25 November 2017
Today we remember the martyr Oliver “Ollie” Hall, also known as Şehid Canşer Zagros. Ollie was 24 years old when he fell martyr participating in the liberation of Raqqa.
Ollie was born in Portsmouth. He attended Bay House School, in Gosport, Hampshire, and then Fareham College, where he trained to be a telecommunications engineer.
Jane Lyndon, Ollie’s mother said “he was a fun loving, cheeky, mischievous boy, who grew up to be a courageous and handsome man.”
Ms Lyndon said her son went on to work for his stepfather “whilst still trying to find his vocation in life.”
But Ollie was unable to find his place at work. He had always yearned for greater things; to truly make a difference in the world. When the fascist forces of Isis took over huge swathes of Iraq and Syria, Ollie felt unable to sit on the sidelines. Seeing the effective and popular resistance displayed by the people of Northern Syria through their people’s protection forces, (YPG) Ollie felt compelled to help them, and when he saw a call made for further internationalist support, Ollie knew what he had to do.
“He had talked about terrorist attacks in Barcelona, London, Manchester. He was really bothered the government wasn’t doing enough … he was mad about them,” Ms Lyndon said.
Jonathon Duncan, a friend, said Hall had been planning to go to Syria for about six months and had given up smoking and drinking and got fit before leaving. He said recent terrorist attacks in the UK had inspired him to volunteer and added: “The one in Manchester was a bit too close to home.”
While Ollie’s mind was made up and he resigned himself to six months of hard work to ensure he was ready, Ollie knew he had to be very careful. He had seen the repression faced by volunteers, both in return and departure, at the hands of the British state. Not wanting to face arrest and persecution, Ollie only spoke of his plans with his closest friend. Ollie struggled not to tell his mother, but he knew it was his only option.
She said that on the day he left, he gave her £20 to pay for a taxi to get home from work.
“He took me to work and was supposed to be picking me up but said he couldn’t because he was going to the cinema, and then at half 11 that night, he texted me and said he was in Germany and (would be) working in a refugee camp for two months. Then I had another text at four, five in the morning to say he was leaving the airport and he would message me when he could, and it was about four days later when he messaged me and said he was in northern Syria.”
“Ollie asked me not to be disappointed or angry with him and, in his own words, said: ‘I am away for a couple of months doing voluntary work, this is something I have to do. I have never known what to do with my life but after a lot of time thinking and planning I have decided to come and do some charity work’.”
“He stated he was an adult and he had finally found his purpose in life and was making an impact on the world,” she said.
One German comrade who volunteered at the same time as Ollie recounted their journey together,“He was the first YPG fighter I met, because we sat in the same plane,” he wrote. “My first thought was that we might be travelling to the Middle East for the same reason, but then I thought: ‘What a ridiculous idea.’ A few hours later we got picked up by the same car and both were a bit embarrassed about how crazy we must be.” After arriving in Rojava they went through training together. His comrade recounted having minor political disputes with Ollie but could remember Ollie with absolutely nothing but fondness, “In German, there is the idiom that we pretend to only remember the good things about the dead, but I can honestly say that I learned a lot from heval Canşêr and am more than happy to have spent an important time of my life with him.”
Another YPG volunteer, a former British soldier who was with Ollie through his training and first few months in Syria recounted their experiences at home after learning of his death. He described Ollie as,“an amazing guy”.
“When you get out to Syria, you can tell the divide between soldiers and people there for the revolution, and he managed to get on with everyone, a popular guy loved by everyone,” he told newspapers. “He was excited to learn new skills and always asking for advice and questions. Nervous but not scared. He was there to stop Isis and help the people.
He wasn’t a soldier before he came to Syria, but he was professional and was really keen to learn. He was a very popular guy, everyone liked him.
He was so willing to learn, always asking questions and taking everything in. He wanted to stop Isis. He wanted to be at the front, and wanted to be right where the action was, and he wasn’t scared to go. He will be sadly missed.”
Ollie soon got his wish and after completing his training he was sent alongside other English and internationalist volunteers to Deir ez Zour, Isis’ southern desert stronghold. Due to his stature and courage, Ollie was made bixici (machine gunner) carrying a BKC machine gun in support of his unit.
His stepfather, Gary Lyndon, said the “headstrong” 24-year-old had “found his calling” and that they had “not seen him this happy in a long time” when he was out fighting. Ollie served in Deir ez Zour with distinction. When a lull came in the fighting there, Ollie wasted no time and travelled to Raqqa to help with efforts to clear Isis holdouts and mines and facilitate the return of civilians.
Jonathon Duncan, Ollie’s childhood friend, said he “talked of helping in refugee camps and clearing booby traps and mines” in reports from Syria.
A huge part of the work to liberate and clear Raqqa was the removal of mines and IEDs. Having looted much of the armaments of Syria and Iraq, as well as steady supplies and funding from Turkey and the gulf countries, Isis had a near limitless supply of explosives ordnance which they used to devastating effect. Knowing that their defeat had been imminent, Isis fascists had peppered every street, home and pile of rubble with mines. They put mines any place a ypg fighter might take cover. They would even hide mines in places where no fighter would ever think to look, tucked away in attics or under toy sets, intent on causing lasting damage on the returning civilian population for years to come. Hundreds of people, fighters and civilians, were killed and injured by mines even after Isis had surrendered. Ollie’s unit, comprised of many former military and ordnance specialists worked to support the returning civilian populace and clear mines from key areas. Ollie was on patrol through such an area with a Danish comrade when a civilian man with his family hailed him and told him there was a mine in his house. Ollie moves carefully into the house, followed by his comrade. As he turned a corner, an explosion detonated, killing him instantly. It is thought that while moving towards the main mine, Ollie detonated a secondary device, likely infra red. Ollie’s Danish comrade survived with minor injuries.
