Andy McNab
     Bravo two-zero [030-066-4.9]
     Category: Fiction Military

     They  were British Special Forces, trained to  be the best.  In January
1991  a  squad of  eight  men  went  behind the Iraqi lines on  a top secret
mission. It was called Bravo Two Zero. In command was Sergeant Andy McNab.
     Dropped  into "scud alley" carrying 210-pound  packs, McNab and his men
found themselves  surrounded by Saddam's army. Their radios didn't work. The
weather turned cold enough to freeze diesel fuel. And they had been spotted.
Their only chance at survival was to fight  their way  to the Syrian  border
seventy-five miles to the northwest and swim the Euphrates River to freedom.
Eight set out. Five came back.
     This is  their story.  Filled with no-holds-barred detail about McNab's
capture and excruciating torture,  it tells of men tested beyond  the limits
of human endurance ... and of the war you  didn't see on CNN. Dirty, deadly,
and fought outside the rules.

     Also by Andy McNab

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this  book  is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to
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     Copyright 1993 by Andy McNab
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     Printed in the United States of America
     September 1994
     10 9 8

                           To the three who didn't come back

     Within hours of Iraqi troops and  armor rolling across the border  with
Kuwait  at 0200 local  time  on August 2, 1990, the  Regiment was  preparing
itself for desert operations.
     As members of the Counter Terrorist team based in Hereford, my gang and
I unfortunately were  not involved. We watched jealously as the first  batch
of blokes drew their desert  kit and  departed. Our nine month tour of  duty
was coming  to an  end and we were looking forward to  a handover but as the
weeks  went  by  rumors  began  to  circulate  of  either a  postponement or
cancellation altogether. I ate my Christmas turkey in a  dark mood. I didn't
want to miss out. Then, on January 10, 1991,  half of the squadron was given
three  days' notice  of movement to Saudi.  To huge sighs of relief, my  lot
were included.  We  ran  around  organizing kit, test  firing  weapons,  and
screaming into town to buy  ourselves new pairs of desert wellies and plenty
of Factor 20 for the nose.
     We were leaving in the early hours of Sunday morning. I had a night  on
the town with my girlfriend Jilly, but she was too upset  to enjoy  herself.
It was an evening of false niceness, both of us on edge.
     "Shall we go for a walk?" I suggested when we got home, hoping to raise
the tone.
     We did a few laps of  the  block and when we  got back I  turned on the
telly. It was Apocalypse  Now. We weren't in the mood for talking so we just
sat there and watched. Two hours of carnage and maiming wasn't the cleverest
thing for me to have let Jilly look at. She burst into tears. She was always
all right if she wasn't aware of  the dramas. She knew very little of what I
did, and had never asked  questions--because, she  told me, she didn't  want
the answers.
     "Oh, you're off. When are you coming back?" was the most she would ever
ask. But this time it was different. For once, she knew where I was going.
     As she  drove  me through the darkness towards camp, I said, "Why don't
you get yourself that dog you were on about? It would be company for you."
     I'd  meant well,  but it set off the tears  again. I got her to drop me
off a little way from the main gates.
     "I'll  walk from here, mate," I said with a strained smile. "I need the
     "See you when I see you," she said as she pecked me on the cheek.
     Neither of us went a bundle on long goodbyes.
     The first thing that hits you when you enter squadron  lines  (the camp
accommodation  area)  is the noise: vehicles revving, men  hollering for the
return of  bits of kit, and from  every bedroom in the unmarried  quarters a
different kind of music--on maximum watts. This  time  it  was all  so  much
louder because so many of us were being sent out together.
     I met up with Dinger, Mark the Kiwi,  and Stan, the other three members
of  my gang. A few  of the unfortunates who  weren't going to the Gulf still
came in anyway and joined in the slagging and blaggarding.
     We loaded our kit into cars and drove  up  to the top  end of  the camp
where  transports were waiting to take us  to Brize Norton. As usual, I took
my sleeping bag onto the aircraft with me, together with my Walkman, washing
and shaving kit, and brew kit. Dinger took  200 Benson & Hedges. If we found
ourselves dumped  in  the middle  of  nowhere or  hanging around a  deserted
airfield for days on end, it wouldn't be the first time.
     We  flew  out  by  R.A.F VC10.  I passively  smoked  the  twenty  or so
cigarettes  that Dinger got through  in the course of the seven-hour flight,
honking  at  him  all  the  while.  As  usual  my complaints  had no  effect
whatsoever.  He  was excellent  company, however, despite  his filthy habit.
Originally with Para  Reg, Dinger was  a veteran of the Falklands. He looked
the part  as well-rough and tough, with a voice that was scary and eyes that
were  scarier  still. But  behind the  football hooligan face  lay  a sharp,
analytical brain. Dinger could polish off the  Daily Telegraph crossword  in
no time,  much to my  annoyance. Out  of uniform,  he was also  an excellent
cricket and rugby player, and  an absolutely lousy dancer. Dinger danced the
way Virgil Tracy walked.  When it came to the crunch, though,  he was  solid
and unflappable.
     We landed at Riyadh to find the weather typically pleasant for the time
of  year  in the  Middle East,  but there was no  time  to soak up the rays.
Covered transports were waiting on the tarmac, and we were whisked away to a
camp in isolation from other Coalition troops.
     The  advance party had  got  things squared away sufficiently to answer
the first three questions you always  ask when you arrive at a new location:
Where do I sleep, where do I eat, and where's the bog?
     Home for our half squadron, we discovered, was a hangar about  300 feet
long  and 150 feet wide. Into it were crammed forty blokes and all manner of
stores  and  equipment,  including vehicles, weapons, and am munition. There
were piles of gear everywhere--everything from insect  repellent and rations
to laser target markers and boxes of high explosive. It was a matter of just
getting in amongst it and trying  to  make your own little world as best you
could.  Mine  was  made  out  of  several large crates  containing  outboard
engines,  arranged to give me a  sectioned-off space  that I  covered with a
tarpaulin to shelter me from the powerful arc lights overhead.
     There  were  many  separate  hives  of  activity,  each  with  its  own
noise--radios tuned in  to the  BBC  World  Service,  Walkmans  with plug-in
speakers that thundered out folk, rap,  and heavy  metal. There was a strong
smell of diesel, petrol, and exhaust fumes. Vehicles were driving in and out
all the time as  blokes went off to explore other parts  of the camp and see
what they could pinch. And of course while they were away, their kit in turn
was being explored by  other  blokes. "You  snooze, you lose," is the way it
goes. Possession is ten tenths of the  law.  Leave  your space unguarded for
too  long and  you'd come  back to find a  chair missing--and sometimes even
your bed.
     Brews were on the go all over  the hangar. Stan had brought a packet of
orange tea with him, and  Dinger and I wandered over and sat on his bed with
empty mugs.
     "Tea, boy," Dinger demanded, holding his out.
     "Yes, bwana," Stan replied.
     Born in South Africa to a Swedish mother and Scottish  father, Stan had
moved  to  Rhodesia  shortly  before  the  UDI  (Unilateral  Declaration  of
Independence). He was  involved  at  first hand  in  the terrorist war  that
followed, and when his family subsequently moved to Australia he joined  the
TA (Territorial Army). He passed his medical exams but hankered too much for
the active, outdoor life and quit in his first year as a  junior  doctor. He
wanted to come to  the UK and  join  the Regiment, and spent a year in Wales
training hard for Selection. By all accounts he cruised it.
     Anything physical was  a breeze for Stan, including  pulling women. Six
foot three, big-framed  and good  looking, he got  them all sweating.  Jilly
told  me that  his nickname  around  Hereford was  Doctor Sex,  and the name
cropped  up  quite frequently on the walls  of local ladies' toilets. On his
own admission, Stan's ideal woman was somebody who didn't  eat much  and was
therefore cheap  to entertain, and  who  had  her own car and  house and was
therefore independent and unlikely to cling. No matter where  he  was in the
world women looked at Stan and drooled. In female company he was as charming
and suave as Roger Moore playing James Bond.
     Apart from his success with  women, the most  noticeable and surprising
thing about Stan was his dress sense: he didn't have any. Until the squadron
got hold of him, he  used to  go everywhere in Crimplene safari  jackets and
trousers that stopped just short of his ankles. He once turned up to a smart
party in a badly fitting check suit with drainpipe trousers. He had traveled
a lot and had obviously made  a lot of  female  friends. They wrote marriage
proposals  to  him from all over the world, but the letters went unanswered.
Stan never  emptied his mailbox.  All in  all  a very approachable, friendly
character  in his  thirties, there  was  nothing  that  Stan  couldn't  take
smoothly in his  stride. If he hadn't been  in the Regiment,  he  would have
been a yuppie or a spy--albeit in a Crimplene suit.
     Most people take  tubes of mustard or curry paste with them to jazz  up
the  rations, and spicy  smells emanated from areas where people  were doing
supplementary  fry-ups.  I  wandered around  and  sampled a  few.  Everybody
carries a "racing spoon" about their person at all times. The unwritten rule
is that whoever has the can or is cooking up has  first go, and the rest has
to be shared. You dip your racing spoon in so that it's  vertical, then take
a scoop. If it's a big spoon you'll  get more out of a mess tin, but if it's
too big--say, a wooden spoon with the handle broken off--it won't  go into a
can at all. The search for the perfect-sized racing spoon goes on.
     There was a lot  of blaggarding going on.  If you didn't like the music
somebody  was  playing,  you'd  slip in when  they weren't there and replace
their batteries with duds. Mark opened his bergen to find that he'd lugged a
twenty-pound rock with him  all the way from Hereford. Wrongly suspecting me
of putting it there, he replaced my toothpaste with Uvistat sunblock. When I
went to use it I bulked up.
     I'd first met  Mark in Brisbane in  1989  when  some  of us were  being
hosted  by the Australian SAS (Special Air Service). He played against us in
a rugby match and was very much the man  of the moment, his tree trunk  legs
powering him to  score  all his  side's tries. It  was  the  first time  our
squadron team had been beaten, and I hated him--all 5'6" of the bastard.  We
met again the following year. He was doing Selection, and  the day I saw him
he had just returned to camp after an eight-mile battle run with full kit.
     "Put in a good word for us," he grinned when he recognized me. "You lot
could do with a fucking decent sc rum-half."
     Mark passed Selection and joined the squadron  just  before we left for
the Gulf.
     "Fucking good  to be here, mate,"  he said as he  came into my room and
shook my hand.
     I'd  forgotten  that  there  was  only  one  adjective  in  the  Kiwi's
vocabulary and that it began with the letter f.
     The atmosphere in our hangar was jovial and lively. The Regiment hadn't
been massed like  this since the Second World War.  It was wonderful that so
many of us were there together. So often we work in small groups of a covert
nature, but here was the  chance to be out in the open in  large numbers. We
hadn't been briefed yet, but we knew  in our bones that the war was going to
provide an  excellent  chance for  everybody  to  get  down to  some  "green
work"--classic, behind-the-lines SAS soldiering. It  was what David Stirling
had set the Regiment  up for in the first place, and now, nearly fifty years
later, here we were  back  where we'd  started. As  far  as I could see, the
biggest restrictions in Iraq  were likely to be the enemy and the logistics:
running out of bullets or water. I felt like  a  bricklayer who had spent my
entire  life  knocking up bungalows and now somebody had given me the chance
to  build a skyscraper. I just hoped that the war didn't finish before I had
a chance to lay the first brick.
     We didn't  have  a clue yet what  we'd have to do, so we spent the next
few  days preparing  for anything and  everything,  from target  attacks  to
setting  up observation posts. It's all  very  well  doing all  the exciting
things--abseiling,  fast roping,  jumping  through buildings-but  what being
Special Forces is mostly about is thoroughness and precision. The real motto
of the SAS is not "Who Dares Wins" but "Check and Test, Check and Test."
     Some of us needed  to refresh our skills a bit swiftly with explosives,
movement  with  vehicles,  and map  reading  in  desert conditions.  We also
dragged out the heavy weapons.  Some,  like the  50mm heavy machine  gun,  I
hadn't fired for two years. We had revision  periods  with whoever knew best
about  a particular  subject --it could be the sergeant  major or the newest
member of the squadron. There were Scud alerts, so everybody was rather keen
to  relearn the  NEC (nuclear,  biological, chemical)  drills  they had  not
practiced  since  being in their old units. The only  trouble was that Pete,
the  instructor  from our Mountain Troop, had  a Geordie accent as thick  as
Tyne fog  and he spoke with his  verbal  safety  catch on full automatic. He
sounded like Gazza on speed.
     We tried hard to understand what he was on about but after a quarter of
an hour the strain  was too  much for us. Somebody asked him an utterly bone
question, and he got so wound up that he  started speaking even faster. More
questions were asked, and a vicious circle was set in  motion. In the end we
decided among ourselves that if  the kit had to  go on, it would stay on. We
wouldn't bother  carrying  out  the  eating  and  drinking  drills Pete  was
demonstrating, because then we wouldn't have to carry out  the shitting  and
pissing drills--and  they were far too complicated for the  likes of us. All
in all, Pete  said, as the session  disintegrated into chaos, it was not his
most constructive day--or words to that effect.
     We were  equipped with aviator  sunglasses, and we enjoyed a few Foster
Grant moments, waiting outside the hangar for anybody to pass, then slipping
on the glasses as in the TV commercial.
     We had to  take pills as protection against nerve agents, but that soon
stopped when the rumor went around that they made you impotent.
     "It's  not true," the  sergeant  major  reassured us  a couple of  days
later. "I've just had a wank."
     We watched CNN news and talked about different scenarios.
     We  guessed the parameters  of our operations would be  loose, but that
wouldn't mean we could just  go around blowing up power  lines  or  whatever
else  we  saw. We're strategic  troops, so what we do behind enemy lines can
have serious implications. If we saw a petroleum line, for example, and blew
it up just for the  fucking badness of it, we might be bringing  Jordan into
the war:  it could be a pipeline from Baghdad to Jordan which the Allies had
agreed  not to destroy so that  Jordan  still  got its oil. So if  we saw an
opportunity target like that, we'd have to  get permission to  deal with it.
That way  we  could  cause the  maximum amount of damage  to  the  Iraqi war
machine, but not damage any political or strategic considerations.
     If we were caught,  we  wondered, would the Iraqis kill  us? Too bad if
they did. As long as they did it swiftly--if not, we'd just have to try  and
speed things up.
     Would  they fuck us?  Arab men are very  affectionate with each  other,
holding hands  and  so  on. It's just their  culture, of course;  it doesn't
necessarily mean they're shit stabbers, but the question  had to be asked. I
wasn't  that worried about  the prospect, because  if it  happened  to me  I
wouldn't tell.  The  only scenario that did bring me out in a sweat  was the
possibility of having my bollocks cut off. That would not be a good day out.
If the rag heads had me  tied  down naked and were  sharpening their knives,
I'd do whatever I could to provoke them into slotting me.
     I'd never worried about dying. My attitude to the work I am expected to
do in the Regiment has always been that  you take  the money off  them every
month  and  so you're a tool to be used--and you are. The Regiment does lose
people,  so  you  cater for  that eventuality.  You  fill in  your insurance
policies, although at the  time  only Equity  & Law had the bottle to insure
the SAS without loading the premium. You write your letters  to be handed to
next of kin  if you get slotted. I wrote  four and entrusted them  to a mate
called Eno. There  was  one for my parents that  said:  "Thanks  for looking
after  me;  it can't  have  been  easy  for you,  but I  had a  rather  nice
childhood. Don't worry  about  me being dead, it's one of those things." One
was for Jilly,  saying: "Don't mope around--get  the money and  have  a good
time. PS 500 pounds  is to go behind  the bar at the  next squadron piss-up.
PPSI love you." And there was one for little Kate, to be given to her by Eno
when she was older, and it said: "I always  loved you, and  always will love
you." The  letter to Eno  himself, who was to be the executor  of  my  will,
said: "Fuck this one up, wanker, and I'll come back and haunt you."
     At about 1900  one evening, I and  another team  commander, Vince, were
called  over to  the  squadron  OC's table.  He was  having a  brew with the
squadron sergeant major.
     "We've got a task for you," he  said,  handing us a mug  each  of  tea.
"You'll  be  working together. Andy will command. Vince  will be 2 i/c.  The
briefing will be tomorrow morning  at  0800--meet  me here. Make  sure  your
people are informed. There will be no move before two days."
     My  lot  were rather pleased  at  the news. Quite, apart  from anything
else, it meant an end to the  hassle of having  to  queue for  the  only two
available sinks and bogs. In the field, the smell of clean clothes or bodies
can disturb the wildlife  and in turn compromise  your  position, so for the
last few days before you go you stop washing and make sure all your clothing
is used.
     The  blokes dispersed, and I went to watch the latest news on CNN. Scud
missiles  had fallen on  Tel Aviv, injuring at least  twenty-four civilians.
Residential areas had  taken direct  hits, and as I looked at the footage of
tower  blocks and  children in  their pajamas, I was  suddenly  reminded  of
Peckham and my own childhood. That night, as  I tried to get my head down, I
found myself remembering all my old haunts and thinking about my parents and
a whole lot of other things that I hadn't thought about in a long while.

     I had never known my real mother, though I always imagined that whoever
she was she must have wanted the best for me: the carrier bag I was found in
when she left me on the steps of Guy's Hospital came from Harrods.
     I  was fostered until  I was 2  by  a  South  London couple who in time
applied  to  become my  adoptive parents. As  they  watched me grow up, they
probably  wished  they  hadn't  bothered.  I  binned  school   when   I  was
15-and-a-half to go and work for a haulage company in  Brixton.  I'd already
been bunking off two or three  days a week for the last year or so.  Instead
of studying for CSEs (Certificate of  Secondary Education) I  delivered coal
in  the  winter and  drink  mixes to  off-licenses in the  summer.  By going
full-time I pulled in 8 a day,  which in 1975  was serious money. With forty
quid on the hip of a Friday night you were one of the lads.
     My  father had done his National Service  in the Catering Corps and was
now a minicab driver. My older brother had joined the Royal Fusiliers when I
was  a toddler and  had served for about  five years until he got married. I
had  exciting  memories  of  him coming  home from faraway  places with  his
holdall  full  of  presents.  My   own  early  life,  however,  was  nothing
remarkable.  There  wasn't  anything  I  was  particularly good  at,  and  I
certainly wasn't interested in a career in the army. My biggest ambition was
to get a flat with my mates and be able to do whatever I wanted.
     I spent  my early teens running away from home. Sometimes I'd go with a
friend  to  France  for  the weekend, expeditions  that were financed by him
doing over his aunty's gas meter.  I  was soon getting into trouble with the
police  myself,  mainly for vandalism to trains and vending machines.  There
were juvenile court cases  and fines that caused my poor  parents a  lot  of
     I changed jobs when I was 16, going behind the counter at McDonald's in
Catford. Everything went  well until  round about Christmas time, when I was
arrested with two other blokes coming out of a flat that didn't belong to us
in Dulwich village.  I got put into a  remand hostel for three days while  I
waited to go in front of the magistrates. I hated being locked  up and swore
that if I got away with it I'd never let it happen again.  I knew  deep down
that I'd  have to  do something pretty  decisive  or I'd end  up spending my
entire life in Peckham, fucking about and getting fucked up. The army seemed
a good way out. My brother had enjoyed it, so why not me?
     When the case  came up the other two got sent to Borstal. I was let off
with a caution,  and the  following  day  I took myself  down  to  the  army
recruiting office. They gave me a simple academic test, which I failed. They
told me to come back a calendar month later, and this  time, because  it was
exactly the same test, I managed to scrape through by two points.
     I  said I wanted to be  a helicopter pilot,  as you do when you have no
qualifications and not a clue what being one involves.
     "There's  no  way  you  are going  to become  a helicopter pilot,"  the
recruiting  sergeant told  me. "However, you can join  the Army Air Corps if
you want. They might teach you to be a helicopter refueler."
     "Great," I said, "that's me."
     You are sent away for  three days  to a selection center where you take
more tests, do a bit of running, and go  through medicals. If  you pass, and
they've  got a vacancy, they'll let  you join the regiment or trade  of your
     I went for  my final interview, and the officer said, "McNab, you stand
more chance of  being struck by lightning than you do  of  becoming a junior
leader in the Army Air Corps. I think you'd be best suited  to the infantry.
I'll put you down for the Royal Green Jackets. That's my regiment."
     I didn't have  a clue about who or what the Royal Green Jackets were or
did. They could have been an American football team for all I knew.
     If  I'd  waited  three months until  I was  17, I could have joined the
Green Jackets as  an adult  recruit, but like an idiot I wanted to get stuck
straight  in.  I  arrived  at  the  Infantry  Junior  Leaders  battalion  in
Shorncliffe,  Kent,  in  September 1976 and hated it. The place  was  run by
Guardsmen, and  the  course was nothing  but bullshit and regimentation. You
couldn't  wear  jeans,  and  had to go  around with  a bonehead haircut. You
weren't even allowed  the  whole  weekend off,  which made  visiting  my old
Peckham haunts a real  pain in the  arse. I landed in trouble  once just for
missing  the bus in  Folkestone and  being ten minutes late  reporting back.
Shorncliffe was a nightmare, but I learned to play the game. I had to--there
was nothing else for me. The  passing-out parade was in May. I had  detested
every single minute of my  time there but had  learned to use the system and
for  some reason had been promoted  to  junior sergeant  and  won  the Light
Division sword for most promising soldier.
     I now had a period at the Rifle Depot  in Winchester, where  us  junior
soldiers joined  the last six  weeks  of a training platoon,  learning Light
Division  drill. This  was  much  more  grown-up and relaxed,  compared with
     In  July 1977 I was posted to 2nd Battalion, Royal Green Jackets, based
for the time being  in  Gibraltar. To me,  this was  what the  army was  all
about--warm climates, good mates,  exotic women, and  even  more  exotic VD.
Sadly, the battalion returned to the UK just four months later.
     In December 1977 I did my first tour in Northern Ireland. So many young
soldiers had been killed in the early years of the Ulster emergency that you
had to be 18 before you could serve there. So although the battalion left on
December 6, I couldn't join them until my birthday at the end of the month.
     There  must  have been something about the  IRA  and young  squad  dies
because I was soon in my first contact. A Saracen armored car had got bogged
down in the curls (countryside) near Crossmaglen, and my mate and I were put
on stag (sentry duty) to guard it.  In the  early hours of the morning, as I
scanned  the countryside through  the  night sight  on  my rifle,  I saw two
characters  coming towards us,  hugging the hedgerow. They got  closer and I
could clearly see that one of them was  carrying  a  rifle. We didn't have a
radio so I couldn't call for assistance. There wasn't much I could do except
issue a challenge. The characters ran for it, and we fired off half  a dozen
rounds.  Unfortunately, there was a shortage of night  sights at the time so
the same weapon used to get handed on at  the  end  of each stag. The  night
sight on the  rifle I was  using was zeroed in for  somebody else's eye, and
only one of my rounds found its target. There was a follow-up with dogs, but
nothing was  found. Two days later,  however, a well-known player (member of
the Provisional IRA) turned up at  a  hospital  just over  the border with a
7.62 round in his  leg. It had been the first contact for  our company,  and
everybody was sparked up. My mate and I felt right  little heroes, and  both
of us claimed the hit.
     The  rest of  our time  in Ireland  was  less busy  but more  sad.  The
battalion  took  some  injuries during  a  mortar attack  on a  position  at
Forkhill, and one of the members  of my platoon  was killed  by a booby trap
bomb  in  Crossmaglen.  Later,  our  colonel  was  killed  when  the Gazelle
helicopter he was  traveling in  was  shot down. Then it  was back to normal
battalion  shit at Tidworth,  and the only event worth mentioning during the
next year was that, aged all of 18, I got married.
     The following  year we were  back in South  Armagh.  I  was now a lance
corporal and in  charge of a brick  (four-man patrol). One Saturday night in
July our  company was patrolling in the border town of Keady. As usual for a
Saturday night the streets were packed with  locals.  They used to bus it to
Castleblaney over the border for cabaret and bingo, then come back and boogy
the night away. My brick was operating at the southern edge of the town near
a housing  estate. We had been  moving over some wasteland  and came  into a
patch of dead ground that hid us from view.  As we reappeared over the brow,
we saw twenty or so people milling around a cattle truck  that was parked in
the middle  of the road. They didn't  see us  until we were almost on top of
     The crowd went ape shit shouting and running in all directions, pulling
their kids out of  the way. Six lads  with Armalites had been about to climb
onto the truck. We caught them posing in front of the crowd, masked  up  and
ready to go, their rifles and gloved fists in the  air. We later  discovered
they had driven up from the south; their plan  was to drive past  the patrol
and give us a quick burst.
     Two were climbing  over the tailgate  as I issued my warning. Four were
still  in the road. A lad in the back of the truck  brought his  rifle up to
the aim, and I
     dropped him with my first shot. The others returned our fire, and there
was a severe contact. One of them took  seven shots in his body and ended up
in a  wheelchair. One player who  was wounded was in the early stages of  an
infamous career. His name was Dessie O'Hare.
     I was  flavor of the  month again,  and not just with the British army.
One of the shop owners had taken a couple of shots through his window during
the  firefight, and the  windscreen of his car  had been shattered.  About a
month later I went  past on patrol and there he was, standing behind his new
cash  register  in  his  refurbished  shop,  with  a shiny new  motor parked
outside. He was beaming from ear to ear.
     By  the time  we  returned  to Tidworth  in the  summer of  1979 I  was
completely army barmy.  It would have taken a pick and shovel to get me out.
In September I was  placed on an internal  NCOs'  cadre. I passed with an  A
grade and was promoted to corporal the same night. That made me the youngest
infantry  corporal  in  the  army  at  the time,  aged  just 19.  A  section
commanders'  battle  course   followed  in  1980.  I  passed   that  with  a
distinction, and my prize was a one-way ticket back to Tidworth.
     The  Wiltshire garrison town was, and still is,  a depressing  place to
live.  It had eight  infantry  battalions,  an  armored  regiment,  a  recce
regiment, three pubs, a chip shop, and a launderette. No wonder it got on my
young wife's nerves. It was a pain in the arse for the soldiers too. We were
nothing more  than glorified barrier technicians. I  even got  called in one
Sunday to be in charge of the grouse beaters, who were also squad dies for a
brigadier's shoot. The incentive was two cans of beer--and they wondered why
there  was such a turnover  of young squad dies By September my wife had had
enough. She issued me with an ultimatum: take her back to London or give her
a divorce. I stayed, she went.
     In  late  1980 I got posted back  to the Rifle Depot for two years as a
training  corporal. It was a truly excellent  time. I  enjoyed  teaching raw
recruits, even though with many of them it meant going right back to basics,
starting with  elementary  hygiene  and the use of a toothbrush. It was also
round about this time that I started to hear stories about the SAS.
     I met Debby, a former R.A.F. girl, and we got married in August 1982. I
married her because we were getting posted  back to the battalion, which was
now based at Paderborn in Germany, and we didn't want to  be parted. All  my
worst fears about life in Germany were confirmed. It was Tdworth without the
chip shop.  We spent more time looking  after vehicles than using them, with
men working their  fingers to the bone  for nothing. We took  part  in large
exercises where no one  really knew what was  going on, and after a while no
one even cared.
     I  felt  deprived  that  the  Green Jackets  had  not been sent to  the
Falklands. Every time  there was  some action, it seemed to me, the SAS were
involved. I wanted some of that--what was the point of being in the infantry
if I didn't? Hereford sounded such a nice place to live as well, not being a
garrison town. At that time, you were made to feel a second-class citizen if
you lived in a place like Aldershot or Catterick; as an ordinary soldier you
couldn't even buy a TV set on hire purchase unless an officer had signed the
application form for you.
     Four of us from the Green Jackets  put our names down for Selection  in
the  summer  of  1983,  and  all  for  the  same  reason--to get out  of the
battalion.  A  couple  of our  people  had passed Selection in  the previous
couple  of years. One of  them was a  captain, who wangled  us onto a lot of
exercises  in  Wales  so  we could  travel  back  to the  UK and  train.  He
personally took us up to the Brecon Beacons and put us through a lot of hill
work. More than that, he  gave us  advice and encouragement. I owe  a lot to
that man. We were  lucky to know him: some regiments, especially the  corps,
aren't keen for their men to go because  they have  skills that are  hard to
replace.  They won't give them time off,  or they'll put the  application in
"File  13"--the  wastepaper basket. Or they'll allow  the man to go but make
him work right up till the Friday before he goes.
     None of  us  passed.  Just before  the  endurance  phase, I  failed the
sketch-map march of 18 miles. I was pissed off with  myself, but at least it
was suggested to me that I try again.
     I went back  to Germany and suffered all  the slaggings  about failing.
These are normally dished out by the knobbers who wouldn't dare  attempt  it
themselves. I didn't care. I was a young thruster, and the easy option would
have  been  to stay in the  battalion system and be the big fish in  a small
pond,  but I'd lost all  enthusiasm for  it. I applied  for  the Winter 1984
Selection and  trained in Wales all through Christmas. Debby didn't care too
much for that.
     Winter Selection  is fearsome. The  majority  of people drop out within
the first week of the four-week endurance  phase. These are the Walter Mitty
types, or those who haven't trained enough or have picked up an injury. Some
of the  people who turn up are complete nuggets. They think that the  SAS is
all James Bond  and storming embassies. They don't understand  that  you are
still a soldier, and it comes  as quite  a shock  to  them to  find out what
Selection is all about.
     The one good thing  about  Winter Selection is the weather.  The racing
snakes who can move  like  men  possessed  across country in the summer  are
slowed  by the snow and mist. It's a great leveler for every man to be up to
his waist in snow.
     I passed.
     After  this  first phase  you  are put through a four  month period  of
training  which includes an arduous spell in the jungle in  Asia.  The  last
main  test is the Combat Survival course. You are taught survival skills for
two weeks, and then sent in to see the doctor. He puts a finger up your arse
to  check for  Mars bars, and you're  turned  loose  on the  Black Mountains
dressed  in Second World  War  battle dress trousers and  shirt, a greatcoat
with  no buttons, and boots with no laces. The hunter force was a company of
Guardsmen in  helicopters.  Each man was given  the  incentive of two weeks'
leave if he made a capture.
     I  had  been  on  the  run  for  two  days  accompanied  by  three  old
grannies--two Navy pilots and an R.A.F, load master You had to stay together
as a group, and I couldn't have been cursed with a worse trio of millstones.
It didn't  matter  for them: the course  was just a three-week embuggerance,
and  then they'd go home for  tea and  medals.  But if SAS candidates didn't
pass Combat Survival, they didn't get badged.
     We were waiting for one particular RV (rendezvous) when the two on stag
fell asleep. In swooped a helicopter  full of Guardsmen, and we were bumped.
After a brief chase we were captured and taken to a holding area.
     Some hours  later, as  I was down on my knees, my blindfold was removed
and I found myself looking up at the training sergeant major.
     "Am I binned?" I said pitifully.
     "No, you nugget. Get back on the helicopter and don't fuck up."
     I'd caught him in a good mood. An ex-Household Division man himself, he
was delighted to see his old lot doing so well.
     For the next phase I was on my own,  which suited me fine. Our movement
between RVs was arranged in such a way that everybody  was  captured at  the
end  of  the  E&E  (escape  and evasion)  phase  and  subjected  to tactical
questioning. You  are taught to be--and you always  try to be--the gray man.
The  last  thing  you  want  is  to  be singled  out  as worthy  of  further
questioning. I didn't find this stage particularly hard  because despite the
verbal threats nobody was actually  filling you in, and you knew that nobody
was going to.  You're cold  and wet and  hungry,  uncomfortable as hell, but
it's  just  a  matter  of  holding  on,  physically rather than  mentally. I
couldn't believe that some people threw in their  hand during these last few
     In the end a bloke came in during one of the interrogations, gave me  a
cup  of  soup, and  announced  that  it  was  over. There  was  a1  thorough
debriefing, because the interrogators can learn from you as well as you from
them. The  mind  does  get affected; I was surprised to find that I was  six
hours out in my estimation of the time.
     Next  came  two weeks of weapon training at Hereford.  The  instructors
looked at  who you were, and they expected from you accordingly. If you were
fresh from the  Catering Corps  they'd patiently start  from scratch; if you
were  an infantry  sergeant they'd demand excellence. Parachute training  at
Brize Norton was next, and after the rigors of Selection it was  more like a
month at Butlins.
     Back at Hereford after six long,  grueling  months, we  were taken into
the CO's office  one by one. As  I was handed the famous  sand-colored beret
with its winged dagger, he said: "Just remember: it's harder to keep than to
     I didn't really take it in. I was too busy trying not to dance a jig.
     The  main bulk of the new intake,  as usual, was made up of people from
the  infantry,  plus  a  couple  of  engineers and  signalers.  Out  of  160
candidates  who  had started, only eight  passed--one officer and seven men.
Officers only serve for a three-year  term  in the SAS, though they may come
back for  a second tour.  As an  other rank,  I had the  full duration of my
22-year army contract to run--in theory, another fifteen years.
     We went to join our squadrons. You can say whether  you'd like to be in
Mountain, Mobility, Boat, or Air Troop, and they'll accommodate  you if they
can.  Otherwise  it  all depends  on  manpower  shortages and  your existing
skills. I went to Air.
     The four  squadrons  have very different  characters. It was  once said
that if you went to a nightclub, A Squadron would be the ones along the wall
at the  back, not saying  a word, even to each other, just giving  everybody
the evil  eye. G  Squadron  would be talking,  but  only  to  each other.  D
Squadron would be on  the edge of the dance floor, looking at the women. And
B Squadron--my squadron--would be the ones out there on the floor, giving it
their all--and making total dickheads of themselves.
     Debby came back  from Germany to join  me in Hereford. She had not seen
much of me since I started Selection way back in January, and she wasn't too
impressed  that the day after she arrived I was sent back to  the jungle for
two months of follow-up training. When I  returned it was to an empty house.
She had packed her bags and gone home to Liverpool.
     In December  the following  year  I  started going out  with Fiona,  my
next-door neighbor. Our daughter Kate  was born in 1987, and in October that
year we got married. My wedding present from the Regiment was a two-year job
overseas. I  came back from that trip in  1990, but in August, just a couple
of months after my return, the marriage was dissolved. In October 1990 I met
Jilly. It was love at first sight-or so she told me.

     We assembled  at 0750 at the OC's table and headed off together for the
briefing area.  Everybody was  in a jovial  mood. We had  a stainless  steel
flask each and the world's supply of chocolate.  It was  going to be a  long
day,  and saving  time on refreshment breaks would allow us  to  get on with
more important matters.
     I was  still feeling  chuffed to have been made patrol commander and to
be working with Vince. Approaching his  last two years of service  with  the
Regiment, Vince was 37 and a big old boy, immensely strong. He was an expert
mountaineer, diver, and skier,  and he walked everywhere--even  up hills--as
if he had a barrel of beer under each arm. To Vince, everything was "fucking
shit," and he'd say it in the strongest of Swindon accents, but he loved the
Regiment and would defend it  even when another squadron member was having a
gripe. The only complaint in his life was that he was approaching the end of
his 22 years' engagement. He  had  come from the Ordnance  Corps and  looked
rough in a way that most army people would expect  a  member of the Regiment
to look rough, with coarse, curly  hair  and  sideboards and a big mustache.
Because he'd been in the Regiment a  bit longer than I had, he  was going to
be a very useful man to have around when it came to planning.
     The  briefing  area, we discovered, was  in  another  hangar.  We  were
escorted through a  door marked NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL. As a regiment  we
were  in isolation, but the briefing area was isolation within isolation. OP
SEC (operational security) is crucial. Nobody in the Regiment would ever ask
anybody  else what he  was doing. As unwritten rules go, that  one is in red
ink,  capital letters, and underlined. Doors either  side of us were labeled
AIR  PLANNING, D  SQUADRON, INT CORPS,  MAP STORE. There was  nothing  fancy
about the signs; they were A4 sheets of paper pinned to the door.
     The atmosphere in this building was markedly different. It was clinical
and efficient, with the ambient hiss  and mush of radio transmissions in the
background. Intelligence  Corps personnel, known to us as "spooks" or "green
slime," moved from  room to room with bundles  of maps in their  arms, being
meticulous about  closing doors behind them. Everybody spoke in  low voices.
It was an impressive hive of professional activity.
     We knew many of the spooks by name, having worked with them in the UK.
     "Morning, slime," I called out to a familiar face. "How's it going?"
     I got a mouthed word and a jerk of the wrist in return.
     The place had no windows and felt as though it had been derelict for  a
long time. There was an underlying smell  of mustiness and decay. On top  of
that  were the sort  of ordinary office  smells  you'd  get  anywhere-paper,
coffee, cigarettes.  But this  being what we called  a  remf  (rear  echelon
motherfucker)  establishment  and  early  in the morning, there  was also  a
strong smell of soap, shaving foam, toothpaste, and aftershave.
     "Morning,  remfs!"  Vince greeted  them  with his Swindon accent  and a
broad grin. "You're fucking shit, you are."
     "Fucking shit yourself," a spook replied. "Could you do our job?"
     "Not really," Vince said. "But you're still a remf."
     The B  Squadron room was  about 15 feet  square.  The ceiling was  very
high,  with  a slit  device at the top that gave the only ventilation.  Four
tables had  been put together in the center.  Silk escape maps and compasses
were laid out on top.
     "Freebies, let's have them," Dinger said.
     "Never  mind the  quality, feel the width,"  said  Bob, one of  Vince's
     Bob, all 5'2" of him, was of Swiss-Italian extraction  and known as the
Mumbling  Midget.  He'd been  in the  Royal Marines  but  wanted  to  better
himself, and had quit and taken  a gamble on passing Selection.  Despite his
size  he was immensely strong, both physically  and in character.  He always
insisted on carrying the same  load as everybody else,  which at times could
be very funny--all you could see was  a big bergen (backpack) and two little
legs going at it like pistons underneath. At home, he  was a  big fan of old
black-and-white comedies, of which he  owned  a vast collection. When he was
out on the town, his great hobbies were dancing and chatting up women a foot
taller than himself. On the day we left for the Gulf, he'd had to be rounded
up from the camp club in the early hours of the morning.
     We looked at  the maps, which dated back to the -1950s. On one side was
Baghdad and surroundings, on the other Basra.
     "What do you reckon, boys?"  said Chris, another from Vince's team,  in
his broad Geordie accent. "Baghdad or Basra?"
     A  spook  came  in.  I  knew  Bert  as  part  of  our  own intelligence
organization in Hereford.
     "Got any more of these?" Mark asked. "They're fucking nice."
     Typical Regiment mentality: if it's  shiny, I  want it.  You don't even
know what a piece of equipment does sometimes, but if it looks good you take
it. You never know when you might need it.
     There were no chairs in the room, so we just sat with our backs against
the wall. Chris produced  his  flask and offered it around. Good-looking and
soft spoken Chris had been involved with  the Territorial SAS as  a civilian
when he decided he wanted to join the  Regiment proper. For  Chris, if a job
was worth doing it was  worth doing excellently,  so  in typical  fashion he
signed  up  first  with  the  Paras  because  he  wanted  a  solid  infantry
background. He moved to Hereford from Aldershot as soon as he'd reached  his
intended rank of lance corporal and had passed Selection.
     If  Chris had a plan,  he'd  see  it  through.  He was  one of the most
determined,  purposeful men I'd ever met.  As  strong physically as  he  was
mentally,  he was a fanatical  bodybuilder, cyclist, and skier. In the field
he liked to  wear an old Afrika  Korps peaked cap.  Off duty he  was a  real
victim for the  latest bit of biking or skiing technology, and  wore all the
Gucci kit. He was very quiet  when he joined  the Regiment, but  after about
three months  his strength of character started to emerge. Chris was the man
with the voice of reason. He'd always be the one to intervene and sort out a
fight, and what he said always sounded good even when he was bullshitting.
     "Let's  get down  to business," the OC said. "Bert's going to tell  you
the situation."
     Bert perched on the edge of a table. He was a good spook because he was
brief, and the briefer they are  the easier it is to understand and remember
what they're telling you.
     "As  you know,  Saddam  Hussein  has finally carried out an  attack  on
Israel  by firing modified  Scud missiles at Tel Aviv and Haifa.  The actual
damage done is very small, but thousands of residents are fleeing the cities
for safer parts of  the country. The country has come to a standstill. Their
prime minister is not impressed.
     "The rag heads, however, are well pleased. As far as they're concerned,
Saddam  has  hit Tel Aviv, the recognized capital of  Israel, and shown that
the heart of the Jewish state is no longer impregnable.
     "Saddam  obviously wants Israel to retaliate, at whatever cost, because
that will  almost certainly cause  a split in the  anti-Iraqi Coalition, and
probably even  draw Iran into  the war  on the Iraqi side  to join the fight
against Israel.
     "We knew this was a danger, and have been trying from day one to locate
and  destroy  the Scud  launchers.  Stealth bombers  have attacked  the  six
bridges  in  central Baghdad  that cross  the river  Tigris.  These  bridges
connect the two halves of the city, and they  also carry the landlines along
which Baghdad is communicating with the rest of  the country and its army in
Kuwait-and  with  the  Scud  units  operating against Israel.  Since  Iraq's
microwave transmitters are  already bombed to buggery and its  radio signals
are  being  intercepted  by Allied  intelligence, the landlines are Saddam's
last link. For the air planners, they have become a priority target.
     "Unfortunately, London and Washington want  the attacks  to stop.  They
think the news footage of kids playing next to bombed-out bridges is bad PR.
But gents, Saddam has got to be denied access to those cables. And if Israel
and Iran  are to be kept out of  the war, the Scuds have to be immobilized,"
Bert got up from the table and went over to a large scale map of Iraq, Iran,
Saudi, Turkey, Syria,  Jordan,  and Kuwait that was  tacked  to the wall. He
jabbed his finger at northwest Iraq.
     "Here," he said, "be Scuds."
     We all knew what was coming next.
     "From Baghdad there are three MSRs (main supply routes) running east to
west," he  went  on,  "mostly  into  Jordan.  These  MSRs are used  for  the
transportation of fuel  or whatever--and for  moving Scuds.  Now, it appears
the  Iraqis are  firing the Scuds  in two ways.  From  fixed-launcher sites,
which are pre surveyed and  from unfixed  sites where they have to stop  and
survey before they fire. These are more tactical. We have hosed down most of
the pre surveyed sites. But the mobiles ."
     We had even more of an idea now.
     "Landlines are giving information to  these mobile  launchers,  because
all other  com ms are down. And I  doubt there are  that many people left in
the  country  who  can  repair  these things. And  that,  basically,  is the
     "Your task is in two parts," said the boss. "One, to locate and destroy
the  landlines  in  the area of the northern MSR. Two, to find  and  destroy
     He repeated  the tasking statement,  as is standard  tasking procedure.
His task now became our mission.
     "We're  not really bothered how you do it, as long as it gets done," he
went on. "Your area of operation is  along about 150 miles of this  MSR. The
duration of task will be fourteen  days before resupply. Has anybody got any
     We didn't at this stage.
     "Right, Bert here will get you everything you want. I'll be coming back
during the daytime  anyway, but any problems,  just  come and get us.  Andy,
once you've got a plan  sorted  out, give me a shout and I'll have a look at
     Rather than dive straight in, we took time out to have a breather and a
brew.  If you fancy a drink, you take one from the nearest available source.
We emptied Mark's flask, then looked at the map.
     "We'll need as much  mapping as you've got," I said  to Bert. "All  the
topographical  information.   And   any   photography,  including  satellite
     "All I've  got for you is one-in-a-half-million  air navigation charts.
Otherwise, there's jack shit."
     "What can you tell  us  about  weather conditions and the going?" Chris
     "I'm getting that squared away. I'll go and see if it's ready."
     "We also need  to  know  a lot more  about  the fiber  optics, how they
actually operate," said Legs. "And Scuds."
     I liked Legs. He was still establishing himself in the Regiment, having
come from Para Reg just six months before. Like all newcomers he was still a
bit on the quiet side,  but had become firm friends with Dinger. He was very
confident  in himself and his ability as patrol signaler, and having started
his army  life in the engineers, he was also an excellent motor mechanic. He
got his name from being a real racing snake over the ground.
     Bert left the room, and discussions started  up amongst the  blokes. We
were  feeling relaxed. We appeared to have plenty of time, which is rare for
the  Regiment's operations, and we were  in a nice, sterile environment;  we
weren't  having to do our planning  tactically,  in the pouring rain in  the
back of beyond. There is a principle  in the infantry that's referred to  as
"The  Seven  Ps":  Proper  Planning  and  Preparation   Prevents  Piss  Poor
Performance. We  had perfect planning  conditions. We'd  have no excuses for
Piss Poor Performance.
     While  we waited for  Bert to come back,  blokes wandered  off  to fill
their flasks or make use of the remfs' plumbing facilities.
     "I've got the mapping for you," Bert said as he came through the door a
quarter of  an hour later. "And  I've got the information on the ground--but
not  a  lot of it. I'll try to  get  more. There are some better escape maps
coming through. I'll get you those before you leave."
     We had already pocketed the others as souvenirs in any event.
     We'd now  had time to  think  things  through a bit more, and  Bert was
bombarded with requests  for information  on enemy positions; areas of local
population; the nature  of the border with Syria because we were immediately
thinking of an  E&E plan  and that frontier was the  closest;  what type  of
troops were  near our area and in what concentrations, because if there were
massive concentrations of troops, there was going to be a lot of movement up
and  down  the MSR, which would make the  task harder; what type of  traffic
moved up and down  the MSR and in what volume; plus everything he could find
out about how landlines worked, what they looked like, how easy they were to
detect,  and whether, having been  found, they could  be destroyed  with ten
pounds of plastic explosive or just a bang with a hammer.
     Bert left with our new shopping list.
     Looking at the map on the wall, I saw an underground  oil pipe that had
been abandoned. "I wonder if it's laid parallel to the MSR," I said, "and if
the cable runs through it?"
     "There's a boy in the squadron  who used to lay landlines for Mercury,"
Stan said. "I'll see if he knows the score."
     Bert came back with piles  of maps. While some of us taped the separate
sheets together to make one  big section,  two  lads  went  out  and  nicked
     The  atmosphere was rather more  serious now. We mulled  things over in
general for another half  an hour before we  launched  into planning proper.
Chris studied the maps  and made pertinent comments. Legs scribbled memos to
himself  about radio equipment.  Dinger  opened  another packet of  Benson &
     The  first point we had to consider was the location  we were going to.
We needed  to  know about the  ground, and  areas of civilian  and  military
population. The information available was very sketchy.
     "The  actual  MSR  isn't  a  meta  led  road but  a  system  of  tracks
amalgamated together," Bert said. "At its widest  point it's about one and a
half miles across, at its narrowest about two thousand feet. Over  10  miles
either side of the MSR there's only a 150 foot drop in the ground. It's very
flat and undulating, rocky,  no sand. As you start moving north towards  the
Euphrates, the ground obviously starts to get  lower. Going south, it's flat
area most of the  way  down  to Saudi, but then you  start coming into major
wadi-type features, which  are good for navigation  and good for cover,  and
then it flattens out again."
     The tactical air maps didn't have  contours but elevation tints, rather
like a school atlas. Ominously, the whole area of the MSR was one color.
     "This country's fucking shit," Vince said.
     We  laughed, but a  bit  uneasily. We could  see it was not going to be
easy terrain to hide in.
     In remote  regions, everything tends  to be near a road or a river. The
MSR went through  built-up areas of population, three or four airfields, and
several pumping stations for water, which we could take for granted would be
defended  by  troops. It was  also a  fair assumption that  there  would  be
pockets of local population all along the MSR, either in fixed abodes or  as
bedu  on  the move,  and plantations  scattered all  along the  area to take
advantage of the availability of transportation and water.
     The MSR  hit  the  Euphrates  in the northwest  at  the  major town  of
Banidahir; then it ran southwest  all the i  way to Jordan. Traffic would be
in the  form of  transports to and  from Jordan, military transport going to
airfields, and  local militia in the built-up  areas. They weren't likely to
be on the alert, because they would not be expecting Allied troops in such a
remote spot.
     As far as they would be concerned, there was nothing of great strategic
importance up there.
     So, where  along the MSR  should we  operate? Not at its widest  point,
that was for sure, because if we had to  call  up an air strike we wanted to
keep the potential target  area tight. What we  really needed  was  a  point
where  the MSR  was  at its narrowest, and  common  sense dictated that this
would  be  at  a sharp  bend:  no matter where you are in the world, drivers
always try to cut a corner. We looked for a choke point that was as far away
from habitation and military  installations as possible. This was hard to do
because an  air  chart only shows  towns  and major  features. However, Legs
pinpointed a suitable bend at a position  midway between an airfield and the
town of Banidahir, and about 18 miles from both. As a bonus, the underground
pipeline  crossed at the same point, which might provide a useful navigation
     The  weather,  Bert  informed  us,  would  be  a  bit  nippy  but   not
uncomfortably cold. Like a spring day  in  the UK, we could expect it to  be
chilly at night and early  morning, warming  up in the afternoons.  Rainfall
was very rare. This  was good news, because there's nothing worse than being
wet and cold, particularly  if  you are hungry  as  well.  Keep  those three
things under control and life becomes very easy indeed.
     We knew where we were going to go. Next, we  had  to decide how we were
going to get there.
     "The options  are  to patrol in  on foot, take vehicles, or have a heli
drop-off," Vince said.
     "Tabbing in is a nonstarter," Chris said. "We wouldn't be able to carry
sufficient kit  such a  distance  --and we'd have to  be resupplied after  a
while by a heli that might just as  well have  dropped us  off there in  the
first place."
     We  agreed that vehicles could get us away from trouble quickly and let
us  relocate on  the MSR or  get to  another area altogether  for re tasking
Pinkies  or  one-tens (long-wheelbase Land-Rovers) would also  give  us  the
increased firepower of vehicle-mounted GPMGs (general purpose machine  guns)
and M19  40mm grenade launchers,  or anything else we wanted. We  could take
more ammunition  and  explosives and  equipment as well,  and generally make
ourselves more self-sufficient for a  longer  period. But  vehicles  had two
major disadvantages.
     "We would be limited as to the amount of fuel we could  take  with us,"
Dinger  said, puffing on his cigarette, "and besides,  the possibilities for
concealment in the area around the MSR look bugger all."
     Since our mission required us to stay in the same area for a long time,
our best  form of defense was going to be concealment, and vehicles wouldn't
help us  with  that at all. In this territory they'd stick  out like a dog's
bollocks. Every time we went on patrol  we'd have  to leave  people with the
wagons  to keep them  secure.  Otherwise we  wouldn't  know  if  they'd been
booby-trapped  or  we were  walking into an  ambush,  or if  they  had  been
discovered by the local  population and knowledge  of their existence passed
on.  What was more, for  eight men  we  would need  two  vehicles,  and  two
vehicles equaled  two chances  of compromise. With one patrol on foot, there
was only one chance of getting  discovered. On the other hand, it might just
be that two weeks' supply of ordnance and  other equipment would be too much
for us  to  carry,  and despite their  shortcomings  we  would have to go in
vehicles  -after all. We'd have to work out the equipment requirements first
and take it from there.
     We worked out that we would need explosives and" ammunition, two weeks'
worth  of food and water per man, NBC clothing, and, only if there was room,
personal kit. Vince did the  calculations and  reckoned that we  could  just
about lug the lot ourselves.
     "So  we're going to  patrol on foot," he said. "But do we get people to
take us in vehicles, or are we going to get a heli and patrol in?"
     "More chance of compromise  in vehicles," Mark said. "We might not even
get there without a resupply of fuel."
     "If we need a resupply by heli, why not just fly in anyway?" Legs said.
     In the end the team consensus was for a heli drop off.
     "Can we get an aircraft?" I asked Bert.
     He went to the operations room to check it out.
     I looked at the map. It must have been going through  all  of our minds
how isolated we'd  be. If we got into trouble, there'd be nobody up there to
bail us out.
     Bob said, "At least if  we're in the shit  we don't have too many hills
to hump over to get away."
     "Mmm, good one," Dinger grunted.
     Bert reappeared. "We can get you an aircraft, no problems."
     I opened the next debate. "Where should they drop us off then?"
     The good news about helicopters is that they get you there quickly. The
bad  news is  that they  do it noisily  and can  draw antiaircraft fire. The
landing, too, is quite compromising. We didn't want it to be associated with
the task, so we would want to choose a site that  was at least 12 miles from
the  MSR itself. We wouldn't want to  be landed east or west  of the bend in
the  MSR  because  it would be harder  to navigate  to.  Navigation is not a
science but a skill. Why make the  skill harder by putting in  problems? The
object was to reach the LUP (lying-up point) as quickly as we could.
     "Should we fly north over the MSR and then tab back south, or should we
approach it from the south?" I said.
     Nobody saw any advantage in crossing the MSR with the  aircraft, so  we
chose to be dropped due south of our chosen point. Then all we had to do was
navigate due north and we'd hit the MSR.
     We would  march on a  bearing and measure  distance by dead  reckoning.
Everybody knows his own pacing, and it's common practice  to keep tally with
a knotted length of para cord in your pocket. I knew, for example,  that 112
of  my paces on  even  ground equaled 325 feet. I would  put ten knots in  a
length of para cord and feed it through a  hole in my pocket.  For every 112
paces I marched, I would pull one knot through.  When I'd  pulled  ten knots
through, I would know that I'd covered six-tenths  of a mile, at which point
I  would check  with  the "check pacer." If  his distance was different from
mine,  we'd  take  the  average. This  would  be  done  in  conjunction with
Magellan, a handheld satellite  navigation system. Sat Nav is an  aid but it
cannot be relied upon. It can go wrong and batteries can run out.
     We couldn't yet work out when we would want to be dropped off; we would
do the time and distance  evaluation  later,  depending  on  what the pilots
said. It  was up  to them to gauge the  problem of antiaircraft emplacements
and  troop  concentrations,  together with the problem of fitting us into  a
slot  that didn't conflict with  the hundreds  of other  sorties being flown
every day--a factor known as deconfliction.
     By this stage of the  planning we knew where we were going, how we were
getting there, and more or less where we would like to get dropped off.
     There was a knock at the door.
     "We've got the pilot here if you want to talk with him," said a spook.
     The  squadron  leader  was  shorter than  Mike,  with ginger  hair  and
     "Could you get us to this point?" I asked, showing him the map.
     "When?" he asked in a flat Midlands monotone.
     "I don't know yet. Some time after two days."
     "At  the  moment,  yes.  However,  I'd  have  to  do  my  planning   on
deconfliction, etcetera. How many of you?"
     "Just equipment."
     "No problem."
     I  sensed that in his  mind he  was  already  calculating  fuel  loads,
visualizing ground contours, thinking about antiaircraft capabilities.
     "Have you got any other information--as in maps?"
     "I was going to ask you the same question," I said.
     "No, we've got jack shit. If we can't get you  there, where else do you
want to go?"
     "All depends where you can get us to."
     The pilot would run the whole show from pickup to drop-off, even though
he'd have no idea what the task was. We would trust his judgment totally; we
would just be passengers.
     He left and we organized another brew before we tackled the tricky bit:
how to attack the landlines and Scud.
     We wanted to work out how to inflict the maximum amount of damage  with
the minimum  of effort. With  luck, the cables  would run alongside the MSR,
and every 5 miles or  so there would be inspection manholes. We didn't  know
if we would find a signal booster  system inside  the manholes, or what. But
Stan  suggested that because of  the economics of laying lines, there  might
even be a land communication line inside as a bonus.
     More questions for Bert. Would the manhole  covers be  padlocked? Would
they have intruder devices,  and if  so would  we be able to defeat them? If
not, would we have to start digging  for the landline itself? Might they  be
encased  in concrete or  steel or other  protective devices? If so, we might
have  to make  a  shaped charge to pierce the steel. Would the  manholes  be
flooded to  prevent attack?  Strangely  enough,  this would  actually  be an
advantage,  because  water  acts  as  a  tamping  for  explosives and  would
therefore increase the force of the explosion.
     We worked out that, depending on  the ground, we'd do an array of four,
five, or six cuts along the cable, and  each  one of  them would be timed to
detonate at different times over  a period of days. We'd lay all the charges
in  one night, and have one going off, say, in the  early evening next  day.
That would give  one whole  night when, at best, it  was incapable  of being
repaired, or at least they would be slowed down, and they'd come probably at
first  light  to fix it. They'd eventually find out where the cuts  had been
made  and send a  team  down to repair them. It made sense for us to try and
include these people in the damage if we could, thereby reducing the Iraqis'
capability to carry out other repairs. Mark came up with the idea of putting
down Elsie mines, which are small antipersonnel mines that work on pressure.
When you step on them, they explode.
     If  everything  went  to  plan, the first charge would make the cut and
when they came down, possibly  at first light, to  repair it, the technician
or a guard  would  lose his foot to an Elsie mine. The next evening,  number
two  would  go off,  but  we'd  have laid  the  charge  without Elsie mines.
However, the  boys that came down would be  very  wary,  take their time, or
maybe even  refuse to do the job. The following  day, another would  go off,
and this  time  we  would  have  laid Elsie  mines.  Maybe  they'd  be  more
confident,  and  they'd  get hit again. The  only  problem  would be that we
couldn't  place the Elsie mines  too  near the site we were blowing,  or the
explosion might dislodge or expose them.
     In the worst scenario, we'd have rendered the cable inoperable over six
days. At best, we might have wrecked it for ever after the first day. It was
a  brilliant   thought   of  Mark's,  and  we  added  two  boxes  of  Elsies
--twenty-four in all--to the equipment list.
     In essence, we would do as many cuts as we could with the ordnance  and
time available. It might be  that  we'd  have to do cuts that were 12  miles
apart, and  take two  nights doing  it. I hoped we wouldn't have to blow the
manholes to get at the  cables, because if they checked other covers  they'd
be sure to  find the other devices. To cater for  that, we would put an anti
handling  device  on all the timers. It would either  be a pull  switch or a
pressure release, which would detonate the charge if they lifted it.
     I was starting to feel tired. It was time for a break, or we'd begin to
make mistakes. You only rush your planning if you have to.
     We  had  a  brew  and stretched  our legs before getting  down  to  the
business of how to destroy Scud.
     Thirty-seven feet  long and about 3 feet wide, the  Russian-built SS-1C
Scud-B had a range of 100-175 miles. It was transported  on, and fired from,
an eight wheeled  TEL (transporter erector launcher).  Crews were trained to
operate from points of  maximum concealment.  Not  very  accurate,  Scud was
designed to strike at major storage sites,  marshaling areas, and airfields,
and was  almost  more of a propaganda weapon.  As well  as conventional high
explosive, it could carry chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads.
     When our armored divisions were sent  to Saudi,  a rumor had circulated
that if Saddam Hussein used chemicals against British forces, Mrs.  Thatcher
had instructed the generals  to go tactical nuclear. I never thought that in
my lifetime I'd  find  myself up against chemical agents.  No one  in  their
right mind would use them, but  here was  a man who had done so against Iran
and his own people  and  would no doubt do so again in this war if the  need
     "There are maybe fifteen  to twenty TELs but many more missiles,"  Bert
said. "You can expect the TEL to be accompanied by a command vehicle, like a
Land Cruiser,  with the  commander and/or  the surveyor aboard.  In  the TEL
itself will  be the crew, two in the front, and other operators in the back.
The command  post within the TEL itself is  in  the center of  the  vehicle,
entry being via a door on the left-hand  side.  There might  be infantry  in
support, but we don't know how many--nor whether there might be several TELs
together in convoy, or operating individually."
     It became clear that the  surveyor was the main personality at  a  Scud
launch. After the transporter rumbled up to  an unprepared site, there was a
wait of about an hour  before the Scud could be launched. The time was spent
in  accurate site surveying, radar  tracking  of upper  atmosphere balloons,
calculating  such  factors  as  angle  of  deflection,  and  pumping  in  of
propellants. There were a couple of  lesser players, too--the commander, and
the operators in the control center who tapped in the coordinates. That made
a minimum  of three people  to  be killed  in  order to render  the launcher
totally inoperable. However, they could be replaced. We'd still have to deal
with the Scud.
     How  would we  destroy it? Air  strikes are all very  well, but we knew
that the Iraqis had excellent DF (direction finding) capability, and  we had
to  assume  the  worst  scenario--that their DF  equipment  was  intact  and
operational. It worked via  a  series  of listening  posts dotted around the
country that  shot a bearing out to the  source  of a radio signal.  It only
took two such bearings  to pinpoint a position; it  would then  be very easy
for them to get hold of us, especially if we were on foot. Calling in an air
strike would effectively mean that we had gone overt.
     We'd only  use air strikes if the Iraqis  made us an offer we  couldn't
refuse--say,  the world's supply of Scuds in convoy. Then we'd just have  to
get on the net
     (radio network) and take a  chance  of getting DF'd.  We had to  assume
that they'd  know we  were there  anyway just  because  the strike had  been
directed in.
     If we were going  to attack the missile itself, there were dangers with
the warhead.  We wouldn't know  if it  was chemical, biological, nuclear, or
conventional, and we didn't want to have to take the precaution of attacking
with NEC protective  clothing on because it takes  time to put on  and slows
you down badly. The fuel was also a problem, being highly noxious.
     The TEL itself would be a better target, because without it the rockets
couldn't be launched.
     "Can we destroy it?" Bob said.
     "Probably,  but we don't know  how easy  it would be to repair," Dinger
said. "And anyway, it's too near the missile."
     "What about the flight information that has to  be  installed  into the
rockets?" Chris said.
     The more we thought about it, the  more sense it made  to do a hands-on
attack to destroy the control center in the middle of the vehicle.
     "We could just put a  charge  in there which  would fuck things up nice
without any problems  to us,"  Vince suggested. "The  TEL must be  protected
against the rocket blast--enough to stop our charge affecting the missile."
     We knew what to attack, but how would we do it? We finally decided that
when  we  saw a Scud being launched, which shouldn't  be too difficult given
the billiard-table terrain, we  would take a bearing and find  it. Hopefully
if the landlines were destroyed there would not be any launches anyway.
     We knew  the vulnerable points. We knew  there  would  be  no problems,
finding the Scuds.  We would go  to the area, pinpoint the  launch site, and
put  in a  CTR (close target recce) to find out how many troops there  were,
how many launchers were left, and  where the stags were. In  a typical  CTR,
we'd  probably find the Scud, then  move back and stop at an FRY  (final RV)
about a mile away, depending on the ground. From there, four blokes would go
and carry  out  a  360degree  recce  of  the  position itself,  looking  for
vulnerable points.  Two of us would  then go in as far as we had to in order
to complete the information. Then we'd withdraw to the FRY. I'd have to give
a quick brief for that CTR--how we were going to do it, how we were going to
get  there,  what  direction we  were  going  to  come  back  in,  what  the
recognition signal was as we came back into the FRY. You always come back in
exactly the  same direction you left from, to cut  down confusion. My normal
recognition signal was to walk  in with both arms outstretched in a crucifix
position, my weapon in my right hand. Different patrols use different signs.
The aim is to cut out the noise of a challenge and be easily ID'd. FRVs have
to be somewhere easily identifiable and defendable, because navigating  back
to them in pitch darkness is not as easy as it sounds.  Back at the FRY, I'd
mentally prepare  a  quick  set  of  orders for  the  attack  and  then tell
everybody what was "on target."
     Until  we  actually got on the ground, we would work  on the assumption
that we'd  have  at least three  "points  of contact": i.e."  we'd kill  the
surveyor, control-center commander, and operators. This  would  normally  be
done with silenced weapons.  A man will always drop if you put a  round into
his body T--the  imaginary line from one temple  running across the eyebrows
to the other  temple and from that line down the center of the face from the
bridge of the nose to the base of the sternum. Pop in a round anywhere along
the  T, and  your man will always  go  down. It must be done  from close up,
almost right on top of him. You go from a "rolling start line" and just keep
going  until he turns  round;  then  you must be quick. You cannot hesitate.
It's all down to pure speed, aggression, and surprise.
     So much  for  the theory. Vince had brought a silenced weapon  with him
from  the UK,  but  another squadron had  come  and begged it off  him for a
specific task and there were none left. D Squadron had  got  to Saudi before
us,  and  down at the  stores there had been a  nasty outbreak of  Shiny Kit
Syndrome. They  had snaffled everything in  sight, and there was no point in
us going and asking them  nicely  if  we  could please  have our  ball back.
They'd  only say they needed it-and  probably they  did. In  the  absence of
silenced weapons  we'd  probably have to  use  our fighting  knives--weapons
resembling  the famous Second  World War commando dagger--if we  wanted  the
attack to remain covert for as long as possible.
     A fire-support base consisting of four  men  would  be  positioned, and
then the other four  would move out and infiltrate the Scud area.  We'd take
out the surveyor,  then the  characters sleeping or sitting in the TEL. Then
we'd lay a charge made from PE4 plastic explosive. My guess was that about 2
pounds of  explosive  on a 2-hour  timer inside the TEL would  do the trick.
We'd close the door and up  it would go,  well after we'd  ex filtrated We'd
put an anti handling device on the PEas well,  so that even if they found it
and went to lift it, it would detonate.
     Also on the charge  we would  have a compromise device. This would be a
grip switch that would initiate a length of safety fuse, which in turn would
initiate the detonator after  about 60 seconds. So if the shit  hit the fan,
we could just  place the charge  and  run.  There  would  be three different
initiations on the charges,  hopefully covering any  eventuality: the timing
device,  an  anti  handling  device--pull,  pressure, or  pressure  release,
whichever was appropriate--and a compromise device.
     It was 1600. One or  two of the faces around me were  beginning to look
tired, and I guessed that  I looked  the same.  We'd really motored. We knew
how we were going to do the task, even down  to such detail as "actions on."
Actions on contact for  the 4-man fire-support group  were to give  covering
fire to allow  the  attack group, if possible,  to  complete their task  and
extract  themselves.  Actions on  for  the 4-man attack group  were  to give
support to  each  other  and attempt to complete the target attack using the
compromise device.  One  way or  another,  they should extract  to  the  ERV
(emergency RV) and  quickly regroup. They should  then move to the patrol RV
and regroup with the fire support team.
     We wouldn't  know, of course, if any of this was feasible  until we saw
the  disposition  on  the ground. There  might be four  TELs together, which
would  pose problems  of compromise  as there would be many more targets. Or
maybe there'd be just one TEL which  we couldn't get in  to attack, in which
case we'd do a  stand-off attack with  lots  of  firepower--but not  at  the
expense of the patrol to take out  only one objective. In a stand-off attack
we wouldn't  get "hands on" but would use 66s to try and destroy the target.
Such an attack must be short and sharp, but whether or not  to carry one out
would be  a decision  that could only be  made on the ground. It's only when
you have seen the problem that you  can make your appreciations and work out
what you  will do. We  would  always  try  a covert target  attack if at all
     The third option  would be an air  strike. Deciding between a stand-off
attack and  an  air strike  would be a  fine balance, probably swayed by the
numbers involved. Both, however, would advertise the fact that we were close
by  in the  area. The compromise would be bearable if the  numbers were high
enough to warrant  it, but if we were successful in cutting the cable, there
would be no need for this at all.
     By now the  place was stinking of  sweat, farts, and  cigarettes. There
were bits of paper everywhere  with pictures of Scuds and matchstick men and
fire-support  group  movement diagrams.  Planning is always  exhaustive, but
only  because we want  to work everything out to  the finest detail. When we
got to the  TEL and the door was closed, where was the handle? How  did  you
operate it? Which way  did the door go, out or in? Was it a concertina door?
Did  the door hinge  from  the top?  Would the door be padlocked as it is on
many armored  vehicles? What  would we  do then?  People  didn't know, so we
studied  pictures  and tried to work it out. Detail, detail, detail. It's so
important.  You might be pushing  a door when you should be  pulling.  Minor
detail missed equals fuckup guaranteed.
     We moved on  to  thinking  about  the equipment required to execute our
     You can  destroy a power station with  a  shaped charge  of 2 pounds of
explosive  in just  the right  place;  you  don't  have  to  blow  the whole
installation into the sky.  It can  be  done  by  a  small  specific-to-task
charge, because you know the vulnerable point you're going for. With Scud we
knew the vulnerable  points, but not for  sure how we were  going to  get at
them.  I was keen to take just  charges of PE, each weighing about 2 pounds,
rather than specific-to-task explosives, because we might not be able to use
specifics  any other way. Again, we  wouldn't have the  information until we
got there on the ground.
     We'd need PE4 explosive,  safety fuse,  grip  switches, nonelectric and
electric dets, timers, and det cord. You don't put  detonators straight into
plastic explosive, which is how it's portrayed  in films.  You  put det cord
between  the detonator and the  explosives.  We'd make  up  these charges in
advance, and just before the attack place the dets and timers on to them.
     Vince and Bob disappeared to go and organize these items, and came back
a quarter of an hour later.
     "That's all squared away," said Vince. "It's all under your bed."
     All the main points had now been covered.
     We would be on foot, carrying everything in, so we'd need a cache area,
which would  be our  LUP (lying-up  point). Ideally,  the LUP would  provide
cover  from  fire and cover  from view, because we'd  be manning  it all the
time. It's very dangerous  to leave equipment and go back to it--even though
this sometimes has to be done--because it might be ambushed or booby-trapped
if discovered. We'd work from a patrol base and move out from there to carry
out our tasks. It  might happen that  we'd find  a better site for  our  LUP
during  a patrol, in  which case we'd move all the kit  again under cover of
     We now  worked out the E&E plan. We  would be 185 miles from Saudi, but
only  75 from neighboring countries. Some were part of the Coalition, so  in
theory would be perfect places to head for.
     "What are the borders like?" Vince asked Bert.
     "I'm not entirely sure. Might be like  the  border with  Saudi, a  tank
berm  and that's all. But they  could be heavily defended. Whatever,  if you
cross a border, for heaven's sake make sure they  don't think you're Israeli
--it's not that far away."
     "Fair one, Bert,"  said Stan, nodding his head in Bob's  direction  and
grinning. "But I'm not going across any border with that spick."
     Bob  certainly looked the part, with tight black curly hair and a large
     "Yeah, well, who'd want to go with Zorro there?" Bob  pointed at Mark's
big nose.
     Everything was going well. It's when people stop the slagging and start
being nice to each other that you have to worry.
     "What's the ground like going up there?" Mark asked.
     "Much the same. Basically  flat, but  when  you get up  to the areas of
Krabilah and the  border  there  is some  high ground. The further west, the
higher the ground."
     "What's the score on the Euphrates?" Dinger said. "Is it swimmable?"
     "It's almost a half mile  wide in places, with  small islands. It'll be
in fierce flood this time of the  year.  All around there is vegetation, and
where  there's vegetation, there's water,  and  where there's  water there's
people. So there'll always be people around the river. It's rather green and
lush--Adam and Eve country, actually, if you remember your Bible."
     We looked at the options. If we were compromised, did we tab it all the
way south  or  did  we  move northwest? We'd probably  have a  lot of  drama
getting across any border, but we'd have that  going south  as  well. They'd
guess  we were going south  anyway, and it  was a hell of a long distance to
     Dinger piped up in his best W. C. Fields voice, "Go west, young man, go
     "Nah, fuck that," Chris said, "it's full of rag heads. If we're on  the
run,  let's  go  somewhere  nice.  Let's go  to Turkey. I went  there for my
holidays  once. It was  rather nice. If we get to  Istanbul, there's a place
called the Pudding  Club, where all  the  international  travelers meet  and
leave messages. We could  leave a message for the search and rescue team and
then just go on the piss  while  we wait for them to pick us up. Sounds good
to me."
     "Bert, what sort of  reception committee would we get elsewhere?"  Legs
asked. "Any info from downed pilots yet?"
     "I'll find out."
     "Unless we're told otherwise, Bert," I said, "we're not going south."
     You always keep together as a team for as long as you can, because it's
better for morale and firepower, and your chances  of escape are higher than
as individuals. But if the  patrol were split, the beauty  of choosing north
was that you  could be the world's worst  navigator  and still find your way
there.  Due north and hit the river, hang a left, heading  west. But even if
we managed to cross the border we couldn't count ourselves as  being on safe
ground. There was no information to suggest otherwise.
     The one fixing we dreaded was  getting  captured. As far as I knew, the
Iraqis were  not  signatories to either the  Geneva  or  Hague  Conventions.
During  the  Iran/  Iraq  War  we'd all  seen reports  of atrocities  they'd
committed  while  carrying out  interrogations.  Their  prisoners  had  been
flogged, electrocuted, and  partially dismembered. I was very concerned that
if we were captured and just went  into the  "Big Four"--number, rank, name,
date  of birth--these people  wouldn't be  satisfied  and would require more
from us, as their gruesome track record had shown. I therefore decided that,
contrary to military  conventions  and  without  telling  my  superiors, the
patrol should prepare itself with a cover story. But what should it be?
     We were clearly an  attacking force.  We would be stuck up in northwest
Iraq, carrying  the world's supply of ammunition, explosive ordnance,  food,
and water. You wouldn't need the brains of an archbishop to realize  that we
weren't there as members of the Red Cross.
     The  only thing we  could think of was that we were a search and rescue
team. These teams came as quite a big package, especially when the Americans
were out to  rescue  one of  their downed  pilots. The  pilots had  a  TACBE
(tactical beacon) which transmitted on the international distress frequency,
which AWACS  (Airborne Warning  and Control System) continuously listened to
and  got a  fix on.  Of course,  everybody  else  was  listening in as well,
including the Iraqis. AWACS would locate the pilot from his beacon and relay
the message. A search and rescue mission would then be stood to
     (made ready). The package would be  a heli with an extraction  party of
eight to ten men ready to give covering fire from the air, with machine guns
mounted on the helicopter.  The party might  even be joined  by a couple  of
Apache attack helicopters giving cover  so that the bigger  helicopter could
come  down and  do the snatch. There would probably be top cover  as well, a
couple of jets like  A10s to add to the hosing down if  needed. There was  a
big  emphasis on getting people back, and so there should be. Then you  know
that if you get in the shit, there'll  be every effort made to come and save
you,  especially  if  you're  a  pilot.  It's  good for  morale  and  flying
efficiency, and quite apart from  anything else there's the purely financial
angle-millions of pounds'  worth of  training  have gone into  every  single
     The Iraqis would be aware of these big rescue packages, and of the fact
that inside the pickup helicopter there would  be a medical team, mainly for
trauma management. We were about the right numbers, and we would be dressing
more or less uniformly. Contrary to common belief, we  don't all walk around
in  what we like. You  need  a form of recognition so  your  own troops  can
identify you. You don't want  to be  shot  by your  own side: that's  rather
unprofessional. So for this sort of op you resemble some form of soldier.
     Because  it was just normal PE4 that we would be carrying, we could say
it was for our own protection-that sometimes we had to man an RV point while
AWACS  talked the  downed pilot  on to us.  In such a  case we'd  put  local
protection out. "They've given us  all this  stuff,"  we  would say, "but we
don't really have a clue how to use it."
     Everybody had  medical experience. The  whole Regiment is  trained to a
high standard. Chris, being  a patrol medic, was partly NHS (National Health
Service) trained.  Stan,  of course,  had  a  medical  degree  and a year of
clinical  experience.  Search  and  Rescue  is concerned mainly with  trauma
management, so people of our standard would be involved.
     The TACBEs would  blend in with our story, but in  my heart of hearts I
knew  it wouldn't hold up for long, especially  if we  were  caught with the
cache equipment. We knew we wouldn't get  more than two or three days out of
the  story, but that  would be long enough  for  the Head  Shed to  do their
assessment of the damage we  could do to  OP SEC What do they know? our Head
Shed would ask--and how can it affect our future operations? They would have
to assume that  everything we knew, we would  have told.  That's  why we are
only told what we need to know-for our own good as well as everybody else's.
At best, we'd just be giving them time.
     It was about six o'clock in the evening now and time for another break.
The room really  stank, and  you could  see the signs of strain  on people's
faces. We  went and  had a  scoff, and  for a change  we all  sat  together.
Normally you'd be off with your own mates and doing your own thing.
     "I was in the doghouse for watching Apocalypse Now on the box the night
before we left," Vince said as he stirred his coffee.
     "Me too," Mark said. "But there was nothing else to do:  the pubs  were
     Most  people  had experienced that same horrible lull when  it  was the
early hours of  the morning and they were just  sitting  there  and waiting.
Jilly and I had spent the day and night in  strained silence.  Only  Bob had
had  a  different time of it,  boogying the night away at the  club,  rather
badly as usual, apparently.
     We talked  about how good  the task was  and how  much  we were looking
forward  to getting on the  ground, but the excitement was tempered a bit by
the thought of how isolated we would be. We knew it was risky, but it wasn't
the first time and it wouldn't be the last--after all, this was what we were
paid for. We filled our flasks ready for the next session.
     The  mood  was more lighthearted now  as  I  summarized twelve hours of
     "Right.  We  fly  in  by  Chinook to  a  OOP  (drop  off  point) twenty
kilometers south of the MSR, then tab one night, maybe two, depending on the
terrain and  population,  to the  LUP-cum-cache. From there  we'll carry out
recce  patrols  to locate the landline.  This  hunt  might take two or three
nights: we just don't know until we get on the ground. Initially we  will be
preoccupied with finding the landline, but at the same time we'll OP (put an
observation  post on)  the MSR, watching  for Scud movement. If  we  see the
world's supply of Scud moving along the  MSR,  we will assess and call in an
air strike. If we see a Scud launch, we'll take a bearing, locate it, recce,
then carry out a target attack. We'll then move back to the LUP and carry on
with our tasking.  All of this is very flexible until we  get on the ground.
We  might get a Scud  launch on  our very  first night. But we'll do nothing
about it until  we are firmly in an LUP-cum-cache position. There's no point
screaming 'banzai!" and  getting our  arse kicked just for the sake of a bit
of  bravado and a solitary Scud. Better to take our time and do more damage.
So  we sort ourselves out, then we go  and give  it max. After fourteen days
we'll exfiltrate to  a pickup point prearranged with  the aircrew  before we
infil,  or we will  give them  an  RV  with our Sit Rep. They will come  and
either resupply us and redeploy us, or bring us back for re tasking All very
simple really."
     And so it was. You must keep things that way  if you can;  then there's
less  to forget and less to go  wrong. If a plan has many facets and depends
on split second timing--and sometimes it does--it's more likely to  fuck up.
Plenty  of plans have to be like this, of course, but you must always try to
keep it simple. Keep it simple, keep it safe.
     We had a patrol radio for com  ms  between the FOB  (forward  operating
base)  in Saudi  and the patrol. There was unlikely  to be room for  a spare
because of the  weight. Having  just  one  was no  problem  because we  were
working as one patrol.  We also had four TACBEs; it would have been ideal to
have  one each,  but the  kit just  wasn't available. They are  dual-purpose
devices. Pull one tab out,  and  it transmits a beacon which is picked up by
any aircraft.
     "I  remember  a  story  about a unit  in Belize," I said. "Not from the
Regiment, but they were jungle training. They  were issued with TACBEs while
they were in the jungle. One officer put  his TACBE in his locker, and as he
put it in,  the  tab  of the  distress beacon was  pulled  out and set  off.
Commercial aircraft were radioing in, everybody was  running around. It took
two days for them to find the beacon in his locker."
     Pull out another tab, and  you can use it like a normal radio, speaking
within  a  limited range to  aircraft  overhead.  You can  also use TACBE to
communicate  with each  other  on  the  ground--a  system known  as  working
one-to-one--but it has to be line of sight and has a limited range. Its main
use,  however,  would be  to  talk to AWACS  if we were in trouble. We  were
informed  that AWACS would  be giving us twenty-four hour coverage and would
answer  our  call within  fifteen seconds.  It was comforting  to  know that
there'd  be someone talking back to us in  that  nice, sedate,  polite voice
that AWACS  always use  to  calm down pilots in  distress. The problem  was,
TACBE  was very easily DF'd (detected by  direction-finding equipment). We'd
only  use it in an emergency, or if everything was going to  rat shit on the
air strikes.
     We also had another radio,  operating on "Simplex" --the same principle
as TACBE but on a different frequency, which worked over  a range of about a
kilometer.  This  was so we could  talk to  the helicopter if we had a major
drama  and call him  back, or  to direct  him  in. Because the  transmission
wattage was minuscule, it was almost  impossible to  DP, and we could use it
quite safely.
     The main elements in our belt kit would be ammunition, water, emergency
food, survival kit,  shell  dressings, a knife, and a prismatic compass as a
backup for the Silva compass and for taking a bearing off the  ground. Water
and bullets: those  are  always the  main considerations.  All  other kit is
secondary, so personal comfort items would be the last to go in--and only if
we had room. Survival kit is always  suitable to  theater and task,  so  out
came  the  fishing  lines,  but  we  kept  the  heliograph,  thumb saw,  and
magnifying  glass for  fire  making.  We  also carried basic first  aid kit,
consisting of  suture  kit,  painkillers,  rehydrate,  antibiotics,  scalpel
blades, fluid, and fluid-giving sets. The SOP (standard operating procedure)
is  to  carry  your  two Syrettes  of  morphine  around  your neck, so  that
everybody knows where it is. If you have  to administer morphine, you always
use  the casualty's,  not  your  own: you might  be needing your  own a  few
minutes later.
     We wouldn't bother with sleeping bags because  of  the bulk and weight,
and  because  the  weather  would  not be  too  bad.  I would take  a set of
lightweight GoreTex, however, and everybody else took their poncho  liner or
space  blanket. I  also took my old woolly  hat,  since  you lose  a massive
amount of body heat through your head. When I sleep, I pull it right over my
face, which has the added advantage of  giving that rather pleasant sense of
being under the covers.
     In our  berg ens we  carried explosives, spare batteries for the patrol
radio, more intravenous fluids  and fluid  giving sets, water, and food. Bob
was elected to carry the piss can, a one-gallon plastic petrol container.
     When it was full, one of us would carry it a  mile or so into the  bush
while on patrol, move a rock and  dig a  hole  underneath it, empty the can,
and  replace  the  earth and  rock. This  would  prevent detection by smell,
animal interest, or insect activity.
     I delegated various other tasks.
     "Chris, you sort out the medic kit."
     He  would  automatically  get trauma equipment,  including  a  complete
intravenous set and field dressings for everybody.
     "Legs will sort out the scaley kit."
     For some  reason unknown to me, signalers are usually called scaleys. I
knew that among other tasks Legs  would make sure we had spare antennas  for
the patrol radio, so that if we were compromised when the antenna was out we
could just leave it  out and move.  We would  still be  able to  communicate
using the spare antenna. He  would also  check  that  everything had a fresh
battery, that  we  had spare batteries, and  that  everything  was  actually
     "Vince and Bob, can you sort out the dems kit?"
     They  would take the PE out of all its packaging and wrap it in masking
tape to keep its shape. This  would save the noise of unpacking in the field
and any risk of compromise as a result of dropped rubbish, "If the enemy see
as  much as  a spent match on the ground in front of them, they'll  know you
were  there," the instructor on  my Combat Survival course had said. "And if
they find it behind them they'll know it was Special Forces."
     "Mark, you can sort out the food and jerricans."
     The Kiwi would draw eight men's rations for  fourteen days from Stores.
You strip it all down, and keep just one set of brew kit in your belt kit. I
throw away  the  toilet paper because in the field I shit  by squatting  and
therefore don't need it.  But everybody keeps the plastic bags for  shitting
into. You simply tie a knot in them after use and put the contents into your
     Everything must go with you, as nothing can be  left to compromise your
position,  old  or present. If you  just  buried shit it would create animal
interest, and if discovered the ingredients could be analyzed. Rice content,
for  example,  would  indicate  Iraqis; currants  or  chili  would point  to
     There's always a  lot of  banter to  swap menus. The unwritten rule  is
that whatever you don't want you throw into a bin liner for the other blokes
to sort  through. Stan didn't like  Lancashire  hot pot  but loved steak and
vegetables, so unbeknownst to him  we swapped the contents. He would go over
the border with fourteen days' worth of his least favorite meal. It was just
a stitch; once we were out there we would swap around.
     We still needed cam nets to conceal ourselves and our kit.
     "I'll do it," Dinger volunteered.
     He  would cut  rolls of hessian into six-by six-foot squares. Brand-new
hessian needs  to be messed up with engine oil.  You put  the hessian into a
puddle of it  and rub it in well with a broom. Then you turn it over and put
it in the mud and rub it all in. Give it a good shake, let it dry, and Bob's
your uncle--your very own cam net.
     "Everything to be done by 1000 tomorrow," I concluded.
     We would check and test, check  and test.  This wouldn't prevent things
going wrong or not working, but it would at least cut down the odds.
     It was  about 2230, and Dinger  announced that he had  just run out  of
     I got the hint. We'd covered everything and to carry  on  would just be
reinventing the wheel.  As  the blokes left,  they put every scrap of  paper
into a burn bag to be destroyed.
     Vince and I stayed behind. We  still had to go into the Phases (outline
plan) with the squadron OC and sergeant major.  They would hit us with a lot
of  questions  of  the  "what if?"  variety,  and  their different  track of
thinking might put a new angle on things. With luck, they might even approve
the plan.

