Immediate Action
     By Andy McNab


     "I took my belt kit off and got down on my belly. All I had with me was
my  pistol as I kitten-crawled toward the perimeter. I put my hands out, put
pressure on  my elbows, and pushed myself forward with  the tips of my toes.
Six inches  at a time, I moved through the undergrowth. I stopped, lifted my
head from the dirt of the jungle floor, looked and listened. I heard my  own
breath, and it sounded a hundred times louder than anything around  me.  The
leaves crackled more than they normally would; everything  was magnified ten
times  in my mind. I inched forward again. It  took an hour to cover  twenty
     We were right on top of the target now, and movement was the thing that
was going to give us away."
     Also by Andy McNab
     BRAVO TWO ZERO The true story  of an S.A.S Patrol behind enemy lines in
     Published  by  Dell  Publishing a  division  of Bantam  Doubleday  Dell
Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036
     If you  purchased  this  book without a cover you should be  aware that
this book is stolen  property. It was reported as  "unsold and destroyed" to
the publisher and  neither the  author  nor the publisher  has received  any
payment for this "stripped book."
     Copyright 1995 by Andy McNab
     All  rights  reserved.  No  part  of this  book  may  be  reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without the  written permission of the Publisher, except  where permitted by
law. For information address: Bantam Press, London, England.
     The  trademark  DellO is  registered  in  the U.S. Patent and Trademark

     Reprinted by arrangement with Bantam Press
     Printed in the United States of America
     Published simultaneously in Canada

     September 1996
     The windows and doors of the building were boarded up and bristled with
barbed wire, but that wasn't going to keep us out.
     An old sheet of corrugated iron naled over the frame of a small door on
the side was loose. jamming a length of wood into the gap, I heaved with all
my weight. The nails gave. Several pairs of hands gripped the corner of  the
sheet  and pulled. The metal folded on  itself sufficiently to create a hole
that we could crawl through.
     Murky light  spilled down from a run of  six or  seven skylights in the
flat  roof thirty feet above our heads. In the gloom I could  see  lumps  of
metal  here and  there on the bare concrete floor, but  apart  from that the
place  seemed  empty.  There was a dank  smell of  mold and  rotten wood and
plaster.  It was totally, eerily silent;  had we made the slightest noise it
would have echoed around the vast space.
     Probably nobody on the outside would hear it and raise the alarm, but I
didn't  want to take the chance. I looked at  the others  and nodded  in the
direction  of the stair-well  at the far end. As I took  a  pace forward, my
foot  connected  with  a  tin can.  It  went skidding across  the  floor and
clattered into a lump of metal.
     From over my shoulder came a whispered curse.
     I could see  that the stairwell would take us up  to the offices on the
half floor, then up again to a hatch that was open to the sky.
     Once we were on the roof, that was when the fun and games would start.
     It felt colder thirty feet up than it had at ground level.
     I exhaled  hard and watched my breath form into  a cloud. I started  to
shiver. I walked to the edge of the flat roof and looked down at the tops of
the lampposts and their pools  of  light. The street was deserted. There was
no one around to see us.
     Or to hear the crash of breaking glass.
     I spun around and looked at the three figures standing near  one of the
skylights. There should have been four.
     A split  second  later  there was a muffled thud from  deep  inside the
     "John!" somebody called in a loud, anxious whisper.
     I knew even  before I looked  through the jagged  hole that he would be
dead. We all did. We exchanged glances, then ran back  toward the roof hatch
     John was lying very still; no sound came from his body. He was facedown
on  the concrete, a dark pool  oozing  from the area of his mouth. It looked
shiny in the twilight.
     "Let's get out of here," somebody said, and as one we scarpered for the
door.  I just wanted to get home and get  my head under the covers, thinking
that then nobody would ever find out-as you do, when you're just eight years
     The next afternoon there were police  swarming all around the flats. We
got in league  to  make sure  we  had the same  story because  basically  we
thought we were murderers.
     I'd never felt so scared. It was the  first time I'd ever seen  anybody
dead, but it wasn't the sight of  the body that disturbed me; I was far more
concerned  about what  would happen if I got nicked. I'd seen Z Cars;  I had
visions  of spending  the  rest of my life in prison."thought I'd rather die
than have that happen to me.
     I'd had a  very  ordinary  childhood  up  until then."wasn't abused;  I
wasn't beaten, I wasn't mistreated. it  I, was Just a norma  run-of-the-mill
childhood. I had an older brother, who  was  adopted, but he'd left home and
was  in the  army.  My  parents,  like  everybody  else  on  our  estate  in
Bermondsey, spent lots of time unemployed and were always skint.
     My mum's  latest job was  in a  chocolate factory during  the week, and
then  at  the weekend she'd be in  the launderette doing the service washes.
The  old man did  minicabbing at  night  and anything  he could get hold  of
during the  day.  He  would help  mend other people's cars and  always had a
fifteen-year-old  Ford  Prefect or Hillman Imp out the  front  that he'd  be
doing things to.
     We moved  a  lot,  always chasing work.  I'd lived at a  total of  nine
different addresses and gone to seven schools.
     My mum and dad moved down to Heme Bay when I was little. It didn't work
out, and then they had to try to get back on the council.
     My mother got pregnant and had a baby boy, and  I had to  live with  my
aunty Nell for a year.  This was no hardship at all. Aunty Nell's was great.
She lived in Catford, and the  school  was  just around  the corner. Best of
all,  she used  to  give  me a hot milk drink  at  night-and, an  unheard-of
luxury, biscuits.
     From  there we  went on the council and lived quite a few years  on the
housing estates in Bermondsey. Aunty  Nell's husband, George, died  and left
my mum a little bit of money, and she decided to buy a corner cafe. We moved
to Peckham, but the business fell through. My mum  and dad were not business
people, and everything went wrong; even the accountant ripped them off.
     We went onto private housing, renting half a house.
     My  uncle  Bert lived  upstairs. Mum  and  Dad  were  paying  the  rent
collector, but it wasn't going to the landlord, so eventually we got evicted
and landed up going into emergency council housing.
     Money was always  tight. We lived on  what  my mum  called teddy bear's
porridge-milk, bread, and sugar, heated  up. The  gas was cut  off once, and
the only heat source in the flat was a three-bar electric fire.  Mum laid it
on its back in the front room and told us we were camping. Then she balanced
a saucepan on  top and cooked that night's supper, teddy bear's porridge.  I
thought it was great.
     I  joined my first gang. The leader looked like the  lead singer of the
Rubettes. Another boy's dad  had a used-car lot in  Balham; we thought  they
were filthy  rich  because they went to  Spain on  a holiday once. The third
character had got his eyes damaged  in an accident and had to  wear  glasses
all the time, so  he  was good for taking the piss out of. Such were my role
models, the  three main players on the estate.  I wanted to be part of them,
wanted to be one of the lads.
     We  played on what  we called bomb  sites,  which  was  where  the  old
buildings had been knocked down to make way for new housing estates.
     Sometimes we mucked around in derelict buildings; the  one on Long Lane
was called Maxwell's Laundry. We used to sing the Beatles song "Bang,  Bang,
Maxwell's  Silver  Hammer"  and  muck about inside  it, throwing  stones and
smashing  the  glass.  There were  all  the  signs  up, NO  Y,  and all  the
corrugated iron,  boards, and  barbed  wire,  but  that  just made  it  more
important that  we got  inside.  We'd  get  up .  on  the roof and  use  the
skylights as stepping-stones in games of dare. It was fun until the kid fell
and died.
     I changed gangs. For the initiation ceremony I had to  have a match put
to my  arm until  the  skin  smoked  and there was  a burn mark. I was  dead
chuffed with myself, but my mum came home from her shift at the launderette,
saw the state of my arm, and went ApeShit. I couldn't understand it.
     She dragged me off to the house of the Rubettes' lead singer to moan at
his old girl. The two mums had a big shouting thing on the landing, while we
just stood there giggling. As far as I was concerned, I was in the gang; let
them argue as much as they like.
     As I mixed more with the other  kids, I started to notice that I didn't
have as much stuff as they did. The skinhead era started  and everybody  had
to have  Docker Green trousers and  Cherry  Red  boots. I said I didn't want
     We'd go to the swimming pool once a week, and the routine afterward was
to go and  buy a  Love Heart ice cream or Arrowroot biscuits out of a jar. I
never had the money for either and had to  try to  ponce half a  biscuit off
somebody. I never tasted a Love Heart,  but one day I scrounged enough money
from somewhere and made a special trip  to buy one-only to find that it  had
been  discontinued. I bought  an Aztec bar instead and  felt very grown  up.
Unfortunately there was nobody to show it off to because I was on my own.
     I tried the Cubs once but never got as far as having a uniform.
     We had to pay subs each week, but I managed to lie my way out of paying
the first few times. Then,  on Tuesday  nights,  we had to have plimsolls to
play five-aside. I didn't have  any,  so I  nicked  somebody else's.  I  got
caught and had the big lecture: "Thieving's bad." That was the end of Cubs.
     I knew that older  boys got  money by  earning it, so I got chatting to
the  milkman and persuaded  him to  let me help with his Sunday round on the
estate. He'd give me half  a crown,  which I used to buy a copy of Whizzer &
Chips,  a bottle of Coke, and a Mars bar. That left  me with  just sixpence,
but  it was worth it. It was all very important  to me, buying  the Coke and
the Mars- bar,  because it was grown-up stuff, even if it was only one day a
     One of the gang wore "wet look" leather shoes, which were all the rage.
His  hair, too,  was always shiny, like he'd just stepped  out of a bath. At
our house we had a bath only on Sundays.
     He had one every night, which I thought was very sophisticated.
     We used to go  into his bedroom messing around;  one day I noticed that
he had a ten-shilling note in his  moneybox. As far as I was  concerned,  he
was loaded  and  wouldn't  miss  it.  I  nicked  it,  and nothing  was  ever
said."started nicking more and more. My mum used to  have a load of stuff on
the slate in the CoOp. When she sent  me for milk and other bits and pieces,
I'd take some extras and  put  them  on tick. I knew she wouldn't check  the
bill; she'd just pay it when she had money.
     I'd  never  lived with my  older brother. All I  could remember was him
coming home from the army with presents. I  didn't really know him,  and  he
didn't really  know  me.  One time  when  he  was home on  leave, though, he
noticed that my reading was crap and he started teaching me.
     I  must have  been  about  eight or nine, and I  still didn't  know  my
alphabet.  He sat me down and made me go through it. It made me feel special
that he was spending time  with me. However, the short lesson  wasn't enough
to change me. When I got to secondary school, I had a rearing age of seven.
     I came into school late one day and was walking down the corridor.
     The housemaster collared me and said, "Where are you going?"
     "To my classroom."
     "Where are your shoes?"
     I looked down at my plimsolls. I didn't understand what he meant.
     Then it dawned on me.
     "I haven't had any shoes this year."
     I had to  go and get a form for my parents to sign for grants. I was on
a free bus pass, free school dinners. I even had to stand in a special "free
dinners" queue in the school canteen.  It wasn't just me; the main catchment
areas were  Brixton and Peckham, so a lot of kids were in the same boat. But
all the same, it was one particular gang I wanted out of.
     The thieving  got  stupid.  We started by nicking pens from Woolworth's
for our own use, and soon we were stealing stuff for selling. We walked past
a secondhand furniture shop with a few new bits and pieces among the display
on the  pavement. A small, round wine table caught  my eye; we ran  past and
picked it up, then went down to another secondhand place and sold it for ten
bob.  We spent it  straightaway in  Ross's  car  on cheese rolls and  frothy
     I stole  money  one day off my aunty Nell's neighbor.  I took the pound
note to the sweet shop, and my aunty Nell was behind me  without me knowing.
She didn't say anything at the time but phoned up the school.
     The headmistress  summoned me to her office  and  said, "What  were you
doing with all that money?"
     "I  found this  old mirror,"  I said. "I got some varnish,  done it up,
sold it, and got two quid for it."
     I got away with it. I thought I was so clever; everybody else was a mug
for letting me steal from them.
     Because my mum and dad were working hard, I had a lot of freedom.
     I repaid them by being a complete shit.
     My mum had broken her  leg and was sitting  in the front room one night
watching Peyton Place. She said, "Don't eat the last orange, Andy, I'm going
to have it for my dinner later on."
     I knew she  couldn't get up and hit me, so  I picked it up and  started
peeling it, throwing the peel out  of the window. My mum went ApeShit, but I
ate  the orange in front of her,  then  ran out  of the house when my father
appeared. I slipped on the orange peel and broke my wrist.
     After school, and sometimes instead of school,  we used  to go thieving
in places like Dulwich Village and Penge, areas that we reckoned deserved to
be robbed.
     We'd saunter past people sitting on  park benches, grab their handbags,
and do a runner. Or they'd be leaving  their cars unattended for a minute or
two while  they  bought their children an  ice  cream; we'd lean through the
window and help ourselves to their belongings. If a p car was hired or had a
foreign  plate, we'd  always  know  there was  stuff in the boot. And  as we
learned, they were easy enough to break into.
     In school lunch breaks we often used to take our school blazers off and
hide them in holdalls so no one could identify  us when we stole. We thought
we were dead clever. The fact that ours was the only comprehensive school in
the whole area didn't really occur to us.
     Then we'd  go around looking for things to steal. We got into a car one
day, took a load  of letters,  and discovered that they contained checks. We
were convinced  that  we'd  cracked  it.  None of us had the intelligence to
realize that we couldn't do anything with them.
     We broke into a camping shop one night in Forest Hill. There were three
of  us, and  we got in  through the flat roof. Again,  we didn't really know
what we wanted.
     It was one of the places where you could go and buy swimming ribbons to
put on your trunks. So the priority was to get a few of those and all become
gold-medal swimmers. After that we didn't know what to do, so one of us took
a  shit  in the frying pan in  the little camping mock-up that they had as a
window display.
     At the age of fourteen I was starting to get all hormonal and trying to
impress the girls that I was clean and hygienic. You could buy five pairs of
socks for a quid in Peckham market, but they were all outrageous colors like
yellow and mauve. I made  sure that everybody saw I was wearing a  different
color  every day. I  also started to have a shower every night down at Goose
Green swimming  baths. It  cost five pence for the  shower and  a towel, two
pence for soap, and two pence for a little sachet of shampoo.
     I wore clean socks, I was kissably clean, but I was overweight.
     The girls didn't seem to go a bundle on fat gits in orange socks.
     Then the Bruce  Lee craze swept the country.  People  would roll out of
the pubs and into the late-night movie, then come out thinking they were the
Karate Kid.  Outside the picture houses, curry houses, and Chinese takeaways
of Peckham  of a Friday night, there was nothing but characters head-butting
lampposts and each other to Bruce Lee sound effects.
     I took up karate in a big way and got into training three times a week.
It was great. I was mixing with adults as well as people of my own  age, and
I started to lose weight. I was also doing a bit of running.
     The schooling and all things academic were still bad. I got  in with  a
fellow called  Peter,  who wore his cuffs  and big, round butterfly  collars
outside his  blazer.  I thought  he  was  smooth  as fuck in his  big, baggy
trousers. He asked if I wanted to do  a  couple of weeks' work for  his dad,
and I jumped at the offer.
     His old man  owned a haulage firm. Peter and  I loaded electrical goods
into wagons, then helped deliver them.
     We  made  a fortune,  mainly because we  nicked  radios,  speakers, and
anything else we could get our hands on when the driver wasn't looking.
     I  earned more than my old man that  month.  Even  in adult life people
would have perceived that as a good job. My attitude was, "Get out of school
because it's shit,  get a job, earn some money," and  that was it. I  didn't
realize how much I was  limiting my horizons, but there was no guidance from
the teachers. They were having to spend too much time just trying to control
the kids,  let  alone educate us. They had  no  opportunity to show  us that
there was  anything beyond  the little world  we lived in. I  didn't realize
there was a choice, and I didn't bother to look.
     In the sort of place that we lived, a really good job would  be getting
on the print or the docks. Next level down would be an underground driver on
London Transport. Other than that, you went self-employed.
     I landed up working more or  less full-time for the haulage contractor,
delivering Britvic mixers and lemonade during the summer.
     I managed to get extra pallets of drinks put  on the wagons,  sold them
to the pubs, and pocketed the proceeds.
     In the  wintertime  I  delivered  coal. I  thought I was  Jack  the lad
because I  could lift the  coal  into  the chutes. I  couldn't move  for old
ladies wanting to make me  cups of tea. I thought I knew everything I needed
to  know.  I pitied the poor dickheads at school, working for nothing. I was
making big dough; I had all the kit that I'd wanted two years ago.
     I lost my virginity on a Sunday afternoon when I was fifteen. My mate's
sister  was about seventeen. She was also  willing and available,  but  very
fat. I didn't  know who was  doing whom a favor. It was all very rumbly, all
very  quick,  and  then  she made  me  promise that  I wasn't going  to tell
anybody.  I said that I wouldn't, but as soon as I could, like the shit that
I was, I did.
     The  contract  work  finished, and  I started  working at McDonald's in
Catford, which had just opened. Life there was very fast and furious.
     I was sweeping and mopping the floors  every  fifteen minutes.  I could
have a coffee  break, but I had to buy all my  own food. There was no  way I
could fiddle anything because it was all too well organized.
     I hated  it. The  money was crap, too, but marginally  better  than the
dole-and besides, the McDonald's was nearer to home than the dole office.
     I started to  get into disappearing for a  while. A bloke and I did his
aunty's  gas meter and traveled to France on day passes, telling the ferries
our parents were  at the other  end to collect  us. On the way  back we even
stole a life Jacket and tried to sell it to a shop in Dover.
     I had no consideration whatsoever for my parents.
     Sometimes I'd  come  back at  four in  the morning and my  mum would be
flapping. Sometimes we'd  have  the police  coming  around,  but  there  was
nothing  they could  do apart from  give  me a  big fearsome  bollocking.  I
thought I was  the bee's knees because  there was  a police car outside  the
     I started  going off the rails good style,  sinking as  low  as tipping
over  Portaloos so I could snatch the occupants' handbags.  One day three of
us were coming out  of a basement flat we'd just burgled in Dulwich when  we
were challenged by the police. We got cornered near the railway station by a
handler and his dog.
     As  soon  as the police gripped me, I was scared. I  bluffed in the van
because  the other  two weren't showing  any  fear. But as  soon  as we  got
separated at the station, I wanted to show the police that I was flapping. I
wanted them to take pity on me; I wanted them to see that I wasn't that bad,
just easily led.
     The station was a turn-of-the-century place with high ceilings, thickly
painted walls, and polished floors. As I sat waiting in  the interview room,
I could hear the squeak of boots in the corridor outside.
     I wanted so badly for somebody to come in;  I wanted the police to know
that I wasn't bad; I'd fucked up, but it was the other two's fault.
     My heart was pumping. I wanted my mum. It was the same horrible feeling
in the pit of my stomach that I'd had running home from Maxwell's Laundry.
     I had visions of ending  up in Borstal or prison or being the new young
meat  in  an  overcrowded remand wing. I'd  always  looked up to  the  local
characters who'd been in prison, and I thought they were really hard.
     Now I knew that they  must have hated  it, too. All  their  stuff about
"being inside"  must have been  hollow bravado; it wasn't  glamorous, and it
wasn't exciting. It was horrible.
     When  my parents came up to the police station and I  saw the shame and
disappointment  in my  mums  eyes,  I thought: Is this  it? Is this what I'm
going to be doing for the rest of my life? Having a cell door slammed behind
me, was bad  enough;  it was claustrophobic and lonely  in there, and  I was
very scared. But I'd never seen Mum like that before, and I felt terrible.
     I decided I was going to change.  Alone in the interview room I said to
myself: "Right, what  am  I going  to do? I'm going to start getting  myself
sorted out."
     There  had  been one  brief spell at school  when  I'd really  got into
English. I did a  project on Captain Scott  and  got an  A. I thought it was
really  great, but then I just dropped  it. I  got  into history for a short
while and enjoyed making a model of an Anglo-Saxon village.
     Maybe I could make a go of it. I didn't want to land up as just another
local nutter who thought he was dead cool because  he had a Mark III Cortina
and a gold chain around his neck.
     So what was I going to do? There was no way I could get a decent job in
South  London. Academically I wasn't qualified, and  certainly I didn't have
the aptitude to work in a factory.
     In the back of my mind there had always been ideas about the army.
     When my uncle Bert had lived upstairs, I'd heard him talking  to my mum
once about the army.
     He'd joined just before the Second World War because they were going to
feed him three meals a day. And I knew they educated  you because my mum had
said so about my brother. Aunties and  uncles would say, "John's away  now."
My parents would reply, "Oh, yes, make a man of him."
     I'd seen all the adverts for the army-blokes on  windsurfers who always
seemed to have loads of money, going places and doing stuff.
     And at least it  would educate me. Why not  do  three years, I thought,
and see what it's like? My brother had enjoyed it, so why not me? If nothing
else, it would get me out of London.
     As soon as the interview  started, I said, "Please, I don't want  to be
in the shit because I want to join the army. It wasn't my  idea going in the
flat.  I was just dragging along. They  told me to keep dog. Then  they came
running out, and I ran with them," And I kept on bubbling.
     I got put  into a remand hostel for three  days while I waited to go in
front  of the magistrates.  I hated every minute of being locked  up, and  I
swore to myself that if I got away with it, I'd never let it happen again. I
knew deep down that I really would have  to do something pretty  decisive or
I'd end up  spending  my entire life in Peckham,  fucking about  and getting
fucked up.
     On judgment  day the other two got  probation;  I got  let  off  with a
caution.  I  was free  to  carry on where  I'd  left  off,  or I  could show
everybody, including myself, that this time I meant business.
     I jumped on a bus that would take me past the army recruiting office.
     want to fly helicopters," I said to the recruiting sergeant. "I want to
go in the Army Air Corps."
     I took a simple test in English and math, which I failed.
     "Come and  try again in a  month's time," the sergeant  said. "The test
will be exactly the same."
     I went  down to  the  public  library  and  studied  a  book  on  basic
arithmetic. If I could master multiplication, I told myself, I'd never again
have to hear the sound of a cell door slamming.
     Four weeks later I went  back in, sat the same  test, and passed-by two
points. The sergeant gave me a pile of forms to take home.
     "What are you going in?" my dad said.
     "Army Air Corps."
     "That's all right then. We don't want any of that infantry shit.
     You don't learn anything in that."
     I  was given a travel warrant and went off to Sutton Coldfield  for the
three-day selection process. We were given medicals  and simple tests of the
"If this cog turns this way, which way does  that cog turn?" variety and did
a bit of  sport. We watched  films and were given talks about teeth arms and
support arms and where the army was in the  world. I was loving it. The Army
Air Corps seemed to operate everywhere; Cyprus and Hong Kong looked good for
     As I was going through the tests, though, the terrible truth dawned  on
me that there was no way I  was going to become a pilot. A lot  of the other
candidates were in the brain  surgeon bracket, loaded down with 0 levels and
going for junior apprenticeships  to become artificers and  surveyors. You'd
have to be in their same league to go for pilot training, and I  didn't have
a qualification to  my name.  All the time  I  had wasted  humping coal  and
lemonade flashed in front of me as  if I were a drowning man. For the  first
time since I'd been old enough to do something about it, I was surrounded by
blokes who had  something that I wanted, but this time it was something that
couldn't be nicked.
     At the final interview an officer said to me, "You can go into the Army
Air Corps and train as a refueler.
     However, I don't think you would be best suited to that.
     You're an active sort of bloke, aren't you, McNab?"
     "I suppose so."
     "Probably fancy a bit of traveling, seeing a bit of the world?"
     "That's me."
     "Well then, have you considered a career in the infantry? There's a lot
more potential.  The  battalions  move  every two or three  years, so you're
going to different  places. It's a more exciting life for  a  young man.  We
have vacancies in the Royal Green jackets."
     "Right, I'll have some of that."
     I was quite proud of  myself. I thought I'd cracked it. I was a  man; I
was  in the  army now. I couldn't wait  to get  home and tell my parents the
     "What  did you land up in then?" the old man asked, looking up from his
     "The Royal Green Jackets."
     "What's that?"
     "Part of the Light Division." I beamed. "You knowlight infantry."
     "You wanker!" he exploded, hurling his newspaper to the floor.
     "You're not  going  to  learn  anything. All you're  going to do is run
around humping a big pack on your back."
     But I was not going to be deterred. A couple of days later, when it was
clear that  my mind  was made up, my mum handed me an  envelope and said, "I
think you need to know all about this."
     I opened the envelope and pulled out my adoption certificate. It wasn't
a shock.  I knew my brother was  adopted, and  I'd always just taken  it for
granted that I was, too. I wasn't really fussed about it.
     "I  met  your natural mother when  you were  about a year old,"  my mum
said. "She told me that  she worked for a Greek immigrant who'd come over to
England in the fifties and was running a nightclub in the West End.
     She  sold the cigarettes  in the  club and was seventeen when she  fell
pregnant by him. She told me neither of  them  wanted a baby so she left you
on the hospital steps in a carrier bag."
     My mum and dad had fostered me more or less straightaway and eventually
adopted me.
     "She wasn't really concerned about  you,  Andy," my mum said. "She said
to  me, 'I  can  always have  other kids." In  September 1976 I had  what  I
thought  was the world's  most  fearsome  haircut and boarded  the train  to
Folkestone West. Double-decker buses were  waiting to take  everybody to the
Junior Leaders'  Battalion camp at Shorncliffe. As  soon as we got there all
eleven hundred of  us were  given another haircut. A  really outrageous bone
haircut-all off, with just a little mound on  the top like a circle of turf.
I knew straightaway I was going to hate this place.
     The  first  few days were a  blur of  bullshit,  kit  issue,  and  more
bullshit. We couldn't wear jeans; they were ungentlemanly.
     We had to stand to attention if even a private came into the room.
     I thought I was hard,  but there were people here who made me look like
the Milky  Bar Kid.  They  had  homemade  tattoos up  their  arms and smoked
roll-ups. If they couldn't find  somebody to pick a fight with,  they'd just
scrap  among themselves. Shit, I  thought, what's it going to be like when I
get to the battalion? I wanted out.
     It  was a  very  physical existence. If we  weren't  marching, we'd  be
doubling. We were in the gym  every day, running and jumping. I actually got
to like it. I found out  I was quite good at running and started to get more
and more into sport.
     As a young soldier, milling was part of any selection or basic training
at the  time. They'd put  four benches I together  to make a square and say,
"Right, you and you, in you go," and in we'd go and try to punch hell out of
each other. Most blokes just got in there and swung  their arms like idiots.
The hard nuts from Glasgow and Sheffield were a bit more polished, but I was
amazed  to find that  one of  the best punchers  of  all came  from Peckham.
Before I knew it, I was on the company boxing team.
     One good thing about  getting into any sports team in the  army is that
you're excused from all the other training. Another  is that you get to walk
around in a maroon tracksuit all day, looking and feeling a bit special.
     I won  my two bouts at  welterweight,  and my company won the battalion
championships. We got to the army finals, and I  won the welterweight title.
As far as I was concerned, my future  was sealed: I'd go to 1RGJ, the boxing
battalion, be a boxer for three years, then  get out.  What was even better,
1RGJ were off to Hong Kong.
     A lot of the other blokes resented us sports people.
     Maybe  it  was  the  color of the tracksuit, or maybe it was because we
were allowed straight to the front of the dinner queue as a privilege.
     The  boxing  team  swaggered in  one lunchtime, went to the head of the
queue, and started slagging off the other blokes.
     "You think you're fucking it, don't you?" said one of the Glasgow boys.
     I answered with  a smirk and walked on to  the front and waited for the
doors to be opened.
     A Glaswegian  mouth  came  very close to my  ear and  said, "What's the
difference between your leg and maroon tracksuits?"
     "None," he  said, "they're both full of pricks,"  and  with  a  massive
grunt he rammed his fork straight into my thigh.
     I  staggered  back a pace  and looked down. The fork was embedded in my
leg right up t'o  the ends  of the prongs.  I grabbed hold of it and  pulled
gently, but my  leg muscle had gone into rigid spasm, and I couldn't get the
thing out. I wrenched as hard as I could and pulled it free. The prongs were
red with blood as I did an  aboutturn an . d marched from the canteen. There
was  no way I was  going to say anything. It wasn't  until  I got around the
corner that I covered my mouth with my hand and screamed.
     Boxing finished.  I  went  back to the platoon, still with at least six
months to do with  the same intake.  I  was  way behind. I'd done the weapon
training,  but I  hadn't had  time to consolidate  it. I was really  brought
down-to-earth; they knew  a lot more than I did. But I worked hard at it and
even got  a promotion. For the  last three months we were given ranks,  from
junior lance corporal to junior RSM. It meant jack shit really.
     On Friday mornings we had  the colonel's  cross-country over a six-mile
course in and around the camp. The whole battalion  had to race. If you came
behind the colonel, you had to do it again on Sunday, whether you were staff
or a junior soldier After that, we'd go to a training area to practice being
wet, cold, and hungry. I  enjoyed it; at least we were away from the camp. I
got better and better at it, and it made me feel good.
     There was a ritual. The provo sergeant would come  out of the guardroom
and greet everyone  back.  It  was  the first  time we  had  been  given any
respect. We  would be staggering back as a platoon, with our  silly tin hats
on,  kit hanging  off us, stinking, our faces covered in cam  cream,  and he
would come out and give praise.
     "Well done! Keep it going!" he'd boom.
     It gave me a sense of pride  that I'd never felt before,  especially as
he spent the rest of his time bollocking us.
     Then came the  weapon cleaning, which took until the end of Saturday or
Sunday morning. Then the weekend!
     We couldn't go home, and we were allowed out only until ten o'clock-and
only to the local town. To the lads in Folkestone we were a nuisance because
we had money. You could show a girl a really good time on three quid a week.
I met a girl called Christine  at the Folkestone Rotunda,  and we started to
see each other as often as we could.
     I really started to  enjoy  it all. I'd finally  got to  grips with the
system of "bullshit baffles brains": just do what they say, even if you know
it's a bag of shit, and it keeps everybody happy. And the more I enjoyed it,
the more I didn't mind working at it, and the better I got.
     The exercises started to get more and more intense.
     We'd be out one or two  nights a week, culminating in a two-week battle
camp where all the different phases of  war were practiced, with live firing
attacks. Now, at last, I started  to understand what I was doing.  Before, I
had just dug a hole and sat in it. Now I knew why I was sitting in it.
     Every eight weeks we had leave. I met up  with my old  mates in Peckham
when I went back one time, but there was a distinct change.
     We'd  drifted apart.  Even after  such  a  short  length  of  time  our
worldviews had changed.
     All they  were  interested in  was what I had been interested in when I
left:  mincing around.  I  didn't  feel superior-the  other  way  around, if
anything. I thought I was missing out.  They were talking about getting down
to  Margate, but on Sunday I'd have  my best dress uniform on, marching down
to the garrison church. Nonetheless, I couldn't wait to get to my battalion.
     I got chosen  to take one  of  the  passing-out  guards and received  a
letter saying,  "Congratulations on  being presented with the Light Division
sword. Well done, and I really hope your career goes well."
     I didn't have a clue what the  Light Division sword  was. I  discovered
that each  regiment  had this award, presented to  the  most promising young
soldier. I also  discovered that it meant a day's rehearsal where  I  had to
practice  going  up,  shaking the hand, saluting,  taking the sword, turning
around, and marching back off.  At last the whole battalion had to get  into
the gym for presentations by the colonel to all the different companies.
     I thought  the sword  was  marvelous  and  looked forward  to seeing it
mounted on my bedroom wall. But as I left the podium, a sergeant took it off
me  and  gave me  a  pewter  mug in exchange.  The  sword  went back to  the
regimental museum.
     The passing-out parade  was quite a big affair. My  parents  came down,
and  my older  brother and his  family. It was  quite strange because they'd
never  been  really  that into  it; Mum  and  Dad  never even  used to go to
parents'  evenings at my school.  In  fact, it was the first time  any of my
family had ever turned up to anything.
     It really was the day I thought I'd become a soldier.
     We wore I.J.L.B (infantry junior leaders battalion) cap badge and belt,
and  as soon as we came off the passingout parade, we  could put  on our own
regimental kit, the Green jacket beret.
     There was another little matter to be attended to. Our
     beautifully hulled  hobnail  boots had  to  be returned to  the stores,
apart  from  those  of  the  guardsmen who were going  to take them to their
battalion for  ceremonial duties. So we all lined up and bashed them on  the
pavement until the bull cracked like crazy paving. No other fucker was going
to get their hands on them and have it easier than we did.
     went  on leave for a couple of  weeks, then reported to the Rifle Depot
at Winchester. I felt a  mixture of excitement an worry as  the eleven of us
joined a platoon of adult recruits on their last six weeks of training.
     Compared with I.J.L.B, the discipline was jack shit.
     Once we'd finished our work for the day, we could get changed  and walk
but of the guardroom and downtown.
     At the end of the six weeks we got our postings. If you had brothers in
particular battalions, they could claim you; otherwise,  you just  stated  a
preference and kept your  fingers crossed. Third Battalion were known as the
Cowboys and the 1st were the Fighting Farmers.
     two RGJ were in Gibraltar but due to come back to the UK quite soon for
a Northern Ireland tour.
     I  asked to go to 1RGJ because of the boxing and because they were  due
to  go  to Hong Kong. So  of  course,  I  was sent  to 2RGJ. I  wasn't  best
pleased-especially when I found out that they were called the Handbags.
     "Where  do you come  from?" the color sergeant asked  me on the barrack
square, as I stood blinking in the brilliant Mediterranean sunshine.
     "I can hear that, you dickhead. Whereabouts in London?"
     "Right, go to B Company."
     My rifle platoon consisted of sixteen  blokes. We'd been told that when
we  got to the  battalion,  they  would get  hold  of  us  for "continuation
training"-indoctrination into  their special way of doing  things. But  2RGJ
was  snowed  under  with  commitments;  they  were  all over  the  Rock,  on
ceremonial and border duties. Everybody was  too busy to give the five of us
any attention, and our first couple of weeks were spent just bumming around.
     " went into the main street the morning after I arrived.
     As far  as the eye could see, there was nothing but shops full of cheap
watches and carpets from Morocco, most of them run by Asian or Arab traders.
I  bought my mum  a peacock carpet for  a fiver, with a  pair  of flip-flops
bunged  in. I  thought, This is wonderful;  I've only been here  a couple of
days and already I'm cutting majorleague deals down the kasbah.
     Full of enthusiasm after my year of training, I was raring to go.
     I thought  the  posting  was  brilliant: We were in the  Mediterranean;
there  were  beaches; there was  sun. It was the first  time I'd  ever  been
abroad, apart from my day trips to France, and I was getting paid for it. So
the attitude of some of the  other blokes came as  a bit of a surprise. Some
of the old  hands seemed so  negative; everything was "shit" and "for fuck's
sake." Or,  very mysteriously,  it  would be  "I'm  just going  to  do  some
business," and off they'd go. It took  me awhile  to find out what they were
     The  majority of teenagers who joined the army had been exposed to some
illegal substances. It was part  of the culture, and  they took that culture
in  with them when they joined. I had never been interested in drugs myself,
mainly because I hated smoking and had never been exposed to them. I'd heard
all the terms but didn't exactly know what was what. And  now when I did get
exposed to the drug business, it scared me; it was something totally alien.
     Drugs, I was told, had always been a bit of a problem.
     Once, when the  battalion came  back from an overseas exercise, a fleet
of coaches  had turned  up at two-thirty in  the morning. It  was the  local
police, come to raid the battalion as a matter of course.
     They didn't find any illegal substances on this occasion, but  they did
find an officer who was engaged in an activity that was even more naughty in
the eyes of military law.  He was in  bed with  a  corporal from the  mortar
     We  seemed to have the culture  of the seventies  but the army  of  the
fifties. It felt as if I were living in  one of the black-and-white movies I
sometimes used  to watch on a  Saturday afternoon.  Each morning  we  had to
drink a mugful of  "screech," the old army word for powdered lime juice. The
colonel must  have  been  reading  a book about Captain Cook  and thought it
would  stop us from getting scurvy. I heard about an officer  who joined the
Irish  Guards.  The  adjutant pulled him to  one side and said,  "As a young
subaltern,  these are the rules. One, never  wear  a brown suit. Two, always
call  the underground the underground  and not the tube. Three, never travel
on a red bus. Four, always wear a hat and have an  umbrella, and five, never
carry a brown paper parcel."
     Nothing  about how to approach the soldiers he was going  to have under
his command.
     Gibraltar in the summertime was packed with  tourists,  and because  we
were doing all the ceremonial stuff, we were God's gift to a pretty girl who
liked a uniform.
     That was my theory anyway, and I set  off  one afternoon  for the  main
street, wearing civvies and in my own mind very much our man in Gibraltar. I
found a  place called  the  Capri  bar, with  plastic palm trees inside  and
semicircular booths with tables. All very dark and sophisticated, I thought.
To be as suave as the surroundings  demanded,  I ordered a  Southern Comfort
and lemonade, a very international drink at the time.
     As I sat there listening to songs  by the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites,
I could  see now  and  again  blokes  that I recognized from  the  battalion
walking past, looking at me through the window.
     The fellow who owned the bar was  a Brit. He came over to join me for a
chat. He had perfect, graying hair that had been sprayed and looked to be in
his  forties but probably still thought he was  seventeen. He was wearing  a
blue jumper with a big red star.
     "Hello," he said, sliding into the booth next to me.
     "What, are you in the navy?"
     "No, I'm with the battalion up the road."
     "Just got here?"
     It was  all rather  nice. We chatted away,  and then this Chinese woman
came in. She was absolutely stunning.
     Flared  trousers, high heels, and  my boy was  off in raptures. She sat
and joined us.
     "You in the navy?"
     "No, I'm with the battalion."
     After  a drink  or  two she moved  over a  place, and I  thought,  I've
cracked it, it must be the sight of my drink, a woman like this was bound to
feel comfortable in the company  of an international jet-setter. More people
were coming in, and the bar started  filling up. The jukebox started playing
slow Donny Osmond numbers.
     I  was slowly getting  pissed,  and  I  didn't  really  pay  that  much
attention when my new friend said, "Call me Pierre."
     To me, Pierre was a French blokes name. I hadn't realized it was also a
Chinese  woman's.  Then,  very, very slowly, I started to get the picture. I
looked around and realized that everybody in the bar was a bloke.  I  looked
again at Pierre-and the awful truth sank in.
     "Just going  to the  toilet,"  I said, disentangling  her hand from  my
     I did a runner, haunted by the faces of all the blokes I'd seen looking
at me through the windows.  I  was going around for days afterward  laughing
manically and saying, "They do the best Spanish omelet in Gibraltar down the
Capri. It's full of dodgy character's,  of course, but it's worth it for the
     The battalion were coming back to  England in November and heading more
or less straightaway for South  Armagh. I would be too young to go with them
immediately; you had to be eighteen, because years before there had been too
many seventeen-year-olds getting shot. It was bad  PR, so  they'd upped  the
age limit. I'd have to wait until after my birthday.
     We went to Lydd and Hythe for infantry buildup training. We spent a lot
of time on the M.U.F (marksmanship under fire) range and were trained in all
the different scenarios we were likely to meet.
     "We  are going to  be based in  South Armagh-bandit country,"  said our
company commander,  "and B  Company are going  to Crossmaglen,  a  town that
makes the rest of bandit country look like Camberwick Green."
     We were issued with street maps and told to "learn" South Armagh.
     There  was a  shooting during the  buildup training, and for  the first
time I started to read more of the newspaper than the TV page.
     Toward the end  of the training we were issued with an  optic sight for
our  weapons. I'd  never  seen this bit  of kit  before, but  I knew that it
existed. That was it; I thought I was the international sniper.
     In the infantry at  that time all the clothing was incredibly basic. We
had  a uniform, but no effective waterproofs or warm clothing. If you wanted
stuff like that, you had to buy your own. The most exotic item we were given
to help us through the rigors ahead was a pair of thick arctic socks.
     I was eighteen years old. I'd already been in the army for coming up to
two  years,  but this was 'my first operational tour. Everything  was great.
The way I looked at  it was I was having a good experience,  I was  with the
battalion, I thought I was hard as fuck, and I'd have enough  money to buy a
car and show Christine a good time when I got back.
     Crossmaglen, a cattle market town known to us as  XMG, was right on the
border. This meant the players could prepare in Dundalk  on the other  side,
then pop over and shoot at us. There was a big square in  the center, with a
number  of  small buildings  with  metal  railings  in  front  to  hold  the
livestock. It was overlooked by Baruki sangar, which was less than a hundred
meters away from the security forces base that we lived in.
     Named  after a  paratrooper called Baruki  who got blown up, the sangar
was  a  big corrugated  iron  and  steel structure. Inside  were three GPMGs
(general purpose machine  guns), an M79 grenade launcher, smoke dischargers,
radios,  and,  most important, flasks of tea and sandwiches, because we were
up there forever. There was one electric heater. Stag duty in the sangar was
incredibly cold and very, very boring. It had to be  manned by two of us all
the time.  To get to it, there used to be this mad dash. The two men on duty
in the sangar would man the guns; we'd go out and run down the road; the two
we were replacing would get out and run back.
     I was  in Baruki  sangar  one day with a lance cor oral  p called  Bob,
short  for  Billy One  Bollock, I  never  knew where the nickname  came from
because he  looked as if  he were  complete. A foot  patrol came out of  the
base,  and after  the  usual pound  of  running feet,  all  I could hear was
"click, click, click." What the hell is that? I  wondered, and looked out of
the side hole. Standing nearby was the smartest  man  alive, posing in front
of a camera for the battalion magazine.
     "That's Johnny  Two-Combs,"  Bob said.  "Comes from the Midlands, loves
football. Plays for the battalion. Looks good, doesn't he?"
     Indeed he did.  No one wore rank in  XMG,  and everyone normally looked
like a bag of shit,  wet, cold, and covered in mud. But this guy was wearing
corporal's stripes, and his uniform was  immaculate. He was about  five feet
ten inches, with  blue eyes and perfect teeth,  and not a  single blond hair
out of place.
     "He was  playing  in  an  army cup  match,  and  the battalion  started
throwing combs'onto the pitch," Bob went on. "He picked one up  and used it,
asked if he was looking good, then carried on. I think he scored the winning
     I watched as Johnny carried on posing, winning the  war on his own  for
the camera. "The thing is," Bob said, "he is really switched on.
     You're looking at a future RSM there."
     The rifle  company  lived in  "submarines" in the security forces base,
long corridors three beds high but without lockers. Where you were, that was
your  space: You put your kit on your  bed or under the bottom bed. I shared
an  area with Reggie,  a corporal and my patrol commander, and  Gar, a newly
married rifleman who kept his photo album under his pillow.
     Reggie was twenty-five  and rati the company seven-aside rugby team. He
was  tall  and  well  built;  his  "egs  were  so large  he  walked  like  a
bodybuilder. He had black, curly hair and the  world's  biggest arse and bad
breath that he was forever making excuses about.
     Gar was aged about twenty. If he hadn't been in the army, he would have
been a male model. He was very fit and had a perfect body.
     His  ambition  was to become a  P.T.I  (physical  training instructor);
every  morning  he would  jump out of  his bunk and  shout, "Twice  round my
beautiful body-go!"
     The  security forces  base was laid out in a spider configuration, with
submarines coming off a central area.
     All the support  troops, plus any of the rifle company who couldn't fit
in  the  submarines,  lived  in  garden  sheds in  the compound,  linked  by
duckboards over the  mud that was ankle-deep. The whole compound looked like
a building site, which it was, covered by antimortar mesh.
     The atmosphere inside the main base was very smoky, and at any time  of
night or day I could smell the odor of egg banjos (fried egg sandwiches) and
chips coming from the cookhouse. There was  a permanent  smell, too, of damp
clothing and wet floors. The heating didn't work very well, so it was either
very hot or very cold.
     There were no windows.
     In  the  late  seventies it was very much a foot-soldiering conflict in
South  Armagh. If we  weren't in  the town patrolling, we'd be  in the  cuds
(countryside) patrolling, just us and the mud  and the rain,  our rifles and
our bergens (back packs), out for however many days the task took. Being the
rug (new boy), I had to carry the GPMG.
     For the  first month or so I was quite switched  on by  it all. Then it
started to get very boring.  I didn't feel I  was achieving anything because
nothing ever happened. I'd just  done all this training where every time you
take a  footstep  something happens and  you've got to react to it, but  now
that we were here nothing seemed to be happening.
     We  patrolled, watched,  stopped  cars,  put  protection  out  at  VCPs
(vehicle checkpoints), and carried out house searches, and that was it.
     We used to go out on  patrol in the cuds with welly boots on because of
the  mud. There was a four-day routine. We'd be picked up by  helicopter and
taken  out for four  days, living in the field. Then we'd  have four days on
town patrol, wearing boots rather than wellies.
     This was a twenty-four-hour presence;  there were always  three patrols
in  the town. Then  we'd do four days in sangars, doing  cookhouse fatigues,
cleaning  the bogs Out, and doing the area cleaning, a military term meaning
work  for work's sake. On one memorable occasion the ser eant  major ordered
me: "McNab, you are to go out and sweep up all unwanted puddles."
     Everything we needed  had to come in by helicopter:  food,  ammunition,
letters,  people.  The helipad was a  structure of wooden slats outside  the
camp;  when  a helicopter was due, sangars had to stand to, and the aircraft
would  swoop in quickly. There  was a housing estate next door and the  boys
used to take pops at anything that moved.
     The navy crews were the  best, in their Wessexes; they were more daring
and  always on time, which was important after a long patrol,  when you were
waiting to be extracted.
     I was  the doorman  in  the sangar  one day; that meant  that as people
jumped  from the helicopter and ran toward the door, I'd  open  it just wide
enough for them to run inside. I  didn't have a clue who  the  character was
that was running toward me. All I could see was a figure bent double, with a
pile of paperwork in  a  wicker shopping bag with  a  handle  like the  ones
grannies do their shopping with.
     "Who are you?" he said.
     "McNab, sir."
     "I'm Corden-Lloyd." He beamed as he shook my hand. Then, in a brilliant
piss-take of  the sort of bone questions senior officers seem to need to ask
squaddies when they visit, he said, "Enjoying yourself?
     Mail getting through? Food all right? Any problems?"
     This was  great, a  colonel shaking  my  hand, taking the piss  out  of
himself, asking me how I was, what platoon I was in.
     There were no military vehicles in  the cuds to back up patrols because
too many  had been  taken  out  by culvert bombs.  However,  there  were two
Saracen armored vehicles  that  stayed in the town. They had antiarmor metal
mesh  over them to stop  RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades)  penetrating;  the
mesh  would initiate the  rocket before it penetrated the  armor. They  were
called  cans,  and they  never  went outside the  town. We  could  move from
position to  position around the town  in them, which was great,  especially
when it was pissing down.
     The  can crews themselves had a pretty shifty job.  They just  sat, and
the gunners just stood. The cans were essentially firm firebases for when we
had  big contacts,  with  a turret-mounted  machine gun. Their  most  useful
feature, however, was secured to the rear. It was a thing called a Norwegian
container, which held about two gallons of tea, with  a plastic  mug hanging
off. The  can drivers used  to fill them up before  a patrol, so we could go
around the back for  a brew.  After about two hours  it was lukewarm,  stewy
stuff, but in the early hours of the morning it was nectar.
     I was on foot patrol in  Crossmaglen in the early spring of 1978,  at a
time  when  the  policy was to pull down any republican tricolors we saw. It
wasn't a  question of  just going  up  and lifting  it. It  had  to  be done
carefully, because there was always a possibility that it might be a come-on
or it could be a booby trap.
     One had been put up on the Newry road leading out of Crossmagien by the
church,  right on the  edge of town, at  the  start of  the  cuds. It  was a
typical  rural scene of undulating fields  and hedgerows. The road was lined
by telephone poles, from one of which hung a tricolor.
     There were  four patrols  out from my platoon. On the net the commander
said, "When we get  the changeover, one patrol will take down  the  tricolor
and we'll carry on patrolling."
     My  patrol was getting ready to go out. The  weather was cold and damp.
All the concrete  was  wet, and there  were unwanted puddles  everywhere. We
were  wearing nylon  flak jackets  on which each bloke had written his blood
group. I had a civilian duvet jacket underneath my combat jacket.
     There was a quick  five-minute briefing in one of the garden  sheds  by
the multiple commander.
     "You  take  the center  of the  town; you take the  left;  you take the
right. The other patrol will stay out and take down the tricolor.
     Once that's done, they'll come back in and we'll carry on our patrol."
     It was no big deal; it was just another tricolor to be taken down.
     We got by the  main  gate,  and four at a time  the  patrols would come
forward into  the  loading bay  and  load their weapons. The guard commander
would  then get on the radio to Baruki and  tell them that  the patrols were
ready. Their job was to cover us as we were coming out.
     Patrol by patrol  we bomb-burst out. It would be  just another  routine
patrol,  three  hours  in the  town, back for  four,  then go out again  for
another three hours.
     We were going to  be  the  center patrol, around the town  square,  the
nearest patrol to the one that was going to take down the tricolor.
     Nicky Smith, being search-trained, was told that he was going to go and
take it down. The plan was that once we had come out on the ground, we would
provide an outer cordon for his patrol, just be milling around the area.
     They called for one of the cans that were on the opposite side of town.
The  plan  was for Nicky to climb up on the mesh, have a  quick  look at the
flag,  and, if it was all right, bring it down. It was no problem. He'd done
it scores of times before, and it was in broad daylight.
     The  traffic was stopped either side in VCPS; we were  manning  the VCP
that  was stopping people coming out of the  town along  the  Newry road. We
checked  driving  licenses and number plates  and asked them where they were
going and  where they had just  been. I was stuck in a doorway, covering the
two blokes who were  running the VCP. I was "ballooning"-hunching down, then
standing up, making sure I didn't present a static target.
     After a minute or two I would walk into  another doorway or get between
two cars. It was important to keep moving.
     I wasn't paying much attention to Nicky Smith and the search team.
     All I was  concerned  about  was  that the  sooner it was finished, the
sooner the can would be free, and then maybe we could get a quick cup of tea
out of the Norwegian.
     The can drove up to the base of the telephone pole.
     The gunner was manning the Browning  to give cover because the location
was exposed, right at the edge of town; it could be a come-on.
     The  driver had the armor plate that protected his face down so that he
could see what was going on.
     Nicky climbed  on  top, had  a good  look, and gave a tug.  There was a
fearsome explosion.
     As  an  eighteen-year-old  squaddy  I'd  never heard the quick,  sharp,
piercing  bang  of high  explosives. There  was  a  moment  of disbelief.  I
thought, Nab, can't  be. I didn't know what to do and was looking around for
some direction. Reggie had been checking a car; he had the boot open and was
taking some stuff out.  He  stopped,  looked  up,  and  looked  around.  The
civilians caught in the VCP knew what was going on.
     They had more experience than I did of explosions going off.
     Reggie slammed the boot down, and the car shot off.
     He called us to him, and we  went running down  the road. As we arrived
at the Saracen, we saw  the body being pulled down by  the platoon sergeant.
There was screaming  coming from inside the can. The back  doors were  open,
and people were trying to sort out the crew.
     What  remained of Nicky's body was now lying by the  rear wheel of  the
Saracen. His  head was  cut off diagonally  at the neck, and  his  feet were
missing. All  the  bit in the middle was intact-badly messed  up but intact.
The mesh  was  clogged with bits of his flesh and shreds of his flak jacket.
Bits and pieces were hanging off every edge.
     The whole can seemed to be covered in blood.
     "Get a poncho!" the platoon sergeant shouted.
     Up  on  the hill on the opposite side,  there  were people visiting the
graveyard. They stood still;  cars were  doing U-turns; nobody wanted  to be
involved. They'd seen all this before; they knew  that if the rounds started
flying, they might become casualties themselves.
     Was it a simple booby trap? Or  was it command-detonated by somebody in
the vicinity?
     I All I  saw was  people  getting  on radios; all I  heard were lots of
orders being  shouted. I didn't know what to do. I was scared. I felt really
happy that there were loads of other people around me who had the appearance
of knowing what they were doing.
     There was a  fellow in the brick (patrol) at the  time who was a  right
pain in the arse; he would be A.W.O.L on a Monday morning, come back-Tuesday
night, go on a charge. He never wanted to do anything.
     But he was really switched on this day. When we got there, the sergeant
in charge of the brick was sorting  everything Out, and this fellow just ran
up and started stitching all along  the hedgerows with an LMG (light machine
gun). If it had been detonated by a control wire, maybe the bomber was still
in range. This bloke was a renegade, always in trouble,  but when he  had to
do this stuff, he knew what he was doing.
     The QRF (quick reaction  force) had run out of the base and were  going
to  put roadblocks  all around  the town  at preset points  to stop  anybody
coming in or going out.
     The bomb had taken Nicky out  severely, spreading him out over fifty to
sixty meters. All we wanted to do was to get the  main bits of what was left
of him onto a poncho and get him back to the base.
     I was picking  up the remains of the person  I'd  been eating breakfast
with, who used to sit next to me honking about the state  of the food. I was
extremely angry, extremely scared, and real life hit me in a big way.
     The locals were coming out of the pubs  and  their houses, clapping and
cheering.  They were chuffed; there was a Brit squaddy  dead. I was flapping
like fuck. I started to get angry at these people.
     Four of us carried  the poncho,  one at  each corner.  The  others gave
protection as we went through. The poncho was soaking wet with blood. He was
literally a dead weight. I was soaked up to my elbows In blood.
     We got him back, but then we had to return and clear the area.
     Helicopters  were  arriving  from  Bessbrook   to  pick  up  the  other
casualties. We were sweating  and panting, drenched with red.  We had to use
big, hard yard brooms to get all the bits and pieces off the wagon and throw
them into a bag. We burned  the brooms afterward. Then came the indignity of
having to go  out and  look  for one  of  Nickey's  feet, because it  wasn't
accounted for. It was found'half a street away.
     The welts of our boots had his dried blood in them.
     Our hands had ingrained  blood around  the nails. All our equipment was
full of his blood. Even the map in my pocket was red with blood.
     Nicky Smith was twenty  years  old. He was a nice bloke, with a  mother
and a girlfriend. I'd seen him write in a letter just the week before: "Only
forty-two more days and I'll be home."
     My vision of  the army at the beginning  was getting  money, traveling,
and all  the other things I'd seen  in the  adverts: You're  all on a beach,
windsurfing and having fun.  Maybe they  were Nicky's visions as  well. Even
going to  Northern Ireland was exciting because it  was  another experience.
Maybe, I now thought,  they needed a few posters in the recruiting office of
dead boys in ponchos.
     All too often British soldiers who  died on  active service in Northern
Ireland would get a brief mention on the news-"Last ni lit a British soldier
died  then  go  unremembered. But I resolved  to myself  that I would  never
forget Nicky  Smith. I would  always  keep  the newspaper  cuttings. I would
always have his bloodstains on my map.
     I was haunted by images  of disembodied feet and the  Saracen spattered
with  blood  like  a  child's  painting.  It made  me  fucking angry, and  I
personally wanted to put the  world to  rights. I wanted  to get  the people
responsible. I suddenly felt that I had a cause, that I was doing something,
not just  for political shit or because  I was saving money to buy a car;  I
was there because I wanted to do something for my own little gang.
     Saracen had got bogged  down in the  cuds near Crossmaglen,
and me and another rifleman, Gil, were put on stag to guard it.
     Council  estates in rural parts  of Northern  Ireland consisted of nice
bungalows, paid for by subsidies from the European Economic Community. A new
one was  under construction;  the  Saracen  had  gone into the site  to turn
around and  had got  bogged down  in the mud. Another Saracen was trying  to
drag it out. The company were called out and were in  all-round defense with
an inner and an  outer cordon but split up into groups of two and three. All
our arcs  overlapped each other, giving  us 360  degrees'  cover around  the
     As we  took over, the other fellows told  us where our  arcs were, what
they'd seen,  what they  hadn't  seen, where we were in  relation  to  other
people on stage. We lay in the, hedgerow looking out;  it  was cold, and the
grass was soaking. My trousers were wet through.
     My  feet  started  to  go  numb, my hands were  already  frozen,  and I
couldn't cover my  head  up because my  ears  had  to be  exposed so I could
listen. I was bored, I was pissed off, and  I spent two solid hours slagging
down can drivers for burying their vehicles in the mud.
     The  SLR (self-loading rifle)  at the time had  a bipod attached to the
barrel that was like a pair of chopsticks with a spring at one end.
     It was a necessary bit of equipment because the rifle was too  heavy to
hold properly with its  cumbersome night  sight on.  Every now and  then I'd
have a look through to see what was going on.
     In the  early hours  of the  morning, as I  scanned the countryside yet
again, I saw  some movement. I refocused the night sight and blinked hard. I
recognized what I was seeing, but I didn't believe it.
     I quietly  said to Gil, "We've got  two blokes coming down the hedgerow
     Gil said, "Yeah, okay, fuck off, big nose."
     "I'm telling you, we've got two blokes coming down.
     Have a look."
     They  were  skulking down in  front  of  us,  maybe just over a hundred
meters away-not that far away at all.
     "Fucking hell, you're right!"
     As they  got closer and came into direct line of sight, I could clearly
see that one of them was carrying a long (rifle).
     "What the fuck do we do?" Gil said.
     I  didn't know.  Did we issue a challenge? After all, they might be two
of  our blokes. But  what if they weren't and they went to ground? There was
no way of contacting an officer or NCO. We  were riflemen, so we couldn't be
trusted  with  a radio.  Shouting at  the  inner  cordon would  just  create
confusion; we might  as well just do it,  do  what we'd been taught: issue a
challenge, and then, if necessary, fire.
     Easier said than done. We weren't allowed to have a round cocked in our
weapon; we  would have to issue a challenge, cock  our weapons at  the  same
time, and then get back into the aim.
     I pulled the bolt hack and shouted, "Halt! Stand still!
     This is the army!"
     The characters turned.
     We fired.
     The inner cordon saw  the tracer and thought we  were being  fired  at.
They opened up on us because that was where the fire was coming from. It was
the first time I'd ever fired at people, and the first time I had been fired
back at-and it didn't help that it was our own boys.
     We had  been  taught a thing called  crack  and thump: When  somebody's
firing at you,  what you're supposed to do  is listen for the crack and then
the  thump as  the  round  hits  the  ground. From  that  you  can work  out
distances.  An  interval  of one second, for  example,  would mean  that the
weapon was about a hundred  meters away. However, the theory wasn't  working
out. I didn't hear any cracks; all I  could hear was  the thumps. Gil  and I
got our heads down in a ditch and yelled at the inner cordon to stop.
     The firing increased. Reggie had gone up into one of the  half-finished
buildings to get  a better  perspective. He  followed the line of  the inner
cordon's tracer and  opened up with an  LMG, giving it the good news down on
     After what seemed like hours, there was a deafening silence.
     Moments  after  that  there was  shit on.  The world and his wife  were
trying  to get  in on  the  contact. People in  the  security base had  been
listening on  the  radio and legged it down toward the border, hoping to cut
them off.
     Pockets of little contacts were starting all over the place.
     Patrols were opening up on cows, trees, and each other. It was chaos.
     I could see tracer flying. If it hit something solid, it would ricochet
and then whiz!straight up into the air.
     Soon the follow-up was in full  swing. Dogs were helicoptered in to try
to pick up the  scent, and off we  went:  me and Gil, the company commander,
the company commander's escort, and the dog handler, traipsing  through  the
fields, rivers, and swamps of South Armagh.
     The dogs picked up blood, but the players were good at their trade.
     "The way to evade dogs is to get on flat, open
     ground,"  the handler said. "If you start  running along  riverbeds, it
just keeps the scent in those areas."
     "Running over a stream  is lack shit use, too," he panted as we  jogged
along behind the dogs. "All the  dog does is  a thing called  casting on the
other side,  and he'll pick up the scent again. If you get into a  wide-open
field, the scent is dispersed.  You want to do  a lot  of zigzagging,  which
slows the dog down, makes it harder for him to pick up your scent."
     Sometimes the dogs lost the scent and sniffed around aimlessly.
     The handler sent them forward to cast for it.
     They'd pick it up again, and off  we'd go.  It was exciting stuff, like
hare and hounds. It brought out a really basic human instinct.
     It  was exciting to  be part of something so  much bigger than  my  own
little rifle company. There were two helicopters  going around on Night Sun,
a  fearsome big floodlight,  with people on the  ground  directing  them  by
radio. The effort  put in to  get these two people was massive, and I  was a
part  of that. I  was  one of the two  who instigated it, and it felt really
     We  were  out   all  night  and  came  back  well   into  first  light,
empty-handed.  Our trousers had been shredded by  barbed-wire fences.  I was
soaking wet, cold, and hungry and  totally knackered. We still had  to carry
on work the next day; there were still stags to do, patrols to go out.
     But it didn't  worry me at all because I felt so excited; at last I had
done what I was there to do.
     Two days later a  character turned up at a hospital in the South with a
7.62 wound in his  leg. We were sparked up. Gil  and I were the local heroes
for the  next day or two. In a rifle company we were just two dickheads, but
now  we had our fifteen minutes of fame because we  were the  latest ones to
have had a contact.
     Then all the banter started about who claimed the hit.
     Both of us were crap shots; it was a surprise that anybody had been hit
at all.
     The rest of our time in Ireland was  just as busy.  We had  a bomb  put
outside Baruki sangar one night. It was an  old trick, and it always worked:
Two slappers came by, hollering and shouting at  the  boys  inside, flashing
their arses and working parts. While the  lads were checking out the special
of the  day, a  player walked behind the sangar and placed a bomb. When  the
stag changed, as they opened the door, the bomb should have gone off.
     The two blokes inside didn't have a clue what was going on.
     Luckily  the  bomb was  discovered  just  in  time,  and  there  was  a
controlled explosion.
     Our colonel, Corden-Lloyd, was very keen on individualism. As far as he
was concerned,  we all  had  to wear the same outer clothing, purely so that
we'd be recognized in the field. But what we wore underneath was down to us.
     In theory,  we should have worn army-issue shirts, thick  woolly things
that were  a pain  in the arse. The  UN  shirt  was a much  more comfortable
alternative, but it was expensive.  Corden-Lloyd worked 'out a deal with the
manufacturers and took a vote.  "If everybody buys two UN shirts, we'll wear
UN shirts when we  get  back to Tidworth," he said.  They would work  out at
sixteen pounds for two-quite a lot, but money well spent.
     Very sadly, the  purchase could not  be completed. Colonel Corden-Lloyd
was aboard a Gazelle helicopter that came down. PIRA said that they  shot it
down, MoD said it was mechanical  failure.  Whichever, the best officer  I'd
ever met was dead.
     When I joined the battalion in Gibraltar, there were one  or two blokes
that  were  getting ready to  go on  selection, running around the Rock on a
route  called the Med Steps, but being the rug, I'd no  idea what it was all
about. Then I heard-they were going for  the S.A.S, pronounced Sass.  It was
only much later that I found  out that to  people in it or who work with it,
it's not the Sass or even the S.A.S.
     It's just called the Regiment.
     A fellow called Rob lived  in a little room in the base at XMG that was
no bigger than a  cupboard. Sometimes I'd go past and  I'd hear  the hish of
radios and  catch a glimpse of plies of maps of South  Armagh all  over  the
place. The room was like  a rubbish tip;  there were  bergens, belt kit, and
bits  and  pieces everywhere. Then Rob would go missing, and nobody saw  him
for weeks and weeks.
     He turned  up in  the washrooms one day, so I was  scrutinizing, seeing
what he looked like.  He wasn't six feet six inches tall and four feet wide,
as I'd expected.
     He was about  five  feet six  inches and  quite  normal-looking. He was
wearing  a  pair of  skiddies,  a  T-shirt,  and flip-flops. His washing and
shaving kit consisted of a bit of soap  in a plastic  teacup  from a vending
machine, a toothbrush,  and that  was it. He had his wash and left, and that
was my introduction to the Regiment.
     There was a warning one day that a chopper was due in ten minutes.
     All the spare hands that were on cookhouse fatigues had to come running
out to pick up  the load, so the helicopter would have the minimum amount of
time on the ground. it could be delivering anything  from equipment to food.
Sometimes it would have a patrol on board.
     As the rug I  was simply  told, "There's  a helicopter  due in  in  ten
minutes, and there's some plastic bags. I want you  to  pick  up the plastic
bags and bring them into the camp."
     The  chopper came in,  the corrugated  iron gates were flung  open, and
everybody ran like an idiot to pick up whatever was going to get dropped and
then  run back  into  the camp. I picked  up two  black  plastic  bags. Both
contained what felt like Armalites. Then four or five blokes jumped from the
helicopter. They had long curly hair and sideburns that came down and nearly
met at the c  ' bin  like the lead  singer of  Slade,  and they were wearing
duvet jackets, jeans, and dessies (desert boots).
     Basically the donkeys, which was us, picked the kit up and legged it in
with them. We were told not  to speak to these people, just to let  them get
on with what they were doing.  Not  that any of  us  wanted to speak to them
anyway; we didn't know how they'd react. All  we knew was that they were the
Special Air Service, big hard  bastards, and they were going  to fill us in.
Me, the eighteen-year-old, I wasn't going to say jack shit.
     There was only one TV in the whole camp, and that was in a room full of
lockers and bits and pieces of shit all over the place. So everybody used to
get in really early and book a place, sitting on top of lockers and  hanging
off chairs, getting  on wall  units and all this, to  watch. Even if  blokes
were asleep, you'd wake them up for Top of the Pops.
     The cookhouse was no bigger than a room in an ordinary house, and that-
included the cooking facilities.
     We'd get  a  tray,  go  in  and  get  four  slices  of  bread, make big
sandwiches and a mug of tea, and go and claim our places for the show.
     Blokes would be there  straight from the  shower,  squashed up next  to
blokes in shit state straight  from  the field. Everybody  would be  getting
stuck into a fistful of egg banjo. The room stank of cigarettes, sweat, mud,
cowshit, and talcum powder.
     At the time, just after Christmas 1978, Debbie Harry and Kate Bush were
on  the same T.O.T.P. Debbie Harry was  singing "Denis," and  Kate  Bush was
doing "Wuthering  Heights." When Kate Bush came  on, the whole rifle company
used to shout, "Burn the witch!"
     'Then these blokes turned up as well, and I thought, They're only human
after all because they've come in to watch Debbie  Harry and Kate Bush. They
didn't push in;  they didn't  get the prime spot; they just slotted in where
they could; then  pushed off  again. Their behavior amazed me;  they came in
with respect.
     I envied them their apparent freedom  to come and go as they pleased. I
thought,  it must  be an amazing  life, just flying in, doing  the job, then
going back to wherever they live.
     But there  again, I thought, there  was no chance whatsoever of a lowly
rifleman like me making the grade, and that was that.
     There  were  eight infantry  battalions at  Tidworth,  our new  base in
Wiltshire. The entertainment facilities in the town consisted of three  pubs
(one of which was out of bounds), two chip shops, a launderette, and a bank.
     The army spent all day teaching  us to be aggressive, and then  we'd go
down to the town, get bored and drunk, and  use our aggression  against each
other. We'd then get prosecuted severely as if we'd done something wrong.
     We did all the garrison sort of stuff like field firing exercises; then
we started training again for Northern Ireland. The battalions  wouldrotate,
on average, one tour a year.  I saw it as a great opportunity to save money.
As a rifleman I could save a grand a tour because there was even less to  do
over the water than in Tidworth.
     There were three other bonuses.  One, we got  fifty pence extra pay per
day, and  two, we  got  soft toilet paper instead  of the  hard stuff in  UK
garrisons. It was actually  dangled as  a carrot during training: "Remember,
it's soft toilet rolls over the  water." And three, it was a pleasure to get
away from Tidworth again. For the next three  years the routine was going on
exercises, get stinking drunk  in Tidworth and  Andover, and going  over the
     People were  coming back with their grand and getting ripped off buying
cars that  promptly  fell  apart. One bloke bought a hand-painted cream  and
chocolate brown  Ford  Capri  for nine hundred  pounds,  and within two days
things were falling off  it.  I looked at buying  a  Capri myself,  but  the
insurance was more than the car was worth.
     I was still  going out with Christine. She  was living in Ashford, so I
got down  there weekends and whenever else  I could. There was  certainly no
way she  wanted to come and live in Tidworth.  She had a job and still lived
at home. We were in love-"we think"-and everything was coming up roses.
     There began to  be talk  of  the battalion going  to Germany  for  five
years, and I knew this would present a problem for our relationship.
     If  you were "wife  of", accommodation was  provided; if you  were just
"girlfriend of," then it was up to you to go rent a place downtown.
     We'd never be able to afford  the German rents, so I thought, what  the
hell, let's do it, and that was us married. It was a white wedding; the plan
was that she would stay in Ashford, and after the next Northern Ireland tour
we could get a quarter in Tidworth.
     I got made up to lance corporal in time  for the next tour. Still based
in  South Armagh,  I was now a  "brick"  commander, in charge of a  four-man
patrol. As such,  I had  to write a short patrol  report after each  patrol:
what we had seen, what we had done, what we would like to have done. While I
was on my way to the operations room one night, three or four  blokes turned
up  in a car with all their equipment. I saw on  the  map that certain areas
had  been put  out of bounds;  I knew these boys were  going to  go  do some
stuff.  It made me think that as  the infantry battalion we were working our
arses off here, but these guys  were  working to a very different agenda. We
used to come back from a  patrol and think, We've done  this and  we've done
that, tis really good stuff, but at the end of the day  we were just walking
Figures  (standard target, depicting a  charging  enemy soldier). We were so
isolated in our own little world.
     Seeing these guys suddenly  made me think, Hey, what else  is going  on
that we'll  never  get to  hear about? I felt  what  was almost  a  pang  of
     I went into  the  briefing room to pick up a  patrol report. There were
masses of kit  strewn everywhere on  the floor. The thing that really struck
me was an Armalite  that was painted weird and wonderful  camouflage colors,
dappled with  bits of black and green. In  the infantry there was no way  we
could tamper with our weapons like that.
     Weapons were sacred; we could clean them, but that was about it.
     There  was a torch mounted under  the Armalite,  held on with  bits  of
masking tape on  the furniture  stock.  I  thought,  That's quite  Gucci;  I
wouldn't mind one of those.
     As  I turned,  I  found myself  face-to-face  with  one of the regiment
blokes. Or rather,  face to arse.  He had no kit on, and all I could see was
the crack of his bum as  he was bending over to put his trousers on. I could
see  he  had a fearsome suntan and  had  obviously been away somewhere  nice
before he'd come on this job.
     He turned around and said, "All right, mate?"
     I went, "Hello."
     He said, "You can go now if you like."
     I said, "Okay, I think it's time for me to go now."
     That was the last time I saw any of these particular S.A.S men.
     Again, I was surprised at how they looked.
     One of them was positively skeletal; he was  the only man I'd ever seen
with the veins on the outside of his body.
     We  were  patrolling  one Saturday  evening as  a multipletwo  four-man
patrols. The multiple commander was Dave, a corporal, and I was the 2
     i/c (second-in-command), in command of the other brick.
     I had first met Dave in XMG but didn't have too  much to do with him as
he was in  another  platoon. On promotion I was sent to 6 Platoon and became
his 2 i/c.
     Dave was  known  as a  maverick  and was always on  the edge  of  being
demoted or fined.  He came from  the East End of London and kept very  close
contact with his family and  friends. He was  in his mid-twenties,  and  his
arms were  covered in tattoos. He had a girlfriend back in  London, but  the
more I got  to know  him, the more I saw him as single for the  rest of  his
life, wrecking any car that he had after two months and having dealings with
dodgy people  from the Mile End Road. We got on very well, and  he  became a
close friend.
     We  were  going out at six o'clock in  the evening and assembled  for a
quick five-minute brief. Dave told us the direction we were going to go out,
whether we were going to use the front gate or the back gate, information on
any activity in the town, anything that we needed to know  from  the  patrol
that had just come in.
     "There seem to be a lot more people running around the community center
than  usual," he said. "And  perhaps some activity  in the derelict house on
the corner of Liam Gardens. We'll check it out as we pass."
     Derelicts were  usually to  be  avoided  since they were  natural  draw
points for booby traps.  Something had looked different in that house to the
last  patrol;  it could  be  just  an old druggle  in there,  or it could be
something put in as a come-on.
     We  loaded our weapons in  the loading  bay  and stood behind the  main
gate,  waiting for the order to  go. It was  a lazy, hot summer evening, not
much  traffic,  and  the birds  were  singing. We  listened  on  the  net to
the'other patrol  who were in  the town, speaking in code words and  numbers
because our comms were not secure and the players had scanners.
     You don't  saunter out  of  a  security  forces station; you  bomb-bust
out-which means  that you  run like a  fucking  idiot for  about twenty-five
meters to get out of the immediate vicinity, before regrouping. If they were
going to put  a shoot in on it or had  a  bomb rigged up, the one place they
definitely knew soldiers were going to be was near the gates as they started
a patrol.
     We  all bomb-burst out.  Rather than  go directly  into the town,  we'd
decided to take a route around the edge of it, in waste ground.
     We  wanted to use the ground as  much as  possible to keep us away from
the eyes of dickers (IRA observers) in case they had something for us.
     We didn't  go through  obvious features  like  holes in hedge  lines or
natural crossing points, which could be targeted and  used  to place  bombs.
We'd  never touch anything military-looking  either, like a shiny bit of kit
that was out on the  ground.  Soldiers had been blown up  picking up a water
bottle, thinking that another patrol had lost it  and they'd do them a favor
by retrieving it.
     We came  to  a  small river  that  we had to  cross.  No  problems,  we
patrolled through that.  Then we started to  come  up onto the  waste ground
just short of a housing estate. This was right on the edge of town, and from
there it  was cuds all the way down to  a place called  Castle Blaney on the
other side of the border.
     At that  time of a Saturday night the streets were full of coaches that
had come up to the estate to pick up the locals and take them down to Castle
Blaney for "the crack." They'd go for a night out, then come rolling back at
two o'clock in the morning. And quite rightly so;  if I were stuck  in Keady
on a  Saturday  night,  I'd want to put the kit on and go over there on  the
     We were patrolling  along in dead ground. They couldn't see us, and  we
couldn't see them,  but I was expecting that once we got nearer the  housing
estate, I'd see a few people. We'd leave them alone.  It was pointless going
through crowds because it just  incited them. Our intention was to go around
them, have a quick mooch  around  the housing estate, and see what was going
     More information was picked up  when a patrol was stood still than when
it was  on the move. It  was called lurking; we'd get to a position and just
stop. It might be in somebody's backyard on a housing estate; we'd stop, get
in  the shadows, wait and listen, and  see what was going on. It used to  be
great entertainment  for the  squaddies; we'd watch everything from domestic
rows in kitchens to young couples groping in the mother's front room.
     Dave's patrol was to the right of me, about 150 meters away, and he was
in  dead ground to us. There  . was no need to talk on the radio. We'd  been
out there  quite  a few months already now, and we were working  really well
together, supporting each other.
     Once we came near  the  estate, we  were hidden  from view  by a row of
three or four shops-houses, basically, but with shop fronts. We turned right
and went along the back of the buildings until we came to the fence line and
the gate. By now the waste ground was more like disused farmland; there were
old wrecked cars on it, tin cans, bags of garbage.
     There were goats and horses running around  all over  the place, so the
ground  was gungy and churned  up. It was summer,  but  we still had rain at
least  once a  week,  and  the ground  was  wet.  There  were large  puddles
     We got to the fence line, and I got lazy. If I crossed the fence, there
would be all this car wreckage and  rubbish in the way, and I didn't want to
negotiate that. So I took the easy route.
     As I started to come through  the gate, I  came into view of the people
in the  street.  I heard hollering and shouting  and screaming all  over the
place,  which was unusual. Normally there would just  have been  talking and
lots of laughing, from groups of people smelling of Brut and hair spray, the
girls in sharply ironed blouses.
     As I looked up at the crowd, I realized  that everybody  was  shouting,
grabbing hold of kids, pulling them out of the way.
     Something  was up, but I didn't know  what. I started  to pan around to
have  a  look. Still there was chaos; there must  have been maybe 120 people
there waiting for the coaches, and they all were reacting to my  presence. I
looked directly over the road,  and as I  then started to an left toward the
shops,  crossing  the  road, p again there was  just  the  normal  group  of
vehicles-three or four saloon cars and a cattle truck, which was not unusual
in the area.
     But then, just as I passed that, I saw a group of characters with masks
on and weapons. The one that I really latched on to was a,boy with  his fist
in the air, doing aChe Guevara with his Armalite, chanting  away. I couldn't
have been  more than twenty meters away from  him. I saw his  eyes open wide
with alarm inside his mask.
     He  started  to shout  and  fumbled with  his weapon. I  also  shouted,
fumbled for mine, and cocked  it. His weapon  was already cocked, so he just
started blatting like  an  idiot. I blatted back, getting the rounds down at
him  and the  other masked people. Another fellow  came up from  behind  the
wagon and started to fire down in my general direction.
     They were flapping as much as I was, in a frenzy to get into the cattle
truck and get away.
