With just seven days left of his life, Frederick Grainger was an unremarkable man. He had spent much of his thirty years up to that point unemployed, sleeping on the sofas of friends, getting into bar fights, struggling with depression, and doing a pretty good impersonation of someone who would not be remembered beyond his passing. If that sounds mean, I apologise – but Freddy himself would be the first to admit that such a characterisation was accurate.
That all changed with the diagnosis. There is no need to bore you with the medical details, the majority of which causes the eyes to glaze over and the ears to tune out. A lot of crucial words like ‘inoperable’ and ‘terminal’ peppered the initial conversation once Grainger received the results of his blood, urine and X-Ray tests. Suffice to say, Freddy got the chance to answer a question that most of us, thank heavens, will never have to face: what would you do, if you had just week to live?
His notes, apparently scribbled not long after the fateful meeting with his GP, tell part of the story:
“I must endeavour to join the revolutionary side of some armed conflict somewhere in the world. If my time is short, then I no longer have anything to lose but my chains, right? Plus I can help, in my own meagre way, the cause of others who still have a world to win once I’m gone.”
That afternoon he got in touch with the Lions of Rojava, and by the following evening had arrived in what is now the recognised state of Kurdistan to meet his new brothers (and sisters) in arms. It seems extraordinary that, barely a day after receiving the news of his imminent death, he would be half a world away about to take part in an international conflict, but that is what happened. The forces of the YPG (People’s Protection Units) were, by this point, well versed in the recruitment of foreign fighters, so their efficiency in admitting him to their ranks is somewhat unsurprising. Freddy had been familiar with them since 2015, when as a teenager his friend Moazzem Ahmed had departed their native Birmingham to join their struggle.
Grainger’s notes give some insight into how he saw his fellow fighters:
“They are organised, successful and explicitly leftist – particularly in their egalitarian principles regarding women and freedom of religion. I can only hope that in my last days I’ll be able to prove to my brothers and sisters that I, too, amd [sic] worthy of the title, ‘Comrade'”.
This he most assuredly did, at the very least by the manner of his death: In a firefight with Daesh forces on the outskirts of Raqqa, 5 days after he enlisted, Freddy Grainger was shot in the chest. Refusing to relinquish his rifle, he remained in place and provided covering fire for the rest of his unit as they withdrew. It is not known whether he was captured and died later in captivity, or if he succumbed to his wounds while bravely continuing to shoot at the enemy, but regardless of such particulars one thing is certain: He died a hero.
He died a comrade.
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…★