     I  couldn't sleep because my mind was going at a hundred miles an hour.
It was people's lives I was playing with here, my own included. The squadron
OC  had given  the plan his approval, but  that didn't stop  me wondering if
there was a better way of going about it. Were other people just nodding and
agreeing  with  what I  said? Probably  not,  since  they all had  a  vested
interest in  our  success and  they were outspoken  individuals.  Was  there
anything  I'd left out or forgotten? But  you reach the point where you have
to press on regardless. You could spend the rest of your life thinking about
the different options.
     I  got  up  and  made a  brew. Legs had just  finished sorting out  the
signals kit, and he came over and  joined me.  There was no sign of Stan  or
Dinger. Those two could sleep on a chicken's lip.
     "The  signals  Head Shed have just given me our call sign," Legs  said.
"It's Bravo Two Zero. Sounds good to me."
     We had a bit of a chat about possible shortages. As I watched  him head
back to his bed, I wondered if  he was thinking about home.  He was a strong
family man,  with a second  child  that was just five  months old.  My  mind
drifted to  Jilly.  I hoped  she  wasn't getting upset  by anything  she was
reading in the media.
     There was the constant  noise of  kit  being lugged and blokes mooching
around sorting themselves out.  I put my Walkman on and listened to Madness.
I  wasn't  really  listening  because  my  mind  was screaming  in  so  many
directions, but I must have nodded off at about three, because at  six, when
I woke, the lead singer  had dropped two  octaves  and  they were just about
grinding to a halt.
     It was quite a  frenzy that morning. We checked that we  still knew how
to activate  the distress  signals  on the small TACBE radios and  use  them
one-to-one so we could actually talk line of sight on them.
     Vince had collected the 5.56 ammunition for  the Armalites  and as many
40mm bombs for the grenade launchers as  he could get his hands on. We had a
lot  of shortages on these bombs  because the  grenade  launcher  is  such a
formidable,  excellent weapon.  The bombs are quite a commodity; when you've
got them, you  hoard them. I explained the problem to a  mate in A Squadron,
and he poached about and got us some more.
     All the 5.56 had to be put into magazines, and the magazines checked to
make sure they  were working. The magazines are  as important as the  weapon
itself,  because if  the springs  don't  push the  round into  position, the
working parts can't push the round into the breech. So you check and recheck
all  your mags, and  then recheck  them a third time.  The Armalite magazine
normally takes 30 rounds, but many of  us choose  to put  in just  29, which
gives a  little bit of extra push in the spring. It's  easier and quicker to
put on a new mag than to clear a stoppage.
     We  checked the 203 bombs  and  explosives. PE4 doesn't smell and feels
very much  like  plasticine.  It's surprisingly inert. You  can even light a
stick of it and watch it burn like a frenzied  candle. The only trouble with
PE4 is that when it's cold, it's quite brittle and hard to mold into shapes.
You have to make it pliable by working it in your hands.
     We checked and rechecked all the detonators. The  nonelectric ones that
we'd be using  for the compromise device  are initiated  by the safety  fuse
burning into  them,  and  cannot  be tested.  Electric  dets can be put on a
circuit tester. If the electric circuit is going through the det,  we can be
sure that the electric pulse will set off the explosive inside and, in turn,
detonate the charge. Fortunately, misfires are very rare.
     It takes quite  a while to test the timers. You have  to set  the  time
delay  and check that  it's working. If it works for one hour, it  will work
for forty-eight hours. Then you time  the  device and see if it  is  working
correctly.  In theory, if  it is more than five seconds  early or  late, you
exchange  it for another. In  practice, I bin any timer  that  I have doubts
     The last item for testing was the wiring for the claymore antipersonnel
mines, which was also done on a circuit tester.
     We then  ran through  the  rigging and de rigging  of the  little Elsie
antipersonnel mines. For many  of us it had been a while since  we'd had our
hands on this sort of  kit. We  made sure we could remember how to arm  them
and, more importantly, how to disarm them. There might  be a situation where
we'd lay the explosive and  Elsie mines on target, but for some reason  have
to go  in  and extract  them.  This  makes  life  more difficult when you're
placing them, because not only do you have to keep  a record  of  where they
are  on the ground, but  also  the  person who sets the anti handling device
should be the one to lift it.
     There  was a severe shortage  of claymores, which was a problem because
they are  excellent for  defense and . The  solution was to go  round to the
cook house get a pile of ice-cream  containers, and make our own. You make a
hole in the center of  the carton,  run  a det cord tail into it, and tie  a
knot inside the container. You make a  shaped charge with PE4 and  put it in
the bottom of the tub, making sure that the knot is embedded.  You then fill
the  carton  with  nuts and bolts, little  lumps of metal, and anything else
nasty you  can  find lying around, put on the lid, and wrap lots of  masking
tape around to seal it. Once the claymore is in position, all you have to do
is put a det onto the det cord and Bob used to be your uncle.
     Next, we sorted out the weapons, starring with a trip down to the range
to  "zero" the  sights. You lie down in the prone position, aim at the  same
place on a target 300 feet away, and fire five rounds. This is then called a
group. You look where the group has landed on the target and then adjust the
sights so that the next group will land where you want it to--which is where
you are aiming. If you do not zero  and  the group is, say, 4 inches  to the
right of  where you  are aiming at 300 feet, then at 600 feet  it will be  8
inches to the right, and so on. At 1200 feet you could easily  miss a target
     One individual's zero will be different from another's because  of many
factors. Some are physical  size and "eye  relief"--the distance between the
eye of the firer and the rear sight. If you used another person's weapon the
zero could be off for you. This  is  not  a problem at short ranges of up to
900 feet,  but at greater distances it  could be a  problem. If this was the
case and you could see where the rounds were going,  you could "aim off"  to
     We spent a whole morning down at the range--first to  zero the weapons,
and second to test all the magazines. I was going to take ten magazines with
me  on  the patrol, a  total of  290  rounds, and every  magazine  had to be
tested. I would also  be carrying a box  of  200  rounds for a Minimi, which
takes  the  same  round  as  the  Armalite  and  can  be   either  belt-  or
     We also  fired some  practice 203  bombs, which throw out a  chalk puff
when they land to help you  see if you've got to aim higher or lower--it's a
crude form of zero.
     We rehearsed for  many different scenarios. The situation on the ground
can  change very  rapidly, and you have  to expect everything  to  be rather
fluid. The more you  practice, the more flexible you can  be.  We call  this
stage of planning and preparation "walk  through, talk through," and operate
a  Chinese parliament  while we're doing  it. Everybody, regardless of rank,
has the right to contribute his own ideas and rip to shreds those of others.
     We practiced various kinds of LUP because we weren't sure of the lie of
the ground.  The terrain might be  as flat as a pancake, in which case  we'd
LUP in  two groups of four that gave each other mutual support. We discussed
the way we would communicate between the two groups--whether  it would be by
com ms cord, which is simply a  stretch of string that  can be pulled in the
event of a major drama, or by field telephone, a small handset attached to a
piece  of  two  flex D10 wire running along to the next position. In case we
decided to go ahead with the landline, we practiced  running the D10 out and
how we were actually going to speak. Legs went off and came back with a pair
of electronic  field telephones  that even he wasn't familiar with. They had
been running from one office to another between Portakabins before he nicked
them. We sat with them like children with  a new Fisher-Price  toy, pressing
this, pushing that. "What's this do then? What if I push this?"
     The priority when filling a bergen is "equipment to task"--in our case,
ordnance and equipment that could help us to place or deliver that ordnance.
Next  came  the  essentials  to  enable  you  to  survive--water  and  food,
trauma-management equipment, and, for this op, NBC protection.
     The equipment in  our berg ens was what we  would need on the ground to
operate. However,  radio batteries  run down  and,  along  with  many  other
things,  would  have  to  be  replaced   during  our  two  weeks   of  being
self-sufficient. Therefore more  equipment had to be taken along and cached,
simply to resupply the berg ens This was  what was in the  jerricans and two
sandbags,  one  containing more  NEC  kit,  the  other  more food  plus  any
batteries and odds and sods.
     It  added  up  to an  awesome  weight of  kit.  Vince was in charge  of
distribution. Different types of  equipment have  to be evenly placed in the
patrol. If  all the explosives were placed in one bergen and  that was lost,
for  whatever  reason,  we  would  then lose  our  attack  capability  using
explosives.  In the Falklands, the  task  force's entire supply of Mars bars
was  sent on  one ship, and everybody  was  flapping in case  it  sank. They
should have  got  Vince to organize it. Besides  the tactical considerations
behind equal  distribution, people  want  and  expect  equal loads,  whether
they're 5'2" or  6'3". We have a  scale that weighs  up  to 200  Lb,  and it
showed that we were carrying 154 Lb per man in our berg ens and belt kit. On
top  of that  we had a 5gallon  jerrican  of  water each--another 40  Lb. We
carried our NEC kit and  cache rations, which weighed yet another  15 Lb, in
two sandbags  that had been tied together to  form  saddlebags that could go
around  our necks or  over  our  shoulders.  The  total weight  per  man was
therefore  209  Lb,  the weight  of a 15-stone  man. Everybody packed  their
equipment the way they wanted. There's no set way of doing  this, as long as
you've got it  and can use it. The only  "must" was the patrol radio,  which
always goes on  top of the signaler's bergen so that it can be  retrieved by
anybody in a contact.
     Belt  kit consists of  ammunition and basic survival requisites--water,
food, and trauma-care equipment, plus personal goodies. For this op we would
also take TACBEs in  our belt kit, plus  cam netting to provide cover  if we
couldn't  find  any  natural, and  digging tools to  unearth  the  cables if
necessary. Your belt  kit should never come off you, but if it does it  must
never be  more than  an arm's length  away. At  night  you must always  have
physical contact with it. If it's off, you sleep on top of it. The same goes
for your weapon.
     The best method of moving the equipment proved  to be a shuttle service
in two groups  of  four,  with four  giving the  protection,  four doing the
humping,  and  then  changing around. It  was hard work,  and I  didn't look
forward  to the 12  mile tab  that first night--or maybe two--from  the heli
drop-off  to the MSR. We certainly wouldn't practice  carrying it now:  that
would be a bit like practicing being wet, cold,  and hungry,  which wouldn't
achieve anything.
     We did practice  getting off the  aircraft,  and  the actions we  would
carry out if there was  a compromise  as  it was  happening or the heli  was
     Everything now was  task-oriented.  If  you  weren't  physically  doing
something to  prepare for it,  you  were thinking about  it.  As we  "walked
through,  talked   through,"  I  could  see  the  concentration   etched  on
everybody's face.
     We were getting centrally fed, and the  cooks were sweating their butts
off for us. Most of the Regiment had already disappeared on tasks, but there
were enough blokes left to  pack the cook house and slag each other off. The
boys in A Squadron  had given themselves the most outrageous crew cuts right
down to the bone. They had suntanned faces in front and sparkly  white domes
behind. Some of  them  were the real Mr. Guccis, the lounge lizards downtown
of a  Friday, and  there they were with the world's worst haircuts, no doubt
desperately  praying  the war was going to last long enough  for it to  grow
     Because a  lot of Regiment administration was also being run centrally,
I kept bumping  into people that I hadn't seen for a  long time. You'd  give
them a good slagging, see  what reading  material they had, then nick it. It
was a  really nice time.  People were  more  sociable than  usual,  probably
because we were out of the way, there were no distractions, just  the job at
hand. Everybody was euphoric. Not since the Second World War and the days of
David Stirling had there been  so  much of the Regiment together at any  one
time in one theater.
     We had some  very  nasty injections at  one  stage  against  one of the
biological  warfare  agents it was  thought Saddam Hussein  might  use.  The
theory was that you got one injection, then waited a couple of days and went
back  for another, but  the majority of us were out  of  the game after  the
first jab. It  was horrendous: our arms came  up like balloons, so we didn't
go back.
     We were told on the 18th that we were  going to move forward to another
location, an airfield,  from where  we would mount our operations. We sorted
out our personal  kit so  that  if it had  to be  sent  to our  next  of kin
anything  upsetting or pornographic had been removed. This would be done  by
the blokes  in  the squadron as well,  to  make sure your  rubber fetish was
never  made  public. To make  less  drama for your  family  you usually  put
military  kit in one bag and personal effects in  another. We labeled it and
handed it in to the squadron quartermaster sergeant.
     We flew  out from the operating  base  on a C130  that was packed  with
pinkies and mountains of kit. It was tactical, low-level flying, even though
we were still in Saudi airspace. There was too much noise for talking. I put
on a pair of ear defenders and got  my head  down. It was pitch-dark when we
landed at the large  Coalition airbase and started to  unload the kit. Noise
was constant and earsplitting. Aircraft of all types took  off and landed on
the   brightly  lit   runway--everything   from  spotter  aircraft  to   A10
     We were much closer to the Iraqi border here, and I noticed that it was
much chillier  than we had been used  to. You definitely needed  a jumper or
smock  to  keep yourself warm, even with the work of unloading.  We laid out
our  sleeping bags on the grass  under the palm trees and got a  brew  going
from our belt  kit. I was lying  on  my back looking up at the  stars when I
heard  a noise  that started as low, distant thunder and then grew  until it
filled  the  sky. Wave  after  wave  of  what looked like B52s were  passing
overhead enroute to Iraq. Everywhere you looked there were bombers. It could
have  been  a scene  from a  Second  World  War recruitment poster.  Tankers
brought out  their  lines and jets moved in  to  fill up. The sky roared for
five or six minutes. Such mighty,  heart-stirring  air  power dominating the
heavens--and  down below on the grass,  a  bunch of dickheads brewing up. We
had been self contained and self-obsessed, seeing nothing of the war but our
own preparations. Now it hit home: the Gulf War was not  just a small number
of men on a task; this was something fucking outrageously major. And bar one
more refuel, we were within striking distance of adding to the mayhem.
     Just before  first light Klaxons started wailing, and people ran in all
directions.  None of us had a clue  what was going on,  and we stayed put in
our sleeping bags.
     "Get  in the shelter!"  somebody  yelled, but it was  too warm where we
were. Nobody budged,  and quite  rightly  so. If somebody  wanted us to know
what  was  going on,  they'd come and tell us. Eventually somebody  shouted,
"Scud!"  and we jumped. We'd just about got to our feet when the order  came
to stand down.
     Every hour on the hour during  the day, somebody  would tune  in to the
BBC  World  Service. At certain times you'd hear  the signature tune  of the
Archers as well. When you're away there's always somebody who's listening to
the everyday tale of country folk, even if they will not admit it.
     We were told  we were  going in that night. It was quite a relief. We'd
got to the airfield with only what we stood up in.
     In the afternoon  I  gave a formal  set of  orders. Everybody  who  was
involved in the task was present--all members  of the  patrol; the  squadron
OC; the OPS officer who oversees all the squadron's operations.
     After I had delivered them verbally, the orders would be handed over to
the  operations  center.  They  would  stay  there  until  the  mission  was
completed,  so  that if anything went wrong,  everybody  would  know what  I
wanted to happen. If we ought to have been at point A by day 4, for example,
and we weren't, they'd know that I wanted a fast jet flying  over so I could
make contact by TACBE.
     The top  of each orders  sheet is  overprinted with the  words Remember
Need to Know to remind you of OP  SEC  It's critically important that nobody
should know  anything that does not concern  him directly.  The  pilots, for
example, would not attend the orders.
     I started  by describing the ground we were going to cover. You have to
explain your  orders as if nobody's got a  clue  what's going on--so in this
case I started  by pointing  out where Iraq was and which countries bordered
it. Then you go into the area  in detail, which for us was  the bend in  the
MSR.  I  described  the  lie of  the  ground  and  the  little topographical
information I had. Everything that I knew, they had to know.
     Next I  gave  times of  first and last  light, the moon states, and the
weather forecast. I had been confidently informed by the met blokes that the
weather should be cool and dry. Weather information is important because if,
for example, you have been briefed in the orders that the prevailing wind is
from the  northeast, you  can  use  that information to help  you with  your
navigation.  Since the weather was  still forecast as fairly clement for the
duration  of our mission, we had again  elected  to  leave our sleeping bags
behind. Not that there would have been any room to take them anyway.
     I now gave the Situation phase of the  orders. I would normally tell at
this  point  everything I  knew about the enemy that  concerned us--weapons,
morale, composition, and strengths, and so on--but the intelligence was very
scanty. I  would also  normally mention the location of any  friendly forces
and how they could help us, but for our op there was nothing to tell.
     Next was  the mission statement, which I repeated twice. It was just as
the OC had given it to us in  the briefing room:  one, to locate and destroy
the landline in the area of the  northern MSR, and two, to find and  destroy
     Now  came Execution, the  real meat  of the orders-how we were actually
going to  carry out the mission. I gave a general outline, broken down  into
phases, a bit like telling a story.
     "Phase  1 will be the infiltration, which will be by the Chinook. Phase
2 will be moving up to the LUP-cum cache area. Phase 3  will be LUP routine.
Phase 4 will be  the recce, then target attack on the landline. Phase 5 will
be the  actions on  Scud  location.  Phase 6 will  be the  exfiltration,  or
resupply and re tasking
     Then, for each phase, I would go into the  detail of how we  were going
to do it. This has  to be  as detailed as possible to eliminate  gray areas.
After  every phase I then  gave  the "actions on"--for instance, actions  on
compromise during the drop-off,  if  the patrol came under fire just as  the
heli.took off again.  Then  people  would know what  I wanted to happen when
there was no drama, and they'd also know what needed to happen if there was.
     That was  all  very  fine in theory, of  course, but for each  of these
actions on, you also need to describe every detail of how you want things to
be done.  All of this had to be talked about and  worked  out beforehand and
then given  in the formal orders. Forward planning saves time and energy  on
the ground because people then know what  is required of  them. For example,
what happens if the  heli  is required to return to the patrol at some stage
to replace a damaged radio? When the heli lands do  we go around to the back
of the aircraft? Do we take the new radio out of the load  master side door?
How  do we actually call  the heli  in? What is the authentication code? The
answer to this one was that we'd give  a phonetic code, the letter Bravo, as
recognition. The  heli  pilot would know  that at a certain grid,  or  in  a
certain  area within  that grid, he was  going to  see us flashing Bravo  on
infrared.  He'd  be  looking  through his PNG  (passive  night goggles), and
because  I'd told him so, he'd know he would  land 15  feet to the left-hand
side  of the B when he saw it. Then, because he was landing on my right hand
side, all I'd have  to do was walk past the cockpit to the load master door,
which is behind the  cockpit  on the left-hand side on the Chinook, throw  a
radio  in,  and catch  the  radio  that they  threw  out. If  there were any
messages they'd grab my  arm  and  give them  to me on a bit of  paper.  The
exchange would be all over in a minute.
     It took about an hour and a half to go through all the details  of each
phase. Next were  coordinating instructions, the nitty-gritty  details  like
timings, grid references, RVs, locations of interest. These had already been
given but would be  said  again to confirm. This stage also included actions
on capture, and details of the E&E plan.
     I covered  service  support, which was an inventory of the  stores  and
equipment we were taking with  us.  And  finally  I described  the  chain of
command and signals --types of radio, frequencies, schedules, codes and code
words and any field signals that were unique to the task.
     "As I'm sure you all know by now," I said, "our call  sign is Bravo Two
Zero. The chain of command is myself as patrol commander and Vince as 2 i/c.
The rest of you can fight for it."
     It  was  now  the  patrol's  chance  to ask questions,  after  which we
synchronized watches.
     The air brief was given by  the pilot, since he  would  be  in  command
during the infil and exfil phases. He  showed  us a map of the route we were
going to  take, and talked at some  length  about the  likely  difficulty of
antiaircraft sites and attack  by Roland ground-to-air missiles. He told  us
what  he wanted to  happen in  the back  of the aircraft, and the actions on
crashing. I had talked to him  about this before  and was secretly glad that
he wanted us to split up, with  the aircrew and the  patrol taking their own
chances. To be  honest,  we wouldn't have wanted a bunch of aircrew with us,
and for some reason they  were not particularly keen to come with us anyway.
He spoke, too, about deconfliction, because there were going to be air raids
going in on  surrounding targets--a number of  fixed-launch sites were going
to be hosed down within 6 miles of our drop-off point. Our deconfliction was
arranged to enable us to  slip in  under these air strikes and use them  for
     The orders group ended at about 1100. Everybody now knew  what they had
to do, where they were doing it, and how they were going to do it.
     At  lunchtime, we were told that because  of deconfliction we might not
be able  to get in. However, we were  going to attempt  it anyway--you don't
know until  you try. We would refuel  just  short of the Saudi/ Iraq border,
then go over with full tanks. We did a final round of checks, loaded the kit
onto wagons, and ate as much fresh food as we could get down us.
     We  were eager to go. The  mood was very  much one of let's just get in
there and do it. We'd leave it  to the other  blokes  to run  round stealing
tents and kit and generally square everything away. The camp would be sorted
out by the time we returned.
     At 1800 we  climbed into the vehicles and drove across to  the Chinook.
It  was  all  rather casual,  with  blokes from  the squadron coming up  and
saying, "What  size are  those new boots of yours--you won't be needing them
again, will you?" At our first location four or five  of us  had nicked some
foam mattresses, operating on the  usual  principle:  if it's there and it's
shiny, take it. Now some of  the  other  patrols  started  coming  over  and
saying, "You won't be  needing it ever again,  will you, so you can leave it
for us." They accompanied it with the motion of digging our graves.
     Even the  RSM (Regimental Sergeant  Major) appeared. "Get in there,  do
the business, and come back." That was the extent of his brief.
     Bob suddenly remembered something. "I've fucked up," he said to a mate.
"I haven't completed  the will form.  My mum's name is down and I've  signed
it-you'll have to dig in my kit for her address. Can you make  sure it's all
sorted and handed in?"
     I  had  a quick  chat with the  pilots. They'd been  given sets of body
armor and were going through big decisions about what to do with it--whether
to sit on it so they didn't get their bollocks shot off, or actually wear it
so they didn't  get shot in the chest.  They came to  the conclusion that it
was better to wear it on  the  chest, because they  could live without their
     "Not that he has any," said the copilot, "as you will soon find out."
     It was still light and we could see the  downwash of the rotors kicking
up a fierce sandstorm as the helicopter took off. When the dust settled, all
we could see was blokes looking skywards and waving.
     We  flew  low-level across the  desert. At first we watched the ground,
but  there  wasn't much  to  see-just a  vast area of sand  and a few hills.
Dotted across the desert  there were peculiar circles that looked  like corn
circles  in  reverse--crops  growing up  rather than pushed  down. They were
horticultural sites  that  looked  from the  air like green sewage-treatment
plants, with large watering  arms turning constantly to irrigate the  crops.
They looked so out of place in the barren landscape.
     It was last light and  we were about 12  miles short of the border when
the pilot spoke into the headsets.
     "Get the blokes up to the window and have a look at this."
     Countless  aircraft  were  in  the  sky  a  thousand  feet   above  us.
Orchestrated  by AWACS,  they were  flying with split  second timing along a
complex network of  air corridors to avoid collision. Every one of  them had
its forward lights on. The sky was ablaze with light. It was like Star Wars,
all these different colored lights from different sizes of aircraft. We were
doing about 100 knots; they must  have been flying at 500 or 600. I wondered
if they knew about us. I wondered  if they were saying to themselves:  let's
hope we can do a good  job  so these guys can get in and do their  thing.  I
doubted it.
     Two fighters screamed down to check us out, then flew back up.
     "We're  5Ks short  of the border," the pilot said. "Watch  what happens
     As he  spoke,  and  as  if  a  single fuse  controlling  the  Blackpool
illuminations  had  blown, the sky  was suddenly pitch-black. Every aircraft
had dowsed its lights at once.
     We  landed in  inky blackness for a hot refuel, which meant staying  on
board with the rotors moving. We were going to receive the final "go" or "no
go" here regarding  the vital deconfliction, and as the  ground  crew loomed
out of the darkness, I watched anxiously for somebody to give an encouraging
signal. One of them looked at the pilot and revolved his hand: Turnaround.
     Another bloke ran up to the  pilot with  a  bit of paper  and pushed it
through the window.
     The pilot's voice came over our headsets a moment later: "It's a no go,
no go; we've got to go back."
     Dinger was straight on the intercom. "Well, fuck it, let's get over the
border anyway,  just to  say  we've been over  there--come on,  it's  just a
couple of Ks away: it  won't take long to get there and back. We need to get
over, just to stop the slagging when we return."
     But that wasn't the way the pilot saw it.  We stayed on the  ground for
another twenty  minutes  while  he did  his  checks  and  the refueling  was
completed; then we lifted off and headed south. Wagons  were waiting for us.
We unloaded all the kit and were taken to the half-squadron location,  which
by this time had been  moved to  the other side of the airfield.  People had
dug  shell  scrapes  and  covered them with ponchos and  bits  of board  and
cardboard to  keep out the wind. It looked like a  dossers' camp,  bodies in
little huddles everywhere, around hexy-block fires.
     The patrol were in  dark moods, not  only because of  the anticlimax of
not getting across the border,  but  also because we weren't  sure what  was
going to  happen  next. I was  doubly  unimpressed  because  I had  given my
mattress away.
     All  during  the day  of  the 20th  we  just  hung  loose,  waiting for
something to happen, waiting for a slot.
     We  checked the kit a couple more times and  tried to  make ourselves a
bit  of a home in  case we had  a long wait. We got some camouflage  netting
up--not from the  tactical  point of  view, because  the  airfield was in  a
secure area--but just to keep the wind off and give us some shade during the
day. It gives you an illusion of protection to be sheltered under something.
Once we had made ourselves  comfy, we  screamed  around  the place  in  LSVs
(light strike vehicles) and pinkies seeing what we would nick. The place was
a kleptomaniac's dream.
     We did some good exchanges with the Yanks. Our rations are far superior
to  the  American  MREs  (meals  ready  to eat), but theirs  do contain some
pleasant items --like bags of  M&M's and little  bottles of Tabasco sauce to
add a little je the sais quoi to the beef and dumplings. Another fine bit of
Yank  kit is the strong plastic spoon that comes with the  MRE pack. You can
burn a little hole through the back of it, put some string through, and keep
it in your pocket: an excellent, almost perfect racing spoon.
     Because our  foam mattresses had been whisked  away to a  better  world
during the abortive  flight,  we  tried  to get hold of  some comfy US issue
cots. The Americans had kit coming out of their ears, and bless their cotton
socks, they'd happily swap you a cot for a couple of boxes of rations.
     Little  America  was  on the  other  side  of  the  airfield. They  had
everything from  microwaves and  doughnut  machines to  Bart  Simpson videos
screening  twenty four hours a day. And why  not--the Yanks sure know how to
fight a  stylish  war.  Schoolkids  in the States  were sending big boxes of
goodies to the soldiers: pictures from 6-year-olds of a good guy with the US
flag, and a bad guy with the Iraqi flag,  and  the  world's supply of  soap,
toothpaste, writing material, combs, and antiperspirant. They were just left
open on tables in the canteen for people to pick what they wanted.
     The  Yanks could not have made us more welcome, and we were straight in
there, drinking frothy cappuccino and having a quick root through.  Needless
to say, we had most of it away.
     Some  of  the characters were  outrageous and  great  fun to  talk  to,
especially  some  of  the American pilots who I took  to  be  members of the
National Guard. They were all lawyers and sawmill managers in real life, big
old boys in their forties and  fifties, covered in badges  and  smoking huge
cigars, flying their Thunderbolts and whooping "Yeah boy!" all over the sky.
For some of them, this was their third war. They  were excellent people, and
they had amazing stories to tell. Listening to them was an education.
     During the next two days we went over the plan again. Now that we had a
bit more time, was there anything we could improve on? We talked and talked,
but we kept it the same.
     It  was frustration time, just  waiting, as if we were in racing blocks
and the starter had gone into a trance. I was looking forward  to the relief
of actually being on the ground.
     We had a chat with a  Jaguar pilot whose aircraft  had been stranded at
the airfield for several days. On his very first sortie he  had had to abort
because of problems with a generator.
     "I want to spend the rest of the war here," he said. "The slagging I'll
get when I fly back will be way out of control."
     We felt quite sorry for him. We knew how he felt.
     Finally, on the 21st, we got the okay to go in the following night.
     On the morning of the 22nd we woke at  first light. Straightaway Dinger
got a fag on.
     Stan, Dinger,  Mark,  and  I were all under one cam net,  surrounded by
rations and all sorts of boxes and plastic bags. In the middle  was a little
hexy-block fire for cooking.
     Stan got  a  brew going from  the comfort of his sleeping  bag.  Nobody
wanted to rise  and  shine  because  it  was  so  bloody cold. We  lay there
drinking  tea, gob  bing  off, and eating chocolate  from the  rations.  Our
beauty sleep had been ruined by another two Scud alerts during the night. We
were  sleeping  with  most  of  our  kit  on  anyway,  but  it  was a  major
embuggerance to have to pull  on your boots, flak jacket, and helmet and leg
it down to the slit trenches. Both times We only had to wait ten minutes for
the all clear.
     Dinger opened foil sachets of bangers and beans and got them on the go.
Three or four cups of tea and, in Dinger's  case, three cigarettes later, we
tuned in to the World Service. Wherever you are in  the  world, you'll learn
what's  going on from them before any other bugger tells you. We take  small
shortwave radios with  us on all operations and exercises anyway, because if
you're stuck in the  middle  of  the jungle, the  only link with the outside
world  you ever  get is  the  World Service. Everywhere  you  go, people are
always bent  over their  radios  tuning  in, because the  frequencies change
depending on the time of day. We were going to take them out on  this job as
well,  because the chances were that it was the first we'd know that the war
had  ended. Nobody would be able to tell us until we made  com ms  and  that
could  be the day after Saddam surrendered. We took the piss out of Dinger's
radio because it's  held together with bits  of  tape  and string. Everybody
else  had a digital one,  and  Dinger  still had his old steam-powered thing
that took an age to tune in.
     We had heard  rumors that there was going to be  some mail in that day,
our first load since arriving in Saudi. It would be rather nice to hear from
home before we went off.  I was in the process of buying a house with Jilly,
and I had to sign a form giving her power of attorney. I was hoping that was
going  to come through; otherwise,  there would be major dramas  for  her to
sort out if I got topped.
     The pilot and copilot  came over, and we had a final chat about stowing
the equipment. I went through the lost com ms routine and actions on contact
at the OOP again, to make doubly sure we were both clear in our minds.
     We spoke to the two loadies, lads in their twenties who  were obviously
great fans of Apocalypse Now,  because the  Chinook had guns  hanging off it
all over  the place. The only things  missing were the tiger-head emblems on
their helmets and Wagner's  "Ride  of  the  Valkyries"  coming  out of their
intercom  speakers.  For  them,  getting  across  the  border   was  a  once
in-a-lifetime opportunity. They were loving it.
     The pilots knew  of some more  Roland  positions and  had worked out  a
route  around  them, but from  the way the loadies  were  talking you'd have
thought they  actually wanted to be  attacked. They were gagging to  get  in
amongst it.  I  imagined it would be a  huge  anticlimax  for  them if  they
dropped us off and came back in one piece.
     I  checked my orders at  a  table on the  other  side  of the airfield,
undistracted.  Because the  first infil had been  aborted, I  would  have to
deliver  an  orders  group  all  over again  that  afternoon--not in as much
detail, but going over the main points.
     We waited for the elusive mail. The buzz finally went round that it had
arrived and was on the other side of the airfield about half a mile away. It
was 1730, just half an hour to  go before moving  off to the aircraft. Vince
and I got into one of the LSVs and screamed round and grabbed hold  of the B
Squadron bag.
     One of the  blokes received his poll  tax demand. Another was the lucky
recipient of an invitation to enter a
     Reader's Digest draw. I was luckier. I got two letters. One was from my
mother, the first  letter  from either of my  parents since I was maybe  17.
They didn't know I was  in the Gulf, but it must have been obvious. I didn't
have  time to read  it. If you're  in a rush, what you  can do is  slit  the
letters  open  so that they  appear  to have been read,  so as  not  to hurt
anybody's feelings  if you  don't return. I recognized an A4  envelope  from
Jilly. Inside were some toffees,  my favorite Pie 'n Mix from Woolies. Oddly
enough there were eight of them, one for each of us in the patrol. There was
also the power of attorney letter.
     The Last  Supper  is  quite  a big thing before  you go out  on  a job.
Everybody turns up and takes the piss.
     "Next time  I  see  you I'll be looking  down  as I'm filling you  in,"
somebody said, going through the motion of shoveling earth onto your grave.
     "Nice knowing you, wanker," somebody  else said. "What sort of bike you
got at home then? Anyone  here  to witness he's going to give me his bike if
he gets topped?"
     It was a very lighthearted atmosphere, and  people were willing to help
out  if  they  could  in  any preparation. At the same  time, another lot of
"fresh" turned up.  The regimental quartermaster  sergeant had got his hands
on   a  consignment  of  chops,  sausages,  mushrooms,  and  all  the  other
ingredients  of a good fry-up.  It was fantastic scoff,  but one unfortunate
outcome was that after  being on rations for so  long, it put us all in need
of an urgent shit.

     The  ground crew had  been up  all night re camouflaging the  Chinook a
splashy desert pattern that drew wolf whistles and applause from  the blokes
who'd come to see us off.
     It was time for passing  on last minute  messages again. I  saw my mate
Mick  and said:  "Any dramas, Eno  has got the  letters. Make sure  you look
after the escape map because it's signed by the squadron.  I don't want that
to go missing: it would be nice for Jilly."
     I overheard Vince saying: "Any drama, it's  down to you  to  make  sure
Dee's sorted out."
     Mick had a camera round his neck. "Do you want a picture?"
     "Madness not to," I said.
     We posed on  the  tailgate of the  Chinook for  the Bravo Two Zero team
     The blokes were busy taking the piss out of the aircrew, especially the
loadies.  One of them was a dead ringer for  Gary  Kemp from Spandau Ballet,
even down  to  the 1980s sideboards. Two or three blokes  from  the squadron
were  standing  by  a wagon doing the old  shu-wap, shu-wap routine, singing
"You are gold.. .." The poor lad was getting well embarrassed.
     Some  blokes  got together  and-practiced  doing  the  pallbearer  bit,
humming  the death march. Others did a takeoff of the Madness video "It must
be love," where  the singer  is standing over a grave  and the  undertaker's
jumping up and down and across measuring him.
     Interspersed with  the banter was the  odd muttering of  "See you soon"
and "Hope it all goes well."
     The aircrew came  round for a final quick chat in their body armor, and
we climbed aboard.
     Nobody flies Club Class in a  Chinook. The interior was spartan, a bare
hull with plastic coating over  the frame. There were no seats, just nonslip
flooring  to  sit  on. The  deck was littered  with sand and grease. A large
inboard tank had been  fitted to allow us to carry extra fuel. The stink  of
aviation  fuel and engines was overpowering, even at the back near the ramp.
It  was  like  sitting in  an oven. The  loadies  kept the  top half  of the
tailgate down to circulate air.
     The engines sparked up, coughing fearsome clouds of fumes to the  rear.
From our position on the ramp we saw blokes dropping their kecks and mooning
in the heat haze, and the Spandau Ballet gang were giving it  some again. As
the Chinook lifted, its downwash created a major sandstorm. By the time  the
dust  had settled we  had reached a hundred feet,  and soon all we could see
were the flashing headlights of the pinkies.
     It was hot and I started to sweat  and stink. I felt tired, mentally as
well  as  physically. So  many things  were  running  through  my  mind. The
infiltration worried me because we had no control over it: we'd just have to
sit  there and  hope for the best. I've never  liked  it when my life was in
somebody  else's  hands.  There were Roland antiaircraft  missiles along our
route, and the  bigger  the machine, the  bigger the chance of  getting shot
down. Chinooks are massive. There  was also the  added risk of getting hosed
down by our own aircraft, since we were going in with the cover of three air
     I looked forward to  getting on the ground, however. It felt good to be
in command of such a classic SAS task.  Everybody hopes for a major war once
in his life, and this was mine, accompanied  by a  gang that the rest of the
squadron was already calling the Foreign Legion.
     The berg ens were strapped down to stop them flying through the air and
landing on top of us  if the pilot  had  to take evasive action  or crashed.
Just  before  last  light, the loadies cracked cyalume  sticks and put  them
around the kit  so we could  see where it was, mainly to prevent injury. The
sticks are like the ones kids buy at fun fairs--a plastic tube that you bend
to crack the glass phials inside and bring  two chemicals together to make a
luminous mixture.
     I put  on a pair of headsets  and talked to the pilot while the rest of
the  blokes  rooted  through all  the R.A.F  kit,  sorting  out  the  crew's
sandwiches, chocolate, and bottles of mineral water.
     We  had  a brief recap  on the landing  scenarios.  If we  came into  a
contact as we landed, we should stay on the aircraft. If we were getting off
the aircraft, we  should jump back on. But if the heli had already taken off
and  we had a contact,  the Simplex radio gave us about a range of a mile to
talk to him and summon him back.
     "I'll just turn the aircraft and come screaming back in," he said, "and
you just get on it however you can, fuck all the kit."
     The  R.A.F  are sometimes thought of  as glorified taxi drivers, taking
you from point A to point B, but  they're  not: they're an integral  part of
any operation. For a pilot to bring in a Chinook like  that would be totally
outrageous. It's a big machine and an easy target, but he was  willing to do
it. Either he had  no idea what would be happening on the  ground, or he was
blase because that was his job. He obviously knew what he was talking about,
so he was blase\ And if he was willing to do it, I wouldn't give a damn: I'd
jump back in.
     As we were flying across Saudi, we started to appreciate the lie of the
ground. It looked like a brown billiard  table. I'd  been in the Middle East
lots of times, but I'd never seen anything like this.
     "We're on  Zanussi," Chris  said into his  headset, using the  Regiment
term for somebody who's so spaced out and weird you can't get  in touch with
him; he's on another planet.
     And Zanussi was what this looked  like--another world.  Our map studies
told us  the ground  was like this all the  way  up.  We were going  to have
problems, but it was too late to do anything about it. We were committed.
     Now and again there'd be a  bit of chat on the headphones as the pilots
talked to AWACS. I loved watching the two lo adie warlords getting ready for
the Big One, checking  their guns and hoping,  no doubt, that they would get
shot at soon.
     All  the time,  there  was  the deafening  zsh,  zsh, zsh of  the rotor
blades. Not much  was said between ourselves because of the noise. Everybody
was  just  pleased that they weren't  rushing around any  more, that we were
just  lying around on  the  kit drinking water or pissing  into one  of  the
bottles we'd  just emptied.  I  was  wondering if  my  life might  have been
different if I'd stayed at school and got my CSEs. I might have been sitting
up in the cockpit  now, chatting  away, looking forward  to a pie and a pint
later on.
     The front lo adie  door was  half open, like a stable door. Wind rushed
through it, cool and refreshing. The straps hanging  off the insides  of the
Chinook flapped and slapped in the gale.
     We got to the same refueling point as before. Again, the pilot kept the
rotors turning.  An engine  failure at this  stage would  mean canceling the
operation. We  stayed on the aircraft, but the back lo adie was straight off
into the darkness. The  Yanks, God bless  'em, have so  much kit  they  just
throw it at you. He returned with Hershey bars, doughnuts, and cans of Coke.
For  some unaccountable  reason,  the Yanks had also  given him  handfuls of
Biros and combs.
     We waited and waited. Bob and I jumped down and went  for a dump on the
side  of  the  tarmac about 100  feet  away.  When  we got back  the lo adie
motioned for me to put on my headsets.
     "We have the go," the pilot  said,  with just  the faintest  detectable
hint of excitement in his voice.
     We started to lose altitude.
     "We're over the  border," the pilot  said matter-of factly I passed the
message on. The blokes started putting their webbing on.
     Now the aircrew really started earning their money. The banter stopped.
They  were working  with night viewing goggles, screaming along  at 80 knots
just  70  feet off the ground. The rotor blades had a large diameter  and we
knew from the map  that we  were flying in amongst a lot  of power lines and
obstructions. One lo  adie  looked out the front  at the forward blades, and
the  other did the same at the rear.  The copilot continuously monitored the
instruments;  the pilot flew  by visual and  instructions  received from the
rest of the crew.
     The  exchange  between pilot, copilot, and loadies was  nonstop as they
flew low between features. The tone of the voices was reassuring. Everything
was well rehearsed and  well  practiced. It was all  so  matter-of fact they
could have been in a simulator.
     Copilot: "100 feet  ... 80 feet ...  80 feet." Pilot:  "Roger that,  80
feet." Copilot: "Power lines one mile." Pilot: "Roger, power lines one mile.
Pulling up." Copilot: "120 ... 150 ... 180  ... 200. That's half a mile. 500
feet now." Pilot: "500 feet. I have the lines visual .. . over we go-"
     Loadie: "Clear." Pilot: "Okay, going  lower." Copilot: "150 ... 120 ...
80  feet. 90 knots." Pilot: "Roger, staying at 80 feet,  90 knots." Copilot:
"Reentrant  left, one  mile." Pilot:  "Roger  that, I  have a building to my
right."  Loadie: "Roger that, building right." Copilot: "80 feet.  90 knots.
Power lines five  miles." Pilot: "Roger that, five miles.  Breaking  right."
The loadies were looking  at the  ground below as well. Apart  from watching
for obstructions, they checked for any "incoming."
     Copilot:  "80  feet.  Metal road coming up,  two miles."  Pilot: "Roger
that. Metal road, two miles." Copilot: "One mile to go. That's 100 knots, 80
feet."  At anything below 80  feet the  blades would  hit the ground as  the
aircraft turned. Meanwhile, the load  masters were looking  for obstructions
and trying to ensure the blades had enough  room  to rotate as we hugged any
feature that would give the heli some protection.
     Pilot: "Break my  right now. That's  nice." Copilot: "Right, that's  70
foot, 100 knots. 70 foot, 90 knots."
     We had to cross a major obstruction that ran east west across this part
of the country.
     Copilot: "Okay, that's the dual carriage way 5 miles."
     Pilot: "Let's go up. 200 foot." Copilot: "Okay, got it visual."
     Us passengers were just sitting there eating Hershey bars when all of a
sudden the front lo  adie manned his guns. We grabbed  our rifles and jumped
up as well. We didn't have a clue what was going on. There wouldn't  be much
we  could  do  because if  you  put  the barrel of  your gun  out  into  the
slipstream, it's like putting  your hand out of a car traveling  at 100 mph.
We could have done jack shit really, but we felt we had to help him.
     There wasn't  actually a drama. It was just that  we  were getting near
the road and the lo adie was hoping that somebody was going to fire at us so
he could have a pop back.
     It was  the main carriage way between Baghdad and Jordan. We crossed it
at 500 feet. There were a lot  of lights from convoys, but we were unlit and
they certainly couldn't hear us. It was our first sight of the enemy.
     Sighting the road gave us a location fix  because we knew exactly where
it was on the map. I  was just trying to work out how much longer we'd be in
the air when I heard a Klaxon.
     Dinger and I both had headsets on, and we looked at  one another as  we
listened to the crew.
     "Break left! Break right!"
     All hell was let loose. The  helicopter did severe swings  to  the left
and right.
     The loadies jumped around, torches  on,  pressing  buttons all over the
place as chaff was fired off.
     The  pilots knew  where most of  the Rolands  were,  but they obviously
hadn't known about this one.  The ground-to-air missile had "illuminated" us
and  set off the inboard warnings. To  complicate  matters,  we  were  going
fairly slowly when it locked on.
     I saw  the expression on  Dinger's face  in  the glow  of  the  cyalume
sticks. We'd been lulled into a false sense of security listening to all the
confident banter.  Now I had the feeling  you get when  you're driving a car
and  you  glance  down for a moment  and  look back  up  and find  that  the
situation ahead has suddenly changed and you have to jump on  the brakes.  I
didn't know if the missile had actually fired, or locked on, or what.
     "Fuck this!" he said. "If it's going to happen, I don't fucking want to
hear it!"
     Simultaneously,  we threw our  headsets on the  floor.  I  got down and
crunched up into a ball, ready to accept the landing.
     The pilot threw the aircraft  all over the sky. The engines groaned and
strained as it did its gymnastics.
     The  Chinook  leveled  out  and flew straight ahead. The  look  on  the
loadies' faces told us that we'd got away with it.
     I put the headphones back on and said, "What the fuck was that?"
     "Probably a Roland, who knows? Not the  best of things. It's all  right
for you lot: we've got to come back this way."
     I wanted to  get off  this aircraft and be  back  in control of my  own
destiny. It's nice getting chauffeured to a place, but not like this. And it
wasn't  over  yet.  If the Iraqis on the  ground  reported a lock-on,  their
aircraft might  come  looking for us. Nobody knew if the Iraqis were getting
aircraft into the sky,  or if they had night flying capability, but you have
to assume the worst scenario. I was sweating like a rapist.
     Half  an hour later, the pilot  gave  us a  two-minute warning that  we
would be landing. I held up two fingers  to  the blokes, the same warning as
for a parachute drop. The rear lo adie started to undo the straps  that held
down the kit. The red glow from the penlight torch that he held in his mouth
made him look like the devil at work.
     Four  of  us  had 203s, the American M16 Armalite rifle with a  grenade
launcher attached that fires  a 40mm  bomb  that  looks like a large, stubby
bullet;  the others had Minimis, a light machine gun. For  our purposes, the
Armalite is a  superior weapon to  the Army's new  SA80. It's lighter and is
very easy to clean  and maintain. It's a good,  simple weapon that has  been
around in different variants since Vietnam days. The Regiment tried SASOs in
jungle  training when they came  out, and found it  not best suited  to  its
requirements. With the M16 everything's nice  and clean; there are no little
bits and pieces sticking out.  The safety catch is very  simple  and can  be
operated with the  thumb--with the SA80 you have to use your trigger finger,
which is madness. If you're in close country with the M16, you can flick the
safety  catch  off easily with your thumb, and your  finger  is still on the
trigger. What's more, if the safety catch will go to Automatic  on your M16,
you  know  it's made ready:  this means it is cocked, with  a round  in  the
chamber.  You  see people patrolling with  their thumbs checking the  safety
catch  every few minutes; the last thing they want is  a negligent discharge
within earshot of the enemy.
     The   M16   has   a  quiet   safety  catch--another   plus   if  you're
patrolling--and there are no parts to go rusty. If rifles were cars, instead
of going for a Ford Sierra 4x4 --good, reliable,  tested, and enjoyed by the
people who drive them--in the SA80  the Army  went for a Rolls-Royce. But at
the  stage when it was first brought into  service, it was still a prototype
Rolls-Royce, and there were plenty of teething  problems. In my  opinion the
one and only drawback with a 203 is that you can't put a bayonet  on because
of the grenade launcher underneath.
     We didn't have slings on the M16s. A  sling means a rifle is going over
your shoulder: on operations, why would you want to have  a weapon  over the
shoulder rather than in your hands and ready to fire? When you patrol with a
weapon you always move  with both hands on it and the butt in your shoulder.
What's the point of having it if you can't bring it to bear quickly?
     I'm not interested in how or where a weapon is made, as long as it does
the  job  it needs  to  do and I know how to use  it.  As  long as  it fires
ammunition and you've  got lots of it,  that's all you  should  be concerned
     Weapons are only as good as their handlers, of course. There's a lot of
inbred rivalry between the blokes when it comes to  live  firing drills. All
our weapon training is live firing, and  it has to be that way  because only
then  do  you  get a sense of  realism and perspective.  In a firefight, the
awesome noise will impair  your ability to  act if you're not well and truly
used to it. An Armalite sounds surprisingly tinny when it fires, and there's
not much kick. You tend to hear other people's weapons rather than your own.
When  the  40mm bomb fires, you just hear a  pop; there's  no  explosion  or
     We had four Minimis, which are 5.56 light-support machine guns They can
take belted ammunition in disintegrating link in  boxes of  200, or ordinary
magazines. The weapon  is so light that  it can be used in the attack like a
rifle as well as giving support fire, and it has a fearsome rate of fire. It
has  a  bipod  to guarantee  good,  accurate automatic  fire if  needed. The
plastic  prepacked boxes  of ammo  for  the weapon  are not  its best design
feature. As you're  patrolling,  the  box is across your body; it  can  bang
against you  and fall  off, but you just have to  guard against it.  Another
problem can be that the  rounds are not completely packed  in  the boxes and
you  get a  rhythmic,  banging noise,  which is bad news at night  as  noise
travels more easily.  Each man  in the patrol also carried a disposable 66mm
rocket.  American-made, the 66 is  designed for infantry antitank  use. It's
just over two foot  long and consists  of two  tubes inside each  other. You
pull  the two apart and the inner tube contains the rocket, all ready to go.
As you pull it apart, the sights pop up.
     You  just fire the  weapon and  throw  it away. It's good  because it's
simple. The simpler something is, the more  chance there is that it'll work.
The round has a shaped charge on the end, which is designed to punch through
armor. The fuse arms itself after about 30 feet; even  if you just graze the
target, it blows up. The 66 doesn't explode in a big ball of fire  as in the
movies. HE never does that unless there is a secondary explosion.
     We  carried  white phos grenades  as well as the ordinary L2  explosive
grenade. Phosphorus burns  fiercely and  lays down a rather good smokescreen
if you need time to get away.
     Grenades no longer have the old pineapple  shape  that  people tend  to
think of. White phos is cylindrical, with  the letters WP written across it.
The L2  is  more egg  shaped and consists  of tightly  wound wire around  an
explosive charge. We splay the pins even more than they already  are so that
it takes more pressure to extract them. We also put  masking tape around the
grenade to  hold the  handle  down as an extra  precaution in case there's a
drama with  the pin. White phos is not much used in training because it's so
dangerous.  If  you get it on you, you  have to pour  water very slowly from
your water bottle to stop it getting oxygen, then pick it off. If you're not
successful, it's not a nice way to die.
     We had at least 10 magazines each, 12 40mm bombs, L2 and phos grenades,
and a  66. The four Minimi gunners had more  than 600  rounds each,  plus  6
loaded mags. For an 8-man patrol it was a fearsome amount of firepower.
     Those of us with 203s checked there was a bomb loaded. Bob was checking
that the belts  of ammunition for  his Minimi weren't kinked--the  secret of
belt-fed  ammunition  is  that  it  goes into  the weapon smoothly.  If it's
twisted,  you'll get  a stoppage. I saw Vince checking the box of ammunition
that  clips on to  the side of the weapon to make  sure it was not going  to
fall off. His gang were going to provide all-round cover  by moving straight
out to  points  just beyond  the wash of the aircraft. As they were  running
out, the rest of us would be throwing the kit off the tailgate as fast as we
     Stan  checked  his white  phos  to  make sure  it  was easy to get  at.
Everybody was mentally  adjusting himself ready to go. Blokes jumped up  and
down to check that everything was comfy. You do simple things like undo your
trousers, pull them up, ruck everything  in,  redo them,  tighten your belt,
make  sure your belt kit is comfortable, make sure  your pouches and buttons
are  done up.  Then you check  and recheck  that  you've  got everything and
haven't left anything on the floor.
     I could tell by the grind of the blades that  the  heli was maneuvering
close to the ground. The  tailgate started to  lower. I  peered  out. You're
incredibly vulnerable during the landing. The enemy  could be  firing at the
aircraft, but because of  the engine noise you  wouldn't know until you were
on the ground.  The ramp came down more. The landscape was a black-and-white
negative under the quarter moon. We were in a small wadi with a 13-foot rise
either side. Clouds of dust flew up,  and Vince and his gang moved onto  the
tailgate, weapons at the ready. There was a strong smell of  fuel. The noise
was deafening.
     The  aircraft was  still a few feet off the ground when they jumped. If
there was a contact,  we wouldn't  know  about it until we saw them  jumping
straight back on.
     The  pilot collapsed the  Chinook  the  last  couple of  feet onto  the
ground.  We hurled  the kit,  and Stan, Dinger, and Mark  jumped after it. I
stayed on board while the lo adie went across the floor with a cyalume stick
in his hand in a last-minute sweep. The noise of the rotors increased, and I
felt the heli lift  its weight off the undercarriage. I waited.  It's always
worth the extra ten seconds it takes to make sure, rather than discover when
the heli  has  gone that  you've  only  picked up  half the  equipment.  The
balance, as ever, is between speed and doing the job correctly.
     The lo adie gave the thumbs up and said something into his headset. The
aircraft  started to lift and I jumped. I hit the  ground and looked up. The
heli was  climbing fast with  the ramp  still closing. Within seconds it was
gone. It was 2100 and we were on our own.
     We were on a dried-up riverbed. To the  east was flatness  and dark. To
the west, the same.
     The night  sky  was crystal clear,  and all  the stars were out. It was
absolutely beautiful. I  could see my breath. It was colder than we had been
used to. There was a definite chill in the  air. Sweat ran down the side  of
my face, and I started to shiver.
     Eyes take a long time to adjust  in darkness. The  cones  in  your eyes
enable you to see in the daytime, giving color  and  perception. But they're
no  good at night.  What takes  over then are the rods  on  the edge of your
irises.  They are angled at  45 degrees  because of the convex  shape of the
eye, so if you  look straight at something at night you don't really see it:
it's a haze. You have to look above it or around it so you can line up these
rods, which then will  give you a picture. It takes  forty minutes or so for
them to become fully effective, but you  start to see better after five. And
what you see when you land and what you see those five minutes later are two
very different things.
     Vince  with his hoods was still  out  giving  cover. They had  gone out
about 30 meters to the  edge of the rise of the wadi and were  looking over.
We moved  off to the side to make a more secure area. It took each of us two
trips to ferry the berg ens jerricans, and sandbags.
     Mark got out Magellan and took a fix. He squinted at  it with  one eye.
Even small amounts of light can  wreck  your  night vision, and  the process
must  start  all over again. If you have to look at something, you close the
eye that you aim with, the "master eye," and  look with the other. Therefore
you  can still  have 50  percent night vision, and it's in the eye that does
the business.
     We lay in all-round defense, covering  the whole  360degree arc. We did
nothing, absolutely nothing, for  the next ten minutes.  You've  come off  a
noisy, smelly aircraft, and  there's been a frenzy of activity.  You have to
give your body  a chance  to tune in  to your new environment. You  have  to
adjust  to  the sounds and  smells and sights, and changes  in  climate  and
terrain. When you're tracking people in the jungle you do the same: you stop
every so  often and  look and listen. It happens in  ordinary life, too. You
feel more at ease in a strange house after you've been in it a little while.
People indigenous to an area can sense instinctively if the mood is ugly and
there's going to be trouble; a tourist will bumble straight into it.
     We needed to confirm our position because there's  often  a  difference
between where  you want to  be and  where the R.A.F put  you. Once you  know
where  you  are, you  make sure  that  everybody  else  in the patrol knows.
Passage of information is vital; it's no good just the  leader having it. We
were in  fact  where  we wanted to  be,  which  was a shame, because  now we
couldn't slag the R.A.F when we got back.
     The  ground was featureless. It was hard bedrock  with about two inches
of rubbly shale over the top.  It looked alien and desolate, like the set of
Dr. Who. We could have been on  the  moon. I'd  been in the Middle East many
times on different tasks, and I  thought I was familiar with the ground, but
this was new to me. My ears strained as a dog barked in the distance.
     We were very isolated, but we were a big gang, we  had more weapons and
ammunition than you could shake a  stick at, and we were doing what we  were
paid to do.
     Bombing  raids  were going on  about 10-20  miles to our  east  and our
northeast. I saw  tracer  going up and  flashes on the horizon, and  seconds
later I heard the muffled sound of explosions.
     Silhouetted in one of  the flashes I saw  a plantation about a mile  to
our east. It shouldn't have been  there, but it was--trees, a water tower, a
building. Now I knew where the barking had come  from. More dogs sparked up.
They  would  have  heard  the  Chinook, but  as far  as any  population were
concerned a helicopter's  a  helicopter. Problems would  only come  if there
were troops stationed there.
     I worried  about how good the rest of  our information  was. But at the
end of the day we were  there now: there wasn't a lot we could do about  it.
We lay waiting  for signs of cars starting up but nothing happened. I looked
beyond the plantation. I seemed to be staring into infinity.
     I watched the tracer going up. I  couldn't see any aircraft, but it was
a wonderful,  comforting feeling  all the same. I  had the feeling they were
doing it just for us.
     "Fuck it, let's get on with it," Mark said quietly.
     I  got to my feet, and  suddenly, to the west,  the earth  erupted with
noise and there was a blinding light in the sky.
     "Fucking hell, what's that?" Mark whispered.
     Where it had sprung from I didn't have a clue. All I knew was that we'd
just been on the ground ten  minutes and were  about to have  a major drama.
There was  no way the heli could be  one of  ours.  For a start, it wouldn't
have had its searchlight on like that. Whoever it belonged to,  it looked as
if it was coming straight towards us.
     Jesus, how could the Iraqis be on to us so quickly?
     Could they have been  tracking the Chinook ever since we  entered their
     The light seemed  to keep coming and coming. Then I realized it  wasn't
coming towards us but going  upwards. The bright light wasn't a searchlight;
it was a fireball.
     "Scud!" I whispered.
     I could hear the sighs of relief.
     It was the first one any of us had seen being launched, and now that we
knew what  it was,  it looked just like an Apollo  moon shot, a big ball  of
exhaust flames about 6 miles away, burning straight up into the air until it
finally disappeared into the darkness.
     "Scud alley," "Scud triangle,"  both these  terms had  been used by the
media, and now here we were, right in the middle of it.
     Once everything had  settled down, I  went  up and whispered in Vince's
ear  for him to  call  the rest  of  the guns in.  There was  no  running or
rushing. Shape, shine, shadow,  silhouette, movement, and noise are  some of
the things that  will  always give  you away. Slow movement doesn't generate
noise or catch the eye so easily, which is why we patrol so slowly. Plus, if
you run and fall over and injure yourself, you'll screw everybody up.
     I told them exactly where we were, and  confirmed which way we would be
going, and confirmed the RV that was  forward  of  us. So  if there was  any
major drama between where we were now and our proposed cache area and we got
split up,  everybody  knew that for the  next twenty-four hours there  was a
meeting place  already set up.  They would go north,  eventually hit  a half
buried petroleum pipeline and follow that till they  hit a major  ridgeline,
and we'd meet  there. It had to be that vague  because anything more precise
would mean nothing to a bloke in the  middle of the desert  with just a  map
and  compass:  all the  map shows is  rock.  After  that,  and  for the next
twenty-four hours, the next RV would  be back at the  point  of  the landing
     Now  we  had to patrol up to the proposed cache area. We  did it  in  a
shuttle, as we had practiced, four  blokes ferrying  the kit, the other four
giving   protection,  then  swapping  over.   Because  we  were  patrolling,
everything had to be done tactically: we'd stop, check the ground ahead, and
every couple  of miles, when we  stopped for a  rest, the  4-man  protection
would go out; then  we'd check the kit to  make sure  that we hadn't dropped
anything, that all pouches were  still done up, and none of the sandbags had
     The  water  was  the worst because it  was  like carrying  the  world's
heaviest suitcase in  one hand.  I tried  mine on the top of my bergen until
the strain on my back got too  outrageous. But then, nobody said it would be
     Moving as quickly but as tactically as we could, we  had to  get to the
MSR well before first light to give us time to find somewhere  to cache  the
kit  and hide up.  In  my orders  I'd  put a cutoff time  of 0400  the  next
morning; even if we hadn't reached the proposed  cache area  by  then,  we'd
have  to start  finding an  LUP. That would give us an hour  and  a half  of
darkness to work in. The ground  worried me. If it  carried on like this  it
was going to be too flat and too  hard to  hide  up in. If we had  to lie in
open ground in broad daylight we'd stick out like the balls on a bulldog.
     We navigated by bearings, time, and distance. We had Magellan,  but  it
was only an aid. Patrolling  as we were was not a good time to use it. Apart
from  the fact  that it  could  not be  depended upon,  the machine  emitted
telltale light, and it would not  be tactical anyway for  the operator to be
looking at a machine rather than the ground.
     Every half hour or so we fixed a new ERV emergency rendezvous), a point
on the ground where we could regroup if we had a contact and had to withdraw
swiftly. If we came to a prominent  feature like a pile of old burial ruins,
the lead  man would indicate it  as the new ERV  by a circular motion of the
hand and this would be passed down the patrol.
     All the  time,  you keep  making appreciations. You've  got  to say  to
yourself: What if? What happens if we get an attack from the  front? Or from
the left? Where will I go for cover? Is this a good ambush point?  Where was
the last emergency RV? Who have I got in front of me?  Who have I got behind
me? You have to check  all the time  that you're not losing anyone.  And you
always have to cover your arcs and be conscious of the noise you're making.
     As you  patrol you start to get hot. When you stop you  get cold again.
You're sitting there  with all the  coldness down  your back and under  your
armpits, and your face starts to feel it. The  back of your  hair  starts to
get  that horrible, uncomfortable,  sticky feeling,  and the clothing around
your belt is  soaked. Then you move off again because you  want  to be warm.
You don't want to stop for too long because you don't want to freeze. You've
been like this  plenty of  times before, and you  know  that you'll  dry out
eventually, but that doesn't make it any less of a pain in the arse.
     We finally got into the area of the bend of the MSR at  about  0445. We
couldn't see  any lights  or vehicles  in  the  pitch-black.  We cached  the
equipment, and Vince's gang stayed to protect it. The rest  of us were going
to go forward for a recce to find a place to hide.
     "My cutoff time to be back here will be 0545," I whispered to Vince, my
mouth right against his ear so that the sound didn't carry.
     If  we failed  to  return  but they  knew  there hadn't  been a contact
because they hadn't heard any noise, we would meet at the patrol RV near the
oil pipeline. If we weren't at the patrol RV by  the twenty-four-hour cutoff
time, Vince was then to  move back to  the RV at the heli-landing site, then
wait a further  twenty-four hours before requesting an exfil. If  we weren't
there, he'd just have to get on the helicopter and go. They should also move
back to the helicopter RV if they heard a contact but it wasn't close enough
for them to give support.
     I  went through  the  actions  on return.  "I  will come  in  the  same
direction as I leave," I whispered to Vince, "and as I come in I'll approach
just on my own with my weapon in my right arm and walk in as a crucifix."
     I would  then come forward and  confirm with the  stag and go back  and
bring the other three in. I  would do all this on my own because as  well as
confirming that it was me, I would  want to confirm that it was safe to come
in--they might  have been bumped, and  the enemy could be waiting in ambush.
The other three  would  be  out supporting, so if  there was any drama, they
would lay down fire and I could withdraw to them.
     We set out on our recce patrol, and after about half an hour we found a
good site for the  LUP--a  watershed  where flash  floods over  thousands of
years had carved a small  reentrant about 15 feet high into the rock so that
there was  an overhang. We would be  in dead  ground, covered  from view and
with  limited cover  from  fire.  I couldn't believe our  luck. We patrolled
straight back to fetch the others.
     We  moved  all  the equipment into the  LUP. The  cave was divided by a
large  rock, so  we  centralized  the equipment and had the two gangs either
side. At last I felt  secure, even though the problem with finding an LUP at
night  is that in the  morning everything can  look  different. You can find
that what  you  thought  was the perfect LUP is  smack  in  the middle of  a
housing estate.
     Now was another period of stop, settle down, be quiet, listen to what's
going on, tune in to the  new environment. The ground did not look so  alien
now, and we were feeling more confident.
     It was  time  to get  some sleep.  There's  an  army  saying, "Whenever
there's a lull in the battle, get your head down," and it's true. You've got
to sleep whenever you can, because you never know  when you're  going to get
the opportunity again.
     There were two  men on stag, changing every two hours. They had to look
and listen. If anything came towards us, it was their job to warn us and get
us stood to. The rest  of  us slept  covering our arcs, so we'd just have to
roll over and start firing.
     More jets went  over  that night. We  saw flak  going  up  and  Baghdad
erupting to  our half right about 100 miles away. There were no incidents on
the ground.
     Just as it was coming up to first light, two of us moved out of the LUP
position  and checked that  we hadn't  left footprints on our way in  to the
LUP, dropped any kit, disturbed anything, or left any other "sign" to betray
us.  You  must   assume  that  everybody  is  better   at  everything   than
you--including tracking-and make your plans accordingly.
     We arranged our claymores  so that both men on  stag could see them and
their  field  of  view,  and  be  ready  to  detonate  them  with  hand-held
"clackers."  If the  stag saw or  heard movement, he'd wake  everybody else.
There wouldn't  be hectic running around, we'd just stand to. Everything  is
always done at a slow pace. You'd know if it had to be rushed because  you'd
hear  the  stag  firing.  If somebody  was  in a position to  be hit  with a
claymore, we  were in a position to  be compromised,  so it  was down to the
sentry whether or not he pushed the clackers. If they  came  as close as the
kill zone of the claymores,  which were positioned as  a protection  of last
resort, we'd just have to initiate the contact. But still the best weapon we
had was concealment.
     I went up onto the  dead ground to double-check.  Looking north towards
the MSR,  I saw a flat area of 2000  feet, then  a slight rise  of  about 15
feet, and then, another 1300 feet away, a plantation. Looking east and west,
the ground was flat as  far as the horizon. South, to my rear, I saw another
plantation  about  1500  meters away,  with a  water  tower  and  buildings.
According to the map and Bert's briefing these locations shouldn't have been
there, but they were, and they were far too close for comfort.
     I heard vehicles moving  along the as yet unconfirmed MSR, but that was
of no concern. The only way  anybody could see us was if  they were  on  the
opposite lip  looking  down. No  one on our side of  the wadi could  see  us
because of the overhang. They could only see us if we could see them.
     I  went  down and briefed everybody on what was above us. Only  one man
was  needed  on stag because from his  vantage point he could look down  the
wadi  as well as up on the lip. He had his back to us as I did the briefing,
covering his arcs.  I described what I'd seen  on the high ground  and  went
through our actions on if we had a contact during the day.
     It was time  to transmit  the  Sit  Rep (situation report)  to the FOB.
Until we  did, nobody knew where we were or  what state we were in. On  this
task  we would try to send a Sit Rep every day, telling them where we  were,
everything we had learned about the enemy in the area or done with them, our
future  intentions,  and any  other information. They would come back  to us
with instructions.
     As I  wrote it out, Legs prepared the radio. He encoded the message and
typed  it  in ready for transmission. The patrol  radio would transmit  in a
single, very short burst that was virtually  undetectable by  the enemy. The
burst would bounce off the ionosphere, and we would wait for some kind of an
     We got jack shit.
     Legs tried again and  again,  but nothing happened. It was annoying but
not desperate, because we had a  lost com ms procedure. The following night,
we'd  simply  go back  to  the  landing site  and RV with a heli at  0400 to
exchange the radios.
     For the rest  of that day  we  tried different antennas-everything from
sloping wire to half-wave dipole. All of us  were signals trained and we all
had a go, but without success.
     We  each did two hours' stag,  and  half  an  hour before last light we
stood to. The ideal conditions for an attack are just  before last light and
just before first light, so  it is  an SOP that everybody  is awake at those
times  and  everything  is packed  away ready  to go.  We got into  the fire
position with our  weapons and prepared our 66s, removing the top  cover and
opening up the tube so  it was  ready to fire.  Once last light had come, we
closed everything up again and got ready for our recce patrol.
     I left  with my gang  at 2100.  Our cutoff time was  to be 0500.  If we
weren't back by then, it  would  be because we'd had a drama--we'd got lost,
got  an injury,  or had  a contact, which  Vince's  lot should hear. If they
didn't hear a contact, they were to wait at the LUP until 2100 the following
night. If we weren't back  by then,  they were to  move  to the  heli RV. If
there was a contact, they were to move back to  the heli RV that  night, and
we'd  make  our way back  there as best  we  could,  to  get  there for  the
following 0400 pickup.
     Stan,  Dinger, Mark, and I  climbed  over the lip  of the wadi in total
blackness. The task was to confirm the position of the Main Supply Route and
to locate  the landline. It's no good just sitting there on top  of what you
think is your objective unless you have checked. One mile further on for all
we knew, there  could be the proper MSR, so it had to be physically checked.
We would  patrol in  an anticlockwise direction,  generally  heading  north,
using the lie of the ground, to see if we hit anything  else which resembled
the MSR.
     First, we needed to locate a marker that would guide us back to the LUP
if we  got lost.  We would take a  bearing due  north until we hit the other
side of the road, where we'd try to find a rock or  some other feature. Then
if we did get lost, we'd know that all we'd have to do was go along the high
ground, find the marker, and move due south back onto the watershed.
     It was going to be difficult to map-read because there were no definite
features. In most countries there's high ground  that you can take reference
points off, there are roads, or there are markers, and  it's all quite easy.
In the jungle, too, it's simple, because you've got  lots of rivers and  you
can  use  contour  lines. But here in  the  middle  of the desert there  was
absolutely bugger all, so it  was  all down  to bearings  and pacing  again,
backed up by Magellan.
     We found  a suitable marker, a large rock,  and started heading west on
our anticlockwise loop. Within minutes we spotted our first  location of the
night and  immediately heard a dog. Bedu throw their hand in at  night; when
the sun's down, they go to bed. So  if  a dog barks, they know there must be
something afoot. Within seconds, this one had been joined by two others.
     I had been the  first to hear  the  low  growling.  It  reminded me  of
patrolling in Northern Ireland.  You stop and assess what's  happening. Nine
times out of ten you're intruding on a dog's territory, and if you back off,
sit down, and just  wait for everything to settle down, it will. Our problem
was that we had to recce the location properly. The dogs could be part of  a
Scud site for all we knew.
     As we sat down we  pulled our fighting knives from their sheaths.  They
would be called upon to do the  business if the dogs came to investigate and
either started barking in earnest or  decided to  attack. Either  way,  we'd
kill  them. We'd take the  bodies with us, so that in the morning the owners
would  assume that  their  animals had run away  or wandered off. They would
find  it  strange, but  that would  be  the  best  we  could  make  of a bad
     We listened, waiting for  lights  as people  came to see  what the dogs
were barking at. Nothing  happened.  We started  to box around the position,
circumnavigating to see if we  could get  in another  way to confirm what it
was.  We  got  around  the  other  side and  found  it  was  just some local
population. There were  tents,  mud huts, Land  Cruisers, and a hash mash of
other vehicles, but no military indication. We got a fix on it with Magellan
so that when we returned to the LUP we could  inform the others, then headed
off  northwest  using  the  ground. We  wanted  to  avoid  until  later  the
plantation that we knew to be to our north.
     I was leading  when I saw something ahead. I stopped, looked, listened,
then slowly moved closer.
     Four tents and  vehicles were parked next to two S60 antiaircraft guns,
indicating  a  setup of about platoon strength.  All  was  quiet,  and there
didn't seem to  be any  stags. Mark  and  I  moved slowly forward. Again, we
stopped,  looked, listened. We  didn't  want  to  get right  on  top  of the
position, just close  enough to learn as much about  it as we could.  Nobody
was sleeping  on  the guns or in the vehicles.  The whole platoon  must have
been in the  tents. We heard men coughing. The location wasn't  an immediate
danger to  us, but what worried me was that  antiaircraft  guns are sited to
guard something. If it was just the MSR that would be no problem. The danger
was that it could be part of an armored battle group or whatever. Mark fixed
the position with Magellan, and we headed north.
     We  went  for 2 miles without encountering  anything, and  came to  the
conclusion that what we  had crossed earlier must indeed have been the  MSR.
Magellan gave our LUP position as a half mile north of  where  the  map said
the  MSR was, which was  nothing to worry about. The map stated  that roads,
pylons, and pipelines were only of approximate alignment.
     We now knew for sure that we had correctly found  the bend  in the MSR,
but unfortunately we also knew that the area was full  of population: we had
plantations north and south of  us, the civilians further down the road, and
an S60 site  to the northwest of  our LUP. From a tactical point of view, we
might as well have sited our LUP in the  middle of Piccadilly Circus. Still,
nobody said it would be easy.
     We moved back  to look around  the  buildings  at the plantation to the
north  of  the LUPI  had planned  to  look at this  last as it was the  most
dangerous location we knew about prior to the recce. We had a bit of a mince
around the plantation and found that it consisted of  just a water tower and
an unoccupied building  that sounded as  if it housed  an  irrigation  pump.
There  were no  vehicles,  no lights, no  signs of life,  so we were  fairly
pleased. It was clearly something that was tended rather than lived around.
     As we moved  back to the  LUP, we witnessed another  Scud launch to our
northwest,  about  3 miles  away. We seemed  to be in  the middle of a  mega
launch area. We were going to have a fluffy old time of it. Again, we got  a
     We  patrolled back towards  the LUP, found the marker,  and walked  due
south towards the wadi.  I approached, arms out in the crucifix position, as
I came up to the lip of the watershed.
     Bob  was on stag.  I stood  there and waited  for him  to come  up.  He
grinned at me, and  I went back and got the rest of the blokes. I checked my
watch. The patrol had lasted five hours.
     It wasn't worth briefing the blokes at this moment because those not on
stag  had  got  their heads down,  and  to  brief  everybody  at  night just
generates  noise. It was important, however, that everybody knew what we had
seen. Everything we had done  and seen, everybody  else had to know about. I
decided to wait until first light.
     The stag  stood  us to, and we covered our  arcs as  first light  came.
After  that, and before I did  the brief, I wanted to check the  dead ground
again, even though we'd covered it last night. I knew  we were definitely on
the MSR, but I wanted to look for  any  form  of  identification which would
give us the landlines. It was  also a personal thing; I wanted to check that
there had  been no changes above us. Shielded from sound by the walls of the
cave, we could have sat there with Genesis giving an open-air concert and we
wouldn't have heard a thing.
     Chris covered me while I  scrambled up the rocks  and peered  over  the
brim. It was the last time I'd risk doing this in daylight.
     I looked  northeast  and there, just on  the far edge of  the MSR, were
another  two S60s. They must have arrived during the  night. I could see two
wagons, tents,  blokes stretching  and coughing--all just 1000 feet from our
position. I couldn't believe it.  This was getting unreal. Our  recce patrol
must have missed them  by  about 150 feet.  I came down and told Chris, then
went to brief the rest of the patrol. Mark went up and had a quick squint to
confirm that I wasn't hallucinating.
     I  was not really impressed  by  this  development. It was quite  scary
stuff, because these characters were right on  top of us. They were going to
inhibit us badly.
     I  spread   out   the   map  and  showed   all  the  locations  we  had
discovered--including the new S60 sites. We spent the rest of the day trying
to transmit our Sit Rep again. The new S60s  were obviously there to protect
the MSR. There was  no reason, however, why they should  send  out  clearing
patrols.  They were  in their own  country  and they  had mutual support. We
reassured ourselves that we could only be compromised from the opposite lip,
and even then only if someone was literally standing on it, looking down.
     Again we all had a go with the radio,  but to no avail. Our lost com ms
contingency would  have come  into  effect by now, and the helicopter  would
have been briefed to meet us the following morning at 0400.
     There was no concern. We  were  in cover, and we were an 8-man fighting
patrol. When we met the aircraft we would get a one-for-one exchange, or get
on the aircraft and relocate.
     In my mind I  ran  through the heli RV procedure again. The pilot would
be coming in on NVG (night viewing goggles),  watching for a signal from  my
infrared torch. I would flash the letter Bravo as  a recognition  signal. He
would land 15 feet to my right, using  the light as his reference point. The
load  master door was just behind the pilot, and all I would have  to do was
walk up to it, put the radio in,  and receive the new radio that was  handed
to me. If there was any  message for  us, he would grab  hold of my arm  and
hand  me the written message. Or, if a longer message was involved, the ramp
would come down and  the lo adie  would come  and drag me round to the back.
The rest of the patrol would be out in all-round defense. If I had to go and
get them in, they knew the  drills. If I wanted to get us relocated, I would
grab  hold of the lo  adie and point to the rear of the ramp. The ramp would
then come down, and we'd all get on.
     And  that  was the plan.  No drama. We would  move  back that night and