     One of the boys got into the back  of the wagon and started firing, and
the others clambered  in.  I got rounds into  one of them.  He was screaming
like a pig as  he went over the other side. Then there was lots of screaming
coming from inside the vehicle, where other people were also taking rounds.
     By this time Scouse,  another fellow from the patrol,  had come up from
the dead ground but couldn't get over the fence because of the firing. So he
was  firing from that side of the fence. The other two were down in the dead
ground, totally confused about what was going on.
     It had all happened so quickly.
     Lots of firing was going down. Everybody was  screaming and shouting; I
was kneeling and firing away.
     In  my twenty-round  magazines I always made sure that the top two were
tracer. I worked on the theory that when we were in the cuds, I could use my
tracer to  identify  targets for  other people. I had another tracer halfway
down the magazine, so when that went off, I'd know I'd fired ten rounds. The
last two  of  the  magazine were tracer again; when the fourth tracer  fired
off,  I'd know I'd fired my  second-to-last round and the working parts  had
come back and picked up the  last round. I'd take the  magazine off, put  on
another one, and that would be my reloading drill done.  Time and time again
I'd  practiced all this, until  I could  almost do it blindfolded.  Come the
day, it  all went to  ratshit. For one thing,  I was far  too  close for the
tracer to ignite.  And  I certainly wasn't counting the rounds.  I  was just
firing like a man possessed.
     Then: bang, bang, bang, click. The dead man's click.
     The working parts still worked, but there wasn't a round in the chamber
to fire.  I was flapping like fuck. I  got  on the  floor, screaming my head
off: "Stoppage!
     Stoppage!" to let everyone else know I wasn't hit but unable to fire. I
could hear the different  noises of the weapons: The SLR mode a  loud,  bass
sound as it  fired;  .the  Armalite was  not  as loud, and they  were firing
     I  tried  to  get  hold  of another  magazine  out  of my pouches,  and
everything seemed sort  of slow and deliberate. It wasn't; it was all really
fast, but it was as if I were outside myself, watching myself going  through
the drills.
     I knew  what to do,  but the faster I was trying to do it, the faster I
was fucking  up. I  had  that feeling I'd had when the kid  fell through the
roof: I wanted  to  pull the covers  over my head and wait  for it all to go
away. I concentrated on my mags; I didn't  want to look up and see  what was
going on. If I didn't look, maybe I'd be all right.
     What I should have been doing was getting into a position where I could
look at the enemy; I was supposed  to be so good at changing mags that there
was no  need to look  at what I was doing. But I wasn't. I couldn't  get the
pouch opened up, I  was fumbling inside getting my magazine out. It  was the
wrong way around.
     I had to turn  it around, put it in, cock my weapon. It was all done in
a matter of  seconds,  but it felt like forever. I could hear some firing, I
heard  shouting,  but loudest of  all  was  the  sound of  me  hollering and
shouting inside my head: "I don't like this! I know I've got to do it!"
     I knew  if I just lay there,  twenty  meters from him, the chances were
that I'd be killed; as long as I was firing, things would be okay.
     My chest was  heaving up and down. I knew I  had  to  do  it. I  knew I
couldn't just lie there.
     I rolled over and started firing again.  The stoppage had taken  me out
of action for no more than three to five seconds.
     Twenty rounds later, bang, bang, bang, click.
     The vehicle was moving, and by this time Scouse was firing into the cab
area of  the wagon, hoping to drop  the driver. But these cattle trucks were
armored. They were sandbagged up  with steel  plates  welded in to give them
some form of protection.
     I was still the only one that side of the fence. As the vehicle started
to move off, I got up and ran forward, past the shop.
     I didn't know if there was anybody left outside the wagon  who'd done a
runner. Had they run into the  housing estate?  Had they run into the shops?
Had they run down to the junction, which was only about ten meters away, and
turned left?  Or  turned right, up an  old disused railway line? Who knew? I
had no idea what was going on.
     In my peripheral vision I  saw a  group  of people on  the floor of the
shop, cowering. A man stood up quickly. As far  as I was concerned, he could
have a gun. I turned around  and gave it a couple high through the window so
he got the message. The glass caved in, and the bloke threw  himself  to the
     "And  stay  down!" I shouted.  I didn't  know who was more scared,  the
people in  the shop  or me. It was a  stupid, bone reaction of mine to shoot
through the glass, but I didn't know what else to do; I was so hyped up that
anything that moved was a threat.
     I ran up to a left-hand junction about  ten meters  away from the point
of the  contact.  Time  and  time  again  during  the buildup training  we'd
practiced two ways of looking around corners. You  can get very low and look
around, close up to it, or, better still, you can  move away from the corner
and then gradually bring yourself around so you present less of a target. It
was all very  well in training  because I  knew  there was nobody around the
other  side with an Armalite aimed at me. But here there could  be. I took a
deep breath, got down on my belly with the weapon ready to swing around, and
had a quick squint.
     There  was  nobody there. I brought myself around  and followed on down
the road a bit, just to check that there weren't any runners that way.
     Then I returned to the scene.
     One  poor  fellow who had been part of the crowd was now halfway up the
street. He had been in a wheelchair; the  chair was lying on its side and he
was crawling toward the  housing estate, cursing  and shouting. People  were
running from their houses to help him.
     I  could hear mothers shouting at their children,  doors slamming,  the
sound of people running. A woman in the shop was screaming, "There's  nobody
in here, there's nobody in here!" They knew that we were wound  up, and they
didn't want to be killed by faulty judgment.
     By this time Scouse was with me and  the other  two blokes who had come
over  the  fence line. I  went up to the bloke who was carrying the LMG  and
started kicking him.
     "Where were you?" I shouted.
     I had been all hyper; I'd wanted someone else there,  and they weren't.
But it wasn't their fault; they couldn't get there.
     We started to go forward, looking for runners, at the same time getting
on the radio and talking to the SF (security forces) base to tell them there
had been a contact. No need, they'd heard it anyway.
     All they wanted to know was "Any casualties? Any  casualties?" At  this
stage I didn't know  if  any of us had been  hit  or not.  The patrol to the
north were running like  loonies to get down to us. People were  pouring out
of the  SF base; Land Rovers  were  turning up with people in tracksuits and
flak jackets.
     There was a massive follow-up. The dog handlers arrived within minutes;
roadblocks were  thrown  up.  The police  had to  be informed what they were
looking for. I  got on the net and was trying to describe the vehicle. All I
knew was that it was a dirty old yellow cattle truck, and because I had been
on the floor looking up at it, I had  seen that it  had a  fiberglass top to
let the natural light in.
     All the cars parked in the area were riddled with rounds-5.56 from  the
players, 7.62 from us. There were empty cases all over the road.
     One of the blokes from the sangars at the SF base reported  that he had
seen somebody running up the disused railway. We couldn't see Jack shit.
     A Dog did his casting around and picked up the scent.
     The handler said, "Okay, let's go!"
     There was myself, the platoon commander who'd come out of  the SF base,
the dog handler and his mutt, and  two other blokes, and off we went. It was
a very tense time.  It  was our job to protect the  dog handler, and at  the
same  time  we didn't  know what the hell was up there.  Was somebody behind
cover, waiting to fire?
     We ran across  fields. There was an old pig hut  at the  top of a hill,
and the dog got agitated. The dog handler said, "We've got something here."
     "He's got to be inside," said the platoon commander.
     The dog  handler stayed where he was, and the  other fellows  stayed to
protect him  as the  rupert  (officer) and I started  to  move up toward the
     The officer shouted, "Any fucker in  there, get  out now! Otherwise  we
are coming in for you!"
     Nothing happened.
     He turned to me and said, "Right, when you're ready, get in there."
     I thought, Oh, good one, delegation of tasks.
     We'd done plenty of FIBUA (fighting in built-up areas) in training, but
this was for real. I put my  weapon in the shoulder, flicked off  the safety
catch, took  a deep breath, kicked the door open, and went for it. The shack
was empty.
     We cast around with the dog, but it was getting nothing. By the time we
got back down into the town, the incident had been contained.
     The area had been cordoned off, and all the forensic people had.arrived
and were doing  their stuff. There was activity everywhere,  sirens blaring,
helicopter rattling overhead.
     As the colonel arrived with his team, we heard on the radio that a body
and  two wounded had been dropped off at Monaghan Hospital in the south. The
boy had taken rounds. Two others had gunshot wounds.
     Everybody around the area who had radios was going, "Yes!
     Well done! Good shit!"
     A few days later  we learned what had happened. The cattle  truck and a
Ford Granada had  driven into that side  of  Keady. The people  in  the Ford
Granada got  out and were going to get into this cattle truck and then drive
past the other  patrol to the  north and  drop  as many as they could,  then
carry on driving over the border.
     When the  contact  was initiated, it must  have been very confusing for
them. The player who was firing at me was also trying to give information to
his team.  As they got  into the cattle truck,  they were firing from a step
that gave them  higher elevation, and what they would  have  seen was Dave's
patrol  about  two hundred  meters  away, moving  through the  river. Dave's
patrol started to get incoming, but he couldn't fire back because he knew we
were in the middle. The  people in the truck didn't know that we were there;
if they had, they would have been able to put some heavy fire down onto us.
     They got outside Keady and went to a house that was run by an ex-prison
officer. They tried to  hijack his car, but he came out  with  a shotgun and
gave them the  good  news, so they then moved off again in  the cattle truck
and got to Monaghan to drop off the boys who were dead and injured.
     It  was the first  time I'd ever killed somebody. I  was nineteen years
old, and I couldn't have cared less. They were firing at me, and I was doing
my job by firing back.
     I  did what  I  was  taught.  No  matter  what  a  person  does  in the
infantry-he can be a signaler, driver,  whateverwhat he's basically doing is
getting himself or someone else into a position where he can put the butt of
a weapon into the shoulder, aim, and kill somebody.
     I'd spent months and months training for this sort of situation.
     I'd learned the  drills;  I was  proficient. But when the shit  hit the
fan, all I could think about was that the other character was trying to kill
me. I just knew there were a lot of  people firing,  and I knew I had to get
fire back, and that was about it. I considered myself very fortunate to have
survived. It wasn't  skill that had got  me through; it  was loads of rounds
down the range and loads of luck.
     We came back  to the UK, and I went  away on a  course called  an NCO's
Cadre.  I  got an A  and  was  promoted the same day, making me the youngest
corporal in the infantry at that time.
     Next  came Junior Brecon,  an eight-week section commander's course  at
Sennybridge training area. There was no bullshit about  it, just tactics and
training,  training and more training. It  was a really intense two  months,
lots of physical stuff,  running around with a helmet and bayonet on all the
time, giving orders. I found it really hard, but I got a distinction.
     By now I was  totally army barmy and was letting my married life come a
very poor second. I was immature, and I was a dickhead. I came back from the
course on a Saturday morning, said hello, and went out for a run.
     Then I got up early on Sunday morning  and went for another run, trying
to keep fit for whatever course I was going to go on next-and  I was putting
my name down for every course that would have me.
     For young wives in  a garrison town like  Tidworth, life could be  very
boring. It was difficult to get decent work because employers knew they were
not  there for long, and that made it almost impossible for married women to
have a career. The battalions liked to promote a  ramily atmosphere, but for
the wives it  didn't really work  out like that.  There was a hierarchy, and
there were more wives who wore their rank than blokes: "I'm Georgina  Smith,
wife of Sergeant Smith."
     The marriage started going to ratshit in about 1980.
     Christine was in Tidworth, in quarters, ready to go to Germany, sitting
there and thinking: Sod this. The ultimatum was delivered one morning during
the cornflakes. "Are you going to come back with me or are you going to stay
here in Tidworth in the army?"
     No contest.
     "I'm staying here," I said. "Away you go."
     That was it. Over  and done with, sorted out over bits of paper,  and I
didn't give a damn. I threw myself into all the bone bravado: I was out with
my mates now; I was going to stay in the army forever; I didn't need a wife.
There were many like me; I was not the only one.
     There  was a NAAFI disco every Tuesday  night  at  R.A.F Wroughton near
Swindon. It  was a  great event,  but then, so  was anything that took place
outside Tidworth.
     Six or seven of us in freshly pressed kit would pile into the chocolate
and cream Capri, everybody stinking of a different aftershave.
     One Tuesday  night I met a telephonist called Debbie  and forgot all my
resolutions about not needing women anymore.
     A posting came up as a  training corporal at  Winchester, and I grabbed
it. Germany could wait. Careerwise the job was  known as an E posting-a good
one to get.
     By the time I came back I'd be a sergeant.
     My  platoon  commander  was a lieutenant; under him he had the  platoon
sergeant and three training corporals.
     Each'of  us  full screws (corporals) was responsible for between twelve
and fifteen recruits.
     One or  two of the lads were fairly switched  on with  life and  really
wanted to join the infantry for what it offered. Most of them, however, were
there  because they wanted to be in the army but lacked the  intelligence to
be anything but riflemen-a bit like me, really.
     A  lot of them hadn't got  a clue what they were doing when they turned
up. They'd been looking at the adverts of squaddies skiing and  lying on the
beach  surrounded by a crowd of admiring women. They had the impression that
they  were in  for three years lolling around on  a windsurfer;  then they'd
come out, and employers would be gagging to get their hands on them.
     We had to show them how to wash and shave and use a toothbrush.
     I'd get  into  the shower and say,  "Right, I'm having  a shower  now,"
taking  with me the socks that I'd been wearing that day. I'd put them on my
hands and use them like flannels, so I was washing my socks at the same time
as my body. Then I  had to show them how  to shower, making sure they pulled
their foreskin back and cleaned it and shampooed their hair.
     Every  one of them had to do  it exactly  the same-way,  cleaning their
ears,  cleaning their  teeth in  the shower at the same time,  cleaning  the
shower  out  afterward.  i,d  then  show  them  how  to cut  their  toenails
correctly. A lot of them didn't  cut them at all, and they were stinking, or
they  just got  the edge and then pulled it away so they were destroying the
cuticle. In the infantry, if  your feet are fucked, then the rest of  you is
     A  lot of  them had never done their  own washing. We even  had to show
them how to use an iron.  But soon everybody was  all squared away, and they
knew what they were doing and, more important, why.
     The idea  of the training was to  keep them under pressure  but make it
enjoyable.  The  training  corporals had  to  do everything  that  they did,
leading  by  example.  And  all  the  time we  were  also  aiming to  create
competition, a sense of achievement for their group, building up teamwork.
     The results  of the section reflected  directly on us, so  we had  that
extra incentive to  do  the  job as best we could. But it came to the  stage
where I was so involved in it that incentives weren't necessary.
     I didn't believe in giving a boy  who was slow a  hard  time because it
wouldn't help him at all.  All it would do was  make him feel  worse;  if he
needed extra training,  we had to  give it to him.  I  would encourage other
people in that section to make sure they  gave him extra training as well. I
would tell them, "He's a part of your section; he's as much a responsibility
to you as he is to me.
     When a recruit  got to the battalion, the first thing anybody would ask
was  "Who  was  your  training screw?" If  we were  sending  tossers  to the
battalion, we'd be in for a hard time.
     The  bullying  that  was  supposed  to be  going on  in  these infantry
battalions and training establishments could  only have  been very  isolated
incidents. I certainly  never saw any of it. if you're doing your job right,
you don't need to bully, you  don't  need to push and shove, punch and kick.
What  you've  got to do is  lead by  example, show them the skills that they
need to know, make it enjoyable, give them incentives-and they'll  do it. By
the same token, the culture within the army is quite aggressive and close to
the bone. There is  a need  for  hard, physical  work  and a hard,  physical
existence. But that's not bullying. If people can't actually survive that or
adapt  to it, or simply don't have the aptitude, that's when they should go.
As the saying goes, train hard, fight easy; train easy, fight hard-and die.
     Within the battalion, if people weren't performing, they'd  get decked.
I had been filled in  a few times, and after a while I always understood the
reasons why. As for these daily scenes of regimental baths and scouring with
Vim, I  never  saw it. I never went  through  any sort of initiation and was
never  present at one.  People had better things  to do with their time than
run around playing stupid games.
     They wanted to finish work, go downtown, and get legless.
     I still enjoyed the army, but it was all the niggly bits that  I pissed
me off. I went  shopping in  the town one  dinnertime with  another  of  the
training  corporals,  a bloke  in his early  thirties, married, three  kids,
responsible. He wanted to buy  a three-piece suite. He  chose the suite  and
sat down with  the manager to do the paperwork. The manager took a check for
the deposit but then said, "I'm  sorry,  but you can't  have credit  without
your commanding officer's permission."
     "I beg your pardon?"
     "You have to get this form signed by your commanding officer."
     "You're joking?"
     "No, I'm afraid if you're military, that's it."
     So  here  was a boy  with  responsibilities, a  house, family, all  the
normal things. Yet  he couldn't get credit to  buy a three-piece suite until
somebody who was probably up to his eyeballs in debt had had a chat with him
and said,  "Well, do you think  you can afford this threepiece suite? Do you
think you're responsible enough to buy it?"
     If there was any problem with the credit, they wouldn't go to the bloke
who was getting the credit; they'd go straight to the commanding officer and
say, "This man isn't paying." He'd then go on O.C's orders, and it would get
taken out of his pay.
     I  had been overdrawn once in my life, for E2.50, when I  was nineteen.
The letter from the bank wasn't sent to me; it was sent to  the battalion. I
had to go on O.C's orders and explain why I was  e2.50 overdrawn to somebody
who probably owed the bank half his annual salary.
     I asked Debbie to move to Winchester and rent a flat with me, but I had
to get permission from the O.C for that as well.
     I pondered  a bit more about Selection and the life of a Special Forces
soldier. From the limited amount I had seen, these people in Hereford seemed
to have a much freer existence; I doubted very much that in  the Special Air
Service  a platoon commander aged  about twenty-one or twenty-two had to say
whether  a thirty-year-old  sergeant should  be  allowed  to take  a  credit
application form to his commanding officer.
     I started to do a bit of bergen work just to see and found I could move
over the ground pretty fast.
     Debbie  and I lived  together  for about  six or seven months.  I had a
great relationship  with  her and her  family. Then  came  crunch  time,  my
posting back to the battalion. She now had a problem: Was she going  to stay
in the UK or come over to Germany for three years? Exactly  the same as last
time, I  thought:  What the heck, we'll  get married-and  we did,  in August
1982. This time, being a corporal, I got a quarter straightaway.
     s soon as I got to Germany I started to dream about a return ticket.
     Now 2RGJ were a mechanized battalion, which didn't grip my shit at all.
I was supposed to be a section  commander, but I didn't even know how to get
into  an A.P.C (armored  personnel  carrier), let  alone command one. I  had
about a week to  sort myself  out, and then the battalion was off  to Canada
for  two months of battle  group training. All  the tanks and infantry  came
together to form the battle group, screaming over the vast Canadian prairies
in live-firing attacks.  It was probably good training, but I  hated bumming
around in  these turn-of-the century machines. They were falling apart; most
of the time was spent drinking tea while half the REME (Royal Electrical and
Mechanical  Engineers)  were  underneath them  with spanners.  Out  of  four
vehicles in my platoon it was a safe bet that at least one of them would not
even make it to the  start line. The crew would  spend  days on the-roadside
waiting for recovery.
     After three or four  weeks back in Germany the  quarter was ready,  and
Debbie  flew  out. Almost  immediately  we  started  having  to  do  two  or
three-week exercises.
     We'd drive to a location, dig in, stay there for a couple of days, jump
in our A.P.C again, go somewhere else, and dig in again.  It  was incredibly
boring, and as far  as I  was concerned, we weren't  really  achieving  that
much. Certainly none of us at the coal face was ever told what the  big plan
     As  in  Canada,  most  of these  exercises were spent at  the  roadside
-either broken  down or grounded for two days  because the Germans  wouldn't
allow armored vehicles  to  move at  weekends.  A  fair one  if you were the
indigenous population,  I  supposed, but if you  were the squaddy parked  up
just ten kilometers from the comforts of home, it was a downright drag.
     The general level of bullshit was outrageous, and it started to wear me
down. Any  time  we  weren't trundling  around in geriatric A.P.C.S  we were
doing battalion duties. At least five  times a  month I'd be on guard.  Then
we'd  have  all  the  other regimental duties, which  were  twenty-four-hour
duties. Then we had brigade duties.
     Because it  was the  British Army on  the Rhine, we had to look good at
all times. Princess Anne was going to visit the camp one day, and there were
yellow  marks  where some boxes and bits of  wood had.been  resting  on  the
grass. The management ordered it to be painted green.
     I realized then that all the royal family must  think the  world smells
of shoe polish, floor wax, and fresh paint.
     We were practicing for  the sake  of practicing, and the  soldiers were
getting pissed off.  When we'd got the promise of  a posting to  Germany, it
sounded  very  attractive:  local  overseas allowance, tax-free car,  petrol
concessions,  all this sort  of thing. But at the end of the day the quality
of life for  a single  soldier was not that good.  We hadn't really got  the
time to go  out and explore the place. It wasn't as if we could just jump in
a car  and travel  down to the south of  Germany to go skiing for a weekend;
chances  were  we'd be on some  weird and  wonderful duty, such as being the
barrier technician on the gate.
     Life  in Germany was unpleasant  in  other ways. There  were a few rows
with the other battalions and plenty of rows with the Turks, who ran all the
sex  operations, bar, and discos.  Then  there were  all the  interbattalion
horizontal maneuvers. As  soon as a battalion  was  away over the water, all
the  singlies  were  straight  over  to check out the  wives.  Boxes of  OMO
appeared in the windows to advertise "old man out." I  didn't find it funny.
None of the married blokes did.
     The  army  seemed  to  promote smoking  and drinking because  the  only
recreational facilities available were cheap fags and drink at the NAAFI and
the  company  clubs.  If weight-training  facilities had been available, the
lads would have used them-not because they thought that upper body  strength
would make them better soldiers but because of a reason far more fundamental
to an eighteen-year-old: If you look fit, you'll pull more.
     I  felt  my morale  being  slowly  eroded. I sat down one day and asked
myself: What am I going  to do?  Am I going to stay here or fuck off?  I was
doing pretty  well,  I  was  coming  up  toward platoon sergeant, but I felt
compelled to make that decision. It was a right pain in the arse sweeping up
unwanted  puddles,  painting  grass that  had been  discolored by boxes, and
maintaining vehicles that were falling apart.
     By this time Debbie had got a job at the local military hospital.
     She enjoyed it very much, but we really didn't get much time together.
     If I had free time, I'd be training for Selection,  coming home late at
night. It just wasn't really happening between us. The social life was fine,
and we had become good friends with Key and his wife.
     He was in B Company and now  a  corporal. His  wife  worked in the same
hospital as Debbie.
     By now Dave  was back in battalion after a posting and we'd all  go out
together. Key's idea of a  good Saturday would be football and a few  pints.
He  was a fair player himself and represented the battalion in the same team
as Johnny Two-Combs.  He'd  joined the army when he was in  his mid-twenties
and had a flat, a car and a good j'oh. We thought he must have joined for  a
     I became obsessed with getting into  the Regiment.  In the long term it
would  be beltter for our relationship because the Regiment was  permanently
based in Hereford. We'd be able to buy a house and settle down.
     There would be continuity  in Debbie's life, and she could get a decent
job. That was  how  I rationalized it to her anyway.  In reality I wanted it
for me.
     I filled in  an application  form  and  started  really working  on  my
fitness but at first didn't tell anyone but Key what I was up to.
     "I was thinking about doing it myself," he said. "I'll join you.)) Then
I talked to Dave, who said, "Yeah, fuck it, let's all do it."
     We got our bergens on, did some running and circuit training.
     Then Dave introduced us to a captain, a Canadian called Max, who wanted
to throw in his lot with us as well. He'd been away to Oman for two years on
secondment to the sultan's forces; he'd met some of the Regiment and had got
a taste for it. His family owned farmland near Winnipeg, and he spoke with a
distinctive twang. He planned to do the tour with  the Regiment, go to Staff
College, and carry on his career.
     The  ultimate aim  was to go  back to the farm. He was married and very
down-to-earth, not' at all the officer type. The great thing from  our point
of view was that he'd have the authority to get us places.
     We spoke to everybody we  could think of who knew somebody who'd danced
with somebody who'd done Selection. "What's the best stuff for hardening the
     we'd ask  when  we  tracked them  down. "Any  hints on  special food or
     "I know somebody  in Third Battalion who passed Selection and he  swore
by neat's-foot oil," was the furthest we got.
     We tried it for two weeks, then switched back to meths.
     Once the buzz started going around the battalion that there were people
going for  Selection,  a fellow  called Bob came forward. A  bricklayer from
London,  he had joined the army late in life. He was five feet  seven inches
and strongly built; fitness seemed  to come  very naturally to  him. Nothing
fazed Bob; he laughed everything off.
     "If I don't pass, I'll get out anyway," he said. "I've had enough; I'll
go back on the sites."
     Bob had  a diary written by a fellow called  Jeff, who had just  passed
Selection and at twenty-one was one of the youngest people  ever to get into
the Regiment. It contained details  of routes used in the Brecon Beacons and
became our bible.
     The captain, having more money than we did, decided to  buy a VW camper
van so we  could  get over to the UK for training; we chipped in for petrol.
We  were  helped enormously  in  our training  program by Alex, the antitank
platoon commander, who had  been  in  the Regiment himself and  was now back
with the battalion. He organized a three-week exercise in Wales for us as an
excuse for us to get up on the hills.
     We drove through the night, caught the early-morning ferry, and reached
one of the military transit camps near Brecon by breakfast the next day.
     We met up with  Johnny Two-Combs. He'd  already  done Selection  at the
same time as Jeff and had failed.
     He'd made the  commitment to go straight back and do the next Selection
and was doing his own training. It was great; he had more information.
     "Try witch hazel on the feet," he said. "And if you get blisters,  sort
them out with iodine."
     It was  all desperation stuff,  trying to find some  magic formula that
would save our feet. Name the old wives' tale, we'd be trying it.
     Some  people, we heard, wrapped orthopedic tape  around their heels and
toes. anything was worth a try because if we started getting injuries, there
wouldn't be time for them to heal. We'd just have to carry on day after day.
     As  we learned the  hard  way, bugger all worked. All it  took  was two
pairs of socks and a decent pair of boots.
     The inner sock was thin and  the outer was a thick woolen one, and that
stopped the friction rub.
     Every  day  we were  trying  something  different  to  make the  bergen
     Johnny  said, "Half a roll bed put down  the back of  the bergen  works
     I  tried it, and  it was just uncomfortable for me. I still  got bergen
sores,  and they  were  really painful. They wore me down more and more each
day. We  tried  other precautions, including bandages  strapped  around  the
chest to protect our backs. I had tried padding out the actual straps on the
bergen, but that  was  no  good; it just wore away and rode  up the  masking
tape. I experimented  with cutting up a  bit of foam roll bed, but that just
used to slip along the back of it. What I found was best was simply to leave
the thing alone. At the  end of the day what  you've got is your world stuck
on your  back, two  straps over your  shoulders,  and the thing  digging in.
You've just got to put up with it and crack on.
     Then it came to drinking water. How were w'e  going  to get water  down
our necks?  Did we  want  to  have to  stop  every five minutes and take the
bergen  off?  There  were weird and wonderful devices coming out of people's
bergens. Max was  the Mr. Gadget Man. He had  everything  dangling off  him.
He'd  worked  out that water stops robbed us of a lot of time and  turned up
one day with a large water bottle of the kind that cyclists use, with a long
tube coming out. He'd sellotaped the tube onto the straps of  his bergen, so
all he had to do was put  the tube in his mouth and suck it. I had tried all
that, and it was all a bag  of shit:  It would  go wrong;  the  piping would
break or  pull out of  the bottle. What it boiled down to was  that  you had
water on your belt  and some more in your bergen. You drank  from  your belt
kit water bottle, stopped to fill it up from the kit in your bergen, and off
you went. None of the Heath Robinson kit worked-unfortunately.
     Then there was the question, How were we going to carry our map?
     Max had a plastic orienteering map case that hung around his neck.
     I tried that and found that I  spent most of my time with it blowing in
my face or wrapped around my neck because it was so windy up there.
     What was best was to put the map in a clear plastic  bag and carry that
in the map pocket on your leg.
     We  tried  all  the energy drinks,  electrolytes  and  such  that  were
starting to  come in. People were buying Lucozade and natural body composite
drinks as  if  they were going out  of fashion,  but at the end of the day I
reckoned it didn't matter what you had, as long as you had fluids  down you.
I still drank gallons of Lucozade, however; I loved the taste.
     The only thing everyone agreed on was painkillers, and plenty of Brufen
to  stop  the swelling. I  planned to  throw them  down my  neck like  a man
possessed if  I  had to. Get  rid of the pain, get  rid of the swelling, and
carry on.
     The weather  was  a mixture of  rain, low  cloud, and  mist  and always
overcast. If the sun was out,  it was cold; if it wasn't, it was raining. We
were  tabbing  hard  anyway, so we  didn't  need much clothing on.  We  were
getting really fit and confident. I  felt I had stamina now with the bergen,
and  I  knew the ground.  When  I  looked at the map,  I  had every  feature
imprinted in my mind: where all the  little pathways were, what  I could see
from the high ground. I felt I wouldn't have to worry about the map reading.
I could just concentrate on making the distance in the time allowed.
     Time  spent  on  reconnaissance  is  seldom wasted.  We were sure  that
getting up  on the Beacons had been  a  must. It gave us the time to tune in
and know the ground, to feel more confident if  the weather  started to clag
in. Before  I  went to  Wales,  I  had  looked on  the  map at Pen-y-Fan and
Fan-Fawn  the  major  features  over the Beacons, and thought:  Hmm,  that's
pretty  steep. But until I got there and saw it for myself,  I wouldn't have
believed how vertical a hill could be.
     Being there for three weeks got us over that initial shock, and we soon
built up confidence. And despite the weather,  we had a really good laugh. I
knew the pubs in Brecon  anyway from the course that I'd done down there. We
met  people that were on the  junior and senior Brecon  courses,  and it was
wonderful to be out of the battalion. I loved it.
     Back  in  Germany,  we  spent  every  spare  minute  training.  Passing
Selection had become my complete and utter focus. I'd  go  to sleep at night
thinking about Pen-yFan and all the other places that we'd  gone to.  When I
woke up, my first thought was, What am I going to  do if I fail? The  more I
thought about my life in the battalion, the more desperate I was to escape.
     There was  a  massive  ridge  that  ran  all the  way  from  Minden  to
Osnabriick. It  was a really steep feature, and we used to get  our arses up
there nearly every day. As well as that, if another company were doing a BFT
(basic fitness test), we'd turn up and do it with them. Then we'd go circuit
training. Fitness was all; we knew that the first month of Selection was the
killer, with 80 percent of candidates gone by the end of it.
     I knew I was kidding myself when I told Debbie that  it would be better
for us in the long term  if I could get into  the Regiment. She was enjoying
the  existence  in  Germany.  She  had  a good  job,  friends, and  she  was
establishing herself. If I passed Selection, I would be away from her for at
least seven months of the year.
     And so it was that on a hot sunny day in July 1983
     the four  of us boarded the old camper  van for  what we  hoped was the
last time and set off for Hereford.
     They didn't give us directions  to Stirling Lines, for obvious reasons.
If you can't even find  your way  to the camp, it's  going  to be a waste of
time trying  to join Special Forces. We had made sure we knew  where we were
going, which was just as well. One  or  two blokes were late, having got off
the train at Hereford station and  asked  the locals  for directions. Nobody
told them. Apparently the  town  was very security-conscious, and the police
were always alerted if anyone was seen as suspicious.
     We chugged up to the main gate on  a  Sunday. Apart  from the high wire
fence surrounding  it and the  military policemen  at  the  gates, the  camp
looked like a  deserted college campus.  I'd  expected to  find  a  hive  of
activity but instead  saw only  one  or  two characters  mooching  around in
tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts. They took no interest in us whatsoever.
     We signed in and did a pile of documentation, all the usual stuff-name,
date of birth, qualifications, rank.
     We were then  directed  down  to the stores to draw a bergen,  sleeping
bag, water bottles, twenty-four-hour rations, cookers, and a survival kit.
     "When you're up in  the  hills," the  quartermaster told us,  "all  the
weight  that's in your bergen must be weight that's usable-food, water, biwi
bag, spare clothes. The days of  carrying bricks for the sake of it are well
     "You are only allowed to wear an army-issue boot.
     The  argument is, you can wear a pair of Gucci walking  boots  now, but
what happens if you've been in the  jungle for  three months  and your boots
start  to  rot and  fall  off? When you  get a resupply parachuted  into the
jungle, they're sure as hell not going to be size eight and one-half in your
favorite 'Go-faster  Guccis."  Our names  were on  a  board in  alphabetical
order, and we were allocated to eight-man rooms.
     The Green Jackets were split up, and we wandered off with a casual "See
you later."
     Another  couple of  guys  had already arrived in my room;  we  nodded a
greeting to one another but not much more. As I unpacked the kit I'd brought
with me, I cast a quick eye over  what gear of  theirs I could see. I wasn't
the only one with boxes of electrolyte  drinks, bottles of  neat's-foot  oil
just in case, strapping for my legs, and a party pack of Brufen.
     I wandered off to find the others. Everybody was  doing his  own thing,
sorting  himself out, then perhaps,  like me, going to see a mate who was in
another room.
     There were one or two radios on.
     It seemed everybody was among strangers, from different units.
     People were saying hello but not really chatting to one another.
     There  wasn't  that  friendly room  thing that there usually  was  when
soldiers  got together  on a course. There were little mumblings going on of
"All right, mate, how you going?" but the atmosphere felt rather tense.
     Naturally it would take awhile to know each other, as in any group, but
I sensed there was  more to it than that. The slightly furtive unpacking and
guarded  responses reminded  me of boxers in a shared changing room before a
bout.  Polite but wary.  I  thought  it  was  rather odd.  As far  as I  was
concerned, the only person I was competing against was myself.
     First thing Monday morning, all 180 of us assembled in the gym.
     Before the  course  even  started,  we  had to  do  the  army's BFT,  a
three-mile run in boots and clothing.
     "You've  got fifteen  minutes  to do the first mile and a half," the DS
(directing staff) said. "The rest is up to you. Don't be last man home."
     We set  off at  a fastish pace. However, without kit it was a  piece of
cake. A  reasonable jogger wouldn't  have broken out in  a sweat. I couldn't
believe it when I saw people falling by the wayside, holding their sides and
fighting for breath. I'd seen old ladies who were fitter.
     Yet the basic fitness test was a basic requirement throughout the army;
in theory, even the plumpest pastry cook should have passed. As the cripples
limped in, the DS took their names and told them to go and get changed. They
had been  binned on the  spot, even  before the start  of Selection  proper.
They'd  obviously been reading  too many James Bond books:  by the  looks on
their faces the three miles had come as quite a shock to them.
     For the next couple of days we did basic map-reading revision.
     "If  you  can't read a map  and you're  stuck on top  of the  hill, the
weather comes down and it's freezing, you're going to die," the DS said. "We
don't want you dying: number one because of the expense of putting people on
Selection,  and number two, we don't want the inconvenience of having to ask
the  standby  squadron to get their arses up  trying to look for  bodies-and
three, it isn't good for you as you'll have failed Selection."
     Unbelievably,  some  people  had  turned  up  just  about  knowing  the
difference between  north  and south. Part of this map-reading refresher was
orienteering with  the bergens ' on, which was  prepping us  for the time in
the mountains. I was amazed at how many people were  starting to  get fed up
with it already. Whatever their idea of what Selection was, it wasn't this.
     I  didn't  see  much of Key  and  the others,  except  in  passing. The
occasional  quick chat at  mealtimes, however,  revealed  that everybody was
doing fine.
     We did quite a lot of running, five-milers mostly, in groups  of twenty
to thirty.  We'd do a  map-reading class, then be  sent off for  a run;  the
people who had just come in off a run, leaking (sweating) and panting, would
then  do map reading. There were still people binning it and  getting binned
after these runs.
     They  got progressively  more arduous:  five or seven  miles  in boots,
followed  by sit-ups  and press-ups,  then hundred meter piggyback races and
fireman's  carries  up  hills.  More  people  jacked. I reckoned the DS were
weeding out the people  who wouldn't be capable of doing the first real test
at the end of the week, the Fan Dance.
     Another  of the  regular  runs was  an eight-miler  in  boots  in hilly
country, to be  done in under an hour. I reasoned that  as long as I  stayed
tucked in  behind  the DS, I'd  be fine,  but for reasons best known to  him
everybody else seemed to want  to  be up the  front. I  couldn't see that it
     We did more orienteering, this time carrying bergens.
     I got to one  checkpoint and sat by the wagons, having a brew.  One  of
the DS was sitting nearby, watching the rest of the gang stagger in.
     One of them, a tall, smartlooking bloke I knew to be a cavalry officer,
was  wearing sweatbands on his wrists, a bandanna  around his  head, and, to
top it all, a cravat. He looked as if he was going off for a game of squash.
The DS got up  and went  and talked to  other  members of the training wing.
They were all having a  look at  this boy and  obviously discussing him. The
thought  struck  me  then  that  this was about  being a gray  man;  getting
noticed, I guessed, was probably only a few steps away from getting binned.
     The Fan Dance is a twenty-four-kilometer run with bergens, done with DS
in groups of about thirty, with no map-reading requirement. It starts at the
bottom of Peny-Fan,  goes up  onto the hill, and right  to the top, which is
the highest point in that part of the country.  Then it's back  down, around
another mountain  called the  Crib, and  along  the Roman road, a rubbly old
track, then  down to a checkpoint at a  place called Torpanto. Then it's the
whole lot again, in reverse.
     One group started at Torpanto, mine at the Storey Arms mountain  rescue
center at the base of the Fan, and in theory we crossed over at the top.
     The bergen weighed thirty-five pounds. We didn't  know the cutoff time,
but the DS did."The  only  advice we  were given was "If  you keep with  us,
you're all right.
     If you don't you're fucking late."
     The DS went; he really motored. Within five  minutes the tightly packed
group was strung out along the track.
     I noticed several very fit-looking  faces that I hadn't seen before and
that  were overtaking me.  It was  the first  time I'd seen  people from the
squadrons;  apparently there  was an open invite for anybody who happened to
be  in camp to go and  do  the Fan Dance.  All these characters turned up in
Range  Rovers,  with flasks of tea.  They got the bergens on, and  off  they
went. I was feeling really  fit and confident,  but  these  blokes were just
steaming past,  especially on the uphill sections.  It really pissed me off;
they'd jog up  alongside  the DS, have a bit of a chat, then accelerate over
the horizon.
     My chest heaved up  and  down until I got  my second  wind,  and then I
started to  sweat. It started to get in my eyes and  sting  the sores on  my
back.  Within  twenty  minutes I was  soaking  wet,  but  my  breathing  was
regulated, and I was feeling good.  I knew where I  was going, and though it
was wet underfoot, the weather was fine.
     I arrived at Torpanto in good shape, huffing and puffing but confident.
It wasn't too hot a day, and I wasn't having to stop  too often for a drink.
I  gave  my  name  to  the  DS, turned around, then did  the  whole route in
reverse. I sang  the same song to myself in my head, over and over. It was a
rap song; the music was just coming to the UK, and I hated it. I still  sang
it, though.
     It was a matter of running downhill and on flat ground and of tabbin as
hard as we could uphill. That  was all there was to it,  arms swinging, legs
pumping.  I  passed  Max on the way. He was going well, with the water  pipe
flailing behind him in his slipstream.
     Out of the 180 who  had started the week, 100  of us had  got as far as
the Fan Dance. By the end of the day, another 30 had been binned.
     The Fan,  we were  told, was a  benchmark. If  we  couldn't do the Fan,
there was no way we had the stamina or physical aptitude to carry on.
     That night Peter, the chief instructor, walked around the room.
     He  was  about five  feet five inches tall and  looked like everybody's
favorite uncle. He inspected all  the weird and  wonderful drinks that  were
lying on the lockers and said, in a  very slow Birmingham accent  that never
got above 2,000 revs, "All this shit, you can take it if you like-it's up to
you. But the best thing is, two pints  of Guinness and a bag of chips at the
end of each day."
     Dutifully we went down to the town  and sank two pints of  Guinness and
bought a bag of chips each at the chippie.
     Everybody was sorting  out  his  feet  with whatever magic  potion  and
strapping his toes up. I put orthopedic  felt on my heels and  sorted out my
blisters. The army was full of recipes for how to get rid of the things, but
I had always found that the best thing was to pierce them at the edge with a
needle sterilized in  a  flame, squeeze all  the  muck  out, and just  throw
plaster over. There wasn't a lot more that could be done.
     The  second  week started. I  reached the  wagon after  a  particularly
grueling run and took stock. My feet and legs ached; my thigh  muscles  were
killing me. My  shoulders were badly  sore and felt almost dislocated, as if
they had dropped.  I  had a pain in the small of my back;  as I  carried the
bergen uphill, I leaned forward to push against the weight. When  I finished
and  dropped my  bergen, it felt as if  I was floating on air.  I  pulled my
tracksuit on and got  all nice and warm  drinking my flask of tea as we were
driving back.
     As we relaxed on the wagons, our muscles seized up.
     Getting off  again, we looked like a load of geriatrics as we  stumbled
off the  tailgate and hobbled back to  our rooms, dragging our sleeping bags
along the ground. I looked in  the mirror. I looked just how I felt. My hair
was  sticking up where  I had been  sweating, and  it was covered in mud and
     We  kept  our bergens by our beds. There was a drying room  for all the
wet clothing, but it  was pointless washing  it;  it  was only going  to get
soaking  wet and filthy again, so we  put it in the drying room for a while,
then rested it on our bergens for the next day.
     After a while we did  start talking to one  another, but the only topic
was Selection. Every  time I came back  off a day's tabbing I wanted to find
out  how many  people  had been binned. The more  people  the better.  I was
chuffed that thirty people failed the Fan Dance.
     Great, I thought, it made me feel as if I was doing well.
     The daily tabs now ranged from  fifteen  to  sixty-four kilometers, and
night  marches were introduced. Day after day it was the  same routine. We'd
get the timings to go on the wagons in the morning, go to where  the tab was
going to start, do it, and get back at night.
     Then the Darby and Joan Club would go shuffling back to the rooms, dump
their kit, put their stuff in the drying room, have a bath or a shower, have
something to eat, and get  their heads down. The days of  Guinness and chips
were over.
     Nobody  told us the timings  for the day, so we didn't know  how far we
were  going, where  we were going, what route we were taking, or how long we
had; we had no option but to go as fast  as we could, and that was where the
map-reading skills came in. If I  came  to a reentrant (valley), I didn't go
down  and then up; I'd see if it might be worth contouring around the longer
     Discipline was uncalled for. All they'd say  was "Be in  the quadrangle
for six o'clock." We'd turn up;  they'd call  out our names and tell us what
trucks to get on. The majority of people were getting in their sleeping bags
or putting their bobble hats on, resting and drinking flasks  of  tea. Then,
all too  soon, we'd get to the checkpoint, clamber  out, and they'd  call us
forward one by one and send us on our way.
     The  training team told us nothing. We  were the ones who  wanted to be
there; they weren't soliciting for our custom. Their  attitude seemed to be:
The course is here if you want to do it.
     "Red fifteen?"
     I went over to the DS.
     "Where are you?"
     I  had to show him on the map where I was.  If you put your finger on a
map, you're covering an area  of  five  hundred or six hundred meters-unless
you've got big stubby fingers, in which case it might be a kilometer.
     You've  got to point  exactly where you are with  a blade of grass or a
     "You are going to Grid four-four-one-three-five-three.
     Show me where that is."
     I showed him.
     "Show me what direction you are going in."
     I took my bearing and showed him.
     He said, "Well you'd better get started because the clock's running."
     There, was one bloke in my group, Trey, who was so hyper  and revved up
that he ended up doing everything the wrong way around.
     Instead of going north, he would go south. He got off the wagon one day
and got called over by the DS.
     He said, "Where are you?"
     He showed him on the map.
     "Which way are you going?"
     He  pointed the way he was going,  which was correct, then  went off in
totally the wrong direction.
     The DS turned around to us and said, "Where the hell's he going?"
     He let him go for about a hundred meters, then shouted:  "Oi, dickhead,
come back here! For fuck's sake, where are you going? Show us your bearing."
     Trey  showed him,  and the DS said, "Then fucking go in that direction.
You've already wasted three minutes."
     A lot of the time, if I was going for a high point, I could see it, and
it never got  any closer. My mind would start  wandering off on to different
things. Sometimes I'd start  singing stupid  songs to myself in  my mind, or
little advertising that I'd always hated anyway.
     I'd  get to  the checkpoint  and lean forward, my hands on  my knees to
rest the shoulders.
     The DS'd say,  "Show me where you  are." Then:  "You are  going to Grid
three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Show me what direction that is."
     Off I'd go.
     Sometimes I'd get to a checkpoint where they'd  have  a  set of scales.
For that day's marches, perhaps the bergen had to weigh forty pounds. They'd
check the weight,  and if a bloke was under,  they'd  put a big rock  in his
pack,  sign  it  with  a  lumicolor,  and  radio  on to  the  next couple of
checkpoints that Blue 27 had a rock  in his bergen  because  he was a snidey
bastard. It  meant that instead  of carrying forty pounds, he  would  now be
humping around with fifty-five pounds for the rest of the day. When measured
in sweat and blisters, fifteen pounds is a lot of difference.
     The  big mistake was to take forty pounds as the all-in start weight of
the bergen, including  the water. As  soon as you'd drunk one pint, you'd be
under;weight. When they said  forty pounds, they meant  forty  pounds at the
end of the day, not the beginning.
     When we came in off  the hills,  we'd  be  sorting  ourselves out.  The
training team would come around, calling  out names. These, we soon learned,
were the people who were getting binned.
     If we'd had a bad day, we'd get a "gypsy's warning."
     The sergeant  major would say, "The following people, come and see me."
Those people  would gather around him.  He'd say,  "You didn't  do very well
yesterday. This  is a gypsy's; you'd better sort your shit out because  next
time you'll be gone."
     If anybody had already had a gypsy's and his  name was called, he could
assume the worst.
     I'd be feeling  fairly confident if I was in the first wagon on the way
back.  Second wagon, I was unsure but  not too worried. Third wagon, I would
have been shirting myself. It happened to me only once.
     Most days,  however,  I was looking at other people, chuffed that these
six-foot-four-inch blond-haired, good-looking thoroughbreds were getting the
     I'd say, "That's a shame," but inside I'd be thinking, Good shit!
     Everybody was for himself; everybody wanted to pass.
     "The point is," the DS said, "if you've got to be in a position to give
covering fire with your GPMG (general purpose machine gun) in six  hours and
forty-five minutes' time, it's no good  being there in six hours, forty-five
and a half minutes because you're late. You might as well be ten hours late.
If you're given a timing, you must be there.
     The attack group might have to go in without fire cover  because  their
attack might  be time coordinated with another attack that's going  in three
or four kilometers away.  You must  keep your timings; lives might depend on
it one day."
     The training team did the course every day as well, and they would vary
the   time   limit   according   to   the   conditions.   If   there  was  a
forty-mile-an-hour wind, they  took it into consideration. It was then up to
us to be as good as they were.
     The  big thing  was Platform 4. At Hereford railway station, Platform 4
went to London.  "It's Platform four  for you"  was  the  Regiment's  way of
saying, "Thank you and good night."
     Of course, by the time people got back to  their units, the reason they
left Selection  was a "back or leg injury," but  they  shouldn't  have  been
embarrassed: They had  more guts turning up for Selection in the first place
than the people they were giving excuses to.
     The Royal Signals people definitely had the edge on tuning in and being
happy with the environment.  At that  time, if a bloke  wanted to go for the
Regiment from  the signals, he first had to be in 264,  the signals squadron
in Hereford. So these guys were  in the environment to begin with, and  they
had the Black Mountains,forty-five minutes up the road to train on. A lot of
them were going home  of  an evening. In the  beginning  I  felt they had an
unfair advantage. Then I came to see that  when it  came  down to  it,  they
didn't; they still had to  get the boots on and go up the hill with everyone
     I  was looking at the blokes who'd done Selection  once already;  maybe
they  had got up  to the  jungle  phase  of continuation training  and  then
failed. I was hoping that they were going to pass this first stage again. If
I got to the jungle as well-and I hoped with them-they would  know  what was
going on.
     Some people  had turned up  looking fearsomely fit. I judged myself all
the time against them. A  fellow called Andy Baxter  was one of the training
team. We went out for a run  with him one day, stopping to do press-ups  and
sit-ups. Andy took  his shirt  off and  revealed that besides film-star good
looks he had a superb physique.
     He  should have been on the  cover of Playgirl. I'd  always been really
fit in the battalion, but I thought, There's  no way I'm going to pass this;
I don't stand a chance here; how the hell am I going to be like him? Nothing
fazed him at all.  We'd  come back off the runs gasping for breath, and he'd
saunter back in,  laughing and joking, and have a cup of tea. It  annoyed me
that  compared with some of these blokes, I was  a bag of shit, sweating and
knackered. I  had  to keep reminding  myself  that it  wasn't Baxter  I  was
competing against; it was McNab.
     If passing Selection had been an obsession before I arrived at Stirling
Lines, it was now a pathological fixation. The longer I was  there, the more
I wanted to stay.
     The atmosphere  was  so different from an infantry  battalion, so  laid
back, so  reliant on  self-discipline. Everybody was on first-name terms. No
one hassled us;  all they would say was "Parade is twelve o'clock"  and just
expect us to  be there. If  we weren't,  it must mean  we didn't want to  be
there,  so  we could go.  Each night I said to myself.  "I really want to be
here; this is the place I want to be."
     If I didn't pass Selection, I'd get out of the army.
     There was no way I could see myself fitting back in the battalion.
     I'd seen how  the  other  half lived,  and I wanted my  share.  All the
facilities were there, everything from a library to a swimming pool.
     The medical center was open for us every night when we got back.
     I went  there to get  some bandages for my feet. it wasn't  like  going
into a medical  center in the  battalion, where I'd have been hanging around
so long my feet would have healed of their own accord.
     They treated me as a person rather than a soldier; as I limped back  to
my room, I said to myself again: I want to stay here!
     All of us Green jackets got up to the third  week; then Bob got binned.
His timings  weren't good enough. He didn't  seem too worried about it as he
packed his gear to leave.
     Next day  we had finished one march and were moving to a forestry block
to spend the next few  hours  sorting ourselves out and  having something to
eat before a night  tab. Dave  was not feeling too good about it, and he had
already had a  gypsy's. As we sat  around  a hexy burner and sorted our feet
out, waiting for dark, he said, "'That pisses me off is that they don't tell
us if  we've failed straightaway. I might be doing  this sodding night march
for nothing."
     He  was. The next day, almost  the end of  the third week, he  was also
sent  to Platform 4, timings not good enough. And  Max,  who was starting to
look the worse for wear, got a gypsy's.
     "It was because I kept falling over," Dave said to me.
     "And the reason I keep  falling over is  that my feet aren't big enough
to support me. I'v-e only got size sevens."
     I shook his hand and watched him go. I'd miss the silly bastard.
     A  couple of days  after  that, in  the final week,  I  was  coming off
Fan-Fawr  and  saw Max still on his  way up, water tube waving in the  wind,
wearing a T-shirt with a motif on it,  something to do with oranges. His big
bushy moustahe was full of snot, and he was in shit state.
     He said, "I'm having a bad time here, Andy. My timings are bad."
     H was well  and truly out of  it-as if he  was drunk, but  without  the
     I  nodded and  said,  "Sorry," but obviously  I  still  had to crack on
     That  night he  went. Out of the original  six Green jackets three were
left for the last three days of Test Week.
     Key went the next day. As usual, he wasn't that fussed.
     "I tried and failed." He grinned. "At least I don't have to think of it
again. Back to football and a few good nights out at Longbridge, that's me."
     I was sad to see them all go. I would miss their friendship and banter.
     Johnny Two-Combs was still  there, and no way was he not going to pass.
I didn't see that much of  him as he was in a different block and by now, if
I wasn't tabbing, I was sleeping.
     "Just got to carry on the way I'm going," I kept saying to myself.
     "Just don't get an injury."
     I got a gypsy's the next day.
     We were on  a thirty-five-kilometer tab in the Elan valley, and I'd had
a really bad day.  I had no injuries, but I just found it hard going. It was
as If my legs didn't want to play; my body was  going at 100 mph but my legs
were moving at 50. I used to have a dream as a child that I was running away
from something and though  my whole mental state was  in a frenzy,  my  body
would be in slow motion.
     Now it was happening in real life. I was on the second group of wagons,
which was dodgy ground.
     The following morning we were waiting to be called on the vehicles. The
chief instructor started to call out the names of people he wanted to see. I
was one of them.
     "Your timings were not good enough yesterday," he said. "You will  have
to pull your finger out for the last two days or it's Platform four."
     It pissed me  off, but  there were only  the Sketch  Map  and Endurance
marches left.
     Sketch Map involved using a hand-drawn map rather than a proper one. We
had to cover thirty-five kilometers over different  checkpoints. No problem,
I was cruising. I thought I'd cracked it. I knew the ground because I'd done
all the recces, I'd been up there; I knew where I was going.
     I  was  coming up toward the Fan and came to a  forestry block  about a
kilometer square that I would  have to go around. It wasn't  a fluffy little
wood; this was a major Forestry Commission fir plantation.
     Looking down on it from the high ground, I could see that  a  firebreak
went  right through  the middle.  I started to push through, and  made  good
progress for about the  first two hundred meters. Then  I got disoriented. I
had to stop for several minutes and take a bearing.
     I was  severely pissed  off with myself.  I  had to get on my hands and
knees and start pushing myself through  because  the trees  were planted  so
closely together. I was shouting and hollering to myself.
     I'd gone too far  in to  come  back out and  go around; it was  just  a
matter of cracking on.
     Deep down I knew I was going to be late. I knew I had fucked up.
     By  the  time I came  out I had  cuts on  my  face and hands, and I was
covered in blood. But I still went on.
     There might be a chance.
     As I made my way  up  to the next checkpoint,  which was on  the top of
Pen-y-Fan, my legs were aching something fierce. I was badly out  of  breath
and drenched  with sweat,  blood,  and  mud. But the worst  injury was to my
pride. I knew I'd fucked up good style by being too cocky.
     The sun  was  out,  and  it was quite  hot. Half of  Wales seemed to be
walking  on the Fan with their famillessmall kids with two-liter bottles  of
lemonade in  their hands  and mothers  and fathers strolling along in shorts
and  sandals, enjoying  the view. I  screamed through them, pissed  off  and
muttering to myself, trying to make up as much time as possible.
     The  DS looked  at my cut  face  and torn  trousers and said, "You  all
     I said, "Yeah, I've had a bad last leg."
     "Never   mind,  just  get  down  to   the  vehicle;  that's  your  next
     I had been the last man to the  top of Pen-y-Fan.  Now I had to go back
down  to the  last checkpoint I ran. I ran  faster than I'd  ever imagined I
could, but when I arrived, there was only room on the third wagon.
     That night my name  was called. It was  the  day before  Endurance, the
last big test, and I was binned. It was my fault, being cocky,  thinking I'd
cracked it, rather than just going  around the forestry block and being sure
of where I was.
     Before  you  leave for Platform 4,  you  hand all your kit back to  the
stores. Then there is an interview with the training major. You can try only
twice for Selection, unless you break a leg on your second attempt, in which
case they might be lenient.
     As  I waited to  go into the office, I wasn't alone. Eight of  us  were
sitting on a long  wooden bench. I felt very much as I  had  done as  a kid,
waiting  to see the headmistress or to go into a police station interviewing
room. It was  a hive of  activity,  people walking purposefully  past, doing
their own stuff. Nobody was taking any notice of us.
     I  felt dejected.  Everything was  happening  around me, but I wasn't a
part of it anymore.
     The major looked  up from his desk and  said, "So what was the problem?
Why were you so late on the last leg?"
     "Too cocky. I  went through the forestry block, and that slowed me down
     "Ah, well." He smiled. "If you come back again, you'll make sure you go
around that one, won't you)"
     "Fine, maybe we'll see you again'n."
     "I hope so."
     An hour later I was standing on Platform 4.
     We  boarded the train to Paddington. When we got to London, I would  go
to Brize Norton, and from there I'd get an R.A.F flight back to Minden.
     As I  lifted  my  holdall  into the luggage rack and sat down,  I found
myself looking  straight at the  word "Hereford" on the station sign. It hit
me that I hadn't felt so devastated-and so determined-for a long, long time.
     ailing Selection was a bit like falling off  a  horse,  only  it hurt a
hell of a lot  more. I somehow knew that if I didn't get straight  back  on,
I'd never try again, because I was so pissed off.
     Debbie was  less than thrilled when  I applied again, but the battalion
were  really  good about it. They didn't  give me any time  off for training
this time, however, because there were  too  many commitments-i.e  more bone
exercises. % I made up my mind that if I failed Selection a second time, I'd
get out of  the  army. I was writing away, in my naivete, to  companies that
had a lot of Middle East  contracts: "Dear Sirs, I can work a mortar." As an
infantry-' man I thought I was God's gift to industry because I could fire a
mortar, and couldn't understand it when the  polite letters came back: "Dear
Sir, Fuck off!"
     Alex, the captain who'd done so much to help us get some training, took
me aside one day and said, "Every morning when I was shaving, I got the soap
and wrote on the mirror: Battalion No, Regiment Yes."
     It had obviously worked for him. I was encouraged.
     I did all the training I could in the, free time I had. it was much the
same  as before-lots of bergen work, circuit training,  and running-building
up the endurance of my heart, lungs, legs, and mind.
     The only free time I had  to get some more work in over the Beacons was
during  the Christmas  leave  period,  which  obviously  pissed  Debbie  off
severely. We started to have rows about it. Our marriage was in name only.
     She came home one evening, and we had a massive setto.
     "We're hardly ever  together," she said.  "And when we are, all  you're
interested in is Selection."
     "I'm pissed off with myself for failing," I said.
     "Then that makes two of us."
     I started to say that  she had no idea about what was happening  to me,
that my whole world had fallen in, and  if I didn't get  in  next  time, our
future was  uncertain, because I  would leave the army and have to  look for
     It was a big  allnighter, with enough shouting and slamming of doors to
wake up  half the block.  I was  just  feeling sorry for myself and couldn't
handle being rejected by the Regiment.  My only vent was Debbie, and  she, I
thought, didn't  understand.  The  Regiment was what I  wanted,  and if  she
wasn't with me, then  as far as I was concerned, she was against me.  I told
her  she was overreacting, that  if  I got in, everything would be all right
again and we would get back to where we were before. But Debbie was a bright
girl, and she must have seen the writing on the wall.
     What  had started  as  an obsession and  become  a  fixation was now  a
passion.  I was no longer concerned about anything that  happened within the
battalion,  unless  it was physical. Then I'd  throw myself  into it, purely
because it was more training.
     My  mind was  focused  completely on the  first  month of  Selection. I
wasn't  worried  about the continuation training at all;  once I'd got  over
that  first month, everything else was  the unknown,  so I  couldn't prepare
myself for it. But I could prepare myself for the first month.
     I knew I could pass it. I knew.
     During Christmas leave  Debbie stayed  with her  family  and I went  to
Crickhowell, the training depot for the Prince of Wales Division.
     Early  each  morning  I  put the bergen  in  the back  of the motor and
screamed up to the Black Mountains.
     I had a rusty old black Renault 5. One of the wings was falling off and
had to be  kept on with a rubber bungee. Some mornings it lacked  the  power
even to get up the hill to my start  point. When the roads were icy, I ended
up more than once in a hedge.
     I'd  train  hard  all day  up on the  hills,  then drive  back  down to
Crickhowell, have -my two pints of Guiness  and  a bag of  chips, drink huge
amounts of electrolytes, and strap myself up for the next day.
     On Christmas Day  I treated myself to a few hours off,  staying where I
was and watching all the old number ones on Top of the Pops. I had Christmas
dinner at one of the pubs and gave Debbie a call. There was no reply.
     Next day I  did the Fan Dance. As I tabbed hard.up Pen-y-Fan with  this
big house on my back, sweating away, four or five blokes came sprinting past
with track suits and day sacks  on. As they  went  piling  past  the bag  of
shit-me-they said, "Trying for January, are you?
     Good luck."
     I was expecting the  winter Selection to be more severe than the summer
one.  Cold  can be so debilitating; it would be tougher to wade through snow
than  move over the ground, and poor visibility would make  the navigation a
lot harder. People died on winter Selection.
     Even senior officers in the Regiment had perished on the hills.
     I'd heard that a major set off once with a bergen full of bricks rather
than warm clothing. The weather came down, and he failed to return.
     The standby squadron got up onto the hill and found the body, but  they
couldn't get down themselves because the weather was so bad. They had to get
the biwi bags out, and  they used the frozen rupert as a windbreak. When the
weather cleared, they laid  him on his back, piled their bergens on top, and
sledged him down the hill.
     I arrived back at Stirling Lines in  mid-January.  I sensed that people
were more apprehensive than the summer intake had been. I knew I was.
     As it turned out,  the weather  was  a great leveler. In thick  mist or
driving snow,  everybody had to rely on his  navigation. The elements slowed
us  all  down equally;  it  was  just  a question  of cracking  on with  the
bearings, having confidence in the map and compass. Every day I felt better,
and my confidence grew.
     Snow fell heavily for much of the second and third weeks. We were given
a six-figure grid that was  accurate to within a hundred meters, which  is a
big area when all you're looking for is a biwi bag in a snowdrift.
     Visibility was  down to twenty meters one day. I got to the vicinity of
my next checkpoint and  was running  around  for valuable  minutes trying to
find a hint of green Gore-Tex. Eventually I found it, tapped on the bag, and
the zip came down.  I was  a sweaty, dirty mess, starting to shiver  because
I'd  stopped moving. Even  in the  very cold weather  I wore just a pair  of
trousers, boots, and a T-shirt with a waterproof over the top.
     I was hit by the waft of coffee fumes and a cloud of steam from the boy
in his sleeping  bag. He  was  probably blowing the vents because he  was so
     I  wanted to be out of there as quickly as possible, number one because
of the timings and number two because I was starting to freeze.
     I was dripping all over him.
     He looked up, took a sip of coffee, and said, "Stop fucking sweating on
     As he gave me my  next grid reference, he said, "See  you,"  and did up
the zip.
     I turned to face into the blizzard again and trudged on.
     I arrived at  one  checkpoint at  the  same  time as two ruperts  who'd
tabbed in together from a different direction.
     "This checkpoint is not where  it should  be," one of them said to  the
     The  biwi bag was  in a snowdrift on a piece  of  ground  called a spot
height. The DS, who happened to be Peter, the chief instructor, said, "Well,
where do you think it should be then?"
     The rupert pointed on the  map; then the two officers started to  argue
between  themselves. There  was  only a difference  of one  or  two  hundred
meters; it wasn't as if we were in. different valleys.
     The DS said to me, "Where are we?"
     I  pointed  to the spot height  on  the map  and  he said, "Correct." I
wasn't going to argue.
     Then he  turned  to the two ruperts  and  said, "Wherever you think you
are, here is your next grid.
     Off they went, and as he  gave me my grid, he shook  his head and said,
"I  can't  understand what's  the  matter  with these guys. They're here  to
become  part of something that  I'm  already  a  member of.  I'm  the  chief
instructor, and they're arguing with me. Even if I'm wrong, what's the point
in arguing with me?"
     I didn't see them  again. Next time, if there was a next time for them,
perhaps they wouldn't approach Selection with their ruperts head on. At that
stage  the DS  couldn't  even  be arsed  to know  our names unless,we'd done
something wrong. All they were trying to confirm was that we  had endurance,
stamina, and  determination. They couldn't give a monkey's about  our skills
and aptitudes.
     A character called jock was in the next bed to me.
     Every night, when we got back  from another shattering day on the hill,
he'd say,  "Och, I think I'll just nip down the town and have a drink." He'd
get all  dressed up and go down to one of the discos,  rolling back at three
o'clock  in the  morning, stinking. He'd  fall into bed,  curl UP, and  fall
     Next morning I'd give him a nudge and say, "Jock, it's scoff."
     "Och, aye."
     He'd get up, right as rain,  put  his kit back on, make loads of toast,
and carry it to the wagon in his hands.
     The  most I  could manage, and it  certainly wasn't  every night, was a
trip to the local chip shop and a couple of pints of Guinness on the way.
     At the end  of  the first  two weeks the really serious stuff  started,
revisiting the Elan valley. I used to like the drive up there because we had
to  start really  early in the  morning.  I  could get my head  down  in  my
sleeping  bag  and  drink  loads of tea. All  good  things  come  to an end,
however, and the truck  would eventually  stop, the engine would be switched
off, and there would be silence.
     Time to ' get out.
     The cold  air always attacked my ears first; then my feet started to go
numb. I'd be torn between wanting to get moving to get warm and knowing that
it was going to entail a fearsome tab of eight or ten hours.
     The Elan valley was as I remembered  it, a godforsaken, daunting place,
full  of reservoirs  and big stumps of elephant grass, ranging from  knee to
chest height.
     The area was very  boggy, and because  of the reservoirs, we could move
only  on the top  half of the hills. We did  a lot of night marches there as
well, and I spent a lot of time falling over. I hated the Elan valley.
     By now we  were carrying a rifle as well as a bergen, and it always had
to be in our hands. They were only drill  SLRs (self-loading rifles), but it
was a bit of extra weight I could have done without.
     The carrying handles had been removed; there was no putting it over the
shoulder or strapping it  into the  bergen. I  found the SLR made life  much
more difficult because I couldn't swing my arms to pump uphill.
     We  had  to,cross a  lot  of  fences, and if you were  seen resting the
weapon on the  other side  before you  clambered  over  you got  a  fine-and
mentally they'd got you.
     Some of the tabs went on  and on.  Sometimes I could see the checkpoint
about ten kilometers away; I'd come off the high  ground on that bearing, so
I knew it was at the end of that delta, but  then I'd just  seem to be going
on  and on-and on.  The Elan valley took  a hell of a lot of people out.  It
wore them down. And because it was farther away, it meant we got back later,
and we had to start earlier.
     As the week went on, jock carried on pissing  it up. He explained to me
that he'd just  got over a bad dose of penile warts.  For eighteen months he
had  been  "off games," and  he wasn't  going  to  let a  little thing  like
Selection  get in the way of his rehabilitation. He opened his flies one day
and showed me the damage. The end of his cock looked like the moon.
     Day after day we'd be  humping over hills. The  weather was horrendous.
On  one of the  tabs the  snow came up to my  waist.  It  was  quite a  long
one-thirty-five  kilometers-and  it  was  scary  stuff.  The  mist  was  in,
visibility  was down  to about ten  meters,  and  we all failed  to  find  a
checkpoint. Eventually about six of us all bumped into one another, flapping
about our  timings. At long last one of the blokes found the DS's biwi  bag,
and we were  all busy making our excuses about  the weather. No need. They'd
already  accounted for all this. They made the decision that we'd carry  on,
but in a group until we got to the next checkpoint.
     Timings-wise I was in the  middle of the order  of  march. I was  on my
chinstrap after wading through  the snow for so  many kilometers, but I  got
lucky. There was a Canadian jock  who  wanted  to lead from the front, and I
tucked  in  behind him.  He  was  forging-through  the  snowdrifts  like  an
icebreaker and we were tabbing in his wake, grinning our faces off.
     The Endurance  phase  culminated  with  Test  Week. The  routes were  a
selection  of  everywhere we'd  been  and ranged  from twenty  to sixty-four
kilometers. This was where all the lnj'uries began to play on people.
     There were only about forty of us left, which I thought was great; less
of a wait for food. Each  day now I was feeling stronger  because I knew the
ground and what to expect.
     I hadn't  had a gypsy's, so I  reckoned I could even screw up on one of
them and I'd be  all right.  Best of  all,  I had  no blisters, which I  was
really impressed with,  but I was  still strapping up my  feet  because  the
ankles were taking a fearsome pummeling.
     By now  I was always  landing up in the same wagon  as  another fellow,
George. I discovered that we'd both been in Crossmaglen at the same time. He
was  in  an  engineer  unit  that  was  building  the  submarines;  he  then
transferred, and was now  in 59  Engineers, the Royal Engineers  attached to
the Commando Brigade. He was into mountain climbing and had  all the kit. He
really annoyed me because every time I'd get there, he would  already be in,
lying in his sleeping bag, eating oranges.
     We'd  sit  together in companionable silence and wait for the  wagon to
fill  up.  George was tall and  lean, with varicose veins behind  one of his
legs. It looked like a relief map of the Pyrenees.
     The day came when it was time for Sketch Map.
     There was no way I was going to cock up this time, and I didn't.
     We got back to camp at about 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon after a 4:00
A.M.  start. At  10:00  o'clock  that same  night we'd be  setting  out  for
Endurance, so it was straight in, sort the kit out, and have a bath.
     I'd always been a shower man, until I'd seen all the boys going in with
boxes of Radox,and I thought, Right, I'll have some of  that for  Endurance.
But I put far too much in. It was  like  floating  in the Dead Sea. I didn't
know if it did me any physical good, but in my mind I felt that it did.
     We drove to Talybont, one of the reservoirs. When  I got off  the wagon
and  put the  bergen on, I  started getting  pins  and needles in  my  hands
because the weight on my shoulders was restricting the  flow of blood. I had
that initial pain of getting  it on,  then even more pain as welts broke out
where it was rubbing.  And then after  about  ten minutes, as soon  as I got
moving, my skin started to tingle because  I was starting to leak. I got the
wetness around my  neck, and  it started to get at the base of my hair. That
was always quite  an  uncomfortable  time, that  very first ten  minutes  or
quarter of an hour, because my legs were really stiff. Then I started to get
my second breath and everything started to loosen up.
     After  about twenty minutes I was into the swing  of it again. My  mind
was switched off; I was  listening to jingles in  my head.  It was  bitterly
cold, and the wind was  getting in  all the little gaps. Until I got a  good
sweat  on,  it was a  horrible  feeling, especially after getting out of the
cozy sleeping bag I'd been lying in for the hour-and-a-half drive.
     Most of Endurance was in darkness, and because it was wintertime, there
was even less  daylight. Everybody  looked quite excited but apprehensive. I
was feeling confident and fit. I had no bad injuries, just bergen sores.
     They called out the names, and off we went. The bergen was the heaviest
it had ever  been, about fifty-five to sixty  pounds,  because of the  extra
food and water. I always took water from  the camp because I knew  it wasn't
contaminated.  I  didn't  fancy  drinking  water from  a  stream,  even with
sterilizing tablets,  only  to see a stinking  dead sheep upstream;  if  you
start getting gut aches, it's going to slow you down.
     The extra weight was worth it.
     We were not  allowed on roads. If the checkpoint was on one,  we had to
hit at an angle, not aim off and then move along it. We  couldn't use tracks
or  pathways either;  everything had  to be cross-country.  We'd get  to the
checkpoint,  where  sometimes they had  water.  If  there were other  people
coming in,  they might hold us for  five  minutes, and  that was the time to
fill up from the jerry cans if there were any. If they weren't going to hold
us, I wouldn't waste time filling up.
     If I met other people on  the route, there  was never time  to say more
than "All right?" before shooting off again.
     All I wanted to hear them  say was that they were late,  and I'd think,
That's  good. If it  was  so bad  that  they  said, "Fuck!" I was even  more
pleased. It didn't make me go faster, but it made me feel better.
     I  was just bumping along,  my head full of jingles, thinking about the
route ahead,  trying to remember  what was  on the map so  I didn't have  to
stop.  "If you stop every five  minutes for thirty seconds," Max  had  said,
"that's minutes taken up every hour." I did my map checks on the move.
     I had an extra  pouch on my belt  that  was full of aniseed  twists and
Yorkie bars, which I had stocked up on just for Endurance. I didn't use them
on other tabs, but for some reason  I just went downtown and bought them for
this one. Now I was digging in and  eating and  wondering why I'd never done
it before.
     I  tabbed through the second night. On the last five or six  kilometers
the batteries went in my torch. I knew because of the lie of the ground that
I had  to go downhill, hit  the reservoir, chuck a right, and then head  for
the bridge, which was the final checkpoint.
     Unable to use my map, I was cursing the gods at the top of my voice. On
the  side  of  the  reservoir was a  big  forestry block.  I  searched for a
firebreak  to get through, honking  to  myself  and remembering why I failed
last time.
     I found a firebreak, a good wide  one. No problem. I  was moving along,
but then I hit, fallen trees. Extra sweat, extra cuts.  Every few meters I'd
have to get the bergen off, throw  it over a horizontal trunk, roll  over it
myself,  find  the bergen  in the pitch-blackness, put  it  back  on. I  was
flapping; I couldn't believe my future was in danger through making the same
mistake twice.
     I.was relieved to see the first rays of moonlight and  made my way down
to the bottom  of the reservoir. I  knew I  had  to  turn  right, and off  I
trogged, dragging along.
     I  reached the  last checkpoint  after  a  tab of twenty-one and a half
hours. I was pretty chuffed with myself, but George had got in before me. So
what was new?
     I noticed a  distinct change  in the attitude of the  DS. It  was as if
we'd turned  a  corner,  as if a phase  was over and done with. There was no
praise or anything,  but they said, "All right, are  you?  Right, dump. your
kit down, and there's some brew by the wagons."
     The  medic was there for any problems, but everybody  was too elated to
notice if he had any.
     The QMS on training wing turned up  with big slabs of bread pudding and
tea, which  he laced with rum.  I  discovered there was a big tradition with
the  Regiment that when  on arduous  duties they  got  this G10  rum, called
gunfire. They saved up  the rum ration and served it up on big  occasions. I
hated  rum, but this  didn't seem the  time to say so.  I  didn't like bread
pudding either, but I threw a lot of that down my neck as well.
     One  of  the ruperts came up to me  and  said, "Bloody hell,  were  you
having some problems down by the reservoir?"
     I explained  what was going  on and he said,  "I  could hear you. All I
could hear was this 'Fucking fuck, fuck ya!"
     " He had been caught up in another firebreak, having the same problem.
     We  climbed into the wagons for the  last time. Everybody was happy but
subdued. Nobody was sleeping; we were all too deep in thought.
     I had the big Radox bath and tried to  get all  the  strapping  off  my
legs. It  was two-inch tape which like a dickhead, I'd put on the sticky way
around. All I'd needed  it for was support,  so it could have been the other
way around. I was in the bath, talking to George, and erring and blinding as
I  ripped the tape off. By the time I had finished, half of my leg hairs had
     One of the DS came around and said, "Everybody  be in the training wing
lecture room for eight o'clock in the morning."
     I was feeling confident. There were some who were on a dodgy wicket who
weren't too sure, but they were soon going to be finding out.
     As  soon as the DS  said, "The following people go and see the training
major,"  I knew that  they were binned. If they didn't call my name out, I'd
know that I'd passed.
     He called out ten names. No McNab.
     "The rest  of  you, are  there any injuries? The medical  center's open
now; go and get them sorted out."
     There was  one little job  I had to do first. One of the blokes who had
failed needed driving to the  station, and I  had offered. There had been an
unfortunate incident on the hill-at least according to his version of it. He
was  doing  well and had got  to  a checkpoint  at night where he  was  held
because a  rupert  had arrived in shit state and binned it. He was told, "Go
with this officer, make sure he's all right." He got  the man safely down to
the next checkpoint but by now was very late.
     "I was told to wait," he told the DS.
     The DS just said, "Tough shit."
     He was held because of the rupert, and quite rightly so; his job was to
make sure the rupert got down to  the next checkpoint that had a vehicle; he
would then carry on. But he was late because of it, and  they didn't seem to
take it  into account. Maybe there was  a  cock-up  in  the  administration.
Whatever,  this boy  was stuffed.  As  I drove  him to the  station,  he was
crying.  This  had  been  his second  attempt; for  him there  were  no more
tomorrows. I could imagine how he felt.
     We had the weekend off, and it was very much needed. My feet swelled up
as if I had elephantiasis and I couldn't put my shoes on. I had to cut holes
in my trainers with a pair of scissors.
     I wanted to tell  everyone that I'd passed Selection, that I was  a big
boy now. But it meant jack shit to the blokes in the camp.
     Apparently a lot of them did Endurance once or twice a year anyway.  It
was  good for them to  get up  on the hill; it showed example and also meant
there were more people in the area for safety reasons.
     Some people slipped through the safety  net. Two  weeks later  a fellow
from R Squadron was missing after a tab, and the standby squadron was called
out to  search for him.  They  found  him in his sleeping bag, half in, half
out, with biscuits in one  hand and a hexy burner in the other. He must have
died in that position.
     We had passed Selection, the only phase that we had a certain amount of
control over. Now, as we entered the lecture room on Monday morning, we were
going into the unknown.
     The  training sergeant  major stood  up  and  said,  "You  are starting
continuation training now. There's going to be a lot of work involved.
     Just switch on,  and listen to what's being  said. Remember,  you might
have passed the Selection phase, but you're not in yet."
     From the original intake of 180, we were now down to just 24.