A Kurdish Solidarity Campaign statement noted that “Oliver fell taking part in humanitarian work, underlining the volunteers’ dedication not just to the fight against Islamic State but to the creation of a new and better future for the people of Raqqa”.
Ollie’s funeral ceremony took place in Derike alongside that of his fellow English comrade Jac Holmes, also martyred by an IED just a month before. Many of his former comrades came up to say goodbye to their herald, accompanied by hundreds of the local population, eager to show their gratitude to a man who had given all for them.
A speech was given by the YPG commanders, “Fighters show a great effort and abnegation even after the operation to ensure that the inhabitants of the city return safely. On 25 November 2017, Canşêr Zagros (Oliver Hall), who was involved in mine clearance work, was martyred as he was trying to defuse a booby trap. Comrade Canşêr participated actively in the collective life, which is promoted within the YPG. Comrade Canşêr Zagros, who joined the ranks of YPG from the United Kingdom during the Raqqa Campaign, actively took part in various fields. Like many other internationalist comrades who made ultimate sacrifice, Comrade Canşêr had been trying to fulfil his duties and responsibilities for months and did a great work”
Another of his former commanders said he “will always be remembered by our people.”
Ollie’s body was taken through Iraq to Sulaymaniyah, where it was sent home on a cargo jet. The bodies of Ollie and Jac were met at the airport by a cortège of supporters from the Kurdish and English community. Roads had to be closed to accommodate the mourners. One Kurdish man said outside the airport, ‘He did more than any western government did to help us. We are so grateful.’
As standard, bodies of English YPG martyrs were examined by British government coroners on their return.
Upon hearing of Ollie’s actions abroad, the coroner was struck by the commitment and integrity shown by Ollie. The coroner, Horsley, recorded a narrative verdict, saying Hall, who was from Portsmouth, died “on active service with Kurdish forces”, adding: “He gave his life to protect the safety of others.” The coroner continued: “He was someone who felt deeply about the world and its problems and resolved to do something about it himself to bring an end to terrorism and repression. So deep was his commitment that he gave up the secure and comfortable life in his family home. His actions have made him a hero in the Kurdish community. He also should be an outstanding example of courage and self-sacrifice to whoever hears his story.”
Ollie’s mother was interviewed by journalists at his funeral, “I would never want another family to go through this but at the same time Ollie is my hero, I am so proud of my son and miss him greatly.”
A year after Ollie’s death,as his family were going through his personal items, they came across this video on his laptop which we share now. Taken a few days before his death, the video shows Ollie leading efforts to rescue wounded civilians from a mined building, showcasing his selflessness and the dedication Ollie displayed to all those around him.
On the one year anniversary of Ollie falling martyr, some of the internationalists he fought alongside gathered to remember him. They wrote this in his honour:
“One year ago, our beloved friend and comrade Ollie Hall (nom de guerre, Canşêr Zagros), fell in the international struggle against Islamic State terrorism. Prior to travelling to Rojava/Northern Syria in August 2017 to engage in the armed struggle as a member of YPG (which provides a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces), Ollie had trained and worked as a telecommunications engineer. After his service in YPG he had planned to stay and use his skills from his civilian life to help with the rebuilding process.
We lived, trained, laughed and fought together. We are his comrades and his brothers in arms. Together we faced an enemy capable of inflicting inhuman suffering upon its fellow human beings. The crimes in which they engaged are some of the worst travesties in human history. There are no words in any language that can accurately describe their cruelty. We had the honour of being welcomed by the brave and unified people of Northern Syria; who had led the resistance of the age on behalf of all of humanity and inspired us all to stand side by side with them.
Ollie participated in the major offensive operation ‘Cizire Storm’ which was aimed at liberating the people of Deir ez-Zor from the oppression of the jihadists. During this time he mainly operated as a biksiçî (machine gunner) and showed nothing but morality and bravery throughout. After the liberation of Raqqa, he volunteered for a unit that would protect the returning civilian populace, mostly ensuring they did not enter areas that were awaiting the clearing of IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices).
Sadly, on the 25th of November 2017, Ollie lost his life while protecting the civilians of Raqqa. He was killed by an IED, which was left by the Islamic State terrorists, in a civilian house. He and another Heval entered the house to check for IEDs, at the behest of a civilian and his very young son. They begged and pleaded for people to ensure the house was safe. Without acknowledging the risk to himself, and to ensure the safety of this father and his young child, Ollie unhesitatingly offered his help. Protecting the people was always at the forefront of his mind.
His sacrifice saved their lives. He is a hero, dying after an act of selfless determination to protect the ones, who suffered from the brutality of the Islamic State. His story is and always will be, that of a role model. His courage sets a precedent for the behaviour and courage of all people that fight in this struggle, whether they are from the region or internationalist comrades.
The things you did outlast your loss. You saved people, you inspired people.
The bravery and selflessness you showed in your life, are your legacy after your life.
Şehîd Canşêr Zagros, Oliver Hall, you are immortal! Şehîd Namirin!”
The memorial was signed by the following internationalists:
Cîlo Boston (USA), Çîya / Jack B. (USA), Erdal / Dan Newey (GBR), Gabar Carlo (ITA), Îlyas Rus (RUS), Kemal Azad (USA), Piling Ravaşol (FRA), Rodî Xwendekar (USA), Roj Rojava / William (FRA), Sîdar Dêrsim / Jan-Lukas Kuhley (GER), Şoreş Kesk (USA), Soro / Alex (USA), Tîrej / Dario Job (SUI), Ulîsse Zerdeşt / Claudio (ITA).