     We'd been listening to vehicles bumbling up and down  the MSR  all day.
They posed no threat. Around mid-afternoon, however, we heard a young  voice
shout from no more than  150 feet away. The child hollered and yelled again;
then we heard the clatter of goats and the tinkle of a bell.
     It wasn't a problem. We couldn't be compromised unless we could see the
person on the other side of the lip. There was no other way that we could be
seen. I felt confident.
     The goats came closer. We were on hard routine, and everybody had their
belt kit  on and their weapons in their  hands. It  wasn't as if  we'd  been
startled in our sleeping bags or caught sunbathing. Just the same, I felt my
thumb creep towards the safety catch of my 203.
     The bell tinkled right above us. I looked up just as the head of a goat
appeared  on the  other  side.  I  felt  my jaw tighten  with  apprehension.
Everybody was rock still. Only our eyes were moving.
     More goats wandered onto the lip. Was the herder going to follow them?
     The  top  of  a  young  human  head  bobbed into  view. It  stopped and
swiveled. Then it came forward. I saw the profile of a small brown face. The
boy seemed preoccupied with something behind him. He  was  half looking over
his shoulder as he shuffled forwards. His neck and shoulders came into view,
then  his chest. He can't have been more  than a 3 feet from the edge of the
lip. He swung his head from  side to side, shouting at the goats and hitting
them with a long stick.
     I silently shouted at him not to look down.
     We still had a chance, as long as he kept looking the other way.
     Please, no eye-to-eye, just look at what you're doing .. .
     He turned his head and surveyed the scene.
     I slowly mouthed the words: Fuck .. . off!
     He looked down.
     Bastard! Shit!
     Our eyes met and held. I'd never  seen such a look of astonishment in a
child's eyes.
     Now what? He was rooted to the spot. The options raced through my mind.
     Do we top him?  Too much noise. Anyway,  what was the point? I wouldn't
want that on my conscience  for the rest of my life. Shit, I could have been
an Iraqi behind the lines  in Britain,  and that could have  been  Katie  up
     The boy started to run. My eyes  followed him, and I made my move. Mark
and Vince, too, were scrambling like men possessed in an attempt  to cut him
off. Just to get  him, that had  to be the first  priority. We  could decide
later what to do  with him--to tie him up and stuff his gob  with chocolate,
or whatever. But we could only go so far  without exposing ourselves  to the
S60 sites, and the child had  too much of a head start. He was gone, fucking
gone, hollering like a lunatic, running towards the guns.
     He  could do  a number of things. He might not tell anybody because  it
would  get him into  trouble-maybe  he shouldn't  have been in the  area. He
might tell his family  or friends, but only when  he  got home later. Or  he
might keep running and shouting all the way to the guns. I had to assume the
worst. So what?  They might  not  believe  him. They might come and  see for
themselves. Or  they  might wait for reinforcements. I  had to take  it that
they would inform others and then come after us. So what? If they discovered
us,  there would be a contact before dark. If they didn't discover us, there
would be a chance to evade under cover of darkness.
     We had picked our  LUP because it provided concealment from view--apart
from  the one place where  the boy  had gone and stood.  We certainly hadn't
picked it as a place to defend. It  was  an enclosed environment, at the top
of  a  watershed, with  nowhere to  go There was  no need  to  say anything:
everybody knew we'd have to take it as a compromise. Everything  happened in
quick time.  However, that wasn't to  say we  just  got our kit  on and ran,
because  that would  have been totally counterproductive. It's worth  taking
those extra few minutes to get yourself squared away.
     Everybody rammed chocolate down as well  as water. We didn't know  when
we would next be able to eat. We checked that our pouches were done up, that
the buttons were fastened  on  our map  pockets so the map didn't fall  out,
that our magazines were on correctly. Check, check, check.
     Vince put Stan and Bob out  with the Minimis.  As soon as two other men
were ready, they'd swap places and let the two stags  get  themselves sorted
out. Everybody else automatically carried  out tasks that needed to be done.
Vince  went through the  cached kit.  He pulled out a jerrican of water  and
helped everybody fill their bottles. If we got into a contact, we were going
to lose our berg ens and all that they contained. People took great gulps to
get as much  water on  board  as they could,  draining  their  bottles, then
refilling.  Even if there was no  contact,  we  all  knew we  were in  for a
fearsome tab.
     We  checked our belt kit, making sure all pouches were done  up so that
we didn't lose anything as we ran. Mags on tight?  Check them  again. Safety
catch on  and  weapon made  ready? Of  course they were but we checked  them
anyway. We closed down the two tubes of our 66s and slotted them together to
make them easy to carry. We didn't  bother to replace the end-caps or sling,
just slipped the weapon between our webbing straps, ready for quick use.
     We checked that  spare magazines were ready to pull  out. Pick them  up
the wrong way, and you  waste a precious second or  two turning them around.
Put them in your belt kit with the curve the right way up, and they're ready
to slap into place. A lot of people put a  tab of masking tape on the mag to
make it easier to pull out. When my mags were empty, I'd throw them down the
front of  my smock  for refilling later. We could  use the  rounds from  the
belts of the Minimi.
     All this took a  couple  of minutes, but it was  time better spent than
just getting up and running. They knew we were there, so why rush? The stags
would tell us if they were coming.
     Legs had got straight onto  the radio. He went  outrageous, running out
all the antennas,  trying different combinations that he hadn't been able to
try while we were concealed. Now we were  compromised,  he could do anything
he wanted. If the message got through,  they could send some fast jets over.
We could talk to the pilots on TACBE and get some fire down, which would all
be rather pleasant.
     Legs's water was done for him. While he was bent over, the radio blokes
opened his belt kit, took the water  bottles out, and  let him  drink before
they  filled them up again, and threw  more food  into his belt kit. When he
sensed that we'd run out of time, he dismantled the kit and packed it at the
top of his bergen.
     "Instructions  are in my right-hand map pocket in my trousers," he told
everybody. "Radio's on top of  my  bergen." All of it was a well-established
SOP  so that if he went down we'd be able to retrieve the equipment quickly,
but he was going by the book to ensure that everybody knew.
     When he was ready, Legs  replaced Bob on  stag.  There was  an  air  of
acceptance by everybody, the calm of well-practiced drills being followed to
the  letter. Bob,  who'd  done  nothing but  sleep  since we'd  arrived, was
worried about having to move again so soon.
     "We ought to have a union," he said. "These hours are scandalous."
     "Food's fucking crap and all," said Mark.
     The jokes were good to hear because they relaxed the situation.
     Dinger got  his fags out. "Fuck it,  they  know  we're here. I might as
well have a smoke. I could be dead in a minute."
     "I'll put you on a fizzer!"  Vince shouted as he went out and took over
from Stan on the Minimi. It was a standard piss-taking joke,  referring to a
piece  of army  slang that  people think is said but which in fact  is never
     Everybody was ready  to move if  necessary. It had  taken us a total of
three minutes. There was about an hour and a half of daylight left. Our best
weapon had been concealment, but  the boy had disarmed us. Where we were, we
couldn't fight. It was such a closed environment that it would take just one
or two HE rounds to  hose  us  down. The only option was to get out into the
open and fight, or maybe get away. We were in the shit if we stayed where we
were, and we were  in the shit if we were out in the  open because there was
no cover.  It was out of the  frying pan into the  fire, but at least in the
fire we had a slim chance.
     The rumble of the tracked vehicle came  from the south. We couldn't get
out of the wadi  now; it was too late.  Our  only exit  was  blocked by this
armored vehicle. We would just have to stand there and fight.
     I couldn't understand why they were bringing an APC down in this small,
confined  space. Surely  they would take it for granted that  we'd have anti
armor weapons?
     We  snapped open our  66s  and  ran  around to  find  a  decent  firing
position.  Chris  pranced  around  with his  old German Afrika Corps hat on,
pointing  at  our  66s  and talking  to us  like  the  world's  most patient
instructor.  "Now  boys, remember the  backblast! Do, please,  remember  the
backblast! This face  has  got to go  downtown on a Saturday night. The last
thing it needs is a peppering!"
     Stan stared down  the sights  of his cocked Minimi  at the line  of the
watershed, towards the  sound of  the  tracked  vehicle. It trundled closer.
There was a glint of metal as it came into view. What in hell's name was it?
It didn't look like the APC I had been expecting.
     Stan shouted: "Bulldozer!"
     Unbelievable.  A  major  drama  was about  to  erupt and this idiot was
pottering about  with a digger. It came to within  500 feet of our position,
but  the driver never saw  us. He  was dressed in civilian clothes.  He must
have been there quite innocently.
     "Don't fire," I said. "We've  got to take  it as a compromise, but what
sort of compromise we don't know yet."
     The driver's attention seemed focused on finding a way out of the wadi.
He maneuvred this way and that for what seemed an eternity.
     "Fuck it," I said to Vince, "we need to go. We just can't sit here."
     The ideal would have been to wait for last light, but I sensed that the
situation was going to get out of hand.
     The bulldozer disappeared suddenly,  and  the engine  noise  faded. The
driver must have found the gap he was looking for.
     It was time to go. I told Stan to bring in the blokes on the Minimis so
everybody could hear  what I was going  to  say. We huddled  around with our
belt kit on and our berg ens at our  feet. It was a vulnerable  time because
everybody  was so close together, but it had  to  be done:  everybody had to
know what was going on.
     I started by  staring  the obvious. "We're  going to move from here," I
said. "We're going to go west, try to avoid the AA guns, and then head south
and  go  for the RV with  the helicopter. The helicopter RV will be  at 0400
     "See you in the Pudding Club," Chris said.
     "Fuck that," Dinger said in his terrible W. C. Fields voice.  "Go west,
young man, go west."
     We shouldered our  berg ens and rechecked our belt  kit. The rest of it
was left behind. Even the claymores remained because we  didn't have time to
pick them up.
     Because of the S60 sites, there was only one way out. West, then south,
using dips in the ground as  much as we could.  But we wouldn't rush  it. We
didn't want to make mistakes. We had loads of time to make the  heli RV,  if
we could only get out of this shit and get under cover of darkness.
     I was  feeling apprehensive  but  comfortable. We deserved better after
all the hard work of planning, tabbing in, locating  and confirming the MSR,
and just the bad luck  of lost com  ms I'd thought  we'd cracked it: we only
had to wait until 0400 the next morning and we'd be back in business. But at
the end  of the  day, we  were an 8-man fighting patrol, we had guns, we had
bullets, we had 66s. What more could a man ask for?
     "Come on," said Mark, "let's make like rag heads."
     We pulled our shamags over our faces. The sun was in our eyes as I  led
us out in single file. We patrolled properly, taking our time, observing the
     The wadi petered out and became flat plain. We came out west, using the
lie of the ground, then turned left, heading south.
     I  kept  checking to the north because I  didn't want us to get in line
with the antiaircraft guns. With every step I expected to hear a  57mm round
zinging past my head. What was keeping them? Didn't they  believe  the  boy?
Were they waiting for  reinforcements? Or just waiting to get  up the bottle
to attack?
     We patrolled further west for another  five  minutes, keeping  distance
between each  man to minimize casualties  in the event of a major drama.  It
was the correct thing  to do, but if a contact happened up front, the man at
the rear would have to run maybe 200 feet to catch up if required, depending
on the action taken.
     As we turned  south there  was a touch of  high ground on the left-hand
side that went  up to the MSR. We were still  in dead  ground from the guns,
which were further  up  the  other  side.  As  we started  heading south, we
couldn't  believe  our  luck.  Nothing happened.  Then  from  the east,  our
left-hand side, we heard the sound of tracked vehicles.
     Adrenaline rushed, blood pumped. We stopped. We  couldn't go  forwards,
we  couldn't go back. Where else was there  to go?  We  knew it was going to
     I could  see  everybody preparing. They  knew what  to do. Bergens came
off, and men checked that all pouches  were closed. It's no  good running to
attack and finding out when you get there that you have no magazines because
they've all  fallen  out. They checked their  weapons  and  carried  out the
drills that were second nature. We were  probably no more  than seconds away
from contact. I looked around for a deeper depression in the ground than the
shallow scrape I was in.
     The darkest minute is just before the firefight starts.
     You can't see a thing. All you can do is listen, and think. How many of
these things are going to come? Are  they going to trundle straight up  onto
you--which is  what they'll do if they've got any  sense--and  just turn the
machine guns on you like a hose? There was nowhere to run. We'd just have to
fight. The screech of armored  tracks and the scream of  the  engines'  high
revs rolled around us. We still didn't know where they were.
     "Fucking let's do it! Let's do it!" Chris screamed.
     I was overwhelmed by a  sudden feeling of togetherness, of all being in
this  shit together. I had no thought of dying. Just  of: Let's get  through
     People have survived  ambushes  through pure aggression. This was going
to be the same.  I pulled apart the tubes of my 66 and made  sure the sights
had popped  up. I put it  beside me.  I checked that  my mag  was on  tight,
checked that my 203 had a bomb in it. I knew  it was there, but  I  couldn't
help checking. It made me feel that bit more secure.
     Basic instinct makes  you want to keep as low as possible, but you have
to  look up and around. I  raised  myself into a semi squat Each  bloke  was
bobbing and moving  around within  his own 30-feet  square  trying to get  a
better vantage point and see what was coming. The earlier you can see it the
better:  then  the  awful dread of the  unknown evaporates.  This  can  work
against  you. You might see it's  much worse than you anticipated, but  it's
got to be done.
     I heard myself shouting: "Shit! Shit! Shit!"
     There were shouts all along the line.
     "See anything your end yet?"
     "No, can't see jack shit."
     "Fuck it! Fuck it!"
     "Come on, come on, let's get this done!"
     "Are they here yet?"
     "No, fuck it."
     "Fucking rag heads."
     Everyone was concentrating, listening hard to locate the vehicles.
     Everyone at my end ducked.
     "For fuck's sake, what was that?"
     In answer, right at the other  end of the patrol,  Legs or Vince  fired
off another 66.
     Even if the Iraqis hadn't known we  were  there,  they did now. But the
boys  wouldn't have  fired  without good reason. I  strained my neck and saw
that on the far left-hand side an APC with a  7.62 machine gun had come down
a small depression that was out of sight of our end.  Vince and Legs had the
vehicle coming at them head-on.
     "Fucking let's do it! Let's do it! Let's do it!" I screamed at  the top
of my voice.
     It felt good all of a sudden to have got  off the first round. I didn't
know if I was shouting at them or at myself. A bit of both, most likely.
     "Come on! Come on!"
     A  second APC with a turret-mounted gun opened fire all along the area.
It's not nice to know you're up against armor and vehicles  with infantry on
board. All you are is a foot patrol, and these anonymous things are crushing
relentlessly  towards you. You  know they carry infantry,  you  know all the
details about them. You know the  driver's in front and the gunner's up top,
and  he's trying to  look through  his prism, and it's difficult for him and
he's sweating away up there, getting thrown about trying to aim. But all you
can  see  is  this  thing coming  screaming  towards  you,  and it  looks so
anonymous and monster like magnified ten  times suddenly because you realize
it's aiming at you. They look so impersonal. They leave destruction in their
wake. It's you against them. You're an ant and you're scared.
     The  APC nearest me cracked off  more rounds,  firing wildly. One burst
stitched the ground about 30 feet in front of me.
     In the British army you are taught how to  react when  the enemy  opens
fire: you dash  to make yourself a hard target, you get down, you crawl into
a fire  position, find the enemy, set your sights  at the  range,  and fire.
"Reaction to  Effective Enemy Fire," it's called. That all goes  to rat shit
when  you're  actually under fire. It always has done for me. As soon as the
rounds come down, you're on the floor, and you want to make the biggest hole
possible to hide in.  You'd get your spoon out and start digging if it would
help. It's a  natural physical reaction. Your  instincts compel  you  to get
down and make yourself as small as possible and wait  for it all to end. The
rational side of your  brain is  telling you what you should be doing, which
is  getting  up  and  looking  to  see  what's  going  on  so you can  start
fighting--there's  no point  just  lying there  because you're  going to die
anyway. The emotional side is saying, Sod that, stay  there, maybe it'll all
go away. But you know it's not going to and that something has to be done.
     There was  another sustained burst from the machine gun. Rounds thumped
into the ground, getting closer and closer to where I lay. I had to react. I
took a deep breath and stuck my head up. A truck had  stopped 300 feet away,
and infantry were spilling out of  the  back  in total  confusion. They must
have known we were there because they'd heard the 66s and the turret-mounted
guns were in action, but the small-arms fire  they put  down was only in our
general direction.
     There seemed to be no communication between  the APCs. Both  were doing
their  own thing. Infantry jumped out of the back, shouting and firing. They
weren't entirely sure where we were. But even  so, there was enough incoming
from their direction to keep our heads  down.  If you're hit, there's  not a
lot of difference  between  a confused round and one  that was  deliberately
     There was more hollering and shouting,  from us and them. The firefight
had  to  be initiated. It's no good  just  lying there and hoping  that they
won't see you or go away, because they won't. What they'll  probably  do  is
start coming forward  and looking for you,  so you've got to get on with it.
It takes maximum firepower, balanced  with ammunition conservation, to win a
firefight. It's a question of  you getting more rounds down  than  them  and
killing more  of them  initially, so  they either back off  or dig their own
little holes. But their firepower was far superior to ours.
     The  APC stopped.  I couldn't believe my eyes. It was using the machine
gun  as  a fire  base  instead of  coming  forward  with  the  infantry  and
overwhelming us, which was wonderful.
     Everybody was getting the rounds down. The Minimis were fired in bursts
of 3-5 rounds. Ammunition had to be managed. Two 66s were fired at the truck
and found their target. There  was  a  massive shudder of high explosive. It
must have been very demoralizing for them.
     Decisions. After this initial contact,  what are you going  to  do? Are
you going  to stay there all  the time, are  you going to move back, are you
going to move forward? We'd have to do something, or we'd all just face each
other firing--they'd  take casualties,  we'd take casualties, but  we  would
come off worse simply  because we had  the least  number of men. This  might
just be the first gang coming forward;  there might be another rifle company
coming up behind: we didn't know yet. The only thing to do is go forward, or
you'll be sitting there in a standoff until you run out of ammunition.
     I looked over  at Chris. "Let's  fucking do it! Are you  ready? Are you
     He shouted down the line, "We're going to do it! We're going to do it!"
     Everybody knew what  had to be done.  We psyched ourselves up.  It's so
unnatural  to go forward into something like that. It's not at all what your
vulnerable flesh and bone  wants to do. It  just wants to close its eyes and
open them again much later and find that everything is fine.
     "Everything Okay?"
     Whether people actually heard further down the line didn't matter: they
knew  something was going to happen, and they knew the  chances were that we
were going to go forward and attack this force that vastly outnumbered us.
     Without thinking, I changed my magazine. I had no idea  how many rounds
I had  left in it. It was still fairly heavy: I might have only fired two or
three rounds out of it. I threw it down the front of my smock for later on.
     Stan  gave the thumbs up and stepped up the fire rate  on the Minimi to
initiate the move.
     I was on my hands and knees, looking up. I took deep breaths,  and then
up I got and ran forward.
     "Fuck it! Fuck it!"
     People put down a fearsome amount  of  covering fire. You don't fire on
the move. It slows you up. All you have to do  is get forward, get down, and
get firing so that the others can move up.  As soon as  you get down  on the
ground, your lungs are heaving and your torso is  moving up and down, you're
looking around for the enemy, but you've got sweat in your eyes. You wipe it
away: your rifle is  moving up and  down in your  shoulder. You want to  get
down  in  a nice  firing  position  like you do  on  the range, but it isn't
happening that  way. You're trying  to calm yourself down to see what you're
doing, but you  want to  do everything at once. You  want to stop this heavy
breathing so you can hold the weapon properly and bring it to bear. You want
to  get rid of the sweat so you can see your targets, but you don't want  to
move your arm to rub your eye because you've got it in the fire position and
you want to be firing to cover the move of the others as they come forward.
     I jumped up and ran  forward another  50 feet--a far  longer bound than
the textbooks say you should. The longer  you are  up  the longer  you are a
target. However,  it is quite  hard  to hit  a fast-moving  man, and we were
pumped up on adrenaline.
     You're immersed in your own little world. Me and Chris running forward,
Stan and Mark backing us up with the Minimi. Fire  and maneuver. The  others
were doing the same, legging it forward. The rag heads must have  thought we
were  crazy, but they had put us in the situation, and this was the only way
     You  could watch  the  tracer  coming  at you.  You heard  the burning,
hissing  sound as the rounds  shot past or  hit the ground and spun off into
the air.  It was  scary stuff. There's nothing you can do but  jump up, run,
get down; jump up, run, get down. Then lie there panting, sweating, fighting
for breath, firing, looking for new targets, trying to save ammo.
     Once  I had moved  forward and started firing, the Minimis stopped  and
they, too,  bounded forward. The  sooner  they  were  up  ahead the  better,
because of their superior firepower.
     The  closer we got the more the Iraqis were flapping. It must have been
the  last thing they expected us to do. They  probably didn't realize it was
the last thing we wanted to do.
     You're supposed to count your  rounds as you're firing, but in practice
it's hard to do. At any moment when you need to fire,  you  should  know how
many are left and  change  mags if you have to. Lose count and you'll hear a
"dead man click." You pull the trigger, and the firing pin goes forward, but
nothing happens. In practice, counting to thirty  is  unrealistic. What  you
actually do  is wait for  your weapon to stop firing, then press the  button
and let the mag fall,  slap another  straight on, and off you go. If you are
well drilled in this, it's  second nature  and requires no mental action. It
just happens. The  Armalite is designed so  that when you've stopped firing,
the working parts are to the rear, so you can slap another magon and let the
working  parts go forward so that a round is taken into the breech. Then you
fire again, at anything that moves.
     We had got up to within 150 feet of them. The APC nearest me started to
retreat, gun still firing. Our rate of  fire slowed. We had to  husband  the
     The  truck  was on  fire.  I didn't know  if  any of us was hit.  There
wouldn't have been a lot we could do about it anyway.
     I  couldn't  believe  that the APC  was backing off.  Obviously it  was
worried about  the anti armor rockets and knew the other  one had been  hit,
but for it to withdraw was  absolutely incredible. Some of the  infantry ran
with it, jumping into the  back. They were  running, turning, giving it good
bursts, but it was a splendid  sight. I  fancied a cabby myself  with my 66,
and discovered that  in  the  adrenaline rush I'd left  it  with my  bergen.
     At the other end, Vince was up with Legs and still  going forward. They
were shouting to psych each other up. The rest of us put down covering fire.
     Mark and Dinger stood up and ran  forwards. They were  concentrating on
the APC  ahead  of them that they had  hit with their 66s.  They'd scored  a
"mobility  kill"--its tracks couldn't move, though  it  could still  use its
gun. They were putting in  rounds hoping  to  shatter the gunner's prism. If
I'd been in his boots, I would have got out of  the wagon and legged it, but
then, he  didn't know  who he had pursuing him. They  got up to the APC  and
found  the  rear doors still  open. The  jundies hadn't battened  themselves
down. An L2  grenade was lobbed in and exploded with its characteristic dull
thud. The occupants were killed instantly.
     We kept going forwards  into the area of the trucks in four  groups  of
two, each involved in its own little drama. Everybody was bobbing and moving
with Sebastian Coe legs on. We'd fire a couple of rounds, then dash and  get
out of the way, then start again. We tried to fire aimed shots. You pick  on
one body  and fire until he drops.  Sometimes it can  take as  many  as  ten
     There is a set  of sights on the 203, but you don't always have time to
set it up  and fire.  It was a case of just take a quick aim and get it off.
The weapon "pops" as it  fires. I watched  the bomb going  through  the air.
There was a loud bang and showers of dirt. I heard screaming. Good. It meant
they  were bleeding, not shooting--and they'd become  casualties that others
now had to attend to.
     We  found ourselves on  top of the position. Everybody  who could do so
had run away. A  truck was  blazing furiously ahead  of us. A burnt-out  APC
smoked  at the far-left extreme.  Bodies were scattered over  a  wide  area.
Fifteen  dead  maybe, many more wounded. We disregarded them and  carried on
through. I  felt an enormous sense of  relief at  getting  the contact  over
with, but  was still scared. There  would be more to come. Anybody  who says
he's not scared is either a liar or mentally deficient.
     "This is fucking outrageous!" Dinger screamed.
     I smelled petrol and smoke, and pork--the smell  of burning bodies. One
Iraqi lolled out  of  the passenger seat of the truck,  his  face black  and
peeling. Bodies writhed on the ground. I could  tell the 203s had done their
job by the number  of fearsome leg injuries. When they  go  off, slivers  of
metal are blown in all directions.
     All we wanted  to do now was get away. We didn't know what might be  in
the next wave. As  we started moving back to the berg ens rounds kicked into
the ground behind us. The surviving  APC, a half mile away and surrounded by
bodies, was still  firing, but ineffectively.  There was  no  time  to  hang

     Night would be our cover, and it would be dark soon. The APC had backed
off but was moving forwards again. Infantry followed in  its tracks,  firing
wildly. We heaved the berg ens onto our shoulders.  There was no point going
south because they would have guessed that was  our direction of travel. The
object of the exercise was to put as much distance between them and us as we
could. The only way to go was west, which meant  running the  risk of coming
into line of sight with the S60s.
     We  wouldn't  be patrolling  now.  We  would be  moving  as fast  as we
physically could with berg ens on  to get out of the contact area. It was an
infantry maneuver known as getting the fuck out.
     Two  trucks with infantry turned up from our east,  came over the brow,
and  spotted us.  They braked,  and soldiers spilled  out  of the  back  and
started firing. There were maybe forty of  them, which was a colossal amount
of fire bearing down on us.
     They started coming forward. We turned to the  east, got rounds down at
them,  and moved  backwards  to  the  west, firing  like maniacs.  Fire  and
maneuver, fire and maneuver, but  this  time away from them: two men  turned
round and ran, then turned to give covering fire for the other two.
     We were going up a  gradual slope. As we hit the brow we came into line
of sight of the AA guns on  the northwest position. They started firing with
a deep, booming bass sound. The 57mm rounds  screamed past  us, all  of them
trace red The shells thundered into the ground,  blasting rubble all  around
     Chris and I turned round together to fall  back. He was running 6 to 10
feet to my right when  I heard  what sounded like a massive punch. I  looked
across just as  Chris went down. He'd been hit by an antiaircraft  shell.  I
ran over to his body, ready to jab a Syrette of morphine  into what was left
of him--if he wasn't already dead.
     He was wriggling, and for a split second I thought it was death throes.
But  he was very  much alive  and  struggling  with his  bergen  straps.  He
released himself and staggered to his feet.
     "Fuck that!" he  said. His bergen smoldered where the round had smashed
into it.
     We ran on a few strides and he stopped. "Forgot something," he said.
     He ran back  to the shattered bergen and rummaged in  the top. He  came
back with a silver hip flask in his hand.
     "Christmas  present  from  the  wife," he  grinned  as  he  caught  up.
"Couldn't leave it behind: she'd kill me."
     The rest  of the  blokes were also binning their berg ens I hoped  that
Legs had managed to retrieve the patrol radio from his.
     The APC was moving up quite aggressively, firing sustained and accurate
bursts. Two Land Cruisers full of infantry had also joined the fray.
     We stopped and  got some fire down with the  203s. The vehicles  braked
sharply as the 40mm bombs  exploded in  front of them. Jundies  spilled out,
firing in a frenzy.
     Mark  and Dinger got  severely pinned down  by the S60s. They threw out
their white  phos  and  thick dirty white smoke billowed  around  them.  The
trouble with isolated  smokescreens is that  they immediately draw the enemy
fire, but there was nothing else they could do.  The Iraqis  knew the blokes
were covering  their withdrawal,  and they emptied their magazines  into the
cloud. A couple of 203  rounds into the Iraqi positions slowed their rate of
fire. Mark and Dinger jumped to their feet and ran.
     "Cor, good here, ain't it?" Dinger  said in a  pissed off tone of voice
as he rushed past me.
     We kept moving back and back. It was  getting to last light,  and  they
finally lost contact with us in the  gloom. We  were well spread out, and as
darkness  fell there was a danger of the patrol getting split. As we ran, we
scanned  the ground for a suitable rally point. Anybody in the  patrol could
make the choice.
     There was a loud  shout  150 feet  to  my  half-right.  "Rally,  rally,
     Whoever  it was, he'd  found some  cover  where  we  could get down and
consolidate  ourselves. This was good news, because at  the  moment we  were
fragmented, all fighting our own little dramas to get back. A rally point is
much  the  same as an  ERV  except that  it's  given  there and then and not
prearranged. Its purpose is to get everybody together as quickly as possible
before moving off. If anybody didn't make it, we would have  to confirm that
he was dead, if  we hadn't done so already.  Otherwise we would have to  get
back the "man down."
     I ran over and  found Chris and Bob waiting  in a  dip in the ground. I
immediately put on a fresh mag and  prepared my weapon to  carry  on firing.
The  three of us waited in all-round defense, covering all the arcs, waiting
for the others to come in on us.
     I counted  heads as they rushed past and took up a  firing position. It
was five or six  minutes before the last man  appeared. If  anybody had been
missing, I'd have had to ask: Who was the last one to see him? Where did you
see him? Was he just down or dead? If not,  we'd have had  to go forward and
try to find him.
     The headlights  of tracked  vehicles  were frantically crisscrossing in
front of us, no more than 1000 feet away. Now and then in the distance there
was a burst of gunfire and shouting. They must  have been firing  at  rocks,
and probably at  themselves. There was total confusion, which chuffed  us no
     The  eight of  us were closed up in a small area of a couple of  square
feet. People  quickly sorted  themselves out, taking off their sweaters  and
tucking  them into their belt kit or inside  their  smocks. Nobody had to be
told what was required. They knew we were either going for the helicopter or
we were going for Syria. Either  way, we would be doing a fearsome amount of
     "Got the radio?" I asked Legs.
     "There  was no way I could get to it," he said. "The fire coming in was
outrageous.  I  think it was wrecked anyway  because  my bergen got shot  to
     I knew  he  would have  got it if he could. But it didn't really matter
anyway. We  had  four TACBEs between  us and  could  get in touch with AWACS
within fifteen seconds.
     I was still out of breath  and thirsty,  and took a few gulps of  water
from my bottle.  I dug a couple of boiled sweets out of my pocket and shoved
them in my mouth.
     "I'd only  just  lit that fag," Dinger  said  ruefully. "If one of them
bastards has picked it up, I hope he chokes."
     Bob giggled, and suddenly we  were all laughing like  drains. It wasn't
particularly what  Dinger had  said.  We were all just  so  relieved  to  be
unscathed  and  back together  after such a major drama.  We couldn't give a
damn about anything else at this stage. It was great to be all in one piece.
     We had used a quarter  of  our ammunition. We amalgamated  it  and  put
fresh mags on. I still had my 66-the only  one left, because like a dickhead
I had left it with my bergen.
     I  adjusted  my  clothes, pulling my  trousers right up to  prevent leg
sores  and  doing  up my belt again  to make sure I  was comfortable. It was
starting  to  get cold. I'd  been  doing a  fearsome amount of sweating  and
started to shiver in my wet shirt. We had to get moving.
     "Let's get on the net  now," Legs said. "They know we're here. We might
as well use the TACBE."
     "Yeah," said Vince, "let's get some fucking shit down."
     He was right. I got out my TACBE, pulled the tab, and heard the hish. I
pressed the transmit button and talked.
     "Hello AWACS,  this is Bravo Two Zero: we are a  ground call  sign  and
we're in the shit, over."
     There was no reply.
     I repeated the message.
     "Hello any call sign," I said, "this is Bravo Two Zero."
     I kept trying for thirty seconds without success.
     Our only hope now  was to get a  fast jet overfly so  we  could contact
them by TACBE  on the  emergency frequency.  It was very unlikely,  however,
that jets would be going over, unless one of Legs's signals  had got through
during the compromise phase and the FOB had scrambled some support aircraft.
There  certainly hadn't been  an auto acknowledgment Maybe they knew we were
in the shit, maybe they didn't. There wasn't a lot we could do about it.
     I  did  a  quick appreciation. We could either tab  200  miles south to
Saudi,  head north towards Turkey, which meant crossing the Euphrates, or go
just 100 miles west to Syria. There were infantry and armor in the immediate
area. We were compromised and they were looking for us. They would naturally
think that  we were heading south towards Saudi.  Even  if we could make the
heli RV, there was a chance of us being followed--and that could  mean enemy
activity in the area while the Chinook came in.
     I decided  that we  had no  choice  but  to  head  for Syria.  We would
initially move south  as  part of  the deception plan, because that  was the
presumed way to go; then we'd  head west to box around the area, and finally
turn generally northwest. We would try to be on the  other side of  the  MSR
before  first  light  because  this  would  probably  be  the  psychological
perimeter of their search south. Then we could start heading for the border.
     "Is everybody ready?" I said.
     We started south  in a single file. Vehicles were zooming backwards and
forwards around  us about  a quarter of  a  mile away. We'd only  gone a few
hundred meters when one of them, a Land Cruiser,  headed straight at us, its
headlights  blazing. We  hit the  ground, but  we  were out  in the open. We
turned  our  faces  away  to  prevent the reflection and  to save our  night
vision. The vehicle was 650 feet away and closing. If it came any nearer, we
would be seen. I braced myself for another major drama. There was a shout. I
flicked my head up  and saw  another vehicle flashing its lights about  1000
feet to  our left. The Land  Cruiser changed direction and  sped off towards
     We carried  on at a brisk  pace. Several times we had  to  stop and get
down as vehicles came near. It was annoying: not only did we want to get out
of the area quickly, but we also needed to keep going  to keep warm. We only
had smocks on over our shirts because we didn't want to sweat  too much, and
the temperature seemed to be dropping all the time now.
     I was severely pissed off about AWACS not responding to our signal, and
the thought of having to cover more than 100 miles to get to Syria didn't do
much to lift my spirits.
     After what  seemed like  a  lifetime of tabbing, we looked back and saw
that the headlight activity was focused in the distance. We were out  of the
immediate danger area, with a bit  of cover from a dip in the ground.  If we
wanted to try TACBE again, it would have to be on this southern leg. Bob and
Dinger  immediately moved back onto  the lip  of the  depression  with their
Minimis  to cover the rear in case we had been  followed. Everybody else was
down in all-round defense. I got on my TACBE again, to no avail.
     Everybody with  a  TACBE had  a go.  It was unbelievable that all  four
radios were playing up, but that seemed to be what was happening.
     Mark made a nav check with the Magellan and worked out that we'd tabbed
15 miles. We'd  covered  it  so quickly that with luck  the Iraqis  wouldn't
believe it possible and would have been thrown off the scent.
     "We'll  head west now  to get well clear  of  the  area," I said. "Then
we'll start heading north to get over the MSR before first light."
     All I  heard was abuse directed at the manufacturers of TACBE. We would
not use it again now unless we  got a fast jet  flying over.  We didn't know
whether the Iraqis had  aircraft  up or not, but we'd just have to  take the
chance. We were in the shit, and freezing cold shit it was, too.
     We got  Dinger and  Bob  back in, gave them  the good news, and off  we
tabbed. We'd only stopped for a minute or two, but it was good to get moving
again. It was bitterly cold,  and a strong  wind blasted the chill deep into
our bones. There was  dense cloud  cover, and we  were in pitch darkness. We
couldn't see our footing correctly. The only plus was  that at least it made
it a lot harder for them to find us. There was still the odd vehicle, but in
the far  distance.  We  had  left  them  well  behind. I  was almost feeling
     We pushed  west for 10 miles, moving fast on a bearing.  The ground was
so flat that we'd be  warned well in advance of any Iraqi presence. It was a
balance between speed and observation.
     We stopped every hour to rest for five minutes, which is the patrolling
SOP. If you go on and on, all you do is run yourself down, and you'll end up
not being able to achieve what you set out to do. So you stop, get down, get
some  rest, drink  some water, sort yourself out, get  yourself comfy again,
and off you go. It was freezing cold, and I  shivered uncontrollably when we
     We had one of our  five-minute rests at the 10 miles  mark  and  did  a
Magellan check.  I  made the decision that because  of the time factor, we'd
have to turn north now to get over the MSR before first light.
     "Let's  just get over that road," I said, "then we can go northwest  to
     We'd gone about another 6 miles  when  I noticed  gaps appearing in the
line.  We were definitely moving more slowly than  we  had in the beginning.
There was a problem. I stopped the patrol, and everybody closed up.
     Vince was limping.
     "You all right, mate?" I said.
     "Yeah, I hurt my  leg on the  way out  in that contact, and it's really
fucking starting to give me gyp."
     The whole aim of the  game was  to get everybody over the border. Vince
clearly had an injury. We'd have to do  all our  planning and considerations
around  the  fact  that he  was  in  trouble. None of this  "No, it's  Okay,
skipper, I can go on" bollocks, because if  you try to play the  he-man  and
don't  inform people of your injuries, you're endangering the whole  patrol.
If they're  not aware  of your  problem, they can't adjust the plan or cater
for future eventualities. If you make sure people know that  you're injured,
they can plan around it.
     "What's the injury like?" Dinger said.
     "It just fucking hurts. I don't think it's fractured. It's not bleeding
or anything, but it's swollen. It's going to slow me down."
     "Right, we'll stop here and sort ourselves out," I said.
     I pulled  my woolen bobble hat from  my smock and put it on my  head. I
watched Vince  massage  his  leg.  He was clearly annoyed  with himself  for
sustaining an injury.
     "Stan's in shit state," Bob said to me.
     Dinger and Mark had been helping him along. They  laid him down on  the
ground. He was in a bad way. He knew it, and he was pissed off about it.
     "What the hell's the matter?" I said, sticking my hat on his head.
     "I'm on my chin strap mate. I'm just dying here."
     Chris was the most  experienced medic  on the patrol. He examined Stan,
and it was obvious to him that he was dangerously dehydrated.
     "We've got to get some rehydrate down him, and quick."
     Chris ripped open two sachets  of electrolyte  from Stan's belt kit and
tipped them into his water bottle. Stan took several big gulps.
     "Look, Stan," I said, "you realize that we've got to go on?"
     "Yeah, I know that. Just give us a  minute. Let's get some more of this
shit down my neck,  and I'll sort myself out. It's this fucking Helly Hansen
underwear. I was sleeping with it on when we got compromised."
     Dehydration is  no  respecter of climates. You can become dehydrated in
the depths of an Arctic winter just the same as in the middle of the  day in
the Sahara.
     Physical exertion  produces  sweat, even  in the  cold.  And the  vapor
clouds we see when we exhale are yet more precious moisture leaking from our
bodies.  Thirst is an unreliable indicator  of  dehydration.  The problem is
that  just a few sips of liquid  might  quench your thirst without improving
your internal  water  deficit.  Or you  might  not  even notice  your thirst
because there  is too much else going on that  needs  your attention.  After
losing 5 percent of your body weight through dehydration, you will be struck
by waves of nausea. If you vomit, you'll lose even more precious fluid. Your
movements will slow down  dramatically,  your speech will  slur,  and you'll
become  unable to walk.  Dehydration  to this degree can be fatal. Stan  had
been wearing  his thermals  ever since  we left  the LUP. He must  have lost
pints of sweat.
     I started to shake.
     "What do we do--take his kit off?" I asked Chris.
     "No, it's all he's got  on, apart from his  trousers, shirt, and smock.
If we take it off, he'll be in a worse state."
     Stan got up  and started moving around. We gave him another ten minutes
to get himself organized; then it became too cold to stand  still any longer
and we had to get moving.
     We  had  to  do  our planning around the two slowest and move  at their
speed. I changed the order of the march. I put Chris up front, with Stan and
Vince behind him. I followed them, with the others behind me.
     As scout, Chris moved on the compass bearing  and used  the night sight
to make sure that we weren't going to  walk  into anything nasty. We stopped
every  half hour  instead of every hour. Each time, we had to get more water
into Stan. The situation was  not desperate, but he did  seem to be  getting
     The weather had become diabolical. We weren't tabbing as hard as we had
been because  the cold  was  sapping our strength. The wind was driving into
our  faces and we were all moving with our heads turned at half cock to  try
and protect ourselves.
     We pushed on, our pace dictated by the two injured men in front. At one
stop Vince sat down and gripped his leg.
     "It's getting worse, mate," he said. It was so out of character for him
to  complain. The injured leg  must have been agony.  He  apologized for the
hassle he was causing us.
     We  had two  enemies now--time  and the physical condition  of the  two
slowest men. By now the rest of us were starting to feel  the effects of the
night's march as  well. My feet  and legs were  aching,  and  I had to  keep
reminding myself that it was what I got paid for.
     There  was  total   cloud  cover.  It  was  jet-black.  I  checked  the
navigation, and the rest of the patrol covered the arcs to the sides and the
rear. Chris  was  having trouble with  the NVA  because there was no ambient
light. This was now slowing us down as much as the two injured men.
     The wind  bit  into every inch  of  exposed  skin. I kept my arms tight
against  my  sides  to  preserve  warmth.  My  head was down,  my  shoulders
shrugged. If I had to move my head, I'd rum my whole body. I didn't want the
slightest bit of wind down my neck.
     We  started to hear  aircraft coming  from the north. I  couldn't see a
thing because of the cloud cover, but I had to make a decision. Was  I going
to get on the TACBE, only to find they were Iraqi?
     "Fucking yeah," Mark said, reading my thoughts. "Let's do it."
     I put my hand on Vince's  shoulder  and said, "We're  going to stop and
try TACBE."
     He nodded and said, "Yep, Okay, yep."
     I tried  to open my pouch. It  was easier said than done. My hands were
frozen and  so numb that I couldn't  get my  fingers to  work. Mark  started
fumbling  with  my belt  kit  as well, but he couldn't unclench  his fingers
enough to undo the pouch. Finally, somehow, I had the  TACBE in my hand. The
last couple of jets were still going over.
     "Hello any call sign, this is Bravo Two Zero, Bravo Two Zero. We are  a
ground call sign and we're in the shit. Over."
     Nothing. I called again. And again.
     "Hello any call sign, this is Bravo  Two Zero, Bravo Two Zero. We are a
ground call sign and we're in the shit. We have a fix for you. Over."
     If they did nothing  else  other than inform somebody  of our position,
we'd be laughing. Mark  got out Magellan and pressed the fix button  to give
us longitude and latitude.
     It was then that I heard the wonderful sound of an  American voice, and
it suddenly registered with me that these would  be jets coming from  Turkey
to do raids around Baghdad.
     "Say  again,  Bravo Two Zero, Bravo  Two Zero. You're  very  weak.  Try
     The signal was weak because he was screaming out of range.
     "Turn back north," I said. "Turn back north. Over."
     No reply.
     "Hello any call sign, this is Bravo Two Zero. Over."
     They'd gone. They wouldn't come back. Bastards!
     Five minutes later, the horizon was lit by  bright  flashes and tracer.
The jets were  obviously hosing  something down near Baghdad.  Their run-ins
are crucial, timed to the split second. They couldn't have  turned back  for
us even  if they'd  wanted  to.  At  least  he had repeated our  call  sign.
Presumably  this  would get filtered through the system, and the  FOB  would
know we were still on the ground, but in the shit--or at  least, that one of
us with a TACBE was.
     It was all over within twenty or thirty seconds. I
     hunched with my back to the wind as I replaced the TACBE in my pouch. I
looked at  Legs and he  shrugged. He  was  right--so  what?  We'd  made  the
     "Maybe they'll  fly back  this  way and things will be good," I said to
     "Let's hope."
     I turned into the wind to tell Chris and the other two that we'd better
press on.
     "For fuck's sake," I whispered, "where's everybody else gone?"
     I had told Vince we  were  going to try  TACBE. The correct response is
for the message to  get  passed along the line, but it can't have registered
in his numbed brain. He must have just kept on walking without telling Chris
and Stan.
     It's each man's responsibility in  the line to make sure that  messages
go up or down, and if you stop, you make sure that the bloke  in front knows
that you've stopped. You should know who's in front of  you and who's behind
you. It's your responsibility to make sure they're always there.  So  it was
my  fault  and  Vince's  that  they  didn't  stop.  We  both  failed  in our
responsibilities--Vince in not passing it on, me in not making  sure that he
     We  couldn't  do anything about  it.  We couldn't do  a  visual  search
because Chris was  the  only  person with  a night-viewing  aid. We couldn't
shout because we didn't know what was ahead of us or to either  side. And we
couldn't use white light--that's a big no-no.  So we'd just  have to keep on
the bearing and hope  that they'd stop at some stage and wait  for us. There
was a good chance that we'd meet up.
     I felt terrible. We had  failed, more or less, in  our contact with the
aircraft. And now, even worse, we'd lost three members of the patrol--two of
whom  were  injured.  I  was  annoyed  with  myself,  and  annoyed  with the
situation. How the hell had I allowed it to happen?
     Bob  must  have guessed what I was thinking because he said, "It's done
now: let's just carry on. Hopefully we'll RV."
     That helped me a lot. He was right. At the end of the day they were big
boys: they could sort themselves out.
     We headed north again on  the bearing.  The  freezing  wind pierced our
flimsy desert camouflage. After two hours of hard tabbing we came to our MSR
and crossed over. The  next objective now was a meta led road further to the
     We encountered a couple of  inhabited  areas, but  boxed around without
incident. Soon after midnight we heard noise in the distance. We started our
routine to box around whatever it was and came across some armored vehicles,
laagered  up, then a forest of antennas. The  face of a squaddy was  briefly
illuminated as he lit a cigarette. He probably should have been on stag, but
he was dos sing in the cab of a truck. It was either a military installation
or a temporary position. Whatever, we had to box around again.
     Chris and  the others can't have  gone into it, or we  would have heard
the contact.
     We carried  on for about  twenty  minutes. All  of us were on our  chin
straps We'd had eight  hours of head down and  go for it. The stress on  the
legs had been immense. My feet hurt. I felt completely knackered. I had been
thinking about the aircraft. It was hours ago that  we'd heard  them, so the
pilots would be back in their hotels now enjoying their coffee and doughnuts
while  the engineers sorted their aircraft  out. Such a lovely way to go  to
war.  They  climb into  their nice, warm  cockpits  and ride over  to  their
target. Down below, as far as they are concerned, is jet-black  nothingness.
Then  what should they  hear but the old  Brit voice  gob bing off,  moaning
about  being in  the shit. It must have been a bit of a surprise. I hoped so
much that they were concerned for us and were doing something. I wondered if
they would have reported the  incident by radio as soon as it had  happened,
or if they'd  wait until they returned to base. Probably the  latter.  Hours
ago, and no other fast jets had come  over. I didn't know  what the American
system was  for initiating a  search and  rescue package. I just  hoped they
knew that it was really important.
     I blamed myself for the split. I felt a complete knob- her and wondered
if everybody else held the same opinion. I remembered a speech I had read by
Field Marshal Slim. Talking about  leadership, he had  said something to the
effect of, "When I'm in charge of  a battle and  everything's going well and
to plan and I'm winning--I'm a great leader, a  real good lad. But  you find
out whether you can really lead or not when everything's going  to rat  shit
and you  are  to  blame." I knew exactly how he  felt. I  could have  kicked
myself for not confirming that Vince had registered that  we  were stopping.
In my mind,  everything was my fault.  As  we  tabbed north I kept thinking,
what the hell  did I do wrong? The E&E must go right from here on. I mustn't
make any more mistakes.
     It was time to think about  finding somewhere to  hide. We'd been going
over shale and rock, and had come to an area of  solid  sand. Our boots were
hardly making  any imprint. This was fine from the point  of view of leaving
sign, but the ground was so  hard there was no way we could scrape  a hiding
place.  It was nearly  first light, and we were still running around. Things
were just starting to look a bit wriggly when Legs spotted some sand dunes a
half mile to our west. We found ourselves in an area where the constant wind
had made ripples and small  mounds about 1530  feet high. We  looked for the
tallest one. We wanted to be above eye level. We did what we should never do
by going for  isolated  cover. But there  was  only this small knoll  on  an
otherwise  flat surface. On top  of  it was  a small cairn of stones.  Maybe
somebody was buried there.
     There was a  small stone wall  about a foot  high around the  cairn. We
built  it  up slightly  and lay  down behind.  It was  icy cold as the  wind
whistled  through  the gaps  in the stones, but at least it was a relief  to
stop tabbing. In the course  of the last twelve hours, in total darkness and
atrocious weather conditions,  we had  traveled 50 miles,  the length of two
marathons. My  legs were aching. Lying down and being  still  was wonderful,
but then  cramp would start. As you moved, other  areas were exposed  to the
cold. It was incredibly uncomfortable.
     Looking to our south, we saw pylons running east west. We used  them to
fix our position on  the map. If  we  followed them, we would eventually hit
the border. But if  we used the  pylons for navigation, who was to say  that
other people wouldn't as well?
     We  lay  there  for  about  half   an  hour,   getting  more  and  more
uncomfortable. To our east about a mile away  was a corrugated iron building
which was  probably a water-boring  station. It looked very inviting, but it
was  even worse isolated cover. There was nothing to the north. There was no
alternative but to stay where we were.
     We had  to  keep really  low. We cuddled  up  and tried  to  share body
warmth.  Dark clouds  raced across  the sky.  The  wind howled  through  the
stones;  I  could  feel it  bite into me.  I had known cold before,  in  the
Arctic, but nothing like this. This  was lying in a freezer cabinet, feeling
your  body heat slowly  slip away.  And we would have to stay there for  the
rest  of the  day,  restricting our movement to what was possible  below the
height  of the wall.  When we got cramp, a common problem after a major tab,
we had to help each other.
     Legs got out the signals info from his map pocket and destroyed all the
sensitive codes and other odds and bods. We lit the  code sheets  and  burnt
them one at a time to ensure that everything was destroyed, then crushed the
ashes and spread them into the ground.
     "I'll have  a fag on while you've got your bonfire going," said Dinger.
"Got to have a gasper before the fun starts."
     We resterilized ourselves, going through all our pockets to make doubly
sure we had nothing left on us that would compromise the mission, ourselves,
or anybody else. You might have something  on you that would mean nothing to
them unless you  told them,  but  it could be  something they could use as a
starting point for the interrogation. "What is this? What does  it do?"  You
can go through a lot of pain for something that's totally irrelevant.
     There  were vehicle sounds in  the distance. Two APCs were about a half
mile to the south,  too far away  to  be an immediate  danger. I  hoped they
didn't take it into their heads to start looking in places of obvious cover.
     At about 0700 it started to rain.  We  couldn't believe it. We were  in
the middle of the desert. The last time I saw rain in the desert was in 1985
in  Oman. We  were drenched, and within ten  minutes the  rain had turned to
sleet. We looked at one another in total amazement. Then it started to snow.
     Bob sang, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas."
     We might as well have been on an exposed mountainside in  winter.  This
could get serious. We cuddled up more. Not a single therm of body heat could
be  wasted now. We got out  our  map covers  and tried to  improvise  little
shelters.  Our main concern was to conserve heat  at the core of our bodies,
the trunk.
     Man is a "homeotherm"--that is, our bodies  try to  maintain a constant
body temperature irrespective  of the temperature of their surroundings. The
body consists of an inner hot core, surrounded by a cooler outer  shell. The
core consists of the  brain and  other  vital  organs  contained within  the
skull, chest, and abdomen. The shell is what is left: the skin, fat, muscle,
and limbs. It is  in effect a buffer zone between the  core  and the outside
world, protecting the organs from any catastrophic change in temperature.
     The  maintenance  of  proper  internal  body  temperature  is  the most
important factor in determining your survival. Even in extreme cold or heat,
your core temperature will seldom vary more than  two degrees either side of
98.4 F  (36.8  C), with  the shell  just  a few degrees cooler. If your core
temperature rises above 109  F (42.7 C) or  falls below 84  F (28.8 C),  you
will  die.  Your body generates  both energy and heat as it burns fuel. When
you start  to shiver, your body is telling you that it is losing heat faster
than  it  is  being  replaced. The shivering  reflex exercises many muscles,
increasing heat production by  burning more fuel. If the temperature at  the
core of your  body drops even  a few  degrees, you're in trouble.  Shivering
will not be enough to warm you again.
     The body has a thermostat, located in a small piece of nerve tissue  at
the base of  the brain, which controls the production or dissipation of heat
and  monitors  all  parts  of  the  body  in  order to  maintain a  constant
temperature.  When  the  body  starts  to  go  into  hypothermia,  the  body
thermostat responds by ordering  heat to  be drawn from the extremities into
the core. Your hands and feet will start to stiffen. As the core temperature
drops,  the  body also  draws  heat  from  the  -head.  When  this  happens,
circulation slows  down, and the victim doesn't get the oxygen or  sugar the
brain  needs: the  sugar the brain  ordinarily feeds on  is being burned  to
produce heat. As the  brain begins  to slow down, the body  stops shivering,
and irrational behavior begins. That  is a sure danger  sign,  but one it is
hard to recognize in  yourself because  one of  the first things hypothermia
does  is take away your will to help  yourself.  You stop shivering  and you
stop  worrying. You are dying, in fact, and you couldn't care less.  At this
point, your body  loses  its ability  to reheat itself.  Even if  you have a
sleeping bag to crawl  into, you will  continue to cool off. Your pulse will
get irregular;  drowsiness will  become semiconsciousness, which will become
unconsciousness.  Your only hope is  to  add heat from an external source--a
fire, hot drinks, another  body. Indeed,  one of the most effective  ways of
rewarming a hypothermia victim is to put them in a sleeping bag with another
person whose body temperature is still normal.
     I was feeling  quite secure, which was silly because  our situation was
far from secure. We were on a barren  landscape and occupying one of the two
pieces of obvious cover for miles  around. I  was  happy  that  we'd stopped
because  we could rest,  but unhappy because  our bodies wanted  to  keep on
moving to keep warm. But there was nothing we could do  except lie there and
exchange body heat and wait for dark.
     The compacted sand was like hard  mud. It had looked alien  before; now
that it was covered  in snow it  looked like the moon.  The snowfall  turned
into a  blizzard.  I  tried  to look  on  the bright side:  at least it  cut
visibility down to about 150 feet.
     Vehicles  moved  up and  down  all day, moving east and  west  as  they
followed  the  line  of  the pylons-civilian  trucks,  water  bowsers,  Land
Cruisers,  and  armored, wheeled vehicles.  The last  two  vehicles  got  us
flapping because they came to within 600 feet  of  our position.  Were  they
coming  for us? Not that we could do  much about it; we could hardly get  up
and run because there was nowhere to run to.
     There  were more  vehicles than we were  expecting, much  more military
activity,  but that was not the major consideration now.  Lying in the snow,
lashed by  a  wicked  wind,  we  were more concerned about  keeping warm and
keeping alive. We were physically exhausted and exposed to the wind. All the
potential  was here for a  major  drama.  An  already cold air  temperature,
combined  with  a  strong  wind,  can  produce   an  equivalent  wind  chill
temperature that can kill. In a 30 mph wind, exposed flesh freezes  in sixty
seconds or  less  at  just9 C.  It was only much  later that we learned that
these were  the worst weather conditions  the  region  had  experienced  for
thirty years. Diesel was freezing in vehicles.
     From feeling secure I  started to become  seriously concerned. I'd seen
people die in  this sort of stuff.  What a  way  to  go, I thought, for  the
patrol to die  of exposure rather than getting  shot.  I didn't think I'd be
able to bear the slagging.
     We couldn't  sit  up,  because  we  would be  silhouetted  against  the
skyline.  We  were depending for  concealment on the  level of view: because
they would have to look up, our hope was that the small wall would afford us
cover as long as we kept still and kept down.
     By 1100 the situation was  getting out of  control. We were huddled up,
cuddling   one  another,  shivering   convulsively,   muttering   words   of
encouragement, making  stupid  irrelevant jokes. My hands were numb, frozen,
and very painful. We had a mound of  snow over us. It was a  case now of sod
the tactics, let's try to survive. The balance was between breaking SOPs and
therefore being compromised, and getting into  such  a bad condition that we
would just die anyway. I decided that we'd have to break SOPs and get a brew
on. I scraped a  small hole  and lit a hexy block. I filled a mug with water
and held it over the  flame. The heat on  my hands and face was wonderful. I
waved my  hand  to  disperse the steam. I added coffee granules, sugar,  and
milk to the hot water and passed it around.
     I immediately put on another brew of hot chocolate.
     "Look at  all that bloody steam," said Dinger. "I might as  well have a
     It  was pathetic to  watch him trying to light the cigarette. His hands
were shaking so badly that he couldn't get it in his mouth, and when  he did
it was soggy because his hands had been wet. He persisted,  and five minutes
later was inhaling contentedly, blowing the smoke into his smock to hide it.
     By  the time the hot  chocolate  came around everybody  was shaking and
gibbering  again.  The  hot  drink didn't  move us too many  notches  up the
temperature chart, but it was  better  than a kick  in  the tits.  Without a
doubt, it had made the difference between life and death.
     Come midday, vehicles were  still passing. We  couldn't always see them
but  that didn't matter. We'd hear them  if they stopped. We tried to change
around so that people on the outside who were exposed to  the wind and  snow
had  the chance to be surrounded by the  others and get some body warmth. As
our body core temperatures continued  to drop, I realized that my speech was
slurring and I  was feeling very lightheaded. I was suffering from the first
stages of hypothermia.
     At about 1400 Mark realized that he was in deep trouble. "We'll have to
get going in a minute," he blurted. "I'm starting to go down here."
     He was wearing  less than the rest  of  us. All he had on his chest was
his smock, shirt, and jumper, and those were  soaking wet. We got around him
and tried to give him  our  body heat. A decision had to be made, and we all
had  to be in on  it because it  affected us all: did we move in daylight to
help Mark survive but risk a compromise? There were hours of daylight and we
didn't know what was out there.  Or did we wait  until the very last moment,
when he thought he simply couldn't take any more?
     I tried  to  encourage him to hold on. "If we've got to move in half an
hour, fine, but let's try and stay here as long as we can."
     If he had shaken  his head and said he needed to move, I would have got
up without a murmur, but he nodded his assent.
     By  the  time  another two hours had  elapsed it wasn't just  Mark  who
needed help. All of us were in a desperate state. If we stayed static,  we'd
be dead by the evening.
     I  peered over  the  wall.  There was  only about an hour and a half of
daylight left;  the cloud cover and snow would make it  dark earlier. It was
still snowing hard. I couldn't see or hear anything, apart from the sight of
a typically arid desert scene, covered in a blanket of thick snow.
     "Let's go," I said.
     We put in a deception plan because we would be leaving a lot of sign in
the snow, though  hopefully  it  would snow  or  rain during  the  night and
destroy  our trail. We headed east, then did a loop to end up going  towards
the northwest. The deception plan  proved to  be a good move because we were
no  more  than  a  half mile  off the  position when  we  heard  hooting and
hollering behind us. We turned  and saw lights. Vehicles  were in and around
our position.
     "Shit!" Legs said. "All they've got to do now is follow the sign."
     But  it was starting to get dark, and the tracks and footprints  of the
Iraqis must have got mixed up with ours and confused them.
     The plan had been  to head northwest after crossing the meta  led road,
then take the shortest route to the Syrian  border. If we'd  started to head
northwest this side of the road,  the  chances were that we'd be compromised
because of the movement we had seen during the day. But  now the plan had to
change. Water was going to be a  problem soon. We'd filled  up  our  bottles
with  snow, but even  in the best of  circumstances  it takes a long time to
melt and produces little water anyway. In our  case, the weather was so cold
that it stayed as snow and ice. You can't eat  snow. Not only does  it waste
crucial  body  heat  melting in  your mouth, but  it cools the body from the
inside, chilling the vital organs in the body core. We didn't know where and
when we'd be able to get water again. We had to get to the border as soon as
     The second, and more important, consideration behind our change of plan
was the weather. We were on high ground, about 900 feet above sea level, and
to the northwest  it  got  higher  still.  The  wind chill  factor  in these
conditions was horrendous. The temperature was low anyway, but the wind took
it  bitterly, freezingly lower. We needed  to  get out of  the wind,  and we
needed to get off  the  snowline. However, the chances of getting out of the
wind were slim because the ground afforded no cover.
     Like all water  systems the Euphrates follows the low ground. The river
was 400 or 500 feet lower than we were, so if we headed north  towards it we
would not only come off the snowline but hopefully also find protection from
the wind.
     We headed north. We could worry about the west a bit later; it was just
imperative that we got off this high ground or we'd die.
     A mile and a half from  our stone-wall LUP we came off the snowline.  I
was horrendously pissed  off. If only  we could  have made the extra  bit of
distance that morning, we wouldn't have spent the entire day lying in  snow.
We  still had a desperate  problem with  wind chill I had  my shamag wrapped
around my head and the compass in front of me as we marched on a bearing. My
left hand was  crooked with my thumb over  the luminous part of  the compass
and my smock pulled over my hand as much as I could to keep  out the cold. I
cradled  my weapon in my right arm. I looked down and saw that  my smock had
frozen  solid.  It  was iced  over  like a pond. The  shamag, too, was solid
around my face. I wanted to adjust it, but it was as stiff as a board.
     I daren't move my hands because that let the cold in. We had to move as
fast as we could to generate body warmth. It was desolate, no ambient light,
just the sound of the wind. It was as if we were on a different  planet, and
the only people on it.
     We  pressed  northwards, heads  down and faces  blue with cold. Vehicle
lights moved now  and again in  the distance,  indicating the meta led road.
The ground started to change  again, from  hard sand to bedrock with  shale.
All round  the area there were tank berms where bulldozers had made trenches
for tanks to get into  the "hull down" position. They were filled with water
and ice; they weren't new.
     We'd dropped  about 200 feet  in  elevation. All of us  were  suffering
badly. I looked  out from  behind  my shamag and  thought:  If  the  weather
doesn't improve soon, we're going to die.
     We had marched about a mile and a half over the  road when I decided we
should  turn  back.  Windchill  was  going  to  kill us.  We were stumbling,
shivering  violently, starting  to switch off,  our minds wandering.  If  we
didn't act  now, they were  the last  symptoms that we  would recognize. The
next stage was coma. We'd get back  across the meta led road and retreat for
another mile  to  a dried-up riverbed I  remembered  which ran  more or less
parallel with  the road. It was the only  place we had found that night that
was out of the  wind. If  we didn't get  back there and sort  ourselves out,
there'd be no selves to sort out.
     We  turned back,  tactics  thrown literally to  the  wind. Stealth  was
irrelevant now. All we wanted to do now was save our lives. We stumbled into
the  ditch  and  huddled  together. Mark was the worst  affected, but we all
needed  help. Bob and I jumped on top of him  and gave him body heat. Dinger
and Legs did the  same  together and got a brew on.  It's  an outrageous big
no-no, making brews at night, but so what? If you're dead, that's it. Better
to  take  the  chance  and  live  to fight another  day.  If  we didn't  get
compromised, we would hopefully start to recover. If we did, we would either
get away with it or die. If we didn't do it, we could die anyway.
     They got two brews on, one after the other, and passed  them around. We
got some  hot  food  down  Mark.  He was  slurring  his  words  good  style,
definitely on his way out. I seriously thought we were all going to die.
     We were  there  a couple of  hours, just trying  to  get warm in a  big
huddle.  We got a slight improvement.  I didn't really  want to  make a move
because we were still  freezing and soaking. But we  all knew we had to  get
going or we were never going to make  any headway. After all, the aim was to
evade capture.
     We  had  three  factors  to  worry  about:  the weather,  our  physical
condition, and the enemy. Because of the terrain it was  very unlikely  that
we would avoid the wind that  was giving us so much trouble. No matter where
we went or what we did it would  be there. Our physical condition could have
been worse, but not much. The ideal would have been to stay there out of the
wind  until it stopped or the  weather improved. But how long would that be?
Water  would  be  of  concern sooner or  later as  well. The longer we  went
without it, the greater the problem would become.
     There were far  more enemy in the area than we had been told. Something
was wrong somewhere. If  we were compromised, action could be taken  quicker
because the  troops were there on the ground. Would they  now  know that  we
were in the area after moving onto our LUP?
     We had to move, but in which direction?  In favor of going  north  then
west  was  the fact  that we would keep off the snowline. Against,  that  we
would  be exposed to the wind for longer  and closer to the river, closer to
habitation, and concealment would be difficult. Heading northwest would take
us  back  on to the snowline,  but it would be  quicker, and the chances  of
concealment would  be better. The height was approximately 1,100-1,200 feet,
but once  we were over that we would  be down to around 600 feet all the way
to  the  border. We could also do it  in one night  as long  as our physical
condition didn't get any worse.
     Whatever direction  we went, the wind was going  to get us.  So  it was
best  not to  waste time. If we couldn't make it, we would just have to come
down  again and  rethink. It got to the stage where, if we didn't move  now,
there wouldn't be  enough time.  The longer we left it, the less darkness we
had to get over this high ground. We would have to cover a good 12-15 miles,
so we needed to get our arses into gear and get away.
     The riverbed ran northwest, and we decided to make  use  of it for  two
reasons. One, it gave us tactical cover; two, it gave us a certain amount of
protection from the wind. The only disadvantage  was  if we were approaching
any military installations.  The ditch was a  good approach route if anybody
was going  to  attack, so the chances were  that it would be covered by fire
and observation. However, we would take the chance.
     It  was  about  midnight,  and  we'd been moving  for about two  hours,
patrolling  tactically  because of the  amount of vehicles we'd seen  coming
from this direction. Moving so slowly is bad because you can't keep as  warm
as you'd like to; however, it prevents you  stumbling into something you may
not be able to get out of.
     Legs was in front  as  scout. I  was behind  him, then  Bob,  Mark, and
Dinger.  As  we moved along the riverbed, I checked our  navigation with the
compass to make sure  the ditch was leading us  in more  or  less  the right
direction.  The  rest  of  the lads  were  covering  the  arcs. It was still
freezing,  but because we were  moving  tactically, we had something else to
think about.
     The ground started  to change back to  bedrock with shale.  That was an
added  pain in the arse because of the noise, but for once  the howling wind
worked in our favor.  It was a clear sky, with  a three-quarter  moon set in
the west, a plus for navigation but not for concealment. The clouds were now
gone, but this only made it colder.
     The landscape was starting to change. The area had been generally flat,
but from time  to time now the  ground  gently rolled up into a  mound which
lasted for 1,000-1,250 feet.  Undulating ground is good for concealment, and
we  started  to  feel  better  about our predicament.  At last this desolate
flatness was changing in our favor as the high ground started.
     The distance between patrol  members was dictated by the light. Ideally
you  want as much distance as possible so that if you  come under fire,  not
everybody is caught in the same area and hosed  down all at once. But it's a
compromise between that and  actually seeing what's going  on with the bloke
in front. We were patrolling with about four meters between each man.
     There was no talking. You communicate by hand signal  or by duplicating
the  scout's movements. If the scout stops, the bloke behind  him  does  the
same, and it  reverberates all  the way down.  If the scout kneels down, you
all kneel  down. Everything's done very slowly and very deliberately, or you
create movement, you create noise.
     Legs suddenly froze.
     Everybody behind him froze too. We all covered our arcs, looked around,
waiting to see  what he  had  seen. There was a plantation  to our right--we
could just  see  the tips of the  trees. There were no lights  or  movement.
There was high  ground forward to the left, less than 350  feet away. Slowly
coming into view as they got to the top of the hill were the silhouettes  of
two men. Both had "longs"--long weapons.
     Legs  started  to kneel  down very slowly, to get  into  the lip of the
riverbed itself. We had the  cover of the wind  and the cover of them making
noise. But spotting two men didn't mean  there weren't two hundred about. We
just didn't know. Slowly and deliberately we started to get into cover.
     Could it be two of our  missing patrol members?  The wind carried brief
bits of chat  in our direction, and I tried hard to hear  a voice  or word I
recognized. But surely Vince, Stan, or  Chris would never let themselves  be
sky  lined  like  that,  let   alone  walk  around  chatting?  It  was  very
frustrating. I was hoping so much that it was them and  we'd be able to grab
hold of them in some way.
     They  stopped  and   looked  all  around.  I  hoped  they  didn't  have
night-viewing aids.  If they did, we'd have to go for it good style  if they
saw us  from  such a distance. Then I had the mad thought: Chris has got our
set of NVG;  if  we  show ourselves, he'll be able to see  us.  No, I really
wasn't going to do that. He'd look and just see bodies: he wouldn't  be able
to identify us. In  reality, the chances of  us making a union were going to
be quite slim.
     They were  still  too far away for us to ID them.  They  started moving
again, and  I  watched as  they came  down from the  high  ground and walked
across  in  front  of  us. We  got right  down,  moving  very  slowly,  very
deliberately.  Even if one of the blokes at  the  back of the patrol  hadn't
seen  the two figures on the skyline, he'd have known there was a  drama. It
would  be tactically imprudent to tell him what  was  happening because that
would involve movement and speech.
     We  were there  for  what seemed an eternity,  just  staring  at  these
characters and looking around to see if there was anybody  else. They got to
our  riverbed and  started  walking  along the  edge towards us. This was  a
severe drama. We were going to get compromised by these dickheads. We  would
have to keep  covert as  long as possible, but then go overt the moment they
saw  us. Everybody  had made the  same appreciation. I saw Legs rest his 203
very gently on the ground and slowly, slowly reach for the fighting knife in
its leather sheath. The weapon is housed this way precisely so that it makes
no noise when extracted. They were very slow, very deliberate movements. Bob
was right up on my shoulder by this stage, and he was very slowly taking the
sling  of  the Minimi off his shoulder. He didn't have a fighting knife.  He
had  an Ml 6 bayonet,  which is stored  in a plastic and metal  sheath.  The
bayonet makes a scraping sound as it is pulled out, so Bob just put his hand
on the  handle and pulled it out a little way. He'd fully  extract it at the
last minute.
     We couldn't take the risk of them shouting a warning. We'd have to kill
them as soon as they came within range. In films, the attacker puts his hand
over his target's mouth and  with  one  smooth motion runs a knife  into his
heart or  along  his neck  and  the boy just drops. Unfortunately it doesn't
work quite like that. The chances of getting one  smooth stab into the heart
are very remote and not even worth the effort. He might have a greatcoat on,
and there  could  be  webbing underneath. You'd do  your neat stab, and he'd
just turn around and ask you not to. If you're  5 feet 10" and he's 6'5" and
weighs seventeen stone, you're going to be in the  shit. Even if you cut the
boy's jugular, you're  going to get a minute or so of screaming and shouting
out of him. In reality, you have to get hold of his  head,  hoik it back  as
you would with a sheep, and just  keep  on cutting  until you've gone  right
through the  windpipe  and the head has just about come away  in your hands.
That way he's not going to breathe any  more or have  any means of  shouting
     Legs and  Bob were ready. The rest  of us would be up also to help with
the killing by covering their mouths  to stop  the screaming. They'd have to
get out of the riverbed very swiftly and up and on  top of  them, check they
weren't  two of ours, and  do the business.  The ideal would have been to ID
them before they could  see  us, but it was all going to happen together. If
the two  characters  were  ours,  there was  a chance of them  taking us for
Iraqis  in the  sudden  attack, and we'd have a  nasty  "blue  on blue."  It
happened in the Falklands, when a Regiment patrol got  into a contact with a
Special Boat Squadron patrol.
     They  were within 60 feet of  us. I crouched against  the  bank of  the
riverbed  and looked  up. Ten  or fifteen more  paces, I reckoned, and there
would be  an explosion of movement from in front of and  behind me-and then,
either a reunion with our lost blokes or two more statistics.
     I held my breath. All thoughts of wind chill and exposure were banished
now. My  mind was concentrated 100 percent on  every single  little movement
that was  going  on. And  these blokes didn't have a clue they were about to
get their throats done.
     They stopped.
     Had they  seen something? They were close enough for me to see that the
longs were AKs.  They jumped down into the riverbed  no more than 20-25 feet
in front of us  and ambled across to  the other side. They scrambled  up the
other side and  walked off towards  the plantation,  the two luckiest men in
Iraq.  I almost laughed. I would have enjoyed seeing  Bob leap up and do the
business, little midget that he was.
     We stayed where we were for about  a quarter of an hour, tuning  in all
over  again. We  were  all  right, we were in cover,  we weren't making  any
noise. All  we had to do was take our time and make sure we weren't going to
blunder into anything.
     We "closed in." We  didn't know what was on the other side of  the high
ground that  the two Iraqis had come  from.  They might  just  have been two
blokes who lived at the  plantation, or  we  might  be walking into  a major
drama. Better to stop, take our time, use concealment.
     "We'll head south and box it," I said into Bob's ear, and he passed the
message down the line.
     We patrolled  as  before with Legs as scout. We had  gone  about a mile
when we came to a mound of high ground  to our front. We chose to go through
a saddle, and as we moved towards it, Legs stopped. He got  on his knees and
lay down. We were right out in the open.
     I  got on my belly beside him, slowly  and deliberately. He pointed up.
There was a head on the ridge line about 150 feet away. We watched him as he
shuffled around, but I couldn't see any others. I indicated to the patrol by
pointing east that we'd  have to box around the position. We circumnavigated
the high ground for about 1,200 feet and headed west.
     We encountered  static interior vehicle lights on the other side of the
high  ground.  We had  walked into  a laager  of vehicles parked up for  the
night. Again we had to back out, head south, then try again heading west. We
came across more troops and tents. We turned south  again for a  half  mile,
then west again, and at last were in the clear. These encounters had cost us
a good two hours, and we didn't have time to spare.
     We pressed on towards Syria  along the higher ground. By now we were at
an  altitude of over  1,000  feet,  and it was  colder than  we  could  have
imagined.  The  area looked like a NASA photograph  of the  moon,  bleak and
white, with random outcrops of  higher ground. The  hills funneled  the wind
towards  us. We had to lean hard into it as we pushed into the gaps. We came
to an area  of scorched earth that was  broken by craters and tank berms. It
could  have  been  an old  launch site or the scene of a battle. The craters
were  full of water, snow, and  ice,  and reminded  me of photographs of the
     We had  agreed that  if anybody  started to suffer from  exposure, they
were to say so at once  and not play  the hard man. At  anybody's request we
would come down as fast as we could or find some area out of the wind. If we
had to stay up there for the following day, we'd  die. We  were still soaked
and  frozen. In the early hours, Mark  started going down. "We've got to get
off the high ground because I'm suffering severely here."
     We stopped and  I tried  to think.  It wasn't  easy to concentrate. Icy
rain was now driving horizontally  into my face. My mind  was a blur  of wet
and cold, and it was hard to shut out the pain for long enough to think. Did
we go  forward west and  try to get  over the high ground and hopefully find
some cover? Or did we go back  to where we knew we would be out of the wind?
I decided we must come off the high ground  for Mark to  have any  chance of
     The  only  place we  knew for sure was out of the wind was back at  the
area of the  riverbed near  the meta  led road. We  came down  more  or less
parallel with the road but about 600 feet away from any possible headlights.
We couldn't be arsed with  navigating: there was not  enough time--we needed
to get back and recover, and  we didn't want  to be out in the open at first
light. It was a really bad two hours  as we made  our way down. We tabbed as
fast  as  we could, and just  before  first light  we found  a  position,  a
depression in  the ground, a compromise between concealment  and keeping out
of the elements. We would try again tomorrow.
     It was a dip no more than three feet deep. We got in and cuddled up. It
was heartbreaking. We had traveled a horrendous number of kilometers just to
make  less  than  6  miles northwest.  But  it was better  to lose a night's
distance than to lose a man. We could see the meta led road about a  mile to
the north. The depression ran along the line of the wind, but we were out of
the worst of it. We cuddled up and kept our eyes open.
     At first light on the 26th we checked that we weren't sitting on top of
an enemy position. There was  only one piece  of  ground that overlooked us,
and as we were  huddled up against  one  edge  of the depression, it cut the
chances of anybody seeing us.
     The weather had changed. There wasn't a  cloud in the sky, and when the
sun came out, it was  quite comforting, psychologically, though it was still
very cold. The wind was still biting and we were soaking wet.
     I  had  a  pair of small binoculars,  an excellent bit of  kit that I'd
bought at a jeweler's in Hereford.  I looked north at the road  that went up
to a  pumping station. There was a steady stream of  vehicles, one every few
minutes: oil convoys, water bowsers, civilian Land Cruisers with the husband
driving and the wife all in her black kit sitting in the back. The  vehicles
normally  came in groups of three or four. There were also  lots of military
convoys, consisting of armored vehicles and trucks.
     Looking   south  I   saw   pylons   a   mile  or   so   away  that  ran
southeast-northwest,  parallel  to  the  road. Three or  four vehicles  also
headed southeast  along the line of  the pylons as if  following  them as  a
navigational aid. We were sandwiched between the two.
     We cuddled  each  other for  warmth, trying to keep  our eyes  open but
frequently dozing off and waking up with a start. We had survived the night,
and now I just hoped that we could hold out until last light again.
     We sorted our feet out. This is done in such a way that at any one time
only one person  has one boot  off.  We were well  used to  harsh tabbing in
tough conditions, but  last  night's  efforts  had taken the biscuit. We had
tabbed for twelve hours, covering  well over 30  miles, in the worst weather
conditions any of us  had seen for  a very long time.  Our feet had  taken a
fearsome pounding.
     Dinger  remembered  that  Chris  had  been  wearing  a pair of  GoreTex
go-fasters  that had set him  back a hundred  quid.  "If he's  still running
around, I bet his feet are Okay in them Gucci boots," he said, massaging his
sore toes.
     We got some cold scoff down us. We wouldn't cook because the ground was
too open. We had  enough sachets of food  to last a few days yet;  water was
the more pressing concern.
     We  rested and plotted. The  big plan now was to  take the  high ground
tonight, get over it, then hit the  low ground, which  according  to the map
was flat gravel plain that would take us into the border. In theory we could
get over the border that night  if we really went for it. All  it would take
was another twelve hours all  out tabbing. On the positive side,  we weren't
carrying much weight because all we  had was our  belt kit  and our weapons.
And  we had the  incentive, which was to get out of  Iraq and into Syria. We
had no idea what the border was going to be like; we'd just have to find out
when we got there.
     We did our map studies again to  make  sure we  all knew where we were,
where we were going, and what we were likely to see on the way--which wasn't
a lot because we were working with air maps. The  alignment of pylons and so
forth is approximate on  these maps, but  we did know that we'd have a major
built up area about three  hours north of us to our right. That seemed to be
the only fixed obstacle.
     We were all recovering quite  well now.  We whispered bad jokes to each
other  as  the  hours  passed,  trying  to  keep  up morale. Everything  was
beginning  to feel all right again. We were still cold,  but we had it under
control.  At least  it wasn't  snowing or raining any more. I was  confident
that we would be able to do it in one last big effort.
     It was at 1530 that we heard it.
     Ding ding, baa baaa.
     We really don't need this, I said to myself.
     I  had a  quick scan but couldn't see anything.  We hugged the  ground.
There  was  no  hollering  or  shouting  as  there  was before  in  the last
compromise,  just the sound of chuntering and a solitary bell. It got closer
and closer. I looked up,  and there was the head goat with a bell around his
neck. Wherever  he went, it  seemed, the other  goats  followed, because his
entourage came and  joined him  one by  one. Soon there  were  ten  of  them
standing gawping over the edge of the  dip. They looked at us and we  looked
at them. I lobbed a couple of small pebbles at the head boy to  try and shoo
him away.
     His response was to come forward even  more, and  the rest of the goats
followed. They put their heads down and started chewing, and there were five
sighs  of  relief. They were a bit  premature.  A few seconds  later the old
goatherd turned  up.  He must  have been 70 if he  was  a day. He had  a big
woolly  dish-dash on, with a baggy old cardigan  over the top. His  head was
swathed in  a shamag. Over his  shoulder was a tatty leather satchel. He had
beads  in his  hands  and  muttered "Allah"  as  he pushed them through  his
     He looked at us  and didn't  miss a beat.  No  surprise, no fright,  no
     I smiled at him, as one does.
     Totally nonchalantly, as  if it was an everyday occurrence to find five
foreigners  huddling  in  a dip in  the ground  in the middle of nowhere, he
squatted down beside us and started gob bing off. I didn't have a  clue what
he was saying.
     We gave him the greeting, "As salaam alaikum."
     He replied, "Wa alaikum as salaam."
     We shook his hand. This was bizarre. He  was so friendly. I wondered if
he even knew there was a war on. Within seconds we were all best mates.
     I wanted to keep the conversation going, but our Arabic wasn't quite up
to it. Even as I spoke, I couldn't believe what I heard myself saying next.
     "Wayn al souk?" I asked.
     Here we were, in the middle of nowhere, and I was asking him the way to
the market.
     He didn't bat an eyelid, just pointed south.
     "Good one," Dinger said. "At least next time  we're here we'll know the
way to Sainsbury's."
     Bob spotted a bottle in the old boy's satchel. "Halib?" he asked.
     The  goatherd nodded  that  yes, it  was milk, and  passed  the  bottle
around. Then he got out some smelly, minging dates from the bag and a bit of
old bread, and we sat down and played the white man.
     Mark  stayed  on his  feet, having  a  casual look around. "He's on his
own," he said, all smiles.
     The goatherd pointed  south again and waved his hand. "Jaysh," he said,
     I raised a quizzical eyebrow at Bob.
     "Army," he translated. "Militia."
     Bob asked: "Wayn? Wayn jaysh?"
     The old boy pointed back the way we had come.
     We  couldn't understand  if he meant:  there's loads  of soldiers  down
there; or there's loads of soldiers down there, and they're looking for you;
or are you with the  soldiers from the jaysh back there?  None  of us  could
remember  the Arabic for distance. We tried to  do signs  for  far  away and
     All in  all it was  quite funny.  There we  were, sitting having a cosy
kefuddle in the middle  of  the desert, in  weather that was  so  bad we had
nearly frozen to death.
     We carried  on with this for about half an hour, but we were getting to
the point where a decision had to be  made.  Did we kill him? Did we tie him
up and keep him until we moved out? Or did we just let him go and do his own
thing?  The only benefit  to be gained by killing  him was that nobody  else
would then know what was going  on. But if the countryside was littered with
the  corpses  of elderly  members  of the indigenous population and  we  got
caught--which we had to  assume was likely--then we could  hardly expect red
carpet treatment at the hands of our  captors. If we tied him up to keep him
out of  play, he  would be dead by first light anyway  because of  the cold.
There  was  little doubt his  body  would be discovered. It looked as though
every square foot of this country was patrolled by goats and herders.
     If we let him go,  who could he tell, what  harm could he do? He had no
transport, and as far as Mark could make out he was on his own. It was about
1600  hours now,  and it would  soon be last  light. Even if  he raised  the
alarm, by  the  time there was any reaction it  would be  dark and  we'd  be
legging  it towards the border. We might as well let him go. It was  the SAS
we were in, not the SS.
     We made up our minds that when he  decided to go,  we'd watch him, wait
until he got out of sight, then we'd put in a deception plan south.
     Five minutes later he was giving his goodbyes, and off he shuffled with
the goats, not a care in  the  world. We let him go for  about  a  half mile
until he disappeared into some dead ground, then we moved off. We went south
for a few miles, then turned west.
     We came into a small depression and  stopped to take stock.  There were
several factors to  discuss. First  was our water supply. We had enough food
to last us another couple of days, but we were almost out of  water. Second,
we had to assume that the enemy  knew where  our last LUP was from the night
before, so they  knew  our  direction  of travel. Third,  we'd  had  another
compromise--I  was  already  thinking  that we should have kept him with  us
until last light before letting him go. We were still in bad physical shape,
and the weather would get very bad up on the high ground. We had nearly died
the  night  before, and  I didn't want to take another chance. We had lost a
night's march and didn't want to lose another. All in all, the situation was
not  very good, and we probably  hadn't done ourselves any favors by letting
the old boy go. But what was done was done.
     We went through the options that we had left to us as a patrol. One, to
keep west,  hoping to find  water on the  way: the chances were  good on the
high ground  due  to the snow and  ice. Two,  to head north to the river and
then head  west,  but  we  were a large number and concealment  would  be  a
problem because  the closer  we got to the border, the more habitation there
was  going to be. Three, to hijack a vehicle and drive for the  border  that
night. It was 1715 and starting  to get  dark.  Given  the amount  of  enemy
activity and  our physical condition,  we  decided  to  go  for  the vehicle
hijack, any time after last light. The sooner the better.
     We  were  going to have some major  drama tonight, one way or  another.
Before moving down towards the  road we carried out a weapon check. One  man
at a  time, we  pulled the working parts out,  slapped on some oil, and made
sure everything was ready.
     I scanned the road through my binos. We wanted to have an area where we
could come out and be more or less straight on top of them, so they couldn't
see us  coming. I spotted a small mound on a patch of high ground that would
do the trick.
     The plan was that Bob  would play the cripple, leaning  on my shoulder,
and I'd wave down a good Samaritan.  To make us look even more harmless we'd
leave our  weapons and webbing with the  others. They would come out, do the
hijack, and away we'd go. We'd  been looking at nothing but lorries and Land
Cruisers  for six hours. Depending  on  the type of  vehicle,  we  could  go
cross-country--heading south until we hit the pylons and then following them
west--or take our chances on the road.
     The road was half an hour's tab away. We got to the highish ground just
on  last light. Legs  found a purpose-made ditch in the area to the right of
the road, and we all  piled  in. We had a good view to the southeast because
the road was long and straight  for a  number of  miles and we were on  high
ground  looking  down. To the  northwest, however,  there was a small  crest
about  900 feet down the road. We wouldn't have  much time in which to react
if  the  vehicle came from  that direction. Bob and I would  try to  stop it
right opposite the ditch so the lads could  just jump up and  give  them the
good news.
     We sat there with the binos out, looking to the east. Two trucks  moved
along the road and  then  went off in the general direction of our last LUP.
Because of the low light I couldn't see whether people were getting out, but
there appeared to be general  activity on both sides of the  road. They were
obviously looking  for something, and I took it to be us. After a  while the
vehicles came back onto the road and started to move towards us.
     Fuck!  Was this the follow-up from  the  night before?  Either we  were
lucky that we had  moved, or unlucky that we hadn't held the old boy and had
let him go and bubble. But he had  gone in totally the opposite direction to
the one these troops were coming from. It didn't make sense.
     We  watched the lights coming nearer, and then we could hear the engine
grinding up the  hill. We got our heads down, just hoping that the elevation
of the trucks  would not give any  blokes in the back the chance to see down
into the dip.
     We waited. As soon as we heard the trucks stop  opposite us, we'd be up
and firing. We had nothing to lose.
     They drove straight past. Big grins all round.
     Bob and I moved up onto  the road and sat  watching in both directions.
After  about twenty  minutes,  vehicle lights came  over the small crest and
drove towards us. Satisfied that it  was not a troop truck, we stood up. The
vehicle caught us in its headlights and slowed down to a halt about  10 feet
down the road.  I kept my head down to protect my  eyes and to hide  my face
from the driver. Bob and I hobbled towards it.
     "Oh shit," I muttered into Bob's ear.
     Of all the vehicles  in Iraq that could have come our  way that  night,
the one we had  chosen to hijack and speed us to our freedom was a 1950s New
York yellow cab. I couldn't believe it. Chrome bumpers, whitewall tires, the
     We  were committed.  Bob was in my  arms giving it the wounded soldier.
The blokes were straight up from the ditch.
     "What the fuck have we got  here?" Mark shouted  in disbelief. "This is
the story of our lives, this is! Why can't it be a fucking Land Cruiser?"
     The  driver panicked and stalled the  engine. He and the two passengers
in the back sat staring openmouthed at the muzzles of Minimis and 203s.
     The cab  was an old  rust bucket with typical  Arab decoration--tassels
and gaudy religious emblems dangling from every available point. A couple of
old blankets were thrown over as seat covers. The  driver was beside himself
with hysteria. The two men on the backseat were a picture,  both  dressed in
neatly pressed green militia fatigues  and  berets, with little weekend bags
on their laps. As the younger of the two explained that they were father and
son, we  had  a  quick  rummage  through their effects to  see if  there was
anything worth having.
     We  had  to move  quickly  because  we  couldn't  guarantee that  there
wouldn't be other vehicles coming  over.  We tried  to  shepherd them to the
side of the road,  but the father was on his knees.  He thought he was going
to get slotted.
     "Christian! Christian!" he screamed as  he scrabbled in  his pocket and
pulled out a keyring with  the  Madonna dangling from it. "Muslim!" he said,
pointing at the taxi driver and trying to drop him in it.
     Now  the  driver sank  to his knees, bowing and praying. We had to prod
him with rifle barrels to get him to move.
     "Cigarettes?" Dinger enquired.
     The son obliged with a couple of packs.
     The father got up and started kissing Mark, apparently thanking him for
not killing him. The driver kept praying and hollering. It was a farce.
     "What's his problem?" I said.
     "This  car is his occupation," the son said in good English. "He has to
feed his children."
     Bob  came storming over and said, "I've fucking had  enough  of  this."
Sticking  the end of his bayonet up one of the driver's nostrils,  he walked
him over to the ditch.
     We left them all  there. We had no time to tie them up; we  just wanted
to get going. We needed to put in some miles.
     "I'll drive," I said. "I saw Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver."
     It  was  an old column  gearshift,  and  I  couldn't  work it.  To  the
accompaniment of jeers  and much slagging, I did a  six-point turn to get us
facing west,  and off we lurched. Legs was in the  front to  do  the compass
bearings; the  other three were crammed into the back. The way our luck  had
been going I fully expected the compass to pack  in and the next sign we saw
to be "Baghdad Welcomes Safe Drivers."
     We had no shorts (pistols); they were all longs, and it was going to be
almost impossible to  bear them if we were compromised. Nevertheless we were
happy as
     Larry. This was make-or-break time. We'd either make it tonight or we'd
be dead.
     It was unfortunate  that we  were committed to  going on roads but we'd
just  have to  make the  most  of it.  We had just over half a tank of fuel,
which was plenty for the distance we had  to cover. We were going at quite a
fuel-efficient pace anyway because we didn't want to look conspicuous or get
involved in the slightest accident. We'd just drive as far as we could, dump
the vehicle, and go over the border on foot.
     We tried to make up game plans for what we would do if we got caught in
a VCP (Vehicle Checkpoint). We didn't know what  we'd do. We couldn't try to
barge through a checkpoint barrier on the road. That might  happen  in films
but it's fantasy stuff; permanent VCPs are made to stop  that sort of thing.
The vehicle  draws fire every time, and we'd end up  as perforated as Tetley
tea bags I'd probably just have to brake as fast  as I could, and  we'd pile
out and do a runner.
     Unfortunately,  we were reading air charts, not an AA  road atlas.  The
roads were  very confusing.  Legs directed  me to  take  junctions that went
generally west, and I constantly checked  the mileometer to see how far we'd
     The first major location we came to was the pumping station area. There
were military vehicles and blokes milling around, but no checkpoint.  Nobody
took a blind bit of notice of us as the cab chugged past.
     We had  to look  as though we knew where  we  were -going. If we looked
lost it would arouse suspicion, and people might even come over and offer to
     We came to yet another set of junctions. There  was nothing going  west
and the best we could do was to turn  north. It  was  a normal  two-way road
instead of  the single-track ones  we had  been moving on. It was busy  with
convoys of oil tankers. We  pulled out  to  overtake,  but military vehicles
were coming the  other way. Nobody else was doing it  so we  had to play the
game to blend  in. At least we  were  moving,  and the heater was going full
blast. It was blissfully warm.
     The convoy stopped.
     We couldn't see why. Traffic lights? A broken-down vehicle? A VCP?
     Legs  jumped  out and had  a  quick  look but  could see nothing in the
darkness. We started inching forward. We stopped again and Legs got out.
     "Military vehicles at the  front  of the convoy,"  he muttered. "One of
them has crashed or broken down."
     Squaddies were  hanging around on foot  and in  Land Cruisers, and cars
and  trucks  were maneuvering  around them. We started  to drive past, and I
held  my breath. One  of the blokes  directing the  traffic  spotted us  and
started to wave us on. Mark, Bob, and Dinger  pretended to be asleep  on the
back seat; Legs and I grinned like idiots inside our shamags and waved back.
As they disappeared in the rearview mirror, we laughed ourselves silly.
     We  hit  a built-up  area.  Statues  of  Saddam  stood  outside  public
buildings and pictures of him were  plastered on every available  space.  We
drove past cafe bars with people  milling around outside. We passed civilian
cars, armored cars, and APCs. Nobody turned a hair.
     Sometimes  the roads  and junctions  funneled  us in  totally the wrong
direction. We did  a touch of  north, then east, then south, then  west, but
ensured we were  generally keeping west. Mark had the Magellan on his lap in
the back and  was  making attempts to get a fix so that if the  shit hit the
fan, we would each have the information we needed to get us over the border.
     Dinger  was smoking like  a condemned  man enjoying his last request. I
was considering  whether to join him. I'd never had a cigarette in my  life,
and I thought: By tonight  I could be dead, so  why not try one while I have
the chance?
     "What's the score on these fags?" I asked Dinger.
     "Do you drag all the smoke down, or what do you do?"
     "You've had one before, have you?"
     "No, mate--never smoked in my life."
     "Well, you  ain't going to start now, you wanker. You'll  flake out and
crash  the car.  Anyway, do  you have any idea how many people  die of  lung
cancer each year? I can't possibly expose you to that sort of risk. Tell you
what, though--you can have a bit of passive."
     He blew a lungful of  smoke  in my direction. I hated it,  as he knew I
would.  When we were on the Counter Terrorist team  together, Dinger used to
drive one of the Range Rovers. He knew I loathed cigarettes so he'd be at it
all the time, keeping  the  windows  wound up. I'd go berserk and  open them
all,  and he'd be laughing  his  cock  off. Then the windows would go up and
he'd do  it  again. He had  a  tape called something like "Elvis--The  First
Twenty Years." He knew I hated it so he'd put it on at every opportunity. We
were driving along the M4 one time, and I'd wound down the window because he
was  smoking. Dinger  put  the cassette on  and  grinned.  I pressed  Eject,
grabbed the cassette, and chucked it out of the window. War was declared.
     I  had  my  own  tapes  which  I took with us on  long drives, but  the
difference was  that it was good music-Madness,  usually, or  The  Jam.  One
night,  many  weeks later,  I put one  of them on  and closed my  eyes as  I
complained about his smoking and  farting.  Before I  realized what  he  was
doing, he ejected the tape and sent it the way of Elvis.
     I waved away the cloud of Iraqi cigarette smoke.
     "I  hate it when  you do that," I said.  "Do  you know, for  every nine
cigarettes you smoke, I'm smoking three of them?"
     "You shouldn't honk," he said. "It's cheap. You're not paying, I am."
     The road signs were in English as well as Arabic, and the blokes in the
back had a map spread out on their laps, trying  to work out  where we were.
Nothing actually  registered.  The  built-up  area  stretched all  along the
Euphrates, and there were no place-names.
     All  things considered, we were doing rather well. The mood was quietly
confident  but  apprehensive.  They must have found the people at the hijack
site by now  and would be  on the lookout for the yellow  cab. Compared with
what we'd  been through in the last few days, it was quite a funny time, and
at least it was warm. The car fugged up, and our clothes started to dry.
     There were more convoys, consisting of about twenty vehicles at a time.
We  tagged  on  behind. There  were  civilian cars everywhere. There  was no
street lighting, which was rather  good.  We tried  our  best  to  hide  our
weapons, but there had to be a compromise between concealment and being able
to get the weapons up to bear in the event of a drama.
     We rounded a corner on the open road and got into another slowly moving
jam. Vehicles  had come  up  behind us, and  we were stuck. This  time  Legs
couldn't  get out or  he'd be seen  by the people behind. We'd just  have to
bluff it out.
     A soldier with his weapon slung over his  shoulder was coming down  the
queue  on the driver's side, the left-hand  side  as we were looking. People
were talking  to  him from their cars and trucks. There  were two more squad
dies on the right-hand side. They were mooching along more slowly than their
mate, weapons over their shoulders, smoking and chatting.
     We knew we were going to  get compromised. The moment the jundie  stuck
his head inside and had a look at us, he'd see we were white eyes. There was
no more than a 1 percent chance of us getting away with it.
     Big decision: What did we do now?  Did we  get out  straightaway and go
for it, or did we wait?
     "Wait," I said. "You never know."
     Very slowly we tried to get our weapons up to bear. If  we had a drama,
we  would have  to  get out of the car. Every handle had a hand on it, ready
for the off.
     Mark quietly said, "See you in Syria."
     We'd try to keep together  as much as possible, but there was  a strong
chance we'd get split. It would be every man for himself.
     We waited  and waited, watching these  people slowly  working their way
down the  line. They didn't look  particularly switched  on: they were  just
killing time. Mark tried to get a fix on the Magellan to find out how far we
were from the border, but he ran out of time.
     "Let's just go south, and then west," I said.
     That meant jumping out  on the left-hand side of the  road, firing  off
some rounds to get their heads down,  and running like mad. As far  as I was
concerned, this was our most dangerous moment since leaving Saudi.
     The  blokes at the back had  got  their weapons  up. Legs  had  his 203
across him with the barrel resting on my lap.
     "If he comes up and puts his head through, as soon as he  ID's us, I'll
slot him," he said.
     All I needed  to do  was keep my  head out  of the way. Legs would just
bring the barrel up and do the business. - "We'll  take the  other two," Bob
     I leaned forward to hide Legs's weapon.
     The jundie got to the vehicle in front  of us. He  leaned down to speak
to the driver, laughing and gob bing off,  not a care in the world. He waved
his hands as he spoke, probably moaning about  the  weather. With our Arabic
we wouldn't have much to talk about when he  got to our car. I could ask him
the way to the market, but that was about it.
     He said his goodbyes  to the vehicle in front and sauntered towards our
cab. I leant forward and fiddled with the dashboard controls.
     He did one tap on the window. I  put my head right back and in the same
motion  pushed  my  legs  out  and  pressed  my  body against the  seat. The
squaddy's face was pressed expectantly against the window. Legs  lifted  the
barrel  of  the  203.  One round was all it took. There  was an explosion of
shattered glass, and the car doors flew open. We were out and running before
the body had even hit the ground.
     The two other  squad dies started  running  for  cover, but the Minimis
took them  down before  they'd taken  half a dozen paces.  The civvies  were
straight down into the foot wells of their vehicles and quite rightly so.
     We ran at right angles to the column of cars until we came into line of
sight of the VCP and were  illuminated by  the spill from  headlights.  They
opened  up, and we returned a massive amount of rounds. They  must have been
wondering  what the  hell was going  on. All they would  have heard was  one
round,  then  a couple  of  short  bursts, followed  by the  sight  of  five
dickheads in shamags legging it into the desert.
     The first people over the road put covering fire down on the VCP  until
the others got across. Once there, we all moved. The whole contact lasted no
more than thirty seconds.
     We ran south for several more minutes.  I  stopped and shouted, "On me!
On me! On me!"
     Heads dashed past me,  and I put my hand on them and  counted one, two,
three, four.
     "Everybody's here. Okay, let's go!"
     We ran and  ran,  making the best of  the confusion we'd created behind
us. To my right, I heard the sound of Dinger laughing as  he ran, and before
long  we'd all  joined in. It was  sheer  bloody  relief.  None of us  could
believe we'd got out of it.
     We headed west. From Mark's last  fix on the Magel lan we  estimated we
had  maybe  8  miles  to  the  border.  Eight miles  in  over nine  hours of
darkness--a piece of cake. All we had to do was take our time and make  sure
we got  there tonight.  There  was no way a group this big could  lie up the
next day.
     We  came  to an  inhabited area. There  were pylons, old cars,  rubbish
tips,  dogs  howling, the lights of  a  house. Sometimes we had  to get over
fences. There were vehicle headlights on roads. Behind us in the area of the
VCP  there  was  still  an  incredible  amount  of noise.  People were still
hollering, and  there  were  sporadic  bursts of  small-arms  fire.  Tracked
vehicles screamed up and down the road. It was just a race now, a  matter of
the hares keeping in front of the hounds.
     The  moon started to come  out. A  full moon, in the  west. It couldn't
have been worse. The  only  good thing was that we, too,  could see more and
move faster.
     We  landed up paralleling  another road. We couldn't avoid it. We had a
built-up area to our left and the road to our right. We didn't have  time to
fart-arse around. We were going for it big style. We had to hit  the  border
before their initial confusion died down and reinforcements arrived.
     Every  time a car came from either direction we had  to take cover.  We
were  climbing fences, avoiding dogs, avoiding buildings.  There were houses
everywhere  now, lights on,  generators  going.  We  picked our way  through
without incident.
     Vehicles  started  to  move   along  the  road  without  their  lights,
presumably hoping to  catch us out.  There was still shooting way off in the
distance. In our desert camouflage, against an almost European background of
plantations and lush arable land, we glowed like ghosts in the moonlight.
     We were spotted from the road. Three or four  vehicles  came  screaming
along, and blokes jumped out firing. We were down to a few mags each by now,
and there was bound to be  lots more drama before the night was over. All we
could do was run.  There was no cover.  They kept  on firing and we  kept on
running, the rounds zinging past us and into the built-up area.
     We sprinted for  1,200  feet.  We  passed  through  little clusters  of
houses, expecting at  any moment to be slotted by people coming out, but the
local population kept themselves to  themselves, bless their cotton socks. I
was sweating  buckets, panting for breath. Adrenaline  gets hold of you  and
you clock Olympic times, but you can't sustain it. Then the firing sparks up
again and you find a bit more.
     We  started to move over a crest. We looked down on the  lights of  Abu
Kamal and Krabilah, the two built-up areas that straddled the border. It was
just a sea  of light, as if we'd run on to the film set of Close Encounters.
And there were  the  masts, the taller  one on the  Iraqi side.  The boys in
pursuit kept firing.
     "Fucking  hell," Bob shouted,  "look at this, this is  good news! We're
nearly there!"
     Like  a prat,  I said  "Shut  the  fuck  up!"  as  if he  was a naughty
schoolboy. I regretted  it as soon  as I said it. I was thinking exactly the
same  thing  myself. Those  lights, Abu Kamal, that  tower--they  weren't in
Iraq, they were in Syria. I  could almost taste the place.  I was as sparked
up as Bob was.
     We  ran over the  crest. But the  moment we came  down from  the higher
ground we were sky lined to some boys stationed below. They turned out to be
antiaircraft battery. They greeted us with small-arms fire, and then  opened
up  with  triple  A.  We ducked  north  to get  across the  road, committing
ourselves  to going through the built-up  area  that lay between  us and the
river. Vehicles were revving up near the AAA battery, and to top it all some
jets screamed over. They must have been ours because the S60s diverted their
fire. In the chaos we slipped away.
     There  was firing  left, right,  and behind us, but we just kept going,
heads down. Heavy tracer went  up vertical, then horizontal where the Iraqis
were just  firing at  anything  that was  moving. It was outrageous  of them
because  there were  civilian buildings all about. We were  deafened by  AAA
gunfire. We had to scream our instructions and warnings to each other.
     We got up to  a  road, made a quick check,  and were straight over.  We
stopped  on the  other side and took a deep breath  to sort  ourselves  out.
Going  into a built up area is a totally different ballgame;  it's something
you always try to avoid, but we had no choice. There was a plantation to the
right, but it was protected by a high fence.
     There  was about 900-1,200 feet meters of habitation to get through,  a
big amalgamation of houses with perimeter walls. Two-inch plastic irrigation
pipes ran along the ground from the houses to the plantation. We moved down,
trying  to use the  shadows as much as  possible, walking  with  our weapons
facing  out, safety  catches  off,  fingers on  the trigger. We were  moving
north, and the moon was in the west. I was in front. If anybody appeared I'd
give it to him with my 203, and Mark would come out  two  or three steps and
give it a burst with  his Minimi. Then we'd withdraw around the first corner
and  reorganize ourselves,  or  move forward,  depending on what we had been
firing at.
     People were shouting their  heads off in the houses,  lights were going
off, doors being slammed. We walked: we couldn't be arsed to run. If  it was
going to happen there was nothing we were going to achieve by running.
     From  the end  of the buildings  there  were  pathways and  large pipes
running  down  to  the Euphrates about 450 feet away.  Diesel pumps chugged.
There was mud and shit all over the place which had iced over.  We got  into
the corner of a plantation for a bit of cover and stopped.
     The first priority  was to fill up our  water  bottles. Two of the lads
went down to the river's edge while Mark got a fix on the Magellan. "Exactly
lOKs from the border' he whispered.
     All  the  chaos was  over the other side of the road.  Tracked vehicles
were maneuvering and firing,  and the AAA guns were  still pumping away.  In
the  middle and far distance there were bursts of small-arms fire. They must
have  been  shooting at dogs and  anything else  that moved--including  each
other. We were almost past caring. There were six miles to go,  and we would
have to fight for every mile.
     We sat with our backs against the trees, watching the two  lads filling
the bottles.
     "Ten Ks,"  Dinger  said.  "Fucking  hell,  we  could run that in thirty
     "Pity about the full moon," Bob said.
     "And the desert camouflage,"  Dinger said. "And the fact that every man
and his dog is out looking for us."
     When  Mark  and  Legs  came back  with our  bottles  we  considered the
options.  There seemed  to be four. We could cross  the river; move  east to
avoid the  border  and attempt to cross on the following night;  keep  going
west; or split up and try any of the three as individuals.
     The  river was  a  fearsome sight. It must have  been about  1,600 feet
across, and after the torrential rainfall it was in full flood, flowing fast
and  furious. The water would be freezing.  We were weakened by the long tab
and lack of sleep, food, and  water. We  couldn't see any  boats, but  if we
found one it would become an option. That left swimming,  and I doubted we'd
last more  than  ten minutes. And who  was  to  say there wouldn't be troops
waiting on the other side?
     We ruled out moving east  because there was too much  habitation for us
to  conceal ourselves in  daylight. Moving west seemed the best option: they
knew we were in the area, so why not just keep going? But should we do it as
a patrol or as individuals? Going  it alone would certainly create five lots
of chaos for our pursuers, but at the end of the day we were a patrol.
     "We'll go  west  as a  patrol  and cross  the  border tonight," I said.
"There must be some follow-up in the morning."
     It was about 2200 and bitterly  cold. Everybody was  shivering. We  had
been sweating and the adrenaline had been flowing.  In these conditions your
body starts to seize up as soon as you take a rest.
     Looking west along the Euphrates, we saw headlights crossing a bridge a
mile or so down. There  wasn't  a lot  we could  do. We  couldn't waste time
boxing  around it.  It was  too late for anything fancy  like that. We would
have to take our chances.
     "Let's just take  our  time and  patrol," Bob said.  "We've  got enough
     The natural  water courses  ran  into the Euphrates.  Normally we would
have kept to  the high ground. It's easier to travel along, which saves time
and  makes less  noise  and  movement.  We  were cross-graining them to stay
parallel to the river,  but not  so close to  the water that we left sign in
the mud.
     The  ground  was frozen mud and slush.  Barbed wire fences cordoned off
bits of  land. We encountered small, rickety outbuildings,  knolls  of  high
ground, trees, old bottles that we tripped over, bits of frozen plastic that
crushed noisily underfoot. It could have been wasteland in Northern Ireland.
     The wind had stopped. The slightest sound traveled hundreds of feet. We
were  patrolling into the moon, our  breath  forming clouds in  the freezing
air.  We took our  time,  stopping  and starting  every  five  minutes. Dogs
barked. When  we came to a building, somebody would  go  up and  check; then
we'd skirt around.  When we came to a fence, the first man would test to see
if it was going to make a noise; then he'd put his weapon on it to force the
wire down and make it good and tense, and he'd keep it there while everybody
stepped over.
     We had  to go  round a three-sided hut. The  owner  was snoring  by the
embers  of a fire  but didn't stir as  we tiptoed past. Forward  of us was a
road. If we looked to the left there was the road that ran into the frontier
town of  Krabilah.  Lights  were  going  on  and off in  buildings.  Tracked
vehicles trundled backwards and forwards, but far  enough away not  to worry
us. There was still the odd shot  or  burst behind us. We'd  been patrolling
for  about  2  miles.  Four to go. It wasn't even  midnight  yet.  Hours  of
darkness lay ahead. I was feeling quite good.
     We followed the line of a hedgerow, then cut across left into a natural
drainage ditch. It ran into a steep wadi, which in  turn  seemed to run into
the  Euphrates. The wadi was about 150-160  feet wide and 80 feet deep. Both
sides were more or less sheer. The bottom was virtually flat, with a trickle
of  a stream. We couldn't  box around  it because we didn't know  how far it
went. It might have headed south, and  there were roads to our south that we
wanted to avoid. I then noticed that it went round to the  west, which would
be great. We could use the shadow that it created for as long as we could.
     As I got to the edge of the wadi, I crawled over the lip to have a look
inside. Mark was behind me. I  started to move down, and  as  I did so,  the
horizon on the opposite side of the wadi  was a lot easier to see. The first
thing I saw on the skyline was the silhouette of a sentry.
     He was walking up  and  down, stamping his feet  and  blowing into  his
cupped hands to  keep warm. I looked around him, and I couldn't believe what
I saw. It was a vast  location--tents, buildings, vehicles, radio  antennas.
As my eyes focused, I started to notice people  coming out of the  tents.  I
heard bits of talking.
     They  had their  backs to the moon,  looking in our direction. I didn't
     It was fifteen minutes  before I could make my way back to Mark. I knew
he would have seen the same as I had because he hadn't come to  join me. He,
too, was lying as  still as a stone. This  was scary stuff. We were terribly
     I got back level with Mark. "Have you seen it?"
     "Yes, this is outrageous,"  he said. "We need  to get back and sort our
shit out."
     "No drama."
     We'd crawl back to the others to regroup. From there we'd make  our way
back to the hedgerow, sort  ourselves out, and  find another route round. We
had gone 100 feet to get out of  the immediate area when we got up to a semi
crouch position in the ditch.
     Jittery shouting and firing happened at the same time. All hell was let
loose. Mark  was down  with the Minimi and stitched all along the hedgerows,
wherever he saw muzzle flashes. The location on  the  other side of the wadi
opened up. I was severely unimpressed because they were on higher ground.
     I  used  the last of my  203  bombs;  then  it  was  time to  run  away
gracefully.  I wanted to get  back to the riverbank because it would give us
cover. There was shouting and firing all over the place as we legged it. The
rest of the  patrol was having contacts. There was major  chaos going on all
around the hedgerow. I assumed that  Bob and the  others  were in a group of
three. The  Iraqis  on  the  other  side  of  the wadi  were  firing  in all
directions. I heard 203 bombs, which had to  be Legs because Dinger  and Bob
both  had Minimis.  It  was  very noisy.  Everybody was involved in his  own
little world. I realized with a sinking heart that there was no chance of us
getting together again. We were split now into another two groups, with only
miles to go. What a pisser. I really thought we'd cracked it.
     Mark and I were on the bank of the Euphrates, trying  to  make sense of
what was  happening.  The  waterline was 30-50  feet below  the line  of the
ploughed land that we'd just come over, and in between lay a system of small
plateaus. We were on the first one, in amongst the bushes.
     We could hear the follow-ups from the opposite bank, working towards us
with  torches and shouting  to one another. There  was intermittent, nervous
enemy  fire  from  our side of the  wadi, then contacts to our left and half
left  involving  203s and  Minimis.  Tracer  was going  horizontal and  then
vertical as it hit rocks and buildings.
     We  stuck our  heads  up like a couple of ferrets and looked around. It
was hard to know what to  do and where to go--whether to  cross the river or
go through the positions and risk getting killed or captured.
     "No way the river," I whispered into Mark's ear.
     I wasn't  brave  enough  for  that,  so  we decided to  go through  the
positions. But when? There was  so  much confusion,  it was difficult to say
what was a good opportunity and what wasn't.
     "Fuck it," Mark whispered, "we're in the shit, so what does it matter?"
     If we  got out,  all well and good, but  if we didn't, so what--I  just
hoped that it would be nice  and quick.  I  was feeling  quite dispassionate
about the whole business.
     We  checked our stocks of  ammunition. I had about one and a half mags;
Mark had a hundred link  for the Minimi. It was such  a ridiculous situation
we were in, with  contacts and shouting and  tracer  all over the place, and
there's us sitting in a bush trying to organize ourselves  and look over the
other side of the bank  at the  same time. My hands were freezing  cold. The
grass and leaves were brittle with frost. The river was shrouded with mist.
     I looked at Mark and nearly laughed. He was wearing a long woolen scarf
known as  a cap comforter that can be folded  into itself to make what looks
like a Second World War commando hat. Mark had failed to tuck the top of his
hat in, and he looked like Noddy. He was peering through the  bushes  with a
serious expression on his face and he looked so comical.
     "If we don't go now, mate, we never will," he said.
     I nodded.
     Still looking  out as he spoke, he dug in his pocket for a boiled sweet
and popped it into his mouth.
     "It's my last one. I might as well have it now: it might be my last one
     All of mine had gone. I looked at him longingly.
     "You ain't got none left, have you?" he smirked.
     "No, fuck all left."
     I looked at him like a puppy dog.
     He took the sweet out of his mouth, bit it, and gave me half.
     We lay there savoring the moment and psyching ourselves up to go.
     In the  end the decision  was made  for  us. Four Iraqis came along the
bank, and  they appeared  to be well trained and switched on.  There  was no
shouting, and they were well spread out. They looked nervous though, as  you
do when you know there are people about who might fire weapons at you. If we
moved they would see us. I signaled to Mark:  if they don't see us, let them
go on; if they do, they get it. But they got so close  there was no way they
were going to avoid us,so we dropped them.
     Now we had to go, whether it was the right time or not. We legged it up
the  ploughed  field, parallel to the  river.  Further  up to the  right  we
started to come  over a gentle rise where the ground went down to the water.
There was movement, and we went straight down.
     The furrows were running north-south so we were in the dips. We started
to belly  crawl and  worked our way the  whole length  up  to the  hedgerow.
Orders were being barked, and squads were running around confused. They were
no more than 80 feet away. We crawled for twenty minutes. The ground was icy
cold, and it hurt to put your hands on the  mud and pull yourself along.  My
clothing was drenched. Tiny puddles of water had frozen, and as we moved the
ice cracked.  The sound was magnified a thousand times in my  head. Even the
noise  of my  breathing sounded frighteningly  loud.  I  just wanted  to get
through this shit and get to  the treeline,  and then it  would be a totally
different, brave new world.
     There was still firing, shouting" and all sorts of  confusion going on.
How we were ever going to get  out of it I  had no idea. In situations  like
this you just have to keep on going and see what happens. It was so tempting
just to get up and make a bolt for it.
     The  Iraqis  were  still  down  at  the bottom  of the field.  Maybe--I
hoped--they thought we'd gone further down the riverbed, heading east to get
to the other lot. I didn't actually care what they were thinking, as long as
they did it a good  distance away. The one and only thought I had in my mind
was that we needed to get over the border that night.
     We got to the  hedgerow.  It  was a purpose-built field division, small
trees and bushes growing out of  a two foot mound of earth. Our initial plan
was to cross  the  hedgerow  that was running east-west, purely  so  that we
didn't  have  to cross  the south-north one as well. We heard  noises to our
right. Mark  had a look. It  was more enemy, behind the hedgerow. And beyond
that,  further south,  there  was  yelling and shouting  and  a profusion of
lights. Mark signaled me to stay this side of the hedgerow and move left.
     We crawled  along the line to get to the hedge that ran north-south. We
tried to find a place where we could get through without making any noise. I
started pushing through. My  head emerged the other  side, and I immediately
got challenged.
     As the boy shouted, Mark gave him the good news. His body disintegrated
in front of my eyes. Mark gave it a severe stitching all the way along--from
where we were, all the way along west. I scrambled out of the hedge line and
carried on the fire while Mark came  through. We moved  east,  stopped,  put
down a quick burst, ran, gave it another quick burst, and  then just ran and
     There was high ground to our front. Below it were buildings with lights
on  and  movement. We  didn't want to cross the  open  ground, so  we had no
option but to  use the obvious cover of a ditch. I had no idea what we'd got
ahead of us.
     The  fence line  was above us. Because the fields  were  irrigated, the
roads and buildings were on built-up land  to keep them above the waterline.
We got into a little dip below the fence and moved south.
     We started  to  slow down now that  we seemed  to  be out  of immediate
trouble.  We  took  the 6-foot chain  link  fence to  be the perimeter of  a
military installation. We got halfway along and stopped. We'd seen a road to
our front, running east-west. Vehicles were driving up and down, fully  lit.
Other vehicles drove with their lights off.
     There had to  be a  definite junction  to the east  of us. We could see
vehicle lights heading up there and changing direction. There was a  mass of
activity.  Every  man  and his  dog seemed  to be on  alert. They must  have
thought the Israelis had turned up or the Syrians were invading. All I hoped
was that  in all  this confusion a little gang of  two and a little  gang of
three could work their way through.
     We found  ourselves opposite a large mosque  on the  other  side of the
fence. We stopped and observed the road. Closer now, we  could see  vehicles
parked up along the side of the  road as headlights swept past. Trucks, Land
Cruisers, APCs. Where  there are  vehicles there are people.  We could  hear
talking and the mush of radios. I couldn't tell how far the column extended,
east or west. From the  initial contact on the edge of the wadi  to here had
taken three hours. With only two  and a half hours of  darkness  left  I was
flapping. We'd have to  take a chance.  There  was no time left  for  boxing
     We were lying in the dip, wet and freezing, trying to work out where we
were going to go through the fence. Both of us were sweating and  shivering.
We were almost out of ammunition. We  waited  for lights to pass so we could
get  an idea  of where  all  the vehicles  were sited. We would cross in the
biggest gap.
     Two  of  the trucks  were about 50 feet apart.  If we could get through
unchallenged,  the  border  beckoned.  We'd  just have to  brass  it out. We
started across the field, taking our time. Each time a vehicle passed we hit
the ground. It was important to get as near to the parked convoy as we could
before we made our dash. All we  planned to do was run through them. Neither
of us had a clue what was on the other side, but  we didn't care--we'd  sort
that out when we came to it.
     The vehicles were 3 feet above us on the raised road. At the top of the
bank, we discovered, was a three strand barbed wire fence, 3 feet high. We'd
have  to  get over it  before  we could  even  start  to  dodge  between the
     The  gap was  between two canvas-topped trucks. In one of them a  radio
hissed loudly.  We  were going  to  have  to climb the  mound, and would  be
committed from the moment we started moving.
     I clambered over the fence and got down to give Mark  cover. He cleared
the fence,  but the wire twanged as he  removed his weight. A jundie started
jabbering  and  stuck his  head out  of  a  truck window. He got it  from me
straightaway.  I ran to the back. The  tailboard was up, but there  were two
slots at floor  level which would have served as footholds when it was down.
I  put my muzzle through and gave it a good burst. Mark went straight across
the road and was down on the other side of the  mound, firing  along what to
him  was  the right-hand  side of  the convoy. I didn't  know if  the  other
vehicle had  characters aboard, so I  threw in a grenade and legged it  over
the road to  Mark. We fired until we ran out of ammunition, which was all of
five  seconds. We dropped our weapons and  legged it. They  were no use now.
The Iraqis used 7.62 short, and we needed 5.56. Now the only  weapon we  had
left was darkness.
     We must  have put down enough rounds to get  them flapping because they
didn't  follow immediately. We  ran for  900  feet.  The sounds of screaming
filled the night.
     We stopped near a water  tower.  It wasn't that  long now  before first
light. Looking straight ahead, we could see the  road that we'd just crossed
to our right hand side, the mast on the  Iraqi  side,  and another road that
we'd have to cross to go west.
     We looked at one another and I said, "Right, let's do it."
     We scuttled on across the fields and stopped short of what we could see
was  a large depression. On the other side was  a built-up area,  unlit. The
right-hand corner, the end of it, was more or less at a road junction.
     The  depression  must have been used  as  a rubbish dump.  Small  fires
smoldered in the darkness.  We went  down into the dip and stumbled over old
tins  and tires.  The stench of rotting garbage was overpowering. We started
to come back up the other side. About halfway up the rise we were opened  up
on by two AKs, from really close range. We hit the ground and I went right.
     I ran for  what I  thought was enough distance to get me level with the
junction, then  turned  left.  I wanted to get over  the road and  carry  on
running. I ran  around the side of a  mound and  thought I could get  up the
other side, but  what  I'd come into was a  large water storage  area. There
were two big pools, oily and greasy. I was flapping, running around like the
cornered rat that I was,  trying to find a way out. The  sides were sheer. I
couldn't get up. I had to retrace my steps. I wasn't even looking now, I was
just running.  If they  were behind me, knowing  about it  wasn't  going  to
change anything.
     I  got  out of the  immediate area  and  stopped at the road.  My chest
heaved as I fought for breath. Fuck it, I thought, just go for it.
     I got past the buildings. I was elated. I felt I'd cracked it. Just the
border  now. I didn't worry about  Mark. I'd seen him go down. I didn't hear
anything after that, and  he didn't  come with  me. He was dead. At least it
had been quick.