     Sitting around me were people from  many different organizations-blokes
from the signals and Royal Engineers, infantry, artillery, and a marine.  It
was  accepted that  everybody would have different  levels  of expertise and
different  levels  of experience. In terms of  training, it  was back to the
drawing board.
     The  first step  was to train  us in the use of the Regiment's weapons.
"If you  finally  do  get to  the  squadrons," the DS said, "you might  find
yourself arriving, and going straight on jobs. They won't have time to train
you; you've got to go there with a working knowledge of all the weapons."
     The standard expected of us would depend on our  previous experience. I
was a sergeant in the  infantry; weapons were my business. But the last time
a lance  corporal in the Catering Corps had touched a weapon might have been
a year ago,  and even then  it would probably just have  been a rifle;  he'd
know nothing about the GPMG, sustained fire, or any of the technical stuff.
     He'd find it more difficult than I  would but  wouldn't  necessarily be
doing any  worse. The DS said that to their way  of thinking,  if one person
hadn't got the  same experience as another but was learning, and was getting
to a good standard compared with the more experienced bloke, then in essence
he was learning more.
     It was very  much like  a  Bible story I remembered,  when the rich man
turned up at the church and dumped off  six bags of gold  and everybody  was
thinking how wonderful he was. Then  an old  woman  came in and she  had two
coins, her  whole wealth, and  she gave one  of them to the church. The fact
was, this  woman gave  more to the church  than the rich man did because the
six bags of gold was jack shit to him. The instructors were looking at us in
the same light. They were looking at what we were, and what they expected us
to become. It was during  this stage  that we lost the marine corporal, who,
as far as they were concerned, had a standard of weapon handling that wasn't
as good as it should have been for a corporal in the Royal Marines.
     I suspected that our personalities were also under the microscope.
     From  the way the DS looked at us I could almost hear the cogs turning:
Is  the  experienced  soldier  helping the less  experienced corporal in the
Catering  Corps to get on,  or is he just saying,  "Well, hey'  I'm  looking
good"? Was a bloke maybe such a dickhead that he  spent his time joking away
with  the DS? They'd joke back  with him, but  at the end  of the day they'd
probably  think, What a big-timer. It was their job to make sure that people
who were going to the squadrons were the best that they could provide.  They
had to go back to the squadrons themselves; they might be in command of us.
     They took the responsibility very seriously.
     We  trained  with  the  personal  weapons that were  available  to  the
squadrons.  First  were the 5.56 M16  and  the  203,  the grenade  launching
attachment that most  people  went for, apparently, because of its increased
firepower. Some people, however, still liked carrying the SLR, which fired a
7.62 round. They-were in a minority  because it meant that the patrol had to
carry two types of small-arms ammunition.
     Another weapon at patrol level was the Minimiagain, firing 5.56
     rounds.  The  Regiment also  still used the  GPMG,  the  standard  army
section  machine gun. I knew it to be  an excellent weapon at section level,
and we were told that a lot of people preferred it to the Minimi. There were
quite a few jobs where people would insist on taking a GPMG: it was reliable
and very powerful.
     We worked  with  Browning pistols, Colt 45s, and a  number of different
semiautomatic weapons.  For  some jobs people might prefer a certain type of
pistol, but the majority would go for the Browning.
     Then there were shotguns-the Federal  riot  gun, a pump-action  shotgun
that had a  folding stock and was an excellent weapon. Each squadron had its
own assortment  of mortars-81 MM, 60 MM, and  40 MM-and  the  Milan antitank
weapons. There was also the LAW 90, a 84
     MM rocket,  the standard rifle company antitank missile. Then there was
Stinger, an American-made antiaircraft fire-and-forget missile.
     "Stingers turned up in the Falklands, and nobody really knew how to use
them  or what to do with them," the DS said.  "It was just a case of,  'Here
they are, get to grips with them." So  the boys were sitting  around on  the
grass  one  day, reading the instructions  and having a  brew, when over the
horizon came a flight of Puccaras.
     A D Squadron member stood up and put the Stinger on his shoulder.
     It was like the kid in the old Fisher Price ad: 'How's this work then?
     What does this do?" The bloke was  pressing all the  buttons to make it
fire, and it did. It took down a Puccara. So the first time  the Stinger was
used in anger was by a Brit firing at an Argentinian aircraft."
     The  story  didn't  end there.  About  two  years later  apparently,  D
Squadron  went  over to Germany to  the  Stinger training  center run by the
Americans.  The  training  was  in  simulators  because the  weapon  was  so
expensive.  The  American instructors  got to  fire  only one a year and had
certainly never used it in war.
     "We've got this wonderful weapon," said one of the instructors.
     "Any of you guys seen it before?"
     The  bloke  put  his  hand  up,  and  the  instructor  smirked.  "In  a
     "No, I shot down a jet with it."
     Besides the British and American hardware, we were trained with all the
Eastern  bloc weapons:  AK47s-the Russian, Czech,  and Chinese ones-all  the
mortars, their medium  antitank weapons, and  masses  of different  pistols,
such  as  the  Austrian Steyr. We were  told that a lot  of times we'd be on
tasks  where we wouldn't  be using our  own weapons;  we'd have  to  go to a
country and use what we could find.
     The AK family were  excellent weapons.  The'  fired y 7.62 short, which
meant you could carry more 7.62
     than  our  7.62 for the  same weight. It  was  a good  reliable  weapon
because it was  so  simple.  The  only  drawback  was the big,  thirty-round
magazines; when  you lay down, you  couldn't  actually get the weapon in the
shoulder  to fire  because the magazine hit the  floor. A lot of the Eastern
bloc policy on attack showed in the AK.
     With  the  safety catch,  the first click down was automatic;  then the
second  click down was single  shot, so the mentality  was clearly:  Give it
loads. On Western  weapons it was the  other way around: single  shot first,
then onto automatic.
     We did live firing down at Sennybridge, practicing live attacks.
     Sometimes they'd tell us things on the  range, such as how to hold  our
weapon, that were contrary to what some of us had been taught. We were doing
standing  targets at  a hundred meters; the way I fired was to put  the butt
into my shoulder and-have my hand underneath the magazine, resting  my elbow
on the magazine pouch. It seemed to work for me. One of the DS came over and
said, "What are you doing?  Put your  hand on the stock,  lean  forward, and
fire it  properly." There was no  way I was going to say, "Actually, I shoot
better like this, and this is the way I've been doing it  for years." I just
nodded and agreed, put my hand on the stock, and carried on firing.
     Some of the blokes would actually say, "No, that's wrong," but what was
the point of arguing? We wanted to be with them, not the other way around.
     People  had weird and wonderful  qualifications that they thought  were
going to be an asset,  but the DS soon put them straight.  "If the squadrons
need specific skills, they'll send their own people  off  for  training. The
most important thing is that we send them somebody with the aptitude to do a
certain type  of work  and  the personality to get on  with other  people in
closed and stressful environments. Then they  have the  baseline. Then  they
can send you out to become the mortar fire controller or whatever."
     I heard a story  about a fellow  from a Scottish regiment on a previous
Selection.  When they started training  on the weapons, he sat  muttering in
the  class,  "I don't want to be doing this  shit. This is what  I do in the
battalion. I want to get on to the Heckler and  Koch and all the black kit."
The instructors heard  it, didn't say anything; they just  got  on  with the
lesson.  But they'd pinged  him as a  big-time  Walter Mitty; they took  him
quietly to one side afterward and gave him directions to Platform 4.
     I was  phoning up Debbie once a  week, and occasionally I'd write her a
letter, but she was second in  my list of priorities; I wanted to  crack  on
and get into the jungle. As  far as I was concerned,  she  was fine. She was
still working; she was having a good time with her friends.
     The telephone conversations were tense and stilted.
     I'd say, "Is everything all right?"
     "Yeah, fine," she'd say, offhand. "What changes here?
     Still going to work, still bored, still nothing to do."
     Never mind, I thought, at the end  of the day everything will be sorted
out. We'd get the quarter; the problems would disappear.
     We started to learn the techniques we'd be using in the jungle, and why
they were used-the way to  L.U.P (lyingup point),  the  daily routine,  hard
routine,  how to ambush, how  to cross  rivers. We'd go down to the training
area  and walk around in  plain fields and forestry blocks as if we were  in
the jungle. Anybody looking  at us would  have  thought  we were a  bunch of
dickheads, prowling around right up close to the trees.
     "When  you get  into your  tactical L.U.P,"  the DS said, "you put up a
hammock-as low  as possible, so your arse is just a couple of inches off the
ground-and fix up  a poncho above  you. If you've got to sleep on the floor,
you've got to  sleep on  the floor, but why do that if you've got  the means
not to? When  you do  get  up in the morning, you're  more effective if  you
haven't been bitten to bits during the night and you've had a good chance to
get  some sleep. You're  more refreshed and better  able  to  go and do  the
     Some people took biwi bags with them, he said. As well as keep the rain
off,  it kept the dry clothing dry; the wet clothing would just stay outside
and get soaking  wet anyway, that was no problem. If we could keep ourselves
well maintained and free of  embuggerances,  the better  tactically we would
be. There was nothing 'soft  about it. We were told it was far more sensible
than  playing the he-man and ending up  being effective  for about two and a
half minutes.
     "People live  in  the  jungle for months at  a time like this,  with no
adverse  effects  at  all. In fact  it's  a wonderful  environment; it's far
better than any  other environment  you've got to operate  in because you've
got everything there.
     You've got  food  if you  need  it,  you've got continuous  supplies of
water, you've got cover, the  weather's good, you don't have  to worry about
the elements-everything you need is there. So why go against it?
     Just switch on, and keep -as comfortable as you can when you can."
     We got all our injections done and filled in more documentation.
     I was  delighted;  I  felt it  somehow  meant we  were starting  to get
further into the system.
     The atmosphere was changing slightly, becoming  slowly more sociable. I
was careful  it  didn't  give  me a false sense of security, however. it was
easy  to forget that I could still be binned, that they were still seeing if
they wanted me in their gang or not. There were months and months to go, and
trying to make  an impression on a  DS over a cup of tea wasn't going to get
anyone anywhere.
     All the drills we  were learning, we  were told, were  based  on actual
experience, things that had gone right, things that had gone wrong.
     We practiced contact drills. The task of the Regiment in the jungle was
not  to  go  out  and  start  shooting  people;  it  was  to  go  out to get
information,  come back, then go back  again with  other people or  a bigger
     "During the  Malayan days," said one of the  DS, a veteran  himself, "a
lot of  the  four-man patrols got through enemy ambushes without the  ambush
being  initiated  simply  because  the people manning  the  ambush  thought,
There's the recce group; let's wait for the main group to come through."
     There was still lots of physical training. They'd beast us about in the
gym, but I found it enjoyable because there was no discipline.
     There  didn't need to  be:  If we  didn't want to  be there, we were at
liberty to  walk. Nobody hassled  us about the rooms, but we kept them clean
anyway,  because that was  what was  expected  of us. I loved  it; it was  a
really wonderful atmosphere.
     At this stage the only  areas we were  allowed  into were  the training
section  and  training  wing  accommodation, but  I  still felt  part of the
organization.  We were  no longer segregated from  the other  blokes  in the
cookhouse now, and I bumped into one or two people I'd met in the  battalion
or on courses They were happy to chat over a cup of tea. One day I saw Jeff,
who was now on the counterterrorist team. He still looked younger than Donny
     "Still here then?" He grinned. "When do you go to the jungle?"
     "In about two or three weeks."
     "Know who your DS is yet?"
     "No idea. They're going to start putting patrols very soon."
     The next morning we were given batteries of tests.
     First was language aptitude. I looked around the training wing theater,
trying to work out who would be  the most intelligent at this sort of stuff.
jake,  the American, was a main  man. I knew  that he spoke Farsi  and could
write the script, so I thought, There's the  brainy fucker, I'd better start
edging  my way next to him.  I went  for a piss with the  idea of sitting as
near to him  as  I  could when  I came  back. I found  that twenty-two other
blokes  had  had exactly  the same idea. Like a lot of  other people in  the
vicinity, I cheated, copying off jake.
     Next was  the pilots'  quick-reaction  test. We were  handed a list  of
calculations  and given a  minute  and a half  to do  each one in. They were
weird and wonderful things like mean averages and square roots, concepts way
beyond  the basic math I'd taught myself with the Janet  and John book  from
Peckham library. Then there were lots of items like the Mensa tests they had
in newspapers. I doubt my results would have got me into the Noddy Club, let
alone Mensa.
     I kept thinking, If we fail  these, are we binned, or what? Have we got
to be brain surgeons or are we going to be soldiers? It went on all morning,
and it became a bit of farce, with everybody cheating off everybody else.
     The DS must have known what was going on.
     One thing they had  been  teaching  us  from  the very  first  day  was
decision making. In the training wing corridor there was a big picture of  a
load  of sheep  in  a  pen, and underneath  was  the message:  "Either lead,
follow, or get out of the way."
     It was a big thing: Don't dillydally; make a decision.
     If it was wrong, it was wrong; if it was right, it was right. One of my
new  decision processes  was to think: What's  done  is done; if I've failed
I've failed.
     When we went into the cookhouse at lunchtime, we were like kids walking
out of an exam room.
     "What did you reckon to number sixteen?"
     "I made the answer two hundred and fifty."
     "Oh, fuck."
     Whatever the results were, we were issued with our jungle kit  the next
day:  jungle fatigues, mosquito nets, bergens, different types of ponchos. I
was like a pig in sugar.
     The same afternoon we were going to be told what patrols we were in and
who our DS was going to be.
     Everybody  wanted to  get  together  with  the people who'd been in the
jungle  before because in theory they were going to have an edge and be able
to help.
     I was made a patrol commander because I was an infantry sergeant.
     In  the patrol we had a bloke, Raymond, a Falklands veteran, who'd done
a  six-month tour in Belize as  a lance  corporal with 2 Para.  He was  very
thick-set with  jet black hair;  if  he had a shave at six o'clock, by eight
o'clock he'd need another  one.  Raymond knew  all about pole  beds and  the
routine of living in the jungle; the closest  I'd been was a school  trip to
Kew Gardens  when I was seven years old,  and my only memory  of that was of
the other kids having ice creams afterward and me not having enough money to
buy one.
     Another  member of the patrol was  Mala corporal in the Royal Anglians.
He came  from  London and  was  about the same size and height as I was, but
with the world's biggest teeth. A couple of them were missing, and he always
had a smile on his face and a fag in his mouth.
     He reminded me of the Tommy Atkins character from the First World War.
     He didn't seem to give a stuff about anything but was very confident in
what he did. If he hadn't  been in the army, he  would  have  been  a market
trader down  Portobello Road. He was the scruffiest  prson I'd ever seen. He
looked as if he'd been dipped in glue  and  thrown through the  window of an
Oxfam shop. He was a good soldier, without a doubt,  but he was so laid back
he was almost lying down. Because he found things very easy, it looked as if
he had no commitment.
     Tom  was a corporal  from  29  Commando, part  of  the  Royal Artillery
attached to  the Royal Marines, and he was completely the opposite, hyped up
about everything. He was the funniest bloke I'd met since Dave left.
     He  had a sag eye: If he was looking at his shoelaces, one eye would be
looking at the moon. He was also  the tallest  of us, just on  six feet, and
athletically  built.  He was very loud; I  suspected he  was  deaf  after  a
lifetime of artillery pieces banging off in his ear.
     I was still phoning up Debbie, writing her letters and  telling her how
exciting it was. When she wrote  or  spoke, I didn't listen or  read between
the lines. It  didn't occur to me that she might be bored shitless. I was in
the ,UK doing something I wanted to do, and she was in Germany just plodding
on, not really doing that much. I couldn't have cared less; me, I was off to
     n March we flew to Hong Kong, en route to Brunei.
     We came  into  Kaitak Airport at night, and I  couldn't  believe what I
saw.  The aircraft did  a  steep  turn, then flew in really low. I could see
people walking in the street and pottering around in their apartments.
     We  stayed at a camp near the airport.  It was the first experience I'd
had of somebody in authority in the army giving me money, a ration allowance
because they wouldn't be feeding us. It was supposed to  be  money for food,
but of course it paid for a night on the town, with just enough left over to
buy a bag of chips on the way home.  I thought, Hell, yes, I need to keep in
here, they give you money!
     Hong Kong was  one  of the places  I'd  always  heard about  but  never
thought  I'd see.  Now I just wanted to take as much of it in as I could  in
case I never came back. The city was packed and never seemed to stop. it was
full of neon, food shops open everywhere, dense traffic, and this was at ten
o'clock  at  night. We could sleep on  the plane  to Brunei in the  morning;
tonight was ours to enjoy.
     Raymond had been to Hong Kong before when he did an emergency tour with
the Parachute Regiment  in the New Territories. "No problems,"  he declared,
"I know broke into a horrendous sweat and found it hard to get my breath.
     We  had to cross  a river. Logs had been  positioned over it  to make a
small bridge, and  as we started to cross,  I  caught my  first glimpse of a
palm-leaf shelter  and,  nearby,  a group  of  tribesmen. The  Regiment  had
enjoyed  a  long  association with  the  Ilbans, dating  back  to the Borneo
     "They're  good  blokes," the DS said. "We employ some of  them  to help
build all the atap [foliage-covered] huts for the admin area, including what
is  going to be your schoolhouse. They also help with a  lot of the survival
     As  we went past these boys, squatting on  their haunches  and  smoking
away, it hit me that we really  had come into a totally different culture in
a totally different part of the world. We were going to be self-contained in
our own little  world,  miles and miles from  civilization,  for at  least a
month-whether we liked it or not.
     This was exciting stuff.
     Looking  at  the  rain  forest  around and  above me,  I couldn't  help
wondering  how   people  survived   in   the   claustrophobic   green-tinged
semidarkness.  The  tall  trees  of  the  primary jungle, profusely  leaved,
blocked out the sun. Humidity must have been running at close to 90 percent.
I  was hot; I was  short of breath; I was sweating; I was  getting bitten to
bits.  It seemed every animal there  wanted to  have a munch  out  of me.  I
looked at the Ilbans,  relaxing against  the  shelters  with just a  pair of
shorts on, as happy as sandboys.
     We got  into  the  "schoolhouse,"  which was in fact little more than a
roof over two rows of  log benches. We put down our bergens, and the'DS came
around for a brew and a chat.
     Each patrol's DS would stay with it all the time, we were  told, though
he  lived in the admin area rather than  with the patrol. Every time we were
out on the ground, he'd be there as well.
     They spelled out a few golden rules.
     "Never go anywhere without your golack [machete].
     Never  go anywhere without your belt kit  and your weapon.  Even if you
take your belt kit off to sit on during a  lesson, the golack stays attached
to  you  by a length of para'cord. It's your most essential item of survival
kit: It gets you food; it builds you traps; it gives you protection.
     "You never  go  anywhere in the jungle  on your own; you  always go  in
pairs. It's incredibly easy to get lost.
     You can  walk five or ten meters away from the camp area and  there's a
possibility of getting  disorientated. So  even  if it's  going down to  the
river to fill up for water, go in pairs. You might be relaxing, sorting your
shit out, but  if somebody's got to go down and collect the water,  somebody
else has got to go with him. The only place you don't have to go to in pairs
is the shit pit, which is just off to the side of the patrol area."
     We had all  arrived  with  as  much extra kit as we could cram into our
bergens-extra water bottles, loads of spare socks, all sorts of crap. Now we
found out that we needed very little.
     The DS explained: "To live in the  jungle, all you need is two sets  of
clothes: one wet and one dry. Sleep  in  the dry,  and always  have your wet
ones on. Even  if you stand still all day,  you're going to be  soaking wet.
There are no seasons in the rain forest; it's just wet and hot.
     You get two rains a day. Especially if  you're on a spur,  you can feel
the wind coming, and  then  it will rain. If the rain doesn't  get you,  the
humidity will.
     "The  important thing is to keep your dry kit dry; we're a bit short on
tumble  dryers around here. So put it  in a  dry  wrapper; then  put that in
another dry wrapper.
     Once you're wet, you're fucking wet, and that's it."
     The  DS then gave  us  a practical  demonstration of how  to  build  an
     "You start with  the two  end  pieces in the shape of an A. These don't
need to be more  than two or three inches in diameter, just strong enough to
support your weight.
     Then you get two more lengths of wood, again no more  than two or three
inches in  diameter, to support your hammock. You slip the two poles through
the holes in the hammock  and push them down over the apex of the As and tie
them  on. All being well, what  you've created is a  bed  that's a couple of
feet off the floor.
     "Once  that's done, you then put  a poncho over the  top and then  just
bungee it off onto the trees. Now  you're protected from  the rain, and then
underneath that you  can put your  mozzie  net. There's nothing macho  about
sleeping in your  A-frame  without a mozzie net; getting bitten  means  that
you're  more uncomfortable the next day,  and that means you're less able to
operate.  If  you  take  the time,  sort yourself out,  you're a much better
commodity the next  day.  It's not wimpy kit;  it's sensible. There's  times
when you've got to be in the shit, and then okay, you do that, but there's a
lot of times when you don't have to  be. If you're  back in a base area, you
make yourself as comfortable as possible."
     Some people apparently built another platform under  the bed  level, to
store  their  bergens and other kit. The  ground was soaking wet and teeming
with ants, scorpions, and other beasts that  would end up biting if they got
close  enough.  The  more  kit  we could  keep  off  the  ground,  the  more
comfortable we were going to be when we put it on.
     The DS took us to our patrol area and said, "Sort yourselves out.
     I'll be back later; any problems, come and get me."
     "Sorting ourselves out" meant building ourselves an A-frame.
     Raymond  got his up in  less than an hour and then chopped more wood to
make himself a platform to stand on.
     "This'll  last about two days  before it sinks into the mud,"  he said.
"So then you just bung another load on top."
     "I see," I said, still only a  quarter of the way through I building my
ricketty bag of shit.
     Once we had all finished, we sat down and got a hexy burner going for a
brew. To  cook with, we'd brought an empty grenade  tin that held about five
pints of liquid.
     We filled it with water  from  our bottles and brewed  our first mug of
tea in the jungle. I was starting to feel a little more at home.
     We talked about how we were going to crack the jungle phase.
     Everybody knew what the DS were looking for: people  with aptitude, who
could blend in.
     I said, "What we must do all the time is back each other up and not get
the hump with each other."
     Mal,  leaning back  with a fag in his mouth, said,  "Well, our  leader,
you'd better be doing all the work then, and don't fuck up."
     Then he lay on his back and blew out a long trail of smoke.
     It was time to go back down to the schoolhouse. We put on our belt kits
and picked up our  golacks and weapons. All the DS were there. We sat on the
log benches in the schoolhouse and they were outside, facing us.
     The  training wing sergeant major said, "This is the routine within the
admin  area. Every morning and every night you stand to-half an hour  before
first  light, half an  hour after first light,  and the same at  last light,
around your own basha [shelterlarea.
     "You can send out letters once a week. There will be fresh [fresh food]
once a week. The area where the DS  live  is strictly out  of bounds. If you
need to go through,  you  have to  stop and  call for  somebody to  give you
permission. Right,  go  back to your areas.  I want  you back here at  eight
o'clock tomorrow morning."
     We packed everything away  in our  bergens and sat on them for an  hour
for the stand to, weapon butt in the shoulder, covering our arcs.
     As  I  watched  the  daylight  fade,  there  was  a   sudden  burst  of
high-pitched, purring bleeps all around us.
     "Basher-out beetles," Raymond said. "That's  your indication that  it's
going to be last light very soon."
     The  darkness buzzed with airborne  raiders; most of them seemed  to be
heading  in my  direction.  I put more cam  cream and  mozzie rep  (mosquito
repellent) on my face and hands, but it made no difference.
     They  still  hovered  and  swooped like  miniature  Stukas, biting  and
stinging. Above  the steady  buzz  and  hum  of insects came the  occasional
rustling in the undergrowth and canopy.
     Apart from the bites, I loved it.
     When the hour  was up,  we  picked up our  bergens  and walked into the
admin area. Torch batteries had to be conserved, so we  lit candles. I lit a
hexy burner, put  the  grenade box on top, and  the blokes  tipped  in their
sachets of beef stew and rice for a communal scoff.
     Mal was quite confident  about things, stretched out in the mud with  a
fag in his mouth. Tom was asking questions or worrying about something every
five minutes in his usual  hyper fashion: "We  must  get up tomorrow morning
for stand to, we mustn't  forget," he ranted, with one eye on  the food  and
the other on his boots as he laced them up furiously.
     Everybody  was  still pretty  tired  after the rigors of Hong  Kong and
feeling drained by our new environment. We weren't acclimatized yet and were
covered in lumps and  bumps where  the beasties had  got  in.  I was looking
forward to getting on my pole bed.
     I took my wet clothing  off, rolled it up and put it on the shelf under
my A-frame.  I  put my  dry clothes on aild a pair of  trainers; we didn'tow
what surprises the DS might have in store, so even if they bumped us  during
the  night,  at least I knew  I could just jump out and start functioning. I
got my  head down under the mozzie net and listened to the jungle conducting
its  life around me:  crickets,  beetles  and  other  insects  clicking  and
buzzing, unknown things scratching around in the undergrowth.
     It started to rain, and it was the most wonderful feeling  in the world
to be snug under my basha, listening to the water splash onto the roof.
     I didn't sleep too well, tossing and turning, thinking about everything
that lay ahead. "Let's just get the month  over and  done with,"  I  said to
myself, "and  hope that  you pass."  At times I  looked over and I could see
that  everybody was  having the same problem. In  the darkness around  Mal's
pole bed I saw the glow of a cigarette end as he inhaled. I  slowly  started
to drift off.
     All of a sudden Tom leaped up.
     "We're late! We're late! It's half six! Stand to!"
     Bodies tumbled from pole beds into the mud as we scrabbled for our kit.
I  pulled on my wet clothes, keeping  an  eye out for  the  DS. If they came
around now and caught us still in our beds, we'd be in severe shit. It would
be seen as incredibly bad self-discipline.
     Mal was  trying to put his boots on  while standing up and fell over. I
heard a soft fizz as his fag hit the mud.
     Tom was still ranting loudly when Raymond said, "Stop, stop, stop.
     It's fucking midnight, you dickhead.
     It's not half six."
     Tom had woken  up in the middle of the  night, looked at his watch, and
misread the  hands.  He  wasn't  exactly  flavor  of the month  as we sorted
ourselves out again and got back into our beds.
     Our first lesson was in how to administer ourselves in the field.
     "First thing  in  the morning," the DS said,  "slap loads of mozzie rep
all over your clothes, face, and  arms. As you will  soon  find out, it's so
strong it melts plastic."
     He  passed around his  compass. He'd been there three weeks, and it had
started  to  lose all its lettering  and the roamers that measured  the grid
references. Mozzie rep melted through plastic, and there was us slopping  it
on our skin.
     As soon as we'd done that,  we  had to  take our  Paludrin antimalarial
     We learned more or less  straightaway  how to  blow  landing sites  and
winch holes because we might have to do it. If somebody  broke his leg, we'd
have to stabilize him, cut a winch hole, and wait for the helicopter.
     "When blowing an LS for a long-term base, you can put  direction on the
way the tree falls," the DS said.
     "The  higher the  ground the better,  because as the taller ones  fall,
they'll take the smaller ones with them. The explosive pack is called packet
echo; ask for it, and a big wad of chain saws and explosives and augers will
be dropped, enough to blow a site."
     We went out one day with explosives to practice blowing trees.
     Tom was  flapping as  we studied  the massive buttress tree  we'd  just
packed with PE4.
     "Do you reckon that's enough? I don't. I think we need more."
     "I quite agree," I said. "P for Plenty."
     We wadded another pound or two of explosive  into  the holes. In theory
we should have been using as little as possible, but it did look like a very
big tree.
     "Sure this will be all right?"
     "Yeah, no problem."
     We moved back with our firing cable. Everybody else was doing the same;
we were going to fire them all off one by one and see what happened.
     Raymond  and  Mal were by  their  tree.  Keith, our DS, said, "Put your
cable into the initiator and fire."
     They fired the electric current into the det, which detonated some  det
cord and blew up the plastic explosive.
     There was a boom, and we  all  looked up to make sure nothing was going
to fall on our heads. The tree fell perfectly.
     "Good stuff, well done. Next one."
     Tom and I put our firing cable in.
     "Stand by. Firing!"
     There was a massive explosion that shook the ground.
     The tree went straight up in the air and disappeared from sight.
     "How much fucking P.E [plastic explosive] did you put in that?"
     the  DS raged.  "The correct  amount,"  I said.  "We  did the  formula,
     "Bollocks!"  Keith stormed over to where  the P.E was stored. There was
almost none left.
     "That's  tearing the arse out  of it,"  he said,  and I waited for  the
bollocking that I thought would follow.
     But instead he  said,  "Oh, well, at  least it ignited,  I'll give  you
credit for that much." It was the first time I'd seen a DS smile.
     The next day I took my patrol up to an area where we were going to blow
more trees. When we arrived, we  found that the  explosives, which  were the
responsibility of the DS, hadn't been delivered.
     "We'll have  to go back down to  the camp and  find  somebody," I said.
"Otherwise we'll screw up our timings."
     I knew the area  where the DS lived was out  of bounds. We got  to  the
edge of it, called, and didn't  hear anything, so I decided to take a chance
and go through.
     After all, it wasn't our fault  that the explosives  weren't where they
should have been.
     Bad mistake. The sergeant major caught us and started to rip into me.
     "Why are you doing this? We've told you not to come through here."
     "Well, the explosives weren't  there,  and the timings  are crucial," I
said. "We're not going to get everything done unless we get  hold of them. I
called, and I know it's  got to be there on  time, so I made the decision to
come through."
     I thought I was  in the  right, and  possibly I was. However,  I was on
continuation. I should have just shut up and taken the bollocking and let it
go. But like an idiot, I didn't. I just hoped that he hadn't marked my card.
     One of the major components of our training was jungle navigation.
     The first time I looked at a  map  of the jungle, all I could  see  was
contour  lines and  rivers.  We  had  to  learn  how  to  travel  with these
limitations  but,  more important,  simply how to recognize where we were on
the ground.
     "A lot of people within  the squadrons use different ids," said the DS.
"You can  get a rough idea of where ai you are on some high feature by using
an altimeter, for example, but  at the end of the day it all boils down to a
map, a compass, and pacing."
     We did a lot of  live firing drills in what were called  jungle  lanes.
The DS would pick an area along a river and turn it  into a range.  We would
then. practice patrolling  along, as individuals to start with,  looking for
the targets. We'd be moving along tactically; all of a  sudden  the DS would
pun a wire and a target would go up.
     .  "You're  there for  a task," they said,  "the majority  of time as a
small group of men. If  you bump into something, you don't know  what it is.
For all you know, it could  be the  forward recce of a much larger group. If
you're not there to  fight, the idea is to put a maximum amount of fire down
and get the hell out, so you can carry on with your job."
     The  ranges were great.  I'd  never done anything like it before in the
infantry. It wouldn't be allowed in the normal army; it would be seen as too
dangerous. Yet the  only way  to get the  proper level of realism  and  test
people in this close environment was to use live ammunition.
     We did single-man jungle lanes, where  we'd be patrolling as if we were
the lead scout. When  it was my Turn, I found my body was all  tensed up;  I
walked with the butt in the shoulder, trying so hard to look for the LatgcL,
picking my feet up to make sure I didn't trip over.
     Suddenly I heard "Stop!"
     What have I done now?
     "Look right."
     I looked right and found I'd just walked past the target. I hadn't seen
it. Tuning in was so important.
     "Right, come back and start again."
     Next time, when I saw it, I reacted.
     Then we did it in pairs.  We lay in  a dip  in the  ground with the  DS
while he gave us a scenario. "You are part of a ten-man fighting patrol. You
got bumped in an ambush and everybody split up. Now you're trying to make it
back to your  own area. You're moving along  the line  of  this  river.  Any
questions? Carry on in your own time."
     "I'll go lead scout first," I said to Mal.
     We moved  along, me playing the lead scout, Mal playing the man behind.
It was really hard to  see  these  targets. Sometimes  they'd  be  ones that
popped up; sometimes they were  just sitting there. I stopped by a tree, got
down,  had  a  look  forward  as far as I could; then I moved again. Mal was
behind me, doing his own thing.
     I went along the track and spotted a small bit of dead ground about ten
meters ahead.  As I  approached it, I just saw the top of  a  small  target.
Straightaway I got the rounds down.
     "Contact front! Contact front!"
     I kept  on firing; Mal stepped off to the right and opened up. As  soon
as I heard him, I turned around, saw him to my left-hand side,  and screamed
past him. A couple of meters on I turned again and fired. He then turned and
ran, stopped,  and  fired. I turned and went off to the right-hand side  and
down to the riverbank.
     "Rally! Rally! Rally! Rally! Rally!"
     We  ran over  logs, jumped behind trees; it was all over within fifteen
seconds. Then the DS shouted, "Stop!"
     After  each  contact the DS  would debrief us.  We'd  be panting  away,
trying  to catch our breaths; it was only  a short, sharp burst of activity,
but even patrolling I'd get out of breath. The body was tensed up; the brain
was concentrating. It was live ammunition, and we were being tested.
     I was already  finding the  jungle  as  physically  hard  as  Selection
because the pressure was unrelenting. I assumed that all the  time they were
asking themselves the questions: Would I want him in my patrol?
     Has he got  the personality? Has he got the aptitude? The closed, harsh
environment of the jungle, where everybody depended on everybody else, would
show us in our true light.
     "Why did you take that bit of  cover there? Look over there-the world's
biggest tree. That'll stop seven-sixtwo."
     The  DS,  Keith,  walked us  back to  the static target  The canopy had
retained the pall of smoke and the smell of cordite from the contact.
     I took a swig of water from my bottle as I listened.
     "When you saw that, you were right on top of it.
     Walk back five meters, turn  around, and now look. You can see  it now,
can't you? The reason  you  can see it is  that  you  know that  it's there.
You've got to be good enough to notice it before you get there, and the only
way you're going to  do  that is getting up and down here, and watching, and
     "Let's now go and see if you hit what you saw."
     There wasn't a scratch on the target Mal and I had been firing at.
     "What's the point of firing if you're not going to kill him?"
     Keith said.  "It's all well and good getting that constant fire down to
get away, but what you're trying to do is kill them so they don't follow you
up and kill
     We built up to four-man contact drills.  The lead scout would be moving
very slowly, stop, observe the  area, start moving. If we had a  rise to  go
over and  the other  side was dead ground, he would tell the patrol to stop,
and go over, butt in the shoulder, using the cover of the trees. If that was
okay, he'd just wave everybody on.
     The rest of us would be covering our arcs as we walked.
     The lead scout might have missed  something;  we might  end  up with  a
contact right or a contact rear.
     The one piece of advice I'd  got from  Jeff in D Squadron was: "Butt in
your shoulder, sights up." It was tiring to move so slowly and deliberately.
I was breathing really hard and deeply-, concentrating so much on what I was
     In any slack time we were expected to mug up on what we had been taught
the day before. Mal was so good at everything that he  didn't  need to. He'd
just lie there  with a fag and a  brew. It was impressive. I was jealous;  I
would have done the same, only I  was  way behind because my Morse was shit.
Any spare time I had, I cracked on.
     The jungle  canalizes  movement. The dense  vegetation,  deep  gullies,
steep  hills  and ravines,  and  wide, fast rivers  are obstacles  that make
cross-country movement very  difficult. However, it's got to be  done.  High
ground and tracks  are  where  every  Tom,  Dick,  and Harry  move and where
ambushes are laid.
     We navigated across country,  using  a technique called cross graining.
Up and down, up and down, not keeping to the high ground.
     It  took  us much longer to  travel a small distance, but tactically it
was better: We weren't getting ambushed; we weren't leaving sign; we weren't
going to bump into any opposition.
     The DS said, "You never  cut wood;  you move  it out of the way, patrol
through, and move it back. If somebody's tracking you, he's looking for  two
types of ground sign-footprints  and top sign. If you see cobwebs, you don't
touch them; you go around them. If a tracker isn't getting cobwebs  over his
face, it's another good indication that somebody has walked past."
     People  were  getting  severly  on  one  another's tits now, especially
during the navigation phases. The navigation was not just a matter of taking
a bearing and off you go.
     We had to confirm regularly where we actually  were; we  could not  see
any lower or  higher ground at any  distance because  of  the vegetation and
canopy.  It  was pointless going down from a high feature  if we'd gone down
the wrong spur. That would mean  that we'd have  to come all the way back up
again and  start  again. So we  had to stop,  sit  down,  work out where  we
were-where we  thought  we were-and then  send out recce patrols. Two blokes
would go  out and confirm  that at the bottom  of  this spur there was,  for
example, a river that ran  left to rig ' lit. If that was happening a couple
of  times an hour,  people were  getting  hot,  pissed off,  knackered,  and
frustrated. It started to grate. I calmed myself by thinking: Take it slowly
and send out your navigation patrols; you'll do it; there's no problem.
     The physical exertion of  being on  the range  or  patrolling on two or
three-day exercises was very debilitating.
     Then we had written tests or had to plan and prepare for a scenario. We
were under constant  pressure. There was  never  enough  time. The DS  would
always be behind  us saying,  "We've got  five more  minutes. Let's get this
     At the debriefings they would dish out fearsome criticism.  "You fucked
up!  You didn't see  the  target! Why didn't you look right? As lead  scout,
that's your job."
     I was on my chinstrap one day. We'd probably covered twice the distance
we should have  done because of the amount of recces we were doing, going up
and down; we were all over the fucking place.
     It was my  turn to  map-read, and  as I  started to go down from what I
thought was the highest ground, to the right of me I saw higher ground. That
was wrong; I'd cocked up. We stopped; Raymond and Mal were the next  two  to
go  on a  recce  patrol, and  I could see in  their eyes that they  were not
impressed. I said, "At the bottom of this spur there should be water running
left to right. If not, I've severely fucked up."
     They  were gone  for  about an hour and a half. When we  got back  that
night, I said, "Fuck, that was a long recce you guys did."
     Raymond said, "Yeah, well, we just got to  the bottom, had a drink, and
sat in the river for half an hour to cool down and get all the shit off."
     I  was hot and sweaty all  the time, stinking  and  out of breath. As I
'sweated, the mozzie rep I'd put on my face would run into my eyes and sting
severely. It didn't seem  to  matter  what amount of mozzie rep I put on,  I
still got bitten.  And I was covered in  painful webbing  sores. And all the
time, the DS were watching. They seemed  so calm and  casual about it; there
seemed to be nothing embuggering them.
     Nothing seemed to fuss them, and we were standing there like a bunch of
rain-drenched refugees.
     We would be soaking  wet, all  bogged down, and we'd have to go on ye .
it another navigation patrol.
     I asked myself, "How do you survive here? How do you get comfy?"
     The only enjoyable experience  about the place was sitting and having a
communal brew and scoff at the end of the day-if it wasn't raining.
     Then  I loved getting  into  my  A-frame, revising by  candlelight  and
listening to the rain on the poncho.
     I was really missing Debbie. I felt vulnerable in the jungle; there was
no  one to vent out to my personal -anxieties and  fears of  failing, and  I
wanted to  feel attached to  something  beyond my  immediate  environment. I
wrote to her  regularly, trying  to tell herv'what was happening.  "I really
hope I pass, because it will be great. We'll get to Hereford, we'll be  able
to afford a house, and everything will be fine."
     I found the jungle harder than Test Week-much harder.  All we had to do
in Selection was switch off  and get over  those hills. Here it  was just as
physical, but we had the mental pressure as well, of learning, of having  to
perform and take in all this information.
     We were tested to the extremes, mentally as well as physically.
     They took us right up to the edge, and then they brought us back.
     Then they took us up there again.
     ' We got better and better, but always at the back  of my  mind was the
thought that the DS  were  looking at everything-not just tactical skills or
practical skills but my personality, whether I would  blend in with a closed
environment like  ungle, whether I'd blend in  within the squadron. I  could
see  it in their eyes; I  could see their minds ticking over. Does  he  take
criticism well?  Does he want  to learn,  does  he ask relevant questions or
does he ask questions just for the sake of asking questions, to look good?
     The jungle,  Peter, the chief instructor, said, was absolutely full  of
food-from beetles and spiders down to the bark on a tree.
     "If you've got something' but you're  not too sure whether you  can eat
it,  you rub it on your skin and see if there is  a reaction. Then you wait,
and  a  couple  of hours  later rub it on your  lips and  see if  there's  a
reaction, then on the tip  of your  tongue, then around your gums. Then  you
just  taste  a  little  bit,  then eat  a  little bit,  and ' if there's  no
reaction, you take the chance and eat it."
     We were sitting by the Than huts down near the river, quite a pleasant,
flat area. The helipad  was on the spur on the other side of the stream, and
I could see shafts of sunlight streaming down.
     Fish  under  four inches long didn't have to be  gutted, the instructor
said; you just cooked them. There was a plant called the jungle cabbage that
was like a small tree.
     You split  the  bark,  and  inside  was  a  pulp  that  was  absolutely
beautiful.  It tasted like a soft cabbage. You could  also make tea with the
     "On  operations,  you don't eat lizards and snakes and all that sort of
stuff  unless  you absolutely have  to.  It's  pointless.  If you've got to,
that's fine, but  why  not  take in food  that  is  going  to  give  you the
nutrition  so  you can do  the job? Also, you've got  less chance of getting
disease or gut aches. Can you imagine having the shits and being totally out
of it on operations for two days?
     You've  gone into an area, you've got no support, you've got no way  of
coming back, and you're eating lizard  heads, and then you get gut ache. You
can't do  your  job-at  least,  not a hundred percent. Anyway, the amount of
energy and time  it takes to collect food, you wouldn't  have any time to do
anything else, so you take the food and water with you."
     We  were  sitting  on our belt  kits along the  riverbank, cradling our
weapons. The  lbans were with us; they had a few little fires going and were
smoking their huge rollups as they showed us various fishing nets  and traps
that they'd made.  We had a  go  ourselves and everything we  made  fell  to
     One of the lbans held a small termite nest over the water with a stick.
The termites tumbled into the water, and the fish rose to eat them.
     "We also have the red buttress tree," Peter said. "It  holds  a natural
source of fluid."
     We thought  this was  all rather  interesting,  especially when he went
around  the back and pulled  out several six-packs of beer. It was the first
time we'd got anything overtly friendly from the training team.
     Once a week we had "fresh." We were given an egg, a couple of sausages.
One particular afternoon they said, "Go away, eat the fresh,  and  then come
back; we've got a lecture two hours before last light."
     It was lovely to be able to cook in daylight, and afterward, as we came
back at  the appointed hour with  just  our  belt kit, golacks, and weapons,
everybody was full  and content.  I settled  down for  the lecture, thinking
about what I'd do afterward, which was to  sort out my webbing sores and the
sore  inside my thighs. I  was looking forward  to  getting some  army-issue
talcum powder between my legs, lying on my bed and going through my notes.
     No sooner had the DS started  than the ground was rocked by explosions.
Rounds whistled through the air and thumped into the ground.
     "Camp attack! Camp attack! RP, RP, RP [rendezvous point]!"
     We bomb-burst  out of the  schoolhouse.  There was smoke everywhere and
bits and pieces of shit flying through the air.
     It was a complete pain in the arse. It was week three, we were starting
to get  fairly comfortable, starting to adjust to life in the jungle, so all
of a sudden they had hit us with "night out on belt kit."
     I made my way to the troop RP. We all had emergency rations in our belt
kits, but no hammocks. We  had to sleep on the floor. A lot  of armies think
it's  dead hard  to lie on the ground in  the  jungle, but there are so many
other factors to fuck you up  in  that environment, without having to lie in
the mud getting bitten  and stung  and being so wary of scorpions and snakes
that it's impossible to  sleep. It's not macho, it's stupid, and the idea of
, 4 night out on belt kit" was to treat us to that little experience. We got
it in spades because it poured with rain all night.
     During one five-day exercise I was moving into  a troop RP one evening.
We  were patrolling tactically, moving really slowly, to  get  into an  area
from  where we could send out  our sitrep (situation report). It  had been a
long day, I was tired, and it was raining heavily.
     As I sat down to  encrypt the message to be Morsed out, my hand started
to shake. Seconds later my head was spinning. My eyes couldn't focus. I took
a deep breath and told myself to get a grip.
     It got worse, and within a minute the shaking was uncontrollable.
     I  tried to write, but my hand was  all over  the place. My  vision was
getting more and more blurred.
     I knew what was happening.
     We were doing a lot of physical work in the jungle.
     We had heavy  loads on, we were under mental pressure, yet the body was
still  trying  to  defend  its  core  temperature.  To  maintain  a constant
temperature,  the heat  loss  must  equal heat production. But  if  the heat
production is more than the heat loss, the temperature's going to rise. When
the  core temperature rises, more blood reaches the skin, where the  heat is
then  released.  This works fine  as long as the  skin temperature is higher
than the  air temperature. But in  the heat  of the jungle the  body absorbs
heat,  and the body counters that by sweating. This has limits. An adult can
sweat only  about a liter per hour. You can't keep it up for more than a few
hours  at  a  time  unless you  get  replacement  fluids, and the  sweat  is
effective only  if the outside air  is  not saturated with  moisture. If the
humidity is more  than 75  percent,  as  it  is  in the  jungle,  the  sweat
evaporation isn't going to work.
     We  were sweating loads, but the  sweat wasn't evaporating. So the body
heat was rising, and  we were sweating even more.  The way the body tries to
get rid  of that is by sending blood to the  skin,  so therefore the vessels
have to increase in size. The heart rate increases, and sometimes it gets to
a  rate where its automotive function loses control  and it starts to go all
over the  place.  Less and  less blood  flows to the  internal  organs. It's
shunted away from the brain, so the blood that goes there is going to be hot
anyway. The  brain  doesn't like hot blood going to  it, so it responds with
headaches,  dizziness, impaired thinking, and emotional instability. Because
we were sweating so much, we were losing loads of  electrolytes, sodium, and
chlorides,  and the  result was  dehydration. We were  losing noncirculating
body fluids.
     The problem is that just  a few  sips of I-quid might quench somebody's
thirst,  without improvinig his internal water  deficit. You might  not even
notice  your thirst because there is too  much else going  on, and  that was
what was happening to  me. I was  mooching  through the  jungle, the  patrol
commander, under  pressure  to perform, trying to  make decisions.  The last
thing I was thinking about, like a dickhead, was getting the  fluids down my
     "When  you have a piss," the  DS  had said,  "you look  at it. If  it's
yellow and  smelly, you're  starting to dehydrate.  If it's clear and you're
pissing every five minutes, that's excellent, because the  body always  gets
rid of  excess  water. You can't  overload with water because the body  will
just get rid of it. So as long as  you've got good clear piss, you know that
everything's all right."
     I turned around  to  Raymond and said,  "Fucking  hell,  I'm going down
     Everything stopped; the  whole effort switched to making sure I was all
right. Raymond got some rehydrates and boiled sweets down me, put a brew on,
and gave me lots  of sweet tea. Fortunately the DS didn't see what was going
on; it was my fault I was dehydrating.
     Within half an  hour I  was right  as rain again,  but I had learned my
     We came  back  in  off  the exercise and they  checked our bergens  for
plastic  bags of  shit. We  weren't  allowed to leave  any  sign,  and  that
included body effluents. We had to shit  into  plastic bags, and collect our
piss in plastic petrol cans.
     They checked another patrol as  we  came in. "You've not got  much shit
there," the DS said. "You constipated or something? Where's all your shit?"
     The fellow made an excuse, and the DS just said, Okay."
     Sometimes I wished they  would just give us a bollocking, to get it out
of the way. They'd  told us why  not to shit in the field-because  the enemy
would know  people were  there. They had even shown  us how  to  shit into a
plastic bag by getting somebody to do it. If we weren't doing it, it was bad
     Sometimes we'd go back to an area we'd used that day to look at some of
the problems we had created.
     They  might  say, "See  the marks  on  the trees?  Soft bark is  easily
marked; hard isn't so you leave no sign."
     Because they'd shown us that, they didn't expect it to happen again. If
we  didn't learn it must mean we didn't  want  to learn or didn't  have  the
     The jungle phase ended with a weeklong exercise that  was a culmination
of  everything we'd learned, involving patrolling, hard routine, CTRs (close
target recce), bringing everybody together at a troop RP, preparing to do an
ambush,  springing  the  ambush, the  withdrawal,  going to caches for  more
stores for the exfil (exfiltration). At some time  in the future we might go
into  a  country  before  an  operation  and  cache  food,  ammunition,  and
explosives.  We could then  infil (infiltrate) later  without the  bulk kit,
because it was already  cached. We had learned how to conceal it  and how to
give information to other patrols so that it would be easy to find.
     By now  physically we were not  exactly as hale and  hearty as  when we
first went in. We were incredibly dirty, our faces ingrained with camouflage
cream.  Everybody  had a month's  beard, and we  had been wearing  the  same
clothes all the time.
     One thing  I  had never got used to was getting  out of  my  A-frame or
hammock  and putting my  wet kit on. It  was always full of bits  and pieces
that gathered  as we were  patrolling along, and it  was cold and clammy. It
grated against my skin for the ten minutes or so until it had got warm.
     We had our belt  kits on all the time, and some of the pouches,would be
rubbing on  the  sides and  producing  sores. I went through a  phase of not
wearing any pants, to try to  keep the sores  from  between my legs. I tried
little things  that  I thought  might  help,  such as undoing  my  trousers,
tucking everything in, and - doing it up again.
     I came to the conclusion that nothing worked. I was in  shit state, and
in shit state I would stay.
     Once the exercise had finished we all RP'd at a bend in the river; that
night we went nontactical, waiting to get picked up the following day by the
lbans in their dugout canoes with little outboard engines on the back.
     They took us downstream to a village, where we were going to get picked
up because there were no landing sites in the area.
     It was like a  scene out of a  film. There was all the jungle, and then
there was a clearing, with  grass,  chickens running around, little pigs and
goats and all sorts, in the middle  of nowhere. There  were no roads, just a
river. They had a schoolhouse, with a generator chugging away. There were TV
aerials sticking  up  out  of  these Than huts made out I of wood, atap, and
mud. All the  kids were going to  school in just shorts, and the teacher was
dressed as any other schoolteacher would be.
     The DS said, "When you come into  these places, you've got to introduce
yourself to the  head boy. Show him respect; then the next  time you come in
he won't fuck you off."
     For the first time in days  people were allowed to  smoke. Blokes  were
sitting on the riverbank, sharing their fags with the DS. The training major
got his out and offered one to Mal. There was a mutual understanding between
them; it made me envious not to be a smoker, joining in the camaraderie.
     I just  sat there, drinking in the scene. As far as I was concerned, it
was done now. I'd passed or I'd failed; I was just pleased that it was over.
     The rest of the day  was spent cleaning weapons, cleaning  kit,  eating
scoff. In the evening there was a barbecue for everybody who had anything to
do  with the  jungle  school. The DS produced crates of two-pint  bottles of
Heineken, and the cooks sorted out the steaks and sausages.
     "Might be the last time you ever come here, lads," the DS said.
     "Get on the piss!"
     We did. I was drunk on three bottles of the Heineken, threw up at about
midnight, and went to bed with the jungle spinning.
     There was a  day  off  in the capital,  but  it was a Muslim country so
there was only drinking  in one hotel. Everybody felt  so  sick  anyway they
didn't bother. I went shopping with Mal, Tom, and Raymond, buying armfuls of
bootleg tapes, Walkmans, cameras, and  watches. All the traders seemed to be
wearing David Cassidy T-shirts.
     I had lost a  stone. One of the blokes, the Canadian jock  who had been
our snowplow during Selection, came out looking like a Biafran.
     Like a dickhead, he hadn't even been cooking scoff for himself at night
because he wanted to go hard routine all the time.
     We'd been  under the  canopy and not seen daylight for a month. I  came
out looking  like an uncooked chip. I was all  pasty, full  of zits  and big
lumps.  No matter  how many showers I had, I still  had grime under my nails
and big blackheads on my skin. Some of the mozzie bites had scarred up a bit
from  where  I'd scratched them, and  they'd welted up.  Basically  I looked
     We had  a  few hours  in  Hong Kong  and  then  flew back  on a British
Caledonian charter. Four long-haired blokes  who were sitting near us looked
the typical "Here we go, here we go" lads, wearing hideous orange and purple
flowery  Hawaiian  shirts, jeans and flip-flops.  I  sat there  wondering if
they'd  had  a slightly more enjoyable  time  in the  Far East than we  had,
frolicking--on a sex holiday in Thailand or smuggling drugs.
     I felt quite subdued and started to get my head down.
     One  of the DS, a fellow called Dave, was in the seat in front  of  me.
The four drug smugglers  got out of their  seats and gave  him a cuff on the
head. I  was just wondering what  I  was supposed to do about it  when  Dave
turned around and grinned, "All right, mate?"
     It  was four  blokes  coming  back from a team job, routed through Hong
     "Good shirts!" Dave said. "Good job?"
     They'd obviously done their job somewhere in the Far East, and now they
were settling  down  with their  gin and tonics for a  nice  flight home.  I
thought again, I really hope I get in. I need to be here!
     "Any  chance of  a  lift back?" they  asked the DS. "You got your wagon
     "Yeah, we can sort that out."
     Then they chatted away to us, which was wonderful.
     it was my first real contact with strangers from the squadrons.
     "How did you find it?"
     "Oh, it was good." I didn't know what to say. I just sat there smiling,
not wanting to commit myself.
     "Have  they  told  you if  you've passed yet or not? Go on,  Dave, tell
them, don't be a wanker!"
     But he didn't.
     We arrived back in Hereford on a Friday morning and were given the rest
of the day off.
     "Be  back  in  the  training wing eight o'clock tomorrow morning,"  the
training wing sergeant major  said That night everybody went out on the piss
and had a really good night. Again, for all any of us knew, it  might be the
last  time we'd ever  be  there. We  turned up  on Saturday morning with bad
heads, stinking of beer and curries.
     The sergeant major said, "Right, combat survival, Monday  morning, half
eight. All the details are on the board. However . . . the following people,
go and see the training major."
     We were sitting in the training wing lecture room, in three rows.
     I was at the end of one of them.
     He started reading out the names. He called out Mal's first. I couldn't
believe it. Mal  was good; as far as I was concerned, he was really switched
on. I had to stand up to let him pass, and we exchanged a knowing glance. He
shrugged his shoulders and smiled. While I was still standing,  the sergeant
major called Raymond's name.
     Then Tom's.  That was that then.  Everybody from my  patrol was getting
binned. I just stayed standing up.
     There didn't seem much point in sitting down.
     My name wasn't called. Then I realized-maybe these were the people that
had passed. Maybe it was the knobbers like me left behind that were going to
be binned.
     Out of twenty-four who  went to the jungle, there were eight of us left
on the benches. The  sergeant  major made eye contact  with each of us, then
said, "Well done, That's another bit over with. Next is combat survival.
     Monday morning, half eight. Anybody got any medical problems?
     No, okay. Remember, you're not in yet."
     I  thought: I've passed!  There  was no way  I was going to fail combat
     "Right then, fuck  off. Everybody except McNab and Forbes. The training
major wants you to stay behind."
     What was this about) Everybody-else left, a'nd the training major spoke
to Forbes, the rupert, about officers' responsibilities and the extra duties
he'd have to do.
     Then he said, "Right, McNab, do you know why I've got you here?"
     "No, I haven't got a clue."
     "You've  passed.  The only  problem  is,  you've got  to fucking  watch
     "Why's that?"
     "We've got you down  as gabby. just listen to  what people  have got to
say and take it in. Don't gab off."
     As I walked from the lecture room, I couldn't work it out; I'd tried so
hard to be the gray man. Then I remembered the incident with the explosives.
I should  have just shut up and taken the bollocking and let it go. But like
an  idiot,  I  hadn't. Luckily  the  training  team had obviously  made  the
decision  that although I was a gabby git, I'd got what they wanted and just
needed to be told to wind my neck in.
     Which I did. Fucking right I did.
     telephoned Debbie as soon as I found out I'd passed.
     She  was excited; I was  excited.  The only  obstacle now,  I said, was
three weeks of combat  survival, and  there was  no way I was going to  fail
     The  feelings  and  thoughts  I'd  had  about  her  in  the  jungle had
evaporated  as  soon as I was back in the UK; I  was firmly  back in selfish
mode. She'd kept her job because if I failed,  I'd be going back to  Germany
for a while, but I didn't ask her how she was getting on; it was all me, me,
     By now there were eight of us left: myself, George, the Royal Engineer,
a Household Cavalry officer, a para,  two signalers, a gunner from the Royal
Artillery, and jake, a member of the U.S Special Forces.
     He had come over with a colleague  on a three-year secondment, but they
still had  to pass Selection  first.  Jake did; the other fellow failed  the
first month.
     All prone-to-capture units,  from all three services, send their people
on the combat survival course-aircrew, helicopter crew, Pathfinders from the
Parachute Regiment, elements of the Royal Marines, and elements of the Royal
Artillery, which has forward observation officers.
     After the  jungle  it was more like a  holiday for the first  couple of
weeks, but we were warned that we could still be failed. An external agency,
JSIW  (joint Services Interrogation Wing), had  the power to bin us. As  the
training wing sergeant major never stopped telling us, "You ain't in yet!"
     I was starting to talk to Johnny Two-Combs, who was already in.
     He was telling us about his Selection, for which he had done the winter
combat survival course.
     "Two of the blokes landed up in hospital with trench foot," he said. "I
got frost nip  around  my fingers  and toes.  You'll  crack  it in the  good
weather, it's a piece of piss.  just keep  your head down, find  the biggest
bush to hide in, and you'll be all right."
     It was the Regiment's responsibility to teach the survival phases.
     We learned how to tell the  time by  the  sun, gather water, and forage
for food-the most important  aspect,  I reckoned, being the equation between
the energy  spent finding  something to eat  and the energy  to be got  from
eating it. We went  to  one  of the training areas and learned  how to build
shelters.  There was a permanent stand  with  shelters  made out  of leaves,
branches,  turf, and bin  liners. It looked as  though Wimpey's had  won the
contract. With my experience of making an A-frame, I  knew  there was no way
I'd be making anything that looked remotely as professional.
     This stuff was all very  interesting, but as far as I was concerned,  I
wanted to learn it only so I could pass. I looked at it as an embuggerance.
     Then  people who had  been  prisoners came and spoke to  us about their
experiences, ranging from those who were  in Colditz during the Second World
War and prisoner of war camps in the Far East to the Korean and Vietnam wars
and  the  indoctrination  of Allied  soldiers by  the  Communists. It  was a
humbling  experience to  hear about some of  the women from  S.O.E  (Special
Operations  Executive)  who  were  parachuted into Holland and  France after
minimal  training,  captured,  and  subjected  to  horrendous  and prolonged
torture. jaws dropped all around the room.
     I couldn't believe the  outrageous inhumanity.  "When  I got captured,"
one woman said, "they took out a lot of frustrations on me.
     I was raped and burned."  She had been kept in solitary confinement  in
freezing cold conditions and was continually abused, yet she was speaking as
if she was talking about a shopping trip  to Tesco's. I supposed  it  showed
that  the  human body and  mind could put  up with a lot more  than might be
expected, but I  couldn't  help  wondering  how I would  bear up  under  the
     We listened to an American pilot who had got shot down near the Choisin
reservoir. He was still very much the all-American  boy,  dressed in a green
bomber jacket with missing in action memorial badges and various flashes. It
was easy to imagine his freckly face and light blond hair as a young man. He
had landed up in a model prison that was used for propaganda purposes.
     He was held in a  cell, but  at least  he was fed. He went through  the
mental problems  of being incarcerated but  survived  and came  back to  his
family, going  straight back into  the air  force. The biggest problem  he'd
had,  he  said,  was  guilt. "I  walked around with my head down  for a long
time," he said. "I couldn't handle being treated so well when so many others
had suffered."
     The next  speaker,  a  British infantry  corporal in  his late fifties,
jumped to his feet. "There's no way you should feel guilty," he said.
     "I positively wish  I'd been  in your camp!" A  soldier in the Glorious
Glosters,  he  had  been  through a  fearsome amount of  indoctrination,  on
starvation rations. He  caught dysentery  and  had to  bung  himself up with
charcoal  from the  fire. Eventually he had been force-marched  across North
Korea in winter, without shoes. He saw many of his friends die on the march.
He came home in shit state, having been beaten  continually and lost all his
teeth. He was so psychologically damaged by it all that he alienated himself
from  his  family and  ended up alone. "I've got over  it all now," he said,
"but I still don't buy anything Korean."
     That struck a chord  with me; my dad's brother had been  killed  by the
Japanese in a prisoner of war camp, and even forty years  later Dad wouldn't
buy anything made in japan.
     "How did you cope?" somebody asked.
     "I don't know. All I knew was that I didn't want to die."
     "Would you  have signed all  the confessions and so on if  they'd asked
     "Bloody  right  I would have. If it  had meant getting food or  getting
shoes, I'd have  confessed to  being  jack the  Ripper. We sat there getting
indoctrinated, and we nodded and agreed. Of  course we  did; it meant we got
     One speaker told us  what a large part religion now played in his life,
having  found  God during  his  time of capture. Another fellow had  been  a
risoner of the Vietp cong for four years; when we asked him, "Did God play a
part in your life?" he replied, "Yeah, it played a big part. Because when we
had dysentery and  I was  shitting myself, the Bible was  something  that  I
could clean my arse with."
     We started going out on trips and visits.  We went to  see an old woman
near Ross-on-Wye,  a  country person all her  life, who knew every  plant in
creation. She had a beautiful garden and had  tables covered  with trays and
trays of  different flora. It was a funny scene, this frail old lady running
around the fields and forests with a bunch of big boys towering over her and
hanging on her every word.
     We  were sent out on two-  or three-day exercises to make our shelters,
light  a  fire,  forage  about,  put  a  few snares  out.  The  non-Regiment
characters were well into it;  for some  of them it was the  biggest  course
they'd ever  be  on. Once  they had  passed they'd  be  qualified  as combat
survival  instructors and could go back  to their own units and train people
in the techniques. All I wanted to do was get through it.
     One of  the  instructors, a massive old country boy with big red cheeks
and hands the size  of shovels, had  been on the training team for years. He
did  the firefighting demonstrations and got to the one where he was rubbing
two bits of  wood  together to start  the fire. It was,quite a big thing for
him;  he  obviously prided  himself  on his skill.  So he's there  and  he's
rubbing away, and nothing is happening.
     "Any minute now, lads, just you wait."
     "Right, we'll give it another five minutes."
     He rubbed furiously, but still he couldn't do it. We had to move off to
the next lecture, but about  ten minutes into it  he came  running  down the
field, shouting, "It's started! Come  and see!" We  all had to troop back up
the hill to save his pride.
     During these periods when we'd  be going  out and building shelters and
living  in them  for two or three  days at a time,  we started  roducing the
stuff that  we were p going to use on the  last  week  of  combat  survival.
They'd taught us how to make clothes out of animal skins, and weapons out of
sticks  and  stones. People were spending hours making  jackets  out of  bin
liners and rabbit fur hats that would have passed muster at Ascot. I did the
minimum I thought I needed to pass.
     On one of the exercises a large crate turned up.
     "Right lads," the sergeant major said. "Chicken time.
     The only problem is, there's only one chicken between every six of you.
If  you  don't get one, you'll have  to go to  somebody who has one and hope
he'll share it."
     We were sent to the bottom of the hill, the chickens were released, and
on the command it was every man for himself.  The Worzel Gummidge convention
raced up the hill; I  pulled off my combat jacket as I ran and threw it over
the first hen within range. That night  it was cooked in the fire and shared
with three others.
     The old poachers came in and gabbed off about how to catch a salmon. We
had  one weird lecturer who worked for the Water Board, in charge of all the
     He was a real Herefordshire boy with a craggy old  face and greasy blue
nylon parka and a checked cap that was probably older than he was.
     He was in a world of his own as he passed on his expertise.
     "When you put your net out here, don't 'ee worry about  that," he'd say
mystifyingly, chuckling to himself on the riverbank as he seemed to remember
old stories that he then  didn't share with us. Then suddenly he was telling
us, 'When you  go  into a pub, lads, make sure  you've  got your back to the
wall." We were rolling up.
     The DS said to us afterward, "We  let  him get  on  with  it because we
don't want to upset him. He's, so good at what he does."
     After  the  first two  weeks we'd  had all the theory, we'd had all the
practice, it was time to go and do it for real.
     We were put into  groups of  four. The scheme was that we were going to
navigate for seven  days  from point to point as if we were on  a "rat run,"
the system  of  passing escaped POWs from agent to  agent in an occupied  or
enemy country. It was down to us to move from  RP to RP; the only navigation
kit we were allowed was the button compass  we'd  have  around our necks and
the escape  map  that  we'd made ourselves-the whole of Wales on a  piece of
parachute silk the size of a handkerchief.
     We were told that sometimes on operations we'd be given a ready-printed
one, but more often we would make our own.
     We were told that in the areas where  we'd  be operating,  the Regiment
invited in all the farmers and  householders for a big barbecue.  They  were
told  that  combat  survival  was  on  again, that  it would  be  very  much
appreciated if their land could be used, and that if they were approached by
any people wearing bin liners  and  rabbit  fur hats, they were to Turn them
away and report it. It was emphasized that they had to  be cruel to be kind;
feeding us wouldn't help us because we wouldn't be learning.
     A Guards rifle company  would be  the  hunter force out to capture  us.
They would be in vehicle and helicopters and would be using dogs.
     As a performance incentive, each  soldier was  told that if  he  made a
capture, he would be given two weeks' leave and money.
     We  turned up in the  training wing  with all  our  survival equipment,
including a small tobacco tin of bits and  pieces that would be all we could
take apart from what we had  made. The contents included  a razor  blade,  a
spare  compass, water sterilizing  tablets, matches  and  bits  of magnesium
block to start fires with,  a magnifying glass,  a heliograph, and a condom.
This last piece of kit wasn't in case we got lucky on  the  top of the Black
Mountains; a  condom can be  used to make  a  catapult, collect water in, or
even as an emergency flotation device.
     All our kit was searched and checked and put into the toilets that were
going to be the changing room.
     Each of us in turn was sent in to see the doctor.
     "Strip off your tracksuit and put it in that bin liner," he said.
     "Then sign this."
     Bollock naked, I signed a bit of paper to say that I didn't  mind being
internally checked. As I signed, I could hear the rubber gloves going on.
     Then it was a  quick squirt of KY jelly and, "Right, touch your  toes."
With a swift, practiced movement the doctor plunged his finger up my arse as
far as it  would go, presumably to check that I hadn't cached a box  of Milk
     The MoD police  were mooching around outside with  their  dogs,  making
sure no one was going to try to  do a runner and sniffing for hidden food. I
had  it  all squared away;  I'd  known  that the  toilets would be  used  as
changing rooms and had wrapped chocolate, peanuts,  and raisins in polythene
bags and hidden  them  in all the cisterns.  When I  went back to the toilet
block to change, I  said to one of the police, "Just going to  have  a quick
     I went into  the toilet, smiling all over  my  face, and lifted  up the
     A week before that George and I had also had put out caches of food all
around South Wales. We had no idea of exactly where  we would be going to go
but made an  educated guess. For most of a  weekend we  were running  around
buying  c;ins  of tuna  and hiding them at prominent points. Tesco's  made a
fortune out of us.
     We were issued with a set of battle dress from the  Second World War, a
pair  of boots, and a greatcoat, and that was it. Onto a vehicle and off  we
went.  We were driven  at night to a dropoff point, and  from  there we were
told where our next RP was going to be  the following'night. The idea was to
move during the night, as tactically as we could in groups of four.
     My group included a fellow from the PT corps  and two navy aircrew, one
of whom had terrible flatulence.
     All  the Selection  people  had been split up.  I took  one look  at my
teammates  and  decided  to  detach  myself   from  them  at  the   earliest
opportunity;  nothing  personal, but  I didn't want  to  get  caught, and  I
thought  I'd be better off on my  own.  The first time we got bumped by  the
Guards I would do a runner.
     We moved  tactically at night, and in the daytime it was  just a matter
of finding the world's biggest, prickliest,  most antisocial  bush,  getting
right in  the middle of it, and hiding. At last  light we would start moving
again into the area of the RP,  to meet up with  the agent who was going  to
put us further  onto this rat run.  In real life  the agents  would  want as
little to do  with us as possible because they  wouldn't want  to compromise
themselves; to  add realism,  therefore, the  DS,  who were the agents, were
being hunted by the A.R.F (airborne reaction force) as well.
     At the RP one of  us would go forward and make contact, while the other
three  stood back;  I  always  held back and made  sure  somebody  else went
forward, because he had  a better chance of being  caught. The bloke who had
gone forward would get the information, come back and brief us, and off we'd
     We had our little tins and were supposed to be trying to catch rabbits,
but  we  had too much  distance  to  cover  for any  of that  nonsense.  For
security, we were never going to put  a fire on, we were never going to have
flame. We went hungry, apart from at one checkpoint  where the PT instructor
came back with a dark plastic carrier bag with a knot at the top.
     "They  gave me some  scoff!" He  beamed.  He undid the  knot and looked
inside. His face fell. "What the fuck's this?"
     I looked. "Tripe," I said. "My granddad used to live on the stuff. It's
     We ate  it raw,  and within  an hour  the navy character was piping  us
     I had a  premonition that  things  were  going to go  wrong.  The P.T.I
fellow was jumping clumsily over  fences, which  would then  twang for about
another fifty meters down the line. He was going at obstacles like a bull in
a china shop; he'd obviously never been taught that you take your time, take
it nice and gently. Every time I  heard a  twang I was flapping; I had it in
my mind that to be captured was to be binned.
     The two navy  guys  had  no  sort of  tactical  sense  whatsoever. They
weren't to blame; it wasn't their job, and passing  the course didn't matter
for them; it was just a three-week embuggerance before they went back to the
wardroom for a few pink gins. So they were wanging over fences as  well, and
all of them, even the PT instructor, were knackered.
     "Don't forget," I said, "the drill is that as soon as we get bumped, we
split up to make it harder for all of us to get captured.
     Then we regroup at the last emergency RP."
     We were waiting at  one particular  RP,  which  was  a  rise  of ground
overlooking a small road bridge over a river in the middle of nowhere.
     It was cold just sitting still in the shadows. We were sitting within a
meter of one another in cover  in  a dip and had agreed that two of us would
stay awake  and the other two would get  some sleep. It was just a matter of
getting the collar up and retreating inside the greatcoat and dozing off.
     I heard helicopters running around, but  that was no problem as long as
we stayed still.
     I was in a semidaze when I heard a voice bark, "Stand still!
     Don't move!"
     The two on stag had fallen asleep.
     As I looked  up, I saw  a semicircle of guardsmen closing in on us with
pick  handles. I thought, Fuck! I  was really annoyed. I put my hands in the
air, yawned with exhaustion, got slowly to my feet, and bolted.
     I ran and  ran, but only  as  far  as the cutoffs they'd put  in. I was
brought  to the ground by a  rugby tackle and  four  of them piled on top. I
struggled, but one of them rammed a pick handle down on my neck and shouted,
"Stay still! Stay still!" That  was me caught. They turned me over and  kept
their feet on my  neck while they tied me up with  plasticuffs. They prodded
me and said, "what's your name? What's your name?"
     I gave my name and number.
     "What rank are you?"
     I told them and gave my date of birth for gooa measure.
     They dragged me away to their helicopter.
     "Fucking  good  news!"  one  of  them  shouted. "We've got one  of  the
fuckers. We've got our leave!"
     No sooner had the Puma taken off than it seemed to be landing again, in
what I took to be their holding area.
     They  stripped me of my clothing, so  I was there  in just my skiddies,
and put on blindfolds. I was  made to stand a pace  or two from a wall, then
lean forward so my hands touched the bricks and I was standing at forty-five
degrees. It wasn't too difficult, but my shoulders ached badly.
     Then I had to kneel down on the ground, keeping my back straight and my
hands on my head. That was a bit worse. The one I liked least was sitting on
my arse, cross-legged, with my back straight and my hands behind my neck.
     At some stage, when I was back on my  knees, my blindfold  was removed,
and I found myself looking up at the training sergeant major.
     "Am I binned?" I said pitifully, remembering how I'd  cocked up in  the
jungle with him.
     "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 the Guards doing so well.
     I was put back out in another group,  consisting of three navy aircrew.
Again, not one iota of tactical awareness. I was desperate.
     I couldn't afford to get caught again.
     We  were going  along the side of a  forestry block one  night when  we
heard  shouting just  forward  and left of us. We  bomb-burst away  from the
area;  in theory we  should have made our  separate ways  back  to  an E.R.V
(emergency rendezvous) but I thought, Sod that, and cracked on alone.
     During the daytime  it was quite good. I was hiding up, and sometimes I
could hear the A.R.F . in their helicopters. Sometimes I'd hear dogs; it was
quite exciting stuff.
     These  boys were  really close, but I  was getting away with it.  I now
knew that if they caught me, they weren't  going to muck about because  they
didn't know my reactions. They would hit me hard, tie me up, and take me in.
     I saw the sun occasionally, but most of the time I was freezing.
     No matter how well insulated I was, after days and days in the field my
body was cold and damp.
     I tried to sleep,  but it was scattered sleep. I might doze  for twenty
minutes, wake  up,  nod off for another ten minutes, acutely  aware  of  any
     It came to the last scheduled night of the exercise, and I knew that at
some point  very  soon one of the  DS  would  compromise  me so that  I  was
captured and put through the interrogation phase. I knew it would be quite a
lengthy  time,  no scoff, and it would be a pain in the  arse specially if I
was going in hungry. I decided to do something about that.
     I did a  recce on  a  farmhouse, which seemed to be occupied  by an old
couple  and  a daughter in her early twenties. Seemed all right. I banged on
the door.
     "Hello, you haven't got any bread, have you?"
     They knew at once who I was.
     "You want something to eat? Come in."
     Decision. Do I go in? Are they going to get on the phone?
     I went  in. It was a beautiful old place, oak beams and a log fire, and
a wonderful smell of something or other bubbling away on the Aga. I sat down
and the woman brought me a saucepan of mincemeat stew.
     As she sat there smiling, I helped  myself  to three or  four bowlfuls,
washed down  with gallons of hot,  sweet  tea. For  pudding, I was presented
with a plate of Christmas cake with inch-thick marzipan.
     I ate my fill, and stuffed a couple of extra doorsteps in my pocket.
     I'd have given anything for a few minutes  by  the log fire and maybe a
hot bath, but it was time to go. I'd pushed my luck far enough as it was.
     I thanked my hosts profusely, offering  to do the same for them one day
if I could, and was off.
     Later that night,  approaching a  checkpoint, I was still full. I tried
to  eat  more of the cake but felt sick. Very reluctantly I  had to throw it
all away in case I was caught.
     I met up with the DS, who said, "Wait over there.
     We've  got a cattle truck that's going to pick you up and take  you  to
the next RP."
     Oh, yes,  I thought, and I  suppose Hereford will  win the next FA Cup.
Knowing  what was coming,  I  climbed into the cattle truck and  joined  the
others who had got their heads down on the straw. Nobody spoke; we knew what
was  going on.  I knew where I was going, and  there  was nothing I could do
about it. As far as I  was concerned, that was  the first  phase of the test
over with; let's now get on with the second.
     A couple of hours later we landed up in Hereford, in a part of the camp
that I hadn't seen before.
     As soon as we arrived, they banged into us.  The tailgate came down and
they shouted really aggressively,  "Everybody now, Turn round, lie down, put
your hands on your heads!"
     I could hear people getting picked up and dragged away.
     Eventually  somebody put his hand on  my head,  pushed it down, tied my
hands up,  and put  a  blindfold on. Two people  picked me up and started to
drag  me out.  They  were people who  did this for a livin ; straight in, no
words, nothing. I  felt myself go down the ramp, walk over some  tarmac, and
go into a building.
     The handcuffs were taken off, I was stripped of  my  clothing and  left
sitting on  gravel in what had the feeling of being a very big squash court.
I  could hear what I thought at first was  an attempt at white noise; then I
worked out it was air being pumped into the place.
     There couldn't have been any windows.
     I started  to shiver. Two blokes came in with a set of coveralls, which
they helped me  get into. Then it  was back on  the  floor, cross-legged and
straight-backed, my hands behind my head. I  concentrated on making my  neck
relax and left it at that.
     I could  hear other people in the room getting moved around. From  time
to time they moaned and groaned; perhaps they were being put into  different
stress positions, or lifted for interrogations. Nobody was talking.
     After about half an hour the footsteps came up to me.
     Two  boys  grabbed hold of  me,  picked me  up, and  then walked me.  I
thought I was going for an interrogation, but they got me to a  place  where
they threw  one of  my  hands against  the  wall,  then the other,  and then
started to kick my feet back so I was at an angle, resting against the wall.
Very soon I started to get pins and needles in my hands, and  then they went
numb. I tried gently  banging them  against the wall;  the guards came over,
got hold  of my hands,  and threw  them against the wall again and kicked my
legs out even more.
     The hands  really  started to hurt. I had  to push against them to keep
the tension in my body so I didn't collapse.
