islamic State, and although the food was bad and war a tortuous mix of the boring and the frightening, Dean Carl Evans found such fulfilment in battling extremists on the dusty fringe of Syria that he never wanted to leave.
The 22-year-old dairy farmer from Reading fought anonymously, worried about repercussions from the British authorities or revenge attacks from Isis sympathisers if he one day tried to return from his unusual mission.
But after he was killed in battle last month he was named by relatives and comrades in arms. The Observer has obtained audiotapes of a previously unpublished interview Evans gave a few months after reaching Syria. Clear about the risk of death, he talked frankly about the difficulties of life on the frontline, and explained why he chose to sacrifice his life in a foreign war that he saw as very personal.
“Back home you have a lot of worries, about car, money, social things, but here it doesn’t matter. Here you just have one goal that’s shared through everyone, defeating Daesh,” he said, using the common Arabic derogatory term for Isis. If it became too much, he said he was free to leave, unlike foreign Isis recruits who face execution. The fear of being killed in an escape bid was apparently a major reason that Kadiza Sultana – who was 16 when she and two school friends from Bethnal Green, east London, ran away to Syria last year – did not flee Raqqa long after becoming disillusioned with Isis. News of her death in a Russian bombing raid emerged last week.
He found a Facebook page for the unit he would join called “Lions of Rojava”, the Kurdish name for the region of northern Syria they dominate. For seven or eight months, he weighed up the risks. He died from an Isis bullet during a push towards the strategic town of Manbij. “Before coming here I had time to think of that and get ready. Obviously, I don’t want to die, but if it happens while fighting, then … ” He trailed off into silence. He seemed more frightened of capture by an enemy notorious for its cruelty than of death. “Yeah, I’m scared of Daesh, but I’m not really scared of dying.”