     I  felt it was all behind me. All I had in front of  me was a quick tab
to the border. The mud built up around my boots. It was heavy going. My legs
were burning. Physically I was wrecked. I stopped to get some  scoff down my
neck. It felt good. I drank some  water  and forced  myself to calm down and
take stock. Navigation was easy enough. The mast was right ahead of me. As I
walked I tried to work out what had happened during the  contacts. But there
had been total confusion,  and I couldn't make sense  of it. There was still
firing behind me.
     It was the early hours of the 27th, and I had about 2-3 miles to go. In
normal circumstances  I could run that in  less  than twenty minutes with my
equipment on. But there was no point just running blindly towards Syria with
only an  hour of  darkness  left. I didn't know what the border crossing was
like physically--if  it  was a  fence  or  a high berm,  if  it was  heavily
defended or not  defended  at all. And even if  I did get  into Syria during
daylight hours, what sort of reception could I expect?
     I was about a half mile south of the Euphrates and a half mile north of
a town. The area was irrigated by diesel pumps at intervals along the river.
The field crops were about  eighteen inches high. I had kept off  the tracks
and moved through the center of the fields, putting my feet down on the root
mounds of the plants. Even so, I knew I couldn't avoid leaving sign. My hope
was that no one would be out in the fields the next day, tending what, apart
from the frost, seemed to be a healthy young crop.
     I was  feeling very positive. I'd survived the contacts,  and that  was
all that seemed to matter. The last contact was  like a big barrier that I'd
got over and got away from, and now I was a free spirit.
     In many  ways this was the most dangerous time.  Probably since caveman
times, people have been  cautious  when they  plan an  operation, aggressive
when they execute it, and most open to error when it's finished and  they're
on  the  home straight. That's when people start to get  slack and the major
dramas occur. It's not over yet, I kept saying  to myself--it's  so near but
also it's so bloody far.
     Adrenaline during  the contacts  and the constant roller coaster of the
night's  events  had  blocked  the  pain  signals from reaching my  brain. A
soldier  of the Black  Watch during the First World War was shot four  times
and  still kept charging forwards. When he finally took the position and had
time to assess  his injuries, he  keeled over. You don't realize what's been
happening to your body because your mind blanks  it out. Now I'd calmed down
a  bit  and  the future  was looking  rosy, I was  starting to  realize  how
physically impaired I  was. All  the aches and pains of the last  couple  of
days suddenly started coming  through. I  was covered with cuts and bruises.
In contacts you're jumping and leaping around, and your body's taking knocks
all  the  time.  You  don't  notice  them  at  the  time.  There  were  deep
pressure-cuts on my hands, knees,  and elbows, and  painful  bruising on the
sides of both my  legs. I had scratches and scrapes from  thorn  bushes  and
gashes from wire; the sting of them  added to the ambient  pain level.  We'd
tabbed close to 125 miles  over  hard bedrock and shale, and the leather was
starting to fall  off my boots. My feet were in a bad way. They were soaking
wet and felt like blocks of ice. I  just about had some sensation left in my
toes. My clothing was ripped and torn, and my hands  were covered with thick
grease and grime, as if I'd been working on an engine for the last couple of
days. My body was covered in mud, and as I walked along it was slowly drying
out. Trickles of sweat  fell down my  back, and  big  clammy  patches formed
between my legs and under my  armpits. My extremities  were frozen,  but  at
least my trunk was warm because I was moving.
     It was  still very  cold. The mud had a film  of ice  over the top. The
first  foot  or  so  of any large pool  of water was frozen solid. It  was a
beautiful crystal night. The stars were glittering, and had it been anywhere
else in the world, you'd have gone out and marveled at it. But the clearness
of the sky meant there were no clouds to obscure the full moon in  the west,
and no wind to disperse the noise.
     Scattered here and  there  were little outhouses, some with a light on,
some with a generator going. I could see lights  from the town to the south.
Dogs  barked; I  skirted  around buildings,  hoping  that  nobody would  pay
attention to them.
     Car  lights  in  the  distance  made  me flap.  Were  they part of  the
follow-up? Were they going to start searching  the  fields now? It wasn't  a
very good place for  me to  be.  There  was only half an  hour  of  darkness
left-not enough for me to get around the town or even go straight through it
and get into the curls on the other side.
     As the lights gradually faded I made a quick appreciation. Like the old
Clash song, should I go  or should I stay? Did I hide up or did I go for the
border and try to get over before first  light? What were the chances of the
Iraqis  following up  during  the  day?  There  certainly  hadn't  been  any
follow-up so far.  Perhaps they  thought I'd already crossed the border  and
was away.
     The houses  looked so  inviting. Should I get  into one of these  small
buildings where you've just got the old boy and his fire and stay there with
him  for the day? I'd have shelter, and the possibility of  food  and  water
--and in theory  a better  chance  of being  concealed.  But  you  never use
isolated  or obvious  cover. It's a natural draw point for any hunter force.
In films  you see  all these characters living in hay barns.  It's  pure and
utter fantasy. If you're there they'll find you. None of this hiding under a
straw bale business, just narrowly being missed by a probing bayonet.
     My  best  chance  was in  the open  but  concealed, preferably from the
ground and air.  I had  to assume the worst scenario,  which  was  that  the
Iraqis would have spotter  aircraft up.  I found a drainage  ditch  that was
about 3 feet  wide and  18  inches deep,  with water coursing through  under
gravity.  I got in and moved along, pleased not to  be leaving  sign  in the
muddy water. The water was moving from east to west, my direction of travel.
     I looked at my watch, checking off the minutes till daybreak. I stopped
every  few feet  and looked  around, listening,  planning the next movement,
planning my actions on: What if the enemy moved in from the front? What if I
had  a  contact from the  left? I remembered  the ground  I'd been over  and
planned the best escape route in each contingency.
     After 900 or 1,200 feet I saw a dark shape ahead. It was either a small
dam or.  a natural culvert. When  I got closer, I saw  that  a track running
north-south from  the Euphrates to the  built-up area had a steel plate over
it as a makeshift bridge, the sort of thing you see at roadworks in  the UK.
It was  just coming up to first light. I had to make a decision. I  could go
further along the ditch and  hope to find something better,  or I could just
stay put. On balance, I thought I was better off where I was.
     The  only problem with the culvert was that  when you look at things in
the dark and  under pressure, they can look pretty good, but  in the daytime
the picture  can be totally different. You have to be so careful choosing an
LUP at night in an area that is virgin to you. When I  was  in the battalion
at Tidworth we  had mirror image  barracks,  the  Green  Jackets in one, the
Light Infantry in the other. One night, I came back from town with a  bag of
chips and curry sauce, pissed as a fart. I stumbled into my room, dropped my
trousers, and got into bed. Sitting up eating my chips with my head spinning
and the bedside light on, I couldn't understand it when a bloke called  out,
"Turn  the light off, Geordie." I looked up  and saw a  Debbie Harry poster,
and I didn't like Debbie  Harry. "Who the fuck's  that over there then?" the
voice demanded, but  by then I had realized what I'd done.  I  abandoned  my
chips, grabbed  my trousers,  and ran  for  my life from the  Light Infantry
     I belly crawled under the steel span. The culvert wasn't as deep as the
drainage ditch itself because it hadn't  been cleared, but  the prospect  of
resting my limbs far outweighed the discomfort of lying in the cold mud.
     I retrieved the map cover from the pocket on my leg and tried to use it
as some  sort  of insulation, but  to no avail. My mind  strayed to food.  I
might  be needing it  later  on, but then again I might be captured. It  was
better to get it down my neck than to  have  it taken away. I pulled my last
sachet--steak and onions-from the pouch on my belt kit and ripped it open. I
ate with my fingers and stuck  my tongue into the recesses for  the  last of
the cold, slimy  gunge. For pudding, I put my lips to the level of the water
and sucked up a few mouthfuls. I got the map on top of me, ready  to look at
when there was enough light, and just lay back and waited.
     As dark  turned to  light, I heard trucks  in the distance and isolated
bits of hollering  and shouting, but nothing near enough  to cause alarm. It
was  almost  peaceful.  I  started  to  shiver,  and  the  trembling  became
uncontrollable. My teeth chattered. I  took a  deep breath and tensed all my
muscles as tightly as I could. I stayed like that for two hours.
     I had my fighting knife  in my hand  and my  watch out on my chest so I
didn't  have  to  keep  moving  my  hands. I  studied  the  map to  make  an
appreciation of where I was. If I had to leg it  the last thing I wanted  to
do was map-read. I wanted to know that, as I  came out, to  my left would be
the  built-up  area, to my  right  would be the  Euphrates, and that  I  had
however  many  miles to run  to  the border.  I  wanted  to  store  as  much
information in my head as I could.
     I went  through different  scenarios, fantasies really. What  if  I was
already in Syria? I knew I hadn't crossed the border: the two countries were
at war; there had  to be some physical barrier between them, but that didn't
stop me daydreaming.
     It must  have been  about eight o'clock  when I heard  the  scuffle  of
goats' hooves coming from the direction of the town. I tensed. We hadn't had
the world's best luck with goats on this trip.
     I  didn't hear the goat herder until  he  was right on top of the metal
plate. I took a deep breath, a  really deep breath. Straining my neck, I saw
the  ends of two  sandals and a set of big, splayed toes. One foot came down
into the mud. I gripped my fighting  knife. I  wouldn't do anything until he
put his head down and actually saw me, and even then I  didn't  know  what I
was going to do.  Did I just bring the left hand up and stick him one in the
face?  If he started  running, what  then?  I could tell by the big choggie,
splayed feet that he wasn't military, so hopefully he wasn't armed.
     He stooped to pick  up a small cardboard box  I  hadn't noticed  in the
ditch. It was a discarded ammunition box for 7.62 short, the  round that AKs
fire. He  disappeared from view. The box landed  back in the  water. He must
have looked at it and decided it was of no use.
     A couple of goats came and stood on the bank. I didn't want to breathe,
I didn't want to blink. The goat  herder  made his way back on to the bridge
and stood with his toes dangling over the edge of the steel. He coughed up a
massive grolly out of the back of his neck and flobbed it into the water. It
drifted down  to me like a  slimy green  jellyfish  and lodged itself  in my
hair. I was in such a mess anyway that it shouldn't have bothered me, but it
     I was sure that one of the goats would get into the  water and make the
old boy come and rescue him,  but nothing  happened. The goats all  trundled
over, and the goat herder followed. I started to scrape the slime out of  my
     I lay listening to  noises. Looking  out from my tomb, I could see that
it  was a crisp winter's morning with not  a cloud in the sky. It was a view
of the countryside, not  at all a desert scene.  All it needed was cows, and
it  could  have  been the fields around  Hereford. There's  a small footpath
which  follows the banks of the River Wye, and from a certain point  you can
look over to the other side at a dairy which has  its own cows. Kate used to
love  being taken  there.  It looked nothing  at all  like  the scene  I was
looking at  now, but I imagined cows mooing and the sound of  Kate giggling.
The sun was  out, but I was out of  range of its warming rays. I felt like a
lizard stuck where I was. It would be so nice to be out in the open, warming
the bones.
     I could hear vehicles in the distance--the springy, old me tally jangly
sounds of them trundling along. Kids and older people hollered and shrieked.
I was desperate to know  what was going  on out there. Were they looking for
me?  Or  were they  just going about their  normal  business? In one way  it
concerned me greatly  that  people  were in the vicinity, but in another  it
just sounded nice  and comforting to hear human  voices because it  meant  I
wasn't alone. I was  cold  and exhausted. It was good  to  have some kind of
reassurance that I was on earth, not Zanussi.
     Sometimes  a vehicle  would come  nearer and nearer  and nearer, and my
heart would start skipping beats.
     Are they going to stop?
     Don't be so stupid--no drama, they're going to the river.
     They must be looking.
     But not intensively--it's too near the border.
     The noises were scary. By the time they got to me my mind had magnified
them  a hundred  times. I flapped about the  kids  being curious.  Kids must
play. Did  they  play in the water? Did they play with  the goats?  What did
they do? A kid  is shorter than  an adult and would get a better perspective
when  looking at  the culvert. Instead of seeing daylight a kid was going to
see my head or my feet, and he wouldn't need to have passed his  eleven plus
to know that he should raise the alarm.
     I wanted so much not to get caught. Not now. Not after so much.
     I kept looking at the watch lying on my chest. I looked once and it was
one o'clock. Half an hour later I checked again. It  was five past. Time was
dragging, but I started to feel better  about my predicament. There had been
vehicles, goats, and goatherds, and I'd got away with it. I was still trying
to memorize the map, going through the routes in my mind. I  was gagging for
last light.
     There was a deafening rattle of steel as a group of  vehicles thundered
across. This time they stopped.
     You're compromised: what did they stop for? You're in the shit.
     No  worries, they're picking  somebody up. Just keep  remarkably still,
control your breathing.
     I tried hard to think positively, as if that would stop them coming and
finding me.
     7.62  is a  big-caliber round. The  sound  of over  a  hundred of  them
reverberating on the steel plate just a fraction of an inch from my nose was
the worst thing I'd ever heard. I curled up and silently screamed.
     Fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!
     Men  bellowed at  the tops of their  voices. They fired all  around the
drainage  ditch. The  mud  erupted.  I felt  the tremors. I  curled  up even
tighter and hoped nothing was going to  hit.  The  cracks, thuds, and shouts
seemed never-ending.
     The firing stopped but  the shouting continued. What were they going to
do now--just stick a weapon underneath and blow me away, or what?
     I  was shitting myself.  I  didn't  know what they  wanted  me to do. I
couldn't understand what they were  screaming. Did  they want to capture me?
Did they want to kill me? Were they going to throw a grenade  in? Fuck it, I
thought, if they want me out, they'll have to drag me out.
     I  was going to die in a drainage  ditch two  and a half miles from the
border,  of  that I  had no doubt.  My nose was  more  or less touching  the
underside of the steel plate.  I was stretching my  neck, but I couldn't see
much because of the perspective.
     The  muzzle of a rifle came down. Then  a bloke's face. When he  saw me
there was a look of total and utter surprise. He did a little jump  back and
     The next  thing I saw was a  mass of boots jumping down  all around the
drainage ditch itself. Three blokes at either end, yelling their  heads off.
They motioned for me to get out.
     No fucking way!
     They wanted to see my  hands.  I was lying on my back with my feet  and
hands out straight. Two blokes grabbed a boot each and heaved.
     I  came out on my back and had my first view of  Syria in the daylight.
It looked  the  most beautiful country on earth. I could see the mast on the
higher  ground, tantalizingly  close. I  could  almost have  reached out and
touched it. I felt burgled or mugged-the  feeling of disbelief that this was
happening  to  me at  all, mixed with outrage that  I  was being  robbed  of
something that was rightfully mine.
     Why me?  All my life I've been lucky. I've been in dramas that I've had
no control of, and I've been in problems that I've created  myself. But I've
always been lucky enough to get out of them reasonably unscathed.
     They gave a couple  of  kicks and motioned  for me to get to my feet. I
stood up straight, my hands up in the air, staring straight ahead. Nice blue
sky it was, absolutely splendid. I turned my back on Syria and looked at the
ploughed fields  and green  vegetation, and all the huts and tracks that I'd
avoided during the night.
     So much effort wasted. So few hours of daylight left.
     They held their  weapons nervously and jumped up and down, making weird
warbling noises  like Red  Indians. They were as  frightened  as I was. They
fired into the  air on automatic, and I thought, Here we  go,  all I need is
for one of these rounds to come down and slot me through the head.
     Two  Land  Cruisers were parked to the right-hand  side of the  bridge.
Three characters were pacing around on the steel plate; eight or nine others
were charging around on the banks of the ditch.
     The  countryside looked even  more European than I had imagined. I  was
pissed off with  myself. To be picked  up  in  featureless desert would have
been  bad luck, but to be captured like this on  ground that could have been
in northwest Europe was bloody bad management.
     The squad dies  were all over the place, gibbering and gab bering still
very wary. Now that they'd got me they were not too sure what to do with me.
It seemed  there were  more chiefs than  Indians;  everybody  wanted to give
orders.  There  must have been some sort of reward coming their way. I stood
motionless in the mud, a pathetic mess. I stared straight ahead, no smile of
appeasement, no grim scowl of defrance, no  hint of eye contact. My training
had taken over. Already I was trying to be the gray man.
     They  started  firing into the ground.  They were  in  an  unbelievable
frenzy. It  seemed wrong  to me that  I was  going  to  get shot by accident
rather than doing a job or in  a contact with me firing back.  Nothing death
or glory  about  it: I  just didn't  want  to die because some trigger-happy
dickhead was going hyper. Or worse, get severely injured. But there's no way
you show them that  you're scared in a situation  like  that; you just stand
there, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and let them get on with it.
     The firing  stopped after  about fifteen seconds. One  of  the soldiers
jumped down into the culvert and started rooting around for  my kit. He came
back with the map, which was unmarked, the belt kit, and the fighting knife.
He brandished  the blade  in front  of me  and  did  the old  throat-cutting
motion. I thought, it's going to be one of them days.
     One of  the other soldiers was  poking me with his weapon and gesturing
for me to get down on my knees.
     Is he going to kill me? Is it time to die now?
     I couldn't think of any other  reason why I'd  get put on my knees.  If
they were taking me away, they'd drag me away or motion me somewhere.
     So do I get down  and wait for the possibility of getting shot, or do I
make a run for it?
     I wouldn't get  far. I'd be  killed within five  steps. I knelt down in
the water and thick mud.
     The bottom of  the drainage ditch was about 18  inches  lower than  the
level of the fields,  so when I finally got down I was more or  less at face
level with the steel plate. I looked up.
     The  penalty  kick that  one of  the lads aimed  at  my  jaw knocked me
backwards into the ditch. Water sluiced into my ears, and white  blotches of
intense light filled my vision. I  opened my eyes. Through the star bursts I
saw the  world closing in with people and a clear blue sky that was about to
rain rifle butts.
     Even when you're winded your body's  self-protection mechanism makes it
spin  itself over. Face  down  in  the  mud, I  curled up into a tight ball.
There's an old  saying in parachuting, if it's a  bit windy and you know the
landing is going to be fearsome:  "Feet  and knees together  and  accept the
landing." I had to accept this one; there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Compared with being shot, it was almost a pleasant surprise.
     They were like little animals,  putting in a bit of a kick, moving off,
coming in  again, starting to gain confidence. They grabbed  hold of my hair
and wrenched my head back. As they kicked and thumped my body in a frenzy of
pent-up frustration, they screamed: "Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv!"
     They jumped from the bridge onto my back and legs. You feel each impact
but not  its  pain. Your system's  pumping  too much adrenaline. You tighten
your  stomach,  clench your  teeth, tense your body as much as you can,  and
hope  and hope they're  not  going  to start  to  give you  a really serious
     "Tel  Aviv! Tel Aviv!" they shouted over an dover. It dawned on me what
they were getting at. This was not a good day out.
     It  can't have lasted for more than five minutes, but it was quite long
enough. When they finally backed off, I turned over and looked up at them. I
wanted them  to see how confused and pitiful I looked, a poor fellow soldier
who was terrified and meek and deserving of their pity.
     It didn't work.
     I knew it was going to start all over again, and I  rolled into a ball,
trying  this time to get my arms underneath me. My mind was numb,  but I was
more or less conscious throughout.  The thudding instep kicks to my head and
sides were  punctuated by telling, well aimed  toecap blows to the  kidneys,
mouth, and ears.
     They stopped after  a  few minutes and  hauled  me to my feet. I  could
hardly stand. I was  in a  semi crouched  position, trying  to keep  my head
down, staggering about, holding my stomach, coughing up blood.
     I  swayed and  lost my footing. Two boys came either  side.  They did a
rough search--no more than  a perfunctory frisk to make sure I didn't have a
gun--then they knocked me to my knees  and pushed my face down into the mud.
They pulled my hands behind my back and tied them. I tried to get my head up
so I could breathe, but they were standing  on it to force me down. I gasped
and inhaled  mud and  blood. I thought I was going to suffocate. All I could
hear  was hollering and shouting, and then the noise of more firing  in  the
air. Every sound was magnified. My head raged with pain.
     The next  thing I knew, I  was being frog marched towards the vehicles.
My legs wouldn't carry me, so they had to support me under the armpits. They
were  moving fast, and I was still coughing and snorting  and trying to  get
some  air  into my  lungs. My face was swelling up.  My lips  were  split in
several places. I just let them  get on with it. I was a rag doll, a bag  of
     I was thrown into the rear of  a Land  Cruiser, in the foot well behind
the front seats. As soon as they put me down, I tried to get myself nice and
comfy and  sort  myself  out.  It felt strangely secure to  be  in  such  an
enclosed  space.  At least  they'd stopped  kicking me  and I could  breathe
again. I  felt  the  warm  heater and  smelled  cigarette  smoke  and  cheap
     I got a rifle butt to  the head.  It  hurt severely and took me down. I
wasn't going to come up from that one even  if I'd wanted to. I was a bag of
bollocks. There  was massive pain in the back of my head, and everything was
spinning.  I took short,  sharp  breaths  and  told myself that it  could be
worse. For a second or two  it looked as though I was going to  be right.  I
wasn't being filled in any more, which I thought  was rather nice.  Then two
lads jumped in the back and thumped their boots hard up and down all over my
body. As the vehicle lurched across the field, they kept up the tempo.
     I couldn't see where we were going  because I  had to keep my head down
to protect myself  from the  flurry of boots. It would have been a pointless
exercise  anyway.  As far as  I was concerned, they were just going to shoot
me.  I had no  control over it; I just  wanted to get it over and done with.
I'd had the  initial shock of  being captured, then the demoralizing glimpse
of the  Syrian border. It suddenly hit home. I was right on top of Syria and
I'd got  caught. It was as  if  I'd run a marathon in Olympic  time and been
disqualified a stride from the tape. I wondered again when they'd shoot me.
     The vehicle swerved and lurched to avoid the crowds.  When  they slowed
down, I could hear people hollering and shouting. Everybody was in a frenzy;
they were really happy boys.
     The jundies fired their weapons from inside the  Land Cruiser. The AK47
is a large-caliber weapon, and when you fire it in a confined space, you can
feel the increase in air  pressure. It was  deafening, but the familiar tang
of cordite was oddly comforting. I started to taste the blood and mud in  my
mouth. My nose was blocked with clots.
     I was bouncing up  and down, the vehicle moving fast  over the ploughed
ground. The suspension groaned and screeched. All I wanted to do was snuggle
up  in a corner somewhere and be out of the way. One half  of  my  brain was
telling me to close my eyes and take a  deep breath, and maybe it  would all
go away. But  at the back of your  mind is that tiny little bit of  survival
instinct: let's wait and see, maybe they won't, there's always a chance .. .
     The  crowds  were making the fearsome Red Indian warbling  noise.  They
were jubilant that they'd caught somebody, but I couldn't tell if the warble
was a victory salute or a sign of even worse things to  come.  As we lurched
over the field,  I tried to concentrate on identifying the troops from their
uniforms.  They wore British-pattern DPM (disrupted-pattern  material), with
chest webbing that held five magazines, and  high laced boots. They had Para
wings, too, and red  lanyards, which marked  them out as elite commandos. It
was only much later  that I learned that the lanyards  were to commemorate a
victory  from  the Second World War,  when  they fought  under  Montgomery's
command, of which they seemed quite proud.
     We hit  a  meta  led  road and  the  bouncing  stopped.  I wasn't  much
concerned with where we were going at this stage--I just wanted to get there
and to stop being  filled in by these boys' boots. The soldiers  jabbered at
me fast and aggressively.
     The vehicle  stopped. We  seemed to be in the town. Noise surged around
us.  I heard voices, many voices, and  I knew from their tone that it was an
angry mob. The sound of hatred  is ugly and universal. I looked up.  I saw a
sea of faces, military and civilian, angry, chanting, shouting abuse. I felt
like a child in a pram with a gang of adults peering in. It scared me. These
people hated me.
     An old  man dug  deep into his TB-riddled  lungs and  fired a green wad
into my face. Other salvoes followed, thick and fast. Then came the physical
stuff.  It  started  with a  poke in  my ribs, a  testing prod  at  the  new
commodity in town. The poke  became a shove, then a slap, then a punch,  and
the crowd started  pulling my hair. I thought it  was going to  be a case of
mob rule. I felt I was going to get lynched, or worse.
     They started to climb aboard. There was uncontrolled frenzy. Perhaps it
was the first time they'd seen a  white-eyed soldier.  Perhaps they held  me
personally  responsible  for their  dead  and  wounded  friends  and  family
members.  They  closed in and slapped and punched, pulled  my  mustache  and
hair. There  was a gagging  stench of unwashed bodies. It was  like a horror
film with  zombies. All daylight was blocked  out, and I thought I was going
to suffocate.
     More and more shots were fired into the air, and I  began to worry that
it wouldn't be long before they  got bored with using clouds as targets. The
useless thought came to me  that  they must be taking casualties from firing
in built-up areas. Rounds have  spent  their explosive  force when they come
down, but they still come down with a deadly momentum. No doubt they'd blame
me for those deaths as well.
     What  were the soldiers  going  to do,  I wondered-just let the civvies
have  me? Kill me now, I thought. I'd rather have the squad  dies do it than
the crowd. The soldiers started pushing the people away.  It was a wonderful
feeling. Just a minute  ago they were bearing me  up; now these boys were my
saviors. Better the devil you know .. .
     I  was lying on  my stomach at the back  of  the Land Cruiser, my hands
still tied, and they  started to drag me out  feet first. The  hollering  of
obscenities got louder. I concentrated on looking dejected and badly injured
and on working out how I was going  to protect my face as I fell two feet or
so onto the tarmac. The solution was to spin around  on to  my  back because
then I could keep my  head up. I managed to do it  just in time. I lifted my
head, and the base of my  spine took the force of  the  drop, detonating  an
explosion of pain inside my skull. All the breath was knocked out of me. The
soldiers  were really playing the macho  man, waving at  everybody,  shaking
their AKs  in the air Che  Guevara style.  They looked  so butch, I thought,
doing this  in front of the girls. They  were the real local teddies; they'd
obviously be scoring tonight.
     The vehicle had stopped about 50 feet from a big pair of gates set in a
wall 10 feet high. I got the impression we were at  the local military camp.
They dragged me on my back towards the gates. I had to arch to save my hands
from scraping along the road.  Still there was mass hysteria.  I was scared:
the fear  of the unknown.  These  people  looked and sounded so very  out of
     At last I was dragged inside and the gates slammed behind us. I took in
a large courtyard and a selection of buildings. The macho act ended at once,
and  the squad dies hoiked me to my feet and pulled me on by my arms. You've
got  to take time to  have a look around, to tune in. If you do the hard man
routine, stick your chest out  and  say fuck you, they'll fill you in again,
and that's  counterproductive.  If  you  appear  to  be  subdued and sapped,
they've got the effect they want. It's now that you've got to start going to
town with your  injuries. You've  got to look feeble, as if everything's  on
top  of you  and you're  totally  and  utterly  clueless. Quite  apart  from
anything else, it preserves what energy you've got left so that you're ready
for your  escape,  which  is  of primary concern, I felt I'd passed  a major
test. I was  in  another  world; another  drama had ended. In a  weird way I
almost felt safe, now that the local population  couldn't get their hands on
me.  The prospect of that seemed so much worse than anything fellow soldiers
might do to me. I exaggerated the limp, shivering  and coughing, and  moaned
every time someone got hold of me. It must have seemed a wonder I was alive,
the way I was going on. I  was in a  bad way, but my  mental state was good,
and that's the one you've got to worry about and conceal from the enemy.
     For a few minutes I stood there with a ring of  guards around  me. As I
looked straight ahead, there was  a meta led road going to a block about 300
feet  ahead. Looking  around from left to right, I saw barrack blocks to the
right, following the line of the wall, and a small clump of trees.
     Then I  saw  some poor bastard lying on the  grass,  trussed up on  his
stomach like a chicken, his ankles and wrists  tied together. He  was trying
to lift  his  legs to take the  pressure off  his head.  He'd obviously been
given  a good hammering. His head had swollen up to the size of  a football,
and his kit  was torn and covered in blood. I couldn't even see the color of
his hair or whether his clothes were camouflage-pattern. For a moment, as he
lifted his head, we had eye-to-eye, and I realized it was Dinger.
     The eyes give so  much  away. They can tell you when a person is drunk,
when he's bluffing, when he's alert, when he's happy. They are the window to
the mind. EHnger's eyes said: It's going to be all right. I even got a small
smile out of him. I grinned back. I  had a fearsome dread for him because he
was in such a bad state, but it was wonderful to see him,  to have  somebody
there to  share my predicament.  Selfishly, I was chuffed  I wasn't the only
one to be caught. The slagging  if I got back  to Hereford  would have  been
     The  down  side of seeing  him was the  realization that it was my turn
next.  He was really in a  bad way,  yet  he  was  much  harder than  me. It
occurred to me  that I could be dead  by the  end of the afternoon. If so, I
just wanted to get it over and done with.
     A couple of boys with weapons were lounging against a tree near Dinger,
smoking cigarettes.  They didn't  stop when  two  officers  and their little
entourage came out of their  office  and walked  halfway up the road to meet
us.  I just stood there,  playing on the  injuries, working on the principle
that  you don't know anything  until you try. Mentally I prepared myself for
another filling  in. As  the  officers approached, I  clenched  my teeth and
pressed my knees together to protect my balls.
     The local military had incurred a  lot of casualties, and it was  clear
that these well-dressed officers,  a mixture of commando officers in DPM and
ordinary  types in  olive  green with  stars  on their  shoulders, were  not
impressed.  My head was pushed up, and one of them took a swing. I closed my
eyes and braced myself for the next punch. It didn't come.
     Another officer was jabbering away, and I opened one eye just enough to
see what  the conversation was about. The rupert who had hit me had  a knife
in his hand now and was  walking  towards  me. Here we  go, I thought,  he's
going to  show the  jundies how hard he is. He jabbed it under the bottom of
my smock and ripped it upwards. The smock fell open.
     The jundies were  told to  search me, but they didn't have  a clue what
they were doing. They must have heard weird stories  about exploding suicide
devices or something because they were paranoid.  In  my pockets  they found
two pencils and inspected them as if they contained arsenic or rocket  fuel.
One soldier cut off  my ID tags  and took them away. I felt  suddenly  naked
without them. Worse than that, I was sterile, a  man with no name.  Removing
my tags was as good as removing my identity.
     Two others took  the Syrettes of  morphine  that  were hanging round my
neck and went  through the motions  of sticking them into  their arms.  They
were  cock-a-hoop  and would obviously be  shooting it up later  on. I had a
toothbrush  in a pen pocket in the sleeves of my DPM shirt, but they refused
to touch it. Maybe they didn't understand what it was doing there. Maybe, if
the smell of the mob  outside had been anything to go  by, they  didn't even
know what a toothbrush was. Whatever, they weren't taking chances. They made
me take it out myself.
     The body search was from the top down, but it was badly done  and  they
didn't even make me  take off my  clothes.  They removed my boots and looted
every item of kit. They behaved like  old ladies at a jumble sale. We always
use pencils rather than pens because pencils  always work, even in the rain.
I had a  couple of three-inch stubs, sharpened at both ends so that if I was
writing and  one end snapped, I'd just have to turn it around and on I'd go.
They went as souvenirs. So did the Swiss Army knife and a  Silva  compass  I
had in my pocket, both on lengths of  para cord Every bit of kit is attached
to  you  securely.  There  was  a  notebook, but it  had  nothing in it. I'd
destroyed its contents at the first LUP. There was my white  plastic  racing
spoon from an  American ration set, and that, too, was tied  on  a length of
para cord in  my pocket. My  watch  was  around my  neck on cord so  that  I
couldn't  be  compromised  by the luminous  glow  and  it wouldn't  catch on
anything as I patrolled. Even the spare plastic bag I had in case I'd needed
a shit while on patrol was snaffled.
     Around my waist, however, on a one-inch webbing belt, was today's  star
prize: about 1700 pounds in sterling, in the form of twenty gold  sovereigns
we  had  each been given as escape money.  I  had fixed my coins to the belt
with  masking  tape, and this  created  a  major drama.  They  jumped  back,
shouting what I  assumed  was the  Iraqi  for "Let  him  go! He's  going  to
     A captain arrived. He couldn't have been more than about 5'2"  tall but
must have weighed  over  13  stone.  He  looked like  a boiled  egg. He  was
aggressive, speaking good English quickly and brusquely.
     "Okay, what is your name?"
     "Okay, Andy, what I want you to do  is give me  the information I want.
If you don't, these men will shoot you."
     I looked around me. The soldiers  were standing in  a tight  cordon; if
they fired, they would wipe each other out.
     "What  is  the equipment  you have there?" he  asked,  pointing at  the
masking tape.
     "Gold," I said.
     That word must be as international as jeans or Pepsi, and in every army
in  the  world  the  soldiers  like the chance  to  make  a  little  earner.
Everybody's  eyes lit up --even the  jundies." This was their chance to make
more money in one hit than they probably earned in a year. I could see  them
planning their  holidays and buying  their new cars. I suddenly remembered a
story  I'd heard  about one of the US  soldiers who was among the troops who
invaded Panama. In an office  belonging to President Noriega he found  three
million US dollars in cash--and  the knobber actually got on  the  radio and
reported it.  It was  taken off to regimental HQ, and that was probably  the
last  anybody  ever saw  of it.  The bloke  who  told me  the  story said he
couldn't  sleep at night just  thinking  about the opportunity that had been
thrown away.
     The ruperts  were taking no chances. They  dragged me  away to  another
office and told me to put the belt on the table.
     "Why do you have gold?" the fat man barked.
     "To pay people if we run out of food," I said. "It's bad to steal."
     "Open it up."
     The ruperts stationed two  of the jundies in  the room with me and then
left,  presumably in case I was lying and was about to explode  a  string of
incendiary  devices. I pulled out the first  gold sovereign, and the ruperts
were summoned. They dismissed the two  squad dies and divided the sovereigns
between themselves.  They  tried to look so official  and solemn as they did
it, but it was blatantly obvious what they were up to.
     It  was probably thanks to the ruperts'  greed that my  silk escape map
and  miniature  compass  weren't found. They were both hidden in my uniform,
and a thorough search would have unearthed  them. I was chuffed to have them
still.  It was a wonderful feeling: you don't know this, big  nose, but I've
still got an escape map and compass, so up yours. The best time to escape is
as soon as  possible after capture.  The  further you go down the chain, the
harder it is to  escape, because the system caters more and more efficiently
for  a prisoner. Frontline troops  have  other problems on  their minds, but
further down  the line the security  is better and you've  most likely  been
stripped of your uniform. From  the moment I was captured I had  been trying
to orientate myself so that I knew which way was west. If the chance came my
way, I'd need these vital items.
     Blindfolded now, I was taken to another room. I sensed it was large and
airy. There were bodies in there talking; the atmosphere was more subdued. I
could tell by the more regulated voices that this was the Head Shed's  room.
It felt strangely secure. I  felt I was out  of danger somehow, far from the
madding crowd,  even though I  suspected what was  going  to happen.  Then I
realized  that  though the people sounded more in control, if they filled me
in they'd do it more professionally.
     There  was a  strong smell of coffee,  Gitanes, and cheap aftershave. I
was pushed down onto a chair with a cushioned seat and high back. Part of me
felt I wasn't there. My mind was going into some sort of fantasy to block it
out, as if it was  all  a dream. I had  never once considered  that anything
like this  could happen to me.  The  feeling was  the  same  as if  I'd been
driving a car and  knocked down a child: complete  and total  disbelief.  My
mind was  hearing  things,  but I  was  enclosed in my own  little world.  I
snapped out of it  and thought about trying to get  their pity, or a  cup of
coffee or something to eat. But I wasn't going to ask for jack shit. If they
gave me something all well and good, but I wasn't going to beg.
     I  clenched my muscles, put my head down, gripped  my legs together.  I
guessed that  before they got down to some proper tactical questioning, they
would take their frustrations out on me. They were murmuring to each other.
     So what's it to be, I thought. A fearsome torture?
     Or am I going to get fucked?
     Men milled  around,  whispering. The tiniest  sound  is  magnified when
you're trying so hard to hear. A chair scraped. Somebody got to his feet and
came towards me.
     I braced myself. Here it comes. I pretended to shiver. I wanted so much
for these people to feel sorry for me.
     Two  seconds felt like two minutes. It was unbelievably frustrating not
to be able to see what was going on. I shivered again, the injured, pathetic
creature, the man who knew nothing, the man not worth doing anything to. But
I knew I was grasping at straws. Head down,  I tried  to show no reaction as
he approached.
     There was a strong waft of coffee, and I longed to be in Ross's cafe in
Peckham with a big frothy  coffee in front of me. On Saturdays as young lads
we'd go down and  get two sausage  and  chips, pile on the salt and vinegar,
and get a frothy  coffee.  Ross the  Greek would  let  us spend all  morning
there. We can't have been more than eight or nine. My mum always gave me the
money to go  and get my dinner at Ross's; she knew it was the  big thing. In
wintertime  there would be condensation  running down  the windows  and that
strong, strong coffee smell. It was  such a snug and cozy  place  to sit. It
came back to me so vividly that  for a brief moment I felt like  a child who
has fallen over and is crying for his mum.
     There was no way Dinger would have gone into his cover story yet. Name,
number, rank, date of birth, the Big Four--that's all he would have given. I
thought: I'm going to  get severely filled  in here because they're going to
want a lot more  than that. I sort  of hoped maybe they  won't be  asking me
now; maybe  they'll be asking me later.  Maybe they'll just be taking  their
frustrations out now. Maybe  no one can speak English! My mind was racing at
incredible  speed  as this  character  got  nearer and nearer,  and  finally
stopped just inches away.
     He pulled my head up and punched me hard in the face.  The blow knocked
me backwards and to one side, but they were surrounding me, and I was pushed
back upright. Even when  you're expecting a punch like that,  you're shocked
when it  comes. I wanted to stay down because it would give me  time to rest
before the  next one, time to think. Everybody piled in. There  was laughter
as  they tried to outdo each  other's efforts. I felt drunk. You know what's
happening,  you know what's  going on, but  there's  nothing  you  can do to
control it. You begin to feel detached. It's happening to you, but your mind
takes over and  says Fuck this, I'm  not having  much more of this, and  you
start drifting  into unconsciousness. You  can  feel it happening,  but your
mind goes off into a wander. I was being punched into a semi stupor
     I let myself drop to the floor because at least then I could protect my
face. I  drew my knees up and kept them together,  kept my  head  down, kept
myself clenched up. As the  blows rained down I screamed and moaned. Some of
it was put on. A lot of it wasn't.
     Then, as if on a signal, the beating stopped.
     "Poor Andy, poor Andy," I heard, and a mock clucking of concern.
     I got to my knees and put my head against the man and shook it. I leant
against  him, my breathing heavy and  rasping because my nose was so clogged
with blood  and mud. I started sinking to the floor again. I needed his help
to  get  me up. This  gives  time,  I thought,  this  stalls  the operation.
Hopefully they'll  come to  their  senses and see  that I'm just a pathetic,
useless cretin, not worth the effort, and leave me alone.
     I  was helped  back into  the chair  and  somebody  dead  legged me.  I
screamed. Even  as a  schoolboy I used to hate dead legs--and they were just
the variety that were delivered with the knee. This was a full blooded kick.
Boots flew in from all directions again. I went straight down.
     You know the sensible thing to do is to appear weak and plead with them
for mercy, but something takes  over. I was so angry that I made a conscious
decision once more not to  beg. There was  no  way  I  was  going  to demean
myself. They were going to  do it anyway. I knew it was counterproductive to
resist,  but you can't fight your pride and self-respect. If I moaned,  that
would only give them more pleasure. The only way I could beat them was by my
mental attitude,  and beat them I  would. By keeping as  quiet as I could, I
was winning a small battle. Even the slightest imagined victory is magnified
a thousand times. I'm winning  this,  I  thought.  Ridiculously,  I  felt my
morale soar. Fuck 'em, I said to myself--don't give them the satisfaction of
going home for their tea and saying to their mates, "Yeah, he was begging us
to stop."
     They  didn't stop. Boots  swung  into my ribs and head, steel toe  caps
connected  with soft  shins.  There  was no  point to what they  were doing;
everybody  was just being macho. My only hope was that they'd get bored with
it soon.
     A  couple of  them started  sounding  off in  English, denouncing Bush,
Thatcher,  everybody they could  think of. My body was starting to throw its
hand in. I felt limp and drained. It was difficult to breathe. I had already
been  deprived  of  my  sense  of sight;  now  everything  was  swollen  and
throbbing, and I  felt my  other  senses numbing, too. My  heart pounded  so
strongly it was creating its own chest pain.
     I could hear screams and anguished groans. They must have come from me.
     Somebody shouted into my face from inches  away and then  laughed manic
ally "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" and backed off.
     I should have had the sense  to become a quivering  wreck and  let them
laugh about it and say, "Ah, bless his cotton socks, leave him alone, what a
     But I just lay there and took it.
     "You are the tool  of Bush, Andy," one of them said, "but you will  not
be for long because we are going to kill you."
     I took the threat seriously. He had just confirmed my worst fears. They
would give us both a good kicking, then take us off and slot us.
     Good, I thought, let's get on with it then.
     They dragged  me to  my feet again. Blood was pouring down my face from
gashes in  my scalp. It trickled into my eyes and mouth. My  lips were numb,
as  if I'd been to the  dentist.  I couldn't control them  to blow the blood
away.  I  bent  my  head  forward to  redirect  the flow  and  to avoid  any
eye-to-eye contact. I didn't want these bastards to see what I was thinking.
     For  another fifteen minutes people continued to take turns at punching
and slapping, often not even bothering to put me back on the chair. I stayed
crunched  up as  tightly as I  could.  A pair of hands  grabbed my feet  and
started to drag me  across the room so that the others could get an improved
angle on their kicking. This is way out of control,  I thought. Any more  of
this and I'm going to be well out of the game.
     The blindfold had come off by now with the hustle and tussle of events.
I didn't bother looking that much. All  I saw was my knees hard  against  my
face,  and  the  light-cream lino floor, once  beautifully polished but  now
smeared with mud and blood. I was finding it more and more difficult to draw
breath. I was really  getting concerned about the long-term effects. I  felt
my body disintegrating. I could  die here--and the only good thing about  it
would be that I'd mucked up their floor.
     The back  of my  throat was  rattling. I  coughed blood. Another twenty
minutes, I thought, and we'd be into serious damage. That  would really slow
down my chances of escape.
     At last they must  have tired of the game. I was a bag of  shit, they'd
got me where they wanted me, there was little point going on.
     I lay there on  the floor, drenched with my own blood.  There was filth
and gore everywhere. Even my feet were bleeding. My khaki socks were wet and
dark red.
     I opened  my  eyes for a moment and caught a glimpse of a pair of brown
Chelsea boots with zippers on  the  side, and a pair of bell-bottomed jeans.
The boots had cheap and nasty plastic heels, the stuff that Saturday markets
are  made  of. The jeans were dirty and  faded, and  well  and truly flared.
Whoever  was wearing them  probably  had on a David Cassidy T-shirt as  well
under  his uniform  shirt. Glancing  up  quickly, I saw that  they were  all
ruperts, very clean-cut and smooth-faced, not a hair out of place. Everybody
had a mustache and hair that was sleeked back. The Saddam look was in.
     I  lay in a corner against the  wall, trying to  protect  myself. There
were people on three sides of me. Their faces loomed down  at  me. One bloke
flicked his fag ash at me. I looked up at him pitifully. His response was to
do it again.
     More people  came into the room. I was  lifted  up and put back  onto a
chair and  re  blindfolded  I hoped it wasn't just a fresh crew coming in to
take over from where the others had left off.
     "What is your name?" I heard from a new voice in excellent English.
     I didn't give my  full name. I was determined to drag this out  as long
as I  could. My surname  was a whole new question. The trick  is  to use  up
time, but at the same time to appear to be wanting to help.
     "How old are you, Andy? What is your date of birth?"
     His  diction was very precise, his grammar better than mine. The slight
Middle Eastern accent was barely detectable.
     I gave him the answer.
     "What is your religion?"
     Under the terms of the Geneva Convention he wasn't allowed to ask  that
one. The correct response should have been: "I cannot answer that question."
     "Church of England," I said.
     It was inscribed on my ID tags and they had  them, so why should I risk
another  filling in  over  information that they already  had?  I hoped  the
information would help confirm that I was from England, not  Tel Aviv as the
crowd had seemed to believe.
     Church of England meant nothing to them.
     "You are Jewish?"
     "No, I'm a Protestant."
     "What is a Protestant?"
     "A Christian. I'm a Christian."
     To  them,  everybody's  a  Christian  who's  not a  Muslim  or  a  Jew.
Christianity embraces everybody from Trappist monks to Moonies.
     "No, Andy, you are  Jewish.  We will soon find that out. Do you like my
English, by the way?"
     "Yes, it's good."
     I  wasn't about to  argue. As far as  I was  concerned, he spoke better
English than Kate Adie.
     I had my head down, swinging it from side to side, looking and sounding
confused. There were long pauses while I appeared  to be  trying to think of
things. I slurred my words, played on the injuries, played for time, dragged
everything out.
     "Of course my English is good," he snapped, coming right up to my face.
"I worked in London. What do you take me for--an idiot? We are not idiots."
     He had been asking questions from maybe 10 feet away, as if from behind
a desk. But now he was  up and walking around as he launched into a  torrent
of rhetoric about  how intelligent and wonderful the  Iraqi  nation  was and
what tremendously  civilized  people they  were. He  was beginning to shout.
Flecks of spit landed on my face. They smelled of tobacco and cheap cologne.
The speed and harshness of his verbal assault  made  me  wince  a  little; I
clenched my teeth. I had to fight to control my reactions; I didn't want him
to know  I was  in a better state than he thought. You've got to take it for
granted that these people are switched on.
     "We are an advanced nation," he spat. "As your country shall  soon find
     I  had been  feeling a  bit like  a  child on the receiving  end  of  a
scolding,  who puts his  face down while he's being yelled  at and his whole
body starts to shudder.
     He mentioned London and I thought,  This is all getting on rather  well
here, we're going to talk about London.
     "I love London," I said. "I wish  I was back there now. I don't want to
be here. I don't know what I'm doing here. I'm just a soldier."
     We  went through the Big Four again.  In my mind's eye I tried to  race
ahead and compare what  I was  going to  say with what I'd  already  said. I
could hear lots of writing going on. All the pens seemed very close to me. I
heard paper being folded and the shuffling of feet.
     My interrogator moved away and sat down. His tone switched to something
soothing and approachable.
     "I know you're just a soldier," he said. "I am a soldier myself. Let us
just  get this done in a civilized manner.  We are a civilized nation. There
are certain things we want  to know, Andy. Just tell us. You're just a tool.
They are using you."
     It  was pretty obvious what was going on.  My job now was to  make them
think that their methods were working.
     "Yes,  sir," I said, "I'm so  confused,  I really want  to help  you. I
don't know what's happening. I'm so worried about my friend outside."
     "Well, tell me what  unit  you're from. Just tell us and you won't have
to go through this pain. Why are you doing this to yourself?"
     "I'm sorry, I cannot answer that question."
     It all started again.
     When  the new characters had come in, one of them  must have slipped in
behind me. When I gave the dud response, he must have got the nod because he
threw a massive hook with a rifle  butt into the side of my head. It took me
straight onto the lino.
     If you're  in a fight as a school kid you're  all revved up for it, and
you're  expecting  the blows. They  don't hurt  so much when  they  come. If
you're not expecting it, the pain is  intense. The shock from the rifle butt
was horrendous. I passed out. I went to another world, and although it  hurt
intensely, it was actually quite a pleasant place to be.
     As I lay on the floor, I noticed that my breathing was very shallow now
and my heart was pumping more  slowly. Everything  was slowing down. I could
feel myself gradually declining. I couldn't swallow. Everything was a haze.
     I took  another  blow  from  the  rifle butt.  Bubbles  of  vivid light
exploded before my eyes. Then there was darkness.
     I was semiconscious when they lifted me back onto the chair.
     "Look, Andy, we just  need to know some  things. Let me  do  my job. We
don't  have  to  do  this.  We  are  all  soldiers.  This  is  an  honorable
profession." All of this in a low, soft, comforting voice. A sort of  "Let's
get it over with, let's be mates' sort of tone.
     "We  could just leave you out in the desert to be eaten by the animals,
Andy.  Nobody would  care,  except your family. You're  letting  them  down,
you're not being brave, you're just playing into the hands of the people who
sent you here. They're having a good  time while people like you and me  are
fighting each other. You and me, Andy--we don't want to fight this war."
     I was nodding and agreeing with everything he  said, and all the time I
was doing it the wonderful feeling was growing inside me that I had actually
beaten him.  He saw  me nodding, but he didn't know that  inside my head  my
attitude was totally different. I started to  feel better about my  capture.
Everything had felt  so negative up till then. I  was thinking: He  must  be
believing this crap.  He's  chatting away  and  I'm  agreeing  with  him.  I
couldn't  believe  I  was  getting  away  with  it.  I was  on  top  of this
discussion, and he wasn't even aware of it. I'd got something over him. This
could be the start of a wonderful relationship.
     I was winning.
     "Just tell  us, Andy, and  we shall send you back to England. What unit
are  you from?" He made it sound as if he had the power to summon  a private
jet there and then to whisk me back to Brize Norton.
     "I'm sorry, I cannot answer that question."
     This time, as the kicks connected with  my  skull, there was a hissing,
popping sound in my ears,  and as I clenched my jaw, I heard the bones creak
together.  I  felt blood trickle  out of  my ears and  down  my face.  I was
worried. Blood coming  out of your  ears  is not a good sign. I thought, I'm
going to be left deaf. Shit, I was only in my early thirties.
     "What unit are you with?"
     I was hoping  desperately  that he'd get on  to something else,  but he
wasn't going to let go.
     I said nothing.
     "Andy, we are not making much progress."
     Bizarrely, the voice was still soft and chummy.
     "You must understand, Andy, I have a job to do. We're not getting  very
far, are we? There is no big problem, just tell us."
     More kicks. More punches. More screams.
     "We already  have this information from your friend, you know. We  just
want to hear it from you."
     That  was  a lie. He'd  have  got jack shit  out of Dinger. Dinger  was
harder than me; he wouldn't have said a word. The reason he had got  himself
so badly filled  in was probably because he'd treated them like anybody else
he didn't like the look of and told them to fuck off.
     "You  must understand,  I'm  a  soldier," I  said.  "You're a  soldier,
too--you must understand I can't tell you this."
     I was trying to get some affiliation, I was trying to put it  over in a
sobbing,  pathetic way.  I hoped to appeal to  their own traditional fear of
loss of face.
     "My  family would walk  around in shame for  the rest of their days," I
cried. "They would be disgraced, I'd be discredited for  ever.  I just can't
tell you these things, I can't."
     "Then Andy we have a big problem. You're not telling us what we need to
know. You're  not helping the situation,  you're  not helping yourself.  You
could be dead very soon,  for something that means nothing to you. I want to
help you,  but there are people above me who  don't  want to do  that. Admit
it,"  he said,  in the tone of my best  mate  giving me  advice. "You are an
Israeli, aren't you? Come on, admit it."
     "I'm not an Israeli," I sobbed. "Look--I'm not dressed like an Israeli.
This is  British  uniform,  and  you've  seen my  identification  tags.  I'm
English,  this  is British  uniform.  I don't know what  you  want  from me.
Please, please. I want to help. You're confusing me. I'm scared."
     "This is stupid."
     "You've got my identification tags, you've seen  that I'm  English. I'm
scared of what you're saying."
     His tone suddenly  changed. "Yes, we have your identification tags, you
haven't," he exploded angrily.
     "You're who  we say you are,  and as  far as we're concerned you're  an
Israeli. If not,  why were you so near Syria? What  were you doing? Tell me,
tell me, what were you doing?"
     Even if I'd wanted to answer, he wasn't giving me time.  He hit me with
a nonstop torrent of questions and raging rhetoric. "You mean nothing to us!
You're nothing, nothing!"
     It must have  been fun in his house. The kids wouldn't have known if he
was coming or going.
     What do I do now? I asked myself.
     Let's get back to the Israeli thing.
     A dread was creeping into  my mind concerning Bob. Bob had tight, curly
black hair  and a large nose. If he was  captured or they found his body, he
could be taken as Jewish.
     "I'm British."
     "No, no, you're Israeli. You are dressed like commandos
     "Everybody in the British army wears this uniform."
     "You'll die soon, Andy, for being  so stupid, for not  answering simple
     "I'm not Israeli."
     It had  got to  the stage where I was  having to remember what I'd been
saying and what I had not been  saying, because I knew that if these  things
were being written down--and I could hear the scribbling--I was going to get
myself into severe shit.
     Let's keep  on  the  Israeli  thing. Maybe if  this character keeps  on
talking to me, we can get a  relationship going. Him and me. He's mine. He's
my interrogator. He just might } | take pity on me.
     "I'm a  Christian, I'm English,"  I set  off again. "I  don't even know
whereabouts in  Iraq I am, let alone  if I'm near Syria. I don't want  to be
here. Look at me, I'm scared."
     "We  know you're  an Israeli, Andy. We just want to hear it  from  you.
Your friend has already told us."
     I  thought, Dinger  looks  like he could be a bit Jewish also, with his
tight, wiry blond hair.
     "You're commandos."
     In their army only commandos wear DPM.
     "We're not! We're just ordinary soldiers."
     "You'll die for  being  so stupid. All  we want is simple answers  from
you.  I'm trying to help  you. These people  want to kill you. I'm trying to
save you. How do you expect  me to do that if you're not helping me? We want
you to answer these questions. We need to hear it from you. You want to help
us, don't you?"
     "Yes, I want to help." I was sobbing again.  "But I can't help you if I
don't know anything."
     "You're  so  stupid."  The  voice  was aggressive,  but  he mixed  some
compassion with it. "Why aren't you  helping us? Come on, I'm trying to help
you. I don't want you to be in this situation any more than you do."
     "I want to help you, but I'm not an Israeli."
     "Just  tell us and we'll  stop. Come on, you're  so stupid, aren't you?
What's the matter? We're civilized  people. But  I need you to  tell me that
you're an Israeli. If you  can't tell me  that, then tell me  why you're  so
near Syria?"
     "I don't know where I am."
     "You're near Syria, aren't you, so just tell me. These people will kill
you.  Your friend's okay, your friend  has told us. He will live, but you're
going to die, for something stupid. Why die? You're stupid."
     I heard his chair scrape on the floor. I was trying to take in what was
going on without showing that I could focus. I was physically wrecked. I was
hoping  for  just the slightest hint of humanity in this man. Shit,  I could
always turn the waterworks  on so easily as a kid, win my aunties round, and
get a packet of crisps. What was wrong with these people?
     I was going for an Oscar without a doubt--but a good percentage of what
I was doing was for real. I was in real pain. It was a good catalyst for the
reaction I wanted to portray. It was good to have this  Israeli thing. Let's
keep on that and hopefully they'll keep away from the other questions.
     "I can't help you, I just can't help you."
     I heard a big sigh, as if he was my best  mate  in the world  and there
was  nothing left he could  do to help me. The sigh said: I am your contact;
it's only me that's keeping everybody at bay.
     "Then I cannot help you, Andy."
     As if on cue I  heard another chair scrape and feet moving  towards me.
When I smelt the waft of aftershave, I just knew that  the lad who was a dab
hand with the rifle butt was on his way over to give me the good news.
     He was, too. He really read me my horoscope.
     I must have been getting used to being blindfolded because my senses of
hearing and smell  seemed  to be more acute. I was  starting to  tell  these
people apart by their smell. The boy who was handy with  the rifle butt wore
freshly laundered clothes.  Another  one liked pistachio nuts. He'd put them
in his mouth and chew, then  gob the mashed shell into my face.  The one who
spoke good English smoked incessantly  and had breath that smelled of coffee
and stale cigarettes. When he launched into  rhetoric,  I got  his  spit all
over my face. He also stank like a color supplement aftershave ad.
     His chair would  scrape, and I'd  sense  him moving  around. He'd speak
like a  gatling  gun,  then he'd do the Nice Guy  bit and  give me  lots  of
"Everything's quite okay, it's going to be all right."
     As he  was chatting  very gently, I could hear him getting  closer  and
closer until we were nose to nose. Then he'd yell in my ear.
     "This is no good, Andy," he said. "We shall have to get this out of you
another way."
     What  worse  way  could  there  possibly  be  of  doing  it?  We'd  had
intelligence  reports of  interrogation  centers and  mass killings,  and  I
thought, Here  we go, we're going  to get  severely dealt  with now.  I  had
visions of concentration camps and electrodes clamped to my bollocks.
     Two of the boys set to with rifle butts.
     One  particularly heavy  blow caught me  on  the  jaw, directly over my
teeth. Only the skin of my cheek lay between the edge of the butt and two of
my back molars. I felt the teeth crack and splinter, and then the pain of it
hit  me. I was down and  screaming  my  head off. I tried  to  spit out  the
fragments, but  my mouth was too  swollen and numb. I couldn't swallow.  The
moment my tongue touched the sharp, tender stumps I passed out.
     I came to on the floor.  The blindfold had fallen off, and I watched as
blood  poured from my mouth into a pool on the cream lino. I felt stupid and
useless. I wanted nothing more than for the handcuffs to fall off so I could
get up and deal with these guys.
     They carried on, giving me  some good stuff  around  the back  with the
butts, twat ting my head, legs, and kidneys.
     I  couldn't breathe through my nose.  When I screamed, I  had  to  draw
breath through my mouth, and the air hit the exposed nerve pulp of my broken
teeth. I screamed again, and went on screaming.
     It was getting outrageous.
     They  picked me up  and put  me back on  the  seat. They didn't  bother
putting the blindfold back on, but I kept my head down anyway. I didn't want
eye contact, or to risk another  filling in for looking up. I was  in enough
pain.  I was a big, incoherent  mess, honking away, sniveling to myself as I
slumped on the chair.
     My coordination was well and truly  gone. I couldn't  even keep my legs
together any more. I must have looked like Dinger's double.
     There was a long silence.
     Everybody  was shuffling around, leaving me to ponder over my fate. How
long could I go like this? Was I going to get kicked to death here or what?
     There was a lot more sighing and clucking.
     "What are  you  doing this for,  Andy?  For  your country? Your country
doesn't want to  know you. Your country doesn't care. The only ones who will
really worry will be  your parents, your family. We don't want  a  war. It's
Bush, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Major. They're sitting back there doing nothing.
You're here. It's you that will suffer, not them. They're not worried  about
     "We've had war for many years. All  our  families  have suffered. We're
not  barbarians,  it's  you  who  are  bringing  in war.  This  is  just  an
unfortunate situation  for  you. Why  don't you help us? Why are you letting
yourself go through all this pain? Why do we have to do this sort of thing?"
     I didn't answer, I just kept my head  down. My game plan was not to  go
into the  cover story  straightaway, because then  they've  got  you. I  was
trying to make  it  look as if I was prepared  to give them the Big Four and
that  was all. Queen and  country and all that. I would go through a certain
amount of tactical questioning and then break into my cover story.
     They were talking between themselves in low tones, in what I took to be
quite educated Arabic. Somebody was scribbling notes.
     The writing was a good  sign. It intimated that there wasn't just a big
frenzy going  on, with them getting what they could  and then topping me. It
made it seem there was a reason for not shooting me. Was there  some sort of
preservation  order on  us?  It  gave me a sense of security, a feeling that
some  officialdom  somewhere was directing operations. Yes,  said  the other
side  of my brain, but you're getting  further and further down  this chain,
and the longer this  goes on the less chance you  have of escaping. Escaping
must always be foremost in your mind. You don't know when the opportunity is
going to arise, and you've got  to be ready. Carpe diem! You've got to seize
that  moment, but  the longer you are in  captivity the  more  difficult  it
     I  thought about Dinger.  I knew he wouldn't have substantiated any  of
this stuff about Tel Aviv. He would have done as much as he could, and  when
he decided that he'd physically  had too much and  was going to be kicked to
death, he'd have started to break into the search and rescue story.
     It occurred to me  I might  feel better if I could see  my environment,
absorb my surroundings. I  looked up and opened my eyes. The Venetian blinds
were down, but one or two thin shafts of light shone through. Everything was
twilighty and in semi shadow
     The room was quite large, maybe 40 feet by 20. I was sitting at one end
of the rectangle. I couldn't see a  door, so it  had  to be  behind  me. The
officers were at  the other  end,  facing  me. There must have been eight or
nine of  them, all smoking.  Smoke haze hung from the ceiling, pierced  here
and there by the sun coming through the blinds.
     Halfway down the room, on the right hand side as I looked at it,  was a
large desk. On  it were  a couple  of telephones and piles of normal  office
paper, books,  and clutter. A  big leather executive-style chair  was empty.
Behind it  was the world's biggest  picture of Saddam in  his beret, all the
medals on, smiling away. I guessed it was the local commander's office.
     General admin notices hung on the wall. In the center of the lino floor
and  continuing under the desk  was  a  large Persian carpet. On  the  left,
facing  the  desk,  was a large domestic-type  settee. The rest of the walls
were lined with stack able plastic chairs.  Mine, the  guest chair, appeared
to be a plastic cushioned dining chair.
     More tut-tut-tuts and sighs. People were  talking to themselves as if I
wasn't there and this was just a normal day at the office. I rolled my head,
and  blood and  snot dribbled down my  chin. I didn't know how much longer I
could bear the agony in my mouth.
     I worked out  the  options. If they started to fill me in again, I'd be
dead by the end  of the afternoon. The time had come to  start  spilling the
cover story. I would wait for them to initiate it, and I'd go ahead.
     When  I had  refused to answer  their  questions,  I wasn't  being  all
patriotic and brave--that's just propaganda  that you see in war films. This
was real life. I couldn't come  straight out with my cover story. I  had  to
make  it look  as  if they'd prized  it  out  of  me.  It  was  a  matter of
self-preservation, not bravado. People sometimes  do  heroic  things because
the situation demands  it, but there's no such thing as  a hero. The gung ho
brigade  are either  idiots or they don't even understand what's  happening.
What I  had to do now was give them the  least amount of information to keep
myself alive.
     "Andy,  you're  just sitting there. We're trying to be friendly, but we
have to get the  information. Andy, this  could go  on and on. Your friend's
outside, he's helped  us and  he's Okay, he's out there  on the grass,  he's
still alive, he's in the sun. You're in here  in  the dark.  This is no good
for you and it's no good for us. It just takes up our time.
     "Just tell  us what  we need to know and that's it, everything's ended.
You'll be Okay, we'll look after you until the end  of  the  war.  Maybe  we
might be able to organize it for you to go home to your family straightaway.
There's  no problems, if you help us. You look bad. Are you aching? You need
a doctor--we'll help you."
     I wanted to appear utterly done in. "Okay," I said in a hoarse whisper,
"I can't take any more. I'll help you."
     Everybody in the room looked up.
     "I am a member of a search and rescue team who were sent to lift downed
     The interrogator  turned around and looked at the others. They all came
forward and sat on  tables and desks. Everything I said had to be translated
for them.
     "Andy, tell me more. Tell me all you know about the search and rescue."
     His voice was very nice and calm. He obviously thought he'd cracked it,
which was fine--that was exactly what I wanted him to think.
     "We're  all from different units  in  the  British army,"  I said, "and
we're  all drawn  together because of our medical  experience. I  don't know
anybody,  we were  just brought together. I'm medically trained,  I'm not  a
soldier. I'm stuck in this  war and  I don't want to be a part of it. I  was
happy  working  back in  the UK on sick parades, and all of a sudden they've
put  me on one of these search and rescue teams. I haven't got a  clue about
any of this, I'm a medic, that's all I am."
     It seemed  to  go  down rather  well.  They  chatted  about it  amongst
themselves. It obviously squared with what Dinger had told them.
     The trouble is,  once you start  there's  that chink in the armor,  and
you've got  to carry on with the  story. If there's too much detail,  you'll
start  cocking things up for  the other prisoners. You  have to  try to keep
your story nice  and simple--then it's easy for you to remember as well. The
best way to achieve  that is to be the total bag of shit. You can't remember
because  you're in such a bad physical state. Your mind just can't recollect
anything; you're just  a thick, bone squaddy,  one of  the minions,  and you
haven't  got  a clue, you don't even know what kind of helicopter it was. My
mind was racing to think of the story and what I was going to say next.
     They knew I  was a sergeant, so I  threw  that  one in  again. In their
army, sergeant  is a buckshee rank. It's their officers that do  everything,
including the thinking.
     "How many of you were there?"
     "I don't know. There was lots of noise and the helicopter came down. We
were told there was danger  of  an explosion and to run,  and they just took
off and left us."  I played  the confused  bonehead, the  scared,  abandoned
squaddy. "I just do first aid, I don't want any of this. I'm not used to all
this. All I do is put plasters on wounded pilots."
     "How many were on the aircraft?" he tried again.
     "I'm not entirely sure. It was nighttime."
     "Andy,  what's  going on?  We gave you  a  chance. Do you  take us  for
idiots?  Over the last few days many people have been killed, and we want to
know what's happened."
     This  was the  first time they  had mentioned casualties.  I  had  been
expecting it, but I didn't want to hear it.
     "I don't know what you mean."
     "We want to know who's done it. Was it you?"
     "It wasn't me. I don't know what's going on."
     "You must give us a chance. Look, just to show you how much  we want to
help you: You tell me your mother's and father's names, and we will write to
them and let them know you're all right. You write them a letter and put the
address on, and we'll post it."
     It was something straight out of training. You are taught never to sign
anything. This goes back to Vietnam days where people signed pieces of paper
in all innocence, and the  next thing they knew there was a statement in the
international press saying that they'd slain a village full of children.
     I knew it  was bollocks. There was no way they'd actually send a letter
to Peckham. It was fantasy land, but I couldn't just come out with Fuck you,
big nose. I had to get round this somehow.
     "My  father  died  years ago,"  I  said. "My  mother went  away with an
American  who  was working  in London. She's  somewhere  in  America  now. I
haven't  got any parents; it's one of the reasons I'm  in the army. I've got
no other immediate family."
     "Where did he work in London, this American?"
     Another classic. They were trying to get me to  open  up my heart,  and
everything would come rolling out. I'd been  put through all this before  in
E&E and capture exercises.
     "What did he do?"
     "I don't know, I didn't live at home then. I had big family problems."
     "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
     I wanted to base my lies on  the truth. If it's something that you know
and it's the  truth,  you stand a better chance of remembering  it. And they
might run a check and be able to confirm that what you're saying is true and
not go  any further into it. I had in my mind a friend who had been  in that
sort of  family situation. His father died when he was 13. His mother met an
American, wanted  nothing more to do with the  son, and buggered off  to the
States. As far as I was concerned, it sounded quite convincing.
     I took my  time.  My  speech was  slurred,  I  was  still  dribbling, I
couldn't talk properly.
     "Are  you in pain, Andy? Help us and everything will be fine. We'll get
you medical attention. Carry on, tell us more."
     "I don't know any more."
     Then  another classic.  He must have been  working his way  through the
     "Sign this piece of paper, Andy. All  we want to  do  is prove to  your
family that you're still alive. We will make attempts to find your mother in
America. We have contacts there.  All we need is your signature so she knows
you're  Okay. And we  can actually  prove to the Red Cross that you're still
alive, you're not  dead in  the desert, and the animals  aren't  eating you.
Think of it, Andy. If we get you to sign your name and go to  the Red Cross,
we're not going to kill you." I couldn't believe anybody would actually come
out with such a  comical ploy. I tried to be noncommittal. "I don't know any
addresses, I haven't got any family life."
     You could  give a fictitious  address, or you could give a real address
in case they checked up. But Mrs. Mills of 8 Acacia  Avenue might  open  her
door one morning and get  blown away.  You never  know how far this  sort of
thing will go.
     "Andy,  why do you  keep  on  obstructing us? Why are you doing this to
yourself? These people, my superiors, they  won't let me help you unless you
tell  them what they  need to know. I'm afraid  I  can't  help you any more,
Andy. If you don't help me, I can't help you."
     He just walked away. I didn't know what to expect now.
     I had my head down, and I could hear  them coming up. I clenched my jaw
and waited for it. This time there were no rifles, just several quite severe
smacks  around  the  face.  Every  time they  hit near  the broken  teeth  I
     I shouldn't have done that.
     They pulled  my head up by  the  hair to get  a better  aim.  Then they
slapped several more times over the site.
     The slaps became punches  that knocked me  off the chair, but it wasn't
very exciting compared  with the  last beating. Probably they thought they'd
now cracked it  and I  just needed a bit more encouragement. It lasted  less
than a minute.
     Back on  the  chair, I  was breathing heavily, blood  trickling down my
     "Look, Andy, we're trying to help you. Do you want to help us?"
     "Yes, I do,  but  I don't know anything, I'm helping  you as much  as I
     "Where are your mother and father?"
     I went through the same story.
     "But why don't you know where your mother is in America?"
     "I  don't know because  I have nothing to do with her.  She didn't want
me. So she  went to  America and I joined the army."  "When did you join the
     "When I was sixteen."
     "Why did you join?"
     "I've always wanted  to help people,  that's  why I'm a medic.  I don't
want to fight. I've always been against fighting."
     This business about family  was a red herring. I  didn't know if it was
just a matter of pride that he wanted to crack it.
     "Andy, look, obviously this way is not working."
     The filling in started again.
     Your body adapts and it passes out quicker. Your mind is working in two
ways. One half is telling you you're out of it, and the other half really is
out  of it. It's  like  lying on your  bed when you're pissed--your mind  is
spinning and a little voice is saying:  Never again. This time I was totally
out of the game. It was a good kicking. I wasn't exaggerating anything after
this  one. I was incoherent.  I flaked out,  and when I came  to I was still
     What woke me up was a boy stubbing his cigarette out on my neck.
     I  was  in  blackness, blindfolded and handcuffed, lying  face down  on
grass. I had an excruciating headache. My ears tingled and burned.
     I felt sunlight on bits  of my  face. I sensed the brightness of it. My
mind was  a  blur,  but  I worked out that  at some stage  I must have  been
dragged from the room and trussed  up outside. I wanted to rest my head, but
I couldn't lie  on one side because of  the swelling, and I couldn't rest on
the other because of the cuts.
     I  heard Dinger's voice just  behind me. They were stubbing  cigarettes
out on him as well.  It was good to hear him, even though he was moaning and
groaning. I couldn't see  him or  touch him because  I was facing  the other
way, but I knew he was there. I felt a bit safer.
     There must have been three  or four guards using us as ashtrays. They'd
had a bad  time with  us  over the last few days,  and  they  were obviously
enjoying getting their own back.
     Other squad dies came around to see the sideshow and get in  a poke and
a  kick. They gob bed on us and  laughed.  One put a lit cigarette behind my
ear and left it there to burn down. His mates loved that one.
     Even  though I  was  blindfolded, I kept  looking down, trying  to look
scared. I  wanted to see  Dinger.  I needed the physical contact with him, I
needed to feel near him. I wanted some form of attachment.
     I was  writhing  face down as the cigarette burned behind  my  ear  and
managed to  wiggle the blindfold down my nose. I could see daylight at last.
You  have  a  horrible sense  of insecurity when you're blindfolded  because
you're so vulnerable.
     If this is my last hour, I said to myself, let's see as much as we can.
It was a lovely clear  sky. We  were under  a small fruit tree with a little
bird in it. It started singing. The odd vehicle would start up about 60 feet
away,  there was  talking, it was all rather sedate and nice.  On  the other
side of the wall there was  the hustle and bustle of the  town, the  hooting
and revving of vehicles and general shouting. I heard the main gate open and
close about 150 feet away, vehicles drive out and fade away. It felt as cozy
and safe as being in a walled garden in a different century.
     I thought: I've seen and  I've done as much as  I can. If it's going to
happen, let's do it now. I didn't have much thought about Jilly or Kate. I'd
gone through all that in the culvert, thinking there wasn't  much I could do
about  it, this was not the time to worry  about them. I'd  done  the best I
could to look after them financially. I'd got the letters sorted out, and at
the  end of the day they knew that I loved them, and I  knew that they loved
me. There were no big  problems; they'd be told I was dead and that would be
     There  were other things I  wanted to  concentrate  on now.  In Breaker
Morant,  the film about the Boer War, as the  characters  walked to the spot
where they were going to get executed, they reached  out  and  held hands. I
didn't know whether I wanted to physically grab hold of  Dinger or whether I
wanted to say something. I just wanted some sort  of connection with him for
my last moment.
     More  squad dies  came round, kicking  and  poking. They looked down at
these two pathetic messes on the ground, and they gob bed and took the piss,
giggling like a bunch of kids, which some of them probably were. But none of
it seemed as bad as before. Either the novelty was wearing off for them or I
was just getting used to it. I just kept my head down and clenched my teeth.
Both of us moaned and groaned with each kick because it hurt--but it was not
so much the power of  the kick as the  effect it had on the aches  and pains
from before.  They  denounced  Mitterrand  and  Bush, and  when they saw  my
blindfold was down, they did cutthroat  signs  and waved  their  pistols and
mimed bang-bang. I could have taken it if  it was part of a master plan, but
these wankers were just doing it for their own enjoyment.
     Vehicles  started up,  and the drivers revved  the engines. There was a
lot of shouting and barking of orders from the buildings behind us, and that
got me  flapping. It was  a  horrible sinking feeling: Here we  go  again, I
thought, why not another hour here? It's all rather  nice in  the sun; we've
had such a good period of sedation.
     I hoped the noise came from officers and it didn't  just mean that  the
jundies were getting all  sparked  up again. You felt there was some purpose
with  the  officers; you could converse with them quite well. With the squad
dies it was just boots and fists.
     Vehicle  doors  were slamming.  There  was a  general hum  of activity.
Something was  definitely  about  to happen. I braced myself, because it was
going to happen whether I liked it or not.
     I didn't  know  what I was  going to  shout  to Dinger. "God  Save  the
Queen!" maybe. But then again, probably not.
     Somebody  untied  my feet, but  the blindfold and handcuffs  stayed  in
place. Hands on  either side  grabbed  me  roughly and hauled me upright. My
body  had started to seize up after  the  long rest. Bruises throbbed.  Cuts
which had clotted were reopened as I was pushed and shoved. My feet wouldn't
carry me and I had to be dragged.
     I was thrown  onto the back of an  open  pickup and man handled  to the
front. They  bent me over the cab,  a jundie either side of  me; I assumed I
was being taken away to be shot. Was this the last time I  was ever going to
see or hear anything? My great game plan to say something to Dinger had gone
to rat shit, and I was annoyed with myself.
     They took my blindfold off, and I blinked in the  harsh sunlight. There
was nothing in front of us. They wouldn't  let me turn around, so I couldn't
tell if  Dinger was behind. The jundies were banging on the roof; the driver
and passenger had their arms out, and they were slapping  the metal as well.
There were happy noises everywhere.
     One  of the ruperts came up  and said,  "We are now going to  show  our
     I was still trying  to adjust my eyes, totally bemused by the noise and
the  sun. We seemed  to be  part of a convoy of five or six brand-new Toyota
pickups and Land  Cruisers. Some still had the  plastic over the seats. They
were covered with desert dust, however, and they'd had to scrape it off  the
rear windscreen of the cab beneath me so the driver could see out.
     They opened  up the large double gates for the  vehicles to come out of
the  camp, and we were greeted by the surging roar of a crowd, as if two Cup
Final sides were emerging from the tunnel at Wembley. There was a solid mass
of  people ahead  of  us--women with  sticks,  men with  guns or stones, all
dressed in  their dish-dashes and waving pictures of Saddam Hussein in their
hands. Some were jumping up and down with joy; others were ranting rhetoric,
pointing and throwing  stones.  The jundies tried to stop  them because they
were getting hit as well.
     And  this was  just as we drove out of  the gate. I thought: That's it,
we're off to be shot without a doubt. We'll have a quick drive  around town,
they'll make a video, and then they'll do the business.
     We turned right  onto the main boulevard, and  the crowd surged  around
us. We had to stop almost immediately, as the  jundies tried to push  people
off  and  the driver jammed his hand  hard on  the horn.  We inched forward,
trying  to pave a way through  the mob. They chanted "Down with Boosh!  Down
with  Boosh!" and I just stood  there like the  president  at the head  of a
     The squad dies were chuffed as hell. Everybody was firing into the air.
Even kids of ten were  letting rip with AKs. All I could think  was:  One of
these rounds is going to hit me. It was such a lovely hot day as well.
     I got  twatted now and again  by a stick  or  stone. The jundies either
side of me  were jumping up and down with excitement. I only had socks on my
feet, and they landed on them with  their boots. I  felt weak and wanted  to
lean against the cab, but they pulled my head back to  make  sure  everybody
could see me.
     Dinger came up on the  right-hand side.  He, too,  was riding  a Toyota
pickup. As he drew level,  we got  some eye-to-eye  and managed  to  swap  a
smile. It was the best thing that had  happened all  day. Dinger was looking
how I felt. He was the bog monster at the best of times, but I looked at him
and  thought:  Fucking hell, I didn't know he  could get even uglier than he
was. It was the happiest time since the  capture,  without a doubt. The wink
and  the small smile, that was all I  needed.  I drew immense strength  from
that one small gesture. It was a matter of personal credibility. If he could
get through this and grin  about it, I thought, fuck  it, so can  I.  I felt
incredible affection for him, and  I hoped that he did for me. This, as  far
as I knew, was my last look at a mate.
     We  trundled  along  on our  carnival  floats,  driving  down  the main
boulevard of the  town. The crowd  chanted  and shook their fists. The noise
was incredible. They  didn't  even know who or  what we were. We  could have
been spacemen for all they knew, but whatever, we were the bad guys.
     Some of the squad dies  were chanting  with them.  Others were  running
around trying  to control the crowd. All  of  them were trying to avoid  the
stones and sticks that were meant for  us.  There were bursts  of fire going
off all over the place, the jundies with us firing in the air as well.
     "Down with Boosh." Boosh!"
     People were diving in and out of the little Arab shop fronts with their
concertina  railings.  "Thou shalt not  steal,"  the  Koran  proclaims,  but
everywhere you  go  in the  Middle East  the  shops have  these railings  as
security against  thieving fellow Muslims. Everybody had pictures  of Saddam
and was pointing at his face and kissing it and shouting up to Allah.
     We would move at  walking pace, then stop for a bit to move the  crowd.
My  legs couldn't hold me  up. I looked over  at Dinger, and he was grinning
from ear to ear. I wondered what on earth he was laughing at; I thought he'd
gone  demented.  Then  I  realized:  He was  taking  the piss out of them! I
thought, Blow this, we're on our way to die here, so who gives a monkey's? I
started myself. Fuck 'em! Suddenly all that mattered to me was not looking a
bag of shit. You've  got to make  sure  you look good. I got some eye-to-eye
going  with the crowd and smiled away. One of the guards spotted me and  got
the chance to look a right hard man, landing a slap and a punch. I looked at
Dinger, and we  grinned at them like Leslie Grantham opening a  supermarket.
If our hands hadn't been tied, we'd have been doing the royal wave.
     It  really  sparked them up, the grinning.  Some  took it well, most of
them didn't. They were going crazy. It was the wrong thing to do and totally
counterproductive, but it had  to be done. The guards gave us  a slap to get
us  all subdued again because it made  them look good. But what the  hell, I
felt  better.  A large  white  American sedan  came through on the left-hand
side. Two ruperts in it looked up, pointed, and laughed. They were in a good
mood about it anyway. I gave them my big presidential smile in return.  They
loved it, but that gave the jundies the hump and they had another go at us.
     We paid the price for  all the piss-taking when we got to the other end
of the town. Crowds of people were waiting for us, trying  to break  through
the cordon, arguing with the squad dies because they wanted  to have a go at
us.  They were jumping up and down, and it was  obvious it was only a matter
of time before the cordon was either broken or deliberately removed. My only
worry was the thought of me getting shot and not Dinger.
     I was  dragged off  the vehicle. I searched desperately for  Dinger.  I
needed him. He was my only link with reality.
     Then I saw that the same was happening to him and I thought: It's going
to happen round here somewhere.
     I was not too worried about  the actual dying bit. Never had been; just
as long as it was as quick and clean as Mark's.
     Would Jilly  ever  know? Did  she  even know I was  missing? Everything
materialistic was squared away; there was nothing else I could have done for
her.  But  it was the emotional thing: it would have been lovely to have the
chance to say my farewells.
     What a way to go.
     Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck it!
     The  stench of the town was  overpowering. They were primitive, caveman
smells of cooking, old embers, and stale  piss,  mixed with rotting  garbage
and diesel exhaust.
     The town was an odd  mixture  of the  medieval and the modern. The main
boulevard was freshly tarmacked; the rest was dust and sand. There were Land
Cruisers straight from the showroom and jundies  with shiny boots and clean,
western-type uniforms,  and  the  crowd  in their  stinking  dish-dashes and
flip-flops or plain bare feet. I was knocked to the ground at one point, and
right next to my eye was a big toe splayed out like  a split sausage, grimed
with a  lifetime  of  dirt. There  were  immaculately  groomed officers  and
healthy-looking young soldiers, and the locals with just three teeth between
them and  even those  were  black and  decayed, and Negro Arabs with scarred
faces  and  white,  scabby  knees  and  elbows  from  lack  of  washing  and
moisturizing, and dusty, matted rasta hair.
     The buildings were of mud  and stone, square with flat roofs. They must
have been a  couple of hundred years old, and on their sides were the latest
posters  for Pepsi Cola.  Old,  skinny, mangy dogs skulked in  the  shadows,
scavenging and pissing. Rusty tin cans lay in piles everywhere.
     Running down the middle of the boulevard was a central reservation, and
in the middle of it, just  opposite us, was a children's playground, full of
tubular steel  frames and swings in old faded blues and  yellows. It was the
sort  of  thing you'd  find  on a normal housing  estate in  Britain, but it
looked so out of place and weird in this kind of world. They'd been fighting
a war  for years, and there was poverty, shit, and grind all around us. Fuck
knows what the Arabic for "Tidworth" is but  this  was it--an old  shit-arse
tip of a place.
     We were  standing at the roadside  awaiting  death. The jundies grabbed
us, but my legs had given up and  I stumbled. They had to drag me towards my
public. They  showed us  off like hunting  trophies, pushing  our heads  up,
making sure everybody got a good look.
     I wasn't smiling this time. I  was looking out for Dinger; I was scared
of  losing him in the crowd. I  just wanted to keep by him. I could hear him
yelling  and shouting  as much as  I  was,  and  from time to  time I caught
glimpses of him. It was a bad time.
     The  mob ruled. I  had been right cocky when  we  got  dragged off  the
vehicle,  but now I  was plain scared. They were all warbling the Red Indian
war cry. Were we  going to be left to  the crowd? Were they going  to rip us
apart? Old women  came  up and pulled  my hair and mustache and hit  me with
sticks or punched.  The men would start by poking, then end  up punching and
thumping. I fell to the  ground,  and all the bodies closed in. They  thrust
pictures of Saddam in front of my face and made me kiss him.
     I doubted whether some of these people even knew there was a war on. As
for  the women,  repressed by centuries of  culture and  religion, this  was
probably the one and only chance they'd ever have to strike a grown man.
     As time wore on, I started to think that perhaps they were not going to
shoot us after all. Surely they would have done it by  now? Maybe  there was
some  system  for  dealing  with   prisoners.  Certainly  the  jundies  were
controlling the crowds as much as they could. They obviously didn't want the
local  population  to kill  us, because I noticed that they were fending off
any men they saw with  rifles and pistols. Perhaps the parade was  just a PR
exercise,  a morale  booster for the locals  and  a chance  for them to vent
their frustrations.
     Women were scratching and tearing at my skin. I had grease and old bits
of food  shoved in my face and pis spots emptied over the gashes in my head.
Old newsreels  of Vietnam flashed  through my  mind. I remembered images  of
pilots who looked beaten and pissed off getting dragged through towns they'd
just bombed. It was exactly how I felt.
     All I wanted  was  contact with Dinger--preferably verbal. I could hear
him  shouting as he was being filled  in, but  I hated not being able to see
him. He was my only link to the world. I didn't want to lose him.
     I couldn't move any more.  I fell onto one of the squad dies and put my
arms around him. The other lad came  and helped him lift me. As they dragged
me along the ground,  the tops of my toes  were scraped away. We had to stop
now  and again for a  60-year-old to come and punch me in the stomach. I was
well and truly gone. I didn't really care about anything any more.
     I didn't know how long it lasted, but it seemed  like a lifetime. There
was gunfire  in the  distance, and of fleets came running to try and control
the soldiers, who in turn were trying to control the crowd. It was so ironic
to  be  protected  by the same jundies who an hour ago had been stubbing out
their cigarettes  on our necks. Then  they were  the bastards; now they were
the saviors.
     I heard  Dinger  retaliating. I  knew we should  be trying to play  the
useless being that's not even worth worrying about. But  we were tuned in to
this drama now; we had got used to it, and it was getting  on our  tits. The
time had come to do something about it.
     I  gave the old girls the  evil eye, and  they waded in. I went down on
the  floor under a flurry of slaps and scratching, and two soldiers moved in
to pick me up. Still on my knees, I looked up at one of them and said, "Fuck
you, you ugly bitch!" They understood what I  meant; the translation was  in
my eyes. It was not a good move. The jundies picked me up. I shoved them off
and said "Fuck you!" again. I didn't give  a shit now what they  did; I  was
demolished anyway. But they'd suffered loss of face, so  they had to give me
the good news to restore their credibility.
     I remembered a  lecture we'd had from  an American  POW just before  we
left Hereford. He had been an aviator  at the time of the Vietnam War, after
transferring  from the Marine Corps. His Marine  training had been  that the
harder you  are  and the more aggressive  you are  if  you're  captured, the
sooner your captors will leave  you alone. He stood  there in  front  of  us
hardened  cynics at Hereford, crying his eyes out  as  he told us about  the
five years he had been a prisoner of the Viet Cong.
     "What a load of shit," he said. "The unbelievable nightmares and pain I
went through because I really believed what I'd been taught."
     And I was doing exactly what he'd told us not to do. But you can't just
do nothing. Pride  and credibility are at stake. I  was suffering  a massive
loss of dignity and  self-respect,  and I couldn't  take any more. I knew it
was totally  counterproductive, I knew it wouldn't pay off, but God  it felt
good.  For  one  split second I  was back on  top,  and  that  was  all that
mattered. I was not a commodity, I was not a bag of shit, I was Andy Me Nab.
     The squad dies were  giggling as  we  drove back  to camp. They'd had a
wonderful day out and were  happy to leave me to  my own devices on my hands
and knees in a corner of the pickup, bleeding and gasping for breath as they
smoked and laughed and relived the battle. I was  rather pleased that it was
over and done with and I hadn't been shot.
     It was more or less last light when we got  back  inside the gates, and
they  didn't bother replacing the blindfold  as  they dragged me towards the
single-story barrack block.
     There  were five beds  around the edge of the  room. The  blokes didn't
seem to have  lockers  or any personal kit. All they had were the beds, with
blankets on  top-commercial,  fluffy  blankets with  pictures  of tigers and
weird and wonderful  patterns.  On  top of the blankets was  their belt kit.
Everything pointed to  this  being a transit  camp rather than  a  permanent
     The only light was from a paraffin heater in the center of the room. As
it flickered, shadows flew around  the room.  It was  beautifully  warm--the
sort of warmth that immediately makes you tired and  sleepy. It was a warmth
that I  recognized.  Even the shadows  were familiar.  A  nice, comfortable,
secure feeling  washed  over me. I was back at my Aunty Nell's in Catford. I
loved going there as a kid. She had a big three-bed roomed semi that she ran
as a B&B. Compared  with my family's flat,  to  me it was a  hotel. At night
Aunty Nell would put  the paraffin heater in my room to warm it through. I'd
lie there in bed, nine years old  and blissfully happy, watching the shadows
dance on the wallpaper, looking forward  to the next day's meals. Aunty Nell
used milk with  the cereals instead of the hot water and a dash of Carnation
I was used to, and she cooked packets of Vesta curry for her B&B  guests. If
my uncle reported that I had been a good boy, I used to be fed one as well.
     The old boy, George, was a  keen gardener. He had a massive garden with
a shed at the bottom where I'd play. He was a crafty old bugger. He'd say to
me:  "Start  digging around here, Andy lad, and you can count how many worms
there are.  We  need to know how many worms there are so we can work out how
good the mud is."
     I'd be digging away, a boy with a mission, and  he'd  be  sitting there
drinking  tea in  his deck chair laughing his head off. I never  saw through
it. I used to think it was great, counting the worms for my Uncle George.
     I was left alone with my  thoughts  for twenty minutes or  so, one hand
cuffed to a  metal fixture  on the wall. I tried to get comfortable, but the
cuffs worked on a ratchet--if you moved the wrong  way they would tighten up
even more. I got into a semi lying position, the hand  defying gravity at an
angle of 45 degrees.
     I carried out a damage assessment. My whole body was aching, and  I was
worried I might have broken bones.  My legs were the main concern. They were
hurting  badly,  and  I knew they couldn't carry me any more. I checked  the
bones one by one, starting off with my feet, looking for deformities, making
sure  there  was movement. Everything seemed Okay.  There  was a good chance
nothing was broken.
     I was breathing through crusted blood and dust and snot, and every time
I blew to clear it the bleeding started again. I  was badly cut. My face was
swollen,  my  lips split,  and every exposed area of skin was lacerated. Now
that I actually had time  to  draw breath  and think about it, my whole body
was starting to sting. The scrapes were far more painful than the  cuts. The
framework, however, was still intact.  The injuries were just  muscular with
cuts and bruises. I was weak and exhausted, but I'd still get up and run for
it if the chance came.
     I had been trying  to gather as much  information  as  I could  to keep
myself orientated. I  went over what I'd seen and exactly where I was. I was
annoyed that I hadn't done a  better job of it. I had  been looking down too
much when I should have been taking it all in. If I escaped and got past the
gate, which way would  I  go?  Would  I turn left or right,  or go straight?
Which way was west? If I got out the back way, what then? How far inside the
town was  the  camp? I'd  need  to get out of the built-up  area as soon  as
possible. It was something I should have been checking as  we drove out, but
like  a dickhead I'd  let  myself be  distracted by the crowd. I  was  quite
pissed off with myself for my lack of professionalism.
     I  went through  the  scenarios.  The  process was part  fact and  part
fantasy. Fact because I was  doing what you're supposed to do--appreciations
on how you're going to get out. Fantasy  because I was imagining me actually
getting out and turning right, imagining what I would  see and what would be
behind me. I wanted to escape.
     I looked around  the  room. Above  me  was a window. Only  one  of  the
sections was clear; the rest were boarded up where they had been smashed, or
perhaps to stop the sun coming in. I could hear the soldiers mooching around
outside,  and in the middle  distance there  was shouting.  The  voices just
outside the window were  low and  quiet, a mumble from no more than 20 or 30
feet away, and underneath the veranda, as if they'd been told to stand there
and talk to make me flap.
     I hoped Dinger  was getting the same treatment as me because it was all
rather nice sitting there on the carpet. It felt wonderful to be on  my own.
I felt quite happy and  content in the dark, watching  the warm glow of  the
paraffin heater and inhaling the familiar fumes. There were no hassles, just
me on my lonesome with my hand pinned to the wall. It was real prime time.
     I started to  think  about the patrol. Had the others been caught? Were
they  dead? Did Dinger know  anything about  them?  Was I going  to get  the
chance to speak to him?
     I tried to keep as still as I could.  My heart was pulsing  slowly, and
my body was stiff and aching. It was painful to move, and I wanted to find a
comfy position and stay there. Some of the cuts had clotted to the fabric of
my uniform; as I moved they reopened. Blood had glued my socks to my feet.
     I must have looked like a vagrant. It was a week now since I had washed
and my skin  was black. My hair, matted from the drama  of the E&E, was  now
caked with dried blood and mud. It was hard to make out the camouflage on my
DPM because of blood, grease, and grime. My  trousers looked like a  biker's
     Why had we been taken back to the camp? I didn't have a clue.  This was
obviously still the tactical questioning phase.  I was waiting for something
or someone. I  took  a deep breath, breathed out, and started to think about
methods  of escape. I suddenly remembered that I still had my escape map and
compass. I could actually feel them in the draw cord of my trousers. I  felt
really good about that: at least  I'd got something, I  had  the mental edge
over them.
     I thought about  all the good stuff I'd done with Jilly, all the stupid
holidays we'd had  together, all the  ice creams I had squashed in her face.
Things came  into my mind  that had made me  giggle  with her, all the silly
immature little things. I tried to visualize what  she'd be doing right now.
I  had a pleasant  picture in my mind of a Saturday two weeks before I  left
for the  Gulf. Kate was staying  with us as usual that weekend, and she  was
lying on the  floor with me  watching Robin Hood  on video. Little John  was
doing his  dance, and I got up  and  did it with her.  We danced and  danced
around the  room, trying to do high kicks, until we collapsed on the carpet,
dizzy and laughing.
     I thought back to  the time  of her very first Christmas. I hadn't seen
much of her because  I was away when she was born in February and didn't get
back until  she was six weeks old. Then I saw  only the next three months of
her,  on  and off.  That  Christmas I was  free, and we were  staying  at  a
friend's house on the  south coast. Kate wasn't sleeping  very well, which I
thought was great  because it was the first time we'd  had together alone. I
got the pram out at midnight, wrapped her up well, and we went walking along
the  coastal path until six in the  morning. She fell asleep after the first
half an hour, and as I walked I just looked at her beautiful little face and
clucked like a hen. When we got  back, she woke up again so I put her in the
car and we went for a drive.  I kept  checking  over my shoulder to see that
she  was all  right. She had fearsome big blue  eyes that stared  at me from
inside all  the wrappings of woolens and a bobble hat. It was a very special
time. Soon afterwards  I  had to go away again, and in the next  two years I
only saw her for a total of twelve weeks.
     There  were  noises outside. My  little  dream world  was  about  to be
invaded. I was flapping. Were they coming to give me another beasting? After
the calm, it was a horrible, apprehensive feeling, a fierce dread of a world
about to collapse. I put my head down  and clenched the stiff, sore muscles.
Shit, I thought, they've had their tuppence worth, why can't they just leave
me alone?
     There was a draft as the door opened. I glanced up  and saw a character
in  the middle  of the room. He was in his mid-50s and only about 5'3" tall,
with a big middle-age paunch beneath his woollen dish-dash. His mustache was
well trimmed, and his jet-black hair was swept back. He had manicured hands,
and his teeth flashed when they caught the  light. He was ranting and raving
at me in Arabic. The two guards who had come in with him went and sat on one
of the beds, smoking and chatting, but keeping a watchful eye.
     There was a  pistol in the character's belt,  which I  didn't take much
notice  of  to start with because every man and his  dog was armed. He stood
over the paraffin heater, hollering and  gesticulating. With the glow of the
heater  beneath  him his  face looked  like a Halloween monster with  treble
     He came over to me and got  hold  of my face. He squeezed my jaw in his
hand. The smashed teeth were agony. I groaned  and closed  my eyes. I didn't
want to know what was going on. He stayed close to me. I smelt spicy food on
his breath. He  prized my eyes open with his thumb  and forefinger. What the
fuck was he going to do?
     He had  an exchange with the  guards, very fast  and  aggressive,  then
slapped my face a few  times. I had no idea  what he  was on about.  Then he
walked  backwards away from me and pulled out a Makharov pistol. This is all
rather nice, I thought, what's the  story here then? He pointed it at me but
he didn't cock it.
     Was this bluff kit or what?
     The hammer of the Russian-made  pistol stays to the rear when  you cock
it--i.e." put a round into the  chamber.  If  you pull the trigger,  it will
fire and reload itself again with the hammer still to the rear. If you don't
want to fire, you put  the safety  catch to safe.  The hammer  will still go
forward but is stopped just short of the  firing pin by the sears that  come
out  because  you  have  moved  the   safety  catch.  This  is  unlike  some
semiautomatic pistols. They still have a safety catch,  but the  hammer will
stay to the rear when it's applied.
     I was looking in earnest to  see if  the hammer was back. If it was,  I
knew that he wasn't  bluffing, and that if  he was nervous,  he might have a
negligent  discharge  and  shoot  me anyway.  I  looked  at  his  face.  His
expression was very serious,  and the eyes were welling up. I could  see the
shine of the tears. Our eyes met. He started to cry,  and the pistol wobbled
in his hand.
     Surely the guards  wouldn't let him do it  in their  nice clean barrack
room? But his eyes gave it away. He intended to pull the trigger,  without a
doubt. It didn't look official. This was off the cuff. But the bloke had got
the hump,  so even if it was unofficial, so what? He'd do it anyway. I might
get slotted here  through  emotion rather than a  decision made, and I found
that scary. The  character really looked as if he might squeeze the trigger,
and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.
     Come on then, arse  hole  let's  get it  over and done with. The guards
seemed to wake up to what was happening. They jumped to their feet, shouting
angrily, and grabbed his arm. They took away the pistol.
     That single act gave me the biggest piece of information I had received
since  my capture: either these  characters simply didn't want  to get their
barrack block  messed up, or, more likely, they were under orders to keep us
     One of  the guards came over  and  squeezed  my cheeks.  "Son, son," he
said. "Boom boom boom."
     One of us had killed the man's son. Fair one. In his shoes I'd be doing
the same. Unfortunately it was me that he was doing it to.
     I was  sitting cross-legged on the floor  with one of my arms up in the
air, handcuffed to the wall. He came over and started to try and fill me in.
I put my head down and brought my knees up, crouching forward  to protect my
bollocks. I got  as close to the wall as I could. Only my arm was vulnerable
now. It was funny, he  had been willing to  kill  me with the weapon, but he
found it quite  hard to lay hands on me. He was kicking, but it  wasn't much
good because he had  leather sandals on. He'd  throw a punch, but it  had no
weight behind it. He was clearly  upset, but really he didn't have it in him
to  do anything  severe. He  lacked  aggression  and  strength,  and  I  was
     I was exaggerating, moaning and groaning as he kneed me in the back and
slapped and  spat. If it  was my son  who  had been killed, and I was in the
same room as the perpetrator, he'd have been honking good style by now. In a
way I felt quite sorry for him, because his son was dead and he was too nice
and gentle a man to do anything  about it. Maybe, after all,  he couldn have
pulled the trigger.
     The  squad  dies started to get  bored--and perhaps a  bit worried that
they might have to clean blood off the floor and walls. They calmed him down
and led him away. When they returned, they sat on  the beds again and smoked
more cigarettes.
     "Boosh, bad, bad," one of them said.
     "Yeah, Bush, bad," I nodded and agreed.
     "Major," he said, and did an oinking noise.
     "Yep, Major's a pig," I said, and oinked.
     They thought this was great stuff.
     "You," he pointed at me and brayed loudly.
     "Me, donkey. Ee-aw!"
     They held their sides and fell over on the beds. They rolled up.
     They came over and poked me. I didn't really know what they wanted from
me, so I just did another loud bray.  They loved it. I didn't give a shit if
they  wanted  to have fun  at my expense. It didn't  mean a thing to  me.  I
thought it was just  as funny. I wasn't getting filled in, that was all that
mattered. It was absolutely splendid.
     This  went on for  about a  quarter of an hour. There'd  be a couple of
minutes'  silence, then  somebody  would get  up and poke me again, I'd give
them a good ee-aw, and they'd crack up. What a bunch of tossers.
     I thought I'd  try to have my handcuffs sorted out  while they were  in
such a  good mood. I  was  at a 45degree  angle, and my  hand  was elevated.
Gravity was pulling my hand onto the handcuff, and it was swelling up badly.
It was agony. I wondered if they'd strap  me onto something lower down, like
a pipe.
     I pointed at my hand and said, "Hurts. Please. Pain. Aaah."
     They looked  at me and  poked,  and got another  donkey  bray. They had
another roll-up, and I tried to  indicate that my  hand was agony. It didn't
work. They just laughed. Then they suddenly  got all serious. They must have
thought that it was time to assert some authority.  So they started to carry
out their  own questioning, as if I was supposed to think  they weren't just
guards, they were big-time interrogators.
     "Who? Who?"
     It was hard to make out what they were saying.
     "What? I don't understand."
     I  kept  pointing  at my  wrist,  but  to  no  avail.  They asked  more
questions,  their  Halloween  faces  lit  from below  by  the heater, but  I
couldn't understand them.
     One  of  them went  and fetched  another  guard. He  could  speak  fair
English. They'd obviously told him that I couldn't understand what they were
on about.
     "What's your name?"
     "Commando, Andy? Tel Aviv?"
     "British.  Gascoigne? Rush? Football?" He  beamed big smiles and scored
an imaginary goal with his right foot.
     Everybody's  face  lit  up,  mine  included--even  though football  did
nothing for me. When I  was a kid, Millwall was the  local team, but I  only
went to see  them three or four times. I stood there like a dickhead on  the
terraces  and  wondered what all the fuss was about.  I couldn't see a thing
because I was too small, and all I knew was that it  had cost loads of money
to get in. I went on a Wednesday night once and left halfway through because
it was so cold.  That was the extent of  my football knowledge, and that was
all football did for me--it reminded me of wet, cold, windy terraces. I  had
no interest in  it  whatsoever,  yet here  I was, a  prisoner of  soccer-mad
Iraqis, and it might be my lifeline.
     "Liverpool!" he said.
     "Chelsea!" I said.
     "Manchester United!"
     "Nottingham Forest!"
     They laughed  and I joined in, trying to form  some sort of bond.  This
was good,  textbook  stuff,  but I couldn't  sustain it for much  longer. My
knowledge was just about exhausted.
     "How long am I here?" I tried. "Do you know how long  I'll be here? Can
you give me any food?"
     "No problems. Bobby Moore!"
     I thought I'd try another ploy.
     "Mai?  Mai?"  I  asked  for water. I coughed dryly  and gave it the old
puppy dog look.
     A bloke went out and came back with a glass of water. I  gulped it down
and asked for more. That cheesed them off so I just thanked  them  again and
decided to keep quiet for a while.
     They were all in their late teens, growing their first wispy mustaches.
They behaved like young squad dies in any army, but  what surprised me about
them was the standard of maintenance  of their  uniforms and weapons. I  had
imagined the  rag heads to  be a bit of  an undisciplined rabble, their  kit
dirty and shabby. But their uniforms  were well laundered  and  pressed, and
their boots were highly polished. Their weapons were in excellent  order and
well maintained. The  buildings, too, were  in a  good  state of repair, and
spotlessly  tidy.  This was good;  I felt that in their  discipline lay some
sort of protection for me. They  were  unlikely to do  anything  unless they
were told to do it. It made me  feel a bit  happier that they weren't just a
bunch  of head bangers rushing  around  wanting  to kill and maim. Somebody,
somewhere,  made  them  clean their weapons;  somebody, somewhere, made them
clean their boots and their rooms.
     What was more, there were obviously ways of striking up a  relationship
with these people, a fact  which might help me  at a later date. It  was not
just black and white in their eyes, as I was expecting it to be, with me the
bad guy, them the  good guys. There was this gray  area of  shared  interest
that we had  already started to explore. So far, we had something in  common
in football.  We  were all  talking and  replying; it wasn't just me  on the
receiving end  of rhetoric,  abuse, and  tactical  questions. Relationships,
however tenuous, can almost always be formed, and in  the situation I was in
this  could  only be good. I had engineered getting the water, and  in  that
exchange  I  was doing  the  controlling.  Well,  there  was no  harm  being
     It went through my mind that maybe they were being  friendly because it
was all  over  now  and the  questioning was finished with.  I was trying to
think of all the optimistic things, but really you should be thinking of the
pessimistic  things, the worst-case scenarios, because then anything else is
a bonus. At the end of the day they were just young lads. Dinger and I  were
the new kids in town, the commodities they wanted to have a look at, the new
toys, the white-eyed prisoners. They'd probably looked on Dinger and me with
a bit of awe, something to tell the grandchildren about. And now they'd seen
us, spoken to us, taken the piss out of us, they were bored. They started to
look tired, probably from the warmth of the heater and the excitement of the
day. They tucked their weapons under their beds and got their heads down.
     My mind turned again to thoughts  of escape. I  couldn't get out of the
handcuffs, and even if I could what was I going to do? Was I going to garofe
them all and  run away? Things like that just  do not happen. It's a fantasy
that  comes out of films. Are you  going  to kill  number one without number
five hearing?
     My  hand  was fixed to  the wall.  I wasn't going  anywhere.  There was
nothing I could  reach from where I  was.  I would have to wait for the next
stage of transit or some other opportunity.
     I was feeling  a lot  more  at ease with my situation. I'd been caught,
I'd gone through the  initial  drama, and  now I was  sitting in a warm room
with  people who weren't kicking  the shit  out  of me. I wasn't going to be
there  for  ever,  but  apart  from  the pain  in my  wrist, it was nice and
relaxed. The people here didn't want to fill me in; they just wanted to talk
about  Gazza and Bobby Charlton. I had  the hopeful thought--and  even  as I
thought  it I knew it was fruitless--that maybe this was the way ahead: that
they were fed up with me and maybe I'd just be chucked in as one of Saddam's
human shields.
     As the  night wore  on, my arm and hand started to  hurt quite badly. I
tried to keep my mind  off  the pain by going through  the  escape scenarios
again, doing my appreciations.
     Out of the top  of the window I could catch a little bit of the  stars.
It was a beautiful, clear night. I looked back at the sleeping jundies.
     If I managed to  get away, could I get to  Dinger? Where was  he? I was
assuming that he was on the camp somewhere, but was he next door? I couldn't
hear anything. Was he  along the veranda? I came  to the conclusion that I'd
have to grab the opportunity if it came, but I couldn't leave without making
the  effort  to get hold of him.  I  knew that he'd be thinking exactly  the
same, as any member of  the patrol would. Was it worth waiting until we were
together? No, I'd  grab  any opportunity  that came along. So--what was  the
first thing I was going to do? How was I going to find out where he was? Was
I going to look through the windows for  him or was I going to shout?  Would
his guards be awake?
     You've  got  to have  a game plan and  contingency plans. Hesitation is
fatal.  I  would avoid being  overt  if possible--that's just another bit of
madness from Hollywood. In the  films they come at you one at a time  so you
can slot  them neatly like ducks at a fun fair In real life everybody  jumps
in together and they kick you to pieces. It would have to be as  covert as I
could make it: just get out, get some firepower, get  Dinger, get a vehicle.
Easy! All that in an enclosed camp with troops, and me with maybe a 30-round
     Once  we were out  we  would just have to  move  west. On foot or  in a
vehicle? Crosscountry or through the town? The drive from the culvert to the
camp had been very short: we were still close to Syria. Our next transit was
bound to take us into more secure areas, further from the border.
     I dozed off and woke in pain. My head was hurting, my body ached. I had
to sort out the blood and snot in my nose.
     I  heard  hooting in the distance and  the sound  of vehicles. The  big
corrugated iron gates were being kicked open. It was still dark. People were
walking along the veranda  outside, guided by Ully lamps. They were talking.
I felt  a stab of apprehension. What was happening now? I took a deep breath
and tried to calm myself  down. One of the guards woke up and gave the other
two a kick. They got to their feet.
     The five  or six  blokes who came into the room were  strangers. I felt
helpless, that little kid feeling you  get when you know you're  cornered by
the rival gang. They towered above me in the shadows and flickers.
     When my hand was released from the wall  it was  well past the pins and
needles stage. It was swollen and completely numb. Two blokes held me either
side  and lifted  me up. Somebody  handed me  my boots, but my feet were too
swollen to put them on.  I carried  them the way an old granny  carries  her
handbag, clenched to my chest. I wanted to keep them; I didn't want to spend
the rest of my days without any footwear.
     As  they  frog-marched  me  outside I played on the pain,  moaning  and
groaning. I must have looked a right dickhead. The blokes  did lots of  mock
"tut-tut tuts." One pulled a face of feigned concern and said, "We're really
worried about you."
     The cold air hit me. It was  a refreshing, bracing feeling, but I would
have preferred to be back in Aunty's nice warm room. I started to shiver. It
was a beautifully  clear night.  If we managed to get away, we'd be able  to
navigate westwards very easily.
     Nobody said where we  were going. They  dragged me along, and  I had to
take  silly little  steps because my feet  weren't carrying me  properly. We
stopped by a Land Cruiser, and they shoved me into the back with my boots on
my lap.  They squeezed  the ratchets  of my handcuffs and  tied a  blindfold
painfully tight.
     I tried to lean forward to rest my head on the seat in front to relieve
the pressure on my hands, but a hand on my face  pushed me back upright. The
interior light  shone  through the blindfold. I could tell there were two in
the front. The door slammed noisily  and  made me jump. I clenched my teeth,
ready for a twat around the head.
     I was sitting on  the right.  There  was the sound  of shuffling  to my
left, then I heard: "All right, mate, all right, mate."
     Dinger was  honking as he hit his head on the way  in. This  was really
excellent news. I instantly  felt  happy, that  wonderful feeling  again  of
being in it together.
     He was positioned with his knees pressing against mine.
     "Can you help my hands?" I asked into the darkness.
     I got hit around the  back  of  the head, but it was worth  it. I'd let
Dinger know that I  was  there, and  I'd learn that there was a guard in the
back with us and that these people meant business.
     The driver  sounded  like an officer.  "You,  no talking. Talking--boom
     Fair one.
     Every  movement  brought  a  retaliatory  prod  from  the guard,  but I
couldn't  avoid  taking  deep,  sighing  breaths because  my hands  were  so
     The  vehicle  stank of the  usual cigarettes and  cheap  cologne. I ran
through  an  appreciation. This transit probably  signified  the end  of the
tactical phase. We  were getting moved further down the chain. I had no idea
whether it was going to get better or worse. The optimistic side was saying:
Right,  I'll just go to prison now.  The professional side was saying: Let's
wait and see. You don't know what's going on.
     I tried to  concentrate  on keeping my orientation. We came out  of the
gate and turned left.  That meant we  were  heading east,  not west,  so  we
weren't going in the direction of Syria. As if we would. He was driving like
an idiot. Normally you'd consider it very  handy to have a crash, but at the
speed he was going we would all die in the wreckage.
     I once  saw a  film of Houdini  clasping his  hands behind his back and
stepping through them  to bring them round to  his front. I  wondered  if  I
would  be able to  do  it  with  the injuries. Then I thought: You dickhead,
you've never done it in your life anyway, what are you on about? But I would
have turned myself into an elastic  band if it had meant getting away. All I
needed was an opportunity.
     I felt incredibly tired because of the  heater and the  heavy cigarette
smoke, but the pain in my hands kept  me awake. As if to make sure we stayed
awake, they put on a cassette of Arabic music. It  was so loud that at first
I didn't hear the bombs falling.