     Fuck this,  I thought. I  was in pain,  I  was cold;  soon  I would  be
hungry.  The only consolation was  the thought that this was  the last major
step. If I passed this, I was in; if I got binned, it would be my own fault.
It was just a matter of sticking  in there. At the end of the day it was  an
exercise; they weren't going to kill me; it was just a big test.
     They  grabbed me, took me somewhere else, and made me sit  cross-legged
with my hands behind my head and my back straight. Every time I bent my back
to  release the stress, they'd be  in, grab hold  of me, move me, and put me
down again.
     There was no noise; nobody said a word. All I heard was the two sets of
footsteps walking along, picking me up. Sometimes they'd put me back against
the wall in another stress position. After a few hours I told myself  that I
needed to switch on  here. "Just  keep your head,"  I  said to myself,  "and
you'll be all right."  I  told myself  that it was more  about giving  us an
experience than anything  else. They would hardly  be putting us  through it
just for the  sake of fucking us about and giving us a  good beating. It was
probably  as  much  an   experience  for  the  people  who  were  doing  the
interrogating as  it  was for  us. They needed training also. They needed to
get  the  experience of reacting to people  who had been  under pressure for
seven days on the run, not  somebody who was just coming in from the canteen
and playacting the part.
     As the hours ticked by in my head,  there were some I people who by the
sounds of things bel'eyed it was  for  real.  I  heard two or three get into
such a state that they started blattering off and wanted no more of it.
     "I've had enough," somebody  shouted, and it echoed around the  room. I
recognized the voice. It belonged to a signals captain in  his forties who'd
come  up through the  ranks and had been giving little bits of advice to all
the lads on the course. He'd  had his toothbrush with him all the time. "You
don't  need toothpaste," he said. "I always  keep my  teeth clean.  Look  at
these  teeth. twenty-four  years in  the  army,  out  in the  field  all the
timegood teeth. And that's because I keep my toothbrush with me."
     "I don't want this no more! I don't want this no more!" He screamed and
hollered, and  I heard  several sets of  footsteps going up and dragging him
away. He  was spaced out; he was gone. It made  me  feel really good. Number
one, because  he was gabby all the  time, giving us the  benefit of all  his
advice, and number two, because somebody had been taken off. It made me feel
better that I was still hanging on in there.
     Maybe he didn't have the same incentive as the Selection blokes.
     Yet, very occasionally, I had been  told, Selection blokes did  fail at
this late stage as well.
     This  'was extremely  demanding, physically and mentally. So it  should
be. What  they were  doing  was training prone-to-capture troops  for a real
possibility. They couldn't go around beating us  up, of  course, or breaking
our arms and  giving us electric shocks,  but  they could  take us to such a
point that  we didn't  know whether we were going  to be able to  survive or
     I was  placed back in  the stress  position against the wall,  and this
time not even the first half hour was bearable. I had to keep  the position;
as soon as  I went down, they came  in and forced me up. I tried to grin and
bear it.
     I heard some footsteps  go past me to move  some other  people  around.
Then the footsteps came back, and this time the men stopped, grabbed hold of
me, and I could smell the coffee on their breath.  I thought I was  going to
be moved to another stress area, but I was off, walking carefully in my bare
feet, mincing around when we hit shingle.
     We went into a building and along corridors.
     We went into a room,  I was put  down on  a chair, and I  heard a voice
saying, "Close your eyes."
     The blindfold came off,  and  I looked  down at the ground.  The people
walked out, and the door was closed.
     "Open your eyes."
     I looked up, opened my eyes, and there were two boys sitting there at a
desk. It was a small room, white walls, an empty desk, them and me.
     Both  men  were in their mid-forties.  One of them was wearing a  black
polo-neck jumper. He had gray hair and was very stern-looking.
     They both just looked at me, with obvious disdain.
     "What's your name?"
     "What's your full name?"
     "Andrew McNab."
     "What's your number?"
     "What's your regiment?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "What's your regiment?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "What  do  you  fucking  mean,  you  can't  answer  that question?"  he
exploded. "We just caught you. We know what your fucking regiment is.
     But we want you to tell us. You're not helping us at all, are you?
     What's your number?"
     I went through it again.
     "What's your rank?"
     "What were you doing when you were captured?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Well, if  you don't  fucking answer  that question,  you'll  be in the
shit. Do you understand me?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "What..... were..... you . . . doing . . . down . . . in.....
     that..... area?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Are you in the army?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Well, you must be in the army because you've  got a regimental number.
What's your regimental number?"
     "So you're in the fucking army then, aren't you?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Look here, sonny, if you don't fucking answer the questions, you're in
a lot of trouble. Do you understand that?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Okay, this is the score. This is what you're going to do.
     You're  going to sign that bit of paper for the Red Cross and tell them
that you're okay. Then you might be getting some food. Do you understand?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     They leaped up, hollering and shouting. "Stand up!
     Stand to attention! Who the fuck do you think you are?"
     They  walked around me, saying,  "Are you  thick or something?  Are you
fucking thick? I'm asking you questions and you're not answering.
     Do you understand?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     I knew that as long as I stuck to  the big four-name, number, rank, and
date of birth-and "I can't answer that question," I'd cracked it.
     The one in the black polo-neck turned to his mate.
     "Do you think he's  thick? Yeah, he's got to be fucking thick, look  at
him. Why doesn't he talk to us? He's thick. Do you have a mother?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "I bet you don't know your mother, do you?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "I bet your mother's a fucking  stinking whore, isn't  she?  That's why
you don't know your mother, isn't it?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     I didn't mind any of it. In fact, compared with the stress positions, I
actually rather  liked it. The room was warm, and I could sit down. I wasn't
in  a stress position,  and  the  blindfold was  off.  I just kept saying to
nlyself: "Don't deviate from number, name, rank, date  of birth, and  you're
home and dry."
     They went through the  good guy, bad guy routine, and  I got the pieces
of paper that they wanted me to sign.
     "I'm sorry," I said, "I cannot do that."
     "What's your number?"
     The session must have lasted about an hour.
     Finally they said, "Right, sit down there, and close your eyes."
     I was blindfolded again and just sat there. I  heard scribbling but  no
talking. 'Then the door  opened, and I  was picked up and dragged out again.
As I went down the corridor,  I could hear, on  the left-hand side,  another
interrogation going on.
     "What the fucking hell do you mean?" somebody was shouting.
     Then I felt the air being pumped in and felt the gravel, and knew I was
back in the holding area. Straight back up against the wall, hands  up high,
and the legs kicked back.
     I  could  hear  lots  of  movement.  Like  me, everybody  was obviously
starting to feel the effects of the stress  positions. The boys were walking
around more, moving people more because they weren't holding the positions.
     I heard people falling and hitting the floor.
     The cycle of interrogations  and stress positions went on over a period
of about twenty-four hours.  The interrogators were brilliant actors. They'd
start with a nice  friendly  approach, then suddenly throw  the  switch a'nd
hurl a frenzy of abuse.
     I was sitting in  a stress position, my legs crossed, back straight and
hands behind my head, trying to  find a comfortable position without  moving
too  obviously.  I  had pins and needles  in  my head; my back and neck were
strained; every time my  elbows came forward to rest someone would yank them
right the way back.
     I was picked up and taken for another interrogation. I tried to lift my
legs up to keep them from dragging on the gravel. I heard the boys straining
to carry my weight and felt quite pleased to be getting my own back.
     One boy held my head, grabbed hold of my hair to point me forward.
     They undid the blindfold, and straightaway I closed my eyes.
     A young cockney voice said, "Look forward, mate, that's all right."
     He  was  all ginger hair and freckles,  the first younger man that  I'd
seen. "Sorry to mess  you about, mate," he said. "Let's just  go all over it
again, if you don't mind.
     We're getting all cocked up  here.  Let's just get  your details right.
What's your number again?"
     I said.
     I said.
     "All right, that's fine. Now, is that an 'Mc or an Mac?"
     That put me in a bit of a dilemma. What do I say?
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Ah, come on, mate. I'm trying to do my job here.
     We've got to sort all this out. Is it a small N or a big N?"
     "I can't answer that question."
     "Oh, all right then. What's your date of birth?"
     I gave it.
     "Okay, don't worry about the difference in the spelling then.
     We'll sort that out later. But what exactly were you doing? I'm totally
confused-I've got all these notes and bits  of paper all over the place from
these people you've been talking to. What were you doing?"
     I saw through it: the friend, the same age-group.
     I couldn't help  noticing that he had half  a cheese sandwich and a cup
of coffee in front of him.
     "Can we just sort this out?" he said. "What's your number again?"
     I remembered a Green Jackets officer  who  took over A Company, who had
been  the ops officer for the Regiment. When  he  rejoined the battalion, he
started doing little interrogation exercises, and something he had once said
stuck in  my memory:  "If you  get the chance of  food, take  it. Once  it's
inside you, what can they do?"
     I looked at the cheese sandwich. They could hardly punish me by putting
me in a worse stress position than they had  already. They might drag me out
and be a bit rough with me, but so what? At least I'd have a cheese sandwich
and a mug of coffee down my neck.
     I couldn't see any steam coming off the coffee, so I knew it was fairly
warm and I'd be able to gulp it down.
     Anyway,  it was in a metal mug, and they tend to  cool it down quicker.
So I thought: Fucking right.
     I lunged forward and grabbed the food and drink.
     The boy recoiled. Guards came  bursting in,  but they  were too late to
stop my feast. They blindfolded me and held me down.
     The young guy, still being my mate, said, "Did you enjoy that?"
     "I cannot answer that question."
     I  went  into the next interrogation. It  was  the  same routine, being
picked up from  the stress position, and by now I was really looking forward
to  interrogations because  it was  so  painful  against the wall or on  the
floor. It was the same two interrogators I had the very first time.
     "You're a dickhead," they said. "We gave you the chance to help us; now
you're going to pay for it. Get your clothes off."
     I undressed.
     "What's your number?"
     "Right, now say it slowly.l I did, and I had to do it again.
     Because  of the training I knew to play on the injuries, looking like I
was knackered, all that sort of stuff.  I repeated my number for what seemed
like hours, really slowly. Great, I thought; it  took up more time, I was in
a  better atmosphere, rather than in a stress position in  the holding area,
and I wasn't being moved around every five minutes by the guards.
     Then I was told to  jump up and down on my toes, which was even  better
because I started to get warm.
     They said, "We've had enough of you, you fucking idiot."
     They  walked  out,  and two  women  walked  in.  One  was in ' her late
twenties and looked very prim and proper in  glasses. The other, who  was in
her forties, was wearing jeans.
     "Take off your pants," they said.
     I took them off.
     "That's a  bit small, isn't it?" The older woman laughed. "What are you
going to do with  that?  Is that why  you're a big, rough, tough soldier, to
cover up your inadequacies? My little finger's  bigger than that.  Not going
to impress many girls with that, are you?"
     She turned to  the  younger one and said, "Would you  do anything  with
     "With what? I can't even see anything."
     They were trying to find a chink in my personal armor, but as  far as I
was concerned, everything they were saying was fair comment.
     After all, it was freezing cold in the room; in the circumstances, even
Errol. Flynn wouldn't have been looking his best.
     I  guessed everybody W'as learning about his  own personality, his  own
strengths, his own weaknesses. I was certainly learning about mine. I had no
trouble with the insults and abuse, but some people were starting to trip.
     When I  was in the stress positions,  I heard  people  shouting,  "Fuck
this! I've had enough  of this shit!" Realistically we were having  a rather
nice capture, but physically doing it still wasn't nice at all.
     I clung to the fact that this was an exercise and it would end.
     I  was taken for  yet another interrogation. I  was sat in a chair, and
the blindfold came off.  There in  front of  . me was a cup  of soup and the
training wing sergeant major.
     He said, "Do you recognize me?"
     I didn't say anything.
     "Do you recognize me?"
     I said jack shit. I wasn't too sure if this was a ploy.
     "Right,  I'm  telling  you that now's the  end  of the exercise. Do you
recognize  me?  If you say yes, that's fine, if you say no, we can just stay
here until you do."
     He  was wearing a  white armband; I remembered that we'd  been  briefed
that that would signify the end.
     "Yes, I recognize you."
     "Drink the soup."
     We had a debrief with the interrogators.
     When  it came to my  turn, they  said  that  I'd stuck to the big four,
which was good. It  had  been a  bad move, however, to  make a  grab for the
coffee and the cheese sandwich.
     "If it hadn't been an exercise, I wouldn't have done it," I said.
     "I know that in real life there would have been repercussions.
     But this was an exercise and I was hungry, so why not?"
     "How were you feeling physically? Were you as exhausted as you gave the
impression of being?"
     "No, I was playing on the physical side."
     "How many interrogations did you have?"
     Wrong. This  was interesting.  I  was  one interrogation out. And I had
been held for thirty hours, not the forty that I'd thought.
     "What about the interrogators? Was it obvious what  they were trying to
do? Were there any stages when you were worried about it?"
     I gave  it  to them  straight. Some of  these  people  had  been  right
fuckers. They'd done their job very well.
     They were aggressive,  there was aggressive handling, but  we'd had  to
expect that. We were cold, but so what?
     It was very demanding,  physically and mentally, but at  least  we knew
there was an ending. I'd have hated for it to have been real or to have gone
on for very much longer.
     The last  big hurdle  was over. We looked a state. We'd been out in the
field for a week, and we had a week's growth. Everybody's hair was  sticking
up  and  tangled  with  twigs  and straw.  We  had those  really big,  wide,
bloodshot eyes;  we were stinking.  Nobody in the  camp gave us as much as a
second look.
     I had  a  shower and headed for the cookhouse and a  great big plate of
steak and chips. A couple of  blokes  were  already  back,  and  the  others
trickled in  over the next  twenty-four hours. All  the  stories were coming
out, including  one  or  two with unhappy endings. One  bloke had been  in a
stress position when he felt his blindfold slipping down.
     He knew  that he stood  a chance of  getting fucked off, purely because
they would think he  was  actively pulling the blindfold down himself, so he
ut his p hand up.  Nothing happened. He  stood up and sort of semitumed, and
by now the mask was down. They binned him on the spot.
     The argument was that he'd pulled his mask and broken the rules.
     They fucked up,  and  it  was unfair. But then, no one said it would be
     In  the  pub the following night the  Selection blokes  compared notes.
Everybody had been of the same opinion about the  others  in their  team and
had wanted to spread out and get away.
     Dave, one  of  the paras,  said,  "I  got  to  a farmhouse, put  an  OP
[observation post] on it, had a look around.
     Everything seemed okay, so I went up under the window and I thought I'd
just listen. The tv was  on, and it sounded all  rather nice; then  I  could
hear loads of people talking. I  got up and  had a look through the curtains
and it was the whole training team sitting there. I said to myself, 'I think
we'll  give  this  one  a miss."' There  was  a long weekend off; on  Monday
morning we  would  carry  on  with  our  continuation training. By  now  the
training team had more or less got what they needed. We were starting to get
a  relationship, we  were  starting  to talk about squadrons  and  things in
     They  opened up a  bit more, but  we still had to call everybody  Staff
apart from the squadron sergeant  major,  whom we called  Sir. We weren't in
     There was a pub that used to put trays of sausages and French bread out
on the bar on Sundays, so George and I went and had a few  pints of Guinness
and filled our faces out. We were walking down the road afterward, bored out
of our heads, and decided to go around to see an ex-Green jacket who was  in
D  Squadron. His wife used to work for  Bulmer's, distributors of Red Stripe
lager, and the four  of us sat there  all afternoon,  chatting  away, slowly
getting pissed.
     After a few hours I announced that I was  going to the toilet. I got to
the  top of the stairs and felt an ominous urge in the pit of  my stomach. I
ran into the toilet, and projectile vomited all over the floor and walls.
     Panic. I cleaned up as best I could, then fell down the stairs and into
the front room.
     "Well"-I beamed-"must be going."
     In the morning I was in  shit state.  I went around to D Squadron lines
to see what had happened.
     "Bloody hell!" he said. "She's gone ballistic!"
     I thought I  was severely in the shit. I ran off and bought her a bunch
of flowers and  a box of  chocolates. I  went around  to  the house,  hoping
against hope that she wouldn't be in. I knocked on the door.
     There was nobody at home.
     I  propped  the gifts  on the  doorstep  and pulled out  a card from my
     "So  sorry about my  terrible behaviour and all  the  ' inconvenience I
must have caused you," I wrote. "I hope that one day you will forgive me and
certainly  promise  that it will  never  happen  again." Then I  signed  it,
"OWmi'tsh all best wishes, George."
     I telephoned Debbie and said, "I'm in! I reckon I've passed!"
     She  was really pleased.  I was really pleased.  But the  sad thing was
that I was so  engrossed in what I'd been doing that  I didn't stop to think
about what she'd been going through. She'd been stuck in  Germany, unsure of
whether  I was going  to pass or what the future might hold; she hadn't seen
me for months, and all I'm doing is phoning her up and telling her how great
I am.  I was  so selfish; she  was  getting two letters a month from me  and
maybe a phone  call a week, and it  was never to say, "How are you?" Maybe I
didn't ask because I didn't want to hear the answer.
     The idea of continuation training was to give us an introduction to the
skills that would be needed once we got into our squadrons.
     Our  first introduction was to be to the CT (counterterrorist) team. We
sat in the classroom  on  the first day dressed in civvies. It was the first
time I'd ever done a soldier's work in civilian clothes,  and it  felt a bit
strange. The training team weren't going to be  teaching  us for this phase,
we'd been told; it would be members of CRW, the counterrevolutionary warfare
     In came a bloke called  Ted I knew from the Green  Jackets. We'd always
known him as Ted Belly because of the losing battle he  fought in  the  inch
war; now he was on  the  CRW. Ted was a tall, approachable cockney with hair
like straw.  No matter what he did  with  it, his  head looked like a bird's
nest in a gale.
     "Today we're going to learn all  about  the  nine millimeter," he said.
"Anything you don't know, just ask and Uncle Ted'il tell you.
     We'll  have  a day down  here, and the rest of the week we'll be on the
ranges. Maybe we'll have a few wagers-all right?"
     The  9MM   Browning  pistol  was  extremely   to   the   Regiment   and
underestimated by many outside, Ted said.  It was an extremely effective and
powerful weapon, easy  to conceal, yet hitting at a surprisingly long range.
The Regiment  used  it  for  VIP  protection,  counterterrorist  and  covert
operations. On the counterterrorist team, everybody's  secondary  weapon was
the pistol.
     We  had  to  learn every  bit  of  theory there  was to know about  the
Browning, as well as the stripping and assembling, all the technical details
on what  happened if a pin was filed this way, what happened if the  trigger
mechanism was slightly adjusted.
     We learned how to hold the weapon correctly and how to stand correctly.
The method the Regiment used was totally different from the army's.  It  was
based on  combat experience, which the army hadn't got  much of with pistols
(I had fired one twice in my career). Ted taught us  how to  draw the pistol
from various  types  of  holster,  how  to draw  it covertly when we had our
jackets on, and even what sort of jacket to wear and how to wear it.
     From different firing positions, we  practiced until we  could hit  the
target with both eyes open from thirty-five meters, then fifty meters, while
pushing people out of the way  in  a  crowd. We  practiced from seven-thirty
each morning  until dark o'clock. We'd get a tea urn in the morning, pick up
loads  of scoff, and  scream down to the range, eight  of us having a really
good time with the pistol.
     I thought that as a sergeant in the infantry I'd know lots but found it
was  a vastly different world here. I  guessed I was near the bottom of what
would turn out to be a very steep learning curve.
     "When you get back to the  block," the instructor said, "practice  your
drawings in front of the mirror.
     Don't worry, nobody will laugh. We all do it."
     We were  there  for  an  hour  after dinner, practicing in front of the
mirrors  in the toilets. Finally  Ted came by with  loads  of boys and said,
"What the hell are you doing, you dickheads?"
     We looked sheepishly at the  imaginary pistols in our hands while  they
took the piss mercilessly.
     On the final day Ted said, "Right, let's have a bit of fun then."
     He got all the targets in and marked one of them with a circle the size
of a tenpence, another  with one the  size of a Coke can,  then a larger one
still. We had to fire at different  timings:  firing  three rounds into  the
tenpence piece in five  seconds at  five  meters, then  back to ten  meters,
going back and  back.  We all put a fiver in at a time, and  the winner took
     Next we did some demolitions training with basic charges, saw some more
of the squadron kit, and did a bit of signals work with the squadron radios.
     "Wherever you  are operating in the world, you will send  directly back
to Hereford," the instructor said.
     "You'll have  to  learn  a lot of antenna theory; it's  not like in the
films where  they've got  a radio the size of a cigarette pack with a little
antenna and they start sending signals off to Katmandu. It doesn't work like
that at all.
     Depending  on  the frequencies and  the time  of  day,  you'll have  to
calculate the size of the antenna."
     We  had  introductions  to  all  the different  departments,  from  the
education center to the Regimental Association; the only  ones we didn't see
were the  "gray" ones tucked away that we  were told  we would only find out
about later.
     After three weeks it was time to go to Brize Norton to be para-trained.
It was one of those things that had to be done but that I couldn't really be
arsed  about;  I  was itching  to  go  straight  to  the  squadron. The  one
consolation was the thought that the only way I  was not going to get in now
was if I broke my neck-or blotted my copybook.
     I  found  out what  squadron  I was  going to  go to.  If I'd  wanted a
particular squadron, and there'd been a reason, maybe I'd have got in.
     If  you wanted  G Squadron and you  were a guardsman, for example,  you
would  definitely  get  it.  Otherwise  it  all  depended  on  the  manpower
requirements. I  wanted to go to D Squadron  because Jeff was in it and they
were  the  current  counterterrorist  team,  based in Hereford. Things  with
Debbie were not exactly brilliant. I was paying a bit more attention now  to
what she said in her letters from Germany, so I knew she was severely pissed
off. In reply I kept telling her that as soon as I'd passed I would organize
a  quarter. However,  D  Squadron  wasn't  to be; four of  us were off  to B
Squadron, though we wouldn't be allowed anywhere near them yet.
     Blokes who were  already para-trained were badged now and went to their
squadrons.  The rest of us went to Brize Norton, into the  R.A.F's hands and
out of  the  Regiment's system. It was like  a  holiday-'  but  one of those
holidays that went on too long.
     For a month we were taught a lot of drills that we later found out were
crap,  but  they had  to teach hundreds of  people a year,  so everybody was
pushed in together and around  went the handle. Brize Norton was  a  sausage
     The  upside  was   that  the  R.A.F  always  tended  to  have  superior
recreational  facilities.  Here  the  N disco was called the Starlight Club.
Every night the baby paras on our course turned up, all crew cuts and Brutus
jeans, desert boots and maroon sweatshirts, as hard as nails.
     Two  of  them  were  pissed  and dancing together  one night. The  next
morning they  were  all  out on  parade,  helmets on  and ready to go. Their
corporals came out and  said,  "Oi, Smith  and Brown, come here. Smith, were
you dancing last night?"
     "Yes, Corporal."
     "Who with?"
     "Him, Corporal."
     "And Brown, you was dancing last night. Who with?"
     "Him, Corporal."
     The  full screw went inside  and  came back  out with an ironing  board
under his arm. With the two baby paras standing at attention, he banged them
rhythmically on the head: "We..... don't . . . dance . .
     . together . . . in . . . the..... airborne."
     "Yes, Corporal."
     And off they went. All the other recruits were rolling up. It was a fun
thing; they  obviously had the same  relationship  with their recruits as my
team had had at Winchester.
     We got our parachute wings and went back to Hereford to be badged.
     We turned up with our normal regimental kit on and  hung around in  the
"Kremlin" (head  shed  building). I had a fantastic  feeling of achievement.
Everybody  seemed  pleased for us; probably there wasn't a  single person in
the Regiment who couldn't remember how he felt when he got badged.
     The  RSM   came   out,   shook   our   hands,  and  said,  "Well  done,
congratulations. What you're going to  do in a  minute is go in and  see the
colonel. He's going  to  badge you,  and then  you start  moving off to your
     I'll  give you one piece of advice. When you get to your squadron, look
at somebody you think is 'the' regimental soldier, and copy him.
     Take example  from him,  learn from him. Don't start going off thinking
that you rule the world because you don't. Just keep your gab shut, look and
     The CO had a pile of  sand-colored berets on the table in front  of him
and flipped one at each of us. No formalities, no handshakes.
     Then he said, "Just remember, it's harder to keep than it was to get.
     Right, good luck to you."
     The army  doled out a horrible beret called a Kangoule. Within the army
there  was  a  definite  fashion about such things; you could always  tell a
person  by his  headgear.  We'd all  sent away for  the much smarter  Victor
     And that was it. George and I trooped  off to B Squadron office, almost
six months to the day since we'd done the Fan Dance. The first fellow we met
was Danny,  the clerk-skinny, no face hair, and  looking sixteen. He  was in
fact in his early twenties and was, we were told, the person who really knew
what was going on.  The squadrons were all over the  place, doing ten things
at once, little gangs here, little gangs there, and the only one who had any
continuity was the clerk, always  there with the HQ element of the squadron.
If we needed anything or wanted to know-what was going on, Danny, the clerk,
was the man.
     "Nice to meet you," he said. "Everybody's
     away at the moment, but there's one or two people b mining around.
     just go and sit in the interest room anud we'll sort you all out."
     George and  I spent  a  lot of time that  day  just hanging around.  We
couldn't contribute anything, the whole squadron was away, and everybody was
busy. We were feeling rather helpless, sticking out like sore  thumbs in our
uniforms. The few blokes who were around were in tracksuits or jeans.
     The walls  of the interest room were covered with plaques, photographs,
AK47s from Borneo days  to the present-all  sorts of  bits  and  pieces that
people had brought  back from all over  the world.  It was  a history of the
squadron written in bric-a-brac.
     Blokes came in and said, "You just joined the squadron? My name's Chas.
Nice to see you. You coming on the trip?"
     They  seemed genuinely pleased  for us that  we'd  passed. There was no
feeling of us being the rugs,  as we would have got in the  battalions. They
knew what we'd done to get this far.
     "I don't know," I said. "Are we going on a trip?"
     Danny said he  didn't have a  clue  yet. I was hoping in a way that  we
weren't. I'd now got everything I'd wanted, but I'very  much  needed to  get
things sorted out with Debbie. Our conversations on the telephone were still
a  little  strained.  The  relationship  seemed  fine  on  the  surface, but
underneath I wasn't sure what her feelings were.
     She seemed to understand how important it  had been to me  to  get into
the  Regiment, but I knew she was fed up with  taking second place; when she
arrived from  Germany, I wanted  the quarter to be ready.  In the meantime I
didn't know how she'd take the news  that I was going away with my  squadron
for a couple of months.
     We hummed  around  to  the  stores,  handed in all  the equipment  from
training wing, and drew out our squadron equipment. Unfortunately everything
we drew  out was brand-new.  We looked as  if  we'd  just stepped out  of  a
catalog"Turn up tomorrow," Danny said, "and we'll see what's going on."
     This was at ten o'clock in the morning.
     "What do we do in the meantime?" I asked.
     "Nothing. Go downtown if you like."
     This was  so different from the battalion, where we'd have had to stay,
even if there was nothing to do.
     When we did go back the next morning, we were  told: "Malaya, Thursday.
5 We packed all the brand-new kit and drew out shiny new jungle boots. There
wouldn't  be  time to break them in. On Thursday we boarded  the aircraft. I
still hadn't  organized the quarter for Debbie;  I  only  hoped that  things
would be sorted while I was away.
     Some  of the blokes had already been in the jungle for quite a while by
the time we turned up at the base  camp, two hours' drive from Kuala Lumpur.
We  drew some more kit, and the  next morning  we were choppered  in to join
them: four new  blokes, every bit of kit shiny and squeaking.  I felt like a
nun in a whorehouse, knowing none of the jargon and none of the people using
it. Nobody  wore  rank, everybody was on first-name terms; it was impossible
to make out who was who.
     Best, I reckoned, to follow the RSM's advice. I shut up and listened.
     The  squadron  setup  in  the jungle  was very much as  it  had been on
Selection. There  was the  squadron HQ element, then  the troops  positioned
satelliting it.  People had  set  up  home in the admin areas; A-frames were
dotted around, many  of them sprouting extensions. Figure "targets  had been
made into sit-up angle boards as a makeshift gym.
     Tables and chairs  had been made out  of crates. Here and  there two or
three  ponchos had gone  up  to join  A-frames and  make  what  looked  like
     Everybody in sight had a beard and long, greasy hair.
     Some blokes were lying  in their  A-frames  reading books; others  were
bumming  around  in  shorts or squatting over  hexy burners, brewing up. But
whatever he was  doing, every  bloke  had  his belt  kit on, as well  as his
golack and weapon.
     The medic came up to us  and said, "Most people  are out at the moment.
When they come back, everything will be sorted. Do you want a brew?"
     While we  were drinking  tea, the squadron  O.C came over with all  his
     "Good to see you! Right, we need a bloke for each  troop." He looked at
each of us in turn, then said, " You look like a diver George was a mountain
climber, so he said, "I'd like Mountain Troop."
     "Okay, you can  go to Mountain Troop. You, go to Mobility, and you look
like a free faller."
     The last bloke he was pointing at was me, and that was me in Air Troop.
"Wait here," he added, "and somebody will be along to pick you up."
     Blokes from different troops came down to pick up their new boys.
     The  O.C and  his  party  disappeared. I was sitting  there  on my own,
taking in a bit  of the setup, watching the signalers and  medics at work at
makeshift tables under  ponchos.  People  were coming  up  and saying,  "All
right? How you going? What troop you going to?"
     "Air Troop."
     "Bloody hell,  you'll  have  fun-the fucking ice-cream boys!  Got  your
sunglasses with you, I hope?"
     I didn't have time to  ask what  they meant.  A fellow who was six feet
his and  four feet wide appeared, p walking  on the balls  of his feet.  His
hands were so big his M16 looked like a toy.
     "Your name Andy?  I'm Tiny, Seven  Troop. We'll sort out some  bits and
pieces, and then we'll go back up to the troop area."
     I was smelling all  nice,  got my new boots on, and feeling like it was
my first day at big  school. Off we went, my eyes scanning the ground  for a
patch of mud to dunk my boots in.
     As we walked up the hill he said, "What battalion are you from then?"
     "Great! I'm Two Para myself."
     "No, two RGJ. I was a Green Jacket."
     Tiny stopped in his tracks, turned, and said, "Well, what  the fuck are
you doing here?"
     "I don't know-they just told me to come."
     "Fucking hell, we haven't had anybody here for eighteen months, and now
they're sending you."
     I'd never felt such a dickhead in my life.
     We went into the  troop area,  which  was  on  a small spur occupied by
A-frames. In the middle was a large fire. All eight members of 7
     Troop were sitting around, having a kefuddle and brewing up.
     As we walked in, Tiny said, "We've got  this fellow here turned up; his
name  ' s  Andy McNab, and  he's a Green jacket.  What the  fuck's  he doing
     He started  having a go at  a guy called Colin, who  I  assumed was the
senior bloke present.
     Colin was about five feet six inches, very quietly spoken but extremely
blunt in his replies to Tiny. He sounded as if he was from Yorkshire.
     "I'm a para, too," he said as he shook my hand.
     Christ, was anybody in 7 Troop not from Para Reg?
     They introduced themselves.
     "Get yourself over there," Colin said, and bung a pole bed up."
     I went to the edge of the clearing, dropped my  bergen, and got out  my
     I'd  only  ever  made one A-frame, and  now everybody who  was  sitting
around brewing up was able to watch me make a bollocks of the second.
     Brunei seemed a  long  time ago as I thrashed at the trees and tried to
chop branches to  required lengths. Every time I pulled up  one bit the next
would fall down. God knows what they must have been thinking.
     I  wanted to  make a  ood impression  and was flailing away like a  man
possessed, but  my  pole bed was all over  the place. And they  were sitting
there, chatting away and smoking, watching me and scratching their heads.
     I  finally sorted it all out just as it  started to come to last light.
They didn't  stand  to. I thought,  Well, what goes on now? I didn't want to
intrude on their session, so I did a few exaggerated yawns and stretches and
got my  head  down. They carried on the  fuddle all night, probably thinking
that I was a right -antisocial prat.
     In the morning I got  a brew on and some food.  Then I wandered over to
Tiny and said, "What happens now?"
     "Just get ready and we'll go out, I suppose."
     "When do we go out?"
     "Don't worry about it."
     Colin took me in' his patrol. He seemed really switched on, and I clung
on to him. Colin was my role model.
     We were going  to do jungle lanes, very much as we'd done on Selection.
We patrolled along in  a group of  two, then in a  group of four, practicing
contact drills.
     The  Communist insurrection in Malaya  had started in  1948, and twelve
hundred  guerrillas,  under  the leadership of Chin Peng, still subsisted in
the  mountains along the Malay-That border. It had been one  of the  longest
wars in  Asia, but fairly  inconsequential; however,  hundreds of people had
been killed during anti-Chinese riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969.
     The  New  Zealanders  had  a  battalion stationed  in  Singapore.  They
operated  in Malaya, but they couldn't  commit the battalion to  work in the
north,  for  whatever  political  reason.  We  were there  to demonstrate  a
     As Colin and I were patrolling, we saw a target. I remembered my drills
well; I got some rounds down, turned, and ran back.
     Inexplicably Colin gave it a full magazine, dropped in another one, and
kept going forward.
     He turned and shouted, "What  the  fuck  are  you  doing?$) "We weren't
taught to do it like that."
     "Oh,  for  fuck's  sake.$'   Every  squadron  did   it  differently,  I
discovered,  and so did every troop.  For  the rest of  the day Colin had me
running to and fro on the range until I was decimating targets with the best
of them. When  we  finished that  night,  I felt quite  good.  I'd  shown  a
shortcoming, but I had done what was expected of me: I had learned. I felt a
little bit accepted.
     We were sitting  round in a fuddle  that night,  and I sampled my first
"fruit  cocktail," a unique B Squadron concoction made from rum  and  boiled
sweets. I didn't have a clue what or who anybody was talking about.
     There were all  these different  terminologies and personalities, and I
had no idea. I had to ask for translations.
     I gathered that Colin had been rebuilding his house.
     He was honking about the price of logs: "Forty-five pounds a ton-it's a
rip-off. If you go down Pontralis, you can get them for lo-three." I sat and
listened, and over  the next few  days I pieced together what  I could about
all the characters.
     Nosh was  built  like  an athlete but apparently very rarely trained or
ran and  was a thirty-a-day man. He was passionate about anything to do with
the air and had logged in excess of a thousand free fall jumps.
     He struck me as incredibly intelligent; he'd be  sitting there, picking
his  nose, farting, and  burping but chipping  in with comments that sounded
like paragraphs from the Economist.
     Frank Collins had ginger hair, was about my height and  weight and came
from up  north  somewhere.  He was fairly quietly spoken and more forthright
than  blunt.  It  seemed  that  he  was  starting  to  get  into  born-again
Christianity. Everybody was giving him a slagging about it.
     A copy of  Holy Blood,  Holy  Grail was going the rounds,  with  people
reading it avidly for ammunition to give Frank a hard time with. They  had a
copy  of the Bible with them  as well, as a cross-reference.  It made an odd
sight, all these rough,  tough men in the middle of  the jungle listening to
people  reading  out passages from the Testaments and checking them  against
this book.
     I'd seen Al Slater before. He was the training corporal giving recruits
a hard time in the 1983 BBC series The Paras.  He  was about six feet, lean,
and he  looked like  an officer.  I could still remember him shouting at the
recruits, "Getting noticed is absolutely the last thing you want to do."
     Al's special seat was a massive bag of rice. There had been a fresh day
just before I arrived. Al had  asked for a large  bag of  rice, thinking  in
terms of a two-  or threepound bag.  To everybody's amazement, a fifty-pound
bag had turned up. Al immediately adopted it as his chair. He used to sit on
it,  scoop out some  rice now and then, and throw it in a pot. Over the next
few weeks we had rice pudding, fried rice, rice with onions, rice with dried
meat, rice with fish, and Al's arse got lower and lower.
     With the same drop,  the mail had come through. Al  was sitting  on his
bag of rice and put his book down to open his letters. He looked  inside one
envelope and started rolling up.  "I think  somebody's put  a major hint  in
here."  He  laughed,  pulling out  three  sheets  of paper, a self-addressed
envelope with a stamp on, and a pencil.
     Nosh  was having  a brew one day and said, "We  ought  to  have a Seven
Troop sun trap, somewhere we can wear our shades. We've got a reputation  to
keep up."
     I wondered what on earth he was on about.
     A couple of days later we were mincing around in the base camp, cooking
away and gabbing off, and Nosh decided that the time had come.
     He had  a fag  in his mouth and _ a golack in his hand and was  walking
around a massive buttress tree right on the edge of our area.
     He didn't say anything, but we suddenly heard ching, ching, ching.
     Colin walked over. "What the fuck are you doing, Nosh?"
     "Sun trap," Nosh said,  one hand down his trousers, scratching himself.
"If I do the cuts right, it'll fall downhill towards the river."
     "You sure?"
     "Trust me."
     If the tree  fell the other way, it would come down right on top of our
basha area. All day  we heard ching,  ching, ching. Finally the noise became
ching ching creak.
     The tree started to groan.
     Nosh came over to Mat and said, "I think you'd better move, mate.
     It might go  your way as well. I'm not too sure.  I think I  might have
fucked up here."
     People were running around with their weapons and belt kits, but nobody
was too sure which way to run. in the end we stood and watched.
     With an almighty scream and a screech the tree finally toppled, falling
just inches from Mat's basha.
     "There you go," Nosh said. "Very professional job."
     It was,  too. A big beam of light suddenly appeared through the canopy,
and 7 Troop got its sunglasses out.
     Food plays such an important part in anybody's life in the military-not
so much  for the calorific value  and the fact that it keeps you warm as for
the fact that  it's one of the only  areas where you're going to get variety
and can spend time doing something entirely for yourself.
     We talked a  lot  about what we were going to cook and how, and all the
different mustards  or spices we'd be using. It was a diversion  from normal
routine. Some people  would go  and catch  fish to supplement  the  rations.
Others would set a trap and see what they caught, then make a big  stew  out
of it.
     Al Slater was having a wash in the river one morning.
     We  heard a couple of five-round bursts going down the river and rushed
to see what was going on. It was Al  with big Hissing Sid  coming up to him,
now deceased.
     We ate it that night. It tasted shit but was fine after being marinaded
in Tabasco.
     Tiny and Eddie made a friend that they refused to eat.
     His name was Stan the  Scorpion. He lived in a hole below  Tiny's  pole
bed and seemed to like the Spam that was fed to him.
     We were  sitting on the floor in  the middle of nowhere one day. It was
pissing  down  with  rain.  I  was drenched, rivulets  of  rainwater running
through my matted hair and trickling from my chin. I put up a little shelter
sheet  to stop the embuggerance of everything dripping  off my nose while  I
was trying to brew up.
     As  I stood up, trying to sort my  belt kit  out, I felt something drop
down my leg. I didn't think much of it; there's  always beasties making best
friends with you in the jungle. Then I felt a warm  and wet sensation around
i my bollocks and thought, right, I'll have  a look and see what's going on.
I pulled my trousers and  pants down  and  found that the  whole of my groin
area  was covered in blood.  Fuck! It was capillary bleeding, exacerbated by
the fact that the skin was so wet with -all the rain and sweat.
     I was flapping good style trying to see what was going on and pulled my
trousers right  off. Down  by my  boots was  the  world's  fattest, happiest
leech,  as big as  my thumb. It had got inside my clothing somehow, attached
itself to my cock, and then drunk so much it fell off.
     When leeches bite,  they put in an anticoagulant and  anesthetic  twist
ball, so you keep bleeding and you don't feel a thing. I had instant visions
of  other leeches crawling up my pride and joy, so one  of the boys  had  to
have a quick look inside to make sure everything was all right.
     The leech was very proud of himself, very full  up.  I  kept him to one
side  for ten minutes or so  while I  tried to  decide what  to do with him.
Eventually I gave  him a  burst of mozzie rep, which really  pissed him off.
Then he died, poor soul.
     It took ages for the bleeding to stop. Afterward I had a bite mark that
looked like a cigarette burn, which would stay there  for life. It was quite
a shock,  and the blokes were very solicitous. Then they spent the next week
reminding me that the  leech was  considerably bigger than the morsel it had
eaten for dinner.
     We  had  an American with us  called  Dan  Dan  the Chain  Saw  Man. On
secondment from Delta Force, the U.S equivalent  of the Regiment, he  was in
his late thirties and deeply macho.  The problem  with Dan was that  he  was
running around too much, trying to impress everybody, when there was no need
to. He'd brought a chain  saw with him and wanted  to  chop the whole forest
down for everybody so they could build things.
     Hammocks  or A-frames  were not for Dan. "The jungle floor is good," he
     Within  a  week he was  in  shit  state. He  wouldn't use a  poncho; he
built'a sort of tepee with leaves and branches. He  would scream  and shout,
"Goddamn shit!" in the middle of the night as things bit him.
     He had lumps and bumps all over him, but there was no way he was  going
to submit.
     One of squadron HQ came down and said, "Look, here's a poncho."
     "Naw, don't need it."
     One of the blokes was down on his haunches making a brew one day.
     He looked up and could see into Dan's atap shelter.  Dan had been using
the poncho after all,  but he'd covered it with leaves so  he wouldn't  lose
     Gotcha, Delta!
     Dan lived in  his own little world in more  ways than  one. 0 . the day
Tiny, who was well into demolitions, was preparing a  thing called an A-Type
ambush. it was an  explosive ambush,  tripped by any patrol that walked into
it. Dan had made  a DIY claymore mine out  of  his little soap dish,  and he
wanted  Tiny  to  try it out.  This A-Type ambush  consisted  of about forty
pounds of  P.E  (plastic  explosive), plus about five or  six 81  MM  mortar
rounds, claymores, and homemade claymores.
     It was a massive accumulation of explosive, to which Dan in also sisted
on adding his soap dish. The explosion took the top off the spur, flattening
an area of about twenty meters square so it looked like a landing site.
     Dan came up and said to Tiny, "So, how did the soap dish do?"
     Tiny said, "Ever watched a mouse rape an elephant?"
     We finished the  trip  and had six days off. A lot of blokes were going
to  go  to Thailand and to see the Burma railway.  The Kiwis were  going  to
sponsor the rest of us in Singapore. Dan couldn't wait to get there.
     When   we  reached  the  base  area  at  Kluang,  the  SQMS   (squadron
quartermaster sergeant) had laid on tables of beers and food. But  everybody
knew he had to clean his weapons first. Well, everybody except Dan.
     I had the GPMG at that stage. It was a section weapon, so everybody was
responsible for  cleaning  it, not just  the  person who carried  it. In  my
battalion  days a corporal had to dish out  the  weapons,  because  everyone
selfishly just  did his own. Tiny  came over and  started to help  me,  then
another bloke came over and  took another  bit,  and somebody took  another,
which  was all  rather nice.  It made me  feel a bit more part of the group.
We'd been together now for about two months, but I was still on probation. I
could still be fucked off if these blokes didn't want me.
     Meanwhile Dan Dan the Chain Saw Man  was nowhere to be seen. He was too
busy  throwing  two-pint bottles of Heineken down his  neck, and had gone on
overload. Instead of sorting his kit out, he just went straight on the  piss
because he thought it was the manly thing to do.
     It was nice to have a party after work, get the barbecue going,  have a
few  beers, but  there  were priorities.  Everybody was  looking  forward to
having a couple  of beers, then going  downtown  and  having a proper shave.
Nobody, however, wanted to get  stinking and  out of his head; you just lose
the day.
     We got a wonderful picture of Dan to be put up in the squadron interest
room when we got back to the UK.
     After an hour on the Heineken  Dan was out on the floor. We heard later
that about two weeks after he returned to the States, he shot his neighbor's
son for ljumping over his fence. Nothing about Dan would have surprised me.
     We went down to the local town  of Kluang. It  was  the  first time I'd
been to Malaya, and I wanted a barber's shave and a look around.
     Three or  four of  us wandered around, bumping into some of  the others
from  time  to time.  We went and had some fried chicken, visited a  bar and
listened to karaoke, hit another bar, had  another  bit of chicken  and more
beers. By the end  of the night we were stinking, and soon only George and I
were  left.  We were walking around the town at two o'clock  in the morning,
and we couldn't remember where the camp was.
     "We'll get a taxi," George said.
     "What taxi?" I said.
     We  knew the camp was uphill, so we set off. After a few minutes George
said, "Let's nick a car."
     "Well ' I land up getting hung for this," I said.
     A few hundred yards further on we came across a large red tricycle with
a trailer on the back.
     We both jumped on it,  George in the saddle, me in the trailer.  We got
to  the  steep  uphill  bit,  and George couldn't  pedal, so  we got off and
pushed.  When we  got to the  camp, it was such  a large  place  we couldn't
remember where we were supposed to be. The gate was closed.
     "We'll leave the bike there and get over the fence," I said.
     Within minutes we were in our beds and fast asleep.
     In the  morning  we  were lining up to get  some money and the sergeant
major was pacing up and down. "Is George about anywhere?" he said.
     "That's me," George said.
     "Did you have that bike away last night?"
     "Er, I might have."
     "Well, I  think you ought  to  go and get it, cycle it back down to the
town. That's probably someone's livelihood you've got there.
     Don't fuck these people about."
     George looked  at me, but I had developed  sloping shoulders and a wide
grin.  The  last  I saw of him was a rear  view as he wobbled off toward the
town. When he eventually reappeared an hour or so later,  he  was struggling
with the world's biggest sheaf of long green vegetables on his shoulder.
     "Men, nice souvenirs," I said.
     "You  owe me a fucking tenner,"  George  said. "I  was cycling down the
hill when the  owner spotted me going past his vegetable stall. The only way
I could calm him down was to buy this lot."
     Off we went to Singapore, and the occasion was designated a  bone shirt
night. We had to look like dickheads, but not blatant anorak wearers; we had
to do it in such a way that people thought, Hmm, strange!
     Everybody else had brought one with him; a few of us had to s end a day
running around Singapore looking p for a decent specimen.
     I went into one shop, half pissed, and said, "I've  come  in for a bone
     "Ah, bone shirt! You know Tiny! Number one!"
     I ended up  with a rather sophisticated Hawaiian number, sun jet orange
with green palm trees and great big purple flowers.
     It had been a really good trip  for me. I was fortunate in joining  the
squadron  when  the  majority  of people were together.  Sometimes, I heard,
blokes could join a squadron and not see all the members for maybe a year or
two because of all the different jobs.
     True, I could hardly count  myself as a mate, but at  least I was aware
of them and they were  aware  of  me. I  felt that in my  own small way  I'd
arrived-whether for good or bad, I  didn't know. And  the memories of Malaya
wouldn't leave me for as long as I lived-or at least, not as long as I had a
small brown circular scar halfway down the leech's dinner.
     e  were on  probation  for  our first year. After Selection we lost our
rank but kept the same pay since  we hadn't qualified yet  as Special Forces
soldiers. I became a trooper but  was still receiving a sergeant's  infantry
pay, which was less than a trooper earned in the Special Air Service.
     To qualify  for  SF  pay,  I would  have to  get a patrol  skill-either
signals, demolitions, medical, or a language. The first one  everyone has to
have is  signals; if the shit  hits the fan, everybody's got  to be  able to
shout, "Help!
     I  would also need my entry skill.  Mobility  Troop need to know how to
drive a  whole range of vehicles;  divers need to  be able to dive; Mountain
Troop need to get themselves up and down  hills; free-fallers need  to learn
how to free-fall into a location. No patrol skill, no  extra pay, but it was
a Catch-22:  We were  going away and doing the job, but we couldn't get paid
unless  we'd  got the qualifications to do  the job, but we couldn't get the
qualifications because we were too busy doing it.
     Soon after I came back from Malaya, we were going to start training for
the counterterrorist team. One  troop from the squadron would go to Northern
Ireland;  the other three troops would  then constitute the counterterrorism
team. Seven Troop had been designated for over the water.
     There were no patrol skill courses  running in my  time slot, but there
was one for my entry skill. It wouldn't qualify me for  the  pay on its own,
but at least I would  understand what  the  other blokes  in the troop  were
talking about when they  mentioned riggers, risers, brake  lines, baselines,
or flare.
     When people think about the S.A.S, their image is either of Land Rovers
screaming around the desert, men in black  kit abseiling down embassy walls,
or free fallers with all the kit on, leaping into the night. Free fall, like
the other entry skills, is in fact just a means of getting from A to B.
     To count myself as proficient in the  skill, I would have to be able to
jump  as part of a patrol and keep together in the air  at night  on oxygen,
with full equipment loads weighing in excess of 120 pounds.
     I would have to be able  to follow a bundle  (container) holding my own
extra  equipment  or  gear  that  we were  delivering to other troops on the
ground, and  the  patrol must have maintained  its integrity.  If  the entry
phase went wrong, there would be a snowball effect and big cock-ups.
     For all that, it  was obviously addictive. There were  world-class free
fall  jumpers  in  the  Regiment,  people  who had  represented  the  UK  in
international competition.
     The free fall course was about six weeks long, and by the end  of  it I
would be  able to jump confidently. It would provide a baseline;  from there
the troop would bring me on.
     My particular course entailed two weeks in the UK,  two weeks in Pau, a
French military base  in the Pyrenees, and  then two more back in the UK. If
the weather was bad, some courses would  take place  entirely in the  United
States, with R.A.F instructors. It's no  good having  an expensive  aircraft
sitting  down  doing nothing because  the weather's  shit; it's cheaper  and
better  to  go to somewhere  with a guarantee of sunny skies, so the job can
get done.
     The way  of, life in Brize Norton was even easier than  it  had been on
the basic parachuting  course. The intake consisted of just me  and four SBS
(Special Boat Service) blokes, and we had an excellent relationship with the
instructors.  The  majority  of them  were on the Falcons display team; they
knew that a  lot  of the stuff they were teaching us was outdated,  but that
was what the manual  said. I found it strange to be learning for the sake of
learning  again; I thought  I'd left "bullshit baffles brains" behind  me at
the basic parachuting phase. It was only later that  I  found  out that free
fall   manuals  were  obsolete   almost  before  they  were  printed.  Sport
techniques,  were changing  at a  weekly  rate; the Regiment monitored  them
constantly to  see how  it  could adapt  their  equipment and  methods  to a
military context.
     We  had about two days of ground training, learning how  to put  on the
basic  free fall kit. Our  first  lump  would be  with a  PB6,  round-canopy
parachute. We would then go on to a TAP, which was much like the sports rig,
a Para Commander. Even that  was an antiquated bit  of kit;  all it could do
was turn left, turn right, and go with the wind.
     On  day three I sat  there in  the  C130 (Hercules transport  aircraft)
thinking,  Whatever happens, I  don't want to look  like a dickhead.  I  was
going to jump,  there were no problems with that, but  I just didn't want to
cock it up. I was mentally going through my drills.
     "Even professional jumpers who've been  jumping for years and  years do
the same,"  the  instructors had  told us. "As they  go up in the  aircraft,
they're  mentally  and  physically  dry drilling, simulating  pulling  their
emergency  cutaway,  then deploying their reserve." it didn't mean they were
scared; it meant they were thinking about their future.
     I closed  my  eyes and went through  the exit drill: One thousand,  two
thousand, three thousand, check canopy.
     No canopy? Cut away from the main chute; then pull the reserve.
     Once we got above six thousand feet it turned quite  cold. I started to
feel a bit light-headed as the oxygen  got thinner. If we'd wanted  to talk,
we'd  have  needed to shout;  the noise of the aircraft  was deafening, even
from inside our helmets.
     There was one instructor per student, and we jumped  together.  When my
time  came  I was called up  onto the tailgate. I stood on the edge, on  the
balls of my  feet, facing back down the aircraft. My instructor was  looking
at me and  holding me steady with one hand. Our eyes were locked together as
I  waited  for  the  signal. A  gale was  thrashing at  my jumpsuit;  twelve
thousand feet below us was Oxfordshire.
     This was  it.  On the next  two  commands he would pull  me  toward him
slightly in a rocking motion and then away-and down.
     I rocked forward.
     I launched myself back.
     I  kept my eyes fixed on the tailgate and watched the instructor exit a
split second behind me. A,gap of orfe second between  jumpers  equated to in
excess of sixty  feet,  so  he  was  jumping virtually on  top  of  me.  The
slipstream created a natural gap.
     For the first couple of  jumps we had to be  stable on  heading" -as we
jumped, we didn't turn left or right, or tumble.
     I came out; I didn't tumble.
     I kept looking  ahead. We were supposed to pick a point  on the  ground
and make sure that we  were not moving left or right of  it or going forward
or back-just stable  on heading, falling straight  until the altimeter  read
thirty-five  hundred  feet and it was time  to pull  the  cord. I was moving
slowly around to the left, and I didn't correct it.
     The altimeter reached thirty-five hundred feet, and I pulled.
     There was a rumbling sensation as the chute unfurled, then flapping and
a fearsome jerk.
     I felt as if I had come to a complete stop.
     I looked  up,  checking the canopy. Everything was where it should have
been. I reached for the  steering toggles and looked down and around to make
sure there were no other canopies near me.
     I  watched  the  main  dual carriageway going  into  Oxford,  then  the
vehicles, huts, and  people at the  DZ (drop zone). There was total silence.
It felt as if I  was suspended in the sky, but  before I knew it, the ground
was rushing up  to  meet me. I  hit,  rolled, and controlled the canopy. And
that was it, straight into a  vehicle  for  the half hour drive  back to the
airfield and the waiting C130.
     The first  couple  of jumps  were rather cumbersome, as we just thought
about how  to move  and  control  ourselves in the  sky. We  were  in "clean
fatigue"-just the parachute, no equipment, no weapons, no oxygen kit.
     Once we could  fall stable  on  heading we had to  turn left  and right
through  360  degrees, then  do  a  somersault. To get  used to  handling an
unstable  exit, we next had to  force ourselves to fall out unstable. It was
quite strange.
     Only a week before we hadn't had to practice at all; it just happened.
     If we got unstable,  we "banged ourselves out"stretching our  limbs out
into a  big star. Like the concave surface of  a saucer  falling toward  the
earth, you instantly level out. It was no big problem at all-until we jumped
with our kit on.
     We learned how to prepare and pack our equipment and to rig it onto our
parachutes.  We  would only  find out  a  bit  later,  when  we got  to  the
squadrons,  that  what they  were teaching  us  on the  course  wasn't  that
realistic; they were teaching us to release our equipment once we were under
the canopy  and let  it dangle  on  a  nine-foot  rope. If we  had sensitive
equipment  in the bergen,  this  method  would damage it.  So  what we would
eventually  learn to do was release it and then gradually bring  it down our
legs so that the shoulder straps were on our toes and we  were  holding  it.
just as we landed, we'd gently let it tap onto the ground and we'd flare the
     We then  started learning about the oxygen equipment  that  we would be
jumping with.  When we went onto an aircraft,  we  had our oxygen bottle on,
but we didn't use it. There  was only a certain amount of gas in the bottle,
so  we went onto  the  main  console instead,  linking us  to the aircraft's
supply. When we jumped, we switched onto our own.
     There were drills that we had  to  learn, and  it was all done with big
flash cards held up by the oxygen NCO. It was serious stuff, learning how to
rig on to one console, then come off that and go on to your own.
     The  next  jumps  were called  simulated  oxygen.  We'd  go  up  in the
aircraft, go through all the drills, and jump with our equipment but without
weapons. We  weren't doing  any jumps higher  than twelve grand, the maximum
height we could go to without oxygen.
     Our   first   lot   of   night    jumps   started,   and   they    were
wonderful-absolutely splendid.  I was standing on the tailgate and could see
nothing but the lights of Oxford twinkling away below me.
     Soon we were doing night jumps with oxygen and kit.
     Whenever we "jumped kit" and whenever we jumped at night, we would have
an  automatic  opening  device  attached  to  the parachute. This  worked by
barometric  pressure;  every day a  reading had to be  taken so we knew  the
pressure at thirty-five hundred feet. I'd make the necessary adjustment so I
knew that at thirty-five hundred feet the AOD (automatic opening device) was
going to kick in; if I got into a spin or had a midair collision and knocked
myself out, nothing was going to open; this device was there at least to get
the rig up.
     Within the squadrons there were horrendous stories of people going into
spins,  especially with heavy  kits.  If the kit wasn't  packed  or balanced
right, then as they jumped and the wind hit them, it did its own thing.
     You'd have to adjust your position to fly correctly with it. If you had
to fly to somebody and dock with all your equipment on and one of the straps
wasn't done up tight, or  one of  the pouches on the side was  catching air,
that might lift up your  left-hand side and  you'd have  to  compensate with
your right; you could end up flying in some really weird positions. But most
dangerously, it could put you into a spin, and once that starts it just gets
faster and faster.
     One fellow in D Squadron got into a spin, and the only way he could get
out of it was to try to track  to get away. He did, but all  the capillaries
in his eyes exploded.
     He looked like Christopher Lee for months afterward.
     We reached the  point where  we were simulating oxygen jumps, doing all
the  drills but  not going high;  we were doing it at night, with equipment,
and as individuals. That was us ready to go to France.
     The French DZ had a quick turnaround  because the  site we jumped  onto
was also where the aircraft landed.
     In the UK we had  to jump on  a DZ and from there get transport back to
Brize  Norton; the turnaround was inefficiently long. In Pau we could  jump,
the aircraft could land, get us back on, and throw us back out again.
     We were  starting now  to  do  day jumps  in teams of four,  practicing
keeping together, then night jumps with  equipment. We started  to learn how
to put weapons  on the equipment,  first so  that  they were good and secure
while  we were in free fall and second, so we  could get them off as soon as
we landed.
     The rule within the R.A.F was that we did only three jumps a day.
     There was a big fear of hypoxia if we were going up to  twelve thousand
feet  continuously;  the symptoms  were rapid tiredness, which could lead to
mistakes. Hypoxia didn't affect people in the sports world because they took
little oxygen bottles up with them, but it was the R.A.F's ball, and  we had
to play by their rules.
     We went  afterward to R.A.F Luffingham, the  R.A.F medical center,  for
chest X rays  and lectures  about the sins and symptoms  of h poxia and what
would happen if our teeth were not  in good condition. A small air pocket in
a filling would expand with altitude, until finally the tooth exploded.
     I saw it happ,-n twice to other people, and it was nasty. Stomach gases
also expanded  as  we  climbed in an  unpressurized aircraft, so  we  farted
continuously. I'd have taken the exploding tooth any day.
     We  then  spent time in  a decompression  chamber,  doing  exactly  the
opposite of what divers do, gradually  being starved of oxygen. We sat there
chatting away and were  asked to do our ten tim&s table and draw pictures of
pigs and elephants. My  elephants were  outrageous,  with disproportionately
big eyes. Then, as the chamber drained of oxygen, my ten times table went to
ratshit; I felt myself getting slow and lethargic. The moment I  was allowed
to put my mask back on and take a breath, it all came good again. Apart from
the elephant; the  monster with big eyes was the best I  could do under  any
     We would have to go to R.A.F Luffingham once a year for the rest of our
careers in  order  to keep our free fall qualification. Every year  we would
have to go  through the same lecture,  have another set of chest X rays, and
have  our ears checked; if we couldn't clear the  pressure in our ears, we'd
be heading for major dramas.
     The culmination of the course  was everybody leaping out at night, with
full equipment,  from  over twenty-five grand. We jumped together and landed
together, and  that  was us qualified as free fallers-until we  got  to  the
squadrons and had to retrain completely with square rigs.
     It was madness not to be training with the  equipment  we were going to
use. Crazier still that in a few days with my troop I was to learn more than
I had in six weeks with the R.A.F; you  learn what life's all about when you
have oxygen  equipment,  radios, and a  GPMG strapped to your bergen, packed
out  to the brim with an excess of one hundred pounds of kit. You might also
be  bringing in ammunition  for the  squadron; there  might be mortar  bombs
strapped on to  you,  a mortar baseplate,  all sorts  wrapped  all over you.
Basically, you can't move for the amount  of equipment that you have on, and
you can't  do much in the air. You fall,  try  to keep yourself stable,  and
work like a man possessed to keep in a group.
     Members  of  Air Troop  were  starting to practice BABO (high altitude,
high opening) instead of HALO (high altitude, low opening).
     Free falling at night was  dangerous and  required an  aircraft  to fly
near the target.
     When parachutes are  deployed close to the ground,  the loud,  telltale
crack of an opening canopy  can alert the very  people you're trying to jump
on. Using this new  technique, they  could land  accurately from an aircraft
flying at high altitude anything up  to fifty miles from the target. jumping
from a  commercial  airliner at forty thousand feet and  immediately opening
their rigs,  they could use a square canopy fitted with an electronic device
to guide them to within fifty meters  of a beacon placed on  target, even in
bad weather or  at  night. The first  man,  however,  still had to  map-read
himself in with a compass and sat nay.
     The  blokes  had  to  wear  special oxygen equipment and astronaut-type
heated  suits  to  survive  temperatures  of  minus  40'C-especially  as   a
fifty-mile cross-ground descent could take over an hour.
     BABO was  soon replacing more  traditional free fall  infits. By  being
dropped many miles away  from recognized civil air routes as a deception,  a
free fall troop could fly under the canopy to a target undetected by  radar.
A  counterterrorist team could land close to  a hijacked airliner and put in
an assault with total surprise.
     Instead  of  free  falling toward the ground with  the possiblity of no
real idea of where they were  heading or where the other  blokes  were  once
they were on the ground, they could be guided  gently onto the target on the
end of a comfortable parachute. Madness not to, quite frankly.
     Toward the end of the course I got a letter from Debbie. She had by now
already  moved  into a quarter in Hereford on her own. "I'm by  myself," she
wrote,  "and spending most of my time alone." Like a dickhead, I took  it at
face value. I was too busy having fun without her.
     was told I was going over the water with my troop but first I had to do
a "buildup"-the training beforehand.
     A  buildup could last  anything  from a couple of days to  six  months,
depending on the task. For North-, em Ireland,  the main component  was  the
CQB (close quarter battle) training.
     The DS said, "The aim is to familiarize you with all the small  weapons
that the Regiment uses over the water, especially covert operations with the
pistol. On the continuation phase of Selection you learned all the basics of
the pistol, how to fire it, how  to carry it, how to draw it, but now you're
going to put in so many manhours that the weapon becomes part of your body."
     In conjunction with the pistol, we  learned unarmed combat  or, as some
called it, jap-slapping.  I was half expecting to come out the other side as
a black belt in karate, but karate is a  sport  in  which one man is  pitted
against another,  both  using the  same techniques and  adhering  to certain
rules. The basis of CQB was  learning how  to drop  the boys as quickly  and
efficiently as possible so that  we  could get away. The Regiment was not in
the  province as a belligerent  force;  the  object  was to  conduct  covert
operations.  If  there was  ever a problem, we  were  going to do one of two
things to the enemy: either drop him and run away, or kill him. It would all
depend on the circumstances.
     The instructor said,  "You  need to know how to control a threat within
closed environments-down alleyways,  in  pubs,  while  you're in your  cars,
while you're getting out of your cars."
     More important,  we needed  to  know how to recognize  a  threat in the
first  place. It was all well and good having weapons and the skills to drop
people, but unless we knew when and where to use them, we were in trouble.
     We couldn't  automatically use our weapons to  protect ourselves;  that
might compromise  an operation that had been running for two or three months
and therefore put other people needlessly at risk. If we  could get out of a
tight corner by  using just our  hands, head,  knees, and  feet, so much the
better,  but  if we couldn't  do that, we had to start using our pistols The
instructor carried on. "'There's a big difference between firing at a static
target  on a range and being in a situation where people are  trying to push
and shove or get in the way, and the targets can fire back."
     Mick had been in charge of jap-slapping in the Regiment for years.
     He was about five  feet  six inches and  wiry, slightly cross-eyed, and
with only about two inches between his chin and his nose.  He reminded me of
Punch, but I wouldn't have mentioned it to him; we'd been  told he came from
the world's most aggressive family of Taffs.
     Apparently his  old man  still  walked  into  pubs and tried  to  start
fights, and he was in his eighties.
     As a schoolboy Mick had been picked for  the  Welsh gymnastics team but
couldn't take  part because his  old  man wouldn't give  him the  fare to go
training. He then got seriously into the jap-slapping and fought for the UK.
Mick had become a millionaire in his  youth with a shop-fitting business but
got  ripped off by  his partner  and ended up in  a  council flat  on social
     We'd  driven  to the training area in the  civilian  cars that we  were
going to be trained in.  We were sitting in a big, long concrete  shelter in
our jeans and T-shirts and long hair, pistols in our belts.
     It was  a dusty, musty building with gym mats on the  floor, punch bags
hanging  from  the  girders and targets on  the walls-all the equipment we'd
need to go around beating one another up.
     "What I'm going to teach you is from twenty-seven years of experience,"
Mick said. "However,  the  first  twenty-five years of it, the martial arts,
has been a  waste  of time. If you're my height and  ten stone, and he's six
foot six and sixteen stone, knowing a few chops and flying kicks isn't going
to do you much good.
     "If  a  sixteen-stone monster hits you in the face, you're going to  go
down, no  two ways  about it. When you  have a  slight knock from a cupboard
drawer, it  hurtsso if you get a  fist with sixteen  stone behind  it coming
down at  you, you're going to go down like a bag  of shit, no matter who you
     What  was called for was a combination of  street fighting  and certain
skills from the jap-slapping catalog, together with the  controlled  use  of
weapons. If we got involved  in a scuffle outside  a Belfast  pub, the other
person wasn't going to bow politely  from the waist and stick to  the rules.
It would  be arms  and legs  everywhere, head butts, biting, and gouging. In
other words,  we had to learn to fight dirty. If we got cornered in Northern
Ireland and did a Bruce Lee, they were  going to  say, "He knew what  he was
doing. It looked  too clear and precise; there's something wrong." But if it
just looked  like a  good old scrap  with ears torn  and noses  bitten  off,
they'd  think  it  was a run-of-the-mill street fight and nothing to do with
the security forces.
     "And when  it's done," Mick said, "the idea is not  to stand over them,
cross your arms, and wait for the applause. The idea is  to fuck off as fast
as you can."
     What  we needed was, as always, speed, aggression, and surprise.  "Once
you've committed yourself  to go for it, you must crack into  it  as hard as
you can,  apply maximum aggression, and  get  it  done.  If you  dillydally,
you'll go down,  and once you're  down, and somebody's  on top of  you, it's
very difficult to turn  things around. If the sixteen-stone monster gets you
on the  floor and is lying on top of you, it's going to be very difficult to
get up again."
     He pointed at Tiny and said, "If he's on top of me, all I'm going to do
is bite his nose off, and run like fuck."
     We learned how to use our weapons while being pushed against a  wall or
into a  corner,  or  in a  lift,  or closed in on by  a group of people.  We
learned how to use the weapon just as it came  out of the holster; you don't
need to be in  a full on-the-range  shooting  position, just close enough to
know you're going to hit what you're firing at.
     It has  to be well practiced,  however,  if  you don't want to land  up
shooting yourself.  By the  end of the  session we were  wet with sweat  and
covered with  dirt and  dust.  For the  others it  was revision,  but  I was
learning all this for the first time and really enjoying it.
     We  learned how to  get out of situations  where  people  were aiming a
pistol  at  us  at close quarters.  In the films I was used to seeing people
with a pistol about a foot away from somebody,  and they're saying,  "If you
move,  I'm going to shoot you." In fact  it's very simple: You just  slap it
out of the way and  drop  them.  It's only got to move six inches and you're
out of the line of aim. Even if they fire, it's going  to miss. "Bang it out
of the way," Mick said, "then use speed  and aggression to get him down, get
hold of the pistol, and decide whether you're going to shoot him  with it or
     This  phase  included a lot  of  'ap-slapping live on the  range, where
people would come up  behind  us, say,  "Get  your hands up!" and  we had to
fight our way out of it to a position where we were using them as cover  and
we were doing the firing.
     After a few days everybody was covered in bruises, lumps, and bumps. We
moved on to the next stage, which was learning how to fight and shoot at the
same time. We might  be in a very closed environment but want  to shoot some
of the people around us.
     We might be in a shopping area, so we'd have to push people out  of the
way, maneuvering our way around them. We had to be looking for  our targets,
holding people down, yet still be firing.
     It might be that we were getting  pushed  around by a group  of blokes.
They're  not exactly sure who we are at  the moment, but we've decided we're
not going to fight and go. This would be a  terrorist situation, not just  a
couple of pissheads coming out of  the pub looking for trouble. We'd have to
decide when to draw our pistols and take these people down.
     . ' . 'People who flap get killed,"  Mick said. "Make  a decision about
what you're going to do, every time. If you don't, you're going to die."
     He told  us  about  a member  of  the  Regiment  who  was  operating in
Londonderry.  He had  a job on  where he  had to go into a  place called the
Shantello, a large  housing estate. He was on his own, wearing his pistol in
the front of his trousers. As he  was walking along,  three players came out
and  began to  follow  him-not because  they knew what  he  was,  but simply
because  he  was  somebody  strange they had  seen getting out of a car  and
walking down one of the alleyways.
     As he neared the end of  the alleyway, they came up behind him and gave
him a push. The moment he felt it, he started to  roll: "If  you get pushed,
you don't fall own on your knees;  as soon as  you  feel that push, you know
there's something wrong, so you're going to try to roll out of that  and get
into a position where you can fire."
     As the  bloke rolled on  his shoulder, he could see the problem behind:
two boys  with pistols. Still in the roll, he pulled his weapon out and shot
two of them; the third one ran. The whole thing had taken no more than three
seconds. The combination of jap-slapping-going with the shove-and the pistol
drills, saved his life. He had a successful night.
     "You've got to remember what these people are going to do to you," Mick
said. "If you look at the victims of the Shankill Butchers, you'll know that
these  people don't mess about. They  start playing with  you  with electric
drills and lumps of steel and rock."
     We were told that a lot of people in Northern Ireland had guns and were
all macho  with  them,  but it was the  intention to use them  that counted.
Sometimes  blokes had  walked straight  up to people with guns  and disarmed
them because they didn't know when to fire.
     We knew that every  time we drew a pistol we must have the intention to
use it; we were never to make a threat that we weren't going to carry out.
     Mick said, "It isn't enough to know how; you have . to know when.
     The  intention  to  use  the  skills  is  as  important as  the  skills
themselves. Otherwise, in  a place like Northern Ireland,  you'd be  drawing
your pistol  every five minutes, and that's just going to get you killed and
compromise your operation.
     "Sometimes people will come up and say, 'Who the fuck are you?"
     Or people will stare at you the whole length of a street. You've got to
have that Colgate air of confidence; it's your most important weapon."
     Walking through any of the housing estates over the water, we'd get the
boys coming  up.  They might be  coming out of their houses or just  mincing
around having a fag by the  car. They'd look at us with  their eyes, saying,
"Who the fuck are you?" If we looked at the floor and thought, Oh, dear, I'd
better get out of  here, that  would alert  them- they wouldn't  know who we
were, or what we were, but they'd sense there was something wrong.
     "You don't draw your pistol," Mick said, rounding off the lesson.
     "You use your secret weapon: a good, loud  Irish 'Fuck  off!"-and  nine
times out of ten they'll take you as one of their own."
     Nosh said, "It's okay for you, you already have a bone accent."
     The training went on for weeks. We did  everything from CTR  skills  to
fast  driving drills, shooting out of  cars and shooting  into  cars,  and I
loved every minute of it.
     I  was  picked  up at Belfast airport and driven to  our location.  The
smells and sounds inside the building took me  straight back to Crossmaglen:
fried eggs and talcum powder,  music and shouting. Four or five dogs mooched
around the place, looking as if they got fed to no end.
     "Finished your  leave, have you?"  said  a  familiar voice  behind  me,
followed  by  a  resounding fart.  "About  fucking time. They said they were
sending some wanker from the Green jackets."
     "Hello, Nosh." I grinned.
     He'd just come  out  of  his  room and  was  wearing a  pair  of jeans,
flip-flops, and an old clinging T-shirt. His hair was sticking up, and there
was a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. At least he had his teeth in.
     I  followed  him  over  to  the  brew  area  just  outside  the  living
accommodation. The  Burco boiler looked  as if it was kept going twenty-four
hours a day; next  to it was a big box of  NAAFI biscuits and jars of coffee
and sugar.
     "How's the ice-cream boys then?" I said.
     I'd  eventually  solved the mystery of  that nickname, discovering that
the Air Troop had always had the piss taken out of them. Wherever  there was
a  camera, said everybody  else  in the squadrons,  the Air  Troop  would be
posing in front  of it-usually with shades and a  deep  tan. It stemmed from
the way  we  had  to operate.  When there  was troop  training  or  squadron
exercises, Mountain Troop  would go and live on a mountain, Boat Troop might
go down to the dark and murky waters of Poole Harbor and paddle about in the
freezing  cold, but we'd  have to go where  the  clear skies were, and  that
happened  to be where the sun and Cornettos  were  too, so a few jumps, then
rig  and  jumpsuit off,  get  an ice  cream and walk  around in  shorts  and
flip-flops, looking good.  No  one said it  'Would  be  easy. There  was one
exception,  and  that was G  Squadron  Air  Troop,  which  was known as  the
Lonsdale  Troop  because they were  forever  fighting one another. They even
fought a pitched battle on a  petrol station forecourt one day because  they
couldn't agree about who should get out of the minibus  and  do the  filling
     "Seen anybody yet?"  Nosh said. "The ops room is up the top there. just
leave your  kit here. Fuck knows where you're sleeping. I think you're going
in Steve's room. But if you  go upstairs and see  who's up there, they'll be
able to sort  you out. Tiny  got  his bike nicked in London, so he's  really
fucking pleased about thatmake sure you ask him about it because he gets all
bitter and twisted. What's even worse, I'm living with him now, and he hates
it. Got to go now, Blockbusters is
     Nosh, I discovered that evening,  after finding myself a  bed space  in
Steve's room, was still a nose-picking exmember of the civilized human race,
living in a disgusting  world of gunge.  If he didn't like  something on the
television, he picked his nose  and  flicked  the  bogey at the screen.  The
glass was covered with things.
     "He's decided he wants to learn the guitar," said Frank. "He spends all
his free  time  knocking  out 'Dueling Banjos." Not  that you'll be  able to
tell. It sounds like 'Colonel Bogey' to me."
     "Talking of which," Steve said to me, "don't look inside the guitar."
     "Why not?"
     "Just don't."
     I did. To judge by the volume of the crop, it was a miracle Nosh's head
hadn't caved in.
     Besides fatting, picking his nose, and strumming, his other  passion in
life was eggy-weggies  and  Marmite  soldiers. Every  night he'd go  to  the
cookhouse  to get his boiled eggs and Marmite toast; then he'd come back, do
the crossword, watch the telly, have a fag and a fart, and go to sleep.
     Johnny Two-Combs was also with us, from Boat Troop. There  still wasn't
a hair out of place. The last time I'd seen him was in a bar in Hereford. He
was  wearing  a black polo-neck jumper, a yellow shirt  over that, and black
trousers.  He  went up  to a  girl  and  said,  eyes  half  closed and  half
flickering, doing his best Robert De Niro, "I just want to tell you that you
have the most beautiful eyes."
     It was the most ridiulous chat-up line I'd ever heard.
     Half an hour later he was escorting her into a cab.
     Colin had been in charge of the troop when I went to Malaya.
     Getting words out of him was still like drawing teeth; it would just be
a sniff and "That was good," or a sniff and "That was shit."
     Eno had been on my first Selection  and passed,  getting in  six months
before  me.  He was  from the  Queen's Regiment,  a rarity in the  Regiment.
Predictably,  everybody  spoke  to  him  in   a  camp  voice  but  for  some
inexplicable  reason also shouted, "Three  queens,  three  queens," whenever
they saw him.  A thin  little  midget,  Eno was a  tremendous racing  snake,
heavily into triathlons. He smoked twenty  a day but was  so fit that at one
championship he stood at the start line with a fag in his mouth.
     "Got to spark myself up, ain't I?"  he  said. Eno was  very  much  like
Colin, never flapped, never got excited, and you had to beat him up to  have
a conversation.
     Jock was  there, too, whom I'd met  on Selection. There seemed to be no
compromise  with him.  He  had  a  policy  of  working  really  hard,  being
incredibly serious at work; then when it was fun time, it was outrageous fun
     We were at a squadron party once; he went up to the colonel's wife, and
he said, "Do you fancy a dance?"
     She said,  "Yes,  that would  be  lovely," so  Jock walked her onto the
middle of the dance floor, pulled out a Michael Jackson mask, and taught her
to moon-walk.
     Frank Collins was still Mr.  Calm  and Casual.  He never shouted, never
got  annoyed. Steve told me he had been one of the youngest soldiers in  the
Regiment when  he did the embassy in 1980. From the first night of the siege
he and the rest  of the assault team were ready on the roof, dressed in full
black kit and expecting  the order to go in at any moment. It must have been
tense stuffbut not for Frank.
