WORKING in a quiet Wharfedale village with bread and scones will be a 'piece of cake' compared with the muck and bullets of the Gulf War front line for one Bramhope baker.

Brian Mann, 41, who works at The Village Bakery, The Cross, has settled down in the village after 12 years as an army chef.

But he was among those chosen to go to the front line in 1991, in the Gulf War - and almost immediately found himself in the middle of battle with American Apache helicopters flying overhead to attack Iraqi positions before the tanks could go through.

"I wouldn't say I was frightened, all I did was stay in the wagon. Most of the young Iraqis were just little kids, and most just stood up with their hands up, and walked away. It was a bit sad."

Throughout the conflict, Mr Mann and the other chefs were based in a tent, cooking over gas stoves. Food was basic, and came in tinned rations.

Mr Mann said there were quite a few grumbles from hungry troops, but the rations contained all the essential nutrients to get each soldier through a hard day's work.

At first, they found little room for cooking, but soon managed to persuade other units to give them more tents - and even found some help from the Americans.

One of the chefs one day went to a US Army camp a few miles away, telling them their cooking tents had burned down. He came back with a truck kitted out as a state-of-the-art mobile military kitchen.

The Americans duly came back after the conflict had ended, to reclaim their property.

Mr Mann said he clearly remembered being called into the conflict. He missed action the first time around, when the Falklands War broke out. The army had hoped to send the 'Yorkies' out to Falklands, but the regiment was scattered around the country on exercise when the call came, and it was decided that it would take too long to get everyone together.

He said: "In 1991 I was at Ripon, and I was on exercise at the time with the 38 Engineers Regiment, and they got us all into a room. We knew there was something going on in the Gulf.

"My wife was wanting to know what was happening, because they wouldn't let us out of camp."

After painting all of their equipment in a desert yellow paint scheme, part of the regiment flew out to Saudi Arabia on a military airliner. The chefs then drew straws to decide who was to go out with the engineers to a site close to the Iraqi border, where the Engineers' job was to use armoured bulldozers to knock down the huge mounds preventing tanks entering the country.

The regiment was expecting blazing heat, but to their surprise, they were found themselves knee-deep in mud, under torrential rain in the desert, - the first seen in the area for around 30 years.

"It's typical," said Mr Mann. "The British Army turns up and it starts to pour down."

After 12 years in the army, Mr Mann finally decided to leave when his father-in-law asked him to work at their Bramhope bakery, and move into a flat above the business.

His army years have seen him learn not only to how to cater for officers and do his job in a war zone, but have also taken him to destinations including Germany, America, Northern Ireland, and Saudi Arabia.

As a member of the Army Catering Corps, he was given weapons training, and expected to be as fit as regular soldiers - in addition to rustling up dinner for the troops.

Mr Mann began his career in the army in the early 1980s, joining initially as a soldier, but wanting to be a chef.

So while new recruits in the Army Catering Corps were given some basic field training alongside their catering course, Mr Mann went through the same fitness and weapons training of an ordinary soldier.

Much of his work at army bases in Britain was based in the kitchens, working shifts and cooking the standard breakfast, lunch and tea for the camp.

Mr Mann said he had longed to sign up to the Army Catering Corps, but there were no jobs available when he left school, so he instead signed up as a regular soldier.

He soon applied for the post of regimental chef with the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire, and was 'talent spotted' for the catering corps - after making an extravagant celebratory cake. The regiment was based in Northern Ireland at the time.

He said: "It was the regiment's 300th birthday, and they asked me to make this cake. It was huge. I borrowed two silver statuettes from the officers' mess, and put them in the top, pouring icing around them."

After making one cake, he was told he had to make another, as half of the regiment was stationed elsewhere. The plan was to fly the second cake to its destination by helicopter, but it was eventually taken by truck because of bad weather.

But Mr Mann's talents were recognised by one officer, who asked if he wanted to join the Army Catering Corps.

Mr Mann was soon on his way to Aldershot, where he trained for his ACC course. After completing this, he was stationed with the Irish Rangers.

He was later moved to Catterick, after gaining promotion to Lance Corporal. He found himself on regular tours abroad, and from time-to-time, he also had to cater for official functions. The average day's work included taking either early, middle of late shift, which included cooking two meals.

Anyone on early shift could then return home, although Mr Mann said the chefs would sometimes play football or go for a run.

But all army chefs are first and foremost soldiers, and must be able to look after themselves in a battle situation.

Mr Mann said they were often sent away onto the ranges, to undergo a Battle Fitness Test - consisting of a group mile-and-a-half long run, followed by an individual run.

Mr Mann now lives in the village with his wife and two children, although he says he would love a chance to go back and cook for the army at Ripon, travelling in to work each day.