     They must have been thousand-pounders. We heard several explosions; the
area was getting severely hammered.  The pressure  waves hit us and the  car
rattled.  The guards cursed.  The  vehicle stopped. I heard all the  typical
noises of disaster--the  screeching  of brakes, screams of  pain  and  loss,
shouts of panic and  anger, a  distressed woman crying,  a child whimpering,
metal  scraping  on stone. The  driver  and  guards jumped out and cold  air
rushed over  us. This could  be our moment. The blokes had  gone,  the doors
were open, but I could  hear talking. I couldn't see what  was going  on. It
was unbelievably  frustrating.  I had  to  piece things  together  purely by
sound.  Was the road bombed? Was it an  obstruction?  Had he stopped to help
somebody? And more to the point, were they now going to come around and fill
us in,  purely because we  were  white eyes and they'd just been bombed? The
thoughts  raced  through  my mind, but  before  I  even had time to speak to
Dinger, the Iraqis got back in and we started moving again.
     We drove for about an hour and a half. My sense of  direction  had gone
to rat shit  as  soon  as we'd come out of the camp  and turned left, and  I
didn't have a clue where we might be. I was pissed off with myself again.
     When we finally stopped, we could have been in Timbuktu for all I knew.
     They dragged us  out of the  vehicle, and  I was put  back  into what I
sensed  was the same room as before. I had the feeling the guards were still
in bed. Somebody  pushed me to the floor and handcuffed me to what I assumed
was part of a bed. It was actually quite comfortable.  I  wasn't crunched up
in the  back of a vehicle, my knees weren't up around  my  ears, and my  arm
wasn't chained  high up in the air. I sat  cross-legged on the floor, trying
to sort myself out, trying to  tune in. I sensed that I was facing the wall.
I  tried  putting my head  right back so I  could see past  the bridge of my
nose. I couldn't see anything  except a bit of  the  glow from  the paraffin
     I  sat  there for an hour, the scenarios rushing around my head. We had
definitely been going through a built-up center of population when the bombs
fell. Was it Baghdad?  Why  take us to Baghdad? So that people could see us?
To  be  part  of  a  human  shield? Would the Allies bomb a  position  where
prisoners were? Damned right they  would. Schwarzkopf  would hardly stop the
war effort because Dinger and Andy were held in a radar  center. Who were we
going  to get  handed  over  to? Would we make a video? I wouldn't  mind.  I
wanted people to know that I was still alive.
     I could  hear  two sources of slow, regular breathing. To  test if they
were  asleep  I  leaned  forward and  rested my  head  on  the bed.  Nothing
happened. I slid over onto my right side and got my head down on the carpet.
Still  nothing. I  put pressure  on  the  blindfold against the  carpet  and
managed to slide it down a little. I was indeed back in the same room.
     I tried  to work out what had happened to the others. Were we  the only
two survivors? Would they say if people  had got across the border? I didn't
come  up with any answers, but it was good mental exercise. I might have  to
be  doing a lot of that. I was already pacing  myself for a long capture. It
would obviously be nice to  get released as soon as the war was over,  but I
couldn't really see it at this  stage. There would  most likely be a hostage
period to come after this, lasting perhaps a couple of years.
     I  thought back to the  American POW. He had endured years in solitary,
and everybody back home assumed he was dead. It was only because an exchange
took place that the truth came out. There was a US sailor that the Viet Cong
had taken for a bit of a bonehead and used for menial tasks like mopping up.
He was released because he was just an able seaman of no consequence who had
fallen  overboard--the classic gray man. In fact this character had taken it
upon  himself  to  remember  the  names,  ranks, and  numbers  of  over  200
prisoners. When he came back he  reeled them all off. Our POW  was among the
names. It was a  traumatic discovery for his family. I was trying  to relate
my experience to his, and  there was no comparison.  A year or so was bugger
all. I'd only start worrying after two.
     My hands were agony. I tried to work them out of  the cuffs, but it was
futile.  They were far too swollen. I considered waking  the  guards up  and
asking to  be released  for a  while, but they wouldn't have  the keys --and
they certainly wouldn't bother going and getting them.
     My thoughts turned to Jilly. I wondered what she was doing.
     Two hours  later the boys came  back with  their  Tiny  lamps. Just  as
before, they undid my handcuffs  and  picked me up and dragged me  back into
the cold. It was a nice feeling on the body; I  kidded myself I was about to
start a long country walk or ski a good mountain.
     Nobody  talked. I hoped and prayed that Dinger was  coming too,  but  I
couldn't  hear him.  I  was  put in the  same  position at  the back on  the
right-hand  side, behind the seats, legs up around my head. This time I took
the precaution of arching my back to make space for my sore hands, so that I
wouldn't have to make  the movement later on  and earn myself a whack on the
     "No talk or shoot," the driver said.
     "Yeah, okay mate," said Dinger from beside me.
     I  could tell by the tone of his voice that he was  as relieved to hear
me  as  I  was to hear him. But the relief was short-lived. Just as we  were
setting off, somebody leaned into the vehicle  and  said: "I hope that Allah
is with you."
     I  didn't  know  if  it  was said to spark  me  up,  but if it  was, it
     We got the same bad driver as  before and were soon being flung  around
all over the place. There  was no music  this time, just small talk  between
the blokes in the front. Occasionally  a window would go down as one of them
snot ted up  a grolly and gob bed it, or shouted  a greeting  at somebody in
the darkness.  We  stopped  on  one occasion while  the driver  had  a  long
conversation with  somebody  in the  street.  I  got  the impression he  was
showing us off. I heard giggles  from  two or three people outside the  car,
then hands  came  in  and  tugged our mustaches and  slapped  our  faces.  I
clenched up. It pissed me off more than the kickings. That had been tactical
questioning, and  I could  understand  the  reasons  behind  it.  But  these
dickheads were having fun at my expense, pure and simple.
     We  drove on in silence.  We  were  going  further and further from the
border,  but I was just about past caring. I was too worried about my hands.
They were  swollen to nearly twice their normal size, and I had no sensation
left  in  the  fingers. I could feel  nothing  beyond  the wrists, where the
handcuffs had dug in  so deeply that  I was bleeding. The  pain was becoming
unbearable. I feared that at  this rate I  was  going to lose the use of  my
hands for ever.
     I tried to think  of the positives. At  least I wasn't dead. It was now
about twelve hours since my capture, and I was still alive.
     I started to think  about the  patrol as a whole. What would the Iraqis
know about us? I had to assume that they'd link  us  with the contact at the
MSR. They would know  how  many of  us there  were, because  they would have
found eight  berg ens They would have found the LUP as well,  with the cache
of water and food.
     What would  give us away in the berg ens Because of SOPs,  I knew there
wouldn't be any  written details of codes  or  our  tasking. What about  the
equipment?  How would we get  around the  explosives,  timing  devices,  and
detonators? I'd say they were area protection devices--they would have found
the claymores,  which would add weight to  my  story. Perhaps they  wouldn't
even know what  the timing  devices were. And maybe  the jundies would  have
been so busy looting the berg ens  that  all that kit would have disappeared
anyway. I almost  giggled when I imagined them rifling through the berg  ens
in darkness and sticking  a finger straight through one of  the plastic bags
of shit.
     One  thing I  could be  sure  of was that  nothing  remained  that  was
compromising to  the task. We always refold our maps so that they aren't  on
the part we've been using, and we never put markings on them. Everything was
in our heads.
     I was feeling confident-at  this  stage  about  the  lack of  knowledge
they'd have on our  equipment. If they knew more than I expected, we'd  just
have to waffle our way through and make excuses. The only problem really was
that  we didn't exactly look  like your aver age search and rescue team. But
by this stage we didn't exactly look like anything anyway,  apart from total
and utter bags of shit.
     The vehicle stopped, and by the  sound of things  there was a reception
committee waiting. I'd started to feel secure in the car: I'd got adapted to
it, and now we were starting all over again.
     They were talking in  a low mumble, perhaps because  it  was the  early
hours of the morning. As the back doors opened there was a rush of cold air.
We  were pulled out  and  marched  across  a  courtyard at quick  pace.  The
cobblestones were agony. The cuts reopened,  and my feet were  soon slippery
with blood. I stumbled and started to fall, but they grabbed  me and kept on
going. We went up a  step, turned right along a veranda, and came to a door.
I stubbed my foot on the doorframe and cried out. There was no reaction from
them at all. They were very professional. It was all well rehearsed.
     We  went  straight  in. There was  the usual  smell of paraffin and the
hissing sound of Tiny lamps, and I almost felt at home. They  shoved me onto
the floor and arranged me so  that I  was sitting cross legged with my  head
down and my hands behind my back. I let them do whatever they wanted. It was
pointless  resisting.  I  clenched up, fully expecting something to  happen.
They ripped  my blindfold off. The cloth had scabbed to some  pressure sores
on  my cheekbones and the bridge of my nose. I  flinched  with pain and felt
warm blood dribble down my face.
     The pain was forgotten the instant I saw Dinger. I hadn't heard him get
out of the car, and I'd had the horrible feeling I was on my own again. They
yanked his blindfold off as well, and we got some eye-to-eye. Dinger gave me
a little wink. I'd been avoiding eye contact with my interrogators since I'd
been captured.
     It was fantastic to  have human  contact again.  Just a little wink was
     We were in a semidark  room  that had a medieval  feel to it. The walls
were bare stone and  glistened with damp.  It was cold and smelt  musty. The
windows were bricked up. The concrete floor was pitted and uneven.
     I  raised my  head a  little, trying  to stretch my neck, and a guard I
hadn't  noticed  behind  me  pushed me back down. I saw that his uniform was
olive drab, not the commando DPM we'd become accustomed to.
     I had managed to see that facing us was  a six-foot folding table and a
couple of  foldaway chairs. Everything looked  temporary.  The  Iraqis drink
their coffee and  sweet,  black tea  out of small, fruit juice-size glasses.
There were two or three of them on the table, half-full of drinks that  must
have been old because they weren't  steaming. Two ashtrays were  heaped with
stubs. Bits of  paper were littered around. They'd  put their weapons on the
table as well.
     There  was activity by the door,  and I lifted my  eyes. Two characters
came  in. One was  dressed in a  green flying  suit with a civilian  leather
jacket over the top  and Chelsea boots with big heels and elasticated sides.
He looked like the oldest swinger in town. I looked at the  shape of him and
had to try hard not to laugh. He was tall, but with a massive pot belly that
was straining against the  flying suit. He obviously thought he still had  a
30-inch  waist,  the dickhead.  He  had  all this Gucci  kit on, and it  was
obvious  he saw himself  as a really smart, tasty  geezer,  but  in  fact he
looked like a bag of bollocks.
     The  other  character  was  much shorter  and smaller framed.  He was a
skinny;  sunken-cheek  type, wearing a terrible suit  that he must have been
issued with and hoped one day he might grow in to.
     Guards  brought  in  our belt  kit and  weapons and dumped them on  the
table. What  did I have in my belt  kit  that would give me away?  Were they
going to bring in the berg ens as well?
     Mister Tasty handed a large brown envelope to the skinny runt. The back
was covered with rubber stamps  of nine-pointed stars, and  there was Arabic
writing  on the front. This  was  a definite han dover--either  commandos to
military  intelligence,  or  military  intelligence   to   civilian  police.
Whichever, we were going further down the chain, and it was going to be more
difficult than ever to escape.
     Nobody spoke to us. All this was going on as if we weren't in the room.
There seemed to be no reference to us, no looks or nods in our direction. We
stretched our legs out with cramp, and they  came and pushed them back up. I
looked at their  wrists when they  bent  down to see if I could find out the
time. It  was irrelevant, but  I wanted some sort of  grip  on reality.  But
nobody was wearing a  watch, which was ominously professional. And  yet they
let us witness the han dover which seemed strange.
     The  Top  Gun  geezer  in  the  flying suit left  the  room,  and  soon
afterwards I heard transport moving off.
     So this was it--we were with our new hosts.
     I started  to worry. Soldiers  don't wear suits. Who was this guy? With
soldiers you  know  where you stand, and you can understand what's going on.
Now we were getting handed over  to somebody in civvies.  I'd heard all  the
horror stories from the Iran-Iraq war. I knew all  about electrodes and meat
hooks  in the  ceiling.  These  boys  had been doing this professionally for
years; they'd got it well squared away. We were not a novelty:  we were  ten
years down the line; we  were  just another couple  of punters. I was filled
with dread. But there  was  nothing I could do about it; I had to accept the
landing. The  only hope  was that they wouldn't want to damage us too  much;
they'd want to keep us looking nice for a video. Perhaps they  would be less
physical than the last bunch--but I doubted it.
     The skinny runt's shirt was dirty and the  collar a good four sizes too
big  for him. He  wore a big kipper tie and  trousers that were turned up at
the bottoms. He looked  as if he'd borrowed his wardrobe  from Stan.  He gob
bed off some orders in a  dull monotone to the guards. They picked up Dinger
before we could get any eye-to-eye.
     They  left and I was on my own in  the semidarkness with three or  four
guards. Some were in olive drab uniforms. Iraqi NCOs wear their insignia  on
their collars, very  much  like  the Americans, and I could see that one  of
these  guys was  a warrant officer,  class 1 equivalent, with  two stars. He
spoke fairly good English.
     "You--look up," he growled.
     This was great. Now I could have a proper look around. I looked up with
an  obedient expression on my face, trying hard to appear pitiful. He was in
front of  me  with  two cronies  in  uniform  and  one who  was  dressed  in
traditional Arab dish dash, nothing on his head, and a pair of canvas pumps.
     "What is your name?"
     "My name is Andy, sir."
     "No, I am British."
     "You're American?"
     "No, I'm British."
     "You're lying! You're lying!"
     He hit me hard across the face. I rolled with it and went down.
     "Sit up. You're British?"
     "Yeah. I'm British."
     "You're lying. You're Israeli."
     This wasn't interrogation as such; he was just having his fun.
     "Tonight,  many  people  died  because  your  country  is  bombing  our
children. Our children  are dying in their schools. Your  country is killing
thousands of people every night, and it is time for you to die."
     I was sure he was right and I was going to be topped. But they were not
the ones who would do  it. These weren't  the teddies in  charge; these were
dickhead administrators doing a bit of freelance.
     "What do you think about that?"
     "Well, I don't want to die."
     "But you're killing  thousands of people.  You're killing them, not us.
We don't want this war."
     "I don't know anything about that; I'm just a soldier. I don't know why
we're at war. I didn't want to go to war; I was just working in England, and
they made us join the army."
     I spouted off  any old bollocks, just to show I was confused and didn't
really know what  was going on  or why  I was there. I was hoping they might
take a bit of pity and understand, but obviously not.
     "Mitterrand is a  pig. Bush  is a pig. Thatcher is a pig. She is making
the children die of starvation."
     "I don't know anything about that; I'm only a soldier."
     I got another slap around the head and went down.
     The other two came up and had their fun. One was walking  up and  down.
He'd come and  put his  face up close and shout, then pace up and  down  and
come up again and twat me around the head.
     The warrant officer said: "This man wants to kill you. I think I'll let
him  kill  you  now."  I  could tell  they were just getting  rid  of  their
frustrations. With luck they'd eventually get bored. It was no big problem.
     I saw that  our belt  kit  had gone.  It must have been taken when they
took  Dinger  away. I  was concerned. Had we been split  up for good? Was  I
never going  to see him again? It was a disheartening thought. It would have
been so nice to have seen him one last time before I died.
     They were starting to get more confident. They'd had their little slaps
and everything, and now they were recycling all the propaganda that they had
been fed--all  the wonderful  things  that were  going  to happen  when they
finally kicked the imperialist Western powers out of the Middle East.
     "The Americans  and the  Europeans are  taking all our oil. It  is  our
country. The  Europeans divided  our country. The  Middle  East is  for  the
Arabs: it is our land, it is our oil.  You bring your culture  in, you spoil
     I said I knew nothing about it: I was just a soldier, sent here against
my will.
     They started punching me in the head. One came up behind  me and kicked
me in  the back and around the sides of the trunk.  I went  down and crawled
into a ball,  my knees right up to  my chin.  I closed my eyes, clenched  my
teeth, just waiting for it, but they lifted me up and straightened me out.
     "Why are  you here, killing our children?" they asked again, and it was
sincere stuff. Obviously kids were getting killed in the bombing, and it had
got to them.  This  wasn't the "You bastards!" and good kicking  that I  was
used to; these guys really had the hump. The kicks were from the heart.
     "Why are you killing our children?"
     "I  was  sent here  to save life," I said, glossing  over the fact that
this statement did not entirely reflect our activities of the past few days.
"I'm not here to kill."
     I started to bleed  as  the  old wounds  reopened.  My nose was pouring
blood, and my mouth started to  swell up all  over again. And  yet I got the
feeling there  was  a bit  of control here. One of the boys must  have said,
"That's  enough for. now," because they  stopped. They'd obviously  had some
instruction not to go  overboard.  They  obviously wanted us to  be  able to
talk. And that could only mean that things  were  going to get  a whole  lot
     "We've been fighting wars for many years, do you know that?"
     "No,  I don't. I don't know anything about that sort of thing.  I'm all
     "Yes, my friend, we have been fighting wars for many years, and we know
how to  get  information. We know how  to get people to talk. And, Andy, you
will talk soon .. ."
     He coughed with a long, loud bronchial rumbling  of the  chest, and the
next thing I knew--whoomph, splat-- I got a big green grolly straight in the
face. I was really pissed off at that, more than I was at getting filled in.
I  couldn't  wipe it off, and  it  was all  over  my  face. I had visions of
contracting TH or some other outrageous disease. The way my luck  was going,
I'd get through all the interrogation and imprisonment shit, get back to the
UK and find out I'd got some incurable form of Iraqi syphilis.
     The  rest of  the blokes thought  this was a good one, and they started
gob bing as well, lifting my face right up so they had a bigger target.
     "Pig!" they shouted, pushing me down onto the floor and spitting more.
     The kickings you accept, because  you can't do anything  about  it. But
this--this really  got to me: the fact that  it  had  been snorted up out of
their guts or their nose and was now on my face and trickling into my mouth.
It was just so disgusting. They kept it  up for about ten  minutes, probably
the time it took to exhaust their supplies.
     They  moved me into the corner  of the  room and made me face the wall,
looking down. I  was cross legged, my hands still handcuffed behind my back.
They blindfolded me again.
     I stayed in that position for maybe forty-five minutes with not another
word said  to me. I  could  hear low voices and the sounds of people  moving
around. A Tiny lamp hissed  on the other side of the room.  It was very cold
and I started to shiver. I felt the blood on my wounds begin to clot, and it
was a  very strange sensation.  When you're bleeding it actually feels  nice
and  warm.  Then it  starts  to  go  cold and  clots,  and it's  viscous and
unpleasant, especially if your hair and beard are matted with it.
     My nose  was  blocked  with solid blood,  and I had to start  breathing
through my  mouth.  It was  total  agony as the cold  air got in amongst the
stumps of enamel and pulp that had once been my back molars. I began to hope
for an interrogation, just anything  to get lifted out  and  taken somewhere
     I didn't have too much of a  clue about  what was going on. All that  I
knew was that we'd been handed  over to a man in a Burton suit that was five
times too big for him and  he seemed to be  in charge. I said as little as I
could get away with, just waiting to see what was going to happen. I worried
about Dinger. Where had  they taken  him? And why?  The runty bloke had left
with him. Were they going  to have a go at him first? When he came back, was
I going  to  have to  look  at  Dinger battered and bleeding, and  then  get
dragged away myself?  I don't want that: I'd rather  get taken away  without
seeing Dinger come back kicked to shit.
     The  door  opened  and the  guards  came  in  again. There was a  brief
exchange with the lads in the room, and they had a good giggle about the gob
all over my face. They  picked me up and dragged me outside. We turned right
as we came out of the door, then  followed  a pathway and  turned 90 degrees
left at the end. I couldn't walk properly, and they had to prop me up  under
the armpits and  half  carry  me.  It  was  very cold.  We  went  over  more
cobblestones, and  I was in  real  trouble. The tops  of  my  toes  had been
scraped  away in the town, and I was  frantically trying to get on the balls
of my feet and sort of pigeon-toe along so I didn't scrape the lacerations.
     It was only another 20 or 30 feet to where  we were going. The heat hit
me  straight  away.  It  was beautifully  warm, and  the  room  was  full of
aromas--burning  paraffin, cigarette smoke, and  fresh  coffee. I was pushed
down to the floor and made to sit with my legs folded. Still blindfolded and
handcuffed, I put my head down to protect myself  and instinctively clenched
my teeth and muscles.
     People  were shuffling  around,  and through  chinks in the blindfold I
could see that the room was  brightly lit. It seemed a furnished, used room,
not a derelict holding  area like the one I had just  come  from. The carpet
was comfortable to sit on, and I could feel the fire  really near me. It was
all rather pleasant.
     I heard  papers being shuffled, a glass being put on a hard  surface, a
chair being moved across the floor. There were no verbal instructions to the
guards. I sat there waiting.
     After about fifteen seconds the blindfold  was pulled off. I  was still
looking  at the floor. A pleasant  voice said,  "Look  up,  Andy:  it is all
right, you can look up."
     I  brought my  head up slowly and saw  that I  was indeed  in a  plush,
well-decorated,  quite homely room,  rectangular and  no  more  than 20 feet
     I  was at one end, near the door. I found myself looking directly ahead
at a very large, wooden executive type desk at the other end. This had to be
the colonel's office, without  a doubt. The man behind the desk looked quite
distinguished, the typical high-ranking officer. He was quite a large-framed
person, about 6 foorish,  with  graying  hair  and  mustache.  His  desk was
littered  with lots  of odds  and bods, an  in  and out tray, all the normal
stuff that you  would associate with an office desk,  and a glass of  what I
took to be coffee.
     He studied my face. Behind him was  the ubiquitous picture of old Uncle
Saddam,  in full  military regalia and looking good. Either side of the desk
and coming down the  room towards  me against the walls was a collection  of
lounge chairs without arms, the sort that can be put together to make a long
settee. They were crazy colors--oranges, yellows, purples. There  were three
or four of them each side with a coffee table between.
     The  colonel was in olive  drab uniform. On the left  hand side from my
view, and about halfway  up the row,  was a  major,  also  in olive drab and
immaculately  turned out--not boots  but shoes, and a crisply pressed shirt.
You can tell staff soldiers no matter what army they come from.
     The major was paying no attention to me  at all, just  flicking through
what  appeared to be papers from the  han dover making  the odd  note in the
margin with a fountain pen.  He started  talking in  beautifully  modulated,
newscaster English.
     "How are you Andy? Are you all right?"
     He  didn't  look  at  me, just carried on  with  his paperwork. He  was
mid-thirties, and he wore half-moon glasses that made him tilt his head back
so that he could read. He had the Saddam mustache and immaculately manicured
     "I think I need medical attention."
     "Just tell us again, will you, why are you in Iraq?"
     "As  I said  before, we're members  of a search  and  rescue  team. The
helicopter came down, we were all told to get off,  and it took off and left
us; we were abandoned."
     "How many  of you were there  on the  helicopter, can  you remember? No
problems if  you  can't at  the moment. Time is one commodity your sanctions
have not affected."
     "I don't know. Alarms were ringing inside the helicopter. We were  told
to get off, and then everything got very confused. I'm not too sure how many
were left on and how many were off."
     "I see. How many of you were there on the helicopter?"
     It was the schoolteacher talking down  to a kid he  knows full  well is
lying--but he wants the kid to squirm before he confesses.
     "I don't  know, because when we got  on it was dark. Sometimes  there's
only four, sometimes there's twenty. We're just told when to get on and when
to get off.  It always happens so quickly. I didn't know where we were going
or what we were doing. To be honest, I'm not really interested. I never take
that  much notice. They  treat us like shit; we're  just the soldiers who do
the work."
     "All right. So what was your mission, Andy? You must know your  mission
because it's always repeated twice in your orders."
     It's standard British army practice  to  repeat  the mission  statement
twice  in orders. It astounded me  that  he  knew. If  he understood British
military doctrine, he must have had some training in the UK.
     "I don't really know about my mission," I said.  "It's  just a case of:
go here, go there, do this, do  that.  I  know we're  supposed  to  know the
mission, but we  are not told half the time what's going  on; it's total and
utter confusion."
     My mind was racing,  good style, trying to do several things at once. I
was listening  to this  character  and  I was  trying to remember  what  I'd
already said and what I was going to say in the future. The problem  was,  I
was knackered, I was hungry, I was  thirsty.  This boy was sitting up  there
all  rather comfy and  contented, just having a bit of  a waffle. He was far
more switched on  at this stage  than  I was  because I was such  a physical
     "Well, what were you going to do once you were on the helicopter?"
     "We're all drawn together from different regiments to form these rescue
teams.  We  haven't  been together long  because  we're  all from  different
places. We haven't formed into teams yet. Look, we're here to save life, not
to take life away. We're not that sort of people."
     The  colonel  hadn't stopped  staring  at me  since  the blindfold  was
removed. Now he sparked up in passable English.
     "Where is your officer who commands you?"
     I was happy about this question. In the Iraqi system there's an officer
in command  even  at  the  lowest  level;  it  was  good that  they found it
incomprehensible for a long-range  patrol  to be  in the  field  without  an
officer. I'd been portraying myself as thick and confused, and maybe  they'd
been taken in.  Now they wanted  the officer: he was the  man in the know. I
decided to play on the deserted soldiery bit.
     "I don't know, it was dark. He was there  one minute and gone the next.
He must have stayed on the helicopter. He wouldn't bother coming out with us
if he knew the helicopter was taking off again. He deserted us."
     "Do you think there could have been eight of you?"
     That meant they were aware of the problem at the MSR and were trying to
make the connection--if they hadn't  already done so. In my heart I  knew it
was only a matter of time.
     "I don't know, there were people  running around everywhere.  We're not
trained for this sort of thing, we're trained  to render first aid--and  all
of  a sudden we're stuck in the middle of Iraq. There might have been eight,
I haven't got a clue. I was confused and I just ran for it."
     "Where did the helicopter land?"
     "I really don't know. They just put us down. I don't know where it was.
I wasn't map-reading on the aircraft; it's the pilots that do everything."
     Could they believe this shit? I felt I was flogging a dead horse, but I
had no choice now--I'd  gone down  that path, and I had to keep going, right
or wrong. I didn't know if they  were just  fishing or not. I'd just have to
play  the  game out. Anybody else who'd been caught would be doing the same.
No need to panic; the conversation was still all very nice.
     "Tell me  about some  of  the  equipment that you have,  Andy.  We  are
somewhat confused about it."
     I didn't know if he was trying to  get  me to talk  about the  berg ens
which had been dropped  or our  belt  kit. He  was talking as if we were the
eight-man patrol that had got  bumped,  and I was talking as if  we were the
search and rescue team.
     "It's  just standard sort of  issue--water,  ammunition,  and a bit  of
extra first aid kit and our own personal stuff."
     "No. Tell me about the explosives that you had in your packs."
     Hang about, I thought--it hasn't  been confirmed yet that I was in this
     "I don't know what you mean."
     "Come on, Andy, let's sort this out. There is no big problem. Just  sit
there, take  your  time, and it will  all be done tonight. You were carrying
explosives, Andy. We've followed you all the way since you were first found.
We know it was you and your friends. We've been following your exploits."
     "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean."
     "Well, you do really, don't you, Andy? Such a large quantity of plastic
explosive. Did you intend to blow something up?"
     His tone was still very pleasant and  gentle, the GP enquiring about my
general well-being. I knew it  wouldn't last. In training, you are taught to
try and take advantage of whatever  you  can whenever you  can, because  you
don't  know if it's ever going to come your way again. A golden rule is that
if you can get something to eat, take  it every time. They were trying to be
the nice  guys and help  me as much as  they could, so I felt it was time to
try and take advantage of the situation.
     "Would  it be  possible to  have anything  to  eat,  please, because  I
haven't  eaten  for  days and  days," I  said. "I've got stomach pains  from
hunger. It would be nice to have something to eat."
     "Of course you can  have something to eat,  Andy. It might be difficult
to  find,  of  course,  because  the  sanctions  mean  that we have children
starving in the streets. However, we will try  to find you something. We are
a  good and generous people. We will  look  after you.  If you help us,  who
knows what  else you can  get?  You might be  home  soon.  Think about that,
     The rice  was hot and so was  the bowl of delicious stewed tomatoes and
two chap atis The water was refreshingly cool and served in a clean glass.
     At first one of the guards picked up the spoon and started to feed me.
     I said,  "Would it be  possible to undo  one  of my hands so I can feed
     The major said No,  but the colonel Okayed it with  a wave of his hand.
One of my handcuffs was undone, and  the  release of pressure was absolutely
splendid.  The  only  problem was that I couldn't  hold  the  spoon properly
because of the numbness in my  hand. I balanced it  between my little finger
and the finger next to it and then rested it above the web of the thumb as a
sort of lever.
     The colonel pointed at -the picture of Saddam.
     "Do you know who this is?"
     I hesitated, as if trying to put a name to a face at a party, and said,
"Yes, that's Saddam Hussein. President Hussein."
     "Yes it is. What have you heard about him?"
     What was I supposed to say? "I've heard about him all right. I've heard
he's pretty good at gassing kids in Iran?"
     "I know that he's a man of power, a strong leader."
     "This is correct.  Under his leadership we shall soon be rid of all you
Westerners. We have no time for you. We don't need you."
     It wasn't rhetoric; his tone was still conversational.
     I finished  the  rice and got  stuck  into  the  tomatoes. I had  great
trouble  eating  them because my  mouth was so swollen and numb. It was like
coming back from  the dentist after an injection and thinking you'll  have a
cup of  tea, but it dribbles down your chin  because you have no  control. I
was  noisy and uncouth  as  I slobbered away, tomato juice trickling down my
chin. The tomatoes tasted lovely,  and I was just sorry that the sores in my
mouth stopped me  from chewing  them properly and extracting all the flavor.
The bread  was a problem, too. I just gulped down big hunks without chewing.
No matter:  I wanted to get  it all down  my neck as fast as I could in case
they started playing games and took it away from me halfway through.
     The colonel peeled an orange  as he  watched me. In  contrast with  the
chimpanzee's tea party down on the carpet, he  did it with studied elegance.
With the aid of a small knife he made four careful cuts  down the skin, then
peeled  off each  quarter  in  turn.  He  opened out  the  orange segment by
     The fruit had been presented to him on an ornate china plate on a tray,
with  a silver  knife  and  fork.  There  was  a  definite  class system  in
operation,  the jundies running around  with a teapot pouring tea  for these
two lads, while they just sat there.
     Now and again the colonel would pick up a piece of orange and put it in
his mouth. Down on the carpet his prisoner slobbered and slurped. Talk about
Beauty and the Beast.
     My  stomach  was feeling really good, but it wasn't just  the food that
was making me happy: while I was eating they weren't asking me questions. It
gave me time to think.
     Sure  enough, as  soon as I'd  finished I was handcuffed again,  and we
carried  on the  conversation from where we'd left off. He was still talking
as if we'd already agreed that the equipment found after the initial contact
on the MSR was ours.
     "So, Andy,  explain to me  some more about the equipment. What else did
you have? Come on, we need your help. After all, we have helped you."
     "I'm sorry, I'm getting all mixed up. I don't understand."
     "What were you doing with explosives?"
     The tone still wasn't aggressive.
     "We didn't have any  explosives. I  don't  really know  what you're  on
     "Andy, you were obviously going to destroy something  because  you were
carrying PE4, which is a  high explosive that is designed to destroy things.
You appreciate why I cannot really believe the story you are telling me?"
     His mention of PE4 was another indication that he was UK-trained, but I
ignored it. "I really don't know what you're on about."
     "We have some of your men in hospital, you know."
     That one got me. I tried not  to show  any  shock or surprise; I wasn't
supposed to be connected with any villains from the MSR.
     "Who are they?" I asked. "What condition are they in?"
     My mind was racing. Who could it be? What  might they have said? Was he
just bluffing?
     "They're Okay, they're Okay."
     "Thank you very much  for looking after  them. Our army  would be doing
the same for your injured."
     If they had anybody  in  hospital, it must mean they were interested in
keeping them alive.
     "Yes," he  said casually,  "we know everything.  A few members  of your
group  are in hospital. But they are fine. We are not savages; we look after
our prisoners."
     Yes, I  know, I thought--I've  seen the footage of  the Iran-Iraq  war;
I've seen how you look after your prisoners.
     There was nothing  I could do about it,  but I had to respond the way I
thought they wanted me to. It's all a  big game, one that you start training
for as  a kid. You learn how to  lie  to your mother or teacher, and turn on
the tears whenever you want.
     "Thank you for helping them," I said, "but I don't know anything that I
can tell you."
     "Well, we agree  that you were with the group that abandoned its packs,
and that we followed you all the way along."
     "No--you're  confusing  me. I  don't  understand what  you  mean  about
abandoned packs. We don't  use packs. We were deserted; we were stuck in the
middle of your  country.  I'm just a soldier;  I go where I'm told  and I do
what I'm told to do."
     "But,  Andy, you have not explained to me what you were told to do. You
must have had a mission."
     "Look,  I'm  on the lower echelon  of the  military system. As you know
yourself, we work on a need-to know basis. We are only told  what we need to
know, and because I'm so low down on the chain I get told nothing."
     Bingo--this seemed  to strike a chord. At  the  top  of the card  which
gives the sequence for an orders group  it  says: Remember Need To  Know. He
had  obviously  had  some sort  of  teaching  from  the Brits,  probably  at
Sandhurst or  Staff College: the Iraqis had been in the Western powers' Good
Lads Club for a number of years.
     The colonel looked puzzled and asked the major something in Arabic. The
junior  officer gave a  lengthy  explanation. I  felt  good  about this. I'd
actually  come back at him with something that  they seemed to accept. Maybe
they  thought I  really did  know  jack  shit. Maybe they  could  equate  my
situation with their own. We were all soldiers. Obviously he was a major and
the  other one was a colonel,  but  they  would  still  receive  orders from
brigadiers and generals. The long shot was that they'd take a certain amount
of pity on us, or think that we were really not worth the trouble of  trying
to get any more information out of  because we were just a bunch of bonehead
squad dies who'd screwed up.
     "That is fine, Andy. We will see you later on. It is time for you to go
     He sounded like a therapist winding up a session.
     "Thanks very much for the food. I am trying to help, really I am, but I
just don't know what's required of me."
     They put  the blindfold  back  on and,  rather surprisingly,  took  the
handcuffs off. I felt the blood rush back  into my hands. They lifted me and
took me  outside. The cold  hit me.  It  had been so  warm  in  the  office,
scoffing tomatoes, bread, and rice.
     I was  quite  happy that this was  another major  hurdle over with, and
that I'd got some food out  of them. Chances were they'd been going to  give
me  some anyway as part of the good-guy routine,  but  it just made  me feel
better to  have  asked for and  received it. I was fairly  confident at this
time that my story was  holding up, even though I wasn't entirely happy with
the performance I'd given. At the  end of the day, whether they  believed it
or not, as. long as they had me down as thick and ignorant, it didn't really
matter to me.  Hopefully I'd just  be pigeonholed as totally irrelevant  and
too thick to get any creditable information out of.
     I still hadn't  got my  boots,  and I couldn't walk properly  on my raw
feet. But I was mentally fit, and that was all that mattered. They can break
any bone  in your  body that they choose, but it's up to you whether  or not
they break your mind.
     I hobbled  down a long, cold, damp  corridor with lino floors, and they
sat me down  at the end. It was completely dark--not a flicker of light came
through my blindfold.  From time to time I could hear  the echo of footsteps
moving along other corridors and crossing this one. Perhaps it was an office
     After an hour or  so  there was again the sound of footsteps, but  they
were  more irregular and shuffling than usual. Shortly I heard  the sound of
labored breathing.  A guard took my blindfold off,  and I  watched  him walk
away. The  corridor was about 8 foot wide, with tiled walls  and doors every
15  feet  or so. Down to the  right there were two  other intersections with
corridors coming off, and that went down maybe 100 or 125 feet. It was dark.
There was a Tiny lamp right at the other end of the building, glowing at the
     I looked to my left and saw Dinger. He had a huge grin on his face.
     "Come here often, wanker?" he said.
     The guard came back with our boots  and went  out and joined his  mates
who were sitting a few feet away, keeping an eye on us.
     "Muslim or Christian or Jew?" one of them said.
     "Christians," I said. "English. Christians."
     "Not Jew?"
     "No. Christians. Christians."
     "Not Tel Aviv?"
     "No, not Tel Aviv. English. Great Britain."
     He nodded, and gob bed off to his mates.
     "My friend here," he said, "he's  a Christian.  Muslims and  Christians
are Okay in Iraq. We live together. No Jews. Jews are bad. You are a Jew."
     "No, I'm a Christian."
     "No, you  are a Jew. Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv no good. We don't want Jews. We
kill Jews. Why  you come  in  our country?  We  don't want war.  War is your
     He  was   just  talking,  rather  matter-of-factly,  and  seemed  quite
sensible. Iraq has a  large Christian population, especially around the port
of Basra.
     "We are not Jews, we are Christian," I said again.
     "Not aircrew. Rescue."
     If he'd wanted us to  be Muslims or members of  the Church of the Third
Moon on the Right, that's what  we would have been.  I was  just nodding and
agreeing  with everything, apart from the Jew bit. It was the early hours of
the morning  and  we  could  sense the guards' attitude: "We're  bollocksed,
you're bollocksed, we  have to look after you, let's just do it without  any
problems." Dinger was rubbing his feet.  "Is it all right if I help  him?" I
said. They gave a wave that said: Yeah, do what you want. Dinger and I leant
forwards to examine his  feet. "Bob?" I whispered  in his ear. "Don't know."
"Legs?" "Probably dead.  What about Mark?" "Dead. When  did you get caught?"
"Mid-morning. I heard you  being brought in in  the afternoon." "Are you all
right?" I said. I couldn't believe I'd asked such  a bone question.  What  a
dickhead statement. He eyed  me with  a look  that  said:  You knobber!  The
guards suspected that we  were communicating, and  one of them  came over to
stop  it.  Dinger  asked him  for a cigarette. The  guard spoke pretty  good
English, but Dinger said, "Cig-ar-ette?" as if he was talking to a  lunatic,
and made  the motions of smoking.  It didn't get him anywhere. We both had a
slightly better idea now of what was going on. I knew that Legs was probably
dead. I  still didn't know  about Bob. We sat there for  about  an hour, but
couldn't  communicate  any more..  My body  was  aching all over, and I  was
falling asleep. Your body gets so  psyched up when  you are being filled in,
but  when there  is a period  of  calm, all  the  little aches and pains get
magnified because you have nothing else to worry about. The feeling reminded
me of school. When you have a fight as a kid, you're all sparked up,  and it
doesn't hurt so much initially. It's a couple of hours later  that  the pain
comes  out. My lips were still bleeding. My mouth had been split  in several
places during  the beatings, and the wounds kept trying to congeal. But even
the slightest movement made them  reopen. My  arse and lower back  were sore
from sitting  all day  on the hard concrete.  The injuries made me feel even
more  exhausted, and  I wanted to  get my head down.  I nodded off, my  head
lolling on my  chest, then jerked awake a minute or two later. This  went on
for  about half an hour.  Then Dinger and  I leant against  each  other  and
     We  were woken by  the slamming of doors  and the sound of talking. The
glow  of a Tiny lamp appeared at the bottom of  the  corridor and got bigger
and  bigger.  Finally the lamp  appeared, with  lots of bodies behind it. We
knew we were off again.
     We   were  handcuffed   and   blindfolded--not   aggressively,   rather
nonchalantly. We stood  up and shuffled together  along the corridor and out
into the open air. A Land Cruiser was waiting with its engine running.
     Our blindfolds were taken off again as we got in, though  I had no idea
why--perhaps there was just  a breakdown in communications. Off we went, two
guards in the front and one in the back.
     "Baghdad? Baghdad?" Dinger sparked up, nice and friendly.
     "Yes, Baghdad," the driver replied, as if he was stating the obvious.
     The driver  knew all the back doubles. We drove for ten minutes through
busy back streets. The vehicle had its headlights blazing. The guards didn't
seem  particularly bothered  when I strained to  see  road signs and  street
names. I  didn't see  a single written word. There were no large magnificent
buildings to be remembered  and  identified later. All  the  houses had flat
roofs. By  the  look of it  this was the slum area of the city. It must have
been a residential  area because there were no  signs of  bombing. It didn't
even  look  as if there  was a war  on. The roads were tarmacked but full of
potholes, and the sidewalk areas were just dust. Old cars  were abandoned at
the roadside, being pissed on by dogs.
     We  stopped outside a  pair of large, slatted wooden gates. They opened
inwards as soon as the vehicle arrived, and we  drove into a small courtyard
not  much  bigger  than the Land  Cruiser's  turning circle.  Squaddies were
waiting for us, and I felt  the familiar knot of apprehension tighten in the
pit of my stomach. Dinger and I looked at each other blankly.
     I wanted to look up as we were hustled out of the vehicle but made sure
my  head was down so I didn't antagonize anybody. It was pitch-black, and at
every moment I  expected the filling  in  to  start. We  were dragged into a
block and along a corridor that  was hardly wider than my  shoulders. It was
totally dark, and the jundie in front of  me had to use his torch. We got to
an area where  there  was a row  of  about  a dozen  doors,  all very  close
together.  The jundie opened one,  pushed me inside, took  off my handcuffs,
and closed the door. I heard a bolt sliding and a padlock being applied.
     There was no ambient light whatsoever. It was so dark in the  room that
I couldn't even see my hand in front  of my face. There was a gagging stench
of shit.  I got  down on my hands and  knees  and felt my way  around. There
wasn't much  to feel. The room was tiny,  and  it  didn't  take  me  long to
discover the two porcelain footpads either side of a hole about eight inches
in  diameter.  No wonder  my new bedroom  stank.  I  was in  a minging  Arab
     You have  to  take  advantage  of every  situation,  and  here  was  an
opportunity  to get the sleep I desperately needed.  I wasn't going to waste
time  thinking about  anything.  There  wasn't  room  to  stretch out  so  I
maneuvered my body so that I was bent around the pan.
     There was no ventilation and the smell was overpowering, but there  you
go.  It  was  just a  relief  not  to  have  been beaten up. I  fell  asleep