     Apparently he was so  relaxed he took a pillow  with him to snooze away
an hour or  two.  I  knew  he was into  climbing, canoeing,  free  fall, and
religion, and I found out he was being  called Joseph at this stage  because
he was into carpentry as well.
     "You'll never see Frank when there's nothing going on," Nosh said.
     "He'll be doing the family business."
     He was going down to one  of  the local  timber yards and making tables
and cupboards and things that  he was going to be  taking back to the UK for
his house. In fact they were quite good-big kitchen tables and things.
     I was  lying on my bed one  day,  scratching my arse  and drinking tea,
when Frank came in said, "You bored, or what?"
     "Yeah, I'm doing nothing, just hanging around."
     I "Do you want something to read?"
     "Yeah, what you got?"
     "I've got something with sex, violence, intrigue, you name it, it's got
     "Okay, yeah, I'll have a read of it."
     So Frank went to his room, fetched the book, and tossed it onto my bed.
It was the Bible.
     I'd turned up with big  wide eyes. One  of the first things I had to do
was familiarize myself with the various weapons. Over the water at that time
they were  using the  Heckler  & Koch family and the LMG-the  old Bren  gun,
converted to 7.62-as well as GPMGS.
     Pistols were 9MM Brownings and the Walther PPK,  known as the disco gun
because it was nice and small and therefore easy to conceal.
     If I didn't want to  carry my Browning when I was out and about but not
working, I could slip the disco gun into my belt.
     Most people would have an M16 or 203, an HK53
     5.56  men or MPS, so  that whatever job we were doing we could take the
relevant  weapon-whatever gave  the right  balance  between  concealment and
     I was  talking  to  Tiny in the armory. Every day the weapons had to be
checked, and Tiny, the armorer for that day, was showing me the ropes.
     ' "What's the score on this  shoot-to-kill  policy  I  keep  on hearing
about?" I said, half expecting him to say, "Hose the lot down."
     "Is there fuck such a thing?" he said. "If there was, we wouldn't still
be here. We'd be back  home and they'd be  dead. We know where they all are.
If someone was giving the green light, we'd just go in and take-them out."
     "Very clear-cut," I said.
     "And totally counterproductive. It's little things like that that bring
down governments. Of course at the same time there can't be a shoot-to-wound
policy  either."  Tiny  went  on.  "It  would  take  a  laser gun  that  was
self-guiding to  the shoulder to  do that shit. People's perceptions of what
goes on are so wrong. I remember after the embassy,  when we were making our
statements, there were all these questions coming up, commentators on the TV
saying,  'Why didn't they  just  shoot him in the leg?" How the fuck can you
shoot to wound somebody?
     It's impossible.  You can't  say, if somebody's a  hundred meters away,
'Right, I'm going  to shoot him in the legs." You  just see a mass of  body,
and if he's shooting at you,  you're going to shoot back at him. It, s not a
shoot-tokill policy; it's just reacting to the threat. The  problem is,  the
people who make  these sort  of comments  have  never had  a  gun pointed at
     I knew that if I was staring down a barrel, I wasn't going to be firing
at their legs. If thiqy ended up just wounded, they'd be lucky.
     That  wasn't a shoot-to-kill policy; that  was reacting  to a perceived
threat  and saving your  own life and the lives of those around you that you
had a responsibility for.
     My  roommate   Steve,  also  an  embassy  and  Falklands  veteran,  was
originally from the airborne Ordnance Corps, heavy drop, which were based in
     Married with a  couple of kids, he was a local lad from Gloucester; the
first  words  I'd  hear every morning  were,  "All  roight, boy?" Steve  was
slightly shorter than I  was but much stockier, and  he played rugby for the
army; as  a result, all  his  front  teeth  were  false.  He was  one of the
original bone shirt people,  one of the four drug smugglers  who'd come back
with us  on the  British  Caledonian flight  from  Hong Kong. He  shared the
passion of most of the troop for watching Blockbusters, but had one annoying
habit that  was  all his own. Every time  he saw an aircraft  he'd say, "See
that  aircraft?  The distance we're oing  to walk today, he's  just traveled
with one sip of his gin and tonic."
     Clive was  a singley  who'd been a Royal  Engineer  and was another old
embassy  and Falklands hand.  He kept himself  to himself but  was very much
into cycling and running; he had all the cycling stuff and bone T-shirts.
     Clive's nightly  ritual  was a  pint of beer  and  a  cigar. He  was an
excellent  long-distance  runner despite his height; he looked too  tall and
gangly to move fast. It was very annoying; he looked like this uncoordinated
mess on  the run,  but - he really motored. One New Year's Day  Bulmer's had
organized a  ten-kilometer  race. Clive  and I turned  up with  a couple  of
runners from A  Squadron, and I thought it would be really good to beat him,
just for once. I'd been doing a lot of training and was feeling  really fit;
off  we went,  and for the  whole race  there was  no sign of  Clive. I  was
chuffed  to  bits that he was behind me and  was looking forward to stagging
him when he got in.
     Then, as I was running down the hill toward the finish line,  I spotted
him. He was on his bike all wrapped up in his Belly Hansen,  having finished
the race and already on his way home.
     Ken was  the  staff sergeant,  the troop  head boy,  and had  been away
during Malaya. A  southerner  from the Intelligence Corps,  he was  a fellow
jap-slapper  of Mick's. The  two of them had known each  other  for donkey's
years, even when Mick  was a civvy;  when Mick was shivering  in his council
flat in Wales after everything  had gone bust, half a ton of coal had turned
up.  Mick had  run  outside  shouting, "No, no,  no, don't deliver. I  can't
afford this!" but the driver  had shown him the chit, paid for by a "Ken" in
Hereford.  It was something  that  Mick had  never forgotten, and  he  still
talked about Ken as the one who had saved him.
     Ken  was an  excellent troop  head  shed,  always very honest about his
capabilities; rather than bluff he wouldn't be  afraid to say, "I don't know
about this.
     Anybody got  any ideas?" He  was  tall and  toothless, having lost  his
front  teeth while jap-slapping for Britain; you'd  know when Ken was pissed
because his  jaw would sag and his falsies would clatter out onto the table.
He talked very rapidly and aggressively; somebody would ask, "Hey, Ken, give
us  that newspaper a minute,"  and  he'd say, "Fight you for it." Joking but
meaning it.  Sade  was doing well in the charts and he  drooled over her. We
used to slag her down  all  the time and call  her Sadie, then wonder why we
were walking around with black eyes.
     Ken had brought  his  dog  over with him,  a big Doberman. When he went
away on operations, he'd say, "Don't overfeed this dog. It gets one scoff  a
day and that's it." Tiny -used  to get trays  of sausages  and feed this dog
stupid until it  couldn't  move; it would be splayed out all over the place.
It would get so exhausted with the amount of food it had eaten that we'd get
it into  Ken's bed and tuck it  in. Ken would come back to find the dog fast
asleep in his bed, farting and severely overweight.
     Fraser was the troop sergeant and very experienced, which was good when
it came to working with other organizations-communicating  with helicopters,
for example, if  they were going to  come  in. It was  his job to  have  the
overall picture.  He had been part of the training wing when I  did my first
Selection; then he went back to the squadron and I caught sight of him again
in Malaya.
     Everybody was after stitching  Fraser up.  Like Steve, he had  been  in
heavy drop before transferring to Para Reg, and the easiest way to spark him
up was to say, "Fraser, when you were in the Ordnance Corps .
     It started with putting a kipper in the little portable radiator in his
room  so  it was  stinking for  weeks, and  got worse from there.  He  was a
big-time boxer with  a broken nose and  cauliflower ears, spending  hours in
the gym punching the bag. He used to love  watching bouts on the TV. A fight
that he particularly  wanted to watch was coming up one evening, so to  stop
himself getting stitched up, he locked himself in his room with a sixpack of
beer  and  a  pile of  sandwiches.  Poor  bloke, he  spent  the whole  fight
wondering why the channels  kept hopping. He got  more and  more  irate.  He
didn't cotton on to the fact  that all the television  sets in  the building
were exactly  the same, and each one  had an  identical remote control. We'd
spent  the  evening outside  his  window, flicking  the  channel button  and
tittering like schoolgirls.
     Purple in the face, he was so angry, Fraser deciaea to salvage a bit of
the  evening by going  out for a pint. He  went  to  have  a  shave, only to
discover that as he was  lathering his face with  his shaving stick, a prawn
gradually materialized. Somebody had cut the stick in half, grooved out  the
center,  inserted an  old prawn, and then  soaped  it  all  up again. Fraser
stormed around the compound throwing a  major eppie scoppie, while even  the
innocent hid behind locked doors, giggling.
     "Solid Shot"  was  there from  the Signals. He came  from somewhere  up
north and annoyed the hell out  of all of us, being a big old boy and one of
life's natural good lookers. He had all his own teeth, and  they were white;
he did the weights and a bit of running,  and his only physical imperfection
was that he sometimes found it hard to walk because there were so many women
hanging around his feet. He had also  got in on the  Selection before me. He
was very  experienced,  having done the Falklands and  been  over  the water
before;  he was also  very funny and confident. His nickname had  come about
because his favorite weapon was a  Remington pump-action shotgun. There were
different kinds of ammunition that we used  for shotguns,  including a round
called solid shot-basically a big lump of lead. He was always running around
with his favorite Remington pump action, so he came to be called Solid Shot.
     But really it had a  secret meaning; it also meant that he was thick as
shit. And he must have been because he never switched on to it.
     Eddie's  motto was:  All  work and  no play keeps  you alive  to  fight
another  day. He was ex-Para Reg, ex-embassy, ex-Falklands. He shared a room
with  Al  Slater, who  was still  as I remembered him from the  jungle: very
straightforward and very  serious  about  everything.  His nickname was  Mr.
Grumpy, and somebody managed to find the appropriate Mister Men  sticker  to
put on his door.
     Jock  and Johnny Two-Combs shared a  room. Somebody  had  had  a notice
printed and put up  on their door that said: "Johnny and jock's Hairdressing
SaloonMince and a rinse, L2.50-Johnny's famous blue  rinse,  kl.50," and  so
on, complete  with two  bone hair models  from the sixties with styles  like
Engelbert Humperdinck.
     Boredom's a terrible thing.
     That was the troop, apart from the Boss. His job was not so much on the
ground but liaison between us and all  the other organizations that we dealt
with. He left quite early  during the tour; we didn't know if  it was  a new
job, promotion, or the number of times he found prawns in his shaving kit.
     A job  came up. We took mugs of tea with us to the briefing room,  Nosh
still honking  because Solid Shot  had solved the conundrum on Blockbusters.
We sat on a mixture of plastic chairs and  armchairs; on the walls were maps
of the province, close-up maps of different areas, blackboards, Magic Marker
     Nosh and Eno filled  the place with smoke. Ken walked in with the Boss,
carrying armfuls of paper.
     "It looks  like there's a  job  on," Ken said. "It's going to be a hit,
just outside of Portadown, on a U.D.R major.
     As far as  he's concerned,  the players are on to him and are going  to
take him down. From what  he says he's seen, its going to be on the  way  to
work.  TCG  [Tasking and Coordination Group] obviously want to confirm this;
he's being debriefed  at the moment to confirm  what  he' seen and to  make
sure he isn't just flapping.
     "If the job goes down, what we're looking  at is  having someone in the
car with him. Al, do you fancy it? Have a think about it; it's up to you."
     We all looked at Mr. Grumpy. Without batting an eyelid, he said, "Yeah,
that's all right, I'll do that."
     "We're going to be covering him from midnight tomorrow. What I want you
to  do is get down  there tomorrow morning, have a look around, get yourself
familiarized, and be back  here  for two o'clock. Liaise with Fraser;  he'll
sort it out, stagger you down there.
     Hopefully by two o'clock we'll have some more information and  a set of
orders before we shoot off."
     Back in our room, Steve said, in a serious  voice, "As soon as the boys
start  hosing thlose  two down, Al and  his mate are going to be severely in
the shit. We'll have to be right up Grumpy's arse on this one."
     Ken, Fraser, and the Boss would be going through the options.
     There were  many  considerations  when  providing protection. To  start
with, what sort of threat was it?
     Did it mean that somebody was going  to  blow the boy up? Did it mean a
close-quarter shoot? Were they likely to threaten his family?
     Then  how much cover  did  the  man  want? Did he want to  cut  himself
totally away from  everyday life, or did  he want to carry on  as if nothing
had happened' A lot of people choose just to  carry on; they might have kids
and want them to have a normal existence.
     Fraser got us together the next morning, and we left ',n pairs, driving
around the area. We drove past  the U.D.R man's house, then  took the  route
that he  normally took to work, which was downhill from the house, down what
was  known as the old Dungannon road. There wasn't  that much to look at; we
just oriented ourselves to the area,  turning down all the roads. Fraser had
it staggered so there  weren't loads of  cars screaming around the place  at
the same time.
     At two o'clock we arrived for another briefing. Ken and  the  Boss came
in, straight from TCG in Armagh.
     en sai , "Right, it's on. The boy's  no  hyper dickhead; he's  switched
on, and he knows what he's seen. As  far as TCG is  concerned, the  boys are
going to hit him on the way to work, just as he reckoned.
     So the plan still stands. Al, you still on for it?"
     "No problems."
     "Good  news. Okay, we're going to insert at about four  o'clock  in the
morning. Al's going  to go to the house and sort  all the  shit out for  the
drive to work.
     We're  going to have three groups. I want one  group that's going to be
on the roundabout on the old Dungannon road.
     They'll be dropped off by a  two-man car team, who'll then stay out  of
the area backing up the two blokes on  the roundabout. Your names are up  on
the board with the vehicles.
     "Then there's going to be two cars to back Al in the Saab.
     There's going to be my car, the Lancia, call sign Bravo, and we'll take
the maroon Renault, call sign India. My  car will be three up, including me;
the Renaults going to be four up."
     As I looked on the board, I could see my name down as the driver of the
     "Bravo and  India are going to move down to the area, and I'll drop off
Al. Al will go into the house and stay.
     We'll then support Al from the outside. About an  hour later I want the
ground call sign to insert. I reckon that the  hit's  got  to be around that
area anyway, because once  he  gets on  the  old Dungannon road it's quite a
good run all the way to work. The dodgy area is the slow patch where there's
all the junctions going up to Henderson's."
     I knew the roundabout he was talking about. It was where the Mi met the
Coalisland and Dungannon road.
     The U.D.R major was always running down the old road, which was smaller
and with less traffic. Everything converged at this roundabout.  From  there
it became a faster road.
     "Ground call sign, you will be in uniform. Your job is to give us early
warning of anything that you see. If we're really going  for it, your job is
to get out on the road and act as a cutoff. India, when Al starts moving  in
the  Saab,  I want you  to back him.  Al  will give a  running commentary of
what's  going on. I'm going to be floating  around.  I just want you to stay
static, backing up Al all the time.
     If  there's   any   hijackings  in  the  area,  hopefully   we'll  know
straightaway, and we should get a list of recent stolen vehicles as well."
     It would have to be a van  or truck, so they  could  get in a good fire
position  to take out the Saab- Even if they were looking at ramming it, the
Saab was a big heavy machine, so they'd need something really big.
     "It's  a matter of keeping flexible," Ken  said, "and keeping  on  Al's
arse, making sure you back him up."
     If  nothing  happened on the way  down, we'd  then cover him on the way
back. All  he was going to do was drive  the route to work, turn around, and
drive back to the house.
     "Any questions?"
     Eno said, "Do we know how many players are involved?
     "Not a clue. It's got to be at least three men-two firing, one driving.
It might be a hit as soon as he comes out of the house, but it's our job  to
make  sure that doesn't  happen." He turned to Al and said, "If you  want to
try some body armor on, it's up to you, mate.
     You  can wear  it or not.  Make  sure the U.D.R  boy's got so much body
armor on the fucker can only just about get in the car!"
     Al said, "I'll try it on and see what it looks like. If  it looks shit,
I'll take it off."
     "I  want you with comms, and I want you to give us a running commentary
as you're going along the road.
     You can hear what we're doing, so if we say to get out of the way, just
fuck off out of it and we'll take over. If the van comes up in front of you,
act on  it.  just ram the fucker," and  we'll  be  straight in and  climbing
aboard them."
     That was it; there wasn't much else to say. "There'll be no move before
two o'clock."
     This was where,  as  much as the training  and  the  skills  that  we'd
learned, the relationships between people came into the equation:  Al had to
have total and utter trust in the people who were covering him.
     He  also had to make sure the  U.D.R man was  calm and  feeling  secure
because he might have  to control him if the shit  hit the fan. Al's job was
twice as hard as  ours; not only would he have to react to the incident, but
he'd also have to get to grips with the man he was protecting.
     During  all the planning and preparation, the  head shed and  the troop
worked out together  the  way we  could  best protect, these two.  We worked
through  our "actions on" for all  the possibilities-whether they were going
to  come and  ram the  car  or come  up behind it, overtake, and then  start
shooting at him  as they  drove past and got  in front of him;  whether they
were going to force his vehicle to stop and then shoot him or wait  until he
got out of his house and into the car, or vice versa.
     Ken  said to Al,  "When  you  come  out of the  house, we'll  have  you
covered, so don't worry about that. Let him ' do the  normal  checks that he
does under the vehicle, get in, and away you go."
     "No drama."
     We all knew that the highest risk times of any hit were (a) when coming
out of the house, (b) driving to and  from work, and  (c) coming out of  the
place of work.
     Terrorists studied routines. There was nearly always a time frame, say,
between eight or eight-thirty, when  the  target would go out, kiss his wife
and kids good-bye, get  in the car, and go; people always drov set routes if
they were unaware. At  the  other end of the day they'd always leave work at
the  same time.  A professional  terrorist  would  always  go for  the  most
predictable timings.
     That's when kidnappers, struck, too.
     Al tried on some of the  different body armors, but he just didn't look
right. He decided to bin it. It was a personal choice. Had he wanted to look
like the Michelin man, that would have been his prerogative;  he was the boy
who was going to get shot at.
     At two o'clock we were ready to go. All the weapons  were loaded and in
the cars. I took an HK53, the 5.56
     assault rifle.  Most  people were taking 9MM  MP5s  or  5.56 to  give a
combination of concealment in the car and a good amount of firepower.
     The other weapon I had was the car itself; I could use it to ram.
     Fraser was going to be running the  desk with a  couple of the scaleys.
We had the two boys  in uniform, who had  M16s. The cars were loaded up with
flasks, pies, and sandwiches; it looked like it could b'e a long night and a
long day.
     We sat in the briefing room again,  our  9MM pistols in holsters on our
belts. We had magazines  strapped all around us, we had body comms, and each
man had a pair of thin leather gloves and industrial glasses, so that if the
windows went in, at least we could still drive and protect ourselves.
     Ken said, "Before we go, any questions? No . . .
     right, let's crack on and get it done."
     I got into the driver's seat and put my  HK53 across the  bottom of the
footwell with the muzzle sticking UP  by the gearstick. I checked the comms:
"Bravo, India, check?"
     "India, okay."
     From the ground call sign dropoff car we heard: "Delta, check?"
     "Bravo, okay."
     We drove along and kept Fraser informed  of our  location. We were  the
first ones in position; I drove past  the house and  got on the net: "Bravo,
India, that's the house clear."
     Ken came on the net: "Bravo, roger that, going for the drop now."
     The car pulled up, and Al got out casually and walked to the door.
     The door  opened and he walked  in.  As the  car drove away,  Ken said:
"Bravo, that's dropoff complete.
     "Delta, roger that."
     "India, roger."
     It was Just a matter of hanging around now. After about five minutes we
heard Al doing his radio check on his personal comms. We were ready to go.
     We  were parked up in a little alleyway about three hundred meters from
the house, drinking coffee and eating biscuits. There was a pocket scope NVA
(night viewing)  in the car and occasionally somebody would pick  it  up and
have a look around.
     Everything was fine.
     We sat in darkness.
     Every half hour Ken came on  the net.  "Hello,  all  stations,  this is
Bravo, radio check."
     "Bravo, roger that."
     It was quite chilly. My feet were cold, and I started to shiver.
     I did my coat up a bit more, and then I became conscious of the wind on
my face from the half-open window. I was starting to get a bit tired.
     I wanted morning to come so we could get the job over and done with.
     It started to get  light  at about half past seven, and we heard Ken on
the net: "That's Bravo going mobile."
     He was  going  to have  a  cruise around the area to see  if there  was
anything outrageous going on. We knew that Al would soon be coming out.
     A couple of minutes later Al came up: "Radio check."
     "Bravo, roger that."
     "Another five minutes and I'll be going."
     "Bravo, roger that."
     The  Lancia,  call  sign  Bravo, was  cruising around  but  didn't  see
anything. The plan  was that Ken was going to be in front, clearing the area
as we moved; Al was going to be in the center, and we'd  be backing him from
the rear.
     "That's me moving out of the house now," Al said.
     "Bravo, roger that. India and Delta, acknowledge."
     I switched the  engine on.  Everybody picked up his  weapon and held it
between his legs,  ready to go. All the banter stopped now; this was serious
     "That's me now at the door."
     "Bravo, roger that. Call signs acknowledge."
     "Walking towards the car."
     "That's garage doors open."
     "He's checking the car."
     "That's me now in the car."
     "Engine on."
     "Stand by, stand by. That's me now mobile., "Bravo, roger that."
     We came up: "That's India mobile."
     "Bravo, roger that."
     Al drove past us in the car, a  top-of-the-range Saab. I fell in behind
him, covering his moves from positions where we knew we would be able to get
to him as soon as the shoot took place.
     Al was giving a running commentary as he was  moving along:  what  cars
were coming  up, their registrations, how many  people were inside,  what he
could see  ahead, what he could see behind him, what speed he was  traveling
at, whereabouts he was on the road. I had  a mental picture of exactly where
he was and what was going on around him.
     Ken  came  on the net from  his vehicle: "That's  a  yellow  van moving
around  in  the  area.  It  just doesn't look right; it's hanging around the
junction for too long. It's a.
     yellow Enterprise Ulster van. It's gone towards the old  Dungannon road
and I can't see it now. It's out of sight.
     Call signs acknowledge."
     Everybody  acknowledged. We were  all  sparked up; it  looked as if  it
might be on.
     Ken drove up toward the roundabout and parked up.
     He was going to let the Saab and us go past. All of us were looking for
this yellow van. It sounded right.
     Al, still very calm, was talking into his covert comms.
     There's quite  a  skill  in  talking while  people are looking  at you,
without their realizing what you're doing.
     Even if this van came up in front of  him, he would still have to drive
up naturally to it, for a number of reasons.
     The first  was that if he started to slow down and move back, they'd be
aware that  something  was  wrong.  The  second  was  that  if he  stayed up
close-not exactly nose to tail but almost-then as soon as he saw the barrels
come out of the back of the van, he could put his foot down and ram the back
of the wagon with three-quarters of a  ton  of Saab. If that stopped it, all
well and good;  we  could all get out  and start shooting.  If not, he could
either back off, get out,  and start firing or get out and start running. Al
was only armed with a pistol.
     If there were a couple  of boys in the back  of the van pointing G3s at
him,  he wasn't going to  be able,  to do much  in return-unless  they  were
off-balance after being  rammed. But if he rammed the vehicle at  full  pelt
there was a  possibility that he might damage himself.  ,  "That's a Renault
five coming towards me now.
     That's now past. My Sierra [speed] thirty to thirty-five mph."
     I adjusted my speed to maintain distance.
     "Bravo, roger that: Sierra thirty to thirty-five."
     "That's now approaching Venners Bridge."
     "Roger that."
     "That's at the bridge, and still towards Henderson's."
     "Roger that."
     If there is a calm net, there are calm reactions. if  there's hollering
and shouting on the net, it sparks everybody up; either  calmness or tension
will radiate to everybody else.
     By  now  Al had passed the roundabout  that  was manned  by the  troop,
concealed and acting as a cutoff.
     We were still  backing  him-close enough to  give  protection  but  far
enough away not to stand out.
     Everything was still under control except that  we didn't know what had
happened to the van. The one thing we did know was that Al was there  on his
own.  By  now  we  had  passed the roundabout and were  well  on the  way to
     Bravo came up: "That's me static at Henderson's."
     The  Saab passed,  and then  we  passed.  If  it didn't  happen  at the
roundabout, it was going to be really difficult for them to do anything.
     I was  slightly pissed off that there  was nothing happening. We did so
many jobs where we got really revved up, only for nothing to happen.
     Al got some  speed on and headed down the  old Dungannon  road. We were
still behind him.
     Suddenly we heard from  the ground call  sign: "Stand by,  stand by-the
van's coming back towards the roundabout! They've missed him, they've missed
him! The back windows are out. It's on. He's coming back to you, Bravo."
     "Roger that, we will take it, wait out."
     Ken and his group were still the other  side of the roundabout, and the
van was  coming  toward them at  full  speed. It seemed that the players had
missed  Al and  didn't realize that he  was well down the road to Dungannon.
They were probably panicking; if they fucked this up, they'd be in the shit.
     Ken  could  see  the  van  now  coming  toward them.  As far as  he was
concerned, he was going to take it. He shouted, "Ram it! Take it!"
     Ken put his seat belt on, and he was ready to go.
     Everyone just hung on and waited for the bang.
     As the van came toward him, there  was a  boy on the front  seat firing
through  the windscreen. Both vehicles swerved, and Ken came to a screeching
     The only bangs that happened were the gunfire from the van. The boy was
firing at the car as it approached.
     They  started to take rounds into the windscreen; everyone ducked  down
as both vehicles missed each other by inches. As the van passed, firing came
from the  back All three  Regiment blokes went to roll out of their  vehicle
and  start firing. They wouldn't have enough time  to  turn  it around. They
were  taking  incoming; it took the back window out and the  boys  were  now
firing out of the hole. The best  thing  was to get out  of  the way of  the
vehicle, because that was going to take the majority of the shots.
     Ken shouted: "Get out! Get out!"
     Eno was in the back, firing away, waiting for  the others to get out so
he could follow.
     Ken had put  on his seat belt as the intention had been to have a major
crash and take these boys on. In fact it'll saved his life.
     Eno, the unflappable, was still putting rounds through the back window.
He fired  nice  threeround  bursts;  all  he needed'was  one  of the  twenty
cigarettes that he smoked every day and he'd  have looked like he was having
a day out on the range.  Ken opened  his door and started to get out but was
restrained by his belt. -In that instant the door took three or four rounds,
just where he would have been standing.
     All three were out now, and Ken was on the net giving directions to the
rest of the troop. The other two were still firing at the van.
     "Contact, contact, contact! That's the van still going straight, that's
at the crossroads-India acknowledge."
     "India, we have it, wait out."
     As  soon as we heard that the van was  racing  down, we screamed around
and started driving  fast toward  the  roundabout. Everybody already had his
gloves on. Now they started putting their goggles on, too; they knew we were
going to start firing through the car.
     We  could see Ken's car, Bravo,  facing  us. The boys were  starting to
sort themselves  out and get back in the car. The yellow van  was moving off
fast. Ken  was going to turn around and  back us. I put my foot down hard on
the floor.
     We got in range of the van and opened up on it.
     T .  he front passenger uses his legs to push himself back  against his
seat for support as he fires. One of the back men leans between  him and the
driver and fires through the windscreen.
     One boy was firing from the front seat, another from the back.
     The barrel of his HK53 was right next to me.
     As the 5.56 Armalite rounds went off, my whole body shuddered.
     There was a fearsome burst of  flame  from the muzzle each time, and it
was scorching me. My eyes clenched up involuntarily with each round.
     Our windscreen had crazed with the first round, but being safety glass,
it didn't cave in. I had  to lean over to the right-hand side so I could see
through a good patch.
     We drove toward the van.
     There  was  glass  everywhere; my  hands  were  bleeding;  everyone was
shouting to be heard above the wind rush.
     I  was trying to keep the car as stable as possible as it sped along so
that the fire could be accurate.
     "Faster, faster, we're going to lose him!"
     We were  gagging on cordite  fumes. The wind howled through gaps in the
glass with weird whistling noises.
     Everybody was shouting.
     By now Ken and his gang had got back into their wreck of a car and were
moving toward the contact.
     "Bravo is trying to back you, India."
     We were starting to lose him.
     "He's going left, he's going left!"
     I could see the turning and had to slow down to  make sure  I could get
around. By now we had Bravo backing us. We screamed left on the  wrong  side
of the road that went under the motorway. Suddenly there were  roads leading
everywhere. We drove. down a steep right-hand bend shouting, "Where the fuck
are they?"
     Ken got  on the  net. "You take the  first option  right; I'll take the
second option left. Let's sort this out!"
     We started turning into the little roads. Every time we saw somebody we
stopped and shouted, "Where's the van? Have you seen the van?"
     "That's first option right cleared."
     "Roger that."
     "Check the next option left."
     "Roger that."
     In my  mind  I knew  we'd lost them now,  but we had  to go through the
motions. They  could be anywhere. Al was halfway  to  Dungannon; he'd pulled
off the road and was waiting.
     By now the whole community was out  looking to see  what was happening.
All  they  saw was two  cars screaming around with  no  windows and  weapons
sticking out of them.
     Everyone  was  severely pissed off. Bravo had taken hits; we had  fired
back without results, apart from the  fact that none of us was dead. Al  and
the target weren't  shot, and there were no injuries. A success is doing the
job and everybody coming back alive. If a task was technically a success but
we had a man down, then to me that would be a failure.
     Al Slater  did his job well that  day.  He knew that he was going to be
part of the  target and that to survive, he'd have to take on the  threat on
his own, as well as look after  the U.D.R man. And all the time he'd have to
stick  with the attackers, until everybody  else  could  get up with him and
take them on.
     "You're all wankers,"  he said to  us that night. "I can't see what the
problem was. I had a lovely drive into Dungannon."
     What Al did showed a lot of bottle and he got the MM for it, but he was
doing  it because  it  was  his job.  It  had nothing  to do with Queen  and
country. He wouldn't  have looked  at it and said, "Hell, this is exciting."
He would just  have  thought, I need to sort my  shit out for this one.  The
fact  that  there  was a possibility  of  dying  wouldn't  have particularly
worried him. If it had, he'd have been in a different line of work.
     Everybody  took a job like this  extremely  seriously. We were  talking
about people's lives, and we all knew the value of life because we'd all had
our Nicky Smiths.
     True, we might make  light of it  and have a  laugh  at the dead  man's
auction, when all  the man's  kit was  sold off and the proceeds sent to the
next of  kin. But bravery didn't come into it;  if  anyone was doing  it for
heroics, he'd soon get  kicked out. The Regiment  didn't want heroes; heroic
blokes do things that are unpredictable and put other lives in danger.
     The idea was always to let the enemy die for his  country,  not you for
     The op had failed,  but that was  just one  of those  things.  I wasn't
pissed off long term about it. No problem; it would be a long war.
     Sadly,  later in the day,  we  discovered there had  been  a  casualty,
Frederick Jackson. An innocent victim of  the fight  against terrorism, he'd
been hit with a round from one of our weapons during the firefight.
     The  van was later found abandoned in  one of  the culde-sacs. The boys
had legged it cross-country before hi jacking another car for their getaway.
Inside the van were a shotgun, a radio,  and empty  cases from an  automatic
weapon. The players had been there to kill-at long  range with the automatic
or, if they had the chance, close up with the shotgun.
     Some lessons were learned. We had  been needing  a large-caliber weapon
that could be easily concealed for our type of work; the SLR was too big and
bulky  for use in cars, and in any case 5.56 didn't give  us enough stopping
power if we were firing out of one car into another.
     The short-term answer, until the 7.62 G3s arrived from Heckler  & Koch,
was  to acquire  some  Argentinian  folding stock FNs that  the Regiment had
brought back from the Falklands. They did the business very nicely.
     Later on that tour we had a "fast ball."
     There were a lot of close-quarter shoots going on at the time in County
Fermanagh. The players would come up to a  front door, knock, and just barge
in and shoot as soon as somebody answered.  The targets were mostly R.U.C or
U.D.R people; whether  on foot  or by vehicle, the players would get back to
safety. What we planned to  do was split ourselves up over a period of a few
nights to cover a number of main targets,  but this time we'd  be waiting on
the premises.
     The tactic might involve a combination of being in  the house and being
the one who opened the door  or being outside and  watching  them make their
approach.  It  all  depended  on the terrain  and the makeup of  the  house,
garden, and outbuildings.
     There were four of us in one house, sitting with the main target.
     Of  all  the possible targets we could think of,  this one was the most
likely to be  hit. It was a large bungalow  in the  middle  of nowhere,  the
nearest neighbor being over a quarter of a mile away.
     Frank was  in  charge. The rest of the team  was me, Eno,  and a rupert
called Boss S.  To avoid suspicion, we had  decided to make it look as if we
were a vanload of friends  turning up with six-packs of beer and big bags of
fun-size Mars bars.
     He  was a  great old boy  in his  forties,  full  of  jokes and totally
nonchalant about the situation. This might have had something to do with the
fact  that everywhere we  went  in the house there  seemed to be  a  shotgun
hanging off a wall ready to give somebody the good news.
     "Let's  get the kettle  on, boys,  and  we'll  sit down and  watch some
television. I've had this for years and years: They  say there's a threat on
me, and all you lads  come  down  and look after us for  a couple of days. I
wouldn't take it too seriously if I were you. But  it'll be  interesting  to
see what happens. It's a cold night; I can't see them coming out in this."
     It was  a beautiful house. The kitchen was boiling hot, with  a Rayburn
going full tilt on  one side and a  huge kettle steaming  away on one of the
hot  plates. He  shooed  away the flask and  sandwiches he  saw me bring in.
"Forget that horrible stuff," he said. "I'll do us a  decent cup of tea, and
there's pie and things cooking in the Rayburn."
     . It was  a  still and  icy cold night. I  was so  glad  to be  inside,
stuffing my face with pies  and tea, instead of  lying in an  OP in  a bush.
Frank and Boss S were watching the telly with him in the front room. Eno and
I  were  in  the kitchen, sitting in armchairs that we'd  pulled up near the
large double-glazed back door. All the lights were off; nobody would be able
to  see us. We sat  with our feet up on pouffes, our weapons  resting across
t'he arms of the chairs. It was a brilliant way to go to war.
     There was no  way the  players would come to the front of the house; it
was one of those places where the front door had never been used.
     From our armchairs we had a  grandstand  view  of the approach that  we
reckoned they'd use. They were  very unlikely to drive in; they'd  be coming
across country and  entering  via the back.  If  they did, they wouldn't  be
     Eno whispered, "I'm gagging for a fag."
     "Why  the fuck  do  you  smoke?" I said. "It  costs  too  much, and you
     "Yeah, but it's  good for the training. The old kickstart. I'll give it
up one of these days."
     The still of the night was shattered by Fraser coming on the net to us:
"Everybody,  sort your shit out,"TCG wants you down at  the  Drumrush  Lodge
now. Nobody  knows what's going on, but everyone  needs to  get down  there.
I'll give you sitreps if anything comes in. Get down there-now!"
     Frank said, "Roger that. We're on our way."
     We got our kit together and went to the van.
     Frank said, "Boss,  you  map-read,  I'll drive.  Andy and  Eno, in  the
     The U.D.R boy waved us off a- nd said, "Don't worry about  me. I've got
more shotguns and Mars bars than you can shake a stick at. See you later."
     Fraser  came back on the  net: "A  few minutes  ago a woman phoned  the
R.U.C  station at Kesh. She  said, 'Listen carefully, this is the  Fermanagh
Brigade of the IRA.
     There  are a number of blast incendiaries in the Drumrush  Lodge Hotel.
The  reason for this is  that the Drumrush  Lodge serves the bastards of the
security forces."
     "  The weather  was horrendous. The mist was heavy, 226 with visibility
down  to  no more  than twenty  to thirty meters, and ice  on the  road  was
slowing everybody down.  As  soon as we went over about  30 mph, we  started
skidding. It was better just  to slow  down,  take the vehicle to a  maximum
speed of about 25 mph; at least we would get there, not crash and lose 25
     percent of the troop's effectiveness.
     We could hear on the net  that the other two cars were  now in the area
of the hotel and starting to search. One of the suspicious vehicles in  that
area that we knew to look out for was a blue van, possibly of foreign make.
     Eno said, "I bet it's  a fucking come-on." Maybe the  boys wanted us in
the area because they had planned a party.
     The Boss was map-reading with a  small Maglite  torch: "Down here, turn
     The car slithered around the bend. Frank said, "No point rushing.
     Let's just trogon; we'll get there eventually."
     Then we heard: "Stand by, we have a possible here, wait out."
     Everybody shut up now, 'waiting to hear what happened next.
     Al, Eddie,  and Clive were in one  of the  cars  and drove past  a blue
Toyota van parked up on another road just off the Drumrush Lodge.
     Everyone apart from the driver was keeping right down; they didn't want
to put anyone off their work. They came ' back on the net: "It's  parked up,
no  lights,  no  movement, but  the  door  is slightly open. It  looks  like
something's going down."
     Ken was on the net: "Block  the road. We'll  stake it  out and see what
turns up."
     His team was now at the other end of the road.  The van wasn't going to
go anywhere; with luck the area was contained. However, we still didn't know
what was going on.
     Clive's team were out of their  car and Al put out the caltrops, spiked
chains that would stop a vehicle by blowing the tires out.
     Ken was on the net to Fraser: "Is there any area that I've left?"
     He obviously wanted  to know if there was any road or track between the
two cars that they hadn't seen.
     "No, that's okay, everything's covered."
     They stopped and  listened.  Sound travels much more  at night and even
further on cold ones.
     As we slithered along as fast as we could on  the ice, I pictured Eddie
listening in the fog as he tried to learn what was happening around the car.
He'd  be  opening his  jaw to take out any noises of swallowing that he made
with his mouth and leaning his ear to the area.
     Eddie could hear  something, but he needed it confirmed: "Clive, listen
to  this." He  came  to Eddie and turned  his radio off so that there was no
interference from his earpiece.
     Someone was walking down the road. In the freezing fog this was wrong.
     "Stand still,  and  put up your  hands where  I  can see  them!"  Eddie
shouted. "This is the security forces!"
     The walker was about  ten meters away  and Eddie  had decided that that
was close enough. He called out just  loud  enough for this  walker to hear,
not loud enough, he hoped, to alert anyone else further afield.
     "It's okay, it's  only me!" The boy sounded as if  he was flapping good
style; he  was hoping no doubt that his challengers were  just a  local army
patrol so he'd have time to think of something or get some backup.
     "Shut up, stand still or I will fire-do you understand?"
     By  now  Clive  had his HKS3 in  his shoulder and was starting to  move
     The boy ran.
     Al moved to the back of the car to get a Schermuly flare from the boot.
He fired it into the air, and night turned into foggy day.
     Clive and Eddie fired to the side of the boy as he ran over a ditch and
fence and  into a  field. Night viewing aids  were  of limited value in fog.
They were going to lose him; they had to do something.
     From Ken we heard: "Contact, contact, wait out."
     We started to get sparked up. The Boss said, "Fucking hell, it's on! We
need to get there as fast as we can."
     Frank said, "It's pointless rushing. We'll get there."
     I knew Frank was right, but I felt helpless in the backseat.
     Ken's  team  didn't know any  more than  we did; they  would  not  move
forward in case of a blue-on-blue (friendly fire). If Clive and Eddie needed
any help, they would call for it.
     All this time two other members of the PIRA  gang had been no more than
five meters away from Clive's team in the car. They must have heard it stop,
and remained hidden. As the Schermuly went up and Clive and Eddie started to
fire, so did they-at Al.
     Clive  and Eddie had  got the runner. He quite sensibly  stopped as the
Schermuly was doing its job and he knew that he was in the shit.
     "Bring your hands up and turn towards me. Now walk towards me."
     Clive was giving commands, but the boy wasn't listening. He got dragged
onto the road and put facedown.
     "I am going to search you," Clive said. "If you move, you will be shot,
do you understand?" Eddie shouted for Al to bring some  plasticuffs  so they
could immobilize him until the R.U.C arrived.
     ' We  were  nearly there  now  and  telling Ken  the  direction  of our
approach so he  could put us in where  he wanted.  The  area was in darkness
     Al hadn't responded to their request, so both men dragged the  prisoner
to the car.
     Eddie said  to Clive:  "Take my  weapon. I'll get in the  back for  the
     He handed it over to Clive, who covered the boy on the ground.
     There  wasn't a sling on Eddie's weapon so Clive  was holding it in his
     Next person we  heard on the net was Eddie: "Hello, all  call signs, we
have a man down. It's Al-we need a heli. Get a helicopter in now!"
     Fraser came back: "Roger that, confirm it's Al. Confirm it's Al, over."
     He needed to make sure so that the blood type could be matched.
     Eddie came back: "Yep, it's Al. Get it in now! We need it in now!"
     We  heard  Ken say, "Get it in  now! Fuck the weather, I want a heli in
there now!"
     The scaleys were on other frequencies now, trying to get a heli up. But
there was no way a  helicopter could fly in freezing  fog. The boss  down at
TCG was trying to organize to get an ambulance in.
     Fraser came back to  Clive and Eddie a few minutes later. "We can't get
a heli in; the fog, s down too much.
     We're trying for an ambulance, we're going to get something in for you,
wait out, wait out."
     Al had taken rounds in the arm and chest. Eddie got the trauma pack out
of the boot to stop the bleeding and get some fluid into him.
     This wasn't looking good: As well  as Al's being down, there  were more
players around in the darkness.
     Ken's team were out in the fields following up, and by now so were we.
     The boy on the floor must have heard everything and considered  himself
deeply in the shit because he decided to go for it. He lunged at Clive in an
attempt to get past him;  Clive dropped Eddie's HK53 so he could use his arm
to drop him.
     He was too late. The boy was gone, and so was the weapon.
     "He's got a fifty-three!" Clive shouted. "He's got a fifty-three!"
     They went after him.
     Eddie had drawn his pistol; they both fired, and the boy dropped.
     They ran forward and checked his body, 230 but there was no pulse.
     They went back to Al, but it was too late. Al Slater was dead.
     Ken came over the net, "Contact, wait out."
     Frank  replied,  "We're  about  two minutes away. I'm stopping anything
moving out."
     We  stopped any vehicles we saw coming from that direction. I  was glad
we were in uniform; there was  a security  base nearby, and now the shit had
hit the fan I wouldn't have wanted to be in civvies.
     We saw lights coming along the road and put in an instant VCP.
     Frank went to  the car as any normal soldier would, so as to not arouse
any suspicion: "Hello, could I see your driving license please?
     Where are you going? Thank you, good night."
     What they didn't know was that I had an M16 pointing at the head of the
driver and Eno had an LMG ready to stop the car and its passengers  if there
was any threat to this local army VCP.
     We started to  follow up in  the area, but it was going to be more luck
than anything if we bumped into ihem.
     We had to cover as much ground as possible as quickly as possible.
     On the net we heard the local unit's QRF being called forward by Fraser
to  cordon off the  area,  hoping that the  players  from the bomb team were
still in the area feeling like trapped rabbits.
     We could tell by the radio traffic that there were far more chiefs than
Indians. Some of  their Land Rovers were in  ditches because of the ice. All
they knew was that . there were casualties and terrorists in the area. Every
time a tree moved it was reported. There was  a danger of  our being shot by
our own QRF.
     There  were short  bursts of gunfire in the distance. Every time we got
on  the net: "What is  it? What is it?" We wanted to react. Fraser came back
each time. "Stand down, stand down." It was the QRF, firing at shadows.
     There was a  good chance that  the boys could still be in the area, but
the  QRF were multiplying the  problems, and if any more time was wasted, we
might lose them.
     Ken was severely pissed off and got on  the net: "Get this to the  QRF:
We will contain this area.  They are to stay where they are. They are not to
fire at anything unless one of us tells them to or they are being fired at.
     No patrols, no movement; stay  in the vehicles. Tell  them not to react
to anything until they're told."
     We were well insulated, but  my feet 'and  hands were  stiff with cold.
Every few steps I was slipping on the ice.
     Fraser said, "The QRF have  reported movement in some hedgerows by  the
river. Are there any of our call signs down by the river, over?"
     Frank said: "Me and Andy will take that."
     "Roger that. Frank's going down to the river. Ken, acknowledge."
     "Ken, roger that."
     Frank said, "Andy, what I want you to do is just keep
     I moving forward and scanning the hedgerow with your night sight.
     I'll be behind you with mine, and we'll get these boys out."
     I switched my sight back on, took a deep breath, and started moving.
     It was eerily quiet. I could hear the ice cracking on the grass.
     I  was  in a  semicrouched  position,  safety  catch  off, butt  in the
shoulder,  picking my feet up really  high, trying not to  breathe too hard,
trying to  keep the noise down,  trying  to keep as small as possible. Frank
was about five to seven meters behind, aiming just to my right so  he  could
take  anybody on. Because  he  was detached, it would be easier  for  him to
     I was  listening in on the radio,  making  sure I knew where  everybody
     By now an ambulance had turned up, and it had its blue light  flashing.
It  was a  fair way away from  us,  but  as the  light  spun around, it  was
catching us like dancers in a disco strobe. I thought, Fucking hell, this is
a good day out this is.
     I took two or three steps, stopped, ran my night sight up and  down. We
moved on, stopped, moved  on. At any moment I was  expecting to hear a burst
of gunfire and to feel the rounds thud into my body.
     It wasn't a nice feeling at all.
     Big  drainage ditches ran alongside the hedgerows. It  was pitch-black;
visibility was  shit;  there was  lots  of commotion, lots of noise  in  the
distance. Running around in there somewhere were terrorists who'd just had a
contact. They would be flapping, they would want to get  out of it, and they
would be armed.
     It was only after about twenty minutes that I thought: Shit, I've drawn
the short straw here, haven't I? I'll take all the rounds and Frank lands up
shooting them.
     We found nothing.
     After a few days pieces of the puzzle started to come.
     Antoin  Mac  Giolla  Bride  was  an  ex-Southern  Irish  soldier and  a
well-known terrorist since he was first arrested with a rifle in 1979.
     His  A.S.U  (active service  unit) had  planned  to  lay  a  land mine,
consisting of beer kegs  crammed with low  explosive,  in  a culvert  at the
entrance to the hotel. By the time we got the call the bomb was in place.
     As Al's car drove past, they must have heard it and hidden.
     Unfortunately the car stopped  just  feet  from two  of the boys. As he
sent the Schermuly up, they must have seen his silhouette and opened up.
     Al took rounds but managed to turn and fire back.
     Then he fell.
     They moved off and got to  the banks of the  Bannagh River. One of them
jumped into the  water to cross to  the other side. The river was only about
twenty feet  wide, but it was in flood, and  there  were deep pools. When he
got over, he couldn't find his companion. He'd drowned further downstream.
     The troop was a close-knit group,  and Al Slater's death put all of  us
on a downer. It's never easy losing somebody you know, but there's not a lot
you can do about it, you've got to get on with it. Within about two days the
jokes were being cracked.
     We were going  to  have a Christmas piss-up. The troop invited all  the
different personalities from the  police force and  other organizations that
we had dealings with.
     One  of the policemen there, a fellow called Freddie, had lost his left
hand in an  accident and had a Gucci replacement strapped onto his stump. It
worked on electrodes,  and gave him the  capability  to  flex his fingers to
grasp things, but unfortunately the arm occasionally developed a mind of its
own. It  would be  all right when he put it on, but then all of a sudden the
electrodes would short-circuit and the fingers would be flexing all over the
place like  something  out of  an old B movie. We all used  to  think it was
     We were thinking about  getting  him  a  present,  and there  was  much
humming and  hawing about  what it should be. The best we could come up with
was a  regimental plaque, but Ken said, "That's crap. Don't worry, I'll sort
it out."
     Freddie turned up at the do, and there must have been 150 or so  people
     Ken got up with a small parcel in his hand,  wrapped in fancy paper and
     "Well, Fred," he said, "this  is just a little  something to say thanks
very  much  for all  the help and support this past year. We hope  this will
come in handy, and rather than give you something really  bone like a plaque
to hang on a wall, we thought we'd give you something much more practical."
     "Thanks  very  much,"  said Fred.  He  started to  undo the ribbons and
paper, which took him ages because Ken had used four layers of wrapping just
to fuck him up. At last, after Fred had got a decent sweat on wrestling with
ribbons  and sellotape, our gift was finally revealed in all its glory-a can
of WD40.
     Freddie took  it  really well, rolled  up his  sleeve, and had a little
     I bought Al's Barbour jacket at the auction; it would have been cheaper
to have bought a brand-new one, but that's how it goes.
     Nobody was worse affected by Al's death than Frank Collins.
     "I've seen a lot  of mates die during my seven years in  the Regiment,"
he said, "but this has hit me the hardest."
     Maybe Al's death was the first big test of his Christian faith.
     Frank left  the Regiment soon afterward and decided to  train to be the
ayatollah. However, he wanted to pay off his mortgage before  he enrolled at
Bible college, and his first freelance job took him to Sri Lanka.
     Frank lasted two weeks. When I saw him much later in Hereford, he said,
"They  had no understanding of right  or wrong and thought nothing of wiping
out Tamils. Some  of the people we trained committed atrocities. It was well
paid, but I came straight home."
     He then got a BG (bodyguard)  job in Athens and worked for Burton chief
Sir  Ralph Halpern and  Harrods boss  Mohammed Al-Fayed. finally, when  he'd
saved up enough, he did the  church's version of Selection and passed. After
two  years  of  studying he was  badged  as a  fully-fledged  vicar,  and an
excellent one he was, too.
     Debbie had a job, and I assumed she was enjoying it. I didn't  know for
sure because I was never there.
     I phoned her  whenever I could, but every  time  I'd tell her how I was
and never  really  listened when  she  told  me  how she was. I still wasn't
getting my priorities right.
     Everything was the Regiment; I loved what I was doing.
     But I was being selfish; I was sacrificing the marriage, and  it was my
fault. If I came back for R&R, all I wanted to do was go downtown an see all
my mates again. Everything I did revolved around them; she was secondary. It
must have been outrageous for her.
     I was even stupid enough to start talking about kids when I wasn't even
responsible enough to look after my wife.
     But I  didn't realize, because I was a dickhead. I didn't know that the
marriage was going down; I  was  too busy wanting  to get the skills in, and
the big one I wanted was demolitions.
     One of  the  aims  of  this twelve-week course is  to  teach industrial
sabotage, strategic tasks, and  strikes on defined  targets," the instructor
said to  us. "A  typical Regiment  task  might  be  to  render  useless  the
industrial base of a nation we're  fighting against. Their army might  be at
the front line, but at the end of the day an  army's no good if it can't get
     Attacks on the  industrial  base also  lower the  population's  morale,
which is all good for the general war effort."
     It was  gripping stuff, and I couldn't wait to get stuck in.  Even as a
kid  I'd  been fascinated  by  television  pictures of steeplejacks dropping
power  station  chimneys  I  and  tower  blocks collapsing within their  own
     I had a little basic knowledge from Selection, and I wanted more.
     Training  wing,  as well as  take Selection,  was also responsible  for
teaching demolitions  and all the patrol  skills. Joe,  the dems instructor,
was coming up to the end of his two years in the job, and he really knew his
stuff.  Demolitions  would also  be used  within other jobs,  he  said, as a
surgical strike: We might want to drop a bridge, railway line, hydroelectric
power  station  or  crude  oil  refinery;  or  render  docks  useless,  open
floodgates, destroy military or civilian aircraft.
     We learned how to disrupt microwave and  landline communications within
military and  civilian environments. "So much damage can be  done  with just
two pounds of P.E," Joe said. "Why send in  an  air  force to  destroy a big
industrial complex when the  same result could be achieved by taking out its
power source?"
     If  we were  going in covertly,  we had to  know and practice our trade
craft-including surveillance and antisurveillance.
     For the first  couple of weeks we learned parrot-fashion all the rules,
the  dos and  don'ts, and  all  the formulas. We weren't going  to  have our
little reference  books with us when  we were on ops. Joe banged  the  rules
into our heads from day one and tested us every day.
     Every spare moment we had was taken up with learning it  all  by heart;
to a scholar like me, it felt  like trying to pour ten pounds of shit into a
two-pound bag.
     We earned about all the explosives used by the British Army and others,
'what explosives were commercially available, and where and how we could get
our hands on them.
     Having obtained them, we had to know how to use the stuff.
     Industrial sabotage nearly always involves cutting steel.
     However, the explosions are  not Hollywood  classics:  A  big blast,  a
massive fireball, and  the bridge comes tumbling down.  The  hallmark  of  a
Regiment  strike  would be  the minimum  amount of explosives to  create the
maximum damage-unlike my effort with the buttress tree on  Selection-because
then there's less to carry or make and less to conceal.
     Depending on the  type of  bridge, the  aim was to do specific  cuts so
that the bridge would collapse under its own weight. To demolish a building,
all  you do  is  initiate the  momentum of  the  building  falling, and  the
building itself does the rest.
     We  learned how to blow up everything from telecommunications lines  to
power stations, trains to planes.
     Everything had to be destroyed in  such a  manner that it  couldn't  be
repaired or replaced-or if it could, then it must take the maximum amount of
     Destroying something did not necessarily involve laking it off the face
of the earth. It might just mean making a small penetration of about half an
inch with explosives into a certain piece of machinery.
     That might  be all that's needed to disturb the momentum of the turning
parts inside. The machine  then destroys itself. The skill is in identifying
where the weak part is, getting in there to do it, and getting away again.
     A  lot  of motorways and  structures are  built with  concrete,  so  we
learned how to destroy it, and that did take a lot of explosives.
     Sometimes it wasn't enough just to take down the  spans of bridges; the
piers had to be cut as well to maximize the damage.  Gaps could be repaired;
whole elevated sections of motorway could be replaced in a fortnight, as the
Californians prove every time they have an earthquake.
     A  large factory or even small town can  be  immobilized just by taking
out   an  electricity  substation.  Obviously   there   are  all   sorts  of
countermeasures, and in times of conflict key points will be protected.
     Much  of  the time, however, the Regiment  would not be doing this in a
theater of  major conflict; we'd  be doing it in a small  guerrilla  war  or
revolutionary  scenario.  If the  target was protected, that  would  be just
another problem we'd have to get over. We  might be putting charges in to go
off  the following month. In theory a charge could be placed  to blow  up in
five years' time. There  are plenty of  ways  to initiate an explosion, from
anywhere in the world.
     We went down to one of the  local bridges around Hereford, and each did
a  recce  report in slow  time  (not covertly). We had  a good  look at  the
bridge, measured it out, and did whatever we needed to produce the mechanics
of a  recce report,  wandering around the  structure with tape measures  and
cameras as we worked out how to  destroy it.  While all the rest  of us were
doing this technical stuff, Bob,  one of the world's most confident men, the
sort who not  only knows where  he's  going but also how  he's  going to get
there and what  time  he's  going to arrive, was  doing pin steps along  the
footrail, whistling away as he counted them out.
     Bob  always spoke at Mach  2. "You don't need all this technical stuff,
all these  fucking tape measures," he scoffed.  "If  you were  doing it  for
real, you'd just be pacing it out. Twenty feet, twenty-one feet . . ."
     When he got  to the far end of the  bridge, he  sat down and did a film
director's square on it, took a couple of snapshots, and relaxed in the sun.
     The instructor came over and said, "You all sorted then, Bob?"
     "Yeah, no problems. I'm happier doing it this way."
     Bob sat there for  the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sunshine and
having the occasional brew while everybody  else was running around like  an
idiot.  I was then up  until  two  o'clock in the morning  getting my  recce
report  just right, but not Bob. He  bounced into the classroom the next day
as fresh as a daisy and said, "Piece of piss."
     The  instructor assessed  our efforts and passed comments. Most reports
were competent, but Bob's, he announced, was outstanding.
     "Enjoy yourself yesterday, did you?" he asked Bob.
     "Lovely  sunny  day,  wasn't it? I'm surprised you didn't get sunburnt,
all the lying around you did."
     "Did my  report,  though, didn't I?" Bob smiled. "And you reckon it's a
blinder.) "In every respect," the instructor said, "except one."
     "What's that?"
     "All your photographs show a bridge in the pissing rain!"
     "That's extraordinary," Bob said. "Camera must be a bit damp."
     Bob  had  spent  the  whole of  the  previous  weekend  doing  all  the
photography and technical measurements on the bridge so  that  on the day he
could piss us off by appearing to do nothing. It would have gone down as one
of the great stitches if only he'd remembered  that  it had poured with rain
the whole weekend.
     The dems course taught us  how to use the equipment, but it also taught
us how to translate that information for other people to use.
     Part of that involved covert photography and infrared photography.
     We might be a businessman with a view from his hotel room or a hiker.
     The stills or video camera might be concealed about our person  or in a
bag, or we'd be  tucked  a couple  of kilometers back and using large mirror
lenses in a covert OP.
     As well as all the  technical bits and pieces for the demolitions, we'd
be looking at all the defenses. How many guards are at the gate?
     Do they look  alert? Are they  slouched  in a heap with fags  in  their
mouths? What is the best way in and the best way  out? We could be  planning
and preparing for another group, telling them what charges were required and
sorting out the RVs and exfil from the target. We might  be required to stay
in the area afterward to confirm damage and  reassess.  It was  all part  of
demolitions; there  was much more to it  than  Clint Eastwood on his  horse,
lighting a stick of gelignite and lobbing it over a wall.
     We  had  all  been trained in  trauma management,  dealing with gunshot
wounds and fractures,  stabilizing injuries, and intravenously administering
fluids; everybody had the skill to keep a person alive if he'd been hit by a
bomb blast or rounds. But the kind of work that the Regiment  is involved in
calls for somebody who has taken it a stage ' further; the patrol medic must
be  able  to  carry out  surgical procedures  in  the  field,  to  recognize
illnesses and prescribe and administer drugs.  The  result  then is a patrol
that can stay longer out in the field if it has a major problem; helicopters
don't have to  be  called  in  to  extract  a  casualty, with  the  risk  of
     The Regiment operated a "hearts and  minds" policy  in the  Third World
countries where it  worked. In Oman in the seventies, for example, a lot  of
the  Regiment's  time was taken up  with  looking after the Baluch  and  the
Firqat, prescribing drugs and looking after their welfare.
     There  were  case notes  that covered everything  from assisting with a
birth to operating on a villager who'd had half his head blown off.
     Sometimes the  medic pack contained  more drugs and equipment than some
of  their  hospitals.  The problem was  that as  soon  as the medics started
administering  medical aid for  major injuries  and illnesses,  there'd be a
mile-long  queue  outside their  A-frame  of people with  warts  and ingrown
     One of them told me: "We looked after a couple  of blokes in the jungle
who had problems with their feet.
     Suddenly every  man and his  dog is on the case, turning up with little
cuts and bruises on their tootsies. The next bloke that pestered us, we made
it look as if we were going to amputate his foot.
     We went through all the procedures of making sure the table was clear.
     We had the knives out and all sorts."
     Apparently they  explained to  the man  that the  only way to deal with
such  a troublesome foot was to take it  off altogether, so if he'd just lie
down on the table, they'd have it squared away in no time.
     The cut suddenly wasn't such  a problem, and the character ran away. He
spread the good news about, and not many others turned up with bad feet.
     Meeting up in Hereford with blokes who had been doing the medics course
while I was doing dems, I heard some wonderful stories.
     They had done  about  six weeks in  Hereford, starting from the basics,
learning  how  to  put in  Ivs (intravenous drips), administer drugs through
injection, prescribe and use drugs. All the drugs had to be learned by their
universal, Latin names, which 'Was enjoyed no end.
     They then had  to go away and do a couple of weeks at the London School
of  Tropical Medicine.  Because a lot  of the work was in tropical climates,
they had  to know about tropical diseases,  how to prevent them, and the way
of treating them when they did take hold.
     It  was then back to Hereford for a  bit more time in the lecture room,
and  eventually they got their hospital attachments, all around the country.
Most of their time was spent in casualty, getting hands-on experience;  they
could learn all the theory they liked, they were told, but there was nothing
like  a bit  of  hands-on  with a  road  traffic accident  casualty, or  the
Saturday night people getting filled in and cut.
     They   had   also  spent  a  lot  of  time  learning   how  to   become
hypochondriacs. A fellow called Rod, who spoke with a thick Yorkshire accent
and  lots of "thee"  and  "nowt," spent  the  first two weeks of his month's
hospital attachment working  in the casualty  ward. The next two weeks  were
taken  up purely  on  his own body MOT. He'd  be using all the machines that
went ping,  having his  heart looked  at,  convinced  that there  had to  be
something wrong.
     Charlie  was  another hypochondriac.  He'd  left  the  Regiment in  his
thirties,  gone to  work overseas,  and then come  back  and  done Selection
again. He  passed and was the world's oldest  corporal.  We  were doing some
troop training and were on the ranges one day, sharing mugs.
     Charlie hated us doing that.
     "You don't know what you could pick up," he said.
     "Too true,"  somebody  said. "I was  in  the  Far  East  and contracted
leptospirosis. I lost about two stone."
     "That was bad luck," Charlie said. "When did it happen?"
     "Last month."
     "you dirty fucking thing!"  Charlie screamed. We all started to  laugh,
because we  knew how much it  pissed  him  off.  He  honked  for  days about
drinking out of the same mug as someone who'd had leptospirosis. He made his
own tea after that.
     At  the  -end  of  the  week's  training  we  said, "You  ain't  caught
leptospirosis yet then, Charlie?"
     "No," he said,  "but I'm not too sure what  all you people are going to
     "Why's that then?"
     "Because I've been pissing in the tea urn every day."
     The placement system  worked really well, both for the Regiment and for
the hospitals. The  blokes  gained  experience, and  the  casualty ward  got
another pair of willing hands.
     A  fellow called Pat  had  been on  hospital  attachment at  Birmingham
General. All the drunks were  coming  in with bottles  sticking out of their
foreheads, and gangs of young lads  who had  been fighting and  thought they
were  as hard  as nails because they had cuts on their  faces. The staff did
their  best to help  them out, but the lads were drunk and  full of bravado,
getting aggressive  with the nurses, pushing them away. Nurses  got attacked
by these sorts of people all the time.
     They're  trying  to do  their job and look after them, and the boys are
getting gabby and trying to fill them in.
     Pat was on a refresher course after spending a couple of years away. It
used to piss him off severely to see the abuse these girls had to  take. The
trouble was,  there was  seldom much that the  blokes  could do because they
were supposed to be keeping a low profile.
     One night, however, one of the nurses came screaming  out of a cubicle.
Pat walked in to see what was happening.
     A character came up straightaway and started fingerpoking him.
     "Yeah, that's right," he gabbed, "fucking sort me out now!"
     Pat looked at him for a second and said, "Yes, okay, if that's what you
     And he head-butted him and dropped him.
     The lad burst into tears and said, "What's going on?"
     if it was  all Pat's fault. He then started shouting for as the police.
Two officers  happened to be  on the ward  after  bringing  in a drunk; they
stuck  their  heads  around  the curtain,  sussed  out immediately  what had
happened, and said, "Sorry, sir, we didn't see anything."
     The bloke with the sore forehead had a  badly injured mate outside on a
trolley. Pat and a nurse were asked to  get him into  a lift and take him up
to have surgery.
     While  the boy was lying on  the  stretcher, he was giving  the nurse a
hard time, calling her a slag and yelling that everyone was a wanker.
     So Pat put the lift on hold and said, "Look, sunshine, let me read your
     You're dying. If we don't get  you up the  top there,  you'll check out
for sure. The lift's stopped. If you don't shut your gab, I'll just keep you
here. So can I take it that we have detente?"
     Members of the Regiment hold  life as dear as anybody else.  During one
operation  a team had  been  off somewhere  doing their stuff. They  stopped
after  a firefight and were clearing the area when they came across a  young
member of the opposition. He was shot in  the legs  and in a bad way. Rather
than bug out, they stopped,  used  their  own medical equipment,  which they
might be needing themselves the next day, to stabilize him, and got him onto
their  vehicle. Then they went  out  of the  area of the task to reach an LS
where a helicopter could come in and casevac him.
     A fellow called Billy  was watching Hereford play football one Saturday
when  one of the players swallowed his own tongue. Billy saw what was  going
on,  jumped  onto the  pitch and did  the  necessary  and saved the player's
life-and then  ran off  pretty  sharpish  to  avoid  attention. He  was very
annoyed afterward about missing the match.
     I found people were extremely careful to preserve life and limb perhaps
because they understood the dangers  more. It was a wonder to me the kids of
some Regiment blokes could go anywhere, their dads were so protective.
     But  then,  maybe  they understood  dangers  that other  people didn't,
because they'd seen the consequences.
     When a person is hit by a car at 30 mph, he gets thrown in the air, his
body gets shattered; chances were the dad had seen some of that, and it made
him more aware of everyday dangers, not just danger in the military context.
     it seemed  that as soon  as  I  got back from  somewhere, I was getting
ready to go away again. To all intents and purposes Debbie and I were living
separate existences.
     She  said to me, "What exactly are we  doing with our lives?  Even when
you come back, you disappear straight downtown."
     I said, "It'll be all right-it's just a busy time. Look, I'm going away
for another three months soon. When I get  back,  we'll sort ourselves out."
There was nothing those relate people could  have  taught me about running a
     The three-month trip to Oman was  a whole  squadron  effort to practice
desert warfare.  I was really excited; there were strong Regiment links with
the area, and  because most of the  squadron had been  to  the  Middle  East
before,  I felt that at least  when this one was over,  we'd be speaking the
same language.
     The Regiment was founded  in the desert in the Second World War and had
operated in Oman for many years.
     The principles hadn't changed: moving with vehicles, navigating,  using
special tactics and  fieldcraft  for that type  of terrain. It was still all
about using the weapons we had to their maximum ability, operating at night,
it moving tactically during the day. The idea behind the squadron  trip  was
that  if there ever  was  a  conflict again  in that  theater, at least  new
members  like  me would have a foundation  and not  be stumbling into  a new
     Initially it  turned out to be a  major anticlimax. We were in a tented
camp in the middle  of the  desert,  protected by fences  and  all  kinds of
elaborate security devices. We weren't allowed out. For the first three days
the most interesting thing that happened was Tiny sitting up in his sleeping
bag every morning and shouting, "I'm bored!"
     We'd saunter over to the cook tent where some of the locals were making
pita bread and chapatis. Then we'd go around  nicking  chairs and putting up
washing lines made of paracord, until we got fed up. By day three hints were
being dropped to the hierarchy. A  few blokes put a sign up saying 8 TRoop's
ESCAPE -FUNNEL, with a pair of upside-down boots poking out of the top. Some
others put in a requisition chit for a gym  horse and specified that it must
be wooden and have room inside for at least three men. Mountain Troop put up
a  sign  on the  gate that  said STALAG 13  and spent hours standing looking
wistfully toward the west.
     It was warm,  but one fellow called Gibbo, who'd fought in the Oman war
and had spent so  much time in  the Middle East he might as well have had an
Arab  passport, would  be  walking  around with a  duvet  jacket  on in  the
morning, honking about the cold weather. We were on a beautiful desert plain
with sheer mountains in the distance. Sitting on the thunderbox one night, I
looked  up at  the stars.  There wasn't a  cloud  in the sky  and  the  inky
blackness was chock-full of twinkling lights.
     It was absolutely stunning.
     Eventually things livened up. John organized a Huey, and we spent three
or four  days doing free fall in perfect blue skies. It was the first time I
had  jumped out of a  helicopter;  instead of the  deafening, buffeting wind
rush of  a jump  from  an  aircraft,  there was  only  a  weird  feeling  of
acceleration and silence, apart from the whistle of the wind in my ears.
     We started roaring around in the new 110s (long wheel-base Land  Rover)
with  50 MM machine guns dangling  off the back that  were replacing the old
     I was in a  mortar team. Nosh was  number one, who laid all the  aiming
devices, Steve was number  two, who put it down  the tube, and I was  number
threebasically the  boy who sorted out the ammunition and  stuck his fingers
in his ears. Colin was the MFC (mortar fire controller).
     We went to a training area a couple of kilometers away, armed with more
ammunition than a battalion got  through  in about  ten  years-hundreds  and
hundreds of rounds.
     My vision of  the Regiment and the squadron was still  nice and fluffy,
but  now  I started  to hear various  honkings. The  main one was  about the
squadron sergeant major and something to do with "cabbage."
     It took me  a little while to find out that this meant money,  and that
what they were moaning about was squadron funds.
     The SSM was awarding VCs (voluntary contributions.e fines) all over the
place to boost the fund. There was a . fridge full of soft drinks running on
a  generator; every time you took one you signed your NAAFI number and got a
bill at the  end of the week.  We found the SSM had loaded the prices by 200
     The four MFCs  came  down with  us in the wagons and  set themselves up
with  Martini  parasols,  iceboxes, and masses of food among the mortars and
the piles of ammunition. We  learned how to cover a whole area with pinpoint
accuracy, coordinating illuminating mortars with high explosive so  that  at
night the MFC could see what was going on.
     It took a lot of coordination; the fuses had to be set so that  as  one
was going out the other was blowing up. By the  end of two weeks we were the
Eric Bristows of the mortar world.
     John announced  a five-day squadron exercise with  the 110s and mortars
to practice live firing "advance to  contact."  Mobility Troop drove forward
with their 110s and motorbikes, moving tactically across the ground.
     The  procedure  was  basically the  same as rifle  company  firing  and
maneuvering,  but without the firing. A couple of vehicles moved up into the
high ground and got into a position from where they could use  their guns to
cover  the next lot moving on the  low ground. Everything was coordinated by
the squadron commander.
     We  came into an  area where we couldn't be seen and there was lots  of
dead  ground.  The squadron  waited and  sent out a couple  of motorbikes on
recces. They moved  around trying  to  find routes,  trying to find possible
attack points-and the enemy. Vehicles stopped and sent foot patrols into the
high ground. it was all about dominating the ground.
     Behind  the squadron  commander were the mortar  crews; while all  this
activity  was  going  on,  we were just  sitting in the  back  of the  wagon
drinking  tea  and  in  Nosh's  case  picking  his  nose.  The  mortar  fire
controllers were up front with the lead elements of the squadron; as soon as
any attack came, they could start calling down the mortar fire  and we would
swing into action. As they moved forward, they were doing their own tactical
appreciation and giving prominent areas identification marks.
     The forward elements were bang onto the enemy. I heard  firing, then on
the net came "Contact, contact.
     Wait out."
     As  soon as we heard it,  we jumped out of  our  vehicles  and  started
getting the mortars  rigged  up. We knew the direction of advance;  we  knew
where the troops were.
     We pointed  the mortars in that  general direction, waiting for precise
     Our  job was to get  the maximum amount of  fire  down on the enemy, to
suppress their fire, make sure they didn't go  anywhere, and kill as many as
possible. Then, when the rest fought through the position, there'd be hardly
anybody left to resist.
     The vehicles  were maneuvering, trying  to get their heavy machine guns
to bear on the enemy  position. Not everybody  was engaged in the firefight;
some  were  held back  in reserve in  case we  started losing people  at the
front.  The  squadron  commander was  giving  orders  on  the  net,  telling
different troops what he  wanted  them to do. The principles  hadn't changed
since the Charge of the Light Brigade.
     While the firefight was  going on, people were maneuvering, under cover
from our  fire and the physical terrain, into positions close  to the enemy.
Some movement was on  foot; some was a combination of  foot  and vehicle. It
all depended on the terrain. Whatever, we had to get that fire down.
     Mortars  work by  the  angle of  the  barrel and  the amount of  energy
supplied  by the explosive charge on the mortar round. There are seven bands
of propellant.
     If the mortar  fire controller says, "Charge Three," that means there's
three bags of propellant, which, with the angle of  the barrel, provides its
range. What it does at the other end depends on what fuse is 'Set: airburst,
delayed, instantaneous, or it might be smoke.
     The  MFC reported that the enemy were troops in buildings; that meant I
had to put a delay fuse on the rounds. They would go into the building, then
explode; the earth would be churned up and their defenses would collapse, we
hoped, taking them out in the process.
     As I  looked up to the high ground, I could see the  squadron commander
getting people into position, but it was no good their  attacking until  the
firefight  had  been won and all enemy fire was suppressed, as we were about
to do.
     The troops who were going to attack  got  into the F.A.P (final assault
position). The  suppressing fire  would be "switched,"  which meant that  it
still  went down but  was  moved along, so that as our blokes were advancing
toward the target, we weren't firing on them.
     All  this had to be  coordinated by  the  squadron commander, who could
either see things visually for himself or was getting the information on the
radio. We couldn't see jack shit; we would just fire on command.
     Nosh and  Steve  were  getting the  mortar  sorted out  and waiting for
direction  and elevation.  The MFC, working on  a  small hand-held computer,
shouted: "Immediate action! Direction one-six-four!"
     Nosh shouted: "Direction one-six-four!"
     From the number two came the confirmation: "Direction one-six-four!"
     The  MFC   called:  "Elevation   one-two-two-eight,"  Nosh:  "ElevAtion
     Next mortar: "Elevation one-two-two-eight!"
     As soon as  all the  bearings  were  done on  the  sight, Nosh shouted,
"Number one ready!"
     Then we heard "Number two ready!"
     They were set commands and standard actions,  though slightly different
from the rest of the army's. I was listening for a command about charges.
     "Two rounds, charge three! Stand by!"
     I shouted, "Two rounds, charge three!"
     I prepared the ammunition, and Steve took it and waited for the command
to throw it down the tube.
     Everything  was going  incredibly smoothly  on  our  tube. We  had  the
elevation and the bearing; we had the lot. We were all ready.
     "Number one, fire!"
     We threw two rounds each down the tube to "bed in" the weapon.
     When a mortar goes off, it starts burying itself in the ground.
     We all stand on  the  plate at this stage to  help it  bed in.  If  the
baseplate isn't correctly set, the mortar bounces around  and the ammunition
goes  off target. The  next rounds,  once the baseplate was buried into  the
ground, would be on target.
     We got another fire order and complied.
     Then we saw the mortar fire controller running and shouting out.
     I said, "What the fuck's the matter with him?"
     Nosh said, "Who gives a fuck-let's just go with him."
     I didn't have  a clue,what was happening, but if he was running, I  was
running.  Then  I realized: He  must be running  away  from the  line of the
mortar. I  looked up and saw the mortar  round, going straight up in the air
and then  disappearing from  view,  so chances  were  it  was  going to come
straight down.
     Everybody's  feet sprouted wings. I could see the squadron head shed on
the high ground. They, too, started  to  leg it. The motorbikes roared away.
None of them knew what was happening, but they all knew there was a problem.
When there are problems with live ammunition, you get out of the way.
     We were still running when the mortars  landed about  a  hundred meters
behind us. They exploded, but nobody was hurt.
     The  mortar  fire controller had  a severe voluntary contribution-which
the SSM loved because it boosted up the cabbage-and an even more severe hard
time from us for the rest of the trip.
     We did some more jumping. By now I was really getting into the swing of
the ice-cream troop business, ripping off  my jumpsuit as soon as  I landed,
putting  on shorts and  walking around eating crisps,  waiting for  the next
     Then  we had to start the serious stuff. We were sitting  on the desert
airstrip one morning, waiting for the C130 to fly up from Muscat.
     The  terrain  was  totally  different  from the  original camp, gentle,
undulating dunes  that  were nice and  fluffy to land  on. Little forts  and
watchtowers sat  on  the hilltops; villages looked like something out of the
Crusades. History was all  around ite.  I thought, This is the life; this is
what I've been after all these years.
     John  said:  "We're going to  get  a  bundle ready. What we  want to do
tonight is a full troop night jump from twenty-five grand."
     We  were  sitting around the tailgate; it was six o'clock, and  the sun
was setting.
     "On the bundle I want Steve, Andy, and Mat."
     This  was  good.  It  was  the  first time that I'd ever  jumped with a
bundle; I'd followed them before, but I'd never jumped with one.
     There were three of us on the bundle, which was on  a  trolley. As soon
as the green light showed,  everybody  would pile out on top of  each other,
really close. The container would go just slightly before the team.
     We  sat facing the oxygen consoles,  in  full  kit, bergens between our
legs, ready to attach  behind our arse when we jumped. The aircraft took off
and circled the DZ, gaining height.
     I  checked the altimeter on my  arm.  Twenty thousand  feet. We got the
command to rig our kit up. I pushed  the bergen behind me and attached it by
hooks to my harness. Now we were waiting for the command to go up toward the
tailgate. When it was time to jump, we took  the oxygen off the main console
and put it onto our own bottle.
     All the  commands were  on  flash cards;  nobody could speak because we
were on oxygen. I watched the ramp start to come down.
     On the command  we moved to  the rear like  a  line of ducks, shuffling
from foot to foot, weighed down by the parachute, oxygen kit and bergen-well
in excess of 150 pounds. The GPMG I was carrying added another 24
     pounds. I was  on the left-hand  side  of the bundle. Steve was  on the
other side, and Mat was at the back. We  pushed it on its trolley toward the
tailgate; about six inches from the edge  of  the tailgate there were chocks
that stopped it  from falling  over the  edge. We stood there holding  it in
position. The rest of the troop moved right up onto the tailgate itself. The
front people  had their toes  on the edge; everybody was bunched up,  really
close to one another, because we  all had to get  out at the same time. With
us were three blokes from A Squadron who'd finished a team job in the Middle
East, heard we were getting in  some free fall, and gave up  their free time
to come and join in.