     I woke  up  feeling  as  if  I'd been drugged. Doors  further down  the
corridor were opening noisily. There was some talking; I could hear it but I
was not really conscious of it because I was in such a daze. I wondered what
time it was. My body clock had completely packed in,  and I didn't even know
if it was night or  day. It should  be a priority to keep track of times and
dates, mainly  because  it  makes  you  feel a little  bit better,  but also
because it keeps your mind  sharp.  If you  lose track of  days, then you'll
lose track of weeks and then months. Time becomes  meaningless, to the point
where you lose touch with reality. Therefore you should make all attempts to
keep a grip from day one. You look  at people's watches if  you can  because
they always have numbers; there's no such thing as an Arabic watch face None
of the guards so far had worn a watch, which was pretty switched on of them.
But  I was wrecked, and such considerations were irrelevant at this stage. I
was more concerned with  whether  I was going  to survive. I was still in  a
stupor when  they  came  to  my  door. "Andy! Andy! Andy!"  a guard  shouted
through  the door in a jovial, holiday camp kind  of  voice.  "Is  it  Okay,
     "Yep, yep, I'm all right!" I tried to sound happy and polite.
     My muscles had seized up; I was as stiff as a board. I tried my best to
stand up. If they saw me  just lying there, making no effort, they'd fill me
in. But I couldn't move.
     The door opened  and  I saw daylight. I  stretched  out my arms,  palms
upwards, in a gesture of helplessness.
     "I can't move," I said. "Stiff."
     He called to another guard. I clenched my sore muscles in readiness for
the kicking I was about to receive.
     They came into the toilet and bent over me.
     "Up, up,  aaah," one said, all nice and gentle. They put my arms around
their  necks  and  lifted me  upright,  almost  with  compassion. They  were
actually concerned. I couldn't believe it.
     The crash of  a door bolt and the friendly shout of "Good morning! Good
morning!" echoed around the block  as they helped me towards the door to the
     The  light was  dazzling,  even  though the  toilet  block was in  shadow. I
squinted  at the sun.  It  was fairly low, and I  guessed the time was about
eight o'clock. The sky was a beautiful, cloudless blue, and the air was cool
and crisp, with just enough nip to make your  face  tingle and  let  you see
your  breath as  you exhaled. It could  have been an early spring morning in
England, and I could have  been coming out of my house  and  setting off for
     Directly  in front of  us was  a vehicle, and beyond it a  single-story
building. The  noises were  subdued--vehicles  in the distance,  disembodied
voices shouting further down  the  camp, city  noises the other side of  the
walls. I heard a bird singing to my left. I turned my head and looked up; it
was in a tree that grew on the other side of the courtyard wall. It sang its
heart out and it was lovely to hear.
     Below it, in the corner where the toilet block met  the wall, there was
a  pile  of  large metal segments.  When  aircraft  drop cluster bombs,  the
ordnance breaks  up at altitude and releases  the payload of smaller  bombs.
The large  outer casings  fall  to earth,  and  these  were obviously  being
collected by somebody. They had English  writing on  them. It gave me a good
feeling to see something from  home.  Somebody friendly was up  there in the
sky, not watching  over me or even looking for  me, but at  least  they were
there, and they were hosing these people down.
     The vehicle was facing outwards, ready to go, and as we  approached the
engine fired up. I got in and was left with a couple of guards. One of them,
the  first black Iraqi soldier that I'd seen,  reminded me of  my  battalion
days. In the early eighties,  when the Afro  was in, our black dudes used to
buy pairs of tights and cut the legs off to use as sort of bank robber masks
to squash their hair  down at night. The effect  of this  was to make  their
Afros  really tight  in the morning,  so that when they put their berets on,
their hair didn't poke out and look ridiculous. As soon as we were off duty,
they'd get out the Afro comb and frizz it all out again.
     This lad had the mop on top, then the ring where  the band of his beret
had dug in, but  all the  rest was sticking out. Obviously he didn't put his
head in  a stocking bottom at night, and I wondered  if I should pass on the
beauty tip. It gave me a  little giggle to remember the battalion. It seemed
a lifetime ago. Dinger  was in  a bad way, shuffling like an old man, moving
along  about a foot every pace, being supported either side by two  lads. It
was quite  funny to watch because Dinger towered a foot or so above them. It
looked like a pair of little Boy Scouts helping an old-age pensioner.
     The bright light hit  him, and  he shuddered up like a vampire, putting
his head down to protect his eyes. We'd been blindfolded and in darkness for
so  long, and all of a sudden we were getting full wattage, like bats caught
in a searchlight.
     I saw that  the guards were commando again,  in DPM and carrying AK47s.
Dinger didn't have his boots either, and his feet were cut. Much the same as
me, there were big red scabs on the outside of his socks where the blood had
congealed. His hair wasn't its usual dirty frizzy blond; it was matted and a
dark reddish brown. His face  was  covered with a week  of growth, and that,
too, was covered with mud and scabs.
     As he was  helped into  the vehicle,  he put his hand out and I grabbed
hold of it and pulled him in.
     "All right, mate?" I said.
     "Yeah, I'm all right."
     I  got the grin. The house might be bomb-damaged,  but  the lights were
still on in the attic.
     It  was  another  major  victory.  We'd  made  physical  contact,  we'd
exchanged words.  It was  a big boost to my morale, and I  hoped I'd had the
same effect on him.
     The guards put the blindfolds on again, breaking the scab on the bridge
of my nose and squashing my eyeballs so  hard that I got snowstorms in front
of my eyes. One of Houdini's secrets was to tense all his muscles as tightly
as he could when they were tying him up, so that when he relaxed he had some
room to play with.  As they tied the blindfold, I tensed my cheek muscles to
give me some slack later on. It didn't work.
     They  put the handcuffs  on again, good and  tight.  My hands were very
tender,  and the pain  was unbearable. Perversely, I took  a deep breath and
clenched my teeth as the  ratchets bit  into the flesh because I didn't want
them to see that they were hurting me. I'd been going through the process of
playing on  my injuries, and now  I was  being  counterproductive  again  by
trying not to show the pain.
     We sat and waited. As I listened to the engine ticking over, I wondered
where  we were  going to.  Had  we convinced  them  we  were inconsequential
nuggets, not worth any further waste of manpower? Were we now on our  way to
a prison  where we  would  just  sit out the rest  of  the war  in  relative
     My thoughts  were broken by what I assumed was  one of the guards. Just
as the driver put  his foot on the clutch and  engaged  first gear, he poked
his head through the open window and said quietly, "Whoever is your God, you
will  very soon be needing him." I  didn't know if he  was  saying it out of
compassion, or as  a cruel and deliberate ploy to  make  us flap. But it had
the effect of  totally  saddening me. My  whole body dropped, as if I'd been
told my dad was dead. It was a massive shock. Things had seemed to be on the
up, and now this.
     Whoever is your God, you will very soon be needing him.
     The sincerity in his voice alarmed me. I thought: That's it then, it is
going to get  worse. The mention of God was horrifying because  there was so
much concern in the  guard's voice when he said it, as if it really was only
God who could  save us  now. Did it mean we were going  to be executed? That
was fine--I'd just have to hope it was publicized and  the people back  home
got  the news. What  about torture? We'd heard the horror stories during the
Iran-Iraq war, and the thought now crossed my mind that this was it: Here we
go, it's time for the old chop  your bollocks off routine, followed by ears,
fingers, and toes, all nice  and  slow. But the optimist in me was  fighting
hard, saying: No, they wouldn't  do that: they must realize they're going to
lose the war; they don't want another Nuremberg.
     If   the  desired   effect  was  simply  to   piss  me  off,   then  it
succeeded--severely. The same went  for Dinger. As the Land Cruiser  lurched
across the courtyard, he muttered out of the  corner of his mouth, "Well, at
least they can't make us pregnant."
     I giggled. "Yeah, fair one."
     The boy in the passenger seat turned round and gob bed off angrily, "No
speak! No talk!"
     They might not be able to make us pregnant, but they might try and fuck
us. It was a crazy assumption, but your mind  does that sort of  thing under
duress. The thought worried me more than getting killed.
     Alone with my  thoughts, I brooded about the  conversation I'd had with
Chris back at the FOB.
     "That's all you need on  top of getting captured," Chris had joked. "To
have six chutney ferrets roaring up your arse."
     We drove for  about fifteen minutes in brilliant sunshine. I could tell
we  weren't  heading out  of town because we were still turning  corners  at
quite frequent intervals and the noise of human activity didn't drop. People
in the streets were shouting  at one  another; drivers were leaning on their
     One of  the  blokes in the front  farted. It was outrageous,  a  really
putrid bastard. That's nice,  I thought: on top of everything  else I've now
got to chew somebody else's shit.
     They thought it was hilarious, and the guy on the passenger side turned
around and said, "Good? Good?"
     "Mrnmm, yum yum," Dinger said, full of appreciation, inhaling deeply as
if he was on the se afront at Yarmouth. "Lovely, good stuff."
     Our noses were so clogged that  not  too much of  the smell was getting
through,  but  it  was important  to show them  that  we didn't  care  about
anything they  did.  After  a while  the  blokes  up front  couldn't hack it
themselves and had to wind the window down.
     It was lovely to feel the cool breeze hitting my skin. I turned my face
into it  until  I tingled. It kept  my mind off my hands. I had perfected  a
technique of  leaning  forward and keeping my  back  straight  to  take  the
pressure  off  the cuffs.  The  problem was that every  time  I  moved, they
thought I was  doing something  to try and get away, so I'd get shoved back.
But what was fifteen minutes of this between friends?
     The driver  stopped laughing, and  I sensed  that we had arrived. Gates
were  being opened, and we drove over a different surface for another couple
of hundred meters. The Land Cruiser was surrounded by angry voices. We had a
reception committee.
     The  moment  the  vehicle  stopped  the doors were pulled  open.  Hands
grabbed my hair  and face and pulled me out  on my side. It was straight out
and  onto  the  ground,  no  messing.  It  wasn't  the  worst beasting  we'd
had--slapping, hair pulling, punches to the side, all the  normal harassment
stuff--but  it came as a  big, big shock. People were  laughing and gob bing
and I got  my head down, clenching up, just letting them get on  with it. It
was their party.
     After two  or three minutes I was hauled  to my feet,  and they started
dragging me away. My legs wouldn't function, and  I  tripped  and  stumbled.
They just kept  dragging, very quickly, very rehearsed, like porters  at  an
abattoir processing carcasses.  There was hollering all around me, but I was
trying to  listen out for another group  so I could  keep  tabs on Dinger. I
couldn't hear anything outside of my own little environment.
     I kept trying to lift my feet so they wouldn't scuff on  the  floor and
get damaged even more. We only went about a dozen meters. While they fiddled
with the door, I tried to catch my breath. We went up a couple of steps that
I didn't know were there, and I banged my toes and groaned. I went down, but
they dragged me up  again, shouting  and slapping. We went along a corridor.
The echoes  were eerie and ugly. It had  been hot,  and  now suddenly it was
cold and damp and musty again. The building seemed derelict.
     The cell door  must have  been  already open.  They threw me against  a
corner and pushed me down  onto the  floor. I  was arranged  so  that  I was
cross-legged but  with my  knees  right up,  my shoulders back, and my hands
behind  my  back, still handcuffed. I didn't say or do anything; I just went
with  the  flow. After  another  couple of  slaps  and kicks and a burst  of
rhetoric for good measure, they slammed the  door shut. It sounded as  if it
was  made of  sheet metal bolted to a  frame, but the frame  must  have been
warped because  they had to  slam it really hard,  and it banged and rattled
with an echo that frightened me shitless.
     You're alone. You think you are  alone. You can't see what's going  on,
you're  disoriented,  and  you're  worried.  You're fucking  worried. You're
breathing heavily,  and all you're thinking is: Let's just  get it done. You
can't be sure there's nobody in the room. Maybe they haven't all gone; maybe
somebody's still looking  at you,  watching for a mistake, so  you keep your
head down,  clench your teeth as best you can, keep  your  knees up, try  to
protect yourself against the punches and kicks that could start again at any
     I heard  the crash  of another  door.  Dinger  getting locked  away,  I
assumed. It gave me  a bit of consolation to know that we were both still in
the same boat.
     There wasn't a lot  I could  do  except just sit there and try  to calm
myself down. I took deep breaths and  exhaled very slowly as  I analyzed the
events  and  came  to  the obvious  conclusion that something unpleasant was
definitely going to happen. We had been moved to a place that felt organized
and geared up. There was a reception party  to deliver a short, sharp shock;
they knew the  score, they knew exactly what they were going to do and when.
But was this the prison  we were going to stay in now,  or were we still  in
transit and these boys just asserting their authority?  Was I going  to stay
blindfolded and handcuffed for the rest of my days? If so, I was going to be
in a desperate  state.  Would  I  come out with my  eyes impaired? And Jesus
--what about my hands?
     I  calmed myself  with the thought  that  once  I'd tuned in to the new
environment,  I'd be  all right.  It  was like going into a house  that  you
haven't visited before. It feels  strange, but after a  couple of hours  you
feel a bit more affinity with it, you feel more at home. I knew that as long
as my blindfold came off, that was what would happen eventually. I still had
my escape  map and  compass safely tucked  away, so at least I had something
over them.
     It was cold: a  dank, dilapidated sort  of cold. The floor was  damp. I
was sitting in wet mud and shit. I found that my hands could touch the wall.
It  was plaster that had chips and  chunks  out of it, and where it met  the
floor there  were  gaps.  The  concrete  floor  was  very rough and  uneven.
Pressure sores  on  my  arse  made  me  try  to adjust my position.  I tried
straightening my legs out but that  didn't work, so  I brought them  back up
and tried  to lean on one side. But wherever I leaned my hands were painful;
I just couldn't get comfortable.
     I  heard  noisy  talking and the  sound  of people walking up  and down
outside. There was obviously a gap  in the  door or a  window, and I  sensed
them looking  in at me, checking out the  new commodity,  just  staring with
blank,  gormless  eyes. It flashed through my mind  that  if  I got out, I'd
never visit a zoo again in my life.
     The pain from the  handcuffs  and the stress  position  had  become too
much. Whether or not I was being watched, I had no choice but to try and lie
down to relieve the pressure. There was nothing to  lose in having a go. You
don't  know  until you try.  I  shifted  on to  my  side, and the relief was
immediate--and so was the  shouting. I knew they  were  coming for me. Every
nerve in my body screamed: "Fuck! Fuck! Oh no, not again .. ."
     I tried to pull myself  up by putting my weight against the wall, but I
ran out  of time. The bolt  flew undone, and the guards  battled to  get the
warped  door  open.  It shook and rattled like an up-and-over garage door as
they  kicked  at it in a fury,  and when it  did  finally swing open, it was
still rattling like  a pantomime thunderstorm. It  was the most  frightening
noise I'd ever heard, horrendous, absolutely horrendous.
     They  were straight  in, grabbing me by my hair,  kicking and punching.
Their message was very clear. They forced me  back into  the stress position
and left the cell, slamming the door behind them. The bolt crashed home, and
their footsteps echoed and faded.
     This feels like  a  proper  prison;  this is a purpose-built cell.  I'm
under their  total  control.  So this  is  where  it's all going to  happen?
There's no chance of  escape, and if conditions  stay like  this there never
will be.
     These boys  knew what  they were doing  all right. Their reactions were
well rehearsed and orchestrated.  This suddenly felt like it was going to be
for ever. I was without  hope. I thought it would be impossible ever to feel
lower, or lonelier, or more abandoned and lost.
     My mind rambled. I  wondered if  Jilly had been told  I  was missing in
action or  presumed dead. I hoped she'd  been told jack shit. I  hoped  that
somebody had got  over the border or  that the Iraqis  had spoken to the Red
Cross.  Some chance. Maybe I'd land up  on the TV soon, which would  be  all
rather nice. But then again would it? The next of kin would be pacing up and
down enough already, just because there was a  war on. Jilly had always been
quite good about  my  work.  She  took  the view  that what she  didn't know
wouldn't hurt her. She was able somehow to just cut it out of her mind. This
time, however, it was obvious where I was, and the same went for my parents.
     My only fear of dying was  if nobody  knew I  was dead. I couldn't bear
the thought of my family's  anguish  at not having a body to mourn, of going
through their lives not knowing for sure.
     The Iraqi  Head  Shed  obviously  didn't want  us dead at  this  stage,
because if people had been left to their own devices we'd have been topped a
long time ago.  And if  they  wanted  us alive, it  must be for some purpose
--whether for propaganda or  just because they knew  they were going to lose
the war and it wouldn't look good if prisoners were getting slotted.
     You have to accept the circumstances and  do the best you can in  them.
There was  nothing  I could do to help the people back home, so I  turned my
mind elsewhere. Should I have gone for the border that night? It was obvious
to me that I should  have taken my chances.  But then,  with  hindsight, I'd
have got eight score draws on last week's coupon.
     I was injured  and disoriented. I couldn't even  remember  what  day it
was. I knew I had to get  a grip.  Disorienting the prisoner is a good start
to breaking him, and I knew it. But there was  nothing I could do but put it
out of my mind until I got a chance to see a clock or a guard's watch.
     Interrogators have two hurdles  to get over: the straightforward one of
cracking you physically,  followed by the more difficult one of breaking you
mentally.  They  don't  know  your  psyche,  your  weaknesses,  your   inner
strengths. Some  people  might break the  first day,  others will never give
in--and  spread along  the spectrum in between lie  all the  rest of us. The
interrogator  cannot  be  sure  that  his objective has been  achieved.  The
telltale  signs are  hard  to  detect;  he'll  know he can't  judge by  your
physical condition because you're exaggerating your injuries. But he'll have
been taught that  the  eyes don't lie. It's up to you to make sure he  can't
see through the  window;  you have to mask your alertness.  You have to make
people peering  in believe that  they're looking  at empty premises, not the
shop front of Harrods.
     I forced  my mind to focus on more  productive  thoughts. I ran through
the story  once more, trying to  remember what I'd said, hoping  that Dinger
had said more  or less the same thing. The aim had to  be to hold out for as
long as we could so that a damage assessment could be  made back at the FOB.
The question our Head Shed would be asking was: What do members of Bravo Two
Zero know? They would come to the conclusion that we knew our own tasks, but
nothing  of  other  people's,  present  or  future,  so   nothing  could  be
compromised.  Anything  that  we did know that could affect other operations
would have been changed or canceled.
     We had to keep to our story. There was no turning back.
     I was still in  the  stress  position  in the corner an hour later,  or
maybe it was ten minutes.
     People paced up and down, looked in, mumbled.
     As far  as my body was concerned,  it was the lull  in the  battle.  It
hadn't been  complaining of such things while I was  getting filled in,  but
now that nothing physical was happening to me it screamed that it was hungry
and thirsty. I wasn't  too worried  about  food. My  stomach had been kicked
about  a bit and probably couldn't  have  taken it anyway.  The priority was
water. I was so, so thirsty. I was gagging.
     I heard them fiddling with the padlock and throwing back the bolt. They
banged  and  kicked  the door to get  it open, and  the steel  juddered  and
jarred. They were coming for me. Thirst vanished. Fear was everything.
     They  came in without a word,  just straight  over and  grabbed  me and
lifted. I  couldn't  see  them, but I could smell them.  I tried to look  as
though I was doing my best to help them, despite the injuries  I was playing
on. But I found I was  kidding myself more than them.  It was well and truly
past the stage of playing. I couldn't stand up. My legs would not obey me.
     They  dragged  me  out of the cell  and  turned right, heading down the
corridor. My feet trailed in their wake, the scabs  on my toes  scraping off
on the floor. I could see a  little through the  bottom  of the blindfold. I
saw the  cobblestones  and a trail of blood. I saw a step coming but  had to
trip over  it because I  didn't want  them  to  realize that I could see.  I
didn't want to get punished more than I was going to be anyway.
     It was warm in the  sun. I felt it on my face. We went  along a pathway
and  brushed past a small hedgerow.  Up  onto another  step,  then back into
darkness. A long, black corridor, cool, musty, and damp. I heard office type
noises and the sound of  footsteps  on lino  or  tiles. We  turned right and
entered a room. It was cold and damp, but as they carried me in we went past
isolated  centers of heat. It wasn't  at all  the nice, comfy,  Aunty  Nelly
feeling of a room that had been flooded with heat for a long time.
     They pushed me down onto a hard chair. There was the usual strong smell
of  paraffin and cigarettes, and this time  some acrid body odor. Whether it
came from the people in the room or a previous  prisoner, I couldn't tell. I
tried to lean forward, but hands grabbed me and pulled me back.
     There were  lots of people in there, shuffling their feet, coughing and
muttering to one another,  and they seemed to  be arranged on either side of
the room. I heard Tiny lamps. I didn't know if the room was windowless or if
the curtains were drawn, but it was very dark apart from their glow.
     I clenched my muscles and waited. There was silence for a minute or so.
I was  worried. We'd got to the serious place. This was the  real world; the
people here would not be idiots.
     A  voice  spoke  to  me  from  the  top of  the  room. It sounded  like
somebody's favorite grand ad a sort of old, gravelly voice, very pleasant in
     "How are you, Andy?"
     "I'm not too bad."
     "You  look quite injured."  The  English was fluent  but with  a marked
accent.  "Perhaps  when  we  have finished  our  business  and  we  have  an
understanding, we might be able to get you some medical attention."
     "It would be  very nice if  I could have some. Thank you very much. And
my friend also?"
     We were in a new environment now, with a new gang. If this was going to
be  the good boy routine, maybe  I'd  get  something to eat, maybe  I'd  get
medical attention, maybe I'd be able to get medical attention for  Dinger. I
might even find out some  information. Maybe they might  be  able to  let me
have my blindfold off or my handcuffs--maybe, maybe,  maybe. Even if  it was
for ten minutes,  it  would be better  than a kick in  the tits.  If they're
promising you things, you must try and see if they'll deliver. Take what you
can, while you can. Right, let's go along with this.
     "All we need to know, Andy, is what you were doing in our country."
     I went through my story again. I tried to look scared and humble.
     "I was  in a  helicopter as a member of a search and rescue team. I'm a
medic: I wasn't there to kill people.  The  helicopter came  down, there was
some form of emergency, we were all  told to run off the helicopter quickly,
and then it just took off. I don't know how many people got off the aircraft
or are on the ground and still running around. You have to understand, there
was total  confusion. It was at night,  nobody knew where the officer was; I
think he might even have run back on  the helicopter and deserted us. I  had
no idea  where  I  was and  no  idea where  I was going. I was just  running
around, scared and confused. And that's all there is."
     There was a long pause.
     "You understand,  do you Andy, that  you  are a  prisoner  of war,  and
prisoners of war are required to do certain things?"
     "I understand that, and I am helping you as much as I can."
     "We need you to sign some things. We need to get some  signatures  from
you  so  they can  be  sent to the Red  Cross. It's  part of  the process of
letting your family know that you're here."
     "I'm sorry, but  under the  Geneva Convention I'm told  that I must not
sign  anything. I  don't  really  understand  why  I have to sign  anything,
because we're taught that we don't have to do that sort of thing."
     "Andy," The Voice became even more grandfatherly. "We need to help each
other, don't you agree, so that things will run smoothly?"
     "Yes,  of course.  However, I don't  know anything. I've told you all I
     "We really must help each other;  otherwise  things  will  have to  get
painful. I think you understand what I mean by that, Andy?"
     "I  understand  what you're saying,  but I really  don't know what  you
need. I've told you everything that I know. I don't know anything else."
     There's a technique that high-pressure salesmen use to  get you to tell
them  that  you want  to  buy  the product. It's called something  like  the
Creative  Pause. Victor Kiam  explained it in one of  his books: when he was
going through his sales pitch, he would stop and pause, and if the person he
was  trying  to  sell  to  actually  felt  that they  had to  carry  on  the
conversation during this gap, Kiam knew that he had a sale.  The punter felt
he had to do something, and that was to agree to buy.
     I kept quiet and looked confused.
     "You're really  looking quite poorly, Andy. Do you require some medical
     "Yes, please."
     "Well, Andy, you have to pay for things. What we require in return is a
little assistance. You scratch  my  back  and  I'll scratch yours! I believe
it's an old English saying, yes?"
     He  must have looked around the  room for  approval because  the others
laughed hard--a bit too hard. It was the sound  of the chairman of the board
making a bone  joke and everybody  chortling because they  have to. Half the
people in the room probably didn't even know what he was saying.
     "I will be helpful," I said. "I'm trying  to be  as helpful  as I  can.
Would it be possible to have some water or some food, I wonder, as my friend
and I haven't eaten  or  had anything to drink  for a  long time.  I'm  very
thirsty and feeling very weak."
     "If  you are  helpful,  we  might  be  able  to come  to  some sort  of
agreement--but you  cannot  expect me to do  something  for  nothing. Do you
understand that, Andy?"
     "Yes, I understand, but I really don't know what you want from me. I've
told you everything I know. We're just soldiers; we were just told to get on
an aircraft and go. We don't know what's going on. The army  treats us  like
     "I  think you will  find we  treat people better here. I am  willing to
supply  food, water,  and medical assistance for you and your friend,  Andy,
but it must be a fair trade.  We need to know the names of the other people,
so we can inform the Red Cross that they are in Iraq."
     It went without saying that this  was a load of old bollocks, but I had
to appear as compliant as  I could without actually giving anything  away. I
wanted to  keep this interview in the hands  of Mr.  Nice Guy. He was  being
polite,  cordial, gentle, soft,  concerned. I wasn't looking forward  to the
bad guy stuff, which I knew would happen sooner or later.
     "The  only name I know is  my friend Dinger's," I said.  He would  have
given  his name, number, rank,  and date of  birth anyway as required by the
Geneva Convention. I said his full name. "Apart from him, I have no idea who
is here and who  isn't. It was very dark, everybody was running all over the
place, it was chaos. The only reason I know  about Dinger is because  I have
seen him."
     Something told me the  cover story was crumbling.  It just didn't  feel
credible to me any more. It was starting  to  get holes picked in it, as any
story will unless it's deep cover. It was just a matter of playing for time.
I  had no  idea  what they were thinking  at this stage; it was just cat and
mouse. He'd  ask a  question  and I'd give one of my bone answers, and  he'd
just go on to the next one without even questioning what I had said.
     The Voice must have realized I  was giving him  a load of old pony, and
I,  in turn,  realized that  what I was giving him wasn't  what they wanted.
Despite that, bad things weren't happening--but happen they certainly would.
     Mentally I  was fine. Your mental state can be altered by drugs. I just
hoped  they  weren't  that  advanced  and were still  into  caveman tactics.
Physical  abuse can only get  the  interrogator to  a  certain point; beyond
that, it's not a viable inducer  of the goods. They can assess your physical
state from the beatings they've given you. What they can't gauge for sure is
your mental state. For that, they need to know your  level of alertness, and
the only  visible clue to that is your eyes. Some  people would  get totally
wound up  if an  interrogator laughed at the size of their cock, or  accused
them  of being  a homosexual, or said  their mother was a  whore. They would
spark up, and this would show that they were not as out of it as they wanted
to appear. Everybody has a chink in their armor, and the  interrogator's job
is to find it. From that moment on, they can really go to town.
     We  were  trained to  expect  it,  and we were  lucky  that within  the
Regiment everybody  is taking the piss  all  the time.  Daily  life revolves
around personal insults. But it would still be a battle.
     If  you're  physically and  mentally exhausted you  shouldn't have  the
energy  even to comprehend what's being  said, let  alone react to  it. Your
bluff job won't last long if you as much as blink when he laughs at the size
of your cock or asks  about your wife's favorite position. The effect you're
striving  for is that  you're exhausted, everything's really too much bother
for  you  to understand,  you've told them everything you know, and  there's
nothing more you want to do than  go  home. The  advantage we  were starting
with was  that, to them, even a senior NCO is a nobody. Their army is run by
the officers for  the  officers. Other  ranks are just ignorant  cogs in the
wheel. They didn't  have my mind and  they would never get it; it was just a
case  now  of reminding  them that  I was just a cretinous bumpkin, not even
worth the bother.
     I asked if it was possible for the handcuffs and blindfold to come off.
"I can't  think  straight," I  said. "My hands are numb and  my eyes are  in
trouble. I've got a headache."
     "It is for your own security," The Voice replied.
     "Of course, I understand, sir. I'm very sorry for asking."
     It  was for their security, not mine. They didn't want me to be able to
identify them.
     "I'm trying to  help," I went on, "but  I'm only the sergeant.  I don't
know anything, I don't do  anything,  and  I  don't  particularly want to do
anything. If I  did know any more, I'd tell you.  I  don't want to  be here.
It's the government  that  sent me.  I  was  just  riding in the  back of  a
helicopter, I didn't even know we'd landed in your country."
     "I understand all that, Andy. However, you must realize that we need to
clarify a few things. And for us to help you you need to help us, as we have
discussed. You understand this?"
     "Yes, I understand, but I'm sorry, this is all I know."
     The game went on for about an hour. It was played very cordially, there
was no mistreatment whatsoever. But the undertone  was that they  knew I was
lying through my hind teeth. The only problems were of my own making, when I
failed to keep two steps ahead of him and ended up contradicting myself.
     I did it a couple of times.
     "Andy, are you lying to us?"
     "I'm confused.  You're not  giving me  time to think. I'm worried about
getting home alive. I  don't want  to be in  this  war,  I'm just very, very
     "I  shall give  you  time to think,  Andy, but you  must think clearly,
because we cannot help you unless you help us."
     He started then to  talk about my family life  and  my education. "Have
you got a degree?"
     Degree? I didn't have so much as a CSE.
     "No, I've  got no  qualifications. This  is why  I'm a soldier. In Mrs.
Thatcher's  England, unless  you've got education you can't do anything. I'm
just a  working class person at the  bottom of  the heap. I had  to join the
army because there's nothing else I can do. England is very expensive, there
are many taxes. If I didn't do this I'd starve."
     "Have you any brothers and sisters?"
     "No, I haven't any brothers or sisters. I was an only child."
     "We  need  to  know  your parents'  address  so that  we can send  them
notification that you're  still alive.  They must be  very worried about you
now, Andy. You need to get a message to them; it would make you feel better.
We can do this for you. We are willing to help you, as  long as you help us.
So if  you  would just give me your parents' address,  we shall  send them a
     I explained that my dad  had died of heart trouble,  and my  mother had
run away  and was  now living  somewhere in America.  I  hadn't seen her for
years. I hadn't got any family at all.
     "You  must  have friends  in  England who would need to know  where you
     "I'm just a loner. I drifted into the army. There's nobody."
     I  knew he  didn't  believe  me, but  it was better  than a point-blank
refusal. The end result was the same,  but at  least I didn't get a beasting
in the process.
     "Andy, why do you think the Western armies are here?"
     "I'm not entirely sure. Bush says that he wants the oil  of Kuwait, and
Britain just goes along with  it. Basically we're the servants  of Bush, and
I'm  the servant  of John  Major, the  new  prime  minister. I don't  really
understand this war.  All I know is that I was sent out to do a medic's job.
I have no interest in war; I  don't want to go to war. I was just dragged in
to do  their  dirty work for them. I know Thatcher  and Major are sitting at
home with their gin and tonics,  and Bush is jogging around Camp  David, and
here I am, caught up in something I don't really understand.  Please believe
me --I don't want to be here, and I'm trying to help."
     "Well, we will see you very soon, Andy," he said. "You can go now."
     The blokes behind me picked me up and dragged me away at the  double. I
didn't manage to get my feet  going at their speed, and they dragged  me all
the way  down  the  corridor,  along the  path,  down  the  step, across the
cobbles, and  back to the cell. They put  me back in the corner, in the same
agonizing position.
     When  the door slammed, I let  all my breath out with relief. I started
trying to sort myself out.
     Two minutes later,  the -door banged and crashed, and  a guard came in.
He took off my blindfold, but I didn't look up. The last thing I  wanted was
another  filling in. He walked out again, leaving me to  see my surroundings
for the first time.
     The floor was concrete--really  bad, decaying  concrete, full of little
dips and  very damp.  There was a window to the right of  the door, a small,
slim, long opening.  As I looked up at it, my  eyes fixed on a large hook in
the middle of  the ceiling. My heart started pumping hard. I  had visions of
me hanging up there very soon.
     The walls  had once  been cream but now  were  covered  with  muck. The
surfaces  were chipped  and  etched  with Arabic writing. There were  also a
couple of Nazi swastika signs, and on one  wall  a back view, about A4 size,
of  a dove  flying up towards the sky. The bird had chains  joining its legs
together, and underneath, in English amongst the Arabic, were the words: "To
my only desire, my little  boy Josef, will I  ever see him  again?" It was a
beautiful piece of artwork. I wondered who had done it and what had happened
to him. Was this the last thing that anybody did around here?
     Splashed over the  walls were  two enormous bloodstains,  two  or three
pints of blood per stain, dried onto the plaster. By one of them was a scrap
of  cardboard. I  stared  at it for a while, then shuffled across on my arse
until I was close enough to read what was on it. It was from a box which had
held sachets of fortifying drink. The packaging said how wonderful it was to
drink: it  gave  you vitality and energy. I read more  and  got a shock that
made  my heart jump. The product came from  Brentford in Middlesex. That was
where Kate's mother came from. I knew the place  well; I even knew where the
factory was. Kate still lived there.  It depressed me beyond belief to think
of her. How long  was I going to be here? Was this it for the war?  Was this
it  until they'd  finished  with me?  Would  I  just end  up  as one of  the
statistics of atrocity?
     My defense  was to get  back  to  business  and  think  about  possible
scenarios.  Did we have any more survivors? Had the Iraqis made a connection
between  us  and the compromise at the MSR? Had they already  got people who
had confirmed this,  and were they  just playing games? No, the only  fact I
knew for sure was that they had me and Dinger.
     About a  quarter  of  an  hour later  I heard  muffled  voices  in  the
corridor.  My heart pounded. They  walked on, and  I let go a big breath.  I
heard another door open. Probably Dinger, being taken for an interrogation.
     An  hour later  I heard his door  being slammed and locked down. It was
starting to get last light. It must have been very dark out  in the corridor
because the shadows  weren't coming  under the door any  more. I listened as
all the voices walked  away to the door at the end of the corridor, and then
that was locked as well, for the  first time since we'd  got there. Did that
mean we were there for the night? I hoped so. I needed to get my head down.
     Darkness brought with it a strange sense of security because I couldn't
see, mixed  with dread  because  I was cold  and had time to think. I  tried
sleeping on  my  front,  with  my head resting on  the floor, but  the  best
position turned out to be lying on my  side  with  my  cheek  resting on the
concrete. The  only drawback  was  the  pressure that was exerted on my  hip
bone;  I  had to move  every few  minutes to relieve  it  and  ended  up not
     The glow of Tiny lamps  shimmered under the door, and I heard footsteps
and the jangle of keys. The bolt thudded. They started to kick the door.  It
was  even scarier than in  the daytime. I could hear Dinger's being  done at
the same time. It was all so intimidating: they  had the power and the lamp,
and I was just the dickhead in the corner.
     The door was kicked open. I got myself sitting up. I pulled my knees in
and  got  my head down,  ready  for the  inevitable kicking. They came over,
picked me up, and guided me out into the corridor. My feet were agony, and I
had to  collapse to take the weight  off  them. They dragged me a few meters
and stopped. They took me into  another cell. I  couldn't work out  what was
happening.  Was  it  some  sort  of  punishment  cell?  A   toilet?  Another
interrogation room?
     They pushed me  down to  the  floor.  The handcuffs  were  removed, but
reapplied to the left wrist. My right hand was  free.  The  other  wrist was
handcuffed to something.
     One of them said, "You stay here now."
     They left  the cell, locked the door, and their  footsteps receded down
the corridor.
     I felt with my free  hand to find out what I  was anchored to  and came
into contact with somebody else's arm.
     I couldn't believe it.
     We were chuffed to fuck to be reunited. For  a few  minutes we just sat
there  amazed,  hugging  each  other  and  swapping greetings.  Things  were
absolutely  splendid.  Then we heard footsteps  in the corridor. The  guards
started kicking  the door to come in. I looked at Dinger. His face looked as
disappointed as  I felt. I  looked up as they  came  in, ready to  say: Nice
stitch, guys. But they'd come  back with a  blanket for us to  share. Was it
Saddam's birthday or what?
     "How's your hands?" I whispered into Dinger's  ear, unsure if we'd been
put together because the cell was bugged.
     "Shit state," he said.
     That pleased me. I'd have been pissed off if mine were worse than his.
     "I've still got my map and compass," I said.
     "Yeah, same here. I can't believe."
     "Civvies took it. And yours?"
     "The ruperts had it away."
     "Wankers, the lot of them."
     For  the  next half  an  hour we  were like a couple of kids  comparing
wounds. We took the piss out of the guards and generally let off steam. Then
we got the blanket sorted out so that it was under our arses but also coming
up our backs  an dover our shoulders.  As we  moved around to make ourselves
comfortable, the handcuffs got tighter and tighter.
     Sitting  with him  in  the  darkness,  I learned  what  had happened to
Dinger, Legs, and Bob after we got split up.
     As  they  patrolled  along the  hedge line  Dinger  heard  a noise  and
stopped. Behind him,  Legs and  Bob followed  suit.  They  couldn't shout  a
warning forward. The patrol was split.
     The noise  subsided. They waited  for ten minutes but no one  returned.
They  carried on,  moving on the bearing. They  had only gone 600  feet when
there was a challenge from about 50 feet away.  Two incoming shots went very
close. Then  there was fire from many positions. There was a contact, during
which Bob got separated from the other two.
     Dinger and Legs fired and maneuvred back down to  the river. They heard
a clearing operation about 450 feet  away, lots of firing and  shouting. The
Iraqis were coming down in extended line.
     Dinger  and  Legs  had thirty rounds of  link for the Minimi and a  mag
between  them. There was no way they could fight their way through. They had
no choice but  to cross  the river. They got right down to the  water's edge
and found a small boat. They tried  to unchain it. No luck. They didn't want
to shoot the padlock, so there was only one escape route left.
     The river only looked about 300 feet across and slow flowing. The water
was  so cold  it took Dinger's breath away.  As  they  staggered ashore they
found that all  they'd done was swim a tributary. They were stuck on  a spit
of land in the  middle  of  the river, there was firing  and shouting on the
bank  they'd left, and torch lights flashed over the water.  They looked for
     The spit was overlooked by a  roadblock on a pontoon  about  250 meters
away.  There  was  no  cover;  both  men  were  freezing  cold  and  shaking
convulsively. Legs recce'd around to find how they could get off, and where.
They could still hear all  the  other contacts  going on, including one very
long one with a Minimi. It must have been Bob. Then there was silence.
     Legs  found  a polystyrene  box, which  they  broke up and stuffed down
their smocks for buoyancy. The only exit point from  the spit was guarded by
the  bridge; there was so much  enemy activity that their only chance was to
swim the main river.
     They lay on  the ground for  an hour, waiting for an opportunity. Their
wet  smocks and trousers were icing solid; they had to move. Dinger stalled.
He'd had  a  tough  enough  struggle  getting this far, and  he doubted  his
ability to swim the main river. Legs urged him on. They waded in up to their
waists and started to swim. The river was 1,600 feet across, the current was
flowing fast, and Dinger was soon struggling.
     "We can do it, mate," Legs said. "We can do it."
     At  last,  Dinger's  feet  touched  the  ground.  "That's  bottom,"  he
whispered  as  he staggered onto dry land, instinctively  carrying on up the
shoreline to check for enemy activy.
     Looking back across the river, he saw that the current had carried them
about a kilometer and a half downstream.  He also saw that Legs was still in
the  water. Dinger  ran down  to the  water's edge and hauled him  out. Legs
couldn't stand.
     Dinger  had seen  a  small  pump-hut about  30  feet from the  bank. He
dragged  Legs up to it and carried him inside.  Dinger was so tired  himself
now that it took him two hours to get the wet clothes off him.
     It was first light.  Dinger  carried Legs out into  the sun, no  longer
caring about a compromise: the most important  thing was  to keep him alive.
People  were starting to  work in the  fields,  forcing  Dinger to drag  the
injured  man  in and  out. He  knew  it wouldn't  be  long before  they were
discovered. There seemed to be hundreds of troops on the ground.
     Legs  was  going  to  die. Dinger  had to make a decision: did he  stay
concealed and just watch him die, or did he compromise the position and give
Legs  the chance of medical attention? It didn't  take much  thinking about.
Dinger left the hut and stood around until a farmer spotted him.
     Dinger ran back  inside and closed the door behind him. The farmer  ran
up, locked  it, and took off  into the fields ranting and raving. Dinger had
already organized an avenue of escape from  the back of the hut. Legs was by
the generator, his breathing labored.  Dinger told him what he was doing and
left. He didn't know if Legs understood. He hoped he did.
     He was running along the floor of  a dry wadi when a local spotted him.
Soon  there  were  whole  groups  of  them,  twenty  or thirty  at  a  time,
paralleling him on either bank. They started shooting.  He knew he was going
to  get caught, but he  kept running. He'd had his shamag around his head to
try and  pass himself  off as a  local; when they finally converged on  him,
they knocked him  down  and  used it  to bind his hands behind his back.  As
Dinger looked up, he saw one of them pull a  knife. The  man  started to cut
his ear off.
     Dinger reckoned this was as good a time as any to  indicate the gold on
his belt. The locals thought it was Christmas. Off it came, and they started
squabbling about it. When they had sorted themselves out,  they frog marched
Dinger into their town.
     The  civvies were trying to pull  him apart.  Several shots were fired,
and he thought the end was near. But the  shooting had come  from a squad of
jundies; they waded into the mob and  pulled him clear. There must have been
some sort of order or reward to deliver prisoners alive.
     He  was put into a convoy of  vehicles,  and they crossed back over the
river and  drove  to a  camp. Everybody was  excited; Dinger  was  the first
white-eye they'd caught.
     He was  handcuffed  to a  chair in  a room full of officers. They spoke
good  English and asked  him  the Big Four. Then they said,  "What  is  your
mission?" to which he replied: "I cannot answer that question."
     They said that things would  get very bad  for him if he  didn't answer
the questions: this was war.  They asked him again, and he started to reply.
He got as far as "I cannot ..." and they launched him.  He was kicked to the
floor and filled in. It sounded as though there  was a competition going on;
there  was a  lot  of  high  spirits and  chat. Dinger  was starting  to get
     The  beasting  went  on  for  about thirty minutes.  No questions  were
actually being asked. Then one of the  officers jumped up and left the room,
and one of them said, "You will be sorry now."
     The  man returned with a wooden pole about 4  feet long and 3 inches in
diameter. He waded straight into Dinger with it.
     It  only  lasted for about  ninety seconds, but Dinger was sure he  was
going to die. He started going into the cover story.
     They asked how many people there were in the search and rescue package,
and when Dinger  said, "I cannot answer that  question," they started  again
with the pole.
     They brought in  an empty 66 and a 203  and  asked  him how the weapons
worked. Dinger refused to show them, which earned him another seeing to with
the pole. Then Dinger thought: It's a weapon, for Christ's sake, not a state
secret. They could find out how to work it from a copy of Jane's.
     He told them the pilot rescue story,  and it  seemed to work  well, but
this was an early stage in the questioning. He knew things were going to get
a whole lot worse.
     We compared notes  on the rest of the patrol. The last thing Dinger had
seen of Legs was him  lying on a stretcher, absolutely motionless. As far as
he was  concerned, Legs  was  dead. We  had  no idea  about Bob. Dinger  had
thought he was with us, and we had thought he was with them. Dinger had seen
some  of Bob's equipment when we first got  moved to Baghdad; it was part of
his  webbing and it was badly  burnt. It didn't bode well. Whilst I had been
getting interrogated just after capture, Dinger was in another room with all
our captured equipment.
     "They had some weapons there. The blokes were fucking about with a 203,
and I started shouting to leave  it alone  because it still  had a round in.
All I got for my pains was a smack in the mouth. The nuggets fired  it,  and
it went off."
     Luckily for  Dinger,  a  40mm bomb needs to travel about 60 feet before
the  inertia device kicks in and it self-arms. The  bomb hit the ceiling and
bounced  down  again. Allah  was  smiling  on him that  day: if the bomb had
popped it would have taken everybody in the room.
     "There was a mega flap at that stage, and obviously I got filled in for
it," he said.
     We were rolling  up about the 203 but trying hard not to giggle. It was
such a relief to  listen to  Dinger's voice again. All my problems seemed to
fade away.
     "The sergeant major picked up a compass, and the knobber didn't  have a
clue what he was doing with it," Dinger  went on. "He knew it was a compass,
but  he really didn't know how  to use it. He daren't lose face  in front of
the jundies, so  he acted as if he knew. It really kept me happy. He had the
fucking  thing upside down  trying to open it, and there  was me, keeping my
head  down, a bit of  a  smile on  my face, trying not to  laugh. They  were
dragging  little  bits  and  pieces  like  batteries  out  of the  kit,  and
everything to them was  an explosive. They obviously  thought everything was
going to blow up in their faces."
     We  lapsed into a  phase of seriousness and wondered if Stan  and Vince
were still alive. As  far as I  was  concerned, Stan  was likely to be dead.
He'd  been  on the way  out on  the  first night of the  E&E, and I couldn't
imagine him suddenly improving.
     "Bastard!" I said. "I gave him my bobble-hat."
     It  genuinely annoyed me  that he still  had  my hat  and was  dead and
didn't need it any more.
     "That bastard's always  got  all the  kit,"  Dinger  said. "I  bet he's
already nicked God's anorak."
     We  weren't  sure about  Vince  and  Chris. On  the assumption that  if
anybody was  alive they'd  be with us now, they, like Bob, were either still
on the run or dead.
     The only question we didn't have an answer  for was why they had put us
together. What did it mean? That they believed our story? That they hoped we
were going to start waffling and  they would listen in? The  only conclusion
we came to was that  we wouldn't waste time  and  energy thinking  about it,
we'd just take advantage of being together.
     The crash of the  bolt being  undone on the  door at the far end of the
corridor concentrated our minds wonderfully.  Footsteps  echoed again on the
tiled floor,  and the  glow of Tiny  lamps invaded  the cell. Boots  thumped
against the door to  force it open. Oh shit, oh no, I thought, they're going
to split us up now.
     Two guards  appeared. The first presented us  with a pitcher of  water.
The second guard was carrying bowls that were steaming.
     The blanket, the water, the soup--it was like staying at the Ritz. This
was all rather  pleasant, room service coming in and pampering us like this.
I wondered if I could trouble them for a copy of the FT.
     We looked up at them with  our blanket  around  our shoulders, grinning
like a couple of grateful refugees.
     "American?" they asked.
     "No, British."
     "No Tel Aviv?"
     "No. British. England. London."
     "Ah, London. Football. Manchester United. Football. Good."
     "Yeah, Liverpool."
     "Ah, Liverpool. Bobby Moore! Good."
     We  didn't  say a word to each other until the  door had slammed firmly
shut. Then I turned to  Dinger, and in unison we muttered "Wankers!" and had
a giggle.
     The  bowls  held a hot liquid  that tasted vaguely  of  onions. In  the
pitcher there  must have been four pints of water, and it tasted better than
vintage champagne. In theory, you've really got to take your time and sip it
slowly. In practice, because you can't trust the bastards not to come in and
whisk it away again from under your nose, you are forced to rush it. The big
danger then is that all you achieve is the feeling of wetness on your throat
and a swollen belly.
     We tried to settle down. The handcuffs  dictated  that we had to lie on
our backs.  We got the  blanket over us, and I stared  at the  ceiling. Very
soon my nose started twitching. Dinger stank, he absolutely stank.
     "Your poor wife," I  said. "Imagine sleeping  with a stinking mess like
you every night--it must be like kip ping next to a grizzly bear."
     Just a minute or  two later, I  was gripped by a fearsome urge. It must
have been the onions.
     "Dinger, mate--I wanna go a pooh-pooh."
     Dinger  grudgingly hauled himself into a  half-lying position  with his
hand in the air so I could get as far away from him as possible.
     I struggled to get my  trousers  down, trying hard  not  to tighten the
ratchet on the cuffs.
     "For fuck's sake  get on  with  it," he  moaned.  "Let's get  our heads
     At last  I was  in  position, and I  emptied my arse. Wet,  gooey  shit
sprayed all over the place.
     "Oh,  fucking  cheers," said Dinger  indignantly.  "This is  my  house,
this--would you do this in your own place?"
     I couldn't help myself. It kept on coming.
     "No consideration. I had to work hard for all  this. You invite  people
over, you offer them dinner, and how do they repay you? They drop their arse
all over your nice carpet."
     I was laughing  so  much I fell back into  it, and  there wasn't much I
could do except pull my trousers back up and lie down. It wasn't the best of
situations, but at least there were three compensations. I'd done it in  his
cell, not mine, it was warm on my legs, and it would be his turn next.
     We put  half of  the blanket  under us for insulation  and got snuggled
down, sharing body heat.
     During the night  we  heard the  guards  coming  and  going  and  doors
banging. Each time I'd dread they were coming for us, but they always passed
by and kept on going.
     At  one point we heard a door in the distance being kicked open and the
muffled screams and shouts  and moans and groans  of somebody getting filled
in. You strain to hear, but you only  get bits  and pieces. To hear somebody
else  in pain like that is a horrible thing. You're not particularly worried
about  who  it  is.  You  don't  know,  so  you  don't  care.  But  it's  so
demoralizing, because  you're  so defenseless  and  you know it could be you
     We heard, "Naughty boy.  Stand! Bad boy.  Bad boy' Then  the  sound  of
something like  a plate  being  thrown across a room and  banging on to  the
     Could it be "Stan" they were saying? We tried our hardest to hear more,
but  the noise subsided. At  least  we knew there was somebody else  in  the
equation, even  if we  didn't know whether it was one of us. But whoever  he
was, he could pose a threat. Dinger  and I were  reasonably content that our
stories  squared  up;  another  person  on  the  scene, however, a person we
couldn't get to  speak to,  could mean that the  rug was  about to be pulled
from under us. I  felt my  happiness  evaporate. The  only thought  I  could
console myself with was that Dinger and I were still together.
     Suddenly,  as  if it was sent  deliberately  to  calm  me,  I heard the
welcome noise of  bombers going through the sky about a mile away. I felt an
instant surge of hope. If we took hits, then we had means of escape.
     We  spent  the rest  of the night together. Every time  we  heard doors
banging we  thought  they  were  coming  to separate us,  and  we  said  our
goodbyes. Finally, some time in the morning, our cell door was  kicked open.
I was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken away.
     I knew I was being taken for another interrogation; I knew the route so
well. Out  of the door, turn right,  up the  corridor,  turn left, over  the
cobblestones,  up the step, along the pathway, past the bushes, into a room.
I assumed it was the same room.
     They pushed me onto a chair and held me there.
     "Good morning, Andy," The Voice said. "How are you this morning?"
     "Fine, thank you very much," I said. "Thank  you  for the blanket. It's
very cold at night."
     "Yes, it is very cold. As you can see, Andy, we do take care of you. We
take care of people who help us. And you will help us, Andy, will you not?"
     "Yes, I've told you, I'll help as much as I can."
     "There are just  a few matters that we need  to clear  up this morning,
Andy. You see, we are not totally  convinced that you're not Jewish. We need
proof. Tell  us  if  you  are,  because this  will  stop  a lot of pain  and
discomfort for you. What is your religion?"
     "Church of England."
     "What is Church of England?"
     "It's Christian."
     "Who do you worship?"
     "I worship God."
     "I see. And who is Jesus?"
     I explained.
     "Who is Mary?"
     I explained.
     "Andy, do you understand that we worship the same God, you and I? I'm a
Muslim, and I worship the same God as you."
     "Yes, I understand."
     "Are you religious, Andy?"
     "Yes, I am religious. I take my religion seriously."
     "Tell me how you pray in the Christian world."
     "We can pray on our knees, we  can pray standing up, it all depends, it
doesn't matter. It's a very personal thing."
     When I was a junior soldier at Shorncliffe there was a battalion church
parade every fourth Sunday. You had to wear your best uniform and boots, and
march smartly all the  way from  the camp to the garrison  church.  It was a
bind, because as a boy soldier you  only get one  full day off a week, which
was  Sunday-and that was only  if you weren't behind  the  CO on the  Friday
morning cross-country run: otherwise it was another run on Sunday. Even then
you couldn't  go  home because  you  weren't allowed  out until  nine in the
morning and had to be  back by eight  at night. So all in all I wasn't  best
pleased with church parade and never paid much  attention to  what was going
on. Now I was desperately trying to remember all the  bits and pieces of the
services and make myself sound like the devout est Bible-thumper since Billy
     "When do you fast? When do Christians fast?"
     Did we fast? I just didn't know.
     "We don't fast."
     His tone changed. "You're lying to us, Andy. You're lying! We know that
Christians fast."
     He told me  about  Lent. You learn  something every day. I hadn't known
that Catholics fasted.
     "I'm a Protestant," I Said. "It's different."
     He seemed to calm down.
     "So  tell  me  about  the festivals. What foods do you  eat? What foods
don't you eat?"
     I was  racking my brain faying to remember what happened at times  like
Harvest Festival and Easter.
     "Protestants eat all foods. We  actually celebrate the fact that we can
eat what we can, when we can. It's a very liberal religion."
     "So you don't have to keep away from pork?"
     "Look, Andy, just tell us  if you're a Jew, that's all we need to know.
If you're lying to us, you know you will be punished."
     Another bloke  to  my  half  right  joined  in,  also speaking in  good
English. He told me he'd been to Sandhurst.
     "When is St. George's Day?"
     I didn't have a clue.
     "St. Swithin's?"
     Same response.
     "How do you have burials? How do you mourn? How long for?"
     I ducked and weaved for the next two hours.
     Finally The Voice said, "What would you say, Andy, if I was to tell you
that we know you are Jews and can prove it?"
     "You're mistaken. I'm not a Jew."
     "Right. Tell me what you know about Judaism."
     "You've got orthodox  Jews with long  matted hair,  and they don't  eat
pork. That's all. We don't mix with the Jewish community."
     "Well, tell me, have you ever had a Jewish girlfriend? Do  you know any
Jews in England? Tell me their names and where they live. How would you know
if they were Jews?"
     "I've never had anything to do with Jewish women."
     "Why not, Andy, are you homosexual?"
     "No, I'm not homosexual, but in England we have definite racial groups,
and there's not  too much  intermixing. The Jewish community keep themselves
to themselves, and you don't really have that much contact with them because
they're very insular."
     "How big is the Jewish community in England?"
     "I have no idea. We don't really mix."
     The questions went  on and on, and the answers I could give became more
and  more limited. I was getting boxed into a corner.  Then I suddenly had a
thought. I couldn't believe that it hadn't come to me sooner.
     "I can prove I'm not a Jew."
     "How can you prove that?"
     "Because I have a foreskin."
     "What? What is a foreskin?"
     There  was  lots of gob bing  off in Arabic,  and  the sound  of  paper
rustling. Perhaps they were checking a dictionary.
     "I can show you,"  I said helpfully.  "If you undo my hands,  I'll show
you what a foreskin is."
     Still they couldn't comprehend what I was talking about.
     "How do you spell foreskin?"
     I could hear  the bloke scribbling away. A soldier on each side clamped
a hand on my shoulders, and somebody undid one of my handcuffs.
     "What are you going to do, Andy? You must tell us what you are going to
do first."
     "Well, I'll unzip and get my penis out, and I'll show you that I have a
     I stood  up  and pulled out my cock.  I  got  hold of the  foreskin and
stretched it as far out as I could.
     "See, I  have  a  foreskin!  Jews  are circumcised  as  part  of  their
religion. They have the foreskin taken off."
     The room rocked  with laughter. They were rolling up. As I  did  myself
up, I was pushed back on to the chair. The handcuffs went back on.
     They were  having  a  huge giggle  about this  foreskin business.  They
babbled on in Arabic, occasionally throwing in the word "foreskin."
     "Would you like some food, Andy?"
     "Yes,  thank you very  much,  I'd  love  some food,"  I  said.  And  as
everybody  was  in such a good mood, I added, "And something to drink, if  I
could, please."
     A hand came up and put a date in my mouth.
     They all  carried on laughing as if I wasn't  there, and I  was  rather
pleased  with myself  because things  were going  rather well.  I didn't get
anything to drink though. I sat there with  the stone in my mouth, wondering
what I was going to do with it. I didn't want to swallow it because it would
stick in my throat and  I didn't have  anything  to wash it  down  with. The
Sandhurst officer must have realized  my problem, because  he gob bed off at
the guard and the bloke  put his hand  under my  chin and  I spat  the stone
carefully into his hand.
     The room was still buzzing with chat about foreskins.
     I had  a sudden thought. I  didn't know what everybody else's condition
in the patrol was, whether they had foreskins or  not. It dawned on  me that
Bob  looked  dark  and Mediterranean.  If they had his body, they could have
taken him for a Jew, and we were getting the good news as a result.
     "Of course,  Christians  as well as Jews get  circumcised, for  medical
reasons," I said. "Some parents want their children circumcised at birth. So
it's not just Jews that are circumcised."
     "Tell me more, Andy. You told me Jews  are  circumcised  at birth.  Now
you're telling me  that Christians are circumcised at birth as well. This is
confusing. Are you lying to us?"
     "No,  it  all  depends on  the  parents. Some  people  think  it's more
     They found  this ever so funny, and I was chuffed  that there was a bit
of laughter going on. I wondered how I could keep them going.
     "We shall talk some more very soon, Andy," The Voice said.
     I was dragged to my feet and taken back to my old  cell. Once again,  I
was on my own and handcuffed.
     I heard Dinger being put back into his cell some time later. Then there
was silence, and we were both left to our own devices for a number of hours.
     Later that afternoon they came for me again.
     "Tell  us  more about the  helicopter,  Andy," The Voice said as  I was
pushed onto the chair. "What sort of helicopter was it?"
     "It was a Chinook."
     "Why a Chinook?"
     "I  don't know  why  it was a Chinook; that's just  the  helicopter  we
     "Where did you land?"
     "I  have  no  idea  where we landed.  It was nighttime.  We're  soldier
medics, not navigators; we just sit in the back."
     "Do you know if the helicopter took off again?"
     "I have no idea what happened to it."
     "If it crashed on the ground and you know where it is, we could find it
for you and maybe find the rest of your friends."
     There was a brief pause, and then he said,  "Look, Andy, we can find no
aircraft anywhere. It  must  have  taken off  and  left you, or you  must be
     "No, I'm not lying."
     I went  through  the  story  again.  As  I  spoke,  I  was  interrupted
constantly by questions.
     "Andy,  I'll  ask  you again, one  more  time.  Do you  know where  you
     "No, I've no idea where  I landed. I've told you, I can't tell you  any
more. I don't  know anything else. Why  keep  on asking me?  I  really don't
know. I want to help. All I want to do is go back to England."
     His tone was shifting now. He was  getting  more grave.  "How much fuel
does the helicopter hold?"
     "I haven't  got a clue. I don't know anything about that. I just get in
the helicopters, I don't know anything about them."
     And that was  more  or  less true. I had never known anything technical
that  I  didn't  need to know. With a weapon, all I want to know is  how  it
works, what kind of ammunition it fires, and what to  do when it goes wrong.
I don't want to know the muzzle velocity and stuff like  that, because it is
immaterial. You aim, press  the trigger, it goes bang, it fires a round. The
same principle applied to  helicopters and other bits of kit. I am downright
wary, as most professional soldiers are, of anyone who can come out with all
the  statistical   facts.   Sometimes   people  use  these  to   mask  their
inadequacies.  They might  know  all  the bumpf, but  it's  "hands on"  that
     This line of questioning was irrelevant anyway; they could have got any
of the  information  out  of Jane's.  It was  taking  up  time though, which
couldn't  be bad-and I wasn't  getting beaten. I sat  there, acting confused
and  humble  as  usual.  The only problem  was  that they were  getting more
serious about  it and accusing me of  not helping.  But I must have  sounded
genuine because I was. I didn't have a clue.
     "How does the ramp come down?"
     "Somebody presses a button."
     "Where's the button?"
     "I don't know .. ."
     They gave  up, and  I  was  taken back to the  cell. It  was  dark.  My
blindfold  was off, but the handcuffs were still  on. I had long since  lost
all sense or feeling in my fingers and hands. The flesh on my wrists had now
swollen so much it covered the bracelets. My hands were like balloons.
     I heard them toing and froing  with  Dinger as_ well and then they came
back for me. It was the third interrogation within what  felt like the space
of  twenty-four hours. This was the scariest, because  they  fetched  me  in
pitch darkness.
     The  Voice  started by going over some  of the  helicopter stuff again.
Then I got questions on the big war plan.
     "Schwarzkopf and his Allies--how do they plan to invade?"
     "I don't know."
     "Will they invade Iraq?"
     "I don't know."
     "How many aircraft are there?"
     "I don't know."
     "How many Syrian soldiers are preparing to invade Iraq from Syria?"
     "I don't know."
     "Do you think  it is  a feasible idea that they should invade Iraq from
     "I don't know."
     "Will Israel invade Iraq?"
     "I don't know."
     "Well, how many soldiers have the British got here?"
     "That I do know. I read it in the newspaper. Forty to fifty thousand, I
think. It doesn't really interest me, I'm afraid."
     "How many tanks are there ready to invade Kuwait and Iraq?"
     "I don't know."
     "I don't know."
     "Does Bush realize that he's killing our women and children?"
     This was  weird stuff, but  wonderful: at least I wasn't getting filled
in,  and they  weren't bringing up the fact that they had  lost a lot of men
during the contacts.
     Again there were lots of pauses, and: "Andy, you're not helping me. You
must know how many aircraft there are."
     I was profoundly tired. It had been more or less  impossible to  sleep,
and I was very hungry and thirsty. I was gagging for a drink.
     In daylight, with the usual scary noise, the guards kicked the door  in
and brought me a pitcher of water. It was horrible minging stuff that looked
as  if it  had  been  dredged up  from a drain, but  I  wasn't  particularly
bothered.  It was  wet.  And  even if  it  made me  ill, at least  I was  re
hydrating--unless I brought it up again.
     They wanted to take the pitcher back with them, so  I  was to  drink it
all in one go. They took off my blindfold for the first time since the first
interrogation,  undid my handcuffs, and stood over me as I sat  on the floor
and grasped the pitcher in both hands.
     I  started drinking.  My broken teeth exploded  with pain as  the  cold
water hit the stumps. As I looked past their legs and out into the corridor,
I saw Stan. Stan was about 6'4",  and  he was being dragged  by men who only
came up to his armpits. The whole of his head, including his beard, was dark
red and matted. On  one side  his scalp was split open in a  big, glistening
gash. His  trousers were  caked with blood  and mud and shit. His  eyes were
closed,  and he  was  moaning and groaning  to himself. He was  totally  and
utterly  gone. He  was  hobbling  and stooped, well  past  the "injured  and
confused"  stage  of bluffing. He made me feel like I'd just  come  out of a
health farm.  It was the first time I had  seen  him since  we had  tried to
contact the jets with the TACBEs.
     I  remembered the  night Dinger  and I  had heard what  we thought  was
guards  commanding somebody to get  up. "Stand, bad boy! Stand!" So they had
been mispronouncing his name after all.
     The guards turned and saw what I was looking at.
     They  kicked the pitcher  out of my hands and went  berserk  with their
     "No look!" they screamed. "No look!"
     It  was  the  first  kicking  I'd   received  since   the   very  first
interrogation, and I could have done without it. Whether they had screwed up
by leaving the door open or it was all intentional, I had no idea.
     I curled up on the damp concrete. My teeth were raging but I counted my
blessings: the guards had forgotten to put my handcuffs back on.
     I felt sick, but I was  trying hard to keep  it down.  I didn't want to
dehydrate.  Finally I  couldn't  help  myself, and retched. All the precious
fluid I had gained I lost again.
     I heard  Dinger being moved; I  didn't hear Stan being  brought back. A
short while  later they came for me. It was routine by now. They blindfolded
and handcuffed me, and dragged me off without saying a word.
     There was a long, long silence as I sat on my  chair. I could hear feet
shuffling and pens scribbling. I could smell all the same smells.
     Nothing happened for what seemed like an hour.
     "Andy," I heard.  "Today we want the truth out of you It was The Voice,
but in a new guise. Firm now, impatient, no nonsense.
     "We  know that you've been  lying. We've tried to help  you. You're not
helping us at all. Therefore we will get the truth out of you in other ways.
Do you understand what I mean?"
     "Yes,  I understand what you mean, but I don't know what you want. I've
told you everything I know. I am trying to help."
     "Right. Why are you in Iraq?"
     I went through the same old story. Before I  had  even finished, he was
up and walking around.
     "That's all I know," I said, blindly trying to locate where  he  was in
the room.
     "You're lying to us!" he screamed in my  face. "We know!  We  know that
you're lying!"
     My face  was pulled up, and The Voice started slapping  me hard. Guards
on either side held me up by the shoulders.
     It stopped, and he shouted at me, from so close I could feel his breath
on my cheek. "How do we know that you're lying? Because we have your signals
operator in  hospital, that's  why. He's  been captured,  and  he's  told us
     It  was  possible. Maybe Legs  was still  alive,  and  in  his physical
condition he  might have said  anything. Or everything. But The Voice hadn't
told me what Legs had said. Was it a bluff?
     "You are lying, aren't you, Andy?"
     "No, I'm not lying. I can't help you any more. I  am trying to help but
I just don't know anything."
     I was doing the pleading bit now, because I was flapping good style.  I
was trying to think of a reason why they should have told me this.
     More  slaps  and  I  went down.  They picked  me up  and  took  off the
handcuffs. Before I had time to wonder why, they  started to strip me. I had
sudden visions of them cutting my cock off.
     They  ripped my  shirt off and  pulled down my trousers. This is  it, I
thought: this is where they fuck me.
     But they  pushed  me down on  to the chair  and held my head forward. I
took a deep breath and waited.
     It  must have been a piece of four-by-two or  the end foot  or so of an
oar. Whoomph! The shock of it hitting me--whoomph! ivhoomph!--I screamed out
like an idiot.  They  worked their way all over my back  and head with it. I
must have been unconscious before I hit the floor. '
     I  came to, groaning  and mumbling, and they  hoisted me up and  put me
back on the chair.
     "You will tell us everything, Andy. We want it from  you. We  know what
has happened. We have your signals operator. He's told us he's your  signals
     That had to have come from Legs. He was the signals operator. Was he in
     I denied, denied, denied.
     They punched and slapped, smashed the paddle in  a  frenzy on  my back.
Then they stopped for  five  minutes, as if they were resting, getting their
strength back.
     "Why are you doing this to yourself, Andy? Just tell us what we need to
     They started up again.
     I got my first  hit with what felt like a metallic ball on the end of a
stick, like some sort of medieval mace. It thumped into my neck and arms and
kidneys with terrible precision.  I went down again,  screaming my head off.
This was way out of control. This was when I was going to die.
     As I hit  the floor, the lads behind me started to give me a kicking. I
screamed again and again.
     The Voice screamed back at me. "You're lying! You will tell us!"
     It went on and on, I didn't know for how long. They'd kick, get me back
up, slap me around the face, whack me with the metal ball and wooden paddle.
I could hear them breathing hard with the exertion of it all.
     The Voice would shout at me, and I would shout back.
     "Fucking  hell," I  bawled,  "I don't know, I  don't  know anything for
fuck's sake!"
     He gob bed off at the boys in Arabic,  and they started up  again  with
another kicking.
     I went down time and again.
     Pain upon pain.
     It hurt, it really hurt.
     They stopped kicking and lifted me up.  I  was dragged out of the room,
my chest  bare and my trousers still round my ankles.  As soon as we got out
into  the courtyard,  there was the  reception committee.  I  was kicked and
punched all  the way down. I got  one kick up the arse, and I really thought
they'd  split my rectum.  I thought  my  insides were  falling  out.  I went
straight down, howling like a pig.
     They threw me into the cell,  blindfolded, handcuffed, and  naked,  and
left me. My breathing was very shallow. When I had recovered sufficiently to
sit  up, I  checked  myself for  broken bones. I clung to  the memory of the
lecture by the  Marine aviator. The Viet Cong had broken every major bone in
his  body during the course of his six years in jail.  In comparison,  I was
having a picnic.
     "I was told the bigger and harder you were the quicker they would leave
you alone. This I soon discovered was untrue. They can do whatever they want
with you. The  only thing they cannot break  is your mental state. Only  you
can let that collapse.  My head stayed clear,  and every day it  said to me:
"Fuck 'em." That's what kept' me alive."
     My body was in far better condition than his had been, and  my mind was
definitely clear. So then--fuck 'em.
     It was dark. I had been lying there for ages. I hadn't noticed the cold
at  first: the pain had blocked  out such  trifles. Now  I was  starting  to
shiver. I thought, if this carries on  for many  more days, I've had it--I'm
going to get well and truly done in here.
     I could  hear screaming and shouting in the other rooms, but  I  wasn't
taking much notice of it because I was too involved in my own  little world,
my own little universe of pain and bruises and broken teeth.
     The others would be getting the same as me, but it was a world away. It
was in the distance, it did  not concern me. All I  did was wait for my turn
     From  then, and for what  must have  been quite  a  few  days,  it just
carried on. Hour after hour, day after day, beating after beating, taking my
turn with the other two, lying curled up, cold and in pain, waiting  for the
terrifying noise of the door being kicked open,  the  worst sound I had ever
     "Andy, this is your last chance; tell us what we need to know."
     "I don't know anything."
     I knew one  thing.  I  knew the  other  two weren't  giving up  because
otherwise  my  interrogations  would have stopped. I kept saying  to myself,
It's not going to be me, I'm not going to let them down, I'm not going to be
the one to put the others in the shit.
     It was a haze. Two  or three  interrogations per twenty-four hours. Day
after day. Always the same stuff. Always a little bit harder to bear.
     Then  they found new ways of hurting me. Twice they held me down on the
seat, pushed my  head  down, while they flogged  me with  a whip  with thick
thongs. And when they had finished, the others joined in with the paddle and
     After one session I was sitting on the chair,  still  naked, my mind  a
blur of anguish. The Voice talked quietly and conspiratorially in my ear.
     "Andy, we need to  talk. You're in very bad condition.  You're going to
die very soon,  but you're still not  helping us.  I  cannot understand  it.
We'll get the information out of you, you know we will. One of you will tell
us,  there's no  big problems. Why make it harder on yourself? Look,  do you
want me to show you how bad we can be?"
     There was a rubbing  sore on the inside of my thigh about two inches in
diameter. It was a weeping, seeping thing, red and raw. I heard the chinking
of metal and the hiss of a paraffin heater being turned up. Hands gripped my
shoulders and pinned me to the chair.
     The back of the spoon was red-hot as  he ran it over an dover the sore.
The stench of burning flesh made me gag. I howled like a dog.
     Spoon. Scream. Spoon. Scream.
     He rubbed it in small circles and little crisscross grids.
     I jumped up, so violently that  the blokes couldn't  hold me. I  yelled
and yelled in an effort to release the pain.
     They got me back on to the chair.
     "Do you see, Andy? It's pointless. Just tell us what we want to know."
     Legs told them fuck all.  They wouldn't be  doing  all this just to get
his information confirmed. And  they hadn't said what  information  Legs was
supposed to have told them. It was  a load of old bollocks. If he could hold
out, so could I.
     People came  in and  out of the cells all the time now. The sound track
was just screaming and shouting and the horrific banging of the sheet  metal
     The guards  must  have had a beasting roster. Teams came  in  every two
hours or  so,  hollering  and  shouting  and  filling  us in. We were  still
handcuffed and blindfolded.
     "Stand up! Sit down!"
     As you're trying to do it,  they're punching and kicking. Sometimes I'd
fall into a semiconscious state after just a few punches, sometimes I'd just
be there,  breathing heavily and taking it. Sometimes they'd come in  with a
length  of hose, which hurt incredibly on my  kidneys and back. My  body was
becoming even more of a mess, but the worst bit about it was hearing them in
Stan's or Dinger's room. Not so much because I was concerned for them--there
was nothing I could  do to help, and they were big and ugly  enough  to take
it-but because it meant that it was going to be my turn soon.
     One time, by way of a change, the interrogation started off  all rather
     "You're in a terrible condition, aren't you, Andy?"
     "Yeah, I'm in terrible condition."
     My mouth was so matted with scabs and swellings I  could hardly get the
words out.
     "How are your teeth--they were giving you some problems before?"
     "I've got some smashed in at the back.  They hurt." I continued to play
the humble dickhead. And at this stage I was totally out of the game anyway.
My teeth were agony--more painful than the worst toothache I'd ever had, and
then some.
     "I have arranged for somebody to  come in and sort that out," The Voice
said soothingly.  "We have a  dentist  here.  In fact,  he  worked in  Guy's
Hospital in London for nine years. He's one of the best."
     My blindfold was removed. The dentist appeared and said, "Hello, Andy."
He got me to open wide, and gently and reassuringly he peered into my mouth.
He sounded sympathetic as he took some instruments from a bag.
     "Open wide again, Andy, please," he said in perfect English. "Oh, dear,
that is bad, but I'll soon sort it out for you."
     I had my suspicions, but there was nothing I could do. I opened as wide
as I could for him, and the cunt gripped the  first stump of  tooth with the
pliers and twisted hard.
     I screamed and blood gushed from my mouth.
     "Do  you really think we're going to help you?" The Voice laughed.  "Do
you really think we're  going  to help you, you despicable heap of shit?  We
could  just leave you to die, you know--you're so  irrelevant  to us. Who do
you think is  going to  help you, Andy? Your  government? You can't  believe
that. John  Major doesn't care  about lumps of excrement like you. No, Andy,
the  only one  who  can  help  you  is yourself. Why  are you doing this  to
yourself?  You're  going through  this for nothing. You're stupid, a stupid,
misguided fool, and your teeth are going to come out one by one."
     I couldn't answer. I was screaming. I knew that I was going to die. And
I knew now that it wouldn't be clean and quick.
     We  had been stripped  of all  clothing  for several days now and  left
exposed to the damp and bitter cold. We were getting beaten regularly in the
cells  and  tortured   to   the  point   of   unconsciousness   during   the
interrogations.  We were put in  stress positions in the cells,  blindfolded
and handcuffed, and we had to stay that way. They'd come in and beat us when
we toppled over. The combined effects were taking more and more of a toll.
     There was bombing every  night, and sometimes it would be close. On one
occasion the place  was rattling  on  its foundations, and the  guards  were
yelling and running around.
     I was lying on the floor  listening  to the  noise,  and I heard myself
screaming at the top of my voice: "Do it! Fucking bomb me! I'm down here!"
     I really  thought they were going to carry on with it until I was dead.
I wanted it over with now. I wanted the pain to stop.
     Heavy ordnance makes a buzzing  sort  of sound  as it falls. I fixed my
attention on each buzz and willed it to land in my cell. The building rocked
and trembled. I felt the pressure waves of high explosive. It was the  first
time I had ever wanted to die, and I just wanted and wanted them to do it. I
had reached the lowest point of my life.
     For fifteen minutes one night I found God. The Supreme Being was in the
top right-hand corner of the cell, and I had a little discussion with him.
     "Come and  help  me now," I pleaded. "If you  help me now, I'll be your
best  mate for ever. If you're there, fucking do  something  about  this. We
need your help now--all of us. If you're there, do it,  and  I'll be putting
pennies in your pot every day."
     I said  as much of the Lord's Prayer as  I could  remember from school,
but nothing happened. God did not exist.
     I was  slowly  dying. Your body tells you. The  cell  was awash with my
shit and piss. I slept in it. It covered me.
     Sometimes they'd bring me a drink.
     One night a gang of guards came in.
     "Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv," one of them said.
     "No, British," I mumbled, "I'm British."
     "Foreskin," he demanded. He'd  obviously heard  the story and wanted to
see for himself.
     I motioned that I couldn't  do  anything because of the  handcuffs, and
they undid them.
     Still blindfolded, I  fumbled with my swollen, numb fingers to find  my
cock. I stretched out the foreskin, and they roared with laughter.
     Two  of them grabbed my  arms  from  behind.  One in  front  of me  was
slapping something in the palm of his hand. I heard a slight swishing sound,
then all my world was  pain. My  knees buckled. The guard in front of me had
raised something like a riding  crop in  the  air and tonked it down hard on
the end of my cock. They hooted as I screamed and writhed on the ground.
     They  bent  over  me and prodded  and flicked at my bollocks.  Again  I
wondered if I was going to get fucked, but the difference this time was that
I was way past caring. But that  wasn't  what they had in mind. With a final
kick to my balls that left me  retching with agony, they handcuffed me again
and left, still chortling.
     One day they came into my cell, screaming and shouting. One of them was
carrying a newspaper. The frontpage story that  he shoved  under my nose was
of the
     Allied bombings the day before. The  Iraqis had lined up all the bodies
of  the children  that had  been  killed. There  was a photograph  of  their
distraught  mothers  weeping over their little forms. The guards slapped and
punched  me  furiously, as  if  I was personally  responsible for  what  had
happened. It developed into the normal filling in,  followed by  a 10-minute
recovery  period,  and  another filling in. When  I finally flaked out, they
left me.
     When I came to, I saw that they'd left  the newspaper behind. I crawled
over and  checked  the front  page  for  something  that I  remembered  from
previous trips to the Middle East.  I found what I was looking for. The only
thing in English  on  the whole page was at  the  top, near the  title:  the
figure 4.
     It was the 4th of February.
     That meant they had been torturing us for five days.
     I was dressed  just  in  my socks  and a big, baggy  pair of army-issue
skivies I'd been given when I arrived in Saudi. They were black now, smeared
with shit and permanently wet with piss.
     I lay shivering on the concrete, handcuffed and blindfolded.
     Guards came into the cell and poked me with their  weapons until I made
donkey noises. When I did, they kicked me.
     "Bush, pig," they said. "Thatcher, pig."
     I  had  to  repeat  it. They laughed  and giggled and gob  bed  on  me.
Sometimes they sat  me up against the wall, pulled back my head, and held my
face while they ranted at me. By now it was like water off a duck's back.
     There was one major  shift  in their tactics, however. They didn't hurt
my face any  more. It was  slapped,  but no longer  damaged  by  punching or
butting as before.
     I was  hauled out of  the  cell  in  my socks  and  skivies for another
interrogation.  It was  several days  since I'd  even  been able to stand up
     At first, nothing happened. There was a long, long silence.
     There was lots of sighing and:  "Oh dear, what are we going  to do with
you, Andy? You're simply not helping at all, are you?"
     "I'm trying to help," I mumbled. "But I don't know anything."
     I'd got  to the stage where I'd said it so many times I believed it was
the truth.
     "Andy, you know that we have one of you in hospital. He's had two pints
of  Iraqi  blood, and he should  be very proud now to be one of us.  We have
demonstrated to him  that  we're not  barbarians. We've helped  him.  But we
can't help you, because you won't help us."
     Possibly there might be somebody in hospital, and my  mind flashed back
to an incident when the guards had  come in and pointed at my  feet and gone
"bang bang."  At  the  time,  I'd thought they were going to shoot me in the
foot.  After all, they  played lots of games with me, like making  me put my
mouth over the muzzle of their weapon  while  they cocked it. But maybe what
they  had really been  getting at was  that one of us  had been shot in  the
     I didn't know whether  to believe  him or not. "Thank you very much," I
said. "I'm glad that you've saved him."
     "You  need  to tell us what was happening, Andy. Why were you in  Iraq?
Your friends have all told us what was going on, but we just want to hear it
from  you. Are you  going to  help  us? We've got no more time for you,  you
know. We'll let you die. You're nothing to us. Have a think about it."
     They took me back to my cell.
     Was it true? Had they actually got  people  in hospital? It couldn't be
Legs. He had exposure;  he wouldn't have  been  needing  blood. Had somebody
else survived a contact? It seemed very unlikely.
     During  the day I heard Stan  and Dinger being taken away. Towards last
light they came for me. This time there was no talking. It was just straight
in and a good beasting with the plank.
     I went down, only semiconscious.
     "You're the only one that's  not helping us, Andy," The Voice said. "We
need the truth from everybody  and you're not helping. We have told you that
we have your people in hospital and we're willing to let them die."
     I didn't answer.
     "We  actually  have  two of your people  in hospital, Andy, and  if you
don't tell us what we need to know, we'll simply let them die. There  are no
consequences for  us.  The only reason  they're  alive is because of  us. So
therefore we can  kill them, and we can kill you, too. There are no problems
with this whatsoever. Nobody knows you're here.  You would not sign anything
for the Red Cross when we offered you the chance; therefore we have not told
the Red Cross that we have you. This is your fault, Andy. Everybody else has
signed the papers."
     I didn't believe him.
     "If you don't  tell me what I  need  to know, Andy, we  will simply let
your  friends die. You know that your signals operator is in  hospital. I've
already told you this. And also you  know that one of  your men has had  two
pints of blood. Now we will  let them both die, and that will be your fault,
Andy. And everyone else will also die  because of you. Five men dead, simply
because you're stubborn.
     "We know you're the  commander," The  Voice said impatiently. "We  know
you're a sergeant, you're in charge of these people. It's down to you now to
tell  us;  otherwise  we're  simply going  to  let  your  men  die.  Do  you
     "Yes,  I understand,  but  I can't  help  you  because  I  do  not know
     It wasn't an act of bravado. Far from it. I just  needed time to think.
They knew that I was the commander  and were changing  their tactics. Now it
was  down to  me if people lived or died, because they were  getting nothing
from anybody else.
     "Well then, we cannot do anything more for you. What is about to happen
is your fault. Remember that. You are responsible for these deaths."
     They picked me up and dragged me back  to the cell. When we got  to the
open door, they launched me against a wall. I crumpled to the floor.
     "Stupid, stupid, you're stupid," the guards shouted.
     They left me alone all night. I started to go through the options in my
mind. As far as I  was concerned, we would  all be dead in another two days.
Stan  probably  even before that, going by how he looked.  So what it boiled
down to was: I was the commander and it was up to me. It was decision time.
     It was a fact that there were three of us in prison. I had  to  take it
as also true that  there were two others in  hospital. Dinger  had seen Legs
being taken away on a stretcher, and there was the possibility that somebody
else was also there. At the back of my mind, the correct thing  to do was to
let the interrogators have  something that was going to keep them happy, and
in turn keep all of us alive.
     I came to the conclusion that we'd held out long enough. This was eight
days since capture, plenty  of time for the  damage assessment  to have been
made back at the FOB. It  was time now  to think of ourselves. OF SEC was no
longer our problem. We'd held out long enough. We'd done our bit.
     It was a tough decision. Pride shouldn't have come into it, but it did.
     So, what could I actually give them? I'd keep  the Regiment out of  it,
because that  would make the situation even worse. There  was no doubt  they
knew that  the boys were screaming around  like  lunatics. They'd  know this
from the acts on the ground as well as from the media. They watched CNN like
everybody else.
     No  one had said a word to me about  the Regiment  since the time I was
captured, and  there  had been  no  indication that they  suspected  Special
Forces. I  wanted to keep it that way. But what was I going to give them? As
far as they  were concerned, we were part  of  the eight-man  team that they
compromised on the MSR. I had to come up with something congruent with  that
story. What were we doing there?
     I  could hear  the screams  every hour or so  as  Dinger  and  Stan got
filled, but I was left on my own. Twice  guards came in and taunted  me, but
they didn't beat me.
     On the second occasion, in the early hours of the morning,  I told them
that I wanted to see an officer. They didn't understand.
     "Officer," I repeated. "I need to see an officer."
     They  seemed to  think that I was saying that I  was an officer and was
disgusted with my treatment. They laughed and came into the cell and gave me
a kicking.  I heard them coming to attention and making a mock rifle salute,
and I realized there was no way I was going to get through to these  people.
I'd just have to leave it and wait.
     During the day, one of the guards came in and spoke to me in reasonable
English. "Andy, you're very stupid. Why don't you help?"
     "But I want to help. I want to speak to an officer."
     "We shall see."
     An hour later, another guard came and shouted through the window. "What
do you want?"
     "I need to speak to an officer. I might have something that he needs to
     Two or three hours later, I was taken into the same block as usual, but
to a different  room. It was very  cold. I was  pushed down  onto a chair. I
heard a different voice, one I'd never heard before.
     "Andy, what do you want to tell me? Why  have you  waited so  long? Why
have you gone through all this stupid pain for yourself and other people? We
cannot understand: why does it have to be like this?"
     "I was told  yesterday that there  are people  in hospital,  and  I  am
worried for  their safety and ours.  I just hope  that  you will look  after
these people." "Of course we will. What do you think--that we're just  going
to kill  them? Don't be naive. If you  help  us, everything will be fine. We
told you  that in  the  beginning. So this  is the reason  you're  doing it,
because of the other people in your patrol?"
     "Yes. I don't want people to die."
     "Andy, don't worry about  them. You must do  it for  yourself, for your
family.  Don't  worry about the other people in the  patrol. You help us and
we'll look after you."
     "Well, I'm concerned about the people in hospital. I don't want them to
     "Think about yourself, Andy. Do this for yourself. Now tell us, why are
you in our country?"
     "I am a member of a COP platoon."
     There was a buzz of chatter in Arabic.
     "What's a COP platoon?"
     - "A close  observation platoon. Every infantry battalion has one. They
do the forward recces for the battalion. We were flown in, told to go to the
MSR and count the number of military vehicles passing  in each direction and
to report them."
     I  couldn't tell  if they were buying it  or not. In  theory,  that was
correct tasking  for  a COP  platoon, except  that it would never have  been
behind enemy  lines. But it  sounded feasible, and  there had been Sandhurst
and  Staff  College-trained  officers  present  during  the  interrogations.
Hopefully it would ring a bell with them.
     There was more gob  bing off, and the sound  of people leaving the room
and returning.
     "Why would they want this information?"
     "I don't know: we're only told  what we need  to  know. As I'm sure you
know,  at the beginning of the orders brief, there is the reminder "Need  to
know." We're not told  these things  because  we're just the  troops on  the
     There was the sound of general agreement.
     "How long were you planning to stay in our country?"
     I had to assume that  they had got all our kit and had rummaged through
it. If nothing had been  pilfered, they could  assess how long we planned to
stay by the quantity of rations.
     "It was going to be for up to fourteen days," I said.
     "How many of you were there?"
     Again  this was  easy enough  to work out  by the number  of  abandoned
     "There were eight of us."
     "Where did you land, Andy?"
     "If you take off my blindfold and my handcuffs, and give me a map, I'll
be able to help you."
     There was a heated discussion between themselves.
     "We'll take off your  blindfold and  your  handcuffs, but you remember,
Andy, we consider that you are all very dangerous men, and if you attempt to
do anything, we will shoot you. Do you understand this, Andy?"
     "Yes, I understand."
     Even if I'd  wanted  to  do anything, I didn't have  the strength left.
They took off my blindfold, and in front of me, sitting down, was an officer
in olive drab uniform. Another officer, who was sitting in the top left hand
corner of this  room, was  dressed  in a camouflaged  bomber  jacket over  a
flying suit.  Instead of military boots, he  wore the Chelsea boots they all
seemed to have on.
     The  bloke in olive drab  was doing  the talking.  I'd never heard  his
voice before, but he spoke excellent English. He looked like an Arab version
of Richard Pryor, with normal,  swept-back Arab  hair and a very clean, very
smart, very  well-pressed uniform. There were three  or  four  other  people
sitting down, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea out of small glasses. They
were all wearing cheap and nasty, badly fitting suits.
     I was facing a window. Beyond it I could see trees and a wall. Sunlight
was streaming into the room.
     There was a guard on either side of me. One of them held a pistol to my
head in  case I started running around doing  karate chops  or whatever else
they considered I would do. On the table was one of our own escape maps.
     "Is it all right if I get up off the chair and come to the table?"
     "Get up."
     The two guards lifted me  up and  took me  over to the table.  The  gun
never left my head.
     I pointed out the general area where we had landed.
     "Yes, Andy, that's correct. We know about that. We know when you landed
because you  were heard.  You landed  two nights before, didn't  you? You're
helping us. This is very good."
     Some of  the lies I told them would have to be based  on the truth,  as
all good ones are. This wasn't just  training: it was a lesson I had learned
in childhood.
     "Show us where you went to hide."
     I indicated the bend on the MSR.
     "Yes,  good, we know that. This is  good, Andy, you're helping us.  How
many people again?"
     "Eight of us."
     "Give me some of their names."
     This was no problem. They knew there were eight of  us. If they had, in
theory, five of us--dead or alive-they'd know  our  names, because everybody
was  wearing  dog tags.  And  it  appeared  that I  was  helping, which  was
good--for now. Later on it  might get totally out of control, and I'd  spend
the rest of my days answering questions.  But at this stage I had no choice.
Was  I supposed to call their  bluff and see if  they would  carry out their
threat? I had to take it as real.
     I gave the names. They wrote them down.
     "We know this."
     I didn't know if that meant that they  had  everybody, or if it was all
bluff. I played on my concern for the people  in  hospital  and acted scared
and humble, but inside my head I was racing  to think about  what I had said
and what I was going to say.
     "Please, look after the people in hospital."
     "Tell us more about the COP platoon. What does it do?"
     "We just report."
     "Does this mean that the British army plans to invade Iraq?"
     "I don't know. We are never  told.  All we're  told is to go out and do
the job. We're not told why. We're just squad dies
     "How many COP platoons are there?"
     "There's one for each battalion."
     "How many battalions here?"
     "I don't know; I've never  really  bothered  to find  out.  It's  of no
consequence to me. I'm just a soldier."
     I was so  glad that we hadn't had vehicles with us. We were unlucky not
to have them  when  we  got compromised,  obviously, but we  were lucky  now
because vehicles might have linked us to the Regiment.
     Things were going well at this stage. They seemed happy with what I was
telling them. There was a  potential problem in that they might come back to
the other two and say, "Right, we know what you're doing.  You tell us now."
However, the chances were  slim. The  boys  had said nothing  so far, so why
should they suddenly cave in?
     If I didn't tell them something, they were going to let  people die. If
I did tell them and they found out it was another load of old bollocks, then
I might be committing everybody to going through this system again, and they
would die. But I couldn't see that there was anything else I could do.
     "Thank you  very much for helping us,  Andy. Things may get better  for
you  now. If we find out  you're  lying,  they won't.  But things  might get
better. And I'm glad that you have had the sense to help us."
     His words  made me  feel  a  complete shit. Had I done the right  thing
after all, I asked  myself? Was this going  to go on? Was I going to be used
now? Was I going to go on telly and be "the  British lad who  helped  us?" I
had visions  of  Vietnam,  of people getting prosecuted and  persecuted when
they got home. They were  marked  down as collaborators by people who had no
conception  of  the circumstances in which  the  so-called "betrayals"  took
     But here was Richard  Pryor telling me we were now  best  mates, and it
was hard to take.
     "You've done well, Andy. This is good."
     I knew I was right to  have taken their threat as real.  The way they'd
been  treating  us, I wouldn't  have  put  it past them to  kill the ones in
hospital. They'd had ten years' practice at this sort of thing.
     "Do you want a cigarette?"
     "No, I don't smoke. But my friend Dinger does."
     "Maybe we might be able to give him a cigarette one day."
     "Now that  I've told you, is it possible that we can  have some clothes
and maybe some warmth? We are very cold."
     "Yes,  this will be no problem, because now we are  friends. You can go
back to your cell  now, Andy, and maybe things will change. Meanwhile, we'll
check on this."
     They put the blindfold  and handcuffs back on,  and took me back to the
     Half an hour later,  they came back and threw me my clothes and removed
the blindfold  and handcuffs.  But  they hadn't  finished with their  little
games quite yet. As I tried to get dressed, they kept pushing me over.
     I  woke  up still wondering whether I had done the  right thing.  I was
lying in the same old corner. You seem to go to the same place all the time,
maybe because it makes you feel more secure or more covered up.
     The guards came in, accompanied by a sergeant major. He spoke very good
     "Ah, Andy, Andy. Our friend Andy," he said, his mouth full of pistachio
nuts. "My name is Mr. Jihad."
     He spat shells on the floor.
     "Good morning, Mr. Jihad." I knew that couldn't be his name, but I went
along with it.
     "It's good to see that  you've got  your clothes  back now, and you are
feeling better. You are feeling better?"
     "Unfortunately we can't give you any medical attention because we don't
have it ourselves.  The children  are dying in your bombing; we have to give
it to them first. Do you understand?"
     "Of course, I understand."
     "It's Bush  and Thatcher  and  Major. They're stopping  all medical aid
coming in. But we do  have some  food for you this  morning.  You would like
some food?"
     "Thank you very much, I would like some food."
     They  brought  in  water and  a one-inch cube of margarine in  a  paper
wrapper. I opened it up and started eating.
     "About escape, Andy. You've been here a long  time. You may be  feeling
that you want to escape. Escape  would be very, very useless; it would be no
good for  you. You're in Baghdad. There's nowhere for you  to  go. And we're
friends now, aren't we, Andy?"
     I nodded and agreed, my mouth slippery with grease.
     "Let me show you  what happens  when people try to  escape." Mr.  Jihad
lifted  up his trouser leg and showed me  a huge scar. "When  I  was a young
man, I  was in prison  in  Iran  for six  months. My friend and  I  tried to
escape. We  got away but we were captured the next day. They took us back to
the camp and decided to make an  example of us. So they got us on the floor,
face  down, and two soldiers stood over us with their  rifles  and bayoneted
our legs through the back of the knee. They  forced  our kneecaps right out.
If you try to escape, Andy, I will have to do the same to you."
     I wasn't going anywhere. I could just about stand up.
     I smiled. "I just want to go home to my family."
     "This cell is very dirty, you know, Andy.  You people  might live  like
this, but we Muslims are very clean. You will clean this up."
     "How do I do that?"
     "You clean  it with your  hands, Andy. Come on, clean this place up. We
do not live in this mess."
     He stood over me and watched  as I got  down  on my hands and knees and
scooped all my shit into a  pile.  Then he gave me  two bits of cardboard to
put it on, and they left the cell.
     I  looked at the walls  and saw fresh bloodstains on the surfaces. They
were mine. At least I'd added to the ambience of the cell.
     I began to feel apprehensive. What would happen now? Would we go  away?
Would we stay there? Richard Pryor had said to me: "England is a nice place.
I  was there fifteen years ago.  I was at  college in London. I  know London
well. Maybe one day you'll get back." Yeah, maybe.