     Steve was bent over, ready to push out the container.
     We were waiting for the two-minute warning, which  would signal that we
were on the run-in.
     All of a sudden the loadmaster held up  two fingers, and everybody  was
banging the next man and  showing two fingers. I tapped Steve, and he nodded
his  head.  The loadie  was holding the paracord  that was retaining the two
chocks, ready to pull when it was time for the bundle  to go. Everybody  was
tensed up on the tailgate, looking at the red lights either side. As soon as
they went  green,  everybody would shout,  "Ready, set, go!" It had to be as
loud as you could yell to get above the noise of the aircraft, wind, and the
oxygen mask.
     The aircraft started  doing  corrections, jacking us around. We had  to
hold  on to  keep standing. The  loadie gave  the  cutthroat sign and  did a
circle in the air, which meant he'd got the wrong track, so we were going to
go around and try again.
     I tapped Steve again and gave him the cutthroat sign; he nodded.
     Then  he put his head back down, and I put my head back down.  We  were
bracing  ourselves; we knew the aircraft would have to do  some quite  steep
     The wind was rushing in,  and it  was  cold. I saw lights now and again
from distant towns.
     Steve was resting his helmet on the bundle; everybody was tired because
we had all our  kit  on and  it was  a pain in  the arse, holding on to each
other  for balance  as  the aircraft  moved  position. Then  the  two-minute
warning came again, and everybody sorted himself out, getting ready to go.
     I tapped  Steve  but  got  no reaction. I gave  him a shake and nothing
happened.  I  couldn't  figure it out. Then I thought: Shit! I lunged across
the  bundle,  grabbed hold of his oxygen  bottle, and  checked the reservoir
gauge. It was showing red.
     I  grabbed hold of the loadie,  shook him, and started  pointing at the
reservoir. gauge on my  bottle and pointing at Steve. He got on the net, and
straightaway the aircraft went into a steep nosedive.
     The tailgate was  coming up. The troop was  looking around,  and within
seconds everybody realized what was  going on. The oxygen NCO came screaming
up, dragging Steve back  to the main console.  Steve was lying on the floor,
on  just  about his  last  breath.  The  NCO  pulled the tube  from  Steve's
reservoir and put it into the main console. He was flapping good style,  his
eyes like goldfish bowls; the oxygen bottles were his responsibility.
     The aircraft came down below twelve thousand feet, and  we were out  of
the danger zone. The jump was aborted, but the aircraft couldn't land in the
dark at the airstrip we should have been  dropping onto, so we had to go and
stay in a smart hotel in Muscat, which w'as a blow.
     The hotel had a wonderful restaurant  with indoor palm trees, a pianist
tinkling away in the corner and nice crisp  tablecloths. All the diners were
dressed up in suits and ties and long evening dresses.
     Enter Air Troop  in  their  flying suits, hair sweaty  and sticking  up
after being under a helmet all night.
     We ate in  somber  mood, until  Mat said,  "Don't worry, it won't  have
affected Steve. He was brain-damaged anyway."
     It turned  out  Steve  had been issued  with  a  defective  bottle.  He
obviously got a slagging the next day and was branded a  big-time wanker for
it ' jump. Tying to get out of the I was fascinated by the local customs and
wondered if what I thought I  was seeing was necessarily what was happening.
They  might  be  drinking  Coca-Cola, chewing  Wrigley's  gum,  and  driving
air-conditioned  Land  Cruisers,  but their whole way of  thinking was  very
     We sat down and drank tea with these people. The Regiment was the least
racist group of people in the British  Army I had ever met, no doubt because
they  came  from  so many  different backgrounds, religions,  classes  , and
nationalities. Nobody  was ever derogatory about indigenous populations. How
could  we be running around with local  guerrillas,  for example, if we were
thinking, What a bunch of dickhead hillbillies? Nine times out of ten, their
cultures are much more established than ours, and they're more true to their
     We're  just slags  compared  with a lot of the people  that  Westerners
considered backward,  Third  World,  and dirty. We're  putting our Pepsi and
Levi's culture in comparison with theirs, which might be older and wiser. At
least when  it comes to holding beliefs, they're not like us, as flexible as
Access cards.
     The Omanis  had feasts called  haflas where they'd  bring a goat in and
cook it in the fire. It was always a fantastic gathering.  They'd turn up in
their Land Cruisers in the middle of nowhere, put the carpets out, and start
a fire up. Sometimes they'd tow in a small water bowser as well. There was a
huge amount  of ritual involved; the animal was treated with immense respect
before it was killed, in accordance with Islam.
     I really used to enjoy sitting there and pigging out.
     Western protocol didn't exist; everybody sat down, ate, then just stood
up and walked away. Once you were finished, you were finished.
     We had a whip-round one day to buy some meat.
     Everybody chipped in three rials, and off the boys went to market.
     We were sitting on  the carpets  in the late afternoon, building up the
fire,  when  we heard a family  lar  chug and a Toyota pickup appeared  in a
cloud of dust. Roped down in the back was  our meal  for the  night, a young
and very pissed-off-looking camel.
     The rituals were observed, and the meat was chopped up. Some  was  hung
up  to dry in the sun to make camel jerky, and the rest was soon in the pot.
Within an hour, out came the  camel  and  rice. There were a hundred  of us,
sitting  under the stars on  ten carpets joined  together; each  of us had a
huge  plateful and just sat around and  spun the shit  for  the rest of  the
     The Omanis,  like all  locals  everywhere,  wanted  to  show  us  their
culture; they wanted  ius to see that there was a bit  of finesse about what
they were doing. It might have looked basic, but it wasn't.
     There was an art in how to squeeze the rice, and how to choose the best
bits of meat. In some  of the old villages down in the south they had  their
own culinary delight, sausages made in goat's gut. The meat was  prepared in
a very interesting way. Basically the old girls took mouthfuls of  goat meat
and chewed it until it was soft  and  gooey, then spit it  into  the sausage
skins. They twisted them into  sections  just like British  bangers and then
cooked them. When I was offered one, I wished I hadn't seen the old girls in
action. But I had to take it; there was no way I could turn it down.
     By the end of the trip the SSM had made a fortune out of everybody, and
now it  was time to spend it. "We'll have  a  big barbecue down at the beach
club in Muscat," he announced.
     The local expats' rugby team was invited to have a game with us, and we
all moved down  to Muscat for the last few days. We won the match, and as it
came to last light, we  hit the beach club.  There were fridges full of beer
and five or six big barbecues burning away.
     Everybody  was  determined  to'spend  all  the  cabbage  that  had been
extorted from us.
     We heard a few local  stories. Down at Seeb there was a -military base,
with an old  Arab  storeman who'd lost an eye and a leg. He was retired from
the army but ran  the blanket  stores to keep his interest in life. The camp
was full of young recruits,  and what they tended to do at weekends was roll
up  their mattresses and  hitch a  lift back up into the  hills where they'd
come from, near Niswa.
     One day the storeman offered a  young lad a lift. The recruit staggered
back to the camp a few hours later and alleged that the old  boy  had  raped
     A British company commander was taking orders that day. He  called  the
lad in and listened  to his story,  then  got  the old  storeman in for  his
version of events. Then he called both of them back in and passed sentence.
     The storeman was sent to.military prison for a long term.
     Then the officer  turned  to the young lad and said, "Look at the state
of the man who attacked you: He's old, he's  knackered, he's got one eye and
one leg,  and you're a young, strong man. Basically you didn't put up enough
of a struggle." And he sentenced him to six weeks in jail as well.
     Toward the end of the night the SM was running around again.
     "Slow down on the drink, we'll take some of this back to the UK!"
     He was told: "Fuck off! We're going to drink it."
     Things were starting to get out of control. The city rugby team started
a fight with our team, so there was fisticuffs all over the  beach. Then the
nurses arrived.  An invitation had gone out to  all  the European nurses who
worked in the city; as  they started coming down  the steps toward the beach
club, there were shouts of "Piss off!" They  walked off  in disgust,  as one
     The SM  closed down  the barbecues and bars, and everybody got his head
down on the  beach. Tiny woke  up on the sand in the morning  and said, "I'm
     The squadron was assembled, and the SM  said, "That's the  last time we
have a squadron do when we leave anywhere. It got totally out of control."
     Some  of the  senior  blokes stood  up and said,  "What  do you fucking
expect? You tear  the arse out of the VCs, you tear the arse out of the cost
of the drinks, then we're told it's for a party, and when we have the party,
you're running around trying to stop us enjoying ourselves."
     We came back to the UK and were told we had the weekend off but were to
be in the squadron interest room for  eight o'clock  on  the Tuesday morning
because the CO  wanted to  talk to us. We thought he was going to say, "Well
done, lads, good trip."
     The colonel walked in, followed by the SM and squadron O.C. "I've got a
letter here that I want you to listen to," he said. He read it; it came from
Cabinet level, and it was complaining about noisy and unruly behavior at the
beach club  in Muscat. There must  have been some very well-connected ex ats
there that night.
     p When he had finished, the colonel turned  to the SM and said, "Right,
you've got the sack."
     He turned to the O.C and said, "The only reason you're  being left here
is because I've got nobody to replace you."
     Then  he  turned  to us  and said, "They're  looking  at  disbanding  B
Squadron.  If that  happens, you're  all in the  shit."  Then he walked off.
Fuck, I thought, I've only been in twelve months, and I'm out on my ear.
     went home and told Debbie all about it.  By  now  we had a quarter, and
she had settled in  well. She had a job in  Hereford and was enjoying  being
back  in the UK.  I,  however,  was  still busy messing up the  marriage.  I
couldn't see past the end of  my  own selfish nose;  my priority was finding
out  what time  the  singleys were going  down town  for a night out. I  had
everything  I could  have asked for-the  Regiment and a partner to share the
benefits of that with-and I was screwing it up.
     "It's outrageous," I said to her, describing the CO's threat. "It could
all be over."
     "Oh,  that  was interesting," she said, miles away.  "I'm  off to  work
     As I watched her drive away, it  dawned on me that she had her own life
now. Maybe, by being back,  I was an  embuggerance to  her. But there was no
time to dwell on such thoughts or try to sort anything out; there were phone
calls to be made, a night on the town to be organized.
     We went  to  her sister's  flat  for the weekend, staying in  the spare
bedroom. The  flat was above her mums greengrocer's shop, and  to get  in or
out, we had to go through the  shop and up two flights  of stairs. At night,
the door was locked and her sister kept the keys. All day  Saturday I  had a
strong  sense of  unease, a feeling of something not being right. I couldn't
work it  out, but that night, as we were getting  ready for bed and I  heard
her sister locking up, I thought: It's  because I'm being locked in. I don't
want that door to be locked and somebody else  to have the key.  And then it
hit me: It wasn't the  door; it was me. I was in  a marriage that was  going
nowhere,  because  I  had  never  given  it a  chance-and I  didn't feel any
inclination to start now. But if I carried on, all I'd be doing was screwing
about with her life.  The instant I'd had the thought, I said, "Debbie, I've
got something to tell you. I don't really want to be here."
     She looked up from the dressing table and smiled.
     Okay, we'll  leave in the morning  then. We can't really leave tonight;
it's too late."
     "No,  no.  You  don't  understand.  I  want  to  go.  I want  to  leave
     "What?" The smile slipped from  her  face as she realized  what  I  was
saying. She started to  cry. It  made me feel  even  more  of  a shit, but I
thought, If it's  got  to  be done, let's get it done before we get into the
realms of children.
     I left there and  then, I threw a few things in a  bag, went downstairs
to the first-floor window, and jumped.
     I only 'ever saw her once again after that.
     I moved into the block and started to save money to  put a deposit on a
house. It was  hard going  as I was not yet getting Special Forces  pay. Not
many  people lived in;  most  who did were  like  me, or had their  families
elsewhere,  or were simply new members of the squadron looking for somewhere
to live. The room was small, and my kit was everywhere.
     A friend gave  me a kettle; with  a pack of tea bags and a pint of milk
on the  window ledge, that was me sorted. I was running a Renault  5, no MOT
and no dashboard. I'd had to take it off  to sort out the wiring one day and
had never really got around to putting it back on.
     In  late  1985 I heard  that  I was going  away.  In one  way this  was
helpful. It  meant  I'd be  away from  the situation,  and  therefore, to my
immature way  of  thinking, that meant the  situation  would go away. On the
other hand, I was severely pissed ' off about where I was going.
     From what I'd heard, it was the absolute pits.
     Belize, we  were  told at  the  briefing, was  formerly  the colony  of
British Honduras and lay on the Caribbean coast of Central America.
     About the size of Wales,  it  had a population of 170,000-mostly  black
English  speakers-but  there was  also a growing  number of  Spanishspeaking
refugees from El Salvador.
     In the eighteenth century  the  British in  Jamaica  had  begun logging
hardwood on the mainland. By 1840 the territory had become a colony.
     Guatemala claimed that it had inherited  the territory  from  Spain but
nevertheless signed  a  treaty  with  Britain in  1859,  recognizing British
sovereignty and agreeing on  the  border. However, a  clause  in  the treaty
stated that  the  parties  had  to  build a  road  through the  jungle  from
Guatemala to the Caribbean coast.  The road had never  happened, and on that
basis Guatemala claimed that the 1859 treaty was invalid.
     The  government  even  inserted  a  clause into the  1945  constitution
stating that British Honduras  was  in fact part  of Guatemala, much as  the
Argentinians had with the Falklands.
     In the 1960s,  as  other British colonies in the Caribbean moved toward
independence, Guatemala  turned up  the heat. In 1963 it massed troops along
the border, and Britain sent forces to repel any invasion.
     British troops had been there ever since.
     In 1972 Guatemala had again assembled troops along the border, and this
time Britain sent the Ark Royal and several thousand men. In 1975, after yet
another threat, we installed a squadron of R.A.F Harriers.
     Finally, in 1980, Guatemala agreed to recognize Belize, but only if the
famous road  was built. There were riots  in Belize; people were killed. The
treaty wasn't ratified, and Guatemala went back to refusing to recognize its
neighbor.  Britain  had kept a  small  garrison  in Belize ever  since  as a
permanent deterrent  against incursions,  and we were going there as part of
that force.
     The maps consisted of vast areas of closely packed contour lines, which
were hills, covered in green,  which was jungle. There were  no proper roads
and very few tracks. As I was to discover  for myself, there were still open
sewers in  the towns, and a lot of the locals were none too friendly. One of
the lads in the unit before us had got his arm chopped off in a mugging.
     The British presence amounted to  something like an  infantry battalion
plus all the support-Harrier jump jets, artillery, the lot.
     And part of that  was  an  outfit called F  Company, basically  a dozen
Regiment  and SBS blokes.  It  had  quickly  been renamed F  Troop after the
comedy series about a U.S cavalry unit in the Wild West, manned by a load of
bumbling old idiots.
     I turned up in July. There were people  there that I already knew, like
Solid Shot, jock, and  Johnny two Combs, though Two-Combs was  due to return
to the UK soon.
     "You'll hate this place," were his words of welcome.
     He  was right. To a man, we loathed the garrison  on  sight.  Our rooms
were in semicircular tin huts  with  no air-conditioning, a really good idea
in Central America.
     The first thing we did was go and buy fans that then  stayed on for the
whole tour. In the rooms there were two metal lockers and two beds, and that
was it. I shared a room with Solid Shot.  The first evening  there we lay on
our  beds putting the world  to  rights and  thinking  of ways  to make  our
fortunes. Outside we could hear Des Doom hammering the "face of  the day" on
the punch bag.  Des's arms  and chest were covered with tattoos. "When I was
single," he said, "My chat-up line  was: 'If you don't  find me interesting,
you can  always read me."' He was due to get out; he'd decided  he wanted to
pursue other things  after only four years in  the Regiment; this was deemed
to be disloyal, and  he'd  been sent to Belize for the  whole duration of  B
Squadron's tour. He was severely bitter  and twisted about it and forever on
the bag; he always had many faces to "talk to."
     There  was  a  swimming  pool, but that was put out  of  bounds because
someone  had shit in  it one night in protest about the timings that favored
the  "families of," not the rest of the  garrison. Apart from the punch bag,
the  only training facilities  consisted  of some catering-size  baked  bean
cans, filled with concrete with  an iron bar stuck into each of them to form
makeshift weights.
     F Troop was part of a garrison and all the bullshit that that entailed.
Our  hut was part  of the  sergeants' mess,  but unless we  were  a Regiment
corporal or above, we couldn't use it, even though we were still expected to
pay the monthly fee the mess claimed.
     The team was therefore split into two groups, those who could go in the
mess and those who  couldn't, and I hadn't joined the Regiment for that sort
of  bullshit.  Tiny  was with us for three  weeks, filling in space  between
changeovers.  Being  a regimental  corporal,  he  could  have  gone  in  the
sergeants' mess but chose to come down to the cookhouse with us lowlife, but
then that was stopped. In the end just four of us  lepers would walk down to
the cookhouse; in fact it  turned  out for the best as they used to put on a
great Gurkha curry.
     Part of F Troop's job was to  be first-response unit if a commercial or
military aircraft went down in the jungle.
     We  would be the ambulance  brigade, steaming in with all the emergency
equipment and medical  aid kit  in a Puma. Having stabilized any casualties,
we would  then establish a  base  and try to enable other helis to  get  in,
which might  entail anything from blowing  winch holes to creating full-size
landing sites.
     Our entry into the crash site would not necessarily be straightforward.
We would hope to get in where the aircraft  had  crashed as the ground might
now be flattened, but  what if it was  still a ball of flame or just a light
aircraft?  We  therefore had to  practice  abseiling into  I the jungle  and
getting in all the emergency equipment that would be needed.
     There  were four  of us  on  standby at  any given  time; the rest went
patrolling in the jungle for a week or two. I hated being in the camp almost
as much as  I loved being in the jungle. There was nothing to dc in the camp
apart from going for a run, then waiting for the most exciting event  of the
day, tea and toast at 11:00 A.M.
     I had a definite feeling  of: What have I done wrong to be here for the
next five months  . We  felt  like  social outcasts. I'd wondered why people
tried to  avoid being sent here at all costs; I  now knew the reason, One of
the small reliefs from the  boredom was practicing entry  into a crash site.
It required  enough kit to fill two  Land Rovers: five-gallon  jerry cans of
water, medical equipment, a generator, lights, food,  shelters-everything we
would need to get on site and start to  sort  these people out-plus our  own
     On practice days we drove down and met the pilots by the Puma ' At this
time of the year the main topic of conversation was what crews were going to
be  on standby over  Christmas, as they wanted  to  book  a car and drive to
Cancun for the holiday.
     The pilot would say to me, the sucker with the kit, "Same place?"
     "Why not?" I'd reply. "We have to keep the troops entertained."
     They  would  stand  there  drinking Cokes  and watch  us  load  all the
equipment,  rig up the ropes,  put our harnesses on',  and sit in  the heli;
we'd then wait for the  rotors to wind up and cool us down. The weather only
ever  did one  of  two things:  It  was  either pissing  down with  rain  or
scorching hot. The Royal Engineers would be coming out  of their own  little
camp  they  had  made  for  themselves;  using all their  skills,  they  had
constructed a bar and  barbecue area with chairs and  benches, and without a
doubt it  was the most  organized area on the  camp. I wished at  times like
this that I'd stayed at school and got some 0 levels.
     Off we  went flying around Belize for  a while, doors open and enjoying
the view and the cool wind. The heli came to a  hover at  1SO feet'above the
football pitch, and the  engineers, dressed in shorts and flip-flops, and by
now on their second bottle of ice-cold Coke, had their scorecards ready.
     The first two at the door got ready, and I threw the jungle penetrators
out. One of the blokes was Terry,  an ex-Royal Marine now in  Mountain Troop
and known among other  things as Fat Boy. Not because he was, but he had the
largest chest I'd ever seen.  He  was about  five feet ten inches  and built
like a brick shithouse. One of the downsides of working with the SBS-come to
that,  all Royal  Marines-was  that  they  seemed  always  to  be  tall  and
good-looking.  This made  us come across like a bag of shit. We decided that
Fat  Boy had come to  the Regiment instead  of the SBS because he would have
failed the Good Looks Selection; his face looked as if life had been chewing
on it.
     The  other  man,  in  the  opposite door,  was the  troop  senior,  Joe
Ferragher.  Joe was a monster of a man, sixteen stone, and over six feet. He
was very quiet; it was like getting blood out of  a stone to get him to talk
sometimes, but when he did, there was no stopping him.
     He  was  the gentle  giant, except for one occasion when travelers took
over  his house while he was away. Joe went to visit them on his return, and
after  ten  minutes they  decided that  they  didn't  want to exercise their
squatters' rights after all. To show that there were no hard  feelings,  Joe
sent flowers to all of them in hospital.
     A  "jungle  penetrator" is  basically a  heavy sack containing  a  rope
inserted  in such  a way that it doesn't tangle. Because  it has  a weighted
bottom, it smashes into the  canopy and  allows  you to work your way to the
ground. Once the two-hundred-foot abseiling rope was on the ground, Joe  and
Fat Boy  would start to ease themselves out  of the  heli so that their feet
were on the deck and their bodies were at forty-five degrees to the ground.
     The abseller is attached to the rope by a figure of eight device.
     He remains locked in position until he pulls up some slack from beneath
him and  feeds it into the  figure  of  eight; the best position is one that
gives least resistance  to the  rope as  it  travels through, and that  is a
crucifix position with the  body  araliel to the ground  p and  arms running
along the rope, controlling it. If  there is a drama, the' man on the ground
pulls down on the rope, locking the figure of eight.
     The first  two down did not have that luxury. Out they went, the weight
of the rope making it extremely hard to pull up enough slack.
     The effect was the  same  as  if someone  was on the ground pulling the
rope, which was why Fat Boy and Joe went first; it took a lot of aggression.
Sometimes it all went to  ratshit and people landed up banging into the heli
and getting caught up. This was a quite funny sight, especially if they then
started to lose control of the rope and  got  to  the ground  with lumps all
over their heads and hands that looked as if they'd been in a toaster.
     The engineers were by now giving points for style.
     "Not  as good as the team last month, but  the  heli  has stayed in the
hover better," they were probably saying as they  went  for their third Coke
and changed position for a better tan.
     Once the boys were  down  they would man the ropes and control  the kit
that was to follow. We would rig it the same as if  it  was a  body and then
heave  it out one at a time after the  count of three.  We tried a different
method  every  time,  but it was just reinventing the wheel; we  decided the
best  way  was to grab it and just throw  it out. Once all that was  done we
followed; the heli'  would  then  leave and  get  back to  base  as soon  as
possible. Like us,  the pilots were hoping to get back for 4:00 P.m. tea and
toast, the second  most  exciting thing to  happen in camp.  The Land Rovers
would come and pick  us up; the Royal Engineers would drag their chairs back
to their lair.
     "Not as fast as D Squadron when they were here, but there you go.
     Shall we have another Coke?"
     The rest of the time we'd go out and patrol,  gathering information and
basically preparing  for if the  Guats invaded. We'd go as maybe  a four- or
six-man patrol, dropped in by  helicopter, and spend ten to fourteen days on
different tasks in and around the border. I loved it.
     The only local industries seemed to be grapefruit, 'juana, whoring, and
supplying and working for the marl British Army. I was told that  a third of
Belize's income came from cannabis. Apparently there used to be big frenzies
where the police  would go over and burn a couple of fields just so that the
government could say, "That's it, we're fighting  the drug problem." But for
every  field  it  burned,  there  were  another twenty  left. It  brought in
revenue, so there was no way they  were going to destroy it. We had  nothing
to do with  countering  the drugs problem in Central America; everybody just
accepted it as part of business that went on in that part of the world.
     About an hour away from our camp on a dirt road lived  Gilbert.  He was
an  Indian with a  smallholding that fed his large family. To  help him make
ends meet, he would come into the jungle with us and help build shelters and
tach helicopter crews and Harrier pilots jungle survival; if they were still
living once they'd creamed in, they could keep themselves ticking over until
we got there.  He would also come  with us when  we trained  NCOs of the new
battalion  manning  the garrison  in jungle tactics so that they could teach
their men. Belize was an operational posting, and the battalion had hard job
ahead  of  it. This was the good part  of the tour for us as at least we did
achieve something.
     Gilbert's  house  was built  from  breeze blocks, corrugated  iron, and
noise. Inside was just  one very big room, with  a curtain dividing off  his
bedroom from the two double beds that housed his eight children.
     The running water was  a  hose  pipe  connected to  a main; the outside
toilet was a  pit. He always  made us welcome with  coffee and some food; we
would take a bottle of Famous Grouse to return the hospitality. He had lived
in and around the  jungle all of his life, and there were always  new things
that he could show us. We drove up to see him about a course that  was going
to be happening and started talking about the amount of drugs that seemed to
leave Belize for the U.S.
     He said, "People do not see it as  a problem here. if  they want to use
it, fine; people here are more than happy to make money from it.
     If you go thirty minutes further along this road, it becomes very good,
no  potholes  and each side is cleared of trees and bush. This is  where the
drugs are picked  up. They  mark  the  road  with  cars, and  it's used as a
runway. At night you can hear the planes coming in to pick it up.
     Who cares? If America wants to use drugs, let them."
     It was a relief to get away from that sort of stuff. In the bergen we'd
carry just enough food for the duration of the patrol. We had  just one main
scoff a day, which  normally consisted of  rice or pasta, something that was
dehydrated that  we'd add water to; as in all jungles, there was  no problem
here with water.
     As my dry  clothing,  I took a  pair of trainers, a  pair of  socks,  a
camouflage  T-shirt, and  a  pair of  OG (olive green) shorts-fifties  khaki
National Service Far East shorts that look  like  something out of It  Ain't
Half Hot Mum. I  had a'space blanket  to wrap around me at night, a  poncho,
and a hammock, and that was it. The  less I had to carry, the less knackered
I would get.
     Belt kit  consisted  of spare  magazines,  a T.A.C.B.E (tactical beacon
radio) per man, water, first-aid kit, and emergency rations. On my belt  kit
I used to carry three water bottles-six pints of water-but would continually
fill them up anyway, always adding Steritabs for decontamination.  The water
tasted shit,  and  tea  made  with it tasted no  better.  Part  of the  SOPs
(standard operating procedures)  was  that every man carried a fifteen-meter
loopline (inch-thick nylon webbing strap) and carabiner.
     We had to cross a lot of rivers; the first man put the snap link around
him with the loopline and swam like a man possessed over to  the other side.
He rigged up the loopline and everybody else came over with his kit attached
to it. The rivers were incredibly swollen and screamed along.
     On my body all the time were my two Syrettes of morphine, my golack, my
watch, my Silva compass, and my  map. My  golack  hung on a bit  of paracord
around my waist, and was  now a Gurkha  kukri  rather than the British  Army
issue, known as a tree beater, which was no good to man or beast; all it did
was beat the tree up, it didn't really cut it.
     Indigenous people in the jungle use a golack where the top of the blade
is heavier, so that the momentum of the blade does the cutting.
     Most people tended to use the old Than  type of golack or,  like  me, a
kukri. It had a nice heavy bit at the top and could slice through trees like
a chain saw.
     Kit-for-task included the  patrol radio and medical  pack.  If we  were
doing anything around the borderputting an observation post  in, say-all the
materials for that would have to be taken in as well.
     High  humidity combined with sweltering heat meant that in theory there
was a definite  limit to how much kit a man  could carry; the maximum should
have been around fifteen kilograms, but it could be much more.
     Mess tins were thrown  away  because they  were  pretty  useless things
anyway. All that was needed was a metal mug and a small nonstick frying pan,
ideal for boiling rice.
     The most popular weapon to take into  the jungle was the M16 or 203. It
rarely needed cleaning, so we didn't have to waste time and energy trying to
keep our weapons in good condition.
     One bloke never used to touch his M16 at all, out of principle.
     He  said, "I  know that it's going  to work, I  know that the  weapon's
reliable,  so I don't need to clean it." And the fact is, if you squeeze the
trigger  and it goes bang  and a round comes out of the end, that's all  you
     There were  some practices  in the  jungle that  newcomers perceived as
bone when in  fact  they weren't.  One  of  them concerned headbands; in the
normal army  such fashion accessories  were perceived as  la'ry-big-time and
Ramboish.  But moving through  the jungle meant losing a lot of body fluids.
Your face was covered with cam cream and mozzie rep, and if it ran into your
eyes, it stung fearsomely  and attacked your vision: not advisable if you're
out there as scout.
     Hence the headbands.
     Every time we walked into a  village  near the border the  locals would
scatter.  The Guats  used  to come over the river and steal  their  women at
gunpoint, and to the villagers one set of jungle camouflage looked very like
another because they couldn't see the pattern for mud and wet.
     The villages were little more than a collection of wooden huts.
     Pigs wallowed in  puddles of mud; chickens and children ran between the
huts or  on the small football pitch that every village had. The kids didn't
care if we were Guats or Brits; they always came up, hoping we were going to
give them something. I loved them; they didn't understand  us  and we didn't
understand them, but we had some good fun.
     Some vi lages were just starting t'o get electricity on a generator and
visits from  American Peace Corps  volunteers.  Like modemday  missionaries,
these fresh-faced twenty-year-olds  were bringing  in hygiene and preventive
medicine,  and the lot of the villagers was improving-or  so the  volunteers
said. The fact was, these people had lived like  this for hundreds of years.
They now  had  new illnesses, a new culture and religion. The soul  of these
villages  had  been dragged away to  the town. The kids  now wanted  to wear
Levi's and smoke American cigarettes. As soon as they were  old enough, they
     First stop on our visit  was always the headman. we,d go  up, shake his
hand, and say, "Hello, mate, all right  then? How's it going? Any chance  of
using your  hut, or what?" He, too, would start gabbing off, probably taking
the piss. His  hut would  also be  the local town hall,  and we were usually
welcome  to  put  up  there  for the night-in  exchange  for  a  magazine or
something from the rations. Using that as a  base, we'd do our little hearts
and minds bit.  As  soon as the  villagers  realized  we  weren't Guats  but
friendly Brits with  a  party-size  medical pack, they'd be turning  up with
babies and young kids with coughs and runny noses and old men with sores and
cuts.  Although  we were carrying loads of medical equipment, we  had  to be
careful in what we dispensed.
     These people  were  not used  to  Western drugs yet; give  a bloke  two
aspirins  and he'd  be flat  on his  back. Half of  what  we gave  them  was
placebo, a spoonful of water that we pretended was a magic concoction.
     Throw it down the baby's neck and the mother was happy.
     The long wooden hut  with a grass roof would house a whole family, from
grandparents to  babies.  In  one corner there would  be a  mud cooker and a
sheet of metal that was used as the grill. This was where the tortillas were
cooked; the basic food was  corn  that they grew  by burning down the jungle
and spending weeks clearing.
     Coming in and out would be small pigs, chickens, and more kids.
     The hut would be thick with smoke, both wood and cigarette.
     The villagers lived an incredibly basic lifestyle, but I enjoyed  being
allowed to share a little of it. I got a buzz out of going back to a village
six weeks later and seeing that an injury I'd sutured up had  healed or that
a kid who had been on her back with croup was running around on the football
pitch again.
     We weren't there  entirely to patch up their injuries and illnesses, of
course. While I was treating them, I'd be asking about the Guats and whether
any of  them had been  over.  We slowly built up relationships, and over the
period of a tour we would come to recognize each other.
     Besides giving us  information, they'd give  us useful  tips  about the
jungle, such as where the fish were hiding and which were the best plants to
boil up and eat.
     We did a  lot of liaison work with the Harriers. Part of our job in the
event of hostilities would have been calling in air strikes on predesignated
targets on  the  other  side  of  the border,  such  as  power  stations and
desalination plants. We would go in, mark the targets, and talk the Harriers
in. We spent a lot of time practicing on the net with the pilots, because it
was  quite difficult to  bring  an  aircraft  in  over  the  canopy. We used
air-marker balloons, which penetrate  the canopy and leave an orange balloon
stuck up above the tree line as an identification marker and would then talk
them on from that.
     Being  an idle fucker, I liked jungle living.  There were only two bits
of kit  to look after-wet and dry.  Most  of the time we  were sitting down,
brewing  up and drinking  tea with the locals. But  best of  all, we weren't
spending  money. I still didn't have enough money  to  put a deposit  on the
house, so  I was using this trip  to save up every penny I could. To save on
stamps, I  wasn't writing home to anybody, and there were no letters  coming
     Sandy had come into the Regiment a year after me.
     He was a public schoolboy who went wrong somewhere and joined  the army
as a torn.  I knew he was clever  because  he  used a  fountain pen to write
letters with. He was about my age and height  and was very into the weights.
He wasn't massive, but  he had  a male model's  physique,  which annoyed me.
Luckily he had  really horrible hair, like a mass of rusty wire wool. He was
having  deja  vu, having just spent six  months in Belize with his battalion
before going for Selection and was mightily pissed off.
     He  said it  was even more boring for  him  than  last time around.  at
isrize  I'd first met him when we were free-falling Norton.  He had a midair
collision with one,of the instructors; as they both fell to earth with their
canopies like a bag of washing, I  saw Sandy start kicking to get out of the
tangle. As he landed and sorted himself out he said, "Fair one," and left it
at that. He knew he couldn't put the blame on the  instructor as  they would
close ranks. He had only been two hundred feet from creaming in.
     Sandy and I came in off a two-week patrol around the border, and  after
sorting our weapons out, we headed straight for the shower rooms for the big
degunging process. You take everything in with you: all  your  clothes,  all
the  kit that you'd used, your  webbing, your belt kit, and you just dump it
in the shower and scrub it all clean.
     When that's done, you get yourself sorted out; the priority, as always,
is your weapon, your kit, yourself.
     There was Sandy  and me standing  under the cold shower,  fully  clothe
cleaning our frying pans and other bits and pieces.
     "Are we going to sort this wagon for Cancun at Christmas?" I said.
     '  ' 'We'll have to  get hold of Joe and find out who's  going to be on
standby. We can hire a Land Rover and ,get down there."
     After  the kit we showered  ourselves  with our uniform and  boots  on,
washing our clothes with soap as if we were washing our bodies. Then we took
it off, rinsed out our boots, and finally washed ourselves.
     Once  that was done the real  business started. In the jungle, you  get
infested with little ticks, and  you've got  big zits on  your back  and all
this sort of shit. Most of them are in places that you can't reach yourself,
so your mate has to oblige.
     Sandy came out of the shower and said, "I've got some ticks in my back.
Are you going to get them out for us?"
     He bent over the sink while I got up behind  him and busied myself with
grooming his back,  and that's how we were, both in the nude,  when an R.A.F
officer  came  in  to use  the  urinal. He sort  of  trumpeted like  a rogue
elephant,  did a smart about-turn, and marched off to report two homosexuals
in the shower block. It was quite funny after the fuss had died down and our
explanation had been accepted, and  whenever I saw the officer after that, I
always made a point of blowing him a kiss.
     There  was a delightful  place toward Belize  City called Raoul's  Rose
Garden. The first  time  I  was taken there  I  was  expecting some sort  of
elegant colonial tearoom with a pianist  and little cucumber sandwiches, but
it turned out to be a run-down breeze block building with rickety tables and
chairs and even more rickety whores.
     It  was a typically  stinking Central American setting. I got bitten by
more  mozzies inside than  outside,  and  the  band  played nonstop  Central
American classics. The one good thing about  the Rose Garden was that it was
out of bounds to all the squaddies. The young lads would always be trying to
get  in there  or  the  other  whorehouses and  coming back  with horrendous
     Sometimes I'd.  see  them coming back from the  town, arm in arm with a
whore they had fallen in  love with, girls who were basically after a  quick
marriage and a passport to the UK when the unit left.
     The  Royal  Marines  were  the  resident  battalion at  the time. Every
morning at  six-thirty their HQ and support companies would be lined  up and
doing  a  three-mile circuit of the camp. Wandering up the  road toward  the
guardroom  would be one of  the garrison  personnel, like  an Ordnance Corps
bloke  or  a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers  fitter, hand in hand
with  some hooker, and  the two  hundred bootnecks would run  past  and give
their marks out of ten.
     One young  bloke from  the Catering  Corps  married  a Central American
Indian. She was five feet nothing and stunningly beautiful; in  her mind she
wasn't a whore, she was just earning money.  She  went  back  to the UK as a
wife,  spent a  year  in  Catterick,  and was  getting shagged fearsomely by
anyone in uniform. Every man and his  dog were  roaring up this blokes wife,
and she was  getting paid for  it  as well.  Obviously  the marriage went to
ratshit, and she  came  back, resuming  her  place  on the  career ladder at
Raoul's and passing around the  photographs: "That's me outside the NAAFI in
Catterick, and there's me on a day's shopping trip in York."
     Every  Friday night  the sergeants'  mess of the  garrison had a  do-an
open-invite  occasion,  basically trying to get all the local  women to come
into  the camp.  They came  in  their  droves, but  it wasn't  the music and
conversation that attracted them; it was the  offer of chicken  and chips at
ten o'clock. The  local girls dolled themselves up to the nines and tried to
look their best for the occasion.
     We were lying on our beds, watching the fan go around and around.
     One of the blokes had got a letter from his kids. They'd done a drawing
of them taking the dog for a walk, but it looked more like a man in a noose.
"I need  that picture,"  I said. "I  want  to  stick it on the wall, because
that's what I'm going to do  if I have  to  stay in Belize any  longer.  I'm
going to fucking hang myself."
     jock had got a  letter  from  his  future  wife, telling him that their
marriage had been placed on the back burner.
     He was severely down because  there  was nothing  he  could do about it
from that distance, so we decided to give him a night out. We  made a  punch
from a couple of bottles of rum and a tin of pineapple chunks and sat in his
room for  an hour or two, listening to the party that we were not allowed to
go to and putting the world to  rights. By about half past  eleven everybody
was  revved up and  I suddenly heard myself saying, "Right, we'll go down to
     We  got  the admin corporal out  of bed and told him to organize a Land
Rover. By the time we got  there, some  people from  the sergeants' mess had
also turned up, senior ranks with their shirts and ties hanging off, chasing
the working girls around the tables.
     One of the senior ranks joined in with the band and tried to teach them
a   Mungo    Jerry   number.   Things   got    out    of   hand,   and   the
management-Raoul-phoned up the MPs.
     Two young lance corporals arrived and told us we all had to leave.
     We knew that recruits to  the  Military Police were immediately given a
rank to give them some authority, and we didn't take kindly to these lads of
nineteen or twenty saying, "Can you switch on? Get in the wagon, we'll drive
you back to camp." It was the sensible thing to do, but fuck them.
     They knew the sergeants would go, because  they  weren't  going to risk
being gabby to a lance jack who  was only doing his  job. However, there was
no way they were  going to take  us; we had nothing to do with the  garrison
people and were not causing any trouble. There was a little  bit of a to-do,
and after about half  an hour of listening to the MPs pleading, we relented.
They dropped us off outside  F  Troop lines;  the  officers'  and sergeants'
messes were  more  or  less -adjacent to each other,  and in  between was  F
     It was  incredibly hot this particular night, and as soon as we got in,
we took our clothes off and hung around in  our skiddies and flip-flops.  My
head was  spinning. Everybody was sitting on the beds  honking about all and
sundry, and we finally decided to have a scoff.
     I got the hexy burner out on the step and fried up bits of Spam.
     There was stuff strewn all over the place because everybody was pissed,
and by now even the skiddies had come off.
     Unfortunately, just as our barbecue party was  in  full swing, all  the
officers and their wives started to come out of the mess. The ruperts had an
instant monk on because there were these  naked squaddies lying on the grass
in star  shapes, farting and shouting at  each other,  giggling, pissed, and
falling over. Spam  was  flying everywhere, and in  places the  grass was on
     One of the officers came over and said, "I think you ought to pack this
in now."
     Sandy replied, "I think you ought to fuck off."
     The  officer  went storming off, and even in  my state I  had  a  funny
feeling it wasn't the last we'd hear of this.
     I woke up in the morning, and the place was in shit state.
     Holding a wet  towel  around my head,  I  thought,  Right, we'd  better
police the joint. Everybody dragged himself outside with a bucket  and  mop,
and we transformed the area.  Then  we  had to go and see the bloke who  was
running F Troop at the  time, who  just happened to  be B Squadron's  SM, in
Belize for three weeks.
     "The shit's hit the fan about this,"  he shouted, "and  the  fan is not
     It was suggested  we make a voluntary  contribution  to squadron funds.
VCs could be  anything from a  fiver up to hundreds of  pounds, depending on
how  much shit had hit what particular fan. Three  of us were awarded ,f300;
two others,  f250. It was a severe blow,  considering that Sandy and I  were
saving so hard  that  we  were  even going  around collecting rejected  soap
fragments out of the washrooms and pressing them all together to make a bar,
using  other  people's  razor blades  despite the  risk  of  hepatitis,  and
salvaging  "sums"-empty   bottles  from  gassy   drinks  like  Coca-Cola  or
Cherryade-and taking them down to the choggy shop for a refund of two  cents
a bottle.
     I was  devastated at the loss of so much money, but as one door closed,
another door  opened.  Two weeks later a money-making opportunity  presented
     A scaley  attached to the  Regiment during the time it was operating in
the jungles of Borneo now  owned a  hotel on San Pedro, an island far out in
the keys. He had I kept  in  contact with F  Troop and telephoned one day to
say that although San Pedro was a very beautiful place, what was holding the
place  back  as  a tourist trap was the fact that  the water  was sulfurous'
However, it had  just been  discovered  that under the layer of lime was the
world's supply of freshwater.
     "I can't  afford  to get outside contractors to bore down to it because
of the expense of bringing all the machinery over," the ex-scaley said. "You
don't know anybody handy with explosives, do you?"
     Just possibly.
     Des, Solid  Shot,  and  I  went  down  to  the  stores and  found  some
old-fashioned engineer's  beehive  charges, used to make craters in runways.
They  were  rusting and flaking, but we hoped they  would  do  the business,
penetrate the  lime, expose  the  freshwater, and give us all  a payday. One
Friday night the  three of  us  boarded  a  Gemini inflatable with a  Yamaha
engine on the back, laden with explosives and fuel, a  floating bomb. We got
on the river by the airport camp and then navigated down to the coast.
     San Pedro was so far away it wasn't visible from the mainland.
     For  navigation we had just an ordinary 1 in  50,000 tourist map; there
was this little speck in the middle of the Caribbean that was San Pedro, and
we just took a bearing and off we went.
     After a few hours we passed a ship en route to Belize City. The captain
hailed  us and  asked if we  were  all right.  "No  problems." We  waved and
smiled, trying to cover the beehives  and firing cable. We must  have looked
like terrorists.
     "Where are you going?"
     "San Pedro."
     He threw his hands in the air and went back into the wheelhouse.
     The first place  we  were trying to find with our map and Silva compass
was called Hick's Island. From there we took another bearing, and four hours
later,  with  just  one  fuel bladder left,  we motored  into  San Pedro. We
spotted a body lying in a hammock and said we wanted to  find the main quay,
which was near the airstrip.
     "Well,  man," she  said, "it's like further  up  there. Nice to see you
guys, you  know,  like-wow." She  had a lovely tattoo of a  butterfly on her
ankle; pity she was in her late fifties and beaten half to death by the sun.
     It was  a beautiful  island;  most  of the  inhabitants  were Americans
seeking  an alternative lifestyle. The scaley  was a little lock with a  big
white bushy beard.  He looked  really  excited to see us-or maybe it was the
two bottles of Famous Grouse we handed over.
     We  started digging  the next day. We had to  go down  about  twelve to
fifteen feet to reach the lime layer, but raw materials were at a premium on
the  island. There weren't any boards or corrugated iron  sheets  to  put up
around the  sand,  and  every time we dug down,  it caved in. We finally got
down to about two foot above the lime, rigged up the beehive charge, and Des
initiated it.
     It was a big occasion. All the hippies had gathered around to watch the
clever Brits  reach down  to the  first  freshwater  they'd ever seen on the
island. That  only  made  it even  more embarrassing when the  charge didn't
penetrate. We tried again, and then we ran out of explosives.
     "I've  heard  sulfurous  water is  good  for  you."  I  beamed  at  the
ex-scaley. "Maybe you could market the place as a spa?"
     We had  three days  walking  around the hotel  making  excuses; then we
headed  back to the  mainland with  our tails between our legs. No water, no
     In the jungle even a simple cut can become a serious problem.
     Fungi, parasites,  and exotic diseases battle to prevent your body from
healing. Fat Boy went out on a patrol and came back in shit state.
     He'd gone  down with bilharzia and a liver infection and looked like  a
     He was in the military hospital for a long time.
     Soon after the San  Pedro trip I went  back  on the border  and got  an
injury on my  knee; within days  the joint  had swollen  up  like a football
covered in scabby zits.
     When I bent my knee, pus oozed out, and I could hear the joints creak.
     Before  long I had trouble moving at all, and had to be casevacked out.
It was nearly Christmas, and I  thought, This  is  all  rather nice, I'll be
home in time for the Morecambe and Wise show.
     Casualties had to  be escorted  back, and I  was told that  a nurse was
being sent over  from Woolwich hospital to come and get me. In my mind I had
a  vision of  a Bo Derek look-alike holding my hand and soothing my brow all
the way to Washington and then on to the UK. By the time we got to Woolwich,
I had us practically engaged.
     I packed my kit and was all ready to go on the Wednesday  night flight.
I was lying on  my bed when the  nurse arrived and was introduced to  me. Bo
had aged  a  lot-and lost  a lot of hair and grown  a  big mustache and beer
belly. There  wasn't much of  a sense of humor about Nigel either. I got the
feeling he belonged to one of those end-of-the-world-is-nigh sects and would
retire to San Pedro.
     I spent two or three days at Woolwich hospital but was back in Hereford
in time for turkey  and Christmas pud. Not long after that, I heard  that my
offer had been accepted on a house in Hereford; at last I was a fullyfledged
homeowning yuppie. All I needed now was ten thousand more empty Coke bottles
and I'd be able to buy something to sit on.
     it was a two-up, two-down thing, one of those new Westbury-type houses.
The asking price  was twenty-five grand, but  . I was  feeling  really  good
because, the big-time negotiator, I'd got it down to twenty-four and a half.
     The place was very  basic, and I didn't have  the  time or money  to do
anything about  it. To save on bills, I didn't have the gas reconnected, and
boiled  water for food with  a hexy burner sitting in  the  stainless  steel
sink. The kettle came from my room in the block.
     Next  payday  I got a microwave,  so  anything  that  went  ping  after
forty-five seconds, I'd  be eating it. I got  a telly, then a small  stereo,
and that was  about it, the ultimate singley's place: bare walls, a chair, a
bed,  and a  china  ornament of  a cat the previous  owner  had left on  the
     The garden was overgrown, and  I didn't have  a  lawn mower or tools; I
had  to borrow them from a  friend who lived around the corner. I bunged all
my washing in the laundry at camp. I  had my Sunday dinners at work as well,
or I'd go down to the pub that put out trays of sausages and clear them out.
Otherwise it  was Chinese takeaways all  the way, collected from the town in
my  decrepit  Renault 5.  However, I  was  happy. I  was  one  of Thatcher's
     Roundabout Christmas time  I got talking in a bar one night with a girl
called Fiona. The conversation came around to where we both lived.
     "I've bought a house near the camp," I said, naming the road.
     "Number four."
     "I  don't believe it!" she laughed. "I live at number two. You  must be
my next door neighbor!"
     She told me that she came from Hampshire. She'd moved up to Hereford to
be with her partner, but the relationship hadn't worked out. She didn't want
to go home, so she rented the house and was working in the town.
     She  was tall,  with  long brown hair,  and very  confident.  We really
enjoyed each other's company and started going out. I  thought, This is good
news-a new house, a microwave,  and now a  new girlfriend. What more could I
need?  But no  sooner  had we got together than  it  w'as announced that the
squadron was going to Africa.
     The chief opposition force to the apartheid regime in South Africa  was
the African National Congress. It had been crippled by the arrest of  Nelson
Mandela and his colleagues in the early sixties but revived after the Soweto
riots in 1976. Each time the government banned a  moderate  black opposition
group, the A.N.C's membership swelled. In 1980 it began a successful bombing
campaign, attacking plants manufacturing oil from coal.
     In  December  1982 the South African military raided Lesotho and killed
forty-two members of the A.N.C in Maseru. In May 1983 a car bomb outside the
Ministry of  Defense in Pretoria killed nineteen people and injured over two
hundred,  including  many  black civilians.  The bombing campaign  increased
after the 1984-86 riots.
     There were scores  of  attacks  throughout South  Africa, killing  many
     Then,  in  June  1985,  South African  forces  carried  out a  raid  on
Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. Several ral homes were raided, and twelve
men, allegedly A.N.C members, were  killed in their sleep. The South African
government alleged that Botswana  territory was  used by A.N.C guerrillas to
launch attacks inside South Africa, including recent  mine  blasts that  had
killed white  farmers near the border. Botswana rejected the claims, arguing
that it  did  its  utmost to  prevent A.N.C  military activities inside  its
     Botswana appealed to the British  for help; the appeal  was approved by
Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe and a  . Regiment squadron of eighty men
was to be sent to train Botswana's soldiers to defend their  country against
border raids  by  Big  Brother. Selected  soldiers  from the  BDF  (Botswana
Defense  Force) would  be  given  special training, including techniques  of
aggressive  counterattack to neutralize South  African raiding  parties.  We
were told the training would take  place  in the north of  the country, well
away from the South African border.
     We would not be involved in any contact with the S.A.D.F (South African
Defense Force).
     The Botswana Defense Force's mobility was shortly to be enhanced by the
arrival  of a  number  of  helicopters to be  provided by  the  U.S under  a
ten-million-dollar military aid program. The U.S  was also providing special
training in counter intelligence  techniques to the Botswana security forces
to  offset penetration by  South African agents; the skills  we  taught them
would  also  make it easier for the BDF to detect any counterinfiltration by
A.N.C guerrillas.
     We finished our planning and preparation for the job.
     Everything, we  were told, was  TS (top secret). The squadron would  be
flying from Brize  Norton to  Kenya, because that was not  an unusual  troop
movement.  From there we'd  all be  splitting off into little groups, making
our way into Botswana by different timings and routes.
     We got to Kenya and split up. Six  of us  stayed in  the  country for a
while;  others were going  off  to other  African countries for  a few  days
before starting to  filter  into  Botswana to our squadron RP. Some  of  the
blokes  went  off on safaris while they were  biding their  time;  I mooched
around with Ben, a jock who'd just joined the squadron.  We went  to a place
called the Carnivore,  a big meat-eating place  where you  could eat as much
meat  as  you  wanted  for about tuppence. I  stuffed myself  and  got  food
poisoning and had to spend the next two days in bed.
     The six of us finally got  on a plane to Zaire. We spent  a little time
mooching around there, then flew to Zambia. The country was chockablock with
     They all looked  like bad Elvis impersonators from the  seventies, with
greased-back hair, sideburns three-quarters  of the way down  the  face, and
unfashionable suits and plastic shoes.
     We  wandered around Zambia departures looking at the Russians,  and the
Russians  were looking at us. They knew who we  were,  and  we knew who they
were. The  official cover  story for us was that we were a seven-aside rugby
team  on  tour. Nobody questioned us about it,  which  was probably just  as
well. I could have been hit over the head with a rugby ball at that time and
I wouldn't have had a clue what it was.
     And the seven-aside story was a bit dodgy as well, seeing as there were
only six of us.
     We  ended  up sharing  a small  propeller aircraft with  three  or four
Russian  "officials"  and  a  Russian  pop music  band that  was  ostensibly
traveling around all the military units. The drummer had fallen straight off
the cover of the Woodstock album, dressed in flared loons, a headband, and a
Cat Stevens T-shirt. judging by the way he was air-drumming on the  magazine
on his lap, he was no more a drummer than I was JPR Williams.
     We eventually got to a small metal airstrip in the middle  of Botswana.
A few blokes  from the squadron were already there; some  of them,  I  could
see, were nursing injuries.  The squadron O.C and Fraser turned u ; Fraser p
had broken his collarbone and was walking around with his arm in a sling.
     We   got  in   some   vehicle   and  went  off  to  the  squadron   RP,
which-inevitably-was an aircraft hangar.
     Over the next couple of days  the rest of  the  blokes trickled in from
all over the place. Some came in  from  Zimbabwe and were in a right  state.
They'd had a day out in the sun, and Toby, better known as  Slaphead, having
been bald since he was aged about nine, had gone up on the roof of the hotel
and fallen asleep. The front half of his  body was totally  burned, and  his
face and forehead were already starting to peel.
     While we were waiting,  the ice-cream boys organized an  Islander turbo
aircraft that could take seven of us at  a squeeze, and off we went jumping.
We wanted to  learn infiltration techniques in that part of the world, going
in against not  too  sophisticated  radars. I jumped my arse  i off over the
next three or four days, getting back into the swing of free fall, going  up
to twelve grand, leaping out and just basically having fun.
     On one particular jump I was going out as a "floater."
     An Islander has only small  doors,  which meant that everybody couldn't
exit  at the same time.  We  were only jumping  at twelve grand,  so it  was
important to get all seven of us going off at the same time.
     The technique  was for various floaters  to climb outside the  aircraft
and hold on to whatever bits and pieces they could.
     I was rear floater, which should  have entailed  putting  my left  hand
onto the left-hand side of the door, wedging my left foot against the bottom
corner of the doorframe and  then swinging out  and holding on with my right
hand to a bit of fuselage. However, I screwed up.
     As I swung  out, I lost my  footing and fell, going straight  into free
fall  long  before  the planned exit. To make  matters worse, I was over the
     There was no way I was going to be able to track to get the distance to
reach the DZ, so  I pulled quite high, hoping I'd be able to use  the canopy
to go in. With the wind behind  me the canopy gave about twenty-five  knots,
but I was  losing too much  elevation. Soon I would have to turn  back  into
wind to land. I scanned the ground, trying to sort myself out.  There seemed
to  be nothing below but  high-voltage pylons and  cars speeding  along  the
roads, then masses of people running out of buildings to look at this little
thing dangling from a big blue canopy.
     I  just  managed to clear a line  of pylons and hit the street, landing
between cars.  It  was a  really bad landing; I hit my arse  hard,  and  the
canopy enveloped me. Immediately hundreds of little hands started tugging at
the fabric,  shouting  and laughing joyously. I had  visions of my parachute
being ripped to shreds and shouted the first thing that came into my head.
     A  hundred voices  replied,  "Okey-dokey!  Okey-dokey!  "  I rolled the
canopy up and sat at the roadside,  chatting to all my new  friends, while I
waited for a wagon to come and pick me up.
     The conversation was still going when the vehicle arrived, and for days
after that all anybody would say to me was "Okey-dokey!"
     We moved to the camp where we were going  to be  based. We got our camp
beds  or air beds out, spread out our sleeping bags, and made our own little
world. The camp was a group of old, run-down buildings.
     Very much like  everything else  in Africa, the walls had holes in them
and the plaster was coming away. We rigged up some lights  to the generator,
and  that meant  we could read.  Fiona had bought me a book called The Grail
Romances, I'd read Holy Blood, Holy Grail just to give me enough information
to give Frank Collins a hard time about the religion and had ended up really
gripped  by  medieval history.  Poor  Fiona had trooped around  hundreds  of
churches, forts, and motte-and-bailey castles with me.
     They'd been used to a lot of South African incursions in the area.
     Basically the S.A.D.F would come out of South Africa, chuck a left, and
go  up  into  Angola along the  Caprivi  strip. There  was  quite  a lot  of
attention initially when we arrived; people were unsure of  what we were and
who  we were.  To these villagers, if  there  was a white eye and a gun,  it
meant a South African.
     After a while we'd wake  up in the mornings and there'd be hundreds and
hundreds  of villagers along the fence line. They'd  turned up for freebies.
Now and again I gave them the  sweets out of the  compo rations and a can of
tuna or something. They  seemed  quite desperate,  as  if it was  starvation
stakes; there were lots of shiny cans everywhere, and they wanted them.
     Then,  of all things, an ice-cream van  turned up  one day. It was just
like Blackpool, with  the old ding-dong  chimes.  He  must  have traveled at
least a hundred miles  to  get there; perhaps he'd heard that 7 Troop was in
     We spent a week planning and preparing. A character called Gilbert, the
snake man, was brought in  to show us  all the different types of snakes-the
ones that were poisonous and the ones that weren't.
     "There are two ways of dealing with a bite," he said.
     "The first is  to  dress the wound and  try  to get all  antidote.  The
second is to lie very still in your sleeping bag and wait for death."
     We were standing around in a circle  while  this boy  brought different
snakes out of their bags. All of a sudden a particularly mean-looking fucker
with a  deep  hatred of men  in  shorts and flip-flops hurled itself out  of
Gilbert's hands  and  was off,  spitting  venom in  all  directions.  Within
seconds all the rough-tough S.A.S men were hanging off trees and vehicles or
sprinting toward  the  perimeter fence.. This was one very pissed-off snake;
when  it couldn't  find  a man  to  attack,  it started to  eat one  of  the
vehicles, trying to sink its fangs into the tires.
     I had  no idea how it was recaptured and put back  in  its bag; my view
was a  bit restricted from the roof  of the ice-cream  van  a hundred meters
     The locals  were  starting to  pester us  good style  now. It  happened
almost every time we went into  a place where Westerners  had been  working;
people would  be expecting us  to give  them stuff,  and if  we didn't, they
hassled and  poked. They were given so much aid from so many sources that in
the  end  it  wasn't  something  that they were  grateful  for; it  was just
something that they expected as of right.
     The best aid foreign nations could have been giving them was education,
to show them how to be productive  themselves. Instead  all  we did was give
them six hundred tons of wheat to salve our consciences. But in doing so, we
created a nation of takers, who were not contributing to their  own country,
their own economy.
     We decided one day that we'd all had enough  of being hassled and told,
"Give me, give  me, give me." Out came the hexy  blocks,  which we cut  into
little cubes.
     These were then smeared  with jam and  arranged on plates.  Then, every
time we were crowded, we fucked them off with our confections.
     They grabbed the stuff greedily and threw it down their necks.
     After about three  crunches the  taste of the hexy got to them and they
spit it out with much gagging and choking. Nobody came back for seconds.
     Being free fall troop and waiting to get into our stage of the game and
try  to defeat all these radars, we were very much  left to our own devices.
We spent our days doing our own  weapon training and  just generally mincing
around. When  a squadron went away like this, weights  turned up, punch bags
started hanging from trees.  People would do a run around the  compound  and
then  a routine  with the apparatus; a circuit might  be two  minutes on the
bag, two  minutes'  skipping,  two  minutes' rest,  then two minutes  on the
weights,  two minutes' skipping,  two  minutes'  rest.  You'd do  maybe  ten
circuits and then warm down with another run.
     The other troops  started  to disappear off to do their tasks, and then
it was decided that we should go with 9
     Troop, who were up in a hill range called the Tsodilo hills. We set off
in vehicles for the two- or  three-day  mooch  across  the  Kalahari desert.
Tracks ran across vast, empty, flat plains of scrub and dust.
     On the second day we came to  a crossroads  of tracks in  the middle of
thousands of acres of sandy scrubland.
     A little mud hut had a sign up saying it was,a cafe. The proprietor, an
old fellow in his eighties, was mincing around on a hammock. We went in, but
there were no tables  or chairs, or, come to  that, electricity.  just a few
bottles of Fanta on  a shelf and a sign that must  have been at least twenty
years  old,  advertising  Bulmer's cider from Hereford.  Once we'd felt  the
temperature of the Fanta bottles we left them where they were but negotiated
with the old boy for the sale of the sign, which we mounted on the dashboard
of the 110.
     We got to 9 Troop's position on the afternoon of the third day.
     It  was weird terrain, totally flat and then these  mountains that rose
abruptly out of the ground. I wasn't the only one to notice that they had an
eerie air about them.
     "I did this area for geography A level," Tiny said.
     "There are thousands of rock paintings in and  around the hills, scenes
of  eland  and giraffes  painted by  desertdwelling  Bushmen hundreds, maybe
thousands of years ago.
     When, we arrived,.most of the troop were out on the mountain.
     There  was a  bit of  a flap on as someone had injured his back and was
being  carried down to the camp. It was Toby. Slaphead  was a veteran of the
Falklands, Northern  Ireland, and countless  fights up north as a policeman,
all  without injury;  now  he had  jumped eighteen  'riches  off  a rock and
damaged his back so badly he 'was on a stretcher.
     He was in fearsome pain and had to have more morphine.
     Tiny yelled,  "Not  yet,  wait!" to the medic and  went running to  his
bergen. He came back  with  a camera and  said,  "Okay, you can do it  now."
Slaphead's face was screwed up in pain as he got the good news.
     The picture would go  into B Squadron's interest room as soon as we got
     Eno by now was on the radio sending the Morse message  that we needed a
helicopter. As usual, he was Mr. Casual about the whole affair.  He had been
told one day by the police that his sister had been murdered; he just  said,
"I think  I'd  better go to London then." It wasn't that  he didn't care; he
just didn't get excited about anything.
     The weather started to change. The sky was thickening with dark clouds,
and the  wind was getting up;  there was a smell of rain-wet earth. A  storm
was coming; this was worrying as it could affect a heli's chances of getting
in.  Slaphead  had been  stabilized, but  he needed to be  taken  to a  good
     His  new KSBs (boots) had been taken  off  and were by the side  of the
stretcher. I knew he took the same  boot size  as I  did,  so I went  up and
said, "You won't be needing these anymore on this trip, will you?"
     Slaphead told me where to put the boots, and it wasn't on my feet.
     Things started to settle  down; a heli was being  arranged, and Eno was
still on the radio standing by. Then another drama started.
     It was  about two hours before last light, and there was no sign of Joe
Ferragher and  Alan,  the new troop officer. The troop were just starting to
mutter dark thoughts about the incompetence  of  new ruperts  when  somebody
spotted  a  flashing light on the  mountain. We got our  binos out and could
just  see  somebody  on  a  ledge.  No  one knew  for sure what it  was, but
everybody knew something was wrong.
     Eno  was back  on  the radio again, leaning back  on  a  canvas  chair,
cigarette in one hand,  Morse  key in the  other. Three or four  of Mountain
Troop got radios and their kit and drove over to the mountain.
     As all this was happening, the heli turned  up. He couldn't do anything
about the blokes on the mountain; he couldn't get that far in.
     The weather was still threatening to give us a storm,  and the sides of
the tents were blowing out. Most of 7
     Troop felt quite helpless as we didn't have the skill to climb; we just
waited to see if any more help was needed.
     "Might as well have a brew and sort  our kit out," was Charlie's answer
to  the  problem. We had been there for about three hours by now  and hadn't
even got our kit off the wagons because of all the excitement.
     We could hear on the radio that Ivor was  now with them on the mountain
and needed everyone's help.
     About five feet seven inches and  wiry,  Ivor was a mountain  goat from
somewhere up north. He  came  from an armored regiment and  had been at  the
embassy ana the Falklands. He wasn't one to mince his words on the net.
     "Joe is  dead," he said. "The Boss is  going to be  taken down by Harry
and George. This is what I want to happen. ', He wanted  everyone to get  as
far up the  mountain as possible and meet  him coming down. How he was going
to do it we had no idea, but we started up toward him.
     The storm now looked as if it was just teasing us.
     There was  a little rain but nothing to worry about,  apart from  time.
The heli didn't want to leave at night; we had to get a move on or  it would
leave without Joe, Slaphead being the main priority now.
     It was  about two hours before Ivor got to us. He was in shit state; he
was  sweating  heavily  and covered in grime, he had cuts on  his elbows and
knees, and his face and arms  were bruised  from the effort of moving a very
heavy Joe off the  mountain.  He had put  Joe into  a mountain stretcher and
then started to absell down. It was a major feat of strength to kick himself
and Joe over the overhangs. He should have got a medal that day. We took the
body the rest of the way down. The heli then had two bodies on board instead
of the one they had expected.
     We  learned that a device used to attach a person  to the rock face had
given way, and Joe had gone  bouncing  down the hill until he got stopped by
his next "safety."
     The Ross had climbed down to Joe and tried to save him, but it was  too
late.  However,  a casualty  is not dead until he is  confirmed dead,  so he
tried anyway.
     Charlie had got hold  of  the troop's rum that Joe was in charge of and
said, "He isn't going to need this now.
     Let's have a drink on the old fucker."
     So we had a drink on him  and hoped that  the rupert  was  okay. He was
quite  shaken up. It is not  the  best of  introductions to have  your troop
senior die on you and then maybe think that everyone  blames you-which  they
didn't.  It seemed that  life  on  a mountain  didn't suit him; about  three
months later he moved to our troop.
     Maybe it was the thought of all that ice cream.
     We  were  sitting under a baobab tree,  a weird, muscled sculpture with
branches like roots sprouting white, starlike flowers, drinking the rum  and
talking about the  locals. "The  Bushmen have great respect for the baobab,"
Tiny  said. "Pick its flower, they say, and a lion will eat you. These hills
are sacred to them, too. It's taboo to kill an animal that lives here."
     One of 9 Troop said, "Joe was out  in  a one-ten yesterday  and'shot an
antelope for  us to eat. Apparently  his death came as  no  surprise to  the
     As I  lay in my biwi bag that  night, looking past a  bright moon to  a
gleaming Milky Way, I was a believer.
     I had never been particularly worried about dying. We all had to die at
some stage; I just  wanted it to be nice and quick; I didn't  want it  to be
painful. I didn't have any big religious notions about death.
     I liked  to think there was something  after  it,  a place or dimension
where I'd find all the information I'd ever wanted to know,  such as  what a
Love Heart tasted like and all the other great secrets of life.
     That was the only advantage that I could see.
     I'd always been sure that I was going to die early in life anyway.
     I'd always  had  that  feeling,  ever since  I  was a kid.  I'd  always
thought, I'm going to live till I'm about fifty-five, and  that will be  it.
Didn't stop me being a sucker when the pension salesman came around, though.
     When mates died, I  was upset initially, but after that it was okay. It
was more  upsetting  if they died in a drastIC way, but  the  fact that they
were dead,  there were no problems with that. What  was horrible  and a real
pisser was if people died or got severely injured  and impaired for the rest
of  their lives for  no reason. It  was always unfortunate when  people died
during training. We'd lost  quite a  lot of  people through drowning in  the
jungle;  river  crossings  were  the  number one  killer  in  the  Regiment.
Sometimes I  thought, Hell,  we're practicing things that  are  going to  be
dangerous enough on the day, so why  tempt Providence?  But if that attitude
was allowed  to prevail,  we  would  lose  all  the  advantages of realistic
     Joe had to be taken into South Africa to get  a  British Airways flight
out,  and this  would unfortunately entail a  delay. Barry,  the storeman at
Squadron HQ, hosed down one of the six-foot tables, sorted Joe out on it and
cleaned him  up, then got all the  meat  out  of  the freezer and stored him
inside it instead; he then organized a huge feast to eat all the meat before
it spoiled. When all the arrangements had been made, they got Joe in a motor
and drove him into South Africa.
     From there he was put in a coffin and flown home.
     Meanwhile  we had  work to do. We were flown in a I up  to  the shuttle
service of little Islander aircraft h Okavango, a vast  expanse of lakes and
river  systems  that borders  on the Caprivi strip, the  area of  drama with
South African forces. The plan was for us to join forces with 6 Troop, who'd
been up there for weeks.
     The average contact in that sort of  bush, even though it looked pretty
sparse, was about five meters. Everybody was carrying his personal choice of
weapon  that he considered would  be good at such  close ranges-SLR, 203 and
M16, and shotgun. Mine was a 203.
     The BDF were armed with the Galil, Israel's answer to the AK47.
     It  was  a  very  good  weapon, simple to use and to  clean, and with a
simple  and reliable  action.  People could  learn  it quickly,  but its one
drawback was its weight; it was a bit heavy for the  troops of  many  of the
countries that used it.
     The other equipment that we'd taken with  us was  minimal-as ever, only
as  much as we could get into a bergen. As in the jungle, we'd need just two
sets of clothes-a dry set and a wet set. As well as that I took a poncho, in
my  case  an  Australian  shelter sheet  that crumpled  up really  small,  a
hammock, and an American poncho liner, an  excellent bit of kit similar to a
very  thin  nylon duvet. The rest  was  food, water, bullets, ahd  a bit  of
first-aid kit.
     We were there to practice a two-troop camp attack in the swamps.
     The  camp we were training on was  an alligator farm i'n the  middle of
     Members of 6 Troop  went out and did the recces, spent a couple of days
putting OPs on it, and got all the information back.
     We  were living  on a little spit of land within the swamps, among beds
of  fast-growing papyrus. Over the  years, as the hippos  had  come  up onto
these little  islands, they had obligingly created perfect landing slips for
our  Geminis.  We  could  drag  the inflatables  onto the spit  and  conceal
ourselves and our equipment in  the reeds and operate  from there. There was
no way anyone would find us.
     Everybody was cammed up and carrying belt kit and weapons as we climbed
into the boats and set off into the darkness. One boat  was up ahead as lead
     Aboard were two people-one driving, one navigating.
     The cox was Solid Shot.  As a member of Boat Troop he knew  what he was
doing. He would just let the motor run  on its own revs and guide it through
the reeds and obstructions. It was amazing how little  noise was made by the
     The other member was the Boat  Troop Boss, the  rupert who passed in my
Selection.  He  was  from some  armored recce unit  and was quite funny  and
likable. He would be checking with Solid Shot on navigation.
     Solid Shot  was soon to be a fellow officer. When we got back from this
trip, he was going to be commissioned as Captain Solid Shot, so he wasn't so
thick after all. We were all very happy for him.
     We were moving along at little more than tick-over  pace; the Yamaha is
remarkably quiet if you're just trogging along without revving it up.  As we
got closer to the target, the engines were cut off, and we started paddling.
     Sandy and I were up at the front of the second boat.
     With his, blond Brillo pad hair  under a very  large bush hat he looked
like one of the Flowerpot Men. Our job was to cover the first boat, which we
could  just about see up  ahead in the  darkness. We wanted lots of distance
between boats in  case of a contact, but at the same time we had to keep  in
visual touch. If we started losing contact, it would all go to a gang fuck.
     We  were mooching  along, no sound except for the occasional slurp of a
paddle in the water,  when suddenly, from  near the lead boat, we heard what
sounded like an explosion. It was followed by another, and another, and then
we could see the foaming white of violently disturbed water.
     The lead  Gemini stopped, and so did we. The  whole two troops were now
just floating in the water and being  taken slowly downstream. We then heard
what sounded like the roar of a steam engine.
     We heard the  sound again, and this time it was getting closer, a deep,
outraged bellow that told us we were about to be thrown out of the party.
     Next thing  we heard was "Fuck,  fuck, fuck!" from the  lead boat  as a
massive head and shoulders reared out of  the water and took a bite into the
rubber. Luckily the inflatables were constructed in sections, so that if one
did get a puncture, it was only that section that went down.
     There,was  an  ominous sound'of rushing water,  and my eyes strained in
the darkness to  see the  threat.  An ugly head arrowed toward  us, erupting
into an explosion of foam and jaws the size of a Mini.
     Sandy said, "Fucking hell!" and everybody in the boat paddled so fast a
man could have water-skied behind us.
     As the  deep,  honking  voices  receded behind  us,  I realized  I  was
drenched-whether from swamp water, exertion, or sheer terror I didn't know.
     The snorting and thrashing of the hippos would  have compromised us, so
we had no alternative but to turn back and try to find another route in. Our
time on  the target would be severely  cut as a result, because we had to be
in and  away  again before first  light, needing darkness to get back to our
hide position, the troop L.U.P.
     We eventually got to the area of  the attack. The  blokes from the lead
boat jumped on others, and we dragged the bitten vessel along behind. It was
the first time I'd been in an attack where people couldn't stop laughing. It
had been a ridiculous scenario: two troops of the world's  finest, screaming
along  the  Okavango waterways  armed to  the  teeth,  going  in  to  do  an
aggressive act, stopped in their tracks by a hippo that had the hump.
     We had  a very interesting few more weeks  in Botswana, during  which I
learned  the  Afrikaans  for  "Let's get  the  hell  out  of here!"  and the
Botswanan for "Look at that springbok run."
     At the end  we had a big  barbecue back  at  the squadron RP. It was as
much a drink for Joe as  anything else, and  during  the course of the night
things were getting out of hand. A thunderflash (training grenade) came over
the  roof, then  another. The locals  were  still shitting  themselves about
S.A.D.F incursions, and the explosions did not go down well.
     The  SSM  shouted,  "That's enough. The  next one who  throws  one gets
R.T.U'D [returned to unit]."
     Two minutes later, BANG!
     The SSM went  running around the area looking for the flash banger, but
no one could be found. A few of us saw who he was but said nothing.
     The following morning the squadron O.C got everyone together. "You have
until midday to come forward," he said.  "If not, there will be no  R and R,
and from now on you will provide security with the Botswanans."
     We all knew who it was, but no one said a word.
     The O.C finished with the words "He has to make up his  mind if he is a
man or a mouse."
     The Botswanan Mouse  was born. We got pissed  off with the restrictions
that were imposed on us as  a result  of this blokes irresponsible  behavior
and even more pissed  off with him. He  deserved to be R.T.U'D, but everyone
had a  strange and probably mistaken sense of  loyalty. He was flapping good
style, however, and quite rightly so.
     No one ever exposed  the  identity of the  mouse. Every group of people
has  someone  they  don't  like or want to work  with. When  we  returned to
Hereford, as well as  Slaphead's  pictures in  the interest room, there were
several cartoons of the mouse, and he continued to reap what he had sown.
     M  n entire squadron  of the Special Air Service was 14 on the team" in
the UK for six to nine months, on permanent standby. After a buildup of four
to  six weeks,  which  included  training with  the squadron  still  on, the
commitment was  handed over; it might have been only  eighteen  months since
the  blokes  were  last on the tearr, but there  was always something new to
     The team  consisted of two subteams, Red and Blue, each with an assault
group and  sniper group. Having two teams meant that two  incidents could be
covered at once; there were  also  contingency plans for other  squadrons to
produce teams if there were more than two incidents that had to be covered.
     The assaulters were the people with all the black kit on who go jumping
out of  helicopters and banging down doors; they tended to work in  four-man
teams, but this was  flexible depending on the target. One  of  the  assault
groups was the M.O.E (method of entry) team, responsible for making  up  the
explosive charges for the rest of the team to use.
     There  was also  a signals  setup. As  well  as look  after  the team's
equipment they  had to provide comms  from  anywhere in the world,  as there
were also  commitments overseas.  As some of them  were required to enter  a
target with the team, they trained alongside us.
     The  medic carried the world's biggest  trauma pack. If there was a man
down, the firefight still had  to go  on;  it  was the medic's job to get in
there and start getting some fluid into him and managing the trauma.
     Until everything went bang and an attack went in, the sniper group were
the most important people. They were on the target, giving  the  rest  of us
real-time information. They, too, were trained as assaulters.
     The squadron HQ comprised  the  O.C,  a major,  and the SSM,  a warrant
officer, who were responsible for both teams.
     I found being on constant standby no more of a problem than it  must be
for a  doctor;  we were on call and  we lived with it. We each had a bleeper
and didn't go anywhere without it.
     Seven Troop was  always  part  of  the  Red  team, which was  wonderful
because the squadron HQ was next to the Blue. If there were any bone jobs to
be done, the head shed would just nip next door; we  were fifty meters  away
in our own hangar.
     First  thing in the morning we'd meet up in the  crew  room. Some would
have run in or  have  already  done  their training  in the  gym. It  was  a
personal thing;  no one ever told us to do it; however, the  day we couldn't
do our job  because we had  lacked the self-discipline to go and train, we'd
be standing on Platform 4.
     Cycling was very popular at one stage, and some mornings it looked like
the Tour de France coming into the main gate. I preferred  to run in from my
house, have a shower, then go and have  a brew in the crew room. It  had the
look of a seventies-built school staff  room, with a TV and  magazines  that
were six  months  out of date, army soft chairs with horrible colored  nylon
covers, and mugs that were badly stained by coffee. It  stank of stale  tea,
coffee, and cigarettes.
     One of us would go to the  cookhouse in a Range Rover  and pick up some
tea in Norwegians and the packed lunches-brown  paper bags that contained  a
typical school  lunch of  soggy  rolls, Yorkie  bar, and  crisps.  By  eight
o'clock  we'd have  eaten everything and  would  start  discussing the day's
     "What are we doing today then, Gar?"
     Gar was  in  his mid-thirties, an ex-Green  jacket, and had been in the
Regiment for  years.  He  was very  experienced over  the water  and  really
switched on. Recently divorced,  he was reliving his youth; he was immensely
sociable, tailor-made for B Squadron. He wore Armani suits and jermyn Street
shirts; even the sergeant major called him  Champagne  Charlie.  At the same
time, however, he was very sensible, and not the  right bloke to get on  the
wrong side of. Everybody  tried to be best mates with  Gar; get  in  his bad
books and you were in trouble.
     There was no messing about; he'd just sort you out on the spot.