     Some time in the afternoon of the 6th, they came in  and handcuffed and
blindfolded me again. They picked me up, and I thought I was off for another
interrogation. I went outside and  started to follow the old familiar route,
but this  time we took  a strange turning, and I found myself being put into
the back of a vehicle.
     I leaned forward, head  down to release pressure on my  hands.  It  was
lovely and  warm in the  car, and I  could  hear the  birds singing.  It was
gorgeous weather. I was full of dread.
     The car was big. An old American thing, I assumed, like they all seemed
to be.
     "If you try to escape," somebody said, "we will kill the other two. And
if they escape, you will be killed. So you see, it is pointless."
     Did  that  mean  that  Dinger and  Stan were coming  too?  I waited for
someone else to get into the car, but no one did. Both doors  were closed. I
was alone in  the back.  There were  two fellows in the front, and they both
spoke excellent English.
     "Do you know where you're going now, Andy?" the driver asked  as we set
     "No, I have no idea."
     "We're taking you to the British Embassy. You will now be going home to
your family. No problems."
     "Thank you very much."
     They  started laughing to  themselves and I went along with it, playing
the idiot.
     "No, we are only joking, Andy. You'll be  going home  one day,  but not
yet. Not for a long time yet."
     We drove for a few minutes in silence.
     "Have you heard of Ali Baba?" one of them asked.
     "Yes, it's an old film  which  they play  every  Christmas. They always
have Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves on."
     "Yes,  well  this is  where you are. You're in the land of Ali Baba, in
Baghdad.  The  thieves  of  Baghdad. A very beautiful city.  But  no longer,
because everybody's  dying.  You people,  you are coming in and bombing  our
places. Children are dead. Entire families are dying. It's no more the great
land of Ali Baba; it's all demolished. But when  we win, we will rebuild, no
problem. Fantastic place. Ali Baba."
     I nodded and agreed. They turned on the radio and scanned  through  the
stations. Every one sounded the  same  aggressive rhetoric or wailing Arabic
songs. They were  enjoying themselves, driving along with the windows  open,
not a care in the world.
     I listened to the sounds of the city. We stopped at lights, hooted, and
people  gob bed off.  Music  blared out of shops;  there  was all  the usual
hustle  and bustle of  a city.  The characters suddenly started laughing and
     "We're just looking at your two friends in  front of us,"  one  of them
said. "They are  leaning  against one another, sleeping.  They must  be very
good friends."
     This was  great. It confirmed that Dinger and Stan were with me. It was
a fantastic feeling.
     The boys started smoking and were very jovial. We  drove on for another
30 minutes or so.
     "Yes, we're going to somewhere else in Baghdad.
     You'll enjoy this place. Very good place. We were only joking about the
     People reached  in through  the windows  when we arrived  at  what they
announced  was  the military prison,  slapping me  on the head,  pulling  my
mustache. Nothing too serious, all very neighborly stuff.
     I heard barriers  being lifted, gates being opened.  We drove forward a
bit more and stopped. They got me  out of the  car and put a blanket over my
head. I was led up to a door and along a wide corridor with concrete floors.
There were echoes of talking, of bolts being opened and closed, the jangling
of chains and keys.
     This place  wasn't  damp, but  it was freezing cold. They led me into a
cell. I was made  to  sit on the floor, and  my handcuffs and blindfold were
taken off.  I saw soldiers dressed in olive drab and red berets, wearing the
old '37  webbing-pattern  belt  and  gaiters,  all immaculately  blancoed in
white. They were military  policemen. I spotted  an officer  and a couple of
blokes in civvies. They closed the door and left me.
     The door  to  the  cell was  something  that the  sheriff would put you
behind in a western.  The bars were covered with a blanket to stop me seeing
out. There was one fluorescent light, right in  the  middle of  the ceiling,
which was about 15 feet high. Also right at the top was a small slit window.
A shaft of light beamed through. The  bottom half of the walls  were painted
red, the top magnolia. And at first glance, that was  all  there was to see.
Then I saw the scratchings on the wall,  in Arabic. There were more pictures
of doves with chains around their legs, and a drawing of a woman.
     I paced out the cell. It was about 12 feet by 9.
     I strained my  ears  and heard other doors  being opened  and closed. I
assumed that Dinger  and  Stan were getting banged up as  well.  At least we
were all in the same place. And compared with the  interrogation center this
was Buckingham Palace.
     Had they  finished with us now, or what? I wasn't too sure and I didn't
really care. I loved this place. It was wonderful.
     Fifteen  minutes later  the  doors  opened again. I thought  I'd better
start switching on  and showing some respect. To  turn the situation to your
advantage you have to make an effort, get some sort of friendship going.
     As I got slowly to my feet, wincing with  the injuries, a new character
came into the cell. He was wearing  civilian clothes, but with a  DPM combat
jacket over the top. He was about 5'3" tall and had  white hair. On his face
he had a pair of really thick glasses and a big happy smile.
     "Would you like to be with your friends?" he beamed.
     "Yes, I would, very much."
     He took me  by the arm and led me  to another cell three doors down. It
was empty.
     Yeah,  I thought--good fucking stitch! For a few moments there I'd been
all happy  that I was going to see Dinger and Stan. I sat  down on the floor
and tried not to show my feelings.
     Two minutes later the  door opened and there  was Dinger. We had a  big
hug  and  a shake of hands. Then another couple  of minutes later Stan  came
stumbling  in, supported  on either side by guards. In his hand he carried a
tray of  rice. As  the  guards  locked us in and  left us we  looked  at one
another in disbelief, then started gob bing off.
     "Chris and Vince?" I asked.
     "Vince is  dead," Stan said. "Exposure. I got split from Chris; I don't
know what happened to him. What about the other three?"
     I said that Mark was dead, and probably also Legs and Bob--despite what
the Iraqis had told me.
     We  fell  into silence  and  started  eating.  We  heard  the sound  of
footsteps and keys in the corridor and stood up again. The door opened and a
major entered. He introduced himself as the prison governor.
     "What happened where you were,  I was not  responsible for," he said in
better English than mine. "I am only  responsible for you  now. We will feed
you  and we will look after you. If you are good, we will be good to you. If
there is trouble, you will be punished."
     Just 5'6" tall and small-framed, he  was smartly dressed, well groomed,
and fresh  smelling. He seemed genuine. If we  played the game, we should be
Okay. As he spoke, however, I couldn't  help noticing that the guards behind
him didn't seem to have the same  benign  smile on their  faces. They looked
every  bit as brutish as the people  we  were used to. They were very young,
and  they would have things to prove to us-and to each other. I didn't doubt
that when the cat was away, the guards would play.
     Once  the  major  had  gone,  we came  to certain  decisions  based  on
experience, training, and the advice of the Marine POW.
     We would remain always the gray man, never allowing ourselves to show a
reaction or become overconfident. We weren't out of the woods yet, not by  a
long way.
     We would  show respect  to the guards.  Being young bastards, they were
almost certain to tear the  arse  out of the situation if we were abusive or
truculent.  By being respectful we might also be able to  get information or
take some advantage, which would take us halfway towards another  aim, which
was to get some form of relationship going. Sometimes it works, sometimes it
doesn't, but you don't know until you try. We  didn't know  how long we were
going to be there for-it could be days, weeks, or years. We would try to get
some sort of fraternal thing going, based on us all being soldiers together,
which might bring us medicine, food, and little goodies.
     We'd use this time as best  we could to sort  ourselves out and prepare
ourselves for escape, adjusting both physically and mentally. I still had my
escape map  and  compass, and so did Dinger. Physically we'd sort  ourselves
out, hopefully helped by more reasonable supplies of food, and mentally we'd
spend as much  time as  we could  doing  map  studies.  We knew  we were  in
Baghdad, so  if we learnt the surrounding area we'd have some form of chance
if  we managed to escape. The escape maps  were not detailed enough to  show
the city  in street form, but they indicated the main features on the ground
like  rivers, salt lakes, and high ground. All we  had to do was get  out of
     The  first  thing  to do,  as ever, was  just  to tune in  to  the  new
environment,  hoping  that there was  going  to  be some sort of routine. We
didn't want to screw up the fact that we were all together. We would use the
system, rather than fight against it.
     During the  course of  the first day and night,  guards were coming and
going nonstop.  Each time we'd  stand up and face  them. They  were still in
their  teens,  most   of  them,  which  made  them  more  authoritative  and
overbearing.  They  never appeared in  groups of less  than  three, and they
always  carried pistols. They were clearly very  wary of  us. On  one of the
visits our boots  were  taken away  from us  and  replaced with  white pumps
without laces.
     I asked for water. They came back  with  a pitcher and a cup. We  drank
some,  and then put the pitcher back down on the floor as if it was going to
stay there. They didn't question it.
     "How do we go to the toilet?" Stan asked.
     "You go when we say you go."
     "We're suffering  from diarrhea and stomachaches, and we're being sick.
We need a bucket or something so we can go."
     A  bucket turned up.  They were  small victories, but encouraging signs
that  we  could manipulate our  circumstances. That first night was a happy,
giggly, taking the piss sort of time. We heard mumbling in the near distance
and guessed that there were other  prisoners. We eventually  worked out that
they were right next door to us. How many of them, we couldn't tell.
     There was a door  right at the end of the corridor, and once the guards
had slammed that shut they seemed to be out of earshot. Nobody  had  told us
that there was a no talking rule, but it was safer to assume that there was.
     Tapping  on  the  wall  with our  tin mug,  we  knocked  out  a  simple
identification code to see if the person in the next cell was an ally.  Only
a Westerner would recognize  the friendly pattern of knocks you  would do on
the front  door of a  friend's house: tap, tapetty, tap  tap --to which  the
reply, of course, is:  tap tap.  We got  the answer we were hoping for.  The
contact was good for our morale, and probably theirs. It  was a good feeling
to have got something going on the very first night.
     We started to speculate  about our situation. Were the other members of
the patrol here? Was this a staging post? Would we be here for the duration?
     "We didn't know where the hell you guys had got to," Stan  said. "Vince
was babbling  about aircraft  and TACBE, and Chris and I remembered  hearing
jets. We  worked out  that Vince was telling us that you'd stopped and tried
to make contact with them. We sat on  high ground looking through the  night
sight, but there was no sign  of you. We tried to raise you on TACBE, but no
answer. In  the end we decided to press on, hoping you'd keep on the bearing
and we'd meet up."
     They carried on  for about four hours, and  then it was coming to first
light. Chris and Stan were worried about being caught in the open. Vince was
out of the decision making;  he stood swaying  in the  wind and rain as  the
others ran around looking for somewhere to hide.
     Stan found a tank berm about 6 feet deep, with tank tracks leading away
from it that were about knee deep. They led Vince into one of the tracks and
lay down either side of him. Throughout the night Chris and Stan took it  in
turns to sleep. The man who was awake kept a watchful eye on Vince.
     First light came  and Stan  had a auick look around. To his  horror, he
found that  the  tank berm was only about 600 meters from some sort of enemy
position--either a hut or a box  vehicle with aerials, it was hard  to tell.
They were stuck there now until last light.
     It started to snow. Soon the  snow turned  to sleet, and the tank track
filled with slush. They were soaking wet. The  temperature dropped. They had
very little  food left, just  a  couple of packets of biscuits between them.
Everything else had gone in the berg ens
     As it started to  come  to last light, they  crawled into the  berm and
stood  up. They'd been  lying in freezing water  for  twelve hours. Stan had
lost all  feeling  in his hands  and feet; Chris's  joints were frozen. They
moved around in circles, frog-marching Vince between them. When darkness had
fallen and  it was  time to leave,  they were so cold that the only way they
could pick up their weapons was by cradling them in their arms.
     Vince was soon lagging  behind.  He stopped in  his tracks at one point
and called the other two back. He complained about his hands, muttering that
they  had  turned  black. Chris looked at them and  saw that he  was wearing
black  leather  gloves. "They'll soon  get  better  if you  put them in your
pockets, mate," he said.
     The  next  time they stopped,  Vince was totally  incoherent.  Stan and
Chris huddled around him, but  it wasn't much use. They had to keep going or
they'd freeze.  They were  on high  ground,  crossing  bare  rock  and large
patches of snow.  Chris was in  front  with the compass,  but  the cold  was
getting to him. He was doing everything in slow motion.
     The three men spread out as they climbed a gradient at their  different
speeds. Stan stopped to let Vince overtake him; he wanted to keep an  eye on
him. But Vince  didn't appear. Stan turned around; Vince  was nowhere to  be
seen. Stan called to Chris and they both went back. Visibility was down to a
few feet in  the blinding blizzard as they  retraced their footsteps  in the
snow.  They got to a large area of bare  rock. They couldn't find  the trail
the other side.
     They  had  to  make  a  decision.   They  were  both  going  down  with
hypothermia. It was agony standing  still; they had to get moving again.  In
the end they just  looked at each other, then turned  and headed back up the
     Stan  and Chris  walked all that  night, coming off the high ground  at
about 0530. They came into a shallow wadi  about three feet deep and cuddled
together. As first light came the weather cleared; the sun came out, and for
the first time in several days they felt warmth on their faces.
     The  sound  of  goats came at  about  1400,  and sure enough  they  got
compromised  by an old  herder.  This  one  was  wearing  a  tattered  tweed
overcoat. Stan couldn't help  thinking how warm it looked  and how  good  it
would be to eat warm goat meat.
     The old boy seemed quite friendly as he pointed  east. Drawing pictures
in  the sand, he indicated  food, a house, a vehicle. Chris looked at  Stan.
Did they kill him? It would protect their concealment, but was there anybody
else about who was expecting him?
     Stan was keen to investigate the vehicle. "I'll go down, bring it back,
and we'll shoot off. We'll be at the border by tonight," he said.
     They made their RVs, actions on, and warning arrangements, and Stan set
off due east with the old boy and his goats. He left his belt kit with Chris
to look less conspicuous, and wrapped his shamag around his head.
     After a short while the goat herder wandered off at a tangent but again
pointed east. Stan continued.
     The hut  was exactly where the old  man  had  said, but there  were two
vehicles parked  outside  instead  of  one.  Stan OP'd  it for about  twenty
minutes. Nothing stirred. If the keys were in the vehicle, he'd just take it
there and then and go. If they weren't, he'd make a room entry on the house.
He'd get to the door, kick it in, and take on whatever was there.
     As he started to  approach the  vehicles, an Iraqi  soldier came out of
the house. He looked as surprised as Stan was. He made for the first vehicle
and  tried to pull a weapon out. Stan downed him with his 203, and the  body
slumped over  the driver's seat. The house was  less than 60  feet away, and
the door was  open. Six or seven squad  dies came  flying  out in confusion.
Stan got three hits off, and  then  he had  a stoppage. It was too late  for
stoppage  drills. He ran to the nearest  vehicle, the one with  the body in.
The  soldier  was still  groaning.  Stan pushed him aside.  No  key  in  the
ignition. He was still fumbling for it in the man's pockets when he felt the
muzzle of a rifle jab into his ribs.
     Stan turned around and stared at  them. There  were  five jundies left.
They appeared very undisciplined, screaming and shouting at each other. They
fired into the air and into the ground each side of him. He wasn't expecting
to survive. They came forward cautiously  and then one of them  summoned the
courage to smash him with a rifle butt. The others piled in.
     They put him  into  the  other  vehicle  and  took  him to  a  military
installation near  the  Euphrates.  Stan  entered  the  tactical questioning
phase.  He  was  interrogated  for  most  of   the  night,   handcuffed  and
blindfolded. The interrogators spoke very  good English. Some had trained in
the UK. A major who had trained at Sandhurst said, "Everyone's very sad with
you at the moment. They want to take your life."
     Stan denied  everything  except the Big  Four. They beat him  badly and
only stopped when  he fell unconscious. When he  came to,  he started  to go
into the cover story. He told them he had done a medical degree in Australia
and gone to  London. Because  of his medical experience he had got  roped in
through the TA to become part of a search and rescue team.
     "I want to cooperate in any way I can," he  said. "All I am is a doctor
who dropped out."
     He  was questioned on medical  techniques, and they brought in a doctor
to confirm  his story. It went well, but the rest of  his story was starting
to fall apart. They searched the area in which  Stan said the helicopter had
crash-landed but could find no sign of wreckage. "Possibly the aircraft took
off again," he said, but they looked dubious.
     Two or three days later, Stan was moved to an interrogation center. The
reception  party beat him with batons. He was made  to kneel in front of the
panel of interrogators. He was thrashed with hose pipes whipped, beaten with
a pole. At one stage they pulled back his head and held a  red-hot poker  in
front of his eyes. They didn't  carry out the threat  to blind him, but they
did use the poker elsewhere on his body.
     We told Stan our stories and finally collapsed into sleep. I woke up in
the night  with my stomach  tugging at  me. We'd all had four or five liquid
shits  in the short time we'd been there. We  were dehydrating  drastically,
but at least we could replenish the loss now.
     It  was pitch-dark.  Lying  on  the  floor, feeling relatively safe,  I
started to think about home.
     There was another bombing raid in the distance.  Flashes of  light came
through  the high  slit window. As  ever  the  bomb blasts were rather nice,
giving a  sense of security, a feeling that  we weren't the only ones there.
And  best  of all, they also gave us a  possible  means of escape if we took
direct hits.
     The main gate  of  the block was  opened  after  first  light. We heard
chains  rattling and keys going into locks, and  then the sound of  a metal,
corrugated-type door the  other side  of our wall being  opened  and  people
talking and walking about. We heard  the base of a  metal bucket clanking on
the floor, followed by the sound of the metal handle hitting the side.
     Then we heard, "Russell! Russell!"
     There was a mumbled reply.
     Further down the corridor there was  the  same banging of buckets. Then
"David! David!"
     This one was definitely  American.  When he heard his name  called,  he
replied with a resounding "Yo!"
     The guards were shouting at  this David  character. They shut  his door
and came down the corridor to our cell.  The door opened and we  got  to our
feet. We didn't know  what to expect. There  were three of them: one  little
bloke who said we were to call him Jeral,  one big  fat  thing with glasses,
and a  really young kid with curly blond hair. Jeral carried a bucket  while
the others covered  him,  pistols  drawn. They seemed  keen  to throw  their
weight around with the new blokes on the block.
     "Names?" the fat one demanded.
     "Dinger. Stan. Andy," Dinger said.
     He handed us three small  plastic bowls, into which  he tipped a  small
ration of rice and  water mixture from the bucket.  We were  issued with two
more mugs and  given a brew of  cold black tea from a battered old teapot. I
thought it was Christmas.
     When  they  left we had our first  chance  to look  around the  cell in
daylight. There was a nail high up one wall, sticking out a couple of inches
from the cement surface.  Deciding it might come in handy, I as the lightest
was given a leg up  and jiggled  it until I managed to prize it free. Dinger
used it to mark where the  light was shining on to the wall, as some sort of
check on the passage of time.
     We sat down and ate the rice, licking the bowls clean.  We took sips of
cold tea as  we  pondered what  might happen  next.  The  same three  guards
returned ten minutes later with the major.
     "You're  in my prison now," he repeated.  "I want no  misdemeanors from
you. If  you cause  me trouble,  I will  return  the compliment. You're only
together because the officer yesterday  decided to put you together. He says
to inform  you that we know  that you are dangerous men, and that if we have
any trouble with you, we are to just shoot you."
     It must  have been a reference to the  COP platoon story, which made us
an unknown quantity compared with the airmen they were used to. Either that,
or because we  looked  like wild men of  the north with our  matted  beards,
scabs, and bruises.
     "Any attempt to escape or to aggravate us and we'll shoot, it's as easy
as that," he said.
     "Is there any  possibility of emptying  our  bucket, sir?" I asked. "We
have bad stomachs and it is filling up."
     He gob bed off to one of the blokes and  said,  "Yes, take the bucket."
Stan picked it up and followed a guard.
     The major said, "You will  be fed, and you're lucky  to be fed  because
you've come over here to kill our  children.  There  is to  be  no noise--no
talking, no shouting. Do you understand?"
     While he  was talking, Dinger spotted the outline of a cigarette packet
under his shirt.
     "Excuse me, sir, is it possible that I can have a cigarette?"
     Dinger  was smiling  away.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  We  were
trying our hardest to come  over as  friendly, nice,  polite, and courteous.
The major unbuttoned his shirt and took the pack from a  pocket in a T-shirt
underneath. He handed Dinger a cigarette, but he didn't give him a light, so
that was Dinger fucked. He spent the rest of the day looking at it wistfully
and holding it under his nose.
     Stan had tried to  gather as much information as he could. All he could
tell us was that there were a  number of cells, with  the doors  sealed with
blankets or rice-sack covers that were marked, ironically, FROM THE AMERICAN
RICE BOARD TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAQ. At the  bottom of the corridor there was a
gate, and  another corridor that led  out into a courtyard, with yet another
metal  gate  beyond  that.  That was as far as  he  had been  able  to  see.
Everything seemed to be self-contained  within  the one unit, with  only one
way in and out.
     It  appeared  that we shared the  ablution block with the guards. Their
washing was hanging on lines. In one corner was a large oil barrel which was
filled with water. There was  a long concrete sink with about  four or  five
taps coming  off  it, and normal  Arab  toilets which were blocked as usual.
According to Stan the whole place stank.
     A week passed. Sometimes  they would come  into our cell three  times a
day, sometimes twice, sometimes six or seven times. We could hear squad dies
continually  toing  and  froing,  doing  their washing,  and  just generally
mooching about.
     We were  fed irregularly  as well.  Sometimes  the bucket would come at
breakfast time,  sometimes in the  late afternoon, sometimes  at last light.
Meals always  consisted of rice soup  or boiled rice, real dreggy stuff with
grit and mud in it.  They always  told us we were lucky to have it. One time
we were given bones that people had been chewing. We tucked in hungrily.
     They must  have watched  one  of  those  prison  films  where  you  get
indoctrinated by radio, because every morning at first light they turned  on
a radio  that then blasted away  outside our  window. It  was  like having a
loudspeaker  blaring into the  cell, aggressive  rhetoric punctuated by  the
occasional  English  word  like  "Bush"  or "America." Then  there  would be
prayers, then  the rhetoric would start up again. It only  stopped  at  last
light, and it drove us all crazy.
     We  were  bombed  every night.  There had  always  been sporadic firing
around  the  city from antiaircraft guns, some  of  which  were sited in our
compound. We'd feel the shudder of  the guns on our roof and hear the sounds
of the gun crews arguing and shouting. What they never seemed to realize was
that by the time you've heard an aircraft it's out of range anyway.
     On the night of  the 13th there was a massive amount of small-arms fire
in  the  streets around  the  prison,  which went on  for twenty  to  thirty
     "What the fuck's going on here?" Dinger said.
     He and Stan lifted me up to the slit window, and I just managed to pull
my head  up high enough  to  see tracer  going horizontal. It  was  bouncing
     "Must  be some form of revolution or  coup  going on. That is one major
     A few nights later we decided that we'd try and make contact  with  the
characters  in the other  cells. We knew that the bloke next door was called
David and was an  American. We  weren't sure about  Russell.  We  decided to
initiate some form  of contact with them. We risked a beating or worse if we
were  caught,  but we decided it was  worth it.  If  they  were  released or
escaped, they could report our names.
     Last thing at night, when the  guards finished  their  duty, they would
close  up the main gate from the corridor and then go out to  the courtyard.
It was  a  fair assumption that once we'd  heard  the final gate close, they
would be out of  earshot. I  got right up to  our  door, covered by its rice
bag, and called for help. If a guard responded, I would just say that one of
us was really ill and needed attention.
     We heard nothing.
     I called out, "David! David!"
     We heard rustlings, and then "What? What?"
     "How long have you been here?"
     "A few days."
     He said that he and another transport driver, a woman, had strayed over
the border and  been shot. He had received a stomach  wound, but had no idea
what had happened to the woman.
     "Who's further down?" Dinger asked.
     "A Marine aviator called Russell."
     "Russell! Russell!"
     He responded and we all swapped names.
     "What have you heard?" I asked him.
     Russell  Sanborn  had  been shot down  by a SAM missile while at 10,000
feet over  Kuwait. He'd only  been in the prison for  a couple  of days.  We
concluded  that we were the only  prisoners and agreed we  would try to talk
     One morning,  on about the 15th or  16th, the guards came  in,  and  we
stood up as usual and smiled at them. We'd got a bit of a routine going now.
We'd say  "Good morning," and they'd say "Good  morning" back, and one of us
would then go out and empty the bucket.
     There were no  smiles this morning. The  guards were  accompanied by  a
young officer, who pointed at me and said, "You--you come with me."
     He had  a white bandage blindfold that he put  around my eyes. My hands
were cuffed in front of me, and a blanket was  put over my head. Escorted by
guards, the officer started leading me  away from the prison. He held my arm
under  the blanket and dragged  me along. I looked down through my blindfold
and  watched the ground. We went through  the gate, stopped awhile while  he
spoke to somebody, then carried on.
     We were  moving fairly fast when he walked me straight into a lamppost.
The surprise of  it knocked  me over. My nose started to pour with blood. He
thought it was brilliant. We went  into a building, up some stairs, and into
a room. I  was pushed up against a sideboard and  told to sit down and cross
my legs, facing the wall.  The  doors closed. I didn't have a  clue what was
going to happen next, but assumed the worst. A minute later the  blanket and
blindfold were ripped off, and I was told to stand up and turn around.
     I  was in  an office. The lighting was strong  and harsh.  There was  a
chair  against  one  wall  and a  video  camera  set up facing  it,  with  a
microphone on a boom. Now I knew why they had stopped hitting my face.
     I was facing the prison governor. When he saw the state of my nose,  he
went ape shit  with the young rupert. I was in shit state to look at anyway,
so I don't know what difference  a nosebleed made. They took me next door to
a sink and told me to wash off the blood. I used the blindfold as a flannel.
I was  then given a comb and a mirror and told to tidy up my hair. There was
nothing I could do to it. It was just too matted with old blood.
     It was the first time I'd seen my face  since I  left the FOB. I looked
like Ben Gunn after somebody  had taken a shovel to his face. I had a dirty,
scruffy  beard and the  skin  was  flaky.  My mouth  was scabby.  I couldn't
believe they were going to  use me in a video. I cleaned myself up  a bit to
make them  happy, but not too much: I didn't want to look too healthy for my
     I sat in  front of the video, thinking hard about an appropriate way of
showing that I  was doing this against my will. I remembered that during the
Vietnam  War, people were going  back to the  States and getting  persecuted
purely because they'd  signed something or said something to save their life
or that of somebody else. People learned that  they should do something that
was  out of the ordinary while they  were exposed to the  media, or do their
signature with their left hand, so anyone  knowing them would recognize that
something was wrong.
     I decided  that I  would try for as long as  I could  to keep my  right
index  finger  straight  and constantly  bring it  up to stroke my left eye,
under the pretext that my eye was hurting after walking into the lamppost.
     I sat  and waited.  A jundie appeared  with  three  glasses of  tea and
offered me one.
     "We're going to ask you some questions,  Andy," the major said. "I want
you  to answer them truthfully for  the camera.  Then,  who knows, maybe you
might go home soon."
     "Oh, thank you very much."
     He asked  all  the questions they'd asked before.  Name,  number, rank,
date of  birth, religion.  Details of the helicopter and  COP  platoons, and
what we were doing  in Iraq. There was a  bloke  wearing dark glasses behind
the camera, behind the lights, whose face I couldn't see properly.  He would
talk  in Arabic into the speaker  system on the video, then ask the question
in English. I would answer, and he would translate. I  kept  rubbing my  eye
with my finger and never looked  directly to camera. I tried all the time to
make myself appear drowsy and incoherent.  It was worth a go. Either I'd get
away  with  it  or they'd give  me  a bit of a slapping. In fact they didn't
react to it at all.
     "That's it," the major said after  about twenty minutes.  "You're going
back now."
     As I got up to leave, the fellow with dark glasses said, "You know your
side will never win, don't you, Andy?"
     "Why's that?"
     "Because you're far too technical."
     I was  blindfolded and  taken back  to  the prison and put into another
cell on my own. I  was depressed. I thought that now  they'd done the film I
was going to spend the rest of my time in solitary.
     The guards  went into the cell with the  blindfold in their  hands  and
said to Dinger, "You're next."
     Dinger took one look  at the blood on the bandage and roared:  "Fucking
hell!" He  thought that either I had  been  slotted, or it  was all going to
happen again.  Either way, if they were going to do it, they'd have to do it
to  him in the cell right there and then. There was what Stan later called a
"bit of a scuffle" until other guards rushed in and put guns to their heads.
They led him away, and Stan thought: And then it's me.
     In front of the camera Dinger  was given a  cigarette. When  it came to
smoking, Dinger was  very much a man of the thumb and forefinger school, but
in  front of  the camera he smoked elegantly with the middle fingers  of his
left hand, like some character out of a Noel Coward play.
     Stan decided that he would stroke his hair continuously with both hands
and  look down at the  ground. While he was  being interviewed,  I got moved
back  in with Dinger. We tried  to work out  why we'd  done these videos. We
prayed  that they were going to  be shown to the media, so  people back home
would know we were alive.
     We talked to the guards as often as we could about their families.
     "How many children do you have? Do you miss them? Do you see them?"
     I landed up  scoring with Jeral. He was really skinny and young, in his
early  twenties.  His  English  was  very  good;  he  spoke  as  if  he  was
apologizing, with his shoulders shrugged up.
     "I'm a  drummer really," he said. "I play for  a group  called Queen at
the Meridien Hotel in Baghdad."
     His favorite groups were Boney M and Michael Jackson, and every time he
saw me he'd start singing, "He's crazy like .. ."
     "Oh Andy,  I  want to come to London,"  he said to me one day. "When  I
come, will you show me London? I want to play in a hotel there."
     "Yeah, sure," I shrugged, "once the war  is over we can be friends. You
can come to London."
     "Yes Andy, I love you."  He stared longingly into my eyes. "I love you.
Do you love me?"
     "Yes, I love you too, Jeral."
     I got a fearsome slagging from the other two the moment he left.
     "I'll give you a month's pay if you let me watch," Dinger said.
     "Give me a year's money, and I won't tell the squadron," said Stan.
     Jeral was a nuisance, but we did get extra bread and little tit bits of
information from him.  At some stage there was an initiative by the Kremlin,
and  Jeral  said, "The war's  going to  be over  soon.  Gorbachev's going to
organize everything."
     There  was indeed some sort of peace initiative, because we  heard lots
of chanting  in the streets and small-arms fire.  Some guards  burst in, and
Jeral said, "The war's over!"
     "How do you know?" I asked.
     "Saddam Hussein has  signed a  treaty. He has  explained  to the nation
that  he cannot  let  so many of the enemy die.  He is a very  compassionate
     Our gauge of  whether he was  bullshitting or not was whether there was
any bombing that night. In fact  there was. Jeral  wasn't correct that time,
but he did tell us when the ground war started.
     Stan got on quite well  with a sergeant major who couldn't speak a word
of English. There was  some sort  of affinity  between the two of them,  and
Stan would speak to him through another of the guards. He would ask how many
children he had. It turned  out he had  two wives and  five  children.  Stan
said: "Oh, very strong man," and the man loved it.
     We did  have some slight problems with the guards. We'd get  filled  in
now and again while  we were  taking the bucket down.  They'd  make sure you
were on your own, then come  and pick  on  you. On  one  occasion they  made
Dinger do a Michael Jackson  moon dance We  just let them get on with it. It
was just  a kicking and a few  punches.  You'd go  down, they'd  have  their
little laugh, and that was that.
     Another time, the toilets were blocked with their shit. They marched me
down there and made me  pull it out with my hands. Afterwards,  they made me
lick my fingers clean. They thought this one was a cracker.
     Stan went to the ablution block  one morning with the bucket,  and when
it was clean, they  offered to let him  fill  it up with water  from the oil
barrel. Thankingthem for  their  kindness, he  dropped  the bucket  into the
barrel  and received  a massive  electric shock that threw  him against  the
wall.  We  heard his  screams and their hoots  of  hysterical laughter.  The
generator was running, and they'd wired up the barrel to the mains.
     Baghdad was still  getting  attacked every night.  If  a  bomb fell too
close or somebody lost a  friend or  family member, the guards would come in
and make  sure  we knew  about  it. They began dishing out many more serious
kickings in the toilets. The three  of us made a pact that if they  went for
it when we were together, we weren't going to stand for it.
     One  night during the bombing we took a hit near the compound. From the
beginning we had maintained that if ever there was a crack  in the structure
big enough for us to get through,  we would go for it. If bombs were falling
that close and you didn't start  moving, you'd probably  end up being killed
by your own ordnance anyway.
     They  took casualties  that  night.  We  could  hear  the screaming and
shouting,  the  pressure waves, all the windows in the area shattering.  The
town of Ali Baba was really getting the good news. There was shouting by the
gate  to the  outer  courtyard, and then  the sound of the gate being pushed
open. We could  guess what was going to  happen. Sure enough the guards came
in, and they gave it to Russell and David.
     Then  they came to our  cell, two  lads  waving their  Tiny  lamps  and
hollering. They had their helmets and  webbing on. Their weapons were slung,
and they carried batons.
     We stood up  as they charged into  the  cell. They could  kill us  with
those  batons: it only takes a good twat around the head to do the business.
In  the films the hero gets beaten unconscious, then comes  to a few minutes
later and goes off to save  the world; but in  real life if you put your arm
up to defend  yourself, it  will be broken. Something in our  eyes must have
told them that we were prepared to  fight. They stopped in their tracks  and
stared  at us. We  stared them out,  and they  edged towards the door.  They
stood  in the doorway, shouting and  pretending  to cock their weapons,  but
they backed off and slammed the door behind them. We couldn't believe it. We
might have laughed if we hadn't had to listen to  the moans and  groans from
the other lads further down.
     We went through the same  scenario  one other  time, but  this  time it
wasn't a bomb that sparked it  off but  an  American. They seemed to have an
irresistible urge to communicate with their fellow countrymen, even if to do
so resulted in a good hiding. The Americans in our block knew now that there
were others around, and that set them off.
     David called out: "I'd kill for a Burger King."
     A  guard who happened to be in the washroom overheard him, and  minutes
later  the blokes tore in. But it was Russell,  not  David,  who carried the
can. His cell was nearer  to the  washroom,  and they must have  come to the
wrong  conclusion.  He  got a  severe going over  and was dragged  off to  a
punishment cell. They came back and gave David a few slaps as well, and then
they came to us.
     There were three  of them, in  helmets and wielding  batons. We greeted
them with a look that said: "Come on, then."
     They backed off,  shouting, "We're  going to split you  up." The threat
was more horrifying than a beating would have been.
     Miraculously,  nothing happened.  We could only  surmise that  the boys
didn't report the incident in case their lack of bottle came to light.
     We became  a  sideshow.  The  guards would bring in  friends  and local
dignitaries, and stamp about and show their authority, cocking their weapons
and  pointing them. One big  fat bastard came in  one day -with his Makharov
pistol.  He cocked it,  brought  it  up, aimed  it at Dinger, and pulled the
trigger. The hammer came  down on an empty chamber. The guards loved it. The
fat bastard started laughing, all his mates started laughing, and  we joined
in. Then Dinger somehow managed to turn the whole thing to his advantage and
ended  up getting a  cigarette  out of it, which made his  day. We continued
doing our  ground  studies of the  map  every afternoon, trying  to memorize
every  detail so that when  we escaped and got out of the built-up area we'd
have  some form  of identification of where we  were. I think we got so good
after a  while that as soon  as we saw  a road sign we'd have  known exactly
where we were.
     Map studies  took  up a  lot  of time, but in  idle moments we just sat
there  and waffled.  I went  through  my life  story  several  times,  until
everybody knew Peckham and  my three ex-wives almost as well as I  did. Stan
would talk about his time in Rhodesia with his family. They had  donkeys and
used to  paint  their hooves in bright  colors. He told us one  particularly
good  story about the day he'd watched as  a herd of elephants came  and ate
all  the windfall apples from an  orchard. The fruit was  so old that it had
started  to ferment, and it wasn't long before the elephants had  flaked out
on their  haunches,  completely pissed. While they were sleeping it  off,  a
group of monkeys appeared and ate the remaining  apples. They  Went  up into
the trees to rest after the feast, and it wasn't long before they  also were
pissed. One  monkey was so gone that it fell  off  its branch, bringing down
two other monkeys with it. They  landed on the head of a pissed-up elephant,
which then came to and started charging around the place.
     Another story had a  much darker side. Stan's family had a houseboy who
lived with  his family in a small bungalow on the estate. One night, a group
of rebels got hold of him  and shot him because he worked for the white man.
They dragged the body  back to the bungalow and left it on the doorstep as a
warning to the rest of the family. The  warning was heeded. Soon afterwards,
Stan  joined  the  army and became  part of  the rapid  reaction force. When
independence was declared, Stan left the country in despair.
     We tried to educate Stan in the  finer points of punk music. It took us
three days to remember  all  the words of the Jam song  "Down  in  the  Tube
Station at Midnight," and then we tried to teach it to him. He soon gave up.
"I  don't understand all this British shit," he complained. "Don't  you guys
know any Rolf Harris?"
     Poor Stan. He had a thing about storing food: even if he was hungry, he
would  try  and save it for a rainy day.  He'd  spend  a  lot  of  time  and
ingenuity hiding it from the  guards, and then we'd wake  up in the  morning
and insist that he share it. After all, what else are friends for?
     We  also passed  the time doing exercise or assessing our  injuries.  I
worried  a lot about tooth decay. The guards nearly always spat in our food,
and I  imagined foul  Iraqi  bacteria attacking my broken stumps and rotting
them, and then all my other teeth falling like dominoes.
     We  kept  tabs on  the date, and I  felt especially low  on the 24th. I
couldn't  help myself thinking about  how I would have spent the day  if I'd
been  in England. Would Katie have been with us for the day, or would I have
just phoned her to wish her a happy birthday?
     Towards  the  end of the  month the  major  began turning up  much more
often, normally just  before last light. He  talked to us  a  lot  about how
wonderful  it was  to  be  an  Iraqi  since  the  revolution.  There  was  a
comprehensive health-care system, he explained, and everybody got a handsome
pension at retirement age. Saddam also provided  free education for all,  up
to and including university level--even if that entailed studying overseas.
     "Our children read Shakespeare at school," he said one time, showing us
a copy of Hamlet.  "Last night I was going home, and a bomb  dropped  behind
me. To be or not to be--it is Allah's will, no?"
     None of us said anything, and after a while he muttered, "You know, you
have been well treated here."
     It  was our  best clue yet that the war was nearly over. We didn't tell
him what his guards  were up to when  his  back  was turned. That would only
have made matters worse.
     "Just remember that what happened  before is nothing to do  with me' he
repeated. It must have been obvious  to him that  the war  was going against
them, and he was covering his arse.
     One  night we  heard  the gates opening  and the  sound  of moaning and
groaning. I  hated  hearing the gate open at  night: it  made  me  feel very
insecure. It was clear from the sounds  that a prisoner was being brought in
and put into a cell. There was lots of mumbling, and  suddenly a  long, loud
burst  of screaming. We made contact with him the following  night. His name
was Joseph Small, call sign Alley Cat.  He was a major, an aviator in the US
Marine  Corps. Poor bastard, he had been shot down  on what he  was  able to
tell us was the last day of the  ground war. He had a  bad parachute landing
that  left him  hanging in a tree. He had  sustained an open fracture of the
leg, and all the Iraqis had  done was  give him  an open-cast splint and let
him get on with it.
     It was wonderful to hear the news. The ground war had not  only started
but nearly finished, and Iraq was on its  arse. But the problem Joseph Small
brought with him was that the more Americans there were, the more chat there
was. They wouldn't listen to make sure there weren't any guards around: they
would just spark  up, and the fallout  was bad  for all of us.  I was  still
concerned that we could find ourselves separated.
     Joseph was quite amusing  because he was gagging for a cigarette and he
was always asking  for them, but he always asked aggressively and  they just
fucked him off. But Dinger, the model diplomat,  every time the major turned
up now he'd get a fag out of him.
     In the end we  decided not to initiate any more conversations  with the
Americans.  We let  them  start their own, and waited  to see if there was a
reaction  from the  guards. If there wasn't, we'd join in, always  trying to
get as much information as  we could. Had anybody  been reported  to the Red
Cross? we asked. Did they  think that we were  dead? Did they  know we  were
     Joseph Small was able to say that nothing about us had been reported to
the Red Cross; we'd all been posted  as missing in  action.  Bush  had  just
announced that if all prisoners were not released, the Allies were going all
the way to Baghdad. That  made us feel good in one respect: at least we were
winning,  and there was  a good  chance that we'd be released. But there was
also a chance we wouldn't be freed. We  knew the Iraqis had contact with the
PLO. Were we going to land up best mates with Terry Waite, cuddling the same
     There was a funny side to it as well, though.
     "Who's that?" a voice boomed out.
     "Major Joseph Small, Marine Corps."
     "Russell Sanborn, Captain, Marine Corps."
     "Yes, sir!"
     It was real good gung ho stuff, straight out of Top Gun.
     The day  after Joseph Small turned  up, a  medic  sergeant  called Troy
Dunlap was brought in on a stretcher with spinal injuries. He had  been with
a woman doctor who had broken both her arms and was also taken prisoner. The
rest of the Black Hawk crew were dead after being shot down. Inevitably, the
Americans made contact with him straightaway.
     "Major Small? Major Joseph Small? Shit, sir, I'm your search and rescue
     We made  sure he knew our names as  well,  in  case he got  repatriated
early because of his injuries.
     Around this time the bombing stopped, which confirmed Small's story. We
were using the bombing as a barometer. If  it started again, we  would  know
that things had gone to rat shit. In  the afternoon two bangs sounded off in
quick succession. After the first the birds flew away very loudly, and there
was lots of  shouting. Our hopes of an early release  faded with the echo of
the boom.
     I tried to think positively. The Iraqis  were getting their arse kicked
by  ground troops as well now. Small's  information indicated it would be  a
matter of days rather than  weeks  until  the end.  And things must be going
well for there  to be daylight  raids. But  I  hadn't heard any antiaircraft
fire. Jeral  confirmed that it had  been aircraft  going supersonic over the
city-theirs or ours he didn't know.
     Early in the morning of March 3, the outer gate of the courtyard opened
up and then the gate into the main prison.  There was lots of noise of  keys
clanking, voices  raised, and shouting. David's cell was opened. We were all
straining to hear what was going on.
     We heard the words: "You're going home."
     We  looked  at one another, and Stan said,  "Fuck, mate,  this is  good
     Our door burst open, and a guard stood in the doorway with  a clipboard
in his hand. "Stan. Dinger. You are now going home. Wait here."
     No Andy. It was one  of the worst  moments of my life. Our  worst fears
had been confirmed. They were going to keep back hostages.
     I turned to Dinger and said, "If you're going home, make sure you speak
to Jilly."
     Dinger and Stan shook my hand before leaving. "Don't worry," they said.
     Don't worry? I was flapping fit to take off.
     Left  alone  in the cell, I  spent the  first  couple of hours  feeling
severely sorry for myself.  I felt happy for the blokes that were going, but
that  didn't  stop  me  from  feeling  abandoned.  After  so  many  weeks of
comradeship, the  sudden  loneliness  was almost a physical  pain. I  forced
myself  to work through  the options. The war must have  ended; there was no
doubt about that. We knew that Small's sortie was just about  the last to be
flown, and  that was  days ago. So why had only three of  us been  released?
Were they being released?
     In the afternoon the major came in with all his entourage. "Yes, it  is
true," he said.  "Your  two friends have gone  home. They will be  home with
their families very soon. Maybe you will be going soon. Maybe one day, maybe
two  days. I  don't know. But remember, what happened at the other place  is
nothing  to do with me. What happened here is my responsibility. You've been
well looked after."
     I was nodding and  agreeing like a  lunatic.  He  gave  me two oranges,
which I ate as soon as he had gone, peel and all. I began to feel better.
     Later that afternoon I  was dragged out  and  put into the courtyard in
the sunlight.  I sat  there soaking  up  the  rays  for five minutes and was
joined by  two  guards who started  talking  about the pop charts. They were
about  two decades  behind  in their news, but I wasn't going  to  tell them
that. Instead  I  discussed  the merits of various  Boney M  and Abba  hits,
nodding and  agreeing as  much  as  I could  without  my  head falling  off.
Everybody was being all rather nice, so I knew something was afoot.
     I  got the sun on my bones  for an hour, and  it felt  -wonderful. They
took me back  in  when  the sun went  down, but  I was feeling more and more
     Something  strange happened to Joseph Small that night. I  was lying on
the floor of my cell when I heard his door open and people go in. There were
mumblings;  then  about  a minute  later  the door  closed, and  the  noises
receded. At  last  light  the guards  left  us alone.  The  three of  us got
talking, and I asked him what had happened.
     "An Iraqi soldier came into my cell," he  said. "He was in combat dress
and in bad shape.  He had a rough beard, he had his webbing on, helmet,  his
boots were in shreds from rock cuts. He came in, looked  at me, saluted, and
left. Weird, Andy, fuckin' weird."
     We could only  surmise  that he  had withdrawn from Kuwait and for some
odd reason wanted to see a prisoner.
     We spent the next half hour  trying to work  out why  two lots had gone
but not us, but didn't get far. For the second night I didn't get any sleep.
The first time it had been because  I was so  down  in the dumps. Tonight it
was the excitement of what the morning might bring.
     In the  early hours of March 5  the gates opened,  and  I jumped  to my
feet, eager with anticipation.
     Russell's door opened.
     "Russell Sanborn? You're going home."
     Then Joseph's door.
     "Joseph Small? You're going home."
     The next one was the stretcher case.
     And the last one was me.
     "Andy McNab? McNab? Yes, you will be going home soon."
     They  handcuffed us and took us  out of the  cells one by one. We  went
through the gates that led onto the courtyard, and then through those gates,
and  were  put onto a bus. For the very first  time I  saw  the  bodies that
belonged to  the voices from other cells. Joseph Small was much older than I
had imagined, a man  in  his  mid-forties  who  looked  good considering his
injuries. All I had ever seen of  Russell Sanborn was an eye and finger that
pulled down a small flap of blanket so he could look out and see people slop
out as  we walked past his  punishment  cell. There was no light in his cell
apart from this hole. He had a deep, booming voice, full of authority, and I
had expected a man mountain. In fact he had a very slight frame.
     They moved  down the bus and blindfolded everybody.  We drove along the
road for another 75 feet  and stopped. We  seemed to be picking  up  another
batch of prisoners, who sounded like Saudis. I guessed  we'd been staying in
a mirror image jail that had two identical wings.
     We drove for about forty minutes. We stopped and I  heard aero engines.
This is great, I thought: We're just going to get on the plane and fuck off.
But  only  the Saudis disembarked. The guards then started to  call out  our
     I went  forward  when called, still blindfolded, and  was taken  into a
building.  The echoes  indicated it was a low structure; I imagined it was a
hangar. We were arranged in a long line, handcuffed and  blindfolded.  There
was  a  loud hiss of Tiny lamps, and the noise of  soldiers moving around. I
could hear the breathing of people either side of me. We were held there for
a long  time. My stomach  was  playing up again, and I was  feeling  weak. I
leaned forward, and my nose brushed against a brick wall.
     A  sudden  flurry  of  commands  brought  me bolt upright.  I heard the
ominous, metallic echo of weapons being cocked.
     Well, there  you go,  I said to myself. So much for  getting  released:
we're going to get topped. I took a deep breath and waited for it.
     Nothing happened. We stood there  for  five minutes in  total  silence,
everybody holding their breath.
     I  was feeling  more and more  ill as we stood  against the  wall,  and
finally I buckled, collapsing on to my knees.
     "I've got to go to the toilet," I called out.
     Somebody grabbed my  arm and propelled me away, but  by the time we got
there I'd sprayed myself with  runny stuff. I was  taken back and put in the
     They took  us one by one into tiny  cells. The  handcuffs were removed,
and I could touch either side with my hands. But there  were three blankets,
a real luxury, and  a little window. I needed to bang on the door every five
minutes during the night. A guard appeared each  time and dragged me down to
the toilet, then stood  over me while I dropped my  arse. We spent the whole
night toing and froing.
     At first  light we  were given a good breakfast of  egg, jam and bread,
and hot,  black tea. It was rather encouraging. I looked out of my cell  and
saw piles  of  old  uniforms arranged  on  the floor,  and yellow prison POW
pajamas with pumps. I thought, this is the ticket.
     An hour after breakfast, my cell door was opened, and I was led along a
corridor  to a  room  where there was a chair,  table, mirror, water,  and a
     The "barber"  started to shave  me,  so clumsily that  he  ripped small
chunks out of my face. Blood trickled down my chin.
     "Can I do it myself?" I asked.
     "No, you  are  a  dangerous  man." They wouldn't let  me rinse  my face
afterwards, either. I just had to wipe the soap and blood off with my shirt.
     I was taken back to the cell by two soldiers who told me to strip. They
presented  me  with one of the yellow uniforms and took  my clothes away.  I
said a sad, silent farewell to my escape map and compass.
     "You'll be going home today. Very soon." The blindfold was put back on.
     The  cells  were  opened  one at a time.  A soldier  checked our names,
removed the blindfolds, and we came out and got in line. Somebody came up to
the  left  of  me and  grabbed  my  hand enthusiastically. "My  name's  John
Nichol," he beamed.
     I shook his hand. He noticed  me  looking at  the green R.A.F polo neck
under his yellow top.
     "Fifteen Squadron," he said. "Tornadoes."
     He was  a really  happy bloke, but not  as delirious  as the Americans.
They were behaving as if they were already back in the  States, and a few of
the guards  were getting  twitchy about  it. I was still  keeping myself  in
check. The light was  at the end of the tunnel, but who was to say it wasn't
just another guard with a Tiny lamp coming towards us?
     We were blindfolded yet again and marched off in a big crocodile. After
a few  meters they stopped  us again, and  a soldier walked up and  down the
line spraying us with women's perfume. I gritted my teeth. I could live with
the smell, but the alcohol stung my badly shaved face.
     We  boarded a bus and after  half an hour or so were told that we could
take our  blindfolds  off. The bus had  curtains,  but I managed to look out
through  a gap and saw  bombed  bridges and buildings. Daily  life was still
very  much going  on, however. It was quite  a happy  time on the coach. The
pilots were  saying "Hi" to each other, and the guard at  the front just sat
there and let them get on with it.
     It could be the world's biggest bluff,  however,  and I decided to keep
myself to myself.
     We pulled up at the door  of the Nova Hotel. The place was teeming with
soldiers and  camera  crews, and there was  a fleet of Red Cross vehicles. I
began to feel slightly more at ease.
     The  main foyer was crowded  with what I  at first thought were Iraqis,
but  who turned out  to be Algerian  medical  staff. Part of  the  trade-off
between Saddam  and the Red  Cross had  been that they provide medical staff
for Baghdad.  The Algerians lived  in  the  hotel and helped  in  the  local
     We  were taken  into one  of the  reception  rooms  and  segregated  by
nationality for documentation. The hotel  had no  heating, no hot water,  no
lifts. There was lighting, but  the  Red  Cross had brought everything  else
with them, including their own food.
     This was the first time that  the  Red Cross had had any news about any
of us from the Iraqis. Even then, the lists being handed over were  corrupt.
It was a breach  of  the Geneva Convention,  but a rather minor one compared
with the rest of our experiences as POWs.
     I was keen to find out about Dinger and Stan.
     "Have  there  been  prisoners released before us?" I asked  one of  the
     The  Red  Cross  personnel  appeared  to  range  from  women  in  their
mid-twenties to men  in their  late fifties.  They were incredibly brave and
professional people. I wouldn't have done their job.
     "Yes. They got out via Jordan."
     "Is there any chance you can give me the names of the Brits?"
     She  checked a list for me and found  the surnames of Dinger and  Stan.
There were no other names that I recognized.
     The girl confirmed that we were the last batch. So we had been the only
three  all along,  I thought. All the stuff  about wounded signals operators
was a load of bollocks--a good  bluff that  had got me to  gob off. Legs had
probably been dead from the time Dinger left him.
     Once  the  administration was  done,  we were given a little Red  Cross
ticket and a  number, and the  Europeans  were  taken upstairs to the  third
floor. I noticed that the fire escapes were boarded up, leaving only one way
in and out through the central staircase.
     Everything we needed was on the third floor. A Red Cross waiter brought
us  anything we asked for--if he had  it.  We  got boiled eggs  that weren't
boiled  properly.  When we opened them they ran, but they were the best eggs
I'd  had  in  my  life.  The  others  followed theirs  with  croissants  and
chocolate, but by that time I was in the toilet, bulking up. I started again
with an empty stomach  and settled for a bottle of  beer and some bread.  We
sat  around talking, and I listened  to everybody  saying, "Well, that's it,
we're away."
     I couldn't  believe  what  I  was  hearing. After  all that  we'd  been
through, people were taking the Iraqis at their word.
     It seemed the intention that we were going to be held in the  hotel for
a couple of hours and then taken away to  an airfield. One of  the Red Cross
blokes asked if anybody was cold.
     "Fucking right," came the reply.
     Two hours later he came back with a jumper for each of us that somebody
had gone and bought  downtown. The  patterns were  weird  and wonderful, but
they were warm.
     The  main man  of the Red Cross appeared and  said,  "Is there an  Andy
McNab here?"
     "Somebody downstairs wants to see you."
     As he led me down the staircase I said, "We fly out this afternoon?"
     "We  don't know yet  because  of the weather. We  could also be delayed
because we can't get the aircraft  back from Saudi.  It's very  difficult to
get communications  --the Iraqis won't let me set up my own satellite com ms
It's  all third-hand information, so I'm just sitting here and waiting. It's
a terrible setup: they  won't  give me any help at all. We brought all these
Algerian  medical  teams  to  help  them  with the  civilian  victims of the
bombing, but they've  moved the civvies out of  the hospitals in Baghdad and
told  them  to go home, to leave hospital  beds for soldiers who  are coming
home from the front. There's  so much  unrest they  have to give priority to
the soldiers.
     "That's why  you  are on the third  floor.  We put the Algerians at the
bottom because they are in no danger.
     We  have the Red Cross personnel next, and then  you right  at the top,
because they  are after  you.  They  want  some  of  you  for  hostages  and
bargaining  power. If you  come down these stairs, you must  only  come down
with me or another Red Cross member.
     "We can't get the badly wounded up to the third floor because the lifts
do not work  and we can't maneuver them around the staircases. Unfortunately
they've got  to  stay downstairs. It's quite possible that they'll  raid the
place and take people. The only defense we have is our Red Cross status."
     We  went into the main foyer, and  I spotted two sinister-looking Arabs
sitting by the reception desk.
     "Secret police," he warned.
     If they hadn't posed such a threat, they would have looked laughable in
their big, baggy suits with turnups, white socks, and swept-back hair.
     "Believe it or not," the official went on, "the soldiers  out there are
protecting you."
     It  was ironic. I  saw  the soldiers stop  two other men in  suits from
coming in. You could tell by the body language that there was obviously some
friction  between them. Rumors  were already circulating that fifty generals
had been executed after a failed attempt to change the system of power.
     We walked through the foyer.
     "When you go into  this room,"  the official  pointed, "you  must  stay
there. If you want to move outside, one of us must be with you."
     A  Red Cross girl was sitting in  a chair, blocking  the  door. She was
quietly reading a book, and on the floor by  her side she had a small bottle
of wine, a bit of bread, and some cheese. Brave, unbelievably brave.
     Four or five people  were on stretchers.  I recognized Joseph Small and
Troy Dunlap and waved. Then, looking along the line, I saw Mark.
     "I  gave  them  everybody's name to see if any  of you  were  here," he
     I wanted to hug him and say "Great to see you," but  the words wouldn't
come out. I shook his hand instead.
     "What happened to you?" I said, hardly containing my amazement.
     He was wearing a dish-dash.  His body  looked wasted, and he still bore
the bruises and scars of severe beatings.
     "When we  had that last contact and  we both went down, I went left and
got  caught  up  in fire.  There were people all over the place. I ended  up
lying in a small drainage ditch. They were following up and were a foot away
from me at one stage. Then I moved off a bit, trying  to edge  my way out of
it. After about  half  an hour I saw some torches,  and as they were fanning
about,  they caught me in the beam. There  was  a big cabby,  and I got shot
through the foot and across the elbow. Look."
     He lifted the  dish-dash. The round had skimmed all the way around  his
elbow. He was incredibly lucky. A 7.62 round could have taken his arm off.
     "The foot wound fucked me up," he said.  "I couldn't move. They gave me
a good kicking, dragged  me onto a truck, and took me to a  location. It was
fucking hideous.  My foot was just  bouncing up and  down on the wagon floor
because  I had  no  control of it, and  I was  screaming  my head off.  They
thought it was hilarious. They were laughing their bollocks off."
     Mark lost a lot of blood and thought he was  going to die.  He received
no  medical attention for his foot; the gaping  wound  was just bandaged and
left to heal by itself. He was handcuffed naked to a bed all the time he was
in  prison,  and basically  left to rot. He went  through the same system of
interrogation as  the rest of us, the only difference in his case being that
the interrogation took place in his room.
     "They'd dig at my foot," he said, "and shake my leg so my  foot rattled
around. It was grim. But one funny thing was, they'd piled my clothes on the
floor by  my  bed. Every day  I looked down  at the gold, wrapped  up in the
masking tape, and the  fuckers  never  found  it  until  halfway through  my
capture. I still had my escape map and compass and all."
     He had two blokes that used to come in and take  him out for a shit. He
called  them Health and Hygiene because they were  such dirty,  minging  old
things. When he was on his  own, he used to get the pitcher of water and try
to  clean his  wound.  The  actual hole was clogged  up with  human skin and
gunge, trying to  heal itself  over. His  foot was swollen to the  size of a
     "Sometimes I'd call out that I needed a  shit, and they'd  come in  and
put a bowl under  my arse and leave me for hours.  Piss was going everywhere
because I can't organize myself, and there was shit  up to the brim of  this
little bowl."
     He got filled in by the guards quite a few times. The blokes would come
in and play with his foot and generally give him a hard  time. All along, he
kept up the same  old  story  as the rest of  us. During  one interrogation,
somebody  recognized  his  New Zealand  accent. He  was accused  of being  a
mercenary, working for the Israelis.
     I told him that Dinger and Stan were away and should be in the UK soon,
and gave him our theories of what we thought had happened to the others.  As
we talked about events, he reckoned he could have been in the same prison as
us: it certainly took direct hits at exactly the same time.
     The Red Cross  were  knocking out  sheds of coffee  for us,  and then a
cooked dinner turned up.
     Mark had  lice, like we all did, and generally stank. But his stink was
something special, and he was worried that it could mean gangrene. We talked
about the possible scenarios that could happen now,  but kept drifting  back
to swapping horror stories, each of us trying to cap the other.
     I was just telling  Mark  about the situation outside  with the  secret
police when one of  the Red Cross guys came around and said that there was a
delay.  We couldn't go until the  next day because  of the aircraft: it  had
gone  to Saudi to pick up  prisoners for an exchange, but because of adverse
weather it wouldn't be coming back until the following morning.
     The Red Cross people  were tense. They posted sentries in the corridors
and at all the  entry points, and armed them with  candles  and food. It was
obvious that they were expecting this to be a rough night.
     Mark and I had a beer and then turned in. I planned to kip on the floor
next to his stretcher in case of trouble. That was  the  plan  but it didn't
happen. I went back upstairs to  get some food and chocolate and fell asleep
in a chair. Red Cross people, awake all night, sat among us in groups of two
and three.
     I woke up early. An official appeared and announced with a grin that it
was time to go home.  Mark and I had a problem now of  security, because men
from the Regiment  are required to keep  their faces out of the press at all
costs.  I went up and saw the pilots,  and  explained my concerns to the Red
     "No problem," they  said. "At the  same  time as the coach comes to the
front of the hotel, ambulances will be going to the back because we can only
get the stretchers  out through the service area. You can go in  one of  the
ambulances with your friend."
     The aircrew agreed to put on a diversionary show for the media, pulling
their jumpers over their heads to get the cameras clicking. Footage of these
camera shy "Special Forces" lads was broadcast all over the world.
     We moved off in a convoy. We had two Red Cross guys in the front of our
ambulance, and as we  drove along, one of them said, "We'll give you a  tour
of Baghdad, if you like.  If you look to your left," he  said,  adopting the
voice of the  typical  tour guide, "this is the Ministry of Information.  It
was a  whole  system of buildings, and just  one  building was dropped. Talk
about precision bombing. And on your right you have the Ministry of .. ."
     Posters of Saddam  and the symbol of the  Muslim crescent were on every
street. There was  devastation everywhere, but by  the  looks of things  the
precision bombing  had indeed been excellent. Without  a doubt  they'd  been
hitting  their military targets. Civilian  buildings right next door to  the
ruins were relatively II unscathed.
     He  started talking about  the Iran-Iraq  prisoner exchanges that  he'd
been involved in. He said they'd been exchanging prisoners in their twenties
who looked over forty, they'd had such a terrible time of it. Their life was
gone. Some of the injuries were horrific,  open wounds that had been left to
     "This is actually the most successful exchange yet," the bloke said. "I
think that's because of pressure  from the military, who probably want their
manpower back.  There is  a lot of  concern  about stability.  A coup  seems
imminent. The sooner we get you out the better."
     "I'll second that one," Mark said.
     I  read  the  road signs  towards  Baghdad  International,  and  as the
kilometers ticked down, I felt my apprehension building. There seemed to  be
a lot of administrative cock-ups because we'd drive a little way, then stop,
then drive on, then stop. I couldn't see any aircraft.
     "We  have  this all  the  time,"  the driver said. "The bureaucracy  is
     We rounded a corner and  saw a convoy of buses full of Iraqi prisoners.
They didn't look very happy with themselves. The main terminal was deserted.
We sat  through two hours of  petty  administration before  the call finally
came for us to be put onto an aircraft.
     The  walking  prisoners  went  up  the  steps at the  front of  the two
Swissair 727s. The  stretcher cases were maneuvered up  the stairwell at the
rear. I stayed  with Mark.  The  Swissair  crew  greeted us  like VIPs,  and
straightaway the coffee came out--with cream. It was nectar.
     As the aircraft lifted  from the  runway,  we  roared like  a  football
crowd. I looked at Mark and grinned. This time we really were going home.