     On 5 September  1972,  eight men belonging to the Palestinian terrorist
group  Black September burst into a room  in  Munich housing eleven  Israeli
athletes. They shot two of them and  held the others hostage, demanding  the
release of P.L.O prisoners held in Israel and members of the German Red Army
Faction held in West Germany. They also wanted a plane to fly them to Cairo.
     The  West  German   government,   which  had   no   specially   trained
counterterrorist  forces, gave in to the terrorists' demands after a day  of
negotiations. They were flown in two helicopters to a military air base, and
as they prepared to board the aircraft, army snipers opened fire. Visibility
was  bad, and  the snipers were positioned too  far away. The terrorists had
time to blow up both helicopters, killing the nine Israelis.
     In order to  avoid such  a  debacle in  the LJK, the British government
turned to the  Regiment. A CRW (counter revolutionary warfare)  wing was set
up that would be  responsible for  training every member  of the Regiment in
counterterrorism techniques-among other things.
     CRW  was still  the  continuity  of  the CT  (close  target) iding  new
equipment, training, and buildings.
     team, prov If there was  no training requirement  coming  from CRW on a
particular day-for example, going to see the London Underground, visiting an
airport,  or  looking at  major  venues where heads  of state were likely to
meet-we would conduct our own.
     Instead of  the  head shed running things, one of the team would be put
in charge: "Right, Harry B, you organize a day in the CQB house."
     The head shed could then spend time working alongside us.
     The sniper team would go to the ranges  or train with the assaulters. I
loved the  ranges,  especially in the summer. We used the PM, a 7.62  sniper
rifle,  and  Lapua  ammunition,  made  in  Finland.  The  targets  were "Hun
heads"-just a  picture of  a  head. We always went for head  shots, for  two
reasons: Any terrorist with more than two brain cells would wear  body armor
if he had  the opportunity, and there  was always a chance that  the players
would  be on  drugs and therefore more  pumped up. If they were  shot in the
body, they could be so wired to the moon that they would  still come forward
or start to  kill the hostages.  If they had their  heads  taken off, they'd
     Within the  Hun head targets was a circle, centered on the area of  the
nose. We'd  start the session  by  firing  just one  round, at  two  hundred
meters, as a confidence shot.
     Some  would  do it standing, some  lying, but we'd all have to  hit the
circle, dead center. It made us more confident to know that the  weapon kept
its zero, even when it had been packed and put  in the wagon; at an incident
we wouldn't be able to test-fire our weapons, so we had to be sure.
     There would  then be lots of  moving target shoots as  far away  as six
hundred meters, and a lot of OP training and urban sniper work.
     The development of a counterterrorist role led to a  number  of changes
at  Stirling Lines. The CQB building  or "killing  house" was constructed to
enable us to  train  in  hostage rescue and covert entry with live amen  ' '
unition, and make entry at any level-anything  from a four-man assault group
to a complete team with vehicles and helicopters. It was a single-story bull
ding with a center corridor  and rooms leading off-large rooms, small rooms,
connected rooms-with  movable partitions and a whole range of furniture.  It
was up to  the individual to arrange the  furniture the way he wanted it and
then put up any barricades.
     The smell of lead  and gunfire seemed to cling to the walls. There were
extractor  fans, but they couldn't keep up with  the amount of rounds fired.
Even with  the lights in the rooms fully on it was still fairly gloomy. Some
rooms  had  bulletproof glass with little portholes so people could look  in
from outside or videotape us.
     It was my turn to organize a day in the CQB house.
     My team  consisted of me, Dave, Fat  Boy, and  a new boy, straight from
Selection, called Tim.
     "Let's do a three-man snatch,"  I  said. "Fat Boy, go and sort the room
out-I don't want you working up a sweat, do I?"
     He went off to arrange the  furniture in the room and put up barricades
for us to  fight through and change the lighting in the room  so we wouldn't
know  what to expect as we entered. He then went and sat down in the room as
the hostage; the terrorists were simulated by Hun heads.
     We started to move to the door. It was always a difficult time, because
there must be absolutely no noise; the object of the three-man  snatch is to
get  so  much  surprise  and speed  on  to  the  target  that  it's  totally
     Once we reached the door Dave  and  Tim placed the door charge; we were
right up next to it to maintain the element of surprise when it went off. It
was something that  we practiced  time and time again until we were  used to
being next to charges as they exploded.
     Everyone was  right on top of  one  another,  really  tight  up, weapon
leaning over the shoulder of the next bloke, ready to burst in.
     When everything's quiet, the noise of the respirator sounds outrageous.
I  could hear my breath rasping  in and out and was  trying to slow down and
breathe rhythmically to cut down the noise.
     I  made sure my torch  was working, my pistol wasn't going to fall out,
and the weapons weren't banging together. As number one, once I was ready, I
stood in position, safety catch off; the moment the door opened I could  see
into  it and start to  fire. I had my weapon in the shoulder, ready to  go.-
Tim and Dave were right up behind me.
     Forward and peripheral vision  from inside the respirator is  good; all
my  concentration  was focused forward; all I could hear was the noise of my
     I could feel my face starting to get wet with sweat.
     The command was given on the net: "Hello, all stations, I have control.
Stand by, stand by, go!"
     As  the second  "stand by" was  given,  Tim  took  the door  in. I  was
straight into the  room  to take on the  first threat I saw. Reacting to the
situation  in a room is  not so much a  matter of  drill  as  experience and
training.  The terrorists  won't be sitting or  standing  where they ideally
should be; they are not playing our game. It could mean going left or right,
or I might have to fight through a barricade to get to a target. It could be
dark, or the lights might go out just as I entered.
     No  more than  a foot behind came Dave, the number two. He had to react
to two different factors-me and the terrorists.
     As  we  entered,  we were  firing at  the  heads. Dave was  on  auto; I
preferred to fire rapid single shots. It was a matter of personal choice.
     We were firing on the move, and the name of the game was to shoot until
the target was dead. Because we were training and  not dropping live bodies,
I personally would fire until I could  see  enough holes in the  target, and
then  I'd  know that it  was dead. Each man  might get  through  twenty-five
rounds every time he went in, more than he probably would in a real rescue.
     I  moved closer to the target, still firing. I had both  eyes open so I
could see everything that was going on.
     The last  thing any terrorist would see was my  torchlight blaring down
on him.
     Once Dave was  in and firing he might have to move  around the room  to
protect the hostage and  give cover for Tim to do his stuff. He came in with
no  weapons, apart from  a pistol in a holster;  he was shouting through his
respirator at the hostage: "Up, up, up! Move, move, move!"
     as  he picked him  off  the floor by whatever  he  could get  his hands
onollar,  hair,  head,  anythingand.  very aggressively dragged him from the
room. There was no time to mess around. For a snatch to succeed it has to be
all over in a matter  of seconds, and  the  only reason  it is so  quick  is
because of the months-and in most cases years-of practice.
     All four of us came back into the room for a debrief.
     "A bag of shite!" Fat Boy said, smoothing down his ruffled  hair  after
being manhandled by Tim. "Andy, the reason I put that target where I did was
that I knew you'd go for the obvious, when in  fact to the  right of you was
the  real and immediate threat. As  you came  in,  you should have seen that
target straightaway. You fucked it up. Do it again."
     I  was more  than  happy to  practice  it again.  If I had  missed  the
immediate threat in real life, I would probably have been killed.
     After practicing the  same snatch  again, we changed positions  so that
every time there was somebody in the room and three men outside.
     After each session we had another debrief, perhaps watching a videotape
of the proceedings so there could be  no bone excuses, and drinking tea that
tasted of lead because  of the five  thousand or more rounds that were fired
in the  building each day.  The lead fumes get  in the  throat and  nose and
linger all day.
     We  trained for stoppages. It's not the most pleasant  situation in the
world for nothing to happen  when you go  to fire your weapon at a terrorist
five meters away who's bringing  his weapon up at you.  There is  no time to
sort it out; you've just  got to keep both eyes on  the target and draw your
pistol. You have to be quick or you are dead.
     The reason we all went into  the room  as  the hostage was so  that  we
could give an honest account of  what we heard  and saw  from the other side
and gain confidence in the other team members. It takes total trust  to  sit
there, sometimes in the dark, feelin the blast from the .
     MP5s as these people burst  in firing live ammunition  all  around you.
Given the high  number of rounds that  are  fired every day-more than by the
rest of the British Army put together-casualties are very low. All training,
however, must be as realistic as possible.
     It got to the stage where we were so confident with each other  that we
did quite outrageous things  while  training. There  was a fellow called Mel
from B Squadron, at that time  a member of CRW, who was  so confident in the
other  blokes that he would stand between two  targets in a dark  room while
they came in with pistols and torches and fired at the Hun heads beside him.
     Mel was a bit of a fruit. He was trying to get us to wear a new type of
body armor, but we were very skeptical about its effectiveness.
     In the  end he said, "Look,  I'll prove  it  works." He put the kit on,
loaded a shotgun with solid shot, and told one of the blokes to shoot him.
     It took him down, but he was alive. Mel felt he was vindicated.
     On  another team we were  looking at some new Kevlar helmets.  Mel  was
sure that  they  were a good bit,  of kit,  but  we were  saying,  "We don't
mind'the extra weight and discomfort  of having  this Kevlar  helmet on, but
will it take the shot?"
     Mel  put  the  helmet on  and  said to Mick,  the 'ap-slapper, "Listen,
Kevlar's a wonderful material. Shoot me in the head with a nine millimeter."
     Mick said, "Fuck off, behave yourself and have a brew."
     There were no other volunteers, so the event didn't happen. About three
days later the Regiment got a letter from the manufacturers asking what we'd
thought of  the  dummy helmet. Apparently  what they'd  sent  us was just  a
mock-up to demonstrate its weight and the shape.
     There wasn't an  ounce of Kevlar in it. There was talk that a  shot  to
the head wouldn't have made much difference to Mel anyway.
     We'd practice procedures for  Man Down. If  one of our blokes was shot,
we couldn't do anything about it immediately; the  only thing that was going
to save  him was our taking that room or area  as quickly as we could. If we
stopped to sort him out, we'd all die; we must still carry out the task and,
now that he was down, also carry out his job as well.
     We trained for  every eventuality-and trained and trained  and trained.
There  are so many different  types  of buildings, from high-rise blocks  to
caravans, and all  sorts of scenarios in which people could be held. Getting
into an  aircraft, for example, is  a  lot  different from getting  into  an
embassy;  clearing  a  ship is  a lot different from clearing a hotel. For a
start,  the  ammunition's got  to  be  different. If we  started firing ball
ammunitionsolid, full metal jacket  rounds-it would  be  wanging  around all
over the place as it ricocheted off the metal structure; therefore it has to
be able to fragment once it hits metal.
     We, looked at all sorts of vehicles, from coaches to jumbo jets.
     We  practiced getting  up to  an aircraft, then making an entry without
anybody  knowing. The  counterterrorist  team  has to  know how an  aircraft
pressurizes, how it depressurizes, how the system can  be overridden, how to
open the escape chutes.
     People came up with new ideas all the time. One  of the  team once said
for a joke, "How about trying to  climb up the tail and somersault down into
the cockpit?"
     We did.
     There was progression every time a team took over.
     The techniques never stayed the same because what we were trying to get
into and defeat never stayed the same; the technology always moved forward.
     As well as  the assault and sniper groups  practicing among themselves,
the whole team would get together and train for the different "options." One
of these was called the I.A (immediate action), a plan that the 3 i/c had to
organize. He  had  to get all the information available and be  able to give
orders  to one of the  teams  thirty  minutes after  they  arrived; the  O.C
meanwhile would be planning the deliberate options.
     The I.A  was continually updated and changed as more information became
available. If there was a drama and  the terrorists started to  massacre all
the hostages, the I.A would go in as prepared as it could be.
     One of the teams was always  on  standby on  the I.A; within seconds it
could be  stood to, ready  to go in  on  the target. Helicopters  and  Range
Rovers were used to get the team on target as quickly as possible.
     On days when we conducted our own training 'we would try to be finished
by midafternoon. There were no breaks; we just cracked on until it was done.
Then it would be back to the team hangar, clean the weapons, drink more tea,
ensure everything  was ready to go  in case of a call out, and  close  down.
Some of the blokes would then go training or go home and  make an attempt at
fixing their  leaky guttering. Those of us with any  sense would go downtown
for a brew and talk  about how close we were to our football pools syndicate
winning on Saturday.
     Another commitment for the team was to be ready at a moment's notice to
go  over the water to reinforce the troop.  I used  to enjoy this; it got us
away for a few days or even weeks.
     Sometimes if there  was  only a small number required, it was a case of
first  come,  first  served.  There was a callout on a  Saturday morning;  I
jumped into my aging  Renault  and screamed off  to work; my foot  was right
down to the floorboards, gunning the vehicle at speeds of up to 50 mph along
the straight.
     I knew the Puma would be flying in to RP with the team  who were going,
and within ninety minutes  we'd be in  the  province-as long as I got to the
camp  in the first  place. As  I approached  the  main  bridge in  town that
crosses the river Wye, I had a bang, clipping a Mini Metro with my left-hand
wing. The other driver insisted on doing all the paperwork, and there was no
way I could run away or tell him who I was.
     just  as we  finished exchanging particulars,  I saw the Puma  lift off
from the camp.
     The CQB house was always on the list of tourist attractions at Stirling
Lines, and visiting VIPs were  generally given a demonstration of  firepower
and entry techniques. All  chief  constables were  given  demos so that they
understood the Regiment's capabilities, as were the many other organizations
that needed to know the type of product we could supply.
     Sometimes demos became a pain  in  the  arse. It was okay  doing things
that needed to be done, but instead  of being the counterterrorist  team, we
sometims became the demo team.
     The  teams  were  becoming more and  more  fed  up so  that instead  of
training, they were jumping through hoops for all and sundry during the demo
season. We didn't mind doing  it for customs and excise and  police firearms
teams-but teams of rugby players or doctors and nurses? Even the fitters who
were laying carpet in one of the messes had a morning out; the joke was that
someone was obviously  getting his front  room  done for nothing. It came to
the point where the only people left in Hereford  that we hadn't done a demo
for were the Women's Institute.
     The guests would ask some really daft questions.
     "How much do your gloves cost?" I was once asked.
     "One hundred and  fourteen pounds," I  said, plucking a  figure out  of
thin air. "Give or take a few bob."
     It got to the stage where we started to stitch each other up to relieve
the boredom.  One of  the  better  ones was during  the pallet displays, for
which  all the vehicles were  moved  out of  the  hangar and the weapons and
equipment laid  out on show. A member of each  part  of  the team would then
talk about his kit and task.
     I was doing the talk on the assaulters and had sorted out my  pallet. I
had all the clothing, body armor, abseil kit, the lot, and  the weapons that
any member of the assault group would be  taking, and there was Fat Boy, who
was dressed up in the  kit. As I talked about a weapon, he would bring it to
     Everybody's  looking;  it's  all  rather  impressive. Fat Boy drew  his
pistol, then the shotgun, and there were knives and all sorts coming out all
over the place.
     Earlier in the day I had gone  over to the sniper  team's  pallet  when
they weren't around and had left a tennis ball on their display.
     When  Eno started talking about the different  ammunition,  it would be
good to see him get out of it. When  I came back,  I didn't realize I'd been
stitched up myself.
     I  carried on with the waffle and saw  an old  boot in the middle of my
display.  Everybody was rolling up on the other pallets.  The  Regiment head
shed were giving me bad looks; they were not impressed.
     I moved on  to  point  out the weapons,  and there was a plastic  water
pistol. I couldn't do jack shit about it.
     Luckily nobody asked what it was for  because I would have been obliged
to pick it up and say, "It's to shoot people with," and give them a squirt.
     One memorable day the Prince and Princess of  Wales and the Duchess  of
York came down to  Hereford. The purpose of  the  visit was  familiarization
with the Regiment, so if the shit hit the fan for them,  they'd know what to
expect when the boys came screaming through to rescue them. But  also it was
a fun thing, a good day out for us.  A day like that was good for them, too;
they could let their hair  down  away from the press,  and without having to
shake hands, pick up flowers, or make small talk with Jonathan Dimbleby.
     One  of the demos that  we gave them was how we could covertly enter  a
building and get to the hostages in total darkness.
     They  were  sitting in bne  of  the large CQB  rooms  listening  to  an
explanation  of how  we trained: "As you  can see, we can  control the light
levels, from full to total darkness."
     The lights were now off.
     "Sometimes  the team has to operate in total darkness because there may
be no power or the terrorists have control of the lighting."
     We were going in wearing NVGS. It was like looking at a negative with a
green tinge.  The  goggles  give  a weird  perspective;  if  you go to  grab
something, you might be out by an inch, so it takes constant practice.
     Going up  a step, we'd have to exaggerate our movements to make sure we
didn't trip up; to walk, we'd place a heel gently and run the outside of the
heel all the way along  the outside of the foot, then  gently place the boot
down, and then go with the next one.
     Sometimes I  couldn't hear what I was doing;  I was trying  to  breathe
shallowly; even the noise of the NVG, a tiny whine, sounded fearsome because
it was right next to me.
     Nice  and gently, taking  our time, we  slowly  moved toward  the table
where they were sitting, all the time thinking, What if we screw up?
     We're supposed to be the smoothy clockwork operators.
     The lights went on, and standing over the royal visitors was an assault
group in full kit carrying MP5SDs, trying to breathe slowly and look casual.
The Royals particularly liked that one.
     We staged mock sieges to rehearse the Royals in the procedures we would
go through  in the event  of a  terrorist  attack.  The  exercises were very
realistic, and they didn't always go according to plan.
     During  a  demo of a building assault, the Royal party was aboard Range
Rovers as part of the attacking force, watching others  who were fast-roping
from a helicopter onto the roof. The Agustas were zooming in, lots of bangs,
lots of firing, the big mass assault on the embassy.
     Suddenly, as  the helicopter  lifted away, a bloke in black kit tumbled
out  and fell fifty feet onto the roof, his body being hidden from view by a
three-foot-high perimeter wall.
     The blokes  said they  heard Prince Charles  say, "Oh,  my God, a man's
been killed!"
     Almost immediately  what should  have been  a  dead body jumped to  his
feet,  dusted  himself off, and continued with his task. Everybody looked at
one another, openmouthed.
     Later that  day the Regiment became trendsetters. Diana was going to be
in a room where  flashbangs  were going  to  go  off.  Flashbangs are  noisy
things; they are  designed to disorientate you and make you want to curl  up
in a ball and wait for your mum to come and get you.
     As it went off, she turned and one of the maroons hit  her in the head.
There  was the smell  of  burned hair and  lacquer,  and our  army  pensions
suddenly didn't look any too healthy.
     The only lasting damage was to her hair, which was badly burned.
     Days later the press  and Royal fashion  watchers  noted that Diana was
suddenly sporting a new, shorter hairdo. There could be no comeback.
     They had signed a  disclaimer  that  was now in B  Squadron's  inter In
Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, 1986.
     Members of 6 and 7 Troop in Okavango, 1986.
     mil FN 9MM pistol, stripped. FNITRH Pictures Heckler & Koch 9MM MP5SD.
     Heckler  Koch  Pictures est room:  "No  member of B  squadron  will  be
committed to the Tower if any of the demos go wrong."
     Nobody-least  of all the other  members  of the  Regiment-could believe
what had happened to the bloke who fell from the helicopter, and it was only
in  the club later  that we learned  the truth  about Superman.  Unknown  to
anybody but the team in  the  heli, he had  hidden himself  behind the wall.
Then, at the right moment,  the lads in the heli had ejected a dummy dressed
in black kit.
     As  well as all the  training  that was  done for  once we were  on the
target, we had to practice the call-out system and moving to an incident; we
had frequent  exercises enabling the  different  agencies  and personalities
involved in any hostage incident to practice their bits.
     Mrs. Thatcher had long been a fan of the Regiment.
     After  refusing to  allow the  government to give in to the terrorists'
demands  during the embassy  siege,  she had personally sent  in the team to
bring it to an end.
     She might as  well  have had a bed  space down in  Hereford; she always
seemed to be there. I  respected her nononsense approach, and she laughed at
the jokes. She might have been the  only one walking around the camp wit I a
andbag, but she was as tough  as any man when it came to the crunch. She was
in  the CQB house once when we burst in and pumped live  rounds into targets
either side of her. One of her aides curled up into a ball.
     Maggie looked at him and snapped, "Get up, you fool."
     There was a  lot of liaison with different units of the police. We  did
major exercises where  everybody was involved, from the Prime Minister down,
because  everybody  had  to  be tested.  It  was  no  good  having  all  the
soldiers-the  coal  face workers-practicing their techniques  and practicing
cooperation with other  organizations, if  the  people who were  sitting  up
there  in  C.O.B.R  (Cabinet  Office  briefing  room)  listening to  all the
information  and  making  decisions  weren't  practiced,  too.  So  we'd  do
exercises  where  C.O.B.R would  take command and  direct operations  from a
bunker under Whitehall, the idea being to put Mrs. Thatcher and her team and
everyone else down the chain under as much pressure as possible.
     There had been  a big exercise a couple of years before in the  States,
and some of the Regiment went over as guests to observe. The incident was of
national   importance   involving  the  National   Security   Council,   the
presidential committee that commits  the troops.  But the  problem was,  the
council  didn't  actually  assemble to join  in  the  exercise. There  was a
debrief  afterward, at which one of  the Regiment blokes stood up and  said,
"The exercise was excellent; all the different organizations worked together
and  any  little  problems  are  now  ironed out.  However,  where  was  the
President?" It was  ident and his advisers who had to make the decithe  Pres
sions, and they had to be getting hit with the problems  exactly the same as
everybody else.
     In  the UK  everybody  from the Prime  Minister down  was hit  with the
problem at the same time as we were and had to make decisions.  So it wasn't
just  the S.A.S  going in to  kick ass; it  was everybody  working  together
toward the same aim-a negotiated surrender. The last  thing any of us wanted
was to start putting charges  on buildings and go screaming through shooting
people-or,  even worse, getting shot at. It's dangerous. Nobody's jumping up
and  down  with  excitement to go and  do  that sort of stuff;  he might  be
killed. However, if it's got  to be done, okay , that's  a fair one, off you
go,  and if the people  in  command, up to government  level, have practiced
alongside those at the sharp  end, then at  least the blokes are  happy that
the decision has been taken by people with experience.
     During one tour I was on the thirty-minute team. I was in town shopping
when I  got a call on my bleeper. By now I  had a  250 cc Yamaha;  I took it
steady going over the bridge this time. As I rode in,  all the hangar  doors
were  open and vehicles were  moving  to the ammo  bunker  to load up. There
would  be maximum  activity as blokes were  loading  their ops bags into the
wagons, which held everything an assaulter could wish for.
     Everything was laid out behind the wagons ready to go at ahy time.
     Once everyone  had loaded  up we moved into the t:rew room to find  out
what was going  on.  We were all eating our crisps apart from Slaphead,  who
saved his during the week for his kids. For some reason  they always  seemed
to be the most horrible flavors like Prawn cocktail.
     Maybe the  army had a deal with Smiths or the  head chef had a sense of
     The SSM  came into the crew room and said, "About an hour ago there was
a call out  for four  men, including the second-in-command,  to  go over the
water.  We've  just   received  another  call,  Andy.   I  want  you  to  be
thirdin-command on it."
     He gave us a brief.
     "The  Israeli  trade  commission  was.  holding  a conference  at  grid
six-three-two-four-five-six,  map  sheet  onethree-five.  This  morning  the
Islamic Jihad got into  the building and is holding hostages. We  are  stood
to, waiting for the word  to move. The O.C and his group have  already moved
by one-zero-nine (Agusta helicopter).
     Steve   is   waiting   with   the   second   one-zero-ninei   for   the
second-in-command and  sniper commander.  The rest of  us  will wait for the
     My chest felt  tight  as  we were driven to the heli pad; in the normal
course of events I wouldn't have been  tasked  with the 3 i/c's job until at
least my next tour. I felt honored but daunted. I didn't want to fuck up.
     The second wave of slime  (Intelligence  Corps personnel) were  waiting
for us  by the  109.  They were an integral part of any operation ever since
the  Prince' s  Gate siege had demonstrated the value of  good  and accurate
intelligence. During the lead up to the actual assault, specialists from M15
had  been tasked  with  drilling  holes  in  the  walls and  inserting  tiny
microphones and cameras to gain a detailed picture of who  was where  inside
the building. But the information about the construction of the building was
piss  poor,  and  the walls turned out  to be  too thick for  the  probes to
penetrate.  The result  was that although the  blokes  had  a  model  of the
construction of the building, they did not know exactly where the terrorists
     Since then the  Regiment  had collated a  massive database on  computer
that  included  such essential information as  the thicknesses  of walls and
doors in buildings that were possible  terrorist  targets and the designs of
all military and civilian  aircraft. The computer was portable, so  wherever
an incident occurred,  we could take it with us and access the  information.
If we called up a  certain hotel,  for example,  we'd get a 3D  image of the
interior on the screen.
     Intelligence gathered on the numbers  and location of people inside the
building could then be added as it  came to hand. Possible methods  of entry
could  also be suggested to  the computer,  which would  then  plot the best
method of moving through the building. If the design of the building was not
on the database, we could punch in details such  as the  construction of the
outside walls, the number of windows, and the location of various rooms. The
computer would then  "design"  the interior and provide a probability factor
for  accuracy, altering both as more  information  was  added. It seemed the
slime  had  every map, drawing,  and  picture  of every  ship, aircraft, and
building in existence.
     I liked going  in the heli with Steve until he  started to  talk  about
squash. He was mad on the sport, and  to make it worse, he  was good  at it.
Squash was very popular in the Regiment; at lunchtime the courts looked like
the scene at a major tournament.
     We arrived at the location just outside Liverpool, a large private park
with its  own  massive  mansion house; from the air  I could  see lakes  and
well-manicured lawns.
     We landed alongside the  other 109. One of the  slime was there to take
us to the holding area.
     "It's not as good as we would want, but it will do," he said.
     On the way there we passed scores of police, fire, and ambulance crews,
all with their  vehicles and their own jobs  to do. The holding  area turned
out to be two large rooms in an old outbuilding that had been taken over and
used  as incident control.  The  rooms  were  more  or  less derelict,  with
concrete floors  and cobwebs at  the  joins of the  walls and a damp,  musty
smell of cat's piss, but at least there was electricity. In  one corner were
a couple of bogs with high cisterns and rusty metal chains.
     The rooms must both have been about  twenty-five  meters  by twenty; it
was a building cut in half with a center wall and two doors.
     The first  priority was  to meet up with jack, the squadron O.C. He was
easy  to  spot-very tall, very  wide,  and with a  nose that would  have put
General de Gaulle's in the shade.
     "This is the  briefing area," he said.  "Next  door  will be the  admin
area. The I.A  vehicles  will be placed on that  hard standing to the right;
everything else on that grass area there."
     Nobody else would  be allowed  to park near  the  ops vehicles, and the
area would be kept clear of all clutter.
     In the briefing area the slime and signals advance parties were sorting
everything out. There was  a  long line  of  six-foot tables  on which  were
boards that  would  soon  have pictures  of  the  target  plus  the  X  rays
(terrorists) and Yankees (hostages).
     Plans of the  building  were  being  pinned up  as more information was
given by the  police.  Steve and Jerry, the other  pilot,  did  the sensible
thing: got  some tea and  talked squash while  they waited for their support
team to arrive.
     "Let's go  to the  main incident room and get permission to  go forward
and see the target," I said.
     I  took a walk to the main  building with  the  O.C and Bob, the sniper
team commander. Bob was the first member  of  the Regiment I'd ever seen, in
     He had since become troop sergeant.
     It  seemed  that  the mansion  had  been  renovated  and turned into  a
conference center much the  same as the target, which was  about a kilometer
away.  It was  very  plush with deep  carpets, beautiful wood,  and  leather
furniture and a fine central  staircase. The scene put me in mind of a place
that a film company had taken over.
     All the Gucci furniture  had been  moved  to the side,  and  there were
wires fixed  to the floor with masking  tape  and running up the staircases,
telephones ringing, policemen and women rushing around, and, like us, people
in civilian clothes with ID cards pinned to their jackets.
     Every sector had its own little cordon. To come out of our holding area
cordon and into another, we had to go through a police checkpoint. The slime
had pinned ID cards to us. Within the main building there were other  places
that  we needed  other clearances to  go into. It was chaos;  everything was
still getting jacked up.
     The O.C  introduced  us to a  woman police  officer who was one of  the
incident controllers.  She called the forward control  point and  said, "Our
friends are on their way down to see you."
     I  returned  to the briefing area  with  Bob and Jack and  saw the  two
pilots.  Squash  talk had  finished now and they  were looking  at some  air
photography that had just come in. Steve had decided to get his pipe out and
slowly kill everyone. Each time he left it the thing would go out, so he had
to relight it, causing clouds of smoke to form above him.
     The squadron O.C and I got a radio each and did  a quick roadie's sound
check-"One  two, one  two"-to each  other and moved  off  toward  the  inner
cordon. All the radios were secure comms, so no one else could listen on our
     We must have  been  stopped and checked three times at different points
along the route.  Once there we wanted  to get as close as  possible to  the
target. The O.C  wanted to  start thinking about the deliberate options, how
he was  going  to get his teams on target and what he wanted  to happen when
they were there. On these phases we had the advantage over the terrorists.
     Bob was looking for the best places to put his snipers.
     They needed to be  as  far away as possible for concealment  but  close
enough to play the kind of detail that was going to be required.
     For my part,  I  was  looking for the best Way to get  the  team in and
control the target thirty minutes after they arrived, which was the 3
     i/c's job.
     We got to the  control point, a group of gray  police Portakabins, each
with a black-and-white checked line around it. It had been raining,  and our
shoes  were muddy.  I tried  to  scrape most of  it off as  we entered.  The
Portakabin was pretty spartan inside and freezing  cold, despite an electric
two-bar fire-no taxpayers' money  used extravagantly here. The place smelled
of coffee, cigarettes, and the stink of burned dust when an electric fire is
first turned  on. The windows were steamed up;  people were  wiping them  so
they could see out.
     Every  time  somebody moved  Portakabin rocked backward and forward; it
hadn't been stabilized yet.
     Inside were the negotiators and the world's supply of policemen.
     The areas were pointed out to us on a  sketch map,  and then our escort
turned up to take us as far as the nearest police sniper.
     The boy was well and truly pissed off. It was  cold and wet, and he was
lying in the mud with only a roll mat for insulation.
     "I've been waiting to be stood down for the last hour," he said.
     "What have you seen?"
     "Not  a  thing.  When  we arrived, all  the  curtains were closed,  and
there's been no movement anywhere."
     I said, "If the curtains are the same as the ones in the main house, we
won't be able to see much tonight either."
     We stayed for  about  an hour, moving around the building as much as we
could. I peered through my binos, having a good look at the target.
     It was a  large, square  Georgian  building, with very clean-cut lines,
much like  the  main mansion house itself. At  the  front  were large double
doors and windows on either side on the ground floor.
     Above that there were three windows on each of the next two stories.
     The roof was flat,  with  a little two-foot wall around the edge, but I
could see two large skylights. It had  a gravel driveway  coming  up to  it,
which opened up either side; around the back were outhouses and garages.
     A quick word with Steve-and the slime, and I would be  ready. I  walked
back in the mud, wishing that I had brought my wellies with me.
     Standing near  where  the snipers would soon be  positioned with a good
view of the building,  I did  a quick  appreciation of how I  was  going  to
implement the I.A.
     We would  have to travel up to the target by  vehicles  because  of the
distance from  the holding area. Once we got there, did we then move on foot
to get on to the target? No; there was too much open space between the cover
and the target. There were some woods and little hedgerows dotted  around in
this  vast park  area, but the  nearest lot of  cover was a row of buildings
down at the bottom of the driveway.
     A run up from there would take too long, expose everybody, and possibly
compromise the  whole operation. So it would  have to be  one of two things:
all in by helicopter or all in by vehicle, or a combination of the two.
     We had two 109s, which could take a maximum of  six blokes  each, which
meant they couldn't  get everybody on target. I wanted to hit as  many parts
of  the building  as I could at the same  time so there was  no time for the
people inside  to  react,  so-it was going  to  have to be a combination  of
vehicles and helicopters, depending on the latest information at the time.
     The first wagons were now arriving after their Formula  One race up the
Me. As everybody came in,  he was told where the holding area  was and where
he was  to lay out his equipment. Soon there was a long row of blankets in a
straight  line; on  top of all of them was all  the equipment out of all the
vehicles.  The  blokes unwrapped the MP5SDs  and  Welrods  from their weapon
bags,  together  with axes, crowbars,  hammers, shields, half  shields, full
body shields, ladder sections. The only wagon that was not emptied  out  was
the  M.O.E  wagon,  which  was  full  of  explosives  and  bits  of wood and
polystyrene for making up charges.
     They knew  where  they were going to sleep-the holding  area. All  they
wanted to know now was where the bogs were and where they could get a brew.
     With the arrival of the team the briefing area got busier. There seemed
to  be wires, radios and  telephones being tested  everywhere. I was sitting
over  the  marker board, putting call  signs to vehicles and telling  blokes
where those vehicles  were  going and what would happen once they got there.
The more I wrote down before  I gave the formal set of orders, the easier it
was for me, because then everybody  already had an idea of what he needed to
     As I was  writing it  down, people were  coming in and  leaning over my
shoulder: "How many vehicles needed?"
     "I need two Range Rovers and two fast ropes."
     Bob took  his first - two snipers  on the ground and showed them  their
positions; they would start to send information as soon as they were  on the
ground. In contrast with the police, our snipers had  some really  good kit.
Not just overalls and a roll mat for us; we had camoutage DPM coveralls made
of  Gore-Tex;  inside  was a  complete  body duvet,  which was  unbelievably
comfortable. They only had to wear their tracksuits underneath and could lie
out in the mess all  day if  they had to.  The only slight drawback was that
the clothing  was  bulky; from behind, they  looked  like  two Michelin  men
walking  down  the path.  But  they  would  be  grateful for the warmth; the
weather  was still dull and overcast,  a freezing,  stinking winter day that
found its way into any little gaps in your clothing.
     Now I'd had my  chat with Steve and the slime  I was ready to  fill the
board in and get changed myself.
     The team  now knew what time  orders  were and  what  those orders were
likely to consist of, plus what vehicles they had to prepare.
     As well as this, the  M.O.E  team  were looking at the information that
had been  given by the police. They checked, too, with the scaleys, having a
quick look at what measurements and plans they had. Then they started making
charges to defeat the windows, which were plastic-framed and double-glazed.
     The whole place was sparked up now, with everybody involved  in his own
little  world. The team were sorting the equipment  out,  coming in and out,
still in their jeans.
     The scaleys were sitting over their equipment, chatting away.
     They, too, were in jeans and rough wear.
     On ops the assault teams wore three layers of clothing: flame-retardant
underwear, very much  like racing drivers wear; an NBC (nuclear, biological,
and  chemical)  suit  to  protect  us  from  the  gas  we  would  use;  then
flame-retardant  black  coveralls.  After  that   the  bootshigh-leg   cross
trainers, which were also great for free fall. I put my belt kit on; this al
' so  carried  my Sig  9MM pistol, which strapped on halfway  down  my right
     I just had to lower my arm and the pistol grip would meet my hand.
     On my left leg I had my mags for the MP5 and Sig, again halfway down my
     I had an instant sweat on; to make it hotter, on  came  the body armor.
By now I, too, looked like the Michelin man.  To  top it all, there was  the
ops waistcoat; this carried my radio with its earpiece and  throat mike-some
blokes  used  a mike that  went  into their  respirator, but I  didn't  like
it-explosives,  first  field  dressings, a knife,  an  ax,  flashbangs, plus
anything else that was task specific.
     I  carried a Heckler & Koch MP5, the high-powered 9MM semiautomatic and
automatic weapon. The reason it had  become the basic assaulter's weapon was
that  it  had a closed breech, which meant we  could  have a round up in the
breech   ready  to  fire,  with  the  working  parts  forward-much  like   a
self-loading rifle or an Armalite.
     Most  small machine  guns work on  the  blowback  principle,  where the
working parts come forward to initiate a round, and the gases then push back
the working parts, which stay to the rear unless you pull the trigger again.
The Heckler &  Kochs  are more reliable and have an excellent  rate of fire.
And they're British,  of  all things, Heckler and Koch being part of British
     Another good feature of the MP5 is its three-round burst capability, so
every time you squeeze the trigger, it  just fires three rounds. Release the
trigger,  squeeze  it  again,  it'll just fire  three rounds. It's the first
three to five rounds that are most effective on any automatic weapon.
     The streamlight torch attached was zeroed to the weapon so we could use
the beam for aiming as well as simply penetrating darkness  or smoke. I used
mine  even in  daylight because  it  was such a  good  aiming aid. There are
little nuts and bolts to enable you to move the torch around; you zero it so
you know that when the  torchlight is on the  target at  so many meters, the
rounds are going to go so high or  so low from  it. In a  dark room Maglites
also have a good blinding effect on the people you're attacking.
     I  had two magazines attached to the weapon: one that was in the weapon
and then a bracket with another magazine just to the side of it, so I didn't
have to go to my main belt kit in a rush. The weapon was slung over the body
on a chest sling so I could climb  buildings, jump  in  and out of vehicles,
and do all the business that I  wanted, without having to worry about it. It
was one of the few times that the Regiment did actually sling weapons.
     At the last moment I would put on my kid leather gloves and respirator;
by then I would just be  a big sweaty mess with  a chest  and shoulders like
Arnie in a  Terminator film. If I was really lucky, I could also find myself
carrying  the "Barclaycard,"  a sawn-off  pump-action shotgun  with the butt
taken  off; it's used to take doors down  by  firing a "Hatton round," which
takes the hinges  out without damaging the people  in the  room. It got  its
name from the advert-"A Barclaycard gets you  anywhere." In the beginning it
came with its own holster, but that proved to be too cumbersome; most of the
teams just put a bungee on it and had it hanging down at their sides.
     By the  time of my orders group  the briefing room was  furnished  with
fold-up canvas  army chairs from the wagons. Some blokes  were sitting down;
some were standing.  People were  coming  in and  out; I could  hear all the
people on the radios in the background.
     They gathered around the board as I gave my I.A orders, white paper cup
in  one  hand  and a  soggy  roll in the other.  Before us were plans of the
building from all elevations, plus air photos and floor plans.
     This  was one  occasion when there was no time for  anyone to  voice an
opinion. There was no Chinese parliament.
     I said, "These are orders  for  the I.A that is in place directly after
these orders.
     "Ground. The building has three floors. At the front there are the main
double doors;  these are plate  glass  with  a plastic frame. The doors have
been covered over with tablecloths so we can't see in. On each side there is
a  window,  then a window above  that per floor; these are all double-glazed
with plastic  frames.  All the  windows  in  the  whole building  have their
curtains  closed. From the main door  there is a  central staircase that has
two flights per floor. On the roof there are skylights that open up into the
main corridor on the top floor.
     After these orders look at the plans and  familiarize yourself with the
rest of the outside; the front is all we are concerned with at the moment.
     "Situation.  Six  hours  ago  members  of  Islamic jihad took  over the
building that was  the venue for a conference sponsored by the Jewish  trade
commission. They are demanding the release of five of their group being held
in Parkhurst prison for  the  attempted  bombing  of the Israeli Embassy. It
seems  that  there  are up  to six  X  rays  and  approximately twenty-seven
     "There are no pictures yet, or  information, on anyone, except that one
of the X rays,  X ray One, is a woman.  From her voice she appears to  be in
her   mid-twenties   with  a   strong   northern   Palestine   accent.   Her
English/American is good. All indications show that the group have split the
Yankees and spread them around the building. No weapons have been  seen, but
it is a reasonable assumption that they have automatic weapons.
     "Deadlines.  Negotiations  have  been taking  place since  ten  hundred
hours. The first deadline is in forty-five minutes' time, at sixteen hundred
hours. They want to talk with one of their group who is in Parkhurst."
     I  then  gave  the  mission  statement,  which  is always  said  twice:
"Mission. To rescue the hostages, to rescue the hostages.
     "Execution. Assault group. Red One and One Alpha,  you are to fast-rope
onto the roof and make an explosive entry through  the skylight.  Your L.O.E
[limit  of exploitation] is the top floor.  I want a link man  on  the first
landing to RP with Two and Two Alpha. Steve, which way are you both going to
approach from?"
     "From the northwest along the tree line, then low over the park."
     "Okay, it will take twenty seconds for the wagons to be on target.
     If you give thirty seconds to target, that will keep us together.
     "Two and Two  Alpha, you are  to  make an  explosive entry into the two
middle-floor  windows. Two,  take  the  left window  on call  sign Tango One
[Range Rover]. Two Alpha  on the right on call sign Tango Two-your  L.O.E is
the middle floor. I want link men to  RP  with One Alpha and to move down to
the first landing and RP with Three and Three Alpha.
     "Three-that's  me-and Three  Alpha are to make an  explosive entry into
the front double doors. Three will go left on call sign Tango One, and Three
Alpha will  take the right on call sign Tango Two. Your L.O.E  is the ground
floor. I want a link man to RP with Two.
     "Sniper group. Sierra One and Two, you are to cover  the call  signs as
they move in from the inner cordon.
     "Sierra Three and Four, you  are to move  forward from the inner cordon
on the standby and cover both sides and rear with G threes.
     "Hostage reception.  The reception area will be in the area of the main
doors. Once entry has been effected you are to move forward.
     "A.T.O [ammunition technical officer] and  medic. You  will  be  called
forward on request. Call Sign Three will RP with you at the main entrance.
     "Tango One and Tango  Two. I  want you to  drive head-on from the start
line  here," I  said, pointing at  the map. "Once you come around the corner
you will come head-on  to  the building. The  distance is  approximately one
hundred fifty meters.  Once  on target you will  cover the teams  in, become
casualty replacement if called; if not, become part of hostage reception. If
we get a stand down from the deadline, I'll bring you forward so you can see
the run-in. Any questions?"
     There weren't.
     "Timings. After these orders I want the teams to  look at the plans and
sort  themselves out. By fifteen thirty five  hours  the I.A.  's ready. The
first deadline is at sixteen hundred.
     "Vehicle  group, at  fifteen-fifty everyone needs to be on  the wagons,
ready apart from respirators. We will then I move in slow time to  the start
1- e. Tango One will lead, in and I'll show you the way.
     The  team will  be stood  to at  the start line  at  fifteen.fifty-five
     "Heli group,  at  fifteen fifty-five  you need to be  on  board, rotors
turning. Steve, if you are not told  otherwise,  close down at  sixteen-ten.
Any questions? No?
     Right that's it."
     The formal stuff over with, I then talked with my  team and mulled over
the plans.
     "Dave," you make  ohtry. I'll go in number one-Tim  Two, Fat Boy Three,
and Dave Four. Once we clear the hallway we will  go left and take the large
room, then this one here by the stairwell. Once we are all clear I want you,
Tim, to link up with Three Alpha  at the bottom of the stairs, then clear to
the first landing and RP with Two.  Any questions? Good, let's sort our shit
out and load up."
     That was all there was to say because everybody knew the rest.
     We walked out of the briefing area  to the two Range Rovers,  Tango One
and Tango Two, that were going to take us -on to the target.
     "Hello, Alpha, this is Three," I said on the net.
     "That's Tango One and Two moving to the start line.
     "Alpha, roger that, moving to the start line."
     "Alpha" was  the coordinating call sign for our base, which would be in
the briefing area and manned by the scaley. "Alpha One" was the commander.
     The blokes were sitting all over the outside  of the vehicles. All Don,
the driver, could see was two  pairs of black legs that belonged to my team,
who were going to  take the first floor. As we moved to the start line under
police escort, I could hear the Agustas' rotors starting to wind up.
     I got out of the Range Rover at the  corner of the row of buildings and
watched as everyone put his respirator on  and  "checked camber"-pulling the
working parts  back slightly on his weapons so that he could see there was a
round ready to fire.
     The two drivers quickly turned up to the corner and got  down  on their
stomachs. One of them peered around with just  a quarter of his face and one
eye so he could look up the drive and get a mental picture of the run-in. As
soon as  Tango One's driver had had a look,  he got out of  the way and  the
other fellow got down.
     "Alpha this is Three, that's Two and Three stood to, over."
     "Alpha, roger that, One acknowledge."
     "One stood to, out," the pilot said.
     In the background of his radio message I could hear the rotors turning.
     The squadron  O.C would  be with the senior policeman, listening on his
radio and explaining  everything that we were doing and confirming that  the
I.A was stood to.  If the  X rays started killing  the  Yankees,  it was the
police, not us, who would decide that we went in.
     We were there to supply military aid to the civil power, that was all.
     All  the  team sat  on the wagons and in  the helicopters, listening on
their radios and waiting for the deadline.
     Engines and rotors were running.
     It  was  now approaching the deadline. The snipers  were  watching  and
listening intently.
     "Alpha-Sierra One, that's shouting and movement on White One-One," came
     Each window and door had a color and number. I knew he was referring to
the far-left bottom window.
     "Alpha, roger that, shouting and movement on White One-One."
     All the team could hear this on their own radios.
     "Alpha, Sierra One, that's White One-One opening, wait . . . wait . . .
that's  one X ray, possible male, black ski mask with a  green combat jacket
carrying an AK . . . wait . .  .  he's shouting and pointing to  the control
area, over."
     "Alpha, roger that, out to you. Tango One, acknowledge."
     "Tango One."
     "Tango Twoll "Tango Two."
     "One, roger that," Steve said. The rotors were still turning.
     "Alpha One?"
     "Alpha One, roger."
     It was the last chance for a check.  Is my pistol held in correctly? Is
the flap over the pistol so it's not going to fall out?
     Are the magazines secure?
     The  people with  the  window  and  door charges  were  checking  them,
starting  with the clacker: Is  the clacker on  correctly?  Is  it  nice and
secure?  Then, all the way up, following that line. Is the det on  securely?
Is the det on securely to the det cord? Is the charge all complete?
     Is the respirator on  right?  Is the seal tight  between the respirator
and the  coveralls? You don't want to start getting gas down you  because it
hurts. Gas doesn't only affect the breathing system and the eyes; it affects
the skin, it stings severely. Are the gloves on tight? If they were baggy, I
might have a problem as I went to draw MY Pistol or  started manipulating my
MP5 or pistol.
     Everything was secure. I  was holding  on to the  vehicle,  waiting for
that "Stand by!" to go.
     We heard, "Hello, One and  One Alpha,  move to  your holding area, over
"One, One Alpha, roger that, out."
     The helicopters were starting to go up; within the forward control room
the senior policeman must have been a bit concerned about what was going on.
He hadn't handed over control, but he was  saying: "Get the helis up to save
time, so at least once they're in the holding area we can start running them
     At the same time all the snipers were coming on the net.
     "Hello, Alpha, this is Sierra One. That's still more shouting.
     Still more movement.  It  seems now there's movement  on  Two-Two,  the
window above.  Can't identify  anyone;  it's just  movement. I  can see  the
window and the curtains  moving. There's a face at the  windowcan't identify
it, over."
     "Yep, roger that."
     Blokes  were pulling out flashbangs  from  their  ops waistcoats; as we
were  going in, just as we were  approaching  the place, we'd start throwing
them to produce distraction and confusion-the more the better.
     We wanted to disorientate and scare these guys.
     All the engines were running.  Everybody was just waiting for  the  go.
And still we  had more hollering and shouting; the snipers  were bringing in
more information.
     The negotiators would  be  working really  hard  talking  to the people
inside the building-if  they still  had comms with them, that is, and  these
people wanted to talk. They'd be talking to them and at the same time they'd
be giving messages in siga  language  to  everybody  around them in the main
incident room.
     For us on the Range Rovers, it was just a question of sitting  there in
the wagons twenty  seconds away, out  of I sight. Nobody was doing anything;
we weren't talking , y because we had our respirators on.
     I sat back and put my head clown, listening to what was going on.
     I didn't want to waste energy. I just slumped. I had my weapon strapped
over me; I was weighed down  with kit; it would  have been pointless running
around. We couldn't hear  what the negotiators were saying, but I knew  they
would have  been  trying to calm  the situation  down. There was no way that
C.O.B.R were going to let them talk with their people in Parkhurst.
     "Alpha, Sierra One, that's the X  ray back in White One-One, window and
curtains closed."
     The  deadline  had passed.  The  negotiators were  doing their bit; the
chief constable  must  have been satisfied  that  the  threat  to  kill  two
hostages at 3:00 P.m. had been successfully avoided.
     "Hello, all call signs, this is Alpha One-stand down the I.A.
     Stand down the I.A. All call signs acknowledge."
     We all acknowledged the Boss and  took our respirators off and made our
weapons safe-an  unload  followed  by a load, without putting a round in the
     We drove back with the police escort and  watched the heli  teams  walk
back to the briefing room.
     The place  looked completely  different.  By now  all  the intelligence
collation and signals equipment was on-line.
     There  were more pictures and plans of the building plus information on
the wiring, sewage pipes,  ventilation  systems-more  intelligence than  You
could shake a stick at.
     Also there were a number of photos of one of the  terrorists,  taken by
the technical  teams  of  the Home Office. Now we had  our second terrorist,
called X ray Two,  and a  picture,  There was  nothing  high-tech about  the
scene,  just boards with things stuck on with pins, masking tape, magiboards
with magnets to hold bits up. It was a  very  fluid situation; we  had to be
able to pull information off and replace it quickly.
     Each  of  us had a  white paper cup of hot tea  in our hands as we went
over to the briefing area where the Blue team were waiting. The  slime  were
going to give everyone an update.
     "The situation so far  is, the  negotiators are trying to get  three of
the Yankees exchanged for  food. These are one sixty-five-year-old employee,
the gardener and his two grandchildren, aged six and nine.
     Pictures  are now starting to arrive of some of the Yankees; as soon as
we get them, I'll put them on the board with a description if possible.
     "As you know we now have  an X ray Two. He is a male, approximately six
foot two and fifteen stone.
     There is no new deadline as yet and no more info apart from what  is on
the boards. Any questions?"
     The squadron O.C then took over.
     "The Red team is to  stay  on standby  for the I.A until oh-six-hundred
hours. Orders for  the  team  changeover  will  be  at  oh-five-thirty.  Any
     "What are the feeding arrangements?" Fat Boy asked.
     I smiled. So what's new? I thought.
     Everyone looked at the SQMS.
     "There will be a container meal arriving at nineteen hundred hours, and
from then on the police will take over. As soon as I know more, I'll post it
on the board. I'll  make sure the tea urns are filled. Try to save the paper
cups; use your own mugs if you can."
     We filed out  of the briefing room, throwing  our paper  cups into  the
black bin  liners  that  the  SQMS  and  his  storeman  had been putting  up
     There was background noise  of ringing phones and the amplified  voices
of  the  snipers sending back information, relayed through  loudspeakers  so
that  everyone could hear what  was happening.  There was  a general buzz of
people talking to one another and into phones and  radios, and the noise and
echo  of others  moving and  setting  up  more equipment. It was still  cold
inside  the building; there was localized heat as some heaters  were now on,
but I could still see my breath.
     The admin area next door had changed  also. The Red  team had got their
camp beds  out and started to place their  body  armor and belt kits next to
them; then the  books and Walkmans were coming out. As NWe were  the I.A, no
kit came  off apart  from our MP5s and respiratorsI got a camp bed, unrolled
my sleeping bag, but decided it was too early to sleep.
     I went outside between the  two rooms and saw a couple of the Blue team
talking with two policemen  who were part  of a cordon to stop people coming
into our area.
     "It's great for the overtime," one of the policemen was saying.
     He started to talk about the miners' strike.
     "There  was  one force  that  had their  own  T-shirts printed with the
message 'A.S.P.O.M.-Arthur Scargill Pays  Our  Mortgages."'  I went into the
briefing area to see what was going on.
     The squadron O.C was on  the net  to Sierra Two, who was tucked away in
his OP, watching the front and right-hand side of the building.
     "From your position could you get gas into White Three-Two, over?"
     Sierra  Two  said,  "Wait."  He'd  want  to take  another  look  before
committing himself.
     "Alpha One, Sierra Two-yep, I can do that if I  move twenty meters left
before the standby, over."
     "Roger that, out to you. Hello, Sierra One, what's the cover like  from
you to the rear fire escape, over?"
     "Sierra  One, '  there is dead ground up to about sixty meters short of
the fire escape. However, I haven't been there, over."
     "Alpha One,  roger that.  There will be  someone down on your  position
soon, and they will have a look. Out.
     He  was busy  planning  a  number of  deliberate options covering  day,
night, covert, and overt situations.  These  options would have  to be ready
for when C.O.B.R had tu had  enough or the si ation had deteriorated  to the
extent that the police handed the incident over. Planning for the deliberate
attack  could involve anything from an elaborate model being made up for  us
to  look  at to just loads of floor  plans  and masking tape  put out on the
ground to  represent the  area.  We would walk and  talk through everything.
Sitting in were both teams'  2i/cs and their ruperts; they were all part  of
the planning process.
     The team 2i/cs, the senior noncommiss oned ranks, were there because of
their  experience;  the  team  ruperts  were  there  to  suck  them  dry  of
information-to learn, as well as be part of an operational squadron.
     One day  one  of  them would be in the squadron  O.C's seat-a  fearsome
     The Regiment didn't need troop commanders; in 7
     Troop we  didn't  have a troop commander for years. A  troop ran itself
under its senior NCO.  However, what was needed was  squadron commanders,  a
squadron HQ element. With troops dotted all around the  world, somebody  was
needed who  knew where they  were and  what they required. One of the  troop
commanders was one day  going to  be the  squadron commander, so  it  was in
everybody's interests to make sure we trained them up well. For them, it was
another  form of Selection; they did their three-year tour, and if they were
any good, they might get invited back to run a squadron. If they screwed up,
it wasn't their  fault but that of the troop senior or the troop as a whole.
It  was  our responsibility  not just to give the rupert  a hard time-as you
do-but to make  sure that  he was given all the  opportunity in  those three
years to learn as much as possible. It was no different really from training
recruits at Winchester. A bad product was down to us, not the recruit.
     It was the senior NCO, the team senior, who really ran the show.
     He did the day-to-day planning and  all the administration. And  it was
also his job to make sure that the officer knew what was going on, and we as
a team needed to be teaching him as well.
     I got bored and  went back  to my  sleeping  bag to read my  book,  The
Feudal Kingdom of England.
     Then it  was time for  the  container  meal. This  was,  as  predicted,
"Airborne stew"-Meat, potatoes, vegetables, all cooked up together.
     Sometimes there  are paper plates  on  offer, but most people bring and
use their own; they hold more.  For pudding,  there were six rounds of bread
I.C each and a sticky bun.
     One of the scaleys came in while I was still eating.
     "Can we have both teams  in the briefing room at nineteen-thirty for an
update, I thank you!"
     Some of  the scaleys  were  the world's oldest corporals and sergeants.
Because  they don't  want  to leave  Squadron,  they  forgo  any  chance  of
promotion that would mean moving out of Hereford.
     We sat down in front of the slime and finished off our stickies.
     "We  still  have seen only  X ray Two. All  the  negotiations are still
being conducted by the woman."
     We could hear her voice on the loudspeakers.
     "Can you turn that up?" someone shouted from the back of the team.
     Her words filled the room: "If you do not put our statement on the  BBC
nine P.m. and ITN ten P.m. news, we will start to kill people. We have shown
you that we are not savages, you have your old man and children . . ."
     "I want to help you," said one of the negotiators.
     "None of us want this to turn out a bloodbath, do we? I cannot make any
promises,  but  I  assure  you that  I am  making all efforts  to help  you.
Everything I said I would do has happened. We need to work together . . . ou
must understand I need time."  y  "It  is obvious you  are not listening. We
will start to kill if the broadcasts are . . ."
     Somebody turned the volume down.
     The slime continued: "As you heard, the  old man  and two children have
just been released.  He is in shock and cannot give  any information  of any
use apart from that he thinks there are four or five  and only one of them a
     One of the scaleys shouted out: "Stand to the I.A!"
     We ran to the vehicles and turned our radios on.
     Weapons were made ready and respirators put on while we screamed off to
the start line. The  people with the entry charges  were checking  to ensure
they were okay, and putting on the claymore clacker that would initiate  the
     "Alpha, Tango One and Two at the start line, over."
     "Roger that, out to you. One, this is Alpha, over."
     "One, rotors turning and stood to, over."
     "Roger that, out."
     On the net we  could  all  hear the  snipers  giving information on the
target: "More movement on White TwoOne and White One-One. There is screaming
coming from the ground floor, I can't tell what room."
     "Roger that, Sierra Two."
     I  heard  two  bursts of automatic  fire  and knew it wouldn't  be long
before we went into action.
     "Hello,  One  and One Alpha, this is  Alpha  One.  Move to your holding
     "One, roger."
     We could not see them, but we knew that both helis would now be  flying
off to an area where  they couldn't be heard by the terrorists, waiting  for
the order to move on target. It was dark by now, and all lights were out.
     Steve and Jerry would be using their NVGS.
     The  chief constable now had to wait  for confirmation  that people had
been killed. The sound of shots was not enough.
     He was soon to  have  his confirmation:  A body was  dumped at the main
door with the threat  of another  one in five minutes  if the  TV  statement
demand was not met.
     The policeman spoke to C.O.B.R, and the decision was made.
     The squadron O.C got on the net: "Hello,  all stations,  this is  Alpha
One, radio check, over."
     We all answered.
     "All stations, I have control, I have control. I Call signs One and One
Alpha, commence your run-in."
     "One and One Alpha, roger that, out."
     It was on.
     The  helis dropped  low over the trees, still on their  NVGS. The doors
both sides  of the  Agusta  109s  were  open. Each helicopter had  four  men
aboard.  The number one,  who was  going to come down  the  fast  rope,  was
looking out  of the  helicopter as it screamed in, respirator on, looking at
the approach.  He had two hands  on the fast rope,  which was six inches  in
diameter.  The rest of  the rope dangled around his right foot ready for him
to kick it out; he'd put  two  hands around it,  grip also with the sides of
his assault  boots, and slide down, very much like a  fireman coming  down a
     "That's thirty seconds, thirty seconds."
     This was the last  chance to cancel. The O.C would have  looked  at the
policeman for confirmation.
     "All stations, I have control. Stand by, stand by . . .
     go, go, go!"
     The vehicles moved off with the teams holding on for grim death.
     As we turned  the corner, we could see the building;  Tango Two came up
level with us, and I heard the helis making their approach. They were flying
low toward the building, lower than the building itself.
     A  little arm  sticks out from each side of the aircraft  with the fast
rope; as soon as the helicopter starts to' hover over the target, the number
one kicks out the rope. As  soon as  the rope goes out, the number  one goes
with it; he slides down the fast rope before it hits the bottom of the roof.
     I  looked  up. The helicopters were coming in,  lots of  noise, lots of
downblast, shit  flying off  the roof. They  flared just ten feet  above the
roof. There  were  flashbangs  exploding, and by  now the  pilots have taken
their  NVGs off. The instruments are on a swivel on their helmets; they just
push them up above  their helmets  as NVGs are affected  by  flashbangs  and
would be whited out.
     The  helicopters were striining in a flare position, then started going
backward and forward two or three feet in a hover. The blokes were streaming
down the rope. The number three on each team had quite a task, because as he
fast-roped,  as  well  as  his  equipment,  he  would  be  bringing  down  a
rectangular charge over his shoulder.
     He'd  have to be really careful with it so he didn't rip off the det or
mess up the wiring.
     At one  time there were all four  of them  on the fast rope. As soon as
each man's feet hit the  bottom, he moved out of the way. As they came down,
they were  looking  around,  looking at the  floor,  making sure  nobody was
coming out of the skylights to start taking a pop at them.
     Seconds later the helis were gone.
     Someone put his head out of the top  left-hand  window; we  knew Sierra
One had him in  his sights;  there was no need for us to worry, that was his
job. He didn't get  on the radio, he just got his  telescopic sight on  him,
covering the assault as it went in. If he was a threat, he would soon have a
7.62 Lapua round in his head to make sure he stopped being one.
     On the standby the other two snipers around the back, Sierra Three  and
Four, had gone running forward with  G3s, choosing  areas  where  they could
cover two sides each. They didn't  need telescopic sights because they  were
so close; their G3s had normal iron sights.
     They had  the outside covered; they could take  any  runners that  were
coming out. If the X rays ran  out beyond the snipers, they'd get  caught in
the police cordon, but that never came into  the  equation; as somebody in B
Squadron once said, no one runs faster than Mr. Heckler & Koch.
     As the Range Rover stopped, flashbangs were going off.
     We  jumped  off and ran to the  main doors. They were  locked and still
covered  over  with curtains. Dave secured the charge  to the left-hand side
door  with doublesided tape; there  was enough  explosive  to blow the whole
thing in.
     Everyone was back  against the wall, looking up  with weapons  covering
the  windows. If anyone poked his head out with bad intentions, he would not
enjoy the view for long.
     As  he moved back, Dave checked with his hand the line of  the det cord
to  the  detonator and then  to the  firing  wire, a last check to make sure
everything was right. By checking, he could say, "Bin it," if it was screwed
up, and we'd go straight in with the axes, just as Tiny had had to do at the
embassy. Dave, was rushing, but  he was  still taking his time to  make sure
the charge was  complete.  The  last thing  he  wanted to do was  push  that
clacker and have nothing happen.
     Both  teams  were ready. As  Dave went past, Tim, the  number  two, was
ready with another flashbang.
     I  had  my weapon up  in the aim,  ready  to go in. As I  took  off the
safety, I shouted, "Go!"
     Our charge and one of the first-floor teams' went off at the same time.
I  started  to move.  The flashbang  flew past me, and I followed  it in. It
would be no good going in after it had finished; I had to be there with it.
     The hallway was dark  and  was starting  to fill  with  smoke from  the
flashbangs. Another one exploded, and I felt the effect of the blast.
     The noise jarred my whole  body,  and I  could  feel the pressure on my
eardrums. The flash was blinding, but I had to work through that.
     We'd trained  enough in  these situations;  my hands still arried  burn
marks from when one of the maroons had chit me.
     The whole building was shaking with concussion and seared by  sheets of
blinding light.
     On  my  right I could see  the  other team moving. I didn't look, but I
knew that my group would be heading for that first door.
     The hallway was clear.
     I turned and saw that I was number two at the door.
     The last two of my lot had gone straight for it and were waiting.
     I heard flashbangs and firing from the other floors.
     I ran over, pulling out a flashbang and getting right  behind the first
man. I put it over his shoulder so he knew that we were ready.
     The number three on the opposite side of us kicked the door open.
     As soon as four inches  of gap appeared, the  flashbang was in,  and so
were we.
     Nobody was worried about what was inside or what would happen when  the
door  was opened. We'd done it so many times.  There  was no time  to  think
about danger or the possibility of cocking up.
     The lights  were  on,  and the noise and flashes  were  doing their job
well. Dave went left; as I came in, I saw a group of people huddled together
in a corner but no people with masks or weapons.
     I heard an MPS fire.  One of the group pulled an AK and was bringing it
     I  got my torch onto his head and gave him a quick  burst. The  Yankees
were screaming and crying and had to be controlled.
     Tim,  who was covering both of  us as we  took the room,  shouted, "Get
down,  get down!" He pointed his weapon at them to make them understand that
he was serious-and because there could be terrorists in the group.
     He was now dragging them down onto the floor if they weren't doing what
they were told. This was no time to be sensitive and caring.
     Dave moved  forward at  the same time to clear the room. Because he had
to move a settee, he let his weapon go on its sling and pulled his pistol.
     At the same time Tim was shouting: "Where  are the terrorists, any more
     Once we cleared the room we were  going to the next one. As I came out,
Tim was  pushing  people  onto the floor and  shouting,  "Stay there,  don't
     The other teams  were  still doing their  stuff. I ran past our  number
four, who was covering the hallway. He was in a corner so  that he dominated
the whole area and at the same time could see up the staircase.
     I got  to the door and became number one.  The bottom of my  respirator
had filled up with sweat,  and I was breathing so heavily under all the body
armor  that  I  could feel its diaphragm clanking  up and  down. Tim came up
behind me and shoved a flashbang under my nose.
     Once we had a number three we were ready, and in we went.
     The room was empty.
     Shouts echoed from  other rooms  as  the  Yankees  were  controlled. My
breathing was labored, I was listening to the net,  listening to two lots of
people speaking at once.
     Oral commands were being  shouted through resp'  orators;  hand signals
were  flashing from man to man.  Throughout the building  there were weapons
firing, maroons exploding, smoke and people everywhere.
     It  was very claustrophobic Inside the  respirator.  I was a big sweaty
mess, trying to do my job and think of about ten things at the same time.
     We still had a problem. We didn't know if any X  rays had hidden  among
the Yankees-or maybe the Yankees were actively shielding some.
     The Stockholm Syndrome bonds victims to  their  captors; they had to be
covered with weapons until we knew who was who.
     Tim started  to move up the stairs, covered by a  member from the other
team. He moved very slowly, his pistol out, ready.  He was making sure there
was no  threat on the  stairs, and ensuring that  he didn't  have a blue-one
blue with the other link man he was to RP with.
     They linked up, and I got on the net.
     It had been  just over two minutes  from the "Go. go, go! "_ The firing
had stopfed, but the shouting had not.
     Smoke was billowing everywhere, and now all the call signs were sending
information  back on  the  net that  their  areas  were clear  and what  the
casualty state was.
     Fat Boy said, "We have a wounded woman."
     I looked around, and one of the Yankees was holding her leg.
     I got on to the net: "This is Three, we have a wounded  Yankee, request
medic backup, over."
     "Roger that, Three. He is on his way, out."
     Dave  went to the door  to  lead him to the casualty. I then got on the
net and gave my sitrep.
     By  now  the whole  of the front of the building was  floodlit, and the
hostage reception was ready for custom.
     "All stations, evacuate the Yankees, evacuate the Yankees."
     It  looked like a human conveyor  belt  as we  moved  people  out. They
mustn't have time  to think, they must be  scared; you shout  and holier  to
control them into the arms of the  hostage reception. Everybody was  picking
them up and shoving them, shouting: "Get up, get up!
     Move, move, move!"
     They got as hard a time as  if they were confirmed terrorists, lined up
facedown on the floor and handcuffed.
     "Stay still, no talking!"
     They were covered with pistols.
     The SSM came along  with  a torch, grasped hold of each person's  head,
and pulled it back, shining the powerful beam into his eyes.
     When he was satisfied that everyone was who he said  he  was, they were
put on transport and moved away to the police cordon.
     "Hello,  Alpha One,  this  is Two. We have a possible I.E.D [improvised
explosive device]. We have marked it and are moving out.
     They would put a small flashing yellow light on it.
     The  same would be done  for a man  down; yellow light penetrates smoke
better than white.
     Someone else was getting direction from CRW.
     "Alpha One, roger. RP with A.T.O, all call signs evacuate the building,
     We all acknowledged, quite pleased to be evacuating.
     We could get back to the admin area, have a  quick debrief, and then it
would be wacky races back to Hereford. There  was a great  rule that whoever
came on  the helis went back on them. That was fine,  apart  from  having to
listen to Steve bang on about his latest squash game.
     The exercise had gone smoothly. We'd been good, and so  we  should have
been. We were  on the  ranges every day, leaping  onto  buildings, screaming
through  the CQB house,  running  around  with the  vehicles,  up  and  down
ladders, practicing until we could almost do it blindfolded.
     The only thing that didn't improve with the  training was that we lived
our lives with  a ring  around our faces  where the seal  of  the respirator
pressed down.
     The X rays had been members of CRW apart  from the woman,  who was from
the  Home Office.  They  had been  working to a brief that only  they  knew;
however, it  could have changed at  any time, depending on the actions of us
and the other agencies  involved. If they had seen anything to arouse  their
suspicions, they would have reacted.
     Part of learning to fight terrorists was knowing how to be one, and the
blokes  in  the  Regiment,  and  particularly CRW,  were probably  the  most
professional in the world. With our skills and knowledge we could bring down
governments in months.
     Things  started to go  really well with  Fiona. We were  sitting in the
front room one day having a romantic  conversation about  electricity bills,
and I said, "This  is quite  stupid.  Why  don't  we move in  together?  You
virtually live in my house anyway, so why don't you come in?"
     "I want'to  do that," Fiona said, "but only if you let  me go halves on
     "I buy the washing  machine, you buy  the hoover?" It  sounded good, to
me, and since I was on the team, at least  there was the chance of some time
together. We used it to the full.
     The house started to take shape. It was a nice little place, in a smart
part of town; we  really got busy redecorating, putting new doors up, and we
both  chipped  in  to  . have heating  installed.  Gradually  furniture  and
curtains appeared. As far as I  was concerned, I'd be  there forever;  there
was no reason to move. It really felt like home.
     In June 1986 I had one of  those mornings when I got into work at eight
o'clock and was out again by ninethirty. I came home; I'd been trying to fix
the exhaust  on the Renault 5 because the bracket kept falling off and I was
damned  if I was going to pay fifteen  pounds to have  it  sorted out. I was
trying to hold it on with bits of coat hanger and all sorts.
     I'd  spent the  afternoon doing that, came  in,  and was  sitting  down
having a cup of tea, watching the telly.
     Fiona had been downtown for a doctor's  appointment; she came in, stood
in the doorway, and said, "I've got something to tell you. I wasn't too sure
of your reaction, so I wanted to make sure. Andy, I'm pregnant."
     I felt as if I'd taken a straight right from Mike Tyson.  I said, "This
is really good. What do you reckon?"
     "I don't know. I don't know if it's good or bad. Do you think we should
have the baby? I'm for it if you are."
     "Right, okay, let's do it-let's have a baby."
     Was it the  right  time, was it the wrong  time? whoever knows?  It was
scary, but it  was  nice,  a wonderful feeling  of having  created something
worthwhile. So there I was, the expectant father.
     As the pregnancy  progressed, Fiona started  to go through a bad patch,
getting very tired with anemia.
     She'd get up in the mornings, walk  around, then have to  get her  head
down again. It was lucky that I was on the team because every spare moment I
had I could get back and  make her cups  of tea and  just be there. It would
have been tough for her if I'd had to go away; somebody would have had to be
there to look after her.
     Money was  tight. I was still on trooper's pay, although  I had reached
the dizzy heights of lance-corporal.
     The next step was the  big one; corporal's pay was  very good indeed. I
hoped I'd  have  sorted that  out  by the time the  baby  was born. Whatever
happened, nothing could  take away  from me how good it felt to have  a home
and a child on the way.
     Around  Christmas time, when Fiona was about seven  months  pregnant, I
found out that I had to go away on a team job in February. When I worked out
the dates, I found that it was the day before she was due to have our baby.
     "That's no problem,"  she said. "We'll look  up  a few old wives' tales
and jump up and down  in the rhubarb  patch or something to bring the baby a
day earlier. It might be early anyway. Let's keep our fingers crossed."
     She went for all the  tests and asked, "What are the chances of getting
the baby induced a day early? My boyfriend's got to go away and will be away
for a few months. He wants to be present at the birth."
     I was getting quite upset about it because I really wanted to be there;
this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.
     But the team job  wasn't going to  be  knocked  back a day just because
Lance-corporal McNab was going to have a baby.
     I started combing magazines for possible "cures."
     "You'll have to get your  finger out  the day before," I said to Fiona,
handing  her the latest concoction I'd  read about-something  like Worcester
sauce  and pineapple juice. "Give this baby a  good  talking-to. Explain the
facts of life; it's got to come out early."
     Life went on. John McCarthy had been kidnapped in Beirut in April 1986.
In January 1987 so was  Terry Waite.  It wasn't  long before the press  were
speculating  about what  kind  of role  the  Regiment  might  be playing  in
securing their release.  On 28 January 1987, just a week or so after Waite's
disappearance, we all got into the crew room in the morning, normal routine.
It was a really miserable old day, windy and raining. Blokes had brought day
sacks in as usual,  with newspapers  and magazines in  case we got bored. We
passed them around, drinking tea and chatting. The big debate was whether we
should have a sports afternoon, a big tradition in the British Army.
     We  went down to the CQB house for a  couple of hours, got back,  swept
the  hangar  out,  and  then binned  it.  For  once  we were  all nodding in
agreement: a sports afternoon, a good thing to do.
     Gar was sitting there reading the  paper, and  he said, "Fucking  hell,
look, this is news to me."
     The Dally Express had the headline: S.A.S SCOUR CRISIS CITY FOR WAFTE.
     "Pity we're going gn this other job," Gar said. "We
     might have been getting a suntan soon by the looks of things."
     Nobody was  really that concerned about it.  If  it didn't  involve  us
immediately, we weren't particularly interested.
     I said  to  Gar,  "It was obvious he  was going to get lifted. I  don't
think there's a bookie in the land would have taken a bet on him not joining
     "I know," Gar said.  "And  now some lucky fucker's going to be asked to
risk  his  life to  get him out."  Because  she'd  been so  sick during  her
pregnancy, Fiona had to go into hospital  for the last three or four days. I
visited her as often as I could and kept badgering the nurses into  agreeing
to induce.
     "Don't worry," they said, "we'll sort it all out."
     I  went into work and explained the situation to  the SSM.  "What's the
latest time I can get away on the Tuesday?" I asked.
     The SSM  went  over to  the clerk and said, "Danny, what's the score on
that job? What time are they leaving?"
     Danny shuffled through  bits  of  paper and said, "If he  gets  his toe
down, if he leaves at half past one, he'll get to Heathrow on time."
     "There you go," said the SSM. "Half past one."
     As I started walking out, he said, "Andy, make sure you're there.
     Don't fuck up."
     I  went  back to  the hospital, saw  Fiona,  and  said,  "Tomorrow,  at
one-thirty, I have to walk out of here whether we have our child or not."
     "I  understand, but don't  worry, we'll sort  something  out  with  the
     I was getting quite upset; I really wanted to be there when my baby was
born. I kissed her good-bye  and said, "Get  your finger out!  Get this baby
     By  now her parents  had  traveled up from Hampshire and were  going to
stay at the house while I was away.
     Her mother said, "Don't  worry,  if she comes  into labor now, you stay
with her until one o'clock and then I'll come over."
     I drove back to work to sort myself out  so everything was ready to go.
I  had to run around to find somebody else who was on the team job  with me.
Johnny two  Combs was on it, but I couldn't  find him. I went up  to the gym
and there were Fat Boy and Paul  Hill on the weights, taking the piss out of
each other.
     Paul had joined the army after a career as a croupier in clubs.
     He had  an outrageous lifestyle and  was the ultimate party animal, out
every night, coming in to work knackered in the morning. He and Fat Boy were
in the Far  East once, playing blackjack in a really downmarket casino. Paul
with all  his  experience and  expertise was  counting  the  cards  and  all
sorts-and losing left, right, and center.
     Fat Boy, so pissed he could  hardly sit in his chair, walked awa ' with
a fortune.
     y I  said,  "My kit's  packed; it's in  the block. When you go, can you
make sure it gets on the wagon?"
     "No drama."
     I got back  in the car, went home, and  spent the  night sitting by the
     Nothing happened.
     Next morning, the moment I got in the shower, the phone rang.
     Fiona's  father  said, "She's  going into  labor.  They said there's no
rush. Go down in about an hour."
     I was at the hospital ten minutes later.
     The contractions started, and we sat there drinking tea. She was  moved
to another room; they put the radio on and brought in the papers.
     She was scared; I  was  scared for  her.  Then  she said, "If  the baby
doesn't come before you have to go, it's not a problem, but I'd really  love
you to be here."
     It was the first time-ever that  I'd thought: I  don't want to go away.
Tomorrow, maybe even  in another few hours, but for this moment I don't want
to go. I so  much wanted to see this thing  that I had created; I had  never
felt so much affection and attachment  as I did for this child that I hadn't
even seen.
     At nine o'clock a nurse came in and said there was a phone call.
     Fuck! Fiona and I looked at each other. We were both thinking the same,
that they wanted me down there now.
     I picked  up  the phone, and  it was  Paul.  "There's been a  change of
plan," he said.
     My  whole  body  sankHe started laughing.  "Gotcha! just  to say, we've
decided we might as well all leave together at half one."
     The labor  continued. There was me drinking more tea, her getting worse
with the contractions, and then, at midday, all the pain started.
     She was swearing and hollering, even with an epidural, calling me every
name under the sun. I felt useless. There was nothing I could do except hold
her hand. Then she didn't want me to do that. Then she did.
     It was a noisy hour. I felt  guilty because she was  in pain,  and even
guiltier that I knew I had to leave.
     Ever the sensitive father-to-be, I said, "Look, you'd really better  go
for it here. I'm off in half an hour."
     "I know, I know, I know."
     Her mum poked her head around the door at quarter past one.
     I gave Fiona a kiss on the forehead and said, "I've got to go."
     "I know-you bastard!"
     "I'll see you."
     I got in the car and went straight down to work. Everybody was  waiting
by the Ministry of Defense Police lodge.
     "What's happened?"
     "Jack shit."
     We  drove  to Heathrow at  Warp  Speed  Two,  me very pissed off on the
backseat and not involved in the banter.