     The  head  boy of the American contingent,  a colonel,  came  over  the
loudspeakers. He wanted  to orchestrate  it so that all his men were dressed
only in their POW kit, to look good for the  cameras. They had to  bin their
pullovers. He also organized them so  that they came out in strict order  of
rank. I couldn't believe it. Five minutes out of an  Iraqi jail and he  gets
his military head on again.
     Mark  and  I were  unaffected by this crap because we knew we  wouldn't
leave the aircraft until the media had dispersed. We were getting in amongst
the  sticky buns and coffee when the captain announced that our pair of 727s
would soon be getting an escort of F15s and Tornadoes.
     No sooner had he  said it than two American F15s came up alongside, one
flying  slightly  higher  than the other. They  maneuvered  until they  were
flying right over the wings of our aircraft. The Yanks were up and giving it
lots  of "Yo!" One pilot responded by taking his mask off  and giving it the
old  "Way to go!" arm swing in the air. He fired off chaff  and banked away.
It really was a fantastic sight.
     Then  the  pilots got  their acrobatic hats on. One  spun off and did a
victory roll and landed up over the other  wing; then both F15s  landed over
the starboard wing.
     Now it was the  turn of the R.A.F Tornadoes. They came up so close that
I  could see the pilots' eyes. One  flier took off  his mask and mouthed the
word "Wankers!" with, of course, the accompanying wrist action. John Nichol,
the R.A.F prisoner who had shaken my hand, went up forward and spoke to some
of  them on the radio. They fired off chaff and were spinning around the sky
as well--and doing it all a bit better than the Yanks, I thought.
     "These  jet pilots think  they're the only ones that can do that," said
our captain. "So, fasten your seatbelts, please, and hang on tight."
     With  that he  banked  the aircraft steeply and  put  us into a perfect
barrel roll. The other Swissair jet came up level with us, and both aircraft
flew in concentric circles, meeting up again in the middle.
     There  was another big roar  as we passed into Saudi airspace, and then
all the jets came down,  hoiked down  the chaff, and were  off, afterburners
flaming in the brilliant blue sky.
     We landed in Riyadh to a tumultuous welcome. Every pressman and his dog
was there, and every bit of top brass--Stormin' Norman  included. Mark and I
peeked out from behind the blinds and saw that some of our people were there
too. It was just a matter of waiting. The Saudis disembarked first, followed
by the orderly exit of correctly dressed Americans. The rear door was opened
and the stretcher cases were loaded into the ambulances.  Our people came on
     "We're going to throw you in the back of one of the ambulances," one of
them said. "You'll then go straight around the corner into a C130. We'll fly
out, land  at  another airfield,  and pick  up a  VC10 which  will  take you
straight to Cyprus, where you're going to hospital."
     We got onto the C130, and the rest of the Brits  joined us. We flew for
about twenty  minutes, landed, and picked up our connection  for Cyprus. The
interior of the aircraft had been thoughtfully rearranged  so that the seats
faced one  another. We were  each given a day sack,  in which was a Walkman,
spare batteries,  shaving foam, a razor, underpants, soap, and a watch  with
both digital and analogue time.
     It  was  dark  when we landed at R.A.F Akrotiri. Again, our own  people
were there to meet us. Each  of us was allotted a sponsor we knew. Mine  was
an old mate, Kenny. His first words were: "Am I ever pissed off that  you're
still alive. I was down to take over your job next September."
     There were lots of  handshakes, and  a bottle  of gin  was  circulating
rapidly. A fellow sergeant called  Mugger  was in overall  charge of the SAS
recovery mission.  He was  running  around  Riyadh with  a  borrowed Warrant
Officer crest on his wrist to give his  requests  added authority, as nobody
from, the Regiment was wearing anything that showed who or what they were.
     "I  wish you'd  been delayed even more," he  honked, "because I've been
running around doing the RSM bit. It's fucking great."
     We were put on a bus  and taken straight to a segregated secure ward at
the military hospital.
     The massive, hulking frame  of Stan loomed out of the darkness, closely
followed by Dinger,  fag in hand. Stan had hepatitis and  wasn't feeling too
good, but Dinger was firing on all cylinders.
     "I've phoned  Jilly,"  he  said. "I've got it all  squared away;  don't
worry about the phone cards. Our blokes have rigged up a link through to the
     Mugger  went down  to  the  town  to  organize  a  few videos  for  our
entertainment, and the B  Squadron sergeant major turned  up with a hospital
trolley loaded with booze for  a piss-up. We were  smuggled out  of the ward
and down to the library, where we set about getting blitzed.
     Gordon  Turnbull, the R.A.F psychologist and counselor, had  arrived in
Cyprus to oversee the recuperative phase.
     "What have you got there?"  he asked Mugger  as he  spotted him heading
for the library.
     "Videos for the lads."
     "Mind if I have a look?"
     Turnbull  nearly had a  heart attack. Mugger had bought  us Terminator,
Driller  Killer,  and Nightmare  on  Elm  Street.  "You  can't do  this!" he
shrieked. "Those blokes are all traumatized!"
     "Traumatized?" said  Mugger. "They're  pissed out of their brains. Come
and have a look."
     Turnbull saw us and blew a gasket.
     "Don't worry about it," Mugger said. "They were all  fucking barking to
start with."
     I helped Mark into the bath, and a big lump of  skin the size of a bath
plug fell out of the hole in his foot. I then went in search of our  special
     The armed  guard sneaked me down  to the cellar and took  me to where a
couple of scaleys were guarding the phone to keep away freeloaders.
     The link worked perfectly, and I got through to Jilly straightaway.
     I staggered  to  bed after lots of "I  love  you."  As my head hit  the
pillow, I worked out that this was  the first proper bed I had slept  in for
eight weeks, three days.
     For the next couple  of days we had X rays and tests,  and the dentists
had a provisional go at  my teeth. We had  posttraumatic shock sessions with
Gordon  Turnbull,  which  lasted only  a few minutes each. Poor Gordon, he'd
thought it was Christmas with all these  traumatized blokes coming back from
captivity. He was good at his job, but the mentality of the blokes made them
far  more  interested in  taking advantage  of everything  else  that was on
offer. Our blokes had organized for us to get down to  the town, and the Red
Cross had given us a float of money. We  wanted to buy our duty frees before
it all disappeared.
     The Red Cross went round asking  if  we had any special requests, which
they would then go into the town and buy on our behalf. |
     "Why don't you just give us the money, and we'll | buy our own  kit?" I
said to a distinguished-looking I lady in her late fifties. 


We had the luxury of two days off. On Monday Jilly and I went for a walk around the town. I was dressed in familiar old clothes that were a lot looser-fitting than the last time I'd worn them. We wanted just to bum around, doing nothing in particular, but ended up bumping into loads of blokes with suntans and swapping horror stories. On Tuesday Katie came to stay and we spent our time watching the Robin Hood video and practicing our high kicks. On Wednesday it was back to work. The Regiment wanted to find out what had happened and why, and whether there were any lessons to be learned for future operations. The five of us sat down with maps and aerial photography and pieced together every detail of our movements from the time we got the warning order to the moment of our release. We visited widows and families. Stan and Chris spent time with Vince's wife and his brothers, giving them details of what had happened and trying to console them. I visited Legs's wife and found her very switched on and down to earth. Meeting her was a help to me. I could talk things through without having to do the "never mind" bit. On March 16 we got away for a couple of days to Aberdovey, a place Jilly and I had gone to when we first met. The first time we went there she told me it was the most wonderful holiday ever. She expected the same again, but we both sensed that this time things were different. We couldn't put our finger on anything specific, but things were a bit strained. We cut short the trip and went to see Bob's mother and sister in Bognor. The loss of their son and brother had hit them hard. They hadn't even known he was in the Regiment--nor had his divorced father, who'd had to stop working in the restaurant he managed in London. He was physically sick with grief. The debrief took about three weeks. We then had a visit from Gordon Turnbull again and a two-hour session in the officers' mess, chatting away. He and one of his colleagues got us to do a simple tick test to evaluate our levels of stress. The higher you scored above 10, the worse your emotional turmoil. We all scored 11. Gordon got 13. We decided that the wives and girlfriends had been more -traumatized by the events than we had. They'd had a lot to go through: the pain of uncertainty, which they hadn't been allowed to share with anybody, and then the sadness of being told that we were almost certainly dead--only to see some of our faces on TV a -few days later. Gordon Turnbull held a session specially for them, explaining in particular the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Once the debrief was consolidated, it was announced that we would address the whole Regiment. We did a lot of rehearsals because we wanted it to go well. It is an unheard-of event for all available personnel to turn up to a debrief, but when we stood up, it was in front of a sea of faces. Everybody was there, from the heli crew to the search and rescue coordinator. General Sir Peter de la Billiere--DLB as we know him--was seated in the front row with an array of army high command. We spoke for two hours. I gave the initial brief of the planning phases and then went on to the compromise, up to the split. Then each person told his story, and what lessons he had learnt. Chris was last on. He had a remarkable story to tell. When Start went off with the old goat herder in search of a vehicle, the plan had been that if he didn't return by 1830, Chris would move out, leaving behind Stan's belt kit and some ammunition. This he duly did, heading due north on a bearing, aiming for the Euphrates. It was 36 hours since their water had run out. Chris had only been going for a quarter of an hour when he saw vehicle lights behind him in the area of the LUP. He started to run back, thinking that Stan had managed to get a vehicle and was coming to RV with him. Then he saw a second set of lights. His heart sank. Chris walked for the rest of that night. It was a clear sky --good ambient light for the night sight--but still very cold. At about 0430, looking through the sight, he saw the river below him. There were bits and pieces of habitation dotted amongst the irrigated land, and the sound of dogs barking. He was desperate for water, however, and started to move down towards the river. Without warning, he found himself up to his waist in mud. He floundered around, and it was a long time before he managed to drag himself clear. Exhausted and cautious, he crawled the rest of the way to the water's edge. He filled his bottles, drank, and then filled them again. The water was thick with mud. By now it was nearly first light. He found a small wadi to hide in but realized only when it was too late that he was also just 1,600 feet away from a small village, and the top of the wadi was in full view. He was stuck. He tried to sleep but was so cold and wet that every time he dozed off he woke up again minutes later, shivering uncontrollably. Inspecting his feet, he found that he'd lost all his toenails, and that the blisters along the sides of his feet had connected up into long cuts that were weeping pus. So much for the 100 pounds go faster mountain boots. He moved out again just after last light and was soon having to box around military and civilian locations. There seemed to be hundreds of them, and the result was that between 1830 that evening and 0500 the next morning he covered only 6 miles. For his next LUP Chris climbed down a short way from the top of a 600 feet cliff face. He lay in a fissure in the rock, watching village life on the opposite bank--kids running around, women in black kit, people washing and fishing. He moved off again soon after last light and found himself sandwiched between the river on his right and a road on his left. Cross-graining the wadis exhausted him, and he ended up practically walking on the road. At one point he heard the sound of a vehicle and jumped into the ditch. He peered through the sight at the Scud convoy that was thundering by overhead. He made a note of the time and place and moved on. Soon afterwards, another vehicle went past on main beam and illuminated a road sign up ahead. Chris was gutted by what it said. He was 30 miles further from the border than he'd estimated. That equated to another two nights of travel, which depressed him severely. When it came to first light, Chris couldn't find a decent LUP and started flapping. After a lot of running around, he eventually got into a big culvert under the main road. That seemed to be fine, until he heard the ominously familiar sound of goat bells. A herd of goats was coming up the culvert--heading, he supposed, for the fields on the other side. Chris legged it from his hiding place and managed to scramble about 6 feet up the embankment before an old goat herder emerged, followed by a donkey and the world's supply of goats--and a pair of dogs. They were bound to scent him. He had a split second in which to decide whether to shoot the old man to be on the safe side, or just do a runner. The dogs made the decision for him, running straight past without looking up. The rest of the procession followed without a flicker. Chris couldn't believe it. He had been within spitting distance of them all. He could only think that the dogs had been put off by the scent of the goats--or that of the old boy's dirty dish dash. They would almost certainly be going back that way before last light, however, so Chris knew that he'd have to move. He started crawling along a wadi, having to get down every time a vehicle went along--which was often. The ground had changed by now, from lush, irrigated vegetation to wadi systems and small mounds covered with thorn bushes. It was hard going. After about 5 miles he found a large depression in the ground and settled down for the rest of the day. Chris had used up his supply of muddy river water and was dehydrating badly. He knew, however, that he had to keep away from the Euphrates, since every hut seemed to have a dog in it. He'd just have to keep going and hope that he'd find water elsewhere soon. At last light he got up and headed due west, walking for several hours. At one point an air-raid siren went off ahead of him, and through the night sight he could make out an emplacement that appeared to consist of several S60s, together with radio masts and sentries who were patrolling. He boxed around the position and came to a small stream flowing over white rock. Not wasting a second, he undid his water bottles and quickly filled them. Then he moved on straightaway. He kept encountering more and more enemy activity and eventually found himself at a road junction, wedged between a VCP and an antiaircraft site. It was nearly first light so he crawled into a culvert under the road. It had been used as a dump site for garbage, and the stench was overpowering. His feet were in a very bad way by now, but there wasn't anything he could do to treat them. He consoled himself by lying back on the rubbish and taking a big swig from one of the bottles. His lips burned and blistered the moment the fluid touched them. He nearly shouted with pain. The emplacement must have been guarding something like a chemical plant, and the stream must have been some kind of outlet from it. Chris was in a bad way. He had nothing to rinse his burning mouth with, and his bottles were now unusable. For a short while he thought he was going to die. As he lay in the culvert, Chris took stock. He hadn't had water for two days, and he now needed medical treatment for his mouth. Some cuts on his hands had turned septic, and his feet were so bad he could only just about put pressure on them. He knew he didn't have much time left. He set off as soon as it was last light. It was very cloudy and dark, which meant he might be able to get past the VCP unnoticed. In fact he found some dead ground and staggered past, his feet causing him excruciating pain. He hobbled as best he could for about an hour when suddenly there was a flash in the sky. Thinking he'd triggered off a trip flare, Chris hit the ground. Then he heard explosions. Looking over his shoulder, he realized there was an air raid on the area of the chemical plant. He knew he must be close to the border by now and was looking for the twin towers on high ground. He saw a town in the distance, brightly lit, and very soon afterwards encountered coils of barbed wire. Was the town in Syria, though, or was it on the Iraqi side and the wire was a false frontier? A patrol in vehicles went past. Their existence seemed to confirm that this was the border, and he decided to go for it. He found a point where there were stakes holding the wire and started to climb. He shredded his arms and legs, but managed to get over. He sat down on the other side and made another appreciation. The town seemed to be in the wrong place. But whatever, it made sense to press on west. Chris had just about had it by now. He was swaying around as he shuffled along, well on the way down with dehydration. There was no saliva in his mouth, and his tongue was stuck to the inside of his cheek. As he walked, his head filled with a loud crackling noise like static electricity. He saw a white flash and must have passed out. He came to on the ground. He got back up on his feet and tried to move. The same thing happened. This time, he came to with his face in a pool of blood. He'd landed face down on a rock and broken his nose. He staggered into a nearby wadi and fell asleep. He woke at first light when he heard Stan shouting to him to come on out, everybody was just around the corner. He got to his feet and started hobbling towards the sound of S tan's voice. He felt so happy that the patrol was going to be reunited. Coming out of the wadi, he realized at once that he was hallucinating. He knew that if he didn't get some water down him soon, he'd be dead. There was a small house, probably a goat herder dwelling, in the middle distance. Chris decided that even if he was still in Iraq, he'd have to go there and get some water--if necessary, by force. A woman was preparing food by a fire. Children were playing around her, and he could see a man in the distance with a herd of goats. As Chris shuffled up to the fire, a lad in his late teens came out of the house and greeted him. The boy was friendly, shaking Chris by the hand and smiling. "Where is this?" Chris said. The boy didn't understand. He looked quizzically at Chris, then started pointing behind him. "Iraq! Iraq!" he beamed. Chris got the picture. He shook the boy's hand again and said, "Thank fuck for that!" He was invited inside and offered a big bowl of water. Gulping it down in one, he immediately asked for another. An old granny with tattoos on her face was feeding a child in the corner of the room. She gave him a toothless grin. Also stacked up in the same room were the whole family's bedding rolls and straw for the animals. Chris went over and sat by the paraffin heater and soaked up the warmth. The children who had been playing outside came in and showed him pictures they had drawn on scraps of paper. The drawings were of skies full of aircraft and tanks in flames. The woman came in with a hot loaf of nan bread she'd just baked and presented it to Chris. He was touched. The bread had obviously been intended as the family's meal. He swallowed one mouthful and felt instantly full. His stomach must have shrunk dramatically. The lad brought him some hot sweet tea; as far as Chris was concerned, it was the best brew he'd ever had. Chris tried to explain that he needed to find a policeman. The boy seemed to understand and said he'd take him to one. Chris took off his smock and webbing and stripped down his 203 to look less aggressive to anyone they met. He wrapped the parts inside his smock and put it in a plastic fertilizer bag that the boy gave him. They set off with waves and smiles, the boy carrying the bag, Chris limping along on his damaged feet. The children stayed with them until the hut was almost out of sight. After they'd been walking for about an hour, a Land Cruiser pulled up alongside, and the driver offered them a lift into town. They sat in the back, and the driver and the boy exchanged a few pleasantries, but for most of the journey they drove along in silence. From time to time, Chris caught the driver staring at him in the rearview mirror. Just as they were coming, into the town, the vehicle stopped outside a house, and the driver shouted to somebody inside. An Arab in his late thirties came out, dressed from head to toe in black. The two of them had a long discussion, at the end of which the driver told Chris's friend to get out. He reluctantly did as he was told, and Chris noticed as he said goodbye that he looked very worried. They drove on, and the driver, who appeared to speak more English than he had let on, started gob bing off about the war. He got quite agitated about it. "You should not be here," he said. "This is not our war." Basically the drift was: "Fuck off back to Iraq, white eye." Chris showed him his indemnity slip, which stated in Arabic that anybody guiding the bearer to a British Embassy or to the Allied forces would receive a reward of 5,000. The Arab glanced at the piece of paper as he drove, then stuffed it into his shirt pocket. Chris explained that the paper was no good on its own; there had to be a live body to go with it. Just to let him know that he meant it, he gave the Arab a bit of an evil look. They pulled up outside a garage. Another Arab who appeared to know the driver came out of the workshop, went around to the passenger side of the Land Cruiser, looked at Chris, then turned on his heels and ran back inside. It seemed to Chris that he was going to get slotted here, and he started to pull the weapon out of the bag. The driver grabbed his arm, and Chris responded with a bit of good news with his elbow. He jumped out of the vehicle as the Arab lolled across the seats with his head sticking out Chris's side. Kicking the door so that it slammed on the man's neck, Chris did a runner--or rather, a fast hobble. He rounded a corner and spotted a man in uniform, armed with an AK47, who was on guard outside a bungalow. "Police?" Chris shouted. "Yes." "British airman!" The man hustled him inside the building, which turned out to be the police station. Officers were lounging around the room in leather jackets and sunglasses, doing the sinister bit. Minutes later, the driver of the Land Cruiser came in, holding his neck and cursing the British. Chris grabbed the indemnity slip from the man's pocket and showed it to the police. They laughed at what it said. Chris began to get the feeling that he had a problem on his hands. Just as he was contemplating fighting his way out of the station, one of the policemen went over to the driver and smacked him hard across the head. Others jumped up and dragged him from the building. "Stupid twat," Chris grinned at them, "he's just done himself out of five grand." They searched Chris's kit before taking him to the chiefs office. The senior officer didn't speak a word of English-none of them did--but he got Chris to write down his name and details on a sheet of paper. Chris supplied his correct name but stated that he was a medic with an air rescue team. The chief picked up his phone. He spelled out to somebody everything that Chris had written, letter by letter. Then he made another call, which Chris guessed to be internal by the number of digits dialed. One of the policemen appeared with a dish-dash and face veil and told Chris to put them on. He was hustled out to a vehicle, a policeman either side of him. Chris was left in no doubt that he was their prisoner, and he didn't have a clue where they were taking him. For all he knew they could have been heading back to the border. They drove for about an hour along a desert highway and eventually pulled up behind a couple of Meres that were parked at the roadside. Six heavies lounged against the black limos, all wearing sunglasses. One of them had a Makharov in his hand. Chris was blindfolded and made to kneel on the tarmac. His head was pushed forward and he thought: Here we go, it's topping time. He was severely pissed off with himself for falling into the trap. For several seconds, nothing happened. Then they hauled him to his feet and pushed him into the back of one of the cars. They must just have been having a bit of fun. They ' drove for another two hours, and Chris saw a big sign with an arrow and the word Baghdad. One of the men in sunglasses said, '"Yes, we are going to Baghdad. You are prisoner of war. We are Iraqi." It was coming to last light, and the sun was setting in front of them. Chris was so confused by this stage that he couldn't remember whether the sun set in the west or the east. He thought back to his childhood in Tyneside and the times he'd watched the sun coming up over the coast in the morning. If it came up in the east, he reasoned, then they must be heading west. He knew he was right when he started to see signs saying Damascus. It was dark when they hit the outskirts of the city. The heavies put out their cigarettes and started straightening their ties. They pulled up behind another car. A man got out and came and sat in the passenger seat of Chris's vehicle. Middle-aged and smartly dressed, he spoke excellent English. "Are you all right?" he asked. "Yes thanks, I'm fine." "Good. Don't worry, it won't be long now." It was clear to Chris that the other two blokes in the car were practically shitting themselves with fear of this fellow. When they reached a compound and stopped, both men jumped out and opened the man's door for him. Chris tried to get out and fell onto his knees. His feet had given up the struggle. The man snapped his fingers, and Chris was carried into the building. He was shown into a large office and greeted by a man in a navy blazer, striped shirt, and tie. The man shook his hand and said something. "Welcome," an interpreter translated. The office had all the mod cons: teak furniture from Har rods, gold-plated AK47 on the wall, the lot. He worked out that they were in the headquarters of the secret police. Through the interpreter, the top man asked if Chris would like a bath. Chris nodded and was ushered through a door into a bedroom, with bathroom and gym en suite. The man put a new blade in his razor and unwrapped soap and shampoo and put them on the bath as he left. Chris was just starting to strip off when a young lad came in with a tape measure. He put it around Chris's chest, then took his other measurements. Chris hoped it was a suit he was being measured for, and not a coffin. The bath water was black almost as soon as he got into it, so he ran another one. Yet another boy appeared. He presented Chris with a cup of coffee. It was good stuff. He started to feel more secure. If they were going to top him, they wouldn't waste good coffee on him. The interpreter came back and asked him questions. Chris responded with the cover story. The Arab looked dubious, but made no comment. Chris got out of the bath and looked at himself in the mirror. He couldn't believe how much weight he'd lost. His biceps were the size of his wrists. Somebody else came in with clean clothes for him. It felt fantastic putting on fresh skivies then a white shirt and tie, socks, shoes, and--the piece de resistance--a brand new pin-stripe suit that must have been run up in the last half hour, when he was in the bath--in the middle of the night. The trousers were a little too big around the waist, and the chief gave the lad with the tape measure a fearsome bollocking. The boy gestured for Chris to take them off again and disappeared with them over his arm. A doctor was brought in. He dressed Chris's feet and bandaged them up. As he was finishing, the boy came back with the trousers. This time they were a perfect fit. The chief asked Chris if he'd care for a little food and led him to his dining room. The table was groaning under the weight of steaks, kebabs, vegetables, fruit, freshly baked bread. Chris knocked back a liter of water and then got stuck into a steak. He could manage only a few mouthfuls. The chief was really getting into it now and offered him a night on the town. "I'm sorry," Chris said, "but I think I should go to the British Embassy as soon as possible." The chief looked really disappointed as he telephoned the embassy and arranged for somebody to come and collect Chris. He'd probably been looking forward to a night out on expenses. When the driver from the British Embassy arrived, he, too, bowed to the chief. Then he picked up Chris's dirty kit and carried it to the car while Chris shook hands with his new bosom buddy. The embassy sent messages at once to Joint Headquarters at High Wycombe and to Riyadh, and made arrangements for Chris to fly out the next evening. It was the first news anybody had had of Bravo Two Zero since the night of the infil. Chris had walked more than 180 miles in the eight nights of his E&E. In all that time he'd had nothing to eat except the two small packets of biscuits that he had shared with Vince and Stan, and he'd had virtually nothing to drink. He had lost an enormous amount of body weight, and his survival was attributed to his system feeding on its own meat. It was two weeks before Chris could walk again properly, and six weeks before he got any sensation back in his toes and fingers. The location where he reported finding the water that burnt his mouth turned out to be a uranium-processing plant. He had a severe blood disorder and problems with his liver from drinking dirty river water, but he was back on operations very soon afterwards. It was one of the most remarkable E&Es ever recorded by the Regiment, as far as I am concerned, ranking above even the legendary trek through the desert of North Africa by Jack Sillitoe, one of David Stirling's originals, in 1942. There had been many more troops than we'd expected in the area. In fact, we now learnt that what we had gone into was one large military holding area: two Iraqi armored divisions were positioned between the border and our first LUP. As if that wasn't bad enough, every man, woman, and child in the area had been told to be on the lookout for us. Children were given the day off school to join in the hunt. All the same, we gave a good account of ourselves: it was established by intelligence sources that we had left 250 Iraqi dead and wounded in our wake. The FOB received our Sit Rep of January 23, but in a very corrupt mode, which must have confused the hell out of them. On the 24th, at 1600 local time--the time of the compromise--another unintelligible signal was received. Later they picked up a faint TACBE signal and realized then that we were in trouble. And that was all they heard until Chris turned up in Syria on January 31. Two rescue missions were mounted as a result of our lost com ms procedure and the corrupt signals. The first, on January 26, had to turn back soon after crossing the border as the Chinook pilot was violently ill. It was just as well after all that we hadn't hung around for it. A second attempt was made on the 27th, and this time it was a joint US and British effort. Misled by the location of the weak TACBE signal, they flew up the southern corridor, but of course with no result. American intelligence reports were also coming in of an Israeli attack on the Syrian border, but because it was assumed that we were heading south a connection with Bravo Two Zero was not made. What had gone wrong with the patrol radio? Nothing. In any area of the world only certain frequencies will work, and even then they have to be changed during the day to take account of changes in the ionosphere. The frequencies we were given were wrong, which was most unfortunate. It was a human error that you have to hope will never happen again. And what of AWACS and the much-vaunted 15second response time? For whatever reason, we were almost 200 miles out of range. There was a little hiccup in communication somewhere along the line, and it was just another thing that it was hoped would not happen again. The American pilot that we made contact with on TACBE reported the incident, but the report did not reach our people at the FOB until three days later. One thing we got right was my decision to head for Syria rather than go back to the heli RV. The word "compromise" came through intact. However, with out any other information what did it mean? Were they to read it as a possible compromise or a definite compromise? And whichever, should they take it to mean a compromise in contact or out of contact? There was simply not enough information for the colonel to act on, but he had to sit and decide whether or not to send a helicopter out to the RV, and he decided not to, even though the boys in the squadron were queuing up to go and giving him a hard time. But he was right. Why risk eleven men--the aircrew and the boys in the back--plus an aircraft, going into they knew not what? I was glad I hadn't had to make the decision. As we discovered from our interrogators, the infil Chinook had been compromised when it landed, so it was just as well another wasn't sent for the RV. The only thing we could have done with at the time of the compromise was a fast jet fly over We could have spoken to them on TACBE and guided them onto the S60s, and then arranged an orderly exfil. For the next few weeks we did debriefs to all and sundry. We gave a one-hour, edited-highlights version to Lord Bramall, colonel in chief of the Regiment, who entertained us to lunch afterwards. He struck me as a very switched-on man--deaf as a doorpost, but very switched on. Schwarzkopf came down with his gang, and we spent two hours with him. "I'm sorry for what happened," he said. "If I'd known what was up there at the time, you wouldn't have gone; it's as simple as that." We had a great dinner with him, and he very kindly signed the silk escape maps we had half-inched from the briefing room in Riyadh. The very last debrief was for B Squadron. Within days of their return to the UK most of the blokes had started to prepare for other jobs or had already left, but in August we managed to get together for the first time that year and hold our own internal postmortem. The SAS's achievements behind enemy lines were substantial. By January 26, only nine days into the war, no more Scuds were launched from the sector of western Iraq the Regiment had been assigned to--an area of land covering hundreds of square miles. Mugger had taken part in one such mission. His half squadron group had been operating behind enemy lines since January 20. On February 6 he was tasked to attack a communications facility which was of vital importance to the operation of Scud. The plan was to move at last light on the 7th to within 1 mile of the target, carry out a close target recce, giving confirmatory orders, and attack. The target, it was discovered, was protected by an 8-it. concrete wall with a 6-it. inner fence, and manned enemy bunkers to the left and right. Four men were detailed to destroy the two bunkers with antitank missiles and additional fire support from the vehicles. Eight men moved to the target across 600 feet of flat, open ground to carry out their demolition task. They couldn't locate the switching gear because of damage done by Allied bombing. Mugger was therefore tasked to blow up the steel mast. He and his gang managed to place charges with timers set on two minutes, but as they withdrew they came under fire. The demolition party took cover on target, aware that they had very little time before the charges detonated. According to Mugger, as the seconds ticked away one of the blokes screamed out, "The timers! We need cover! We need cover!" "Cover?" Mugger shouted back, mindful of the tons of steel that was about to fall around their ears. "You'll be getting all the fucking cover you need in a minute!" As he spoke, the fire-support team aboard the Pinkies found their targets, and with the enemy temporarily suppressed, Mugger's gang was up and running. They regrouped back at the vehicles with the rest of the half squadron and successfully fought their way clear of enemy positions. There was a blinding flash followed by a pressure wave as the charges detonated. The tower was down. Vehicles and equipment had taken many hits, but there were no casualties. The following day, however, it was discovered that it wasn't only Mugger and his gang who'd had a scary time: two blokes found bullet holes in the fabric of their smocks. On another occasion, one of the patrol commanders had aborted his mission when he saw the flat, featureless terrain. Believing that it was impossible to achieve his aim where he was, he had got his men back on the helicopter and returned to base. He questioned his own integrity because of it. Personally, I feel that it was one of the bravest acts of the war. I wish I was made of the same sort of stuff. The Iraqis found the body of Vince Phillips and delivered it to the Red Cross, who in turn had him brought back to the UK. The bodies of Bob Consiglio and Steve "Legs" Lane were on the same flight home. Legs was awarded a posthumous MM (Military Medal) for what the official obituary described as "unswerving leadership." For me he showed this during the contacts and even more in the E&E. It was Legs who wanted us to find a better ambush point for the hijack, and it was just as well he did--otherwise it would have been two truckloads of troops we were stopping, not an old American taxi. And it was Legs who got Dinger into the water when swimming over a quarter of a mile of freezing Euphrates was the last thing he wanted to do. That's leadership. Bob, too, got the MM that night. Either he made his choice or it was made for him, but he went forward like a man possessed and tried to fight his way out of the contact. In doing so he drew a fearsome amount of enemy fire, and this diversion, without a doubt, helped the rest of us get away. He was hit in the head by a round that came out through his stomach and ignited a white phosphorous grenade in his webbing. He died instantly. As is the custom, we held a dead man's auction. All the men's kit was sold off to the highest bidder, and the proceeds given to the next of kin or squadron funds. The practice is not macabre; it's just the culture within the Regiment. If you worried about people getting hurt and killed you'd spend your life on antidepressants. The pressure release is to take the piss out of everything and everybody. A bloke fell off a mountain once when we were away, and it took us about three hours to get the body back down to our base camp. A helicopter came in to fetch it, and one of the blokes was straight into the kit to get his rum and all the other goodies. "Well, he ain't fucking going to need them now, is he?" he said, and quite rightly so. Before anybody said a word, he'd got the man's jumper on and was away with all the rest. When we returned to Hereford, all the borrowed kit was returned and auctioned. It's accepted, but it doesn't mean to say you're not upset. The bloke who's dead is not going to worry about it, and anyway, he'll have been to other people's auctions and done exactly the same. Bob had a big Mexican sombrero in his locker at work, a typical tourist souvenir that I knew for a fact had only cost him ten dollars because I'd been there when he bought it. I took the piss out of him on many occasions for wasting his money on such a bit of tat. At the auction, however, some idiot parted with more than a hundred quid for it. I kept it at home for a while, then took it to his grave with some MM ribbon for him and Legs. We had some problems at the joint funeral in Hereford. Legs was cremated, and Vince and Bob were buried in the regimental plot. Afterwards there was a wake in the club--curry and drinks. A group of Vince's male relations started to give me a bit of a hard time. As far as they were concerned, there was no way such a tough man could die of hypothermia. I tried to explain that it doesn't matter how good you are or how strong you are: if hypothermia hits you, there's not a lot you can do about it. I appreciate that grief takes different people in different ways, but I hope that in time Vince's relations will come to accept the truth. The following week, taking advantage of British Airways' "two for the price of one" offer to Gulf servicemen, Jilly and I went camping in California. It was a fantastic holiday, and it really helped put everything behind me. A fortnight later I went back to work. Mark was in a rehabilitation unit, where he remained on and off for the next six months before returning to squadron duties. Chris went to training wing as one of the instructors in charge of Selection. Dinger had already left on a one-year job abroad. Stan, too, was away within two months, and once the medics had finished with my hands and teeth, so was I.


Our heating bills have been horrendous since I got back. It's nice to be warm. When it rains now and I'm indoors, I get a big brew of tea and sit by the window, and I think about all the poor blokes stuck on tops of hills. As my stress-test score showed, I'm not emotionally affected by what happened. I certainly don't have nightmares. We are big boys and we know the rules that we play by. We've all been close to death before. You accept it. You don't want it to happen, of course, but sometimes, there you go--occupational hazard. In a strange way I'm almost glad I had my Iraqi experience. I wouldn't like to repeat it, but I'm glad that it happened. Some things, however, will live with me for ever. The jangle of keys. The crash of a bolt. The rattle of metal sheeting. A hatred of zoos. The smell of pork. I joined the army to get out of the shit I was in with the law, but there was never any intention to stay in for the full twenty-two years. I've been very fortunate. I've been all around the world, doing things that were outrageous but great fun. Now it's time to get on and do something else. I'm 33 going on 17, because I've always been too busy playing the soldier. I want to do the things I've always wanted to do. Our big joke in prison used to be, "Well, at least it can't make us pregnant," and I have learnt that nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Things that might have bothered me in the past are less likely to now--the car not working, red wine being spilt on our light-colored carpet, the washing machine flooding, something valuable getting lost. I know my limitations better now, yet I feel more positive and self-assured. I no longer take anything for granted. I appreciate simple, everyday things much more; instead of going downtown in the car, I'll make an effort to walk through the park. The Regiment used to have priority; the job always came first. Now, if it's Katie's school sports day, I'll make the effort to be there and cheer her on. During my time in Baghdad, and when I got back, I kept going over the decisions I had made, trying to work out if they had been right or wrong. The conclusion I came to was that I made some good ones, some bad ones, and some indifferent ones. But at the end of the day they had to be made. You're presented with a problem, you make your appreciation, and you make your decision. But make no decision at all and you're dead. Should I have gone for the border instead of hiding up? The answer undoubtedly is yes. Should I have appeared to give in to the Iraqis when I did? Again, yes--I know I did the right thing. Tactically, and morally. As to the rights and wrongs of the war--well, that's never been a worry to me. I was a soldier; that's what I was paid for. It was very exciting; I got high doing it. And as for the people who interrogated me, if I met any of them in the street tomorrow and thought I could get away with it, I'd slot them. Glossary 203 M16 rifle with 40mm grenade launcher attached 2 i/c second in command 66 lightweight, throwaway antitank rocket AAA or Triple A antiaircraft artillery APC Armored Personnel Carrier AWACS Airborne Warning And Control System beasting army slang for a beating bergen pack carried by British farces on active service berm entrenchment for tank Big Four the only four pieces of information which, under the Geneva Convention, an enemy is allowed to ask for: number, rank, name, date of birth bone (adj.) stupid brew mug of tea buckshee free, without charge, surplus bulk up vomit cabby, as in fire your weapon at "have a cabby at" chin strap be on really knackered, as in "I can't go your on, I'm on, my chin strap here." claymore antipersonnel mine used for area protection COP Close Observation Platoon CT Counter Terrorist CTR close target recce curls countryside cyalume stick light-stick activated by squeezing DF direction finder find the direction of Dinkie short-wheelbase Land-Rover (term first used during the Gulf War) OOP drop-off point DPM disrupted-pattern material (i.e. camouflage) E&E escape and evasion ERV emergency rendezvous FOB Forward Operations Base FRY final rendezvous fuddle or getting together and having a brew kefuddle or conference gob off speak GPMG general purpose machine gun glossary 421 green slime member of Intelligence Corps hard routine regime in the field that demands, among other things: belt kit on, weapons at hand, no flame or smoke, and all equipment packed away unless in use HE high explosive Head Shed nickname for anyone in authority. From Malaya days, this is what any form of leadership in the Regiment has been called--after the term for the start of a river course hex amine (hexy) small block of solid fuel ID identify identity Jane's military encyclopedia jundie Iraqi soldier laager an armored vehicle LUP launched punched LSV light strike vehicle (dune buggy) LUP lying-up point MSR Main Supply Route NBC nuclear, biological, chemical (warfare) net radio network NVA night-viewing aid NVG night-viewing goggles OC officer commanding OP observation post I OP SEC operational security j PE plastic explosive j pear-shaped got the hump pinkie (110) long-wheelbase Land-Rover , Regiment Special Air Service remf rear echelon motherfucker rupert nickname for officer--not always derogatory RV rendezvous point scaley signaler scaley kit signals equipment Sit Rep situation report SOP standard operating procedure spook member of Intelligence Corps squaddy soldier stag sentry (also sentry duty) stand stood to ready to fight in your position Syrette automatic one-time injector S60 57mm antiaircraft gun tab forced march over a long distance, usually carrying a heavy load 1 TACBE tactical beacon TEL transporter erector launcher 1 VCP vehicle checkpoint ] ANDY McNAB, Sergeant, SAS, joined the British infantry as a boy soldier. In 1984 he was "badged" as a member of the SAS-the British Special Forces-and has since been involved in elite intelligence and combat operations worldwide. During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero, a patrol that in the words of his commanding officer "will remain in regimental history forever." After six months of medical treatment immediately following his release by the Iraqis, Andy McNab was back on active service. He remained with the SAS until February 1993, at which time he was the most highly decorated soldier in the British Army.

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