     .  As soon as we arrived, I phoned the hospital. Nothing. I  checked in
and phoned again.
     "Anything happened?"
     "Who are you?"
     "I'm the father."
     "Okay, wait."
     I waited forever. "Nothing yet."
     I  went and  had another  coffee. The other boys were  up at  the  bar,
having a drink.
     I phoned again. Still nothing. It was time to  board the aircraft.  One
more call. Nothing.
     just as we were lining up to hand in the boarding passes, I gave it one
more try.
     "It's McNab again."
     "Wait, wait. I think her mother's going to come and speak to you."
     I heard the phone go down and footsteps running along the corridor.
     Her mother picked up the receiver, out of breath.
     "Just happened! A couple of minutes ago!"
     "All the arms, all the legs?"
     "What is it?"
     "It's  a  girl.  She's  beautiful. I don't  know  the  weight  yet, but
everything's fine."
     A girl!
     I knew  her name was Kate. We'd already worked out what it was going to
be. It was quite  a shock. It  wasn't  high  elation. I felt numbed; I  just
thought, I'm a father now-and it must have been very smoky in the departures
lounge that day because as I put the phone down, my eyes were watering.
     I joined the others on the aircraft, and Paul said, "She had it?"
     "Yeah, it's a girl."
     "Congratulations, mate." He shook my hand, all smiles. "It feels great,
doesn't it?"
     Even  Paul, who lived his life somersaulting  from  good  time  to good
time, could remember what it felt like.  He had a passion about his daughter
that I'd never been  able to understand; it seemed  so strange, coming  from
him. This bloke who didn't seem to care about anything, just having fun  and
working and really going  for it, down in  his heart and at  the back of his
head, continuously, was  his daughter. Now I understood.  Now I knew exactly
how he felt.
     One of the benefits  of going on a team job was  that we traveled  club
class, so it was straight into the little bottles of champagne as we toasted
my good news. It was a long flight, and the six of us got quietly pissed.
     For  weeks  I was waiting  for more news. Letters  always had  to go to
Hereford for collation and were then sent on to an embassy or a consulate or
the agency that we were working for in whichever country.
     It took awhile for them to get to us, and I was gagging for a picture.
     At  last two letters turned up. I could feel that  there were  pictures
inside. As I ripped open the envelopes, blokes gathered around.
     Two-Combs  looked  over my  shoulder and said, "She's  beautiful, isn't
     "Fuck off," I said. "She's all greasy and covered in mucus.
     However, yes, she is."
     Then we all sat around cooing and admiring.
     It was  a  really  shifty  job  for me, tucked  away on the  side  of a
mountain for weeks on end, wishing that I was back in Hereford. But you have
to make a positive out of a negative, which in this  case was  that at least
it was another part of the world I hadn't seen.
     I came back in  late  May 1987, having  lost two stone. with dysentery,
but  not in  such a bad way as  was Two-Combs, who  was diagnosed as  having
     Two days later they decided it was a rupturing appendix.
     We got  back to the camp and unloaded  all the kit.  Fat Boy phoned his
wife to come and pick him up and said he'd drop me home.
     As  we drove around to the house,  I  saw the  curtain twitch, and then
Fiona came out onto the path with a bundle in her arms.
     I gave Fiona a kiss, then took the baby,  all wrapped up  and asleep. I
peeked inside the shawl and saw her face for the first time.
     I had a shock; her lip  looked  deformed. However,  the most  beautiful
deformed baby in the world.
     "What's wrong with her?" I said. "Is she all right?"
     "She's  only sucking  her  lip."  Fiona laughed.  "Don't  worry,  she's
     Mr. and  Mrs. Fat Boy came over, clucking  like two hens.  They were as
smitten as I was, and  that was the start of it; for the next few years they
were producing children like people possessed.
     It was wonderful to have  some time with  Kate. I  spent hours watching
her little hands all clenched up, and I kept thinking:  I made that! I hated
the time that she was asleep and  willed her to wake up; I soon learned that
all they're doing at that age  is sleeping and shitting, but that was beside
the point.
     Eno and  I  got  an  approach  to take  a two-year sabbatical from  the
Regiment and  join  the "Det," an intelligence  unit  operating  in Northern
Ireland.  I was  on the M.O.E team at the time,  and  Eno was on  the sniper
     We were having an administration morning in the crew room, dragging our
kit out, scrubbing it' and cleaning weapons. The  clerk came  over and said,
"Andy and Eno, the squadron O.C wants to see you."
     "Have we fucked up anywhere?" I said.
     "I don't think so."
     Eno looked as nonchalant and unconcerned as ever; he was so unflappable
his heart must have only just about ticked over.
     The Boss was  sitting at his desk. "Right," he said, I.C what would you
say if I said to you, Do you fancy going over the  water for two years  with
the Det?"
     We both said, "No way."
     The Det had once wanted a  Regiment bloke  to go and hide in Dungannon,
watching people go in and out of a betting office. The OP was compromised by
kids, and the bloke got away, but the Det wanted him to go back the next day
and do exactly  the same.  The ops  officer of the Det was overheard saying,
"It  doesn't really matter  if he gets  compromised because he's not  one of
     John,  who  was running the troop, heard  about this and  went over and
sorted it out in his normal persuasive manner.
     Now  it appeared  that  two  blokes from  each  squadron  were  getting
approached and asked if they wanted to go.
     Most  of them  were saying no;  in the  end  the CO  called  in all the
squadrons and said, "The Det is something that you will do.  The skills that
they've  got, we  must have back. We're  starting to lose it,  yet we're the
ones that developed it. One  way  or another we will regain that skill. It's
all part of becoming a complete soldier;  we need complete soldiers." He was
quite a forceful characp ter. You either loved him or  hated him;  there was
no in between.
     A  few  days  later we were  called back  to  the  O.C. "You  have  two
options," he  said.  "You're either going over the  water for  two years, or
you're going nowhere.  You volunteered for the Regiment; you volunteered for
operations.  This is an operation;  if you're  refusing to go on operations,
you're not staying in the Regiment."
     So that was us off to the Det then.
     In  the  old  days,  with  a  division of responsibilities  in Northern
Ireland  between MIS and M16,  intelligence  generally  was piss poor.  As a
result, in 1972, the army established  its own secret intelligence gathering
unit, which was given the cover name 14th  Intelligence  Unit, or 14 Int for
short. Recruits were  taken  from regular  army regiments and  put through a
course that lasted several weeks and covered elementary techniques of covert
surveillance, communications, and agent running.
     Selection  forInt,  known to us as  the Det,  emphasized  the  need for
resourcefulness and psychological strength. There was not much call for  the
physical  stamina  needed  for  the   Regiment.  It  was  designed  to  find
people-usually officers and NCOs in their mid to late twenties, in all three
of the services-who were able to carry out long-term surveillance, sometimes
only a few feet from armed terrorists.
     My  appreciation of what was going on at the time was  that the Det was
looking for a  role beyond Northern Ireland. They  started saying they could
do all  our forward recces for us in  dangerous areas around the  world, but
that  was a  load of  nonsense. All their training was for Northern Ireland;
they couldn't  go forward and do  our recces  because  they didn't know, for
example, what our mortars or helicopters  and troops  would require.  Little
wonder they were called the Waits-short for Walter Mittys.
     The Regiment decided that they were going to get people  to go into the
Det as part of  their  normal regimental career. You needed an aptitude, but
Eno  and I didn't even want to be tested. There  was a  lot  of  antifeeling
about the Det, a feeling of "them" and "us."
     Four of us drove up-me,  Eno, a fellow  from D Squadron called Mac, and
Bob P from G Squadron.
     None of us wanted to be there; we all felt press-ganged.
     The first person I bumped into was Tiny. "I'm on the training team." He
grinned. "You can call me Staff."
     Eno said, "You can shove that right up your arseStaff." We knew all the
training teams, all the cooks, everybody who worked there.
     "The next six months are going to  be really  intensive," the  DS said.
"There is no time off. The only time you will leave this camp is when you're
     If  not,  you stay in  camp. There are reasons for that, and  we're not
going to explain them at the moment."
     The four of us looked at one another and thought, Fuck this.
     For  the first  couple of nights we were sitting there  like dickheads.
Finally Mac said, "I'll  get  on  the phone to my wife, she'll come down and
pick us up."
     We put  our running  kit on and made it look as if we were  going for a
run on the training area. We jogged down the road, got  in the car, and shot
off to Hereford.
     Another time we organized a lift with  some of the team who happened to
be  training  in the same  area  as  we were. The  getaway  was  planned  as
intricately  as  a proper  operation;  the only problem  was trying  to stop
people giggling as we drove out of the gate.
     I got home most nights by eleven and  had to  leave the next morning by
six, but it was worth it.  I was  all bitter  and twisted, and  cheating the
system made me feel better.
     After a  month of this the Det  head shed got wind of it and decided we
needed gripping. We were becoming quite anti and a  law unto  ourselves. Mac
got binned from the course, which only made me even more resentful. After so
long in the Regiment,  living in  an  adult system, all of  a sudden we went
back ten years, and  I hated  it. He was chuffed to bits  to be back on  the
squadron;  the moment he got back,  however, he was told he was on the  next
course, starting from scratch.
     The rest of the  people on  the course were not supposed to know who we
were, but this didn't work because  there were  people on the course who had
done Selection with us and failed, as well as people from our own regiments.
One evening  I was-sitting in the  cookhouse with  Eno and  Bob P,  slagging
everybody down in  Swahili. A couple of G Squadron came in, got  their food,
and spotted us. "Oi, Andy, how's it going?" They came over, sat down, and we
carried on chatting.
     "How's it going in the Waits, then? You got your sneaky beaky kit yet?"
     "Men, yeah, it's really good.".
     I made sure  they  knew we  were  press-ganged;  I didn't want  anybody
thinking we'd volunteered for this cowboy stuff.
     "Oh,  well,  see  you later," they  said. "We're down the town now-it's
Friday night. What are you doing tonight? You  boys have  fun polishing your
pistols.' They  left, and  I  didn't think any more  about it. About a  week
later a couple  of  B Squadron blokes saw us in  the gym and said, "Remember
last week, when you were talking to G Squadron boys? They got a severe fine.
     Somebody saw you talking together and said it's compromising!"
     It only got us more sparked up and annoyed. This whole thing really was
a pain in the arse' Because the  course catered  for anybody from  anywhere,
the lessons started with things like "This is a bergen."
     They had to do it,  but we were spending this month being  taught stuff
that we'd been doing for years.
     I'd never been so bored. At last,  however,"the training  progressed to
skills  that were  new to me,  and  I started to  get a bit  interested.  We
learned  different surveillance skills,  countersurveillance skills, how  to
give  as  much information as  possible on the  net in the  least number  of
words. Their CQB course was  pure pistol work;  for us, there was no stress,
no strain, it was great.
     We'd be on the ranges all day, come back and do  surveillance skills or
CTR  skills  at getting into factories and houses. Sometimes  it was like  a
comedy  of  errors,  people  getting  stuck  halfway   through  windows  and
collapsing with laughter.
     Everybody was given an alternative identity, keeping the same initials,
and  the same Christian name, and something  similar to our  real name so we
didn't forget it. Working under an alias, we'd always sign our name in a way
that  reminded  us  what we  were doing; perhaps it was a pen of a  striking
color  or  one that w-e kept in our right-hand breast pocket rather than the
     We  learned  the  skills  of  covert  entry  into  a  house to look for
equipment. We learned how to follow  a man and his family for weeks to  find
out  what  their  routines  were,  where  they went, who they did what with,
trying to establish a time when we could get into the house.
     Does he  go  to a social club every Saturday night with  his  wife  and
kids?  Maybe  on  average  he gets  back at I about midnight, so  you've got
between eight and  midnight to get in. But that's not good enough. if it's '
in July,  it's not going  to get dark until half  ten. So you might have  to
wait a couple of months, or get a time when he goes away, maybe to visit his
parents for the weekend.
     The surveillance had to be on him all the time, to make sure that  when
he did go to the club with his wife and kids, his wife didn't leave early to
put the kids to bed. We had to have  actions on what would happen  if we got
in there and somebody came home unexpectedly?
     It took weeks and weeks of preparation.
     We had to  learn how to  use all  sorts of cameras, including  infrared
equipment  that  would   enable   us   to  photograph  serial   numbers  and
documents-and to photograph photographs. It was a far cry  from  my  days in
the camping shops of Peckham.
     I discovered it  was  quite an intense  time,  getting into  somebody's
house-the pressure of doing it as  quickly as possible yet at the same time-
being methodical  and  not  cutting  any corners, because  you knew that the
result of carelessness could be somebody's death. By the end of the course I
had  learned  many different  methods  of planning and preparation  and  had
acquired a whole new range of surveillance, technical attack, and covert CTR
skills. I realized  that I  was fortunate, and I  looked forward  to putting
them all into practice over the water.
     Just before it was time to leave, Fiona and I had a chat.
     "I've got five days off," I said. "Do you fancy getting married?"
     "Why not?"
     Indeed, why not? We were a family. By now we'd moved  house again, into
one  of  the  new  estates  on the edge of Hereford,  and  everything looked
     Dave, the  patrol  commander from Keady in my  Green  jackets days, was
best man. He did his duties, then spent the rest of the day trying to seduce
the witness, one of Fiona's friends. Kate was the bridesmaid.
     It was Kate's very first Christmas.  We went to stay  at a house on the
south coast. Kate wasn't  sleeping  very well, which I thought  was great. 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. In  the
next two years I would only see her for a total of twelve weeks.
     "Jerking,"  the planting of miniature transmitters inside weapons, more
correctly known  as technical attack, had started in the late seventies  and
offered an extra  option  to the security forces  when they  found  an  arms
     The idea  was  that the  devices would be activated when the weapon was
picked up, and the terrorists' movements could then be monitored.
     I'd  settled into the Det and  was  really  enjoying it. Eno and I were
sent to the same Det, which was working around  Derry city  and  surrounding
county. At half past six every night we had "prayers."
     All  the  operators  came in,  and we  ran  through  administrative and
operational points.
     It was Easter time. We had  a  bar in a hut, hundred of cans stacked up
and working on a trust system.  Everybody was  getting  a bollocking  for  a
party that had  happened the weekend before. The Det had a strong reputation
for being outrageous,in the bar, so much so that the windows were detachable
for partes  There was a strange ritual in the  bar  for any new member  that
arrived; everybody saved up his empty cans and the Det O.C would come in and
say, "Welcome to the Det.
     Here we have a celebratory pint of Guinness." You had to drink it while
they pelted you with empty cans. The party was one of these welcoming things
for two scaleys that had turned  up,  but it got totally out of control. One
of  the blokes had a Duran Duran  haircut that  he was  really proud of; the
others held  him  down and started cutting  it; he  jumped  to his  feet and
started punching people out.  They got two planks of wood and turned it into
a cross. They tied him on, hoiked it up, and left him hanging there.
     We put into practice  all  the skills that  we had  learned during  the
buildup:  covert  searches  of  houses,  office  blocks,  shops  to   gather
information. It was a kick, without a doubt,  going  into  somebody's house,
finding  information,  and  getting  back  out again.  In  the hard  housing
estates,  places like the  Bogside,  Shantello, the Creggan,  it was no easy
operation to get into places,  and it would take days, and sometimes  weeks,
of planning for a job
     that might take only thirty seconds to carry out.
     At  the end of  the  day it was inevitable that the IRA  would discover
that its weapons were being 'arked.
     These people  were not idiots; they had scanning devices and all sorts.
We were all playing a game.  They knew that the  weapons were being tampered
with;   they   knew  that  their  buildings  were  bugged.  They  would  use
countermeasures, which we would then try to countercounter.
     Another  possibility  open  to us was to replace bomb-making  materials
found in the hides.
     A novelist  wrote a  book in which the coffins  at  an IRA funeral were
bugged so  that the intelligence services could  hear  what was being  said;
from the moment  it was published,  it became  an IRA  procedure  that every
coffin and body were scanned with location devices.
     By now  it was the summer of 1988  and Fiona was running around looking
for a new  house. Prices were  going bananas, spiraling  out of  control. We
made an absolute fortune in  the space of a few months; a woman cried on the
telephone because she was too late in buying the house.
     "We'll now buy the biggest house we can with our money and do it up," I
     She  found us a place while I was away, in  a village  about six  miles
from Hereford.  The house was bigger but needed some work done to it. It was
really exciting.
     I  came back on  five days' leave, and as soon as  I got back, we moved
in.  We got  cracking.  We  went  down  to  the plant hire  place and  hired
everything from strimmers to chain saws for our five-day blitz.
     As soon as it was light, we started on  the  outside; as soon as it was
dark, we  started  on  the inside. At four-thirty one morning I  painted the
garage door, and at ten at night was stripping wallpaper in the living room.
I loved it; it was family life: I  now had a three-bedroom detached house, a
garage,  a couple of  trees in the garden.  As  a  young kid I had  lived in
council houses or my auntie's house, and now I was looking at this wonderful
'lace, and it was mine.
     I had a wife, a child, a happy life in a small village, and  everything
was perfect.
     The future looked rosy.
     Kate was still in nappies,  and just to sit there and hold her was very
special. She had my eyes, and I never got tired of looking into them.
     We  were staking out  a bomb factory in an old Victorian house that was
halfway  through  renovation, with  whitewashed  windows and bare floors. We
knew it was a factory because Dave I and I had been in it the night before.
     We'd cleared  the house, pistols  in hand, in a semicrouch. The kitchen
was bare  concrete. Standing  in the middle  of the floor was  an industrial
coffee grinder; there might as well have been a sign up saying BOMB FACTORY.
We knew they would be mixing bomb ingredients  at some point. From now on we
would  have to stay It on target," watching as people went in and out of the
house.  Low  explosives  don't last  that  long if not  protected  from  the
elements. Once a bomb  was made, therefore, they tried to use it  as quickly
as possible; we had to be there to stop that.
     "That's two men, green on blue jeans, brown on black jeans and bald."
     "That's them into the house. Over."
     "Alpha. Roger."
     The stakeout took forever, and  we h'ad to walk  past the target to try
to make out what was going on. Had they finished? Were they still at it?
     "That's Delta going Foxtrot [on foot]."
     Alpha replied: "Delta's Foxtrot."
     I got out of my car. I was wearing a  pair  of jeans,  market trainers,
and my blue bomber jacket. My hair looked like an eighteen-year-old football
player's-long at the back, with short sides.
     It was  greasy, and  I  looked as if I had just got out of bed and  was
going to sign on.
     My car was old and in shit state to go with its owner.
     We were in Derry, between the  Bogside and  Creggan estates. The  names
suited the area, dark gray  and cold, lines of terraced houses  going up the
hill toward the Greggan. It was winter, and I could smell peat smoke.
     Alpha,  who was the team leader on  the ground,  wanted someone to walk
the alleyway that was between  the back of two rows of houses. I was nearest
and hadn't walked past yet.
     I clicked my comms: "Delta, check."
     As I got nearer to the alleyway, I noticed two lads on the corner.
     They looked  more or less the same  as me, apart from the cigarettes in
their mouths and  the rolledup newspapers in their back  pockets. They  were
sitting on a low wall at the entry point to the alleyway. Were they dickers?
I didn't know.
     The  weather  was cold and damp. This was good; I could get my hands in
my jacket pockets and get my head down, walking as if I was going somewhere.
     As I turned right into the alley and  looked uphill, there was nothing.
The  alleyway was just  hard  mud, filled with old cans and dogshit. The two
boys took no notice as  I walked past. It  seemed they were waiting  for the
bookies to open.
     It  was a horrible feeling going up that alleyway,  knowing  that these
people were behind  me. I walked with a purpose, not  hesitating  or looking
behind. I kept looking at the ground, as  if I was in a bit of a daze. I was
a bag of shit, so I walked like a bag of shit.
     Tucked in my leans I had my 9MM Browning and plenty of rounds.
     If they  said anything to me as I went in, I would have to try to avoid
     "Alpha, Delta, check?"
     They wanted to know how I was doing.
     I couldn't talk on my radio; the two boys would hear.
     I clicked my pressal button twice to send two quick bursts of squelch.
     "Alpha, roger that."
     Everyone now knew things were okay.
     The back door was closed, but I could just hear the faint  buzz  of the
coffee grinder in the back of the house; they were still making the bomb.
     People  were passing; I  could not talk yet, but I  could hear everyone
else on the net.
     "Alpha, November, going mobile." Eno was off somewhere else.
     "Alpha, roger that. Delta, check."
     Click. Click.
     "Roger that, are you past the house yet?"
     Click. Click.
     "Is the grinding still going?"
     Click. Click.
     I went  into the corner shop and got  a pint of milk  and  the Sporting
Life.  Now I would take  a  walk past the  front and see if I could make out
anything inside.
     "Alpha, Lima, I have Delta walking back to his Charlie."
     Rich had  seen me and was  telling  everyone what was happening. He had
been in the  Det  for  years  and  was  an excellent operator.  He often had
clashes with  the  head shed  as he was a  very  outspoken  person; however,
whatever he said made sense.
     "Delta's complete [back in the carl."
     I was now in my car, and I drove off.
     Nothing happened for about two hours. I  was still part of the stakeout
but not on top of the target, as I had already been exposed.
     This didn't mean that I'd hang slack. There was still a job to do.
     Everything that passed me I had to check it out. As well as see who was
in the area so I could report  it to others, I  could detect the mood of the
place: Does it look any different today? 1-f so, why?
     This was not a place that the tourist board would recommend.
     There was nothing passive about this work.
     Only  a  few months  before,  an operator  was  shot  near  where I was
sitting. He'd been doing exactly the same as I was, parked up and waiting to
go and do something.
     The players  saw him, must  have  thought there  was something wriggly,
went and got their weapons, and head-jobbed him.
     I  was parked  in a  line of  cars outside a  row of terraced Victorian
houses. I had the newspaper open and was eating a  sandwich. In front of me,
about a hundred meters away, was  the road  that the target was on, crossing
left to right.
     Alpha was talking on the net and organizing things to make sure he  had
a good tight stakeout when all of a sudden a blue flash went past me, two up
(two in the car). I saw a face looking down the road; he was aware.
     I tried  to cut  in on  the  net. "Stand by, stand by.  Charlie One  is
mobile. That's Charlie One mobile."
     I  couldn't get in; Alpha was still on the net. I had no choice but  to
"take" it. "That's Delta mobile."
     I carried on talking on the net, burning up the road toward  the target
car. I wasn't worried about the compromise factor now. It wouldn't matter if
I was leaving chaos behind me, as long as the players in front didn't notice
anything. The important thing was not to  lose that bomb. If we did, we were
talking about a lot  of dead people.  Passing a junction, I looked down left
but couldn't see  anything. I raced downhill  to the right, down toward  the
Bogside. As I passed two junctions, I  kept giving a commentary:  "Stand by,
stand by. Charlie One's mobile. Down towards the Bogside."
     At last I got on the net. "That's at the Bogside, still straight, still
straight. He's going towards the Little Diamond [an area of the Bogside]."
     "Lima's  mobile. Lima's trying  to  back  you." Rick was  driving  fast
toward me.
     I found the target  again just  as it  went into the Bogside and closed
     "That's possibly two up, Sierra sixty to sixty-five.
     He's moving!"
     "November, Roger that."
     The rest of the team were  now racing toward the scene. To lose contact
with the bomb team could be fatal.
     The passenger  was turning  around, looking  straight at me. I tried to
look casual; we had a bit of eye-to-eye contact, and I looked away.
     I wanted the bomb to  get to  its destination, us to find the new hide,
get the  device, and  put  a  stop to  their plans.  To  have a contact  was
pointless; we wouldn't know the whole picture then.
     I was up at him now, and he was still looking straight at me.
     "That's confirmed, two up, very aware."
     We were  not going to do anything yet as they might  take us to another
safe house. But if they were going to place the bomb,  we would be there. We
just had to keep with it.
     By now  I  had  the  skill to  give a  commentary on the  net,  telling
everyone what was going on, not moving  my lips, trying not to catch the eye
of the boys in the car but at the same time stay with them.
     "He's turning left. Stop, stop, stop. Delta's Foxtrot."
     He got down to the bottom past the Bogside and  turned left toward  the
Little Diamond.
     "That's now left towards the Little Diamond. He's going into  the first
o  tion  left." I  knew the c' back  to pity front; I'd spent  so many hours
learning it and walking  it; I knew where all the players lived, what their'
kids looked like, where the kids went to school. I knew this was a dead end.
"That's a stop, stop, stop! stop, stop, stop!"
     I drove past their car and went off onto the waste area of the Rosville
Flats, the area of the Bloody Sunday shootings, where  there was a car park.
I stopped and got  out. I had to get on the ground straightaway  so that  by
the time he'd parked I was out and walking.
     "Lima's Foxtrot."
     Rick was right  behind me and stopped his  car as  soon as they  turned
into the  Bogside. I saw him walking into the dead end  of  the estate. That
took a lot of bollocks; he didn't know  what he was  walking into. Were they
armed? Were they ready with the bomb; was it now being brought out and moved
into another wagon? Was it going to be an armed bombing?
     As I walked  toward  the  open  square  of  the  estate,  I saw-an  old
converted container  lorry  that  served  as a shop.  Children  were running
around; women were  hanging off the balconies. There were a few cars  parked
up. There was nowhere to go, but we had to make it look as  if we were going
somewhere. It was no  good knowing  just that the bomb  was in  the Bogside,
because i the estate was a warren of little alleyways.
     We needed to know precisely where it was and who was handling it.
     Rick  walked past the shop and then saw the car. I followed to back him
up in case of dickers or a trap.
     He said, "Stand by, stand by. Charlie One's being unloaded.
     That's now being unloaded."
     I said, "Delta's backing. Delta's backing you, Lima."
     "They're loading it top left-hand side.  It's getting unloaded into the
top left-hand side flat. That's confirmed.
     That's confirmed."
     Rick  was walking through the alleyway. As  he  got further out, he was
able to talk. "Alpha, Lima. The device was  unloaded, and  it  went into the
top left-hand flat. There were about three people holding it, and there were
two dickers. It looks abandoned. There's some boards up on the windows."
     "Alpha, roger that."
     By this time I could hear the other cars  in the  area, keeping  an eye
out for other players. They would  be watching  the entrance to the  square;
the players might just be putting it in there, priming it up,  putting it in
another wagon and running it out. That bomb now had to be controlled all the
time. It mustn't go anywhere.
     Not so easy in the Bogside, but we did it.
     The decision was made  to  lift the bomb  by having the police raid the
square and take it. There was  nothing much said in any  newspaper, national
or local, about the incident. It was just another "find."
     PIRA -put it down to a tout, but it wasn't anything of the kind.
     It  was   the  Det  spending   hours   of  intelligence  gathering  and
     The  way this was  done was  by  people  being in these  hard areas and
getting up against the targets.  If that bomb had  gone off, tens  of people
could have been killed.
     Such incidents made me glad that I had been  sent to the Det. They made
me understand how professional they were and not just Walter Midis.
     Having said that, I itty Waits.
     would  never admit it: they  were still the By now I was a corporal and
things looked promising.
     Eno  and I were team leaders in the Det and even considered coming back
for a second tour.  The words of the  CO at the time of the great press-gang
had been: "What we want is a complete soldier, one who can operate from both
sides of the coin. The only way you are going to get operational  ex erience
on the other side  ising to the Det." p by goHe was scoffed at then. But now
I knew he was right.
     The Regiment  were getting the  most  highly trained and  operationally
experienced  soldiers in  the  world,  capable of  manning  a GPMG in a slit
trench  or  walking around an alien environment,  blending  in  and  gaining
information, and I was very proud to be part of that.
     Eno, Brendan, Dave 2, and I were out on the  ground one day,  following
two boys out of the Bogside up toward the Creggan Estate.
     They  were  moving  carrying rifles and radios  wrapped  in  black  bin
     On the net I heard, "Stop, stop,  stop." The boys had stopped somewhere
behind a row of buildings.  Eno came  on the  net "That's them now complete.
That's now complete-o'the of the gardens. Wait . . .
     wait  .  .  .  That's  now  complete the  row  of  gardens-twenty-four,
twenty-five, twenty-six."
     We now knew that they were messing around in the area of  those gardens
and  Eno  could see them. As he  walked past the fence that ran parallel, he
looked left  out of the corners of his eyes. "They're putting it in the coal
shed. They're putting it in the coal shed.
     Wait . . .
     wait . . . That's confirmed, the weapons are in the coal shed."
     Brendan, the team leader, still in his  car, came back:  "Alpha,  roger
     We'd  just  spent the last three hours following  these  people around.
We'd picked  them  up in the Bogside, where there was a  hide that  we  knew
contained  weapons.  The  Bogside  was  a  maze  of  sixties-style  concrete
and-glass flats and maisonettes linked by alleyways and dead ends. The place
was in shit state. Dogs barked and skulked; kids hollered and hurtled around
on push bikes or kicked balls against the wall. Women shouted at one another
over the landings.
     Unemployed men sat on steps, smoking and  talking. It was November, and
at three-thirty in the afternoon it was very cold.
     We wanted to make sure where the  weapons were going to. We "took" them
from the Bogside up toward the Creggan, and now they were behind these three
     The  Creggan was  on the opposite high ground,  the other side  of  the
valley, looking down on the walled city of Derry. Unlike the Bogside, it was
laid out in  long lines of brown-brick terraced  houses, a big estate with a
central grassy area and shops and a  library. By the time we got up there it
was just starting to get  dark  and I could see my breath. I was  wearing an
old German army parka, jeans, and trainers.
     My hair was  still long and  greasy, and I  hadn't  shaved  for days; I
blended  in well.  I felt quite happy in these areas now; we'd  been  on the
ground for some time and were well tuned in. And at the end of the day I had
a big fat gun tucked inside my jeans.
     These were hard areas, and there had  been a lot of contacts. I laughed
to myself when I remembered the phrase "passive surveillance."
     I  thought,  There's  fuck  all  passive about being  in  the  Bogside,
following two  blokes with  weapons, going up  to the  Creggan  to  see what
they're going to do with them.
     Eno came on the net. "I'll go for the trigger."
     Alpha came back, "Roger that. November's going for the trigger."
     We now had to control the  weapons;  if they were moved from that spot,
we had to know and be able to follow them, wherever they went.
     If they stayed put, the plan was to get them out of the coal shed later
that night and lark them  there and then on the spot.  Either  way  we would
have control. The problem was hanging  around in the Creggan for that amount
of time. Everybody on these estates was very aware,  from small children  to
old  grannies. There  was  always an  atmosphereof  high tension. Two  weeks
before, a soldier  had got shot straight through the  head, and everybody on
the estate was well pleased with the effort.
     Eno was at  the  bottom  of the garden,  down a little walkway that ran
between some garages and the garden itself. He was tucked in to one side; if
he got discovered, he'd just pretend that he was having a piss and then walk
away. This was  where all  the  CQB  training  and  skills came  in; it  was
deciding when the situation demanded that you pull that gun.
     He whispered, "November's got  the trigger. I'm down  the bottom of the
path, between the garages and the gardens."
     "Alpha, roger that. November's got the trigger."
     Eno was going to stand there in the dark, about fifteen meters from the
weapons. If  there was no need  to move until midnight, he wouldn't. Brendan
was further down the road in a car, ready to back Eno if anything  happened.
Dave 2  and I were just swanning around, me  in my eight-year-old Volkswagen
GT waiting to respond.
     I parked up. It was  now about  five-thirty in the evening, and all the
streetlights were  on. Smoke  started to pour from the  chimney pots,  and I
could, smell burning peat and coal. The field across  the road was a  jumble
of wrecked cars and roaming horses. It was starting to drizzle.
     I got out of the car and said, "That's Delta going Foxtrot.
     "Alpha, roger that-Delta's going Foxtrot."
     I heard: "That's Golf going Foxtrot."
     We  were  all  off  to  the  Spar  shop down  the  road.  I  bought  my
"blending-in" items-a can of Coke and a copy of the  Sun-and lounged against
the wall. Dave 2
     bought a  bag  of chips from the van outside and  joined me for a brief
     I drove  around the  block, parked up  somewhere  else, and went for  a
walk.  It was about  seven o'clock  when I heard Enos voice, calm  as  ever:
"Stand by, stand by.
     That's two Charlies coming in."
     He gave the registration numbers and descriptions of the cars.
     "That's three Bravos coming out. One  with long dark hair, jean jacket,
and jeans; one with a blue  nylon parka and black trousers; one with a green
bomber jacket and blue jeans.
     "It's  looking  all  very businesslike," he said. "It  isn't  a  social
thing. They're very aware. Something's on."
     I sat in the car, reading the Sun and drinking my Coke.
     Alpha acknowledged. Other call signs went mobile, orbiting around Eno.
     About twenty minutes later  I heard: "Stand  by, stand by. That's three
Bravos Foxtrot  towards the car. That's at the cars,  still going  straight.
They're  walking towards  me.  They're starting  to put  masks  on. Possible
     Possible  contact. Stand by." Eno never flapped; his voice was calm and
     If they were putting the masks  on and walking toward him, as far as he
was  concerned he'd been compromised-but maybe not  yet. He hadn't seen  any
weapons, so it was pointless doing anything at the moment.
     Very casually, he started to describe what was going on: "They're still
coming towards me."
     We were getting out of the cars; we had to start closing in, but we had
to do  it in such  a manner  that it didn't compromise what was going on. It
might be a  false  alarm. They might just walk past and go and do  something
else; then we'd follow them. As they got closer to him, Eno couldn't talk. I
started to walk quite fast toward him.
     Alpha got on the net: "November, check."
     Eno gave him two clicks.
     "Are they still coming towards you?"
     Click, click.
     "Have they still got their masks on?"
     Click, click.
     It went quiet  for a while. I was still  walking fast. As I got  to the
area of the  cars, I could see down  the alleyway. I always used to carry my
pistol  tucked down  the  front of my jeans. I remembered the story Mick had
told  us about the boy getting  pushed in the Shantello; the only thing that
had saved him  as  he rolled was having his pistol to  the front. I  took my
gloves off as I walked and threw them on the floor. If I had to draw my gun,
I'd lift my  jacket with my left  hand  as high  as it would  go, with a big
aggressive motion, then draw my pistol with my right. I was expecting to see
these  boys going down the alleyway to Eno and opening  fire, but I saw jack
     All of a sudden Eno came on  the net. "They've gone right; they've gone
down the side of the garages."
     As I looked down  the line  of the fence, to the right of me was a line
of garages.  I  knew  they'd  gone  down there and were  walking behind  the
garages. They didn't have the weapons; those were still in the coal shed. So
what were they up to?
     Brendan  was  coming from another direction, walking  along the back of
the garages. As soon  as  he heard that they'd turned right,  he did a quick
about-turn and walked off. He didn't want a head-to-head.
     However, he now had these three masked boys behind him.
     He landed up %walking about ten meters in front of them, down  the same
roadway. He could hear them  getting closer and  closer.  He could hear them
     "That's it-they're right behind me. Stand by for a possible contact."
     I  knew  Eno was off to  my left-hand side somewhere.  I wanted to make
sure I  got behind these  people.  Then  I  heard  Brendan: "I have from the
front. I have from the front."
     I said, "That's Delta backing you, Hotel."
     Dave 2 said, "Golf's mobile."
     Wherever  we went now, Dave 2 would make  sure he was following us with
the motor. We kept on walking.
     They  weren't  talking and  were  fairly  aware.  The  alleyway  was  a
well-used thoroughfare that linked two sets of gardens; it wasn't suspicious
for us to be there. The ground  was  pitted asphalt, littered with old cans.
Looking to the  left, I saw  people  doing their dishes  at mistedup kitchen
     "Golf, Delta, check."
     Click, click.
     "Are you still backing?"
     Click, click."
     "Are they still along the back of the garages?"
     Click, click.
     "Are they still hooded up?"
     Click, click.
     The garages went on for about  sixty or seventy meters.  As they got to
the  end, they  turned right. Brendan kept on going  straight; I came on the
net and said, 'They've gone right towards the main [main road."
     Brendan said, "Roger that. I'm going complete. I'm going to my car."
     I said, "Delta has unsighted. Wait. That's unsighted, Delta checking."
     I got to the  edge and  turned right, just  catching  them out  of  the
right-hand side  of my  vision. They were opening  up  a garage right at the
end. But they didn't have  masks on.  I carried on walking and said, "That's
the three Bravos; they're at the very end garage, and their masks are off. I
do not have."
     I  had to keep going straight.  This was worrying; nobody had got  them
now. Were they going to drive off?
     Dave 2 parked up on the other side of the road and was looking down. He
came on the net: "Golf has, Golf has."
     I said, "That's Delta going complete," and headed for my car.
     Dave was giving a  commentary on  what was going on: They went into the
garage, put the  light  on, were  in  there  for a-bout two minutes,  mucked
around with a car inside, came out, and closed the door.
     "That's them now walking back to the house."
     Then Eno picked  them up. "November has. They're now going complete the
house [into the house], with no masks on."
     "Alpha, roger that."
     We didn't have a clue what was going on. This was often one of the  big
problems  facing  us:  We  saw things, but we didn't  know  what  they meant
because we'd seen only a portion of the action. Why had they  got masks  on?
Why  had they  taken them  off?  Had they just canceled something? Had  they
canceled it because they'd seen us? Or were they just doing a drill? But why
practice with the masks on?
     None of our questions was ever answered. The four  of us  had  to  lift
off, and another team came in to take over; we were overexposed in that area
now and might have been compromised.
     When we got back to the briefing  room, the Boss said, "We're not going
to put a tech attack in. We're going to lift it tonight."
     The other  team was now covering the  weapons. The R.U.C went down  and
searched a lot of houses, lifted the weapons, and that was  the end of that.
We never found out why the boys had their masks on.
     Some of the characters got so  much into the work that they didn't want
to leave.  Some blokes were on their third or fourth tour, completely caught
up in it. There were some weird guys there as well, who couldn't cut between
real life and what was going on in their work.
     I knew I was starting to  get  totally engrossed. It was exciting being
in the'Bogside on a Saturday night at eleven o'clock, watching known players
come out of the pub, lining up and getting their food.
     Even  if  we  weren't  working, we'd go  down  for  some "orientation,"
walking around and  getting to know the places and the people. After a while
we  got comfortable in  these  well-hard areas  and could tell instinctively
when something was up.
     Dave was well on the road to the funny farm. The sink overflowed in his
room while he was  out. When he came back, the carpet was totally sagged up.
Dave's  remedy  wasn't to take the carpet up or open the windows  and let it
dry out; it was  to go and buy  a huge bag of mustard and cress seed and sow
it. Then he turned the heater up, closed  the door, and proceeded to live in
a room full  of crops. "Want to know how  to survive,  Andy?"  he said to me
once. "Never eat anything larger than your own head, anything that you can't
pronounce or spell, or tomatoes."
     Sometimes such bizarre things happened on operations that I'd wonder if
I was in a dream. It appeared once that at some point in  the next few days,
at pub  kicking-out time, some buses were  going to be hijacked from the bus
station, put across the street as barricades, and burned. We put in a number
of reactive OPs so  that when it  happened,  the H.M.S.U (R.U.C Headquarters
Mobile Support Unit) could  steam in and do their business-and if the police
couldn't get there, we'd be the last resort.
     We split up into three gangs of two and were in positions from where we
could trigger it. Me and Eno had MP5s and 9MM pistols. To get as close as we
could, we decided to crawl into the scrubland where the concrete area of the
bus depot ended, right on  the edge of  the compound itself.  If we did  get
compromised, we'd have it that we were on the piss, so we each took a couple
of cans of Tennants lager, the ones  with the  picture of  the  woman on the
back. We sat down and nursed Penelope and Samantha,  keeping our eyes on the
     Everybody started streaming out of the pubs and getting on the buses to
take  them  out to their little enclaves around Strabane. There  was a  taxi
rank nearby as well, and it was the typical Friday night scene. All the boys
were pissed up, trying to chat up fat slags  who smelled of outrageous cheap
perfume and were more interested in shoveling large pizzas  into their faces
than in getting laid.
     The next thing that caught our attention was two  women,  hollering and
shouting with each other, laughing away and smoking. They were coming toward
us, giggling about needing a piss.
     We came up on the  air and said, "Stand by.  That's two echoes  [women]
coming towards us. Wait out."
     .  The next  thing  we knew, the pair were virtually standing  over the
bushes we were hiding in. Then,  still cackling and shouting,  they squatted
and opened fire.
     I was number one on a -oh on the shore of Lough Neagh. The nearest town
was Glenavy on the eastern shore.
     The ops officer brought us in and gave us a briefing.
     "There's  the general area."  He  tapped  a  map. "Somewhere around the
shores of the lake there,  and going  up  in  the fields in  this area here,
there's a fearsome hide.
     Apparently  there's  shotguns, radios,  all  sorts  of  shitprobably  a
complete  A.S.U's  worth of equipment. We're going to  keep going  in, night
after night, until we find it.
     What  I  want you to do  now is  plan  and prepare  a CTR for  tomorrow
     I picked up the Hasselblad cameras and jumped into the Gazelle; minutes
later we were flying over  Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Europe. While we
did a normal flying pattern, I took pictures.
     We  spent hours  pondering over  the  photographs,  trying  to look for
natural points that would be markers, or natural areas to put a hide.
     It could be in the corner of a field or,  say, the third telegraph pole
along where there was a big lump of stone.
     it was daunting. The area covered a square kilometer  of hedgerows  and
shoreline. It  was summertime; we weren't  getting  more  than  six hours of
darkness, which meant we had to get in there, use the six hours, and get out
again, not leaving  any sign in the fields; all  the crops were up and would
easily  get trodden down  and leave sign. And  then we'd have to go back the
next night. I And the next.
     The ops officer was Pete.  He looked like Mr. Sensible Dad, happy owner
of a Mini Metro and  frequenter of B&Q, and wearer of Clark's  shoes, Tesco,
trousers  and V-neck jumpers-180 degrees from my look of Mr. Bag o'Shite. He
said, "You're going to be  there all month by the looks of things. just tell
us what you want by four o'clock, so I can start organizing it."
     I sat down and looked  at all  the  options. Because this place was  so
isolated, there was no way we could get vehicles in to drop, us  off, for us
then to patrol  in. The only  way  we were going  to  get  in was  by Scotty
beaming us-or via the  lough. The only way we were going to get in from  the
lough was by boat,  and the only  people who  were going to do that were the
     I said to Pete,  "You're not going  to  believe this. I want two  boats
over with some blokes."
     He went away shaking his head. Two hours later  he  said, "Right, we've
got a Chinook coming over with A Squadron Boat Troop. They'll be waiting for
     I was happy. "I'll also need six blokes."
     "Okay, there's you and Dave two, and I'll get another four on it.
     I've got a Wessex coming in to pick you up  and fly you down to meet up
with A Squadron. The QRF you've got are two call signs of H.M.S.U."
     All in all, there were just  over a hundred people involved,  plus  the
expense  of  flying A  Squadron over for the recce. Pete said,  "This is the
most outrageous recce we've ever done. You'd better find it!"
     When we landed in the Wessex, there was  a  hive of activity at  the SF
base. The H.M.S.U had turned up. Because of some of the experiences we'd had
with the  army QRF, the Regiment and Det now always used the H.M.S.U. We had
a really good relationship  with them: We'd go to their houses; we knew each
other;  we got on really  well. On jobs like this it  tended to be the  same
faces every time.
     A Squadron were on the team; they'd taken  all their black kit off, got
hold of the boats, and  got  on  the Chinook. They thought  it  was great. I
found them pumping up their boats, checking the engines and putting dry bags
(diver's dry suit)  on. They  didn't have a clue  yet what was going on. All
they'd been told was to get over here and sort themselves out.
     The H.M.S.U were unloading  their  bags  into  the  accommodation. They
would  stay here and come screaming out in their armored Sierra 4x4s if Dave
2 and I were in the shit. They were expecting  to be there for  the next two
week and . were smacking their lips at the thought of all the sovertime.
     I got everybody  together and explained what was going to be happening.
"We're  going to leave  from  here in the  two Geminis. Once  we  get to the
dropoff point one of the Boat Troop boys  will swim and check  the shoreline
to make sure everything's all right for us to land.
     "Once we've landed, A Squadron will stay where they  are, with Rick and
Eno.  Dave  and myself  will then  start going  forward  to do the  CTR. The
general route we're going to  take  is along the hedge line here, then start
working our way north.
     "You can see on the map the checkpoints I've marked.
     When I reach them, I'll radio back to the boats so you'll  know where I
am.  If we find  a hide, then depending  on the time, I'll call  in Rick and
Eno,  and they'll put in the technical attack. If not, the cutoff time stays
as it is and we'll come back tomorrow night. Easy!"
     It looked more like a  fighting patrol than a recce patrol.  We had two
boats, A Squadron were in their dry bags ready  for the swim; two Det blokes
in each boat, both in full uniform, bergens on, carrying G3s, all cammed  up
and ready to go for it.
     We all trundled down to the boats,  only to discover  that  the edge of
the lake  further down was  lined with civvies with fishing rods. I'd wanted
to start trogging down the river toward the lake so that just as it was last
I light,  we'd  have traveled  some of the distance. Instead  we  had to sit
there, waiting for the fishermen to go home.
     At last light we paddled our way down  river until we got on the lough,
then opened up the engines. The Geminis bounced up and down in the chop, the
Boat Troop wearing their PNGs (passive  night goggles)  as they navigated us
to the dropoff point.  It was totally dark, and I felt as if we were on  the
sea. Finally the engines stopped, and  they  started paddling in a bit.  Two
blokes, each with a weapon, jumped into the water in their dry bags and fins
and disappeared.
     The flash of their  red  torch told us that they had cleared the beach.
We paddled into  the edge, and the boats  ' were tied up. We put our bergens
on  and  set  off, carrying photography  kit  and large radices so  we could
communicate with  the  rest of the patrol. I thought  there was no way  we'd
find  it  on  the first  night, but at least we'd have  a rough idea of  the
ground and could come back time and again and dissect it.
     At about twelve-thirty we were moving up a hedge line. Ahead of us in a
corner of the field we could make out the shape of what must have once  been
an old  workshop or farm building. The ends were semicircular  and  built of
breeze blocks, and the roof had been corrugated Iron.

     The  metal sheeting was rusty and full of holes and in most places  had
fallen down onto old lengths  of wood, broken bricks, bottles filled up with
mud. Sitting to the right was a  rusting 1950s-style  tractor without tires.
Debris lay all around: empty paint tins, rolls of

     moldy old carpet, plastic fertilizer sacks, and little piles of rubble.
About fifty meters beyond  was a row  of  four or  five  traditional-looking
terraced  houses,  probably built in the days of  tenant farming. The people
who lived  in them now perhaps  still worked the land-but obviously  weren't
very tidy.
     As we started to walk closer, we, had a good look at the layout  of the
buildings. Obviously they would have to  be searched at some stage, but that
'would  take a  night  in  itself. Then I  spotted  something that  had been
obscured  from our view by  the dead  tractor.  A  number of  large-diameter
four-foot-long plastic drainage pipes, each with a male and female end, were
stacked up against the building. There were  three on the bottom of the pile
and two on the top, but the strange thing about the arrangement was that the
ends against the wall were draped  over  with newspaper. At what should have
been  the open ends of the pipes was a small pile of bricks; above that were
pieces of corrugated iron that looked out of place, because they just didn't
look ramshackle  enough. I looked at the stack and thought, No, it's far too
obvious; we've got that as a marker; let's  carry  on with the patrol and go
and see what other possibles there  are. Otherwise we could  spend all night
doing this because it would take a long time  to dismantle, and if it turned
out not to be a  hide,  we'd have  lost a lot of valuable  time. We  kept on
going and were looking at a small culvert that ran under a track. We checked
a  rubbish tip  area, looking for large drums. It  was a  pain  in  the arse
because it had to be done slowly. We had to make sure we didn't leave sign.
     Dave 2 came up and  said, "Tell you what, let's go back and have a look
at that marker. You never know."
     The site  was surrounded by  long grass. Some of it  on  the right-hand
side had been trodden down, but that meant nothing. We went around the edge,
crouched down,  and looked. We  studied it for about five  or ten minutes to
make sure that  we could  recognize exactly  how  it looked. I took some I.R
photography of it.
     We then  started to take off the top layer  of wriggly  tin.  This  was
quite a pain in the arse: There was the  risk of noise, and as we moved each
sheet, it scraped against the others. It was also slightly dug into the mud,
so to make sure that the earth was still  nicely presented, it was a lift, a
push  up  and  a bring out.  As the wriggly tin started to come  off, Dave 2
would pass it to me, and I would then lay it out  on the ground in  order so
we knew exactly what bit of which went where.
     As soon as we had also  got a couple of the  bricks out of the way  and
there  was just enough room to peer inside, Dave 2 got out his Maglite torch
and  shone the tiny  beam down into the pipes. He  couldn't see anything. We
started pulling  off  more  bricks, one  by  one. It  was  like  a  surgical
operation; I was laying them in a specific order so I knew which  went where
and we could put them back exactly as we had found them.
     Dave was taking his time, looking at every  brick before he  lifted  it
up. He took one brick off-nothing.
     Another-nothing.  Then  all  of a  sudden  he  leaned  back,  gave me a
thumbs-up, and whispered, "Bingo!"
     It was the word everybody liked to hear on the net.
     "Don't know what it is," he whispered, "but it's definitely a hide."
     I got the radio out and communicated back  to the boats.  "Hello, Lima,
this is Alpha, over." I got nothing.
     I tried again. The hide must be in a blind spot. I  knew  that  without
comms the blokes would be flapping because they didn't know where we were on
the ground and therefore couldn't back us quickly if we had a drama.  It was
now about  one-thirty. I sat  there pissed off that we  weren't getting  any
comms and worked  Out  that by the time  we  walked to the boats to pick the
lads  up  and  bring  them  back to  the hide,  then larked the  weapons and
replaced the hide, we'd  have run out of dark time hours.  That meant me and
Dave  2  staying on  the  target and everybody  else  going  back  and  then
returning the following night.
     We both started to put the bricks and tin back in order, Dave 2
     putting  his  hand  out  for  each  item  like  a   surgeon  requesting
instruments. It had taken us an  hour to  open up the hide, checking all the
time  for telltales and that the cache wasn't  rigged up with  a booby trap,
and it now took us as long to put everything back.
     "I could see  some longs wrapped  in black plastic bags and  some  more
shit deeper in ilie hide. I couldn't make it out," he said.
     We  moved back down  to the boats,  and I explained  what was going on.
"Dave two  and I'll  just sleep here on the  shore," I said. "We won't watch
the hide-it's pointless, it's too exposed-but we want to make sure we can go
back  at last light, and that gives  us an  extra two hours  to get the tech
attack in. We can get the kit out as they are moving to us."
     Next day we  just  sat there  and lay up  in  the  shade, watching  the
fishing boats and  pleasure craft on the lough. One of us went on stag while
the other one slept.
     About two hours before  last light  we got back on the radio  and spoke
to' the blokes  on the boats to check that everything was okay and that they
were ready to move as soon as it was dark enough.
     At last light we went straight up to the hide. As we started to pull it
apart, the lights of the houses were still on. It was so close I could  hear
a toilet being flushed.
     We  uncovered  an Aladdin's cave  of AK47s, shotguns,  small  hand-held
radios, and ammunition wrapped up in ski masks.
     Now all we had to do was wait for Rick and Eno.
     Time dragged on and on, and because of  the blind spot, we still had no
comms, even when we tried moving position.
     It was now coming up to about one o'clock. I started to get worried.
     It was  going to get fairly light come about four. By two o'clock still
nothing  had happened. We  made  a  plan:  At three  o'clock, if  no one had
reappeared, we'd have to block up the hide and bluff it.
     This was worrying. This was our second visit, and this time the weapons
ad been unwrapped. I didn't want to rush  replacing the hide if Rick and Eno
didn't turn up.
     By about twenty past two we didn't even need night viewing  aids  as we
watched the boys trogging up the hill.
     "The  fucking engine gave up  halfway  across!" Rick said.  "We've been
paddling like lunatics for the  last two  hours." Eno was by now  doing  his
job. His annoying personal trait of being so precise and neat made him ideal
for this type of work.
     "We've got to rush it," I said. "It's going to be light soon."
     "I've got theIR photography you took last light. You might as well look
at it; it's light enough." Dave 2 and I covered them as they got on with it.
It was  nearly daylight  when we  started putting the stuff back. Cocks were
crowing. By the time we finished and got back to the powerless Gemini it was
breakfast time and we had to paddle in broad daylight to meet the other boat
that had been sent to fetch us.
     My  tour  with  the  Det  finished  in late 1988.  When  I  came  back,
everything between Fiona and me was  different. I  didn't  know what it was,
whether  it  was because we'd spent  so much  time  apart, but  there was  a
definite air  of independence between us. It wasn't a case of me coming home
to Fiona and Kate; the way I was feeling it  was coming home to  Kate, which
was the wrong way around.
     Running up to Christmas, I went away on another job for a while, and it
was  as  if I'd never been at home. I yearned for Kate, the  product  of the
relationshi , rather
     than the relationship itself. Fiona an p
     d I didn't exactly row  about things, but there were times  when we sat
down and had to have some really serious  talks  about the direction we were
going. Both of  us  knew there were problems, but both of us thought that we
could work it out. However,  my priorities were  work, Kate,  Fiona, and she
probably sensed that.
     Eno  started  to have  a few problems with his  marriage,  too,  and it
eventually  broke up. Maybe it was the same in the police force or  the fire
brigade,  but  people  in  the  Regiment  always  seemed  to  be  divorcing,
remarrying, redivorcing, and always for the same reason. It took an enormous
amount of effort and dedication for a bloke  to have got where he was and to
stay there, and almost inevitably there was -a conflict.
     our of us were  sitting in a  Portakabin listening to the slime telling
us what was going on. Outside, the sun was shining, but it *asn't as hot  as
I'd expected for  this  part of the world.  All around us on the  walls were
maps, Magic Marker boards, and cork boards.
     The Int boy finished off by saying, "Well, that's it. I know you're not
going to ask  any questions, because it's a waste of time. I don't  know the
     "So basically we're going  to  do  something, but  we don't  know what,
where, when, or how. We just sit here and pick our arses, do we?"
     "Yeah, that's about the size of  it. Have  a look  at what  information
there  is on the board,  and we'll start  squaring it away  tomorrow. The  G
Squadron  blokes you're  taking  over  from  are away on  the ranges at  the
moment; they'll be back tomorrow."
     We had a quick look at the  pictures of the city and personalities, but
the faces  were  familiar,  enough,  and  at  this stage everybody  was more
interested in getting a few rays.
     We walked outside  onto  the pan in our jeans, T-shirts,  and trainers.
The sun was blinding.  On the  pan  were Chinooks and Pumas and a  couple of
aircrew mincing around on them.
     James, one of  the  team, said, "Not hot enough to sunbathe in, but all
right for a run."
     "Where to?" I said, looking at  the  barbed-wire fence  that surrounded
the location. "Talk about keeping the animals from straying."
     "One hundred fifty-two laps of that Portakabin, then," James said.
     "Come on, there's nothing else to do."
     We went back to the accommodation, another set of Portakabins.
     We'd dumped our kit on the beds as soon as we'd arrived an hour before,
then  gone straight to the briefing room.  I had a nylon Parabag and  bergen
containing all my equipment, the most important bit of which was my Walkman,
with  a  couple  of  self-compiled  tapes  of  Madness,  Sham  69, the  hymn
"Jerusalem"  from  Chariots of  Fire, and  a bit of  Elgar. I pulled open my
bergen and strewed everything all over the bed. Out fell my sleeping bag and
running kit.
     James and  I ran around the perimeter fence,  past Chinooks and aircrew
who were busy licking ice creams.
     As we turned one corner, I said, "Look at that!" Sitting  on the tarmac
about a hundred meters away was a bit  of machinery  that I knew existed but
had  never  seen: a long  black spy  plane  of the USAF, all  weirdly angled
surfaces  and very mean-looking.  I didn't know why, but  it somehow made me
feel more confident that our job Half an hour later we were having a shower,
then running around trying to  find out  where the aircrew had got their ice
     We had some scoff that night and sorted out our kit.
     We'd  been  told  to  bring  different types of civvy clothes  with us,
together with different types of body armor, overt and covert, to  cater for
every option. Among the four of us  we had M16s, a  couple of sniper rifles,
MP5s, MP5Ks, MB5SDs, and a couple of Welrod silenced pis would be on.
     386  tols; already on site  would  be different types of  explosives to
cover everything  from blowing a wall to taking  doors off.  We also had all
types of night-viewing aids, including passive night-viewing goggles that we
might  need  to wear  as  we were moving  in, and an infrared torch  for our
weapon, so  we could move along  without being  seen;  we still didn't  know
whether we'd  be wearing a pair of jeans and covert body armor and a pair of
trainers, or green military kit, or  going in with the full counterterrorist
black kit.
     Lat  item in the Parabag was  a day  sack, stuffed with hemacell plasma
substitute and "giving sets." If there were any major gunshot wounds, they'd
have to be managed and stabilized until we got back.
     Once  the kit was checked  we sat  down to  watch six  hours  of Fawlty
Towers on video.
     In the morning we read the papers, listened to the radio, watched a bit
of telly. There was simply nothing else to do. In the end we dragged some of
the plastic chairs outside and sat in the sun.
     About midmorning two wagons turned up,  and some blokes from G Squadron
started  piling out. They'd  been  down  to  the  ranges  doing  some  night
shooting. First one out was Tony, who I knew quite well.
     "Thank fuck you lot have turned up," he said.
     "I see, good job then, I take it?"
     "It's a bag of shit. No one knows what the fuck's going on.
     We've got two more days, I think, then you're taking over."
     "So you don't know anything?"
     "Only that we're here."
     All we knew was what the Int boy had told us. John  McCarthy  and Terry
Waite were hostages in Beirut, together with an Irishman called Brian Keenan
and countless Americans, and every agency, man, and dog in the Western world
was running around trying to find them.
     if any of them were found, including the Yanks, we were going to go and
lift them.
     We went and had a brew and I asked Tony, "Have you been over there?"
     "Yeah.  Boring as fuck-  There's a  couple of  boys  over there  at the
moment, in the embassy or consulate'or whatever. They're sorting out all the
LSs [landing sites], and they're the link between the  embassy  and us.  Any
information that's coming through, they're giving us a shout."
     "And have they sent anything?"
     "Jack shit. We're just running around like loonies at the moment.
     It's the normal thing. This time next  week  it'll  be binned,  bet you
anything. The  only positive thing i is that there's got to be something up;
otherwise they wouldn't have moved us here.)' "What's it like over there?"
     "Just like you've seen on the news, really. Buildings full of shrapnel,
piles  of rubble, loads of old Mercs. To be  honest, I didn't take that much
interest. I'll believe it when I see it on this one.
     I'll spark up when they find them and want us to go and do it.
     All it is is  another house assault. The only good thing so far is that
we've got free sunglasses out of it." He pulled out  some Ray 0 Bans and put
them on.
     "They're all right, aren't they?"
     "Freebies? How come?"
     "We were practicing this assault on the ranges, coming in on a Chinook.
The  idea  was we'd  come in near the building, and  as the heli  lands  the
tailgate  comes  down and we just pile  out' I and do  it-running  or in the
light strike vehicles. It's  al dark inside the Chinook,  of course. There's
twelve of us  sitting there with  belt  kit and body armor  on,  everybody's
carrying MP fives  and G  threes and all sorts. We were ready to start World
War Three.
     "The tailgate comes down, we run out  straight  into the sun, and-fuck!
We're blinded! We couldn't  see jack  shit. It was a live attack, and all we
heard was 'Stop!
     Stop!" Sean was going ApeShit. 'Stop! Unload!" We un 388
     loaded, and he said, 'What the fuck's going on?
     Fucking hell, call  yourselves  Special Air Service soldiers?"  'But we
can't see fuck all!" We'd missed all the targets. So  the pilot saunters  up
and says,  'Well, you've just come out of a dark aircraft, haven't you,  you
dickheads?" We ended up being given aviator glasses.
     Mind you, we had a honk."
     "Why's that?"
     "Ray - Bans. We wanted Oakley Blades."
     What Tony was saying reflected the attitude on a lot of jobs, which was
very downbeat. We were going to do a house assault in Beirut  and bring home
the  bacon. So  what? It was pointless getting excited or concerned until we
found  out what was  going on and where they were-if they  were still alive.
Nobody had even confirmed that much. So no one was hyper, running around and
screaming: "We've got to do this, we've got to save the  hostages." When the
job happened, the job happened.
     All  the principles were  exactly  the  same  as for  any  other  house
assault. Only the area was different, and it was in  a hostile  environment.
Again, so what? We'd got  guns, we'd got the aptitude  and  the attitude, we
had body armor, and we had aircraft-what more could we ask for?
     G Squadron disappeared for the rest of the day. Sean got the four of us
together and said, "We're going  to have this trickle  system going through.
You four from B Squadron  will take over, and in  two days'  time we'll send
back four from  G Squadron  and  just have a gentle tick-over  so we've  got
continuity  on  the  ground.  The  score's  the same  as  normal. You're  in
isolation, and you stay here. Mail can come in and out every day, you've got
phone calls, and there'll be  a run to the market every morning for soap and
     "What about the aircrew? Where are they?"
     "The aircrew are staying downtown in a hotel.' "Ah, lovely," we honked.
It was always  the same; we'd be  in isolation, but the aircrew, who knew as
much as we did, were put up in hotels or messes.
     I turned to James and said, "Please do not feed the animals."
     That was  it  for  the day. There was  a little multigym  to fuck about
with, but we soon  got bored with  that.  I sat on  my bed listening to  the
Walkman  and  reading  the  paper;  then  I wrote a  letter  home to  Fiona.
"Hopefully that insurance claim will come through," I said.
     "Just go ahead and  get what color you like." We'd tipped some paint on
the kitchen carpet, and I'd only got around to doing  the claim form the day
before I left. "PS: I promise I'll fix that leak in the roof."
     Every time I got organized to do the repair, I'd been called away.
     It had become a standing joke.
     Next morning everybody was got together in the briefing room.
     Tony  was given the good news that he  wasn't going back; his four were
staying,  and another four of G  Squadron were  sent home. It was  funny, it
always seemed  that we  took  over something that G Squadron had  initiated.
Still, it was a good  chance  to  take  the piss  out  of them for being  so
incompetent that they had to be replaced.
     A television  set and video machine had been set up on a table  in  one
corner. The  slime stood up and said, "This is a video run of possible areas
in Beirut where these people  might be held.  Nothing's confirmed, but these
are the general areas so you can orientate yourselves a bit."
     He  started  to run the videotape, which had come from  the guys on the
ground in Beirut. They'd been looking at the areas, driving them and walking
them. They were taking photographs and doing video runs with covert cameras,
looking at landing sites in and around  possible  targets, and security-both
building -wise and physically, with guards.
     They even studied the state of the traffic outside. Was it busy, was it
quiet,  were there little side streets? Was there a good escape route in and
     They'd rigged up a camera in a van and driven around the areas.
     The  place was in shit state.  The  video  was  bouncing  up and  down,
occasionally  showing  a  glimpse  of  a  dirty windscreen. It  looked  like
something out of a World in Action report.
     There's quite a skill to operating undercover  in an urban environment.
It's a matter of trying to  do normal  things,  while working to a different
agenda; how  you do this will vary according to the climate, prosperity, and
traditions of  the country  you are operating in. A large city like Cairo or
Bangkok  is  an  anonymous  place  with a  large population  of  floaters or
drifters and plenty of public  transport  and public facilities. People keep
themselves to themselves, and as long as the way you look and behave doesn't
attract attention, you can move around freely. A place like Beirut, however,
with  strong family  networks, local  loyalties, or a  repressive  political
regime, will be much harder to move about in-and movement is important: It's
easier not to be asked questions if you're not standing still.
     Simon, the Int Corps fellow,  spoke fluent Arabic and had spent most of
his working life in the Middle East, including a  long tour  with the Sultan
of Oman's forces  as an Int collater  and a spell  in Beirut itself when the
Brits supplied people to the UN forces. Now a warrant  officer,  he had been
with the Regiment for many years.
     He said, "I'll warn you of something now.  It's such a fucking maze and
there's  so  many different factions running around  that  if you're in  the
shit-if  the operation  goes  wrong and you're not killed and survive-I  can
promise you you'll land up best mates with Terry Waite.
     The sooner you're  in,  and  the sooner  you're  out,  the  better."  I
wondered what would happen if I did become a hostage. I knew that I'd have a
hard time initially, getting filled in, but after that I'd land up sharing a
piss-pot  with old Tel. At  that stage I didn't  really  worry about it; the
moment I knew  the exact location we were going to hit,  I  would make it my
business to learn by heart the locations of all the embassies and consulates
and  the location of the  American University of  Beirut  and the main areas
where all the reporters lived.
     But, I told myself-and it was a big but-there was no way I was going to
get captured. I had a big gun, loads of rounds, and it would all be over and
done with  in a quarter of  an hour. No fucker was going to stop me  getting
back on the heli.
     James sparked up and said, "When do we get over to Beirut then and have
a look?"
     "That's being organized now with the embassies. The  boys over there at
the moment will rig  it  all  up and orientate you quickly. The helicopter's
going to be  doing  some  more practice  runs in the next couple of days. As
soon as that happens, we'll get you on board and off you go.
     "The people in the embassies  are trying to organize some tennis courts
as  an LS. A  friendly power wants to pull its embassy staff out of the area
as a cost-saving measure, but politically they can't be seen to withdraw.
     By their  letting us use their  embassy gardens and  tennis courts as a
helicopter landing site, we're getting  two  birds killed with one stone. We
secure  a method of infil and exfil, and  as  part of the bargain we'll pick
all their people up and bring them back with us.
     They could then say that they'd  had to withdraw  because they'd helped
the Brits.
     "We  can  get  some  helis  in  there easily and  quickly,  which  will
obviously make it easier to  get into the center  of the city.  Or we  might
have to go in covertly; 'we don't really know yet."
     Sean stood up and  said, "If you G Squadron  lads want  to bin it then,
see you!"
     He then started to give the rest of us a brief.  "What we're looking at
just  now are three  main  options. Once  intelligence  comes  in  and  it's
confirmed  where  they are-assuming that  they are  alive-we'll then get the
okay to go. Depending on where it is and the numbers required, we might have
to call in the standby squadron.
     However, that's where you come into it: You're here, and you've got the
continuity, so you'll be able to take them in.
     "At the moment we're looking at going straight in and doing a big crash
and bang. Pumas or Chinooks, depending on where the  target is and  where we
can  get  the  aircraft  in,  then  straight in  and take it  out, grab  the
hostages,  into the  aircraft and back over. The most important part of that
for you is not so  much getting in and getting them, because I know you  can
square that away,  it's if they're in shit state or  if  they're wounded and
need to be sorted out on the aircraft. We've got some major trauma care gear
to go on the aircraft.
     You'll  be taking the medic packs on target  as  well because we  don't
have a clue what  state they'll be in.  You might  have to  bung them  on  a
     "There's a problem with refueling. We're just trying to work it out. We
hope we can get in with the Chinook because they've got internal  fuel tanks
on board. If it's Pumas,  we  might  have to  refuel in Beirut,  but  again,
that's  being  organized  at  the  moment.  Another possibility is that  the
Americans will refuel us at sea.
     "So   that's   the  first  and  most  ideal  option-a  straightforward,
hard-hitting, quick attack: Get in there,  get  them, and get out. But until
we know where they are, it's one for the back burner.
     "The next option is again to  go in by heli. There's  normal helicopter
traffic going in and out, so no problem there-landing and moving covertly in
     "The way we're  looking  at  it at the moment is that the boys  already
there  will get us on target;  we  don't even have . e to  know where  we're
going. It would be a green option [in normal army uniform]. The vans stop at
the target; we go straight in and do it.
     Then back in the vans and go for it back to the nearest safety area and
organize the helis to get us out. At the moment that's not our problem; that
doesn't  interest us. All  we want to know is where the target is so we  can
hit it and get these people out.
     "The last option is a covert entry and covert exfil.
     How we'd do that  I don't know:  whether  we  go over  by boat  and get
picked up by the boys from the embassy, I just don't know."
     James  said,  "There's   nothing  I  like  more  than  taking  over   a
well-organized job. Good one, G Squadron!"
     "Well, that's all we  know," Sean said. "The one and only thing  we  do
know for sure is  that we've  been sent here. There might or might not  be a
job on in  Beirut, but if there  is, it's to rescue the hostages. You four,"
he said,  pointing to  us,  "get your weapons, go down the range, and rezero
and  check them out. I then want you to see Tony; he'll show you the four  G
Squadron blokes who are leaving, and  they'll start handing over the medical
kit and HE."
     Still in jeans and trainers, we drove down to the range. We zeroed G3s,
.203s,  MP5s and  tested all the magazines. Everybody was  fairly nonchalant
and bored.
     We knew our weapons were zeroed, but we had to check them.
     We cleaned the  weapons and  went  over to G Squadron for the equipment
handover. We 'Checked all  the  hemocell, all  the giving  sets, the fold-up
nylon stretchers, first field  dressings,  oxygen sets. We  also  had little
miner's lights  to  wear around our heads for  working on somebody at night,
and  inflatable antishock trousers,  an excellent bit of American kit, which
are wrapped around the lower body and then pumped up to  restrict the  flood
of  blood and  keep fluids in the top  half  of the body; the  basic  aim of
trauma  management is  to  stop  the loss  of blood and replace  fluids, and
that'll keep them alive. If we can keep them screaming, they're breathing.
     The blokes  from G Squadron  were well pleased  to be off. Later in the
day,  as they boarded  the aircraft,  they thought they'd got away with  not
giving their Ray - Bans over. But  Sean appeared from nowhere and said, "And
don't forget the glasses; they're squadron property."
     For the next couple of days we were hanging around again. If we weren't
eating, we were going for a run around the compound, and if we weren't doing
that, we were training. We had to practice all the different options because
we  still  didn't know how  we were going to get in, and  at that  stage  we
didn't even know exactly where the hostages were being held or the layout of
the buildings.
     Everything  was  getting in motion. All  we  had to do  was jump in the
aircraft and go in and do the option that had been decided on. The objective
never changed; that had to be to  drag  them out of there  as  quickly as we
could and get away. We  had no idea of the condition they  were going  to be
in. They might need stabilizing; they  might be in shit state; they might be
drugged;  they might  be totally exhausted and incapable of moving. So  we'd
have to take the lotyen  down to bolt cutters so we could cut them away from
whatever they were chained to.
     We had computer-enhanced pictures of what they might look like now-with
beards,  without  beards,  having  lost  weight, lost  some  hair, some with
graying hair, some with scarred faces or wearing glasses.
     We would  be going into a  hostile environment quickly, so it very much
had to be a matter of speed, aggression, and surprise. By the time they were
starting to react, we'd be gone.  For ten minutes of work, it might take ten
weeks of  preparation  to get  it  right.  We were  practicing,  practicing,
practicing, but as soon as we got the okay, we would be ready to go.
     We  practiced  going in by  helicopter, then moving  into  vehicles and
dropping  off at different points around the  location and all walking in at
the same time. We'd done  it plenty of times  over the water; everybody just
casually walks in and bang! It then goes overt as soon as everybody's in the
area. You're banging and crashing,.you're getting through to the target, and
there's either vehicles or a helicopter coming in to get you out.
     We  also practiced  going  in  by  boat.  We'd  meet  somebody  at  the
beachhead, who would then put us in vehicles and drive us off to the target.
At the same time a helicopter would be holding off; as soon as we went bang,
crash, the helis would come in; they would either lift us direct or get into
the embassy and wait for us to arrive by vehicle.
     Another version we tried was for the heli to go straight in.
     People already on the ground would have marked the area. We'd fast-rope
down, take  the building  out, and while that was happening, the heli either
still airborne, waiting, or it goes and sets down.
     The  people on the ground covered the helicopter,  and that became part
of the exfiltration.
     Eventually it looked as though  it was going to be a  helicopter  going
into the embassy; from there we would sort ourselves and go in  on target by
vehicle. We'd get in there, get McCarthy, Waite, and anybody else who wanted
a free ticket out of town, and come back in vehicles to the embassy. As soon
as the first heli lifted off, there would be another one  holding up to come
in. The priority would be  to get the hostages out  on  the first heli, with
any other civilian personnel that were there.
     The assaulters would get on the last helicopter.
     It  looked as if we  were  going to go in on a  green option  with body
armor, and then over that we'd have coat for the covert infil. We were going
to drive up to the building and do an explosive entry. We'd need information
on the doors; we  didn't know what was on the other side. We didn't  want to
start killing the people we were supposed to be saving. The charges for that
were all made up. We were going to drive along  three  different routes, and
everybody would have personal comms, on one frequency.
     Then  it was a question-as so often-Of hurry up and wait, and check and
test, check and test-and yet another six hours of Basil, Sybil, and Manuel.
     Finally  we  were told by Sean, "Okay, they're going in tomorrow night;
the pilot's going to practice  going in on NVGs. So if you want  to go along
for the ride, away you go. You've got to go in uniform, no weapons. Carry an
ID card with you, and ID tags."
     All four of us met the aircrew near the Puma.
     "How's it going?" I said.
     "Boring  as  usual," was the reply.  "These  luxury hotels all look the
same to me."
     "Fuck you."
     "Right, we'll go in about three-quarters of an hour.
     Basically all we're  trying to do is practice going in on  NVGs  and do
some time checks. We'll land on a new LS."
     They were  in flying suits and  life jackets,  pens  and  bits of paper
dangling off all over them. We put on life jackets and sat in the back.
     The flight was uneventful. There was nothing to see as we flew over the
Mediterranean. Then, as  we approached  Beirut, I craned my neck to look out
of  the window.  Disappointingly it  looked like any other Middle East city.
There were lights in houses, car headlights  carving  their way through dark
areas. What we couldn't see with the naked eye was the infrared flash of the
Firefly equipment that was guiding the pilot into the middle of the city.
     I heard the rotors slowing down, and we lost height.
     Minutes  later we  were on  the ground; the rotors  kept turning as the
loadie opened the door and  two blokes from G Squadron came  running  toward
us.  Their job  was  to  be  liaison and  mark the LS  for  us and bring the
aircraft in. The loadie waved for two other boys to come forward. They, too,
were G Squadron, and what they were after  was the mailbag we were carrying.
They grabbed it and ran  hunched double into the darkness. I saw a vehicle's
headlights go on and watched it drive off. At almost the same time the  heli
lifted; we did a big circuit and flew on to our refuel point.
     I turned to James and said, "Er, so that was us in Beirut then?"
     "Never mind," he said, "at least we know the flying times."
     Everybody slagged us off the next morning about our big sortie.
     "How was Terry then? Any messages for the archbishop?"
     There  was a cross  section of people  who  were feeling sorry for  the
hostages and those who simply didn't care.
     "What  the  fuck was Waite doing  there anyway? He didn't have to  be a
brain surgeon to know that he was going to get caught."
     Then, at about four o'clock one morning, one of the scaleys on  stag on
the radio net came screaming in. He threw  all  the lights  on  and shouted,
'We've got a standby! It's on! They want you in the briefing room now!"
     Good news!
     We  pulled some  kit  on and ran down to  the briefing room. Simon  was
there   to   greet  us  with   the  words  "It's  on:  we're  going  in   at
     He  was standing there in running  shorts,  flip-flops, and a big baggy
T-shirt, and his glasses were on wonky from all the rushing around. "They've
got the location.
     We're just waiting for it to be confirmed. It's coming to us now."
     Sean stood up and said, "Everybody,  listen  in. What we're going to do
is a smash and  grab. The aircrew are coming in now.  As soon as we know the
location, we'll have a look at it. No time to fuck around.
     If we can get on target in the  helis, we're just going  to go straight
     "I want to  go through the  rules of engagement before we start. Do not
shoot at anybody unless he's firing at you or putting someone else's life in
danger. I repeat,  do not shoot unless there's somebody putting your life or
someone else's  life  in danger. We  don't want the fucking OK  Corral  down
there, all  right? just get in there, get it done, and get on the  aircraft.
The mission is to get the hostages.  As soon as we know the location,  we're
going to run through a quick set of orders.
     We've been told it must be done today. Okay, sort yourselves out.
     It'll be a green option."
     There  wasn't an air of excitement or tension. After  so  many weeks of
practice we just wanted to get it done. I put on my green DPM and  smock and
the  lightweight boots  I  used on the  team. We  wouldn't  be tabbing great
distances;  we  were only going to  be on the ground for maybe half an hour.
Over my  smock I put my chest harness with ten magazines of 7.62. I took the
G3 with a folding stock because it had more firepower than anything else. In
a  bag I took an MP5. If things changed while we were  in the  air, I had to
make sure I'd catered for it.
     On  my back I had a small day sack  containing. two liters of  hemocell
plasma replacement and four giving sets. The rest was  packed out with field
dressings and a nylon fold-up stretcher.
     Around my  neck I had my  dog  tags and my ID card, through which I had
burned a small hole  and put some string, and two Syrettes  of morphine. The
drugs  were unlikely to be  used; it's not good to  use morphine for gunshot
wounds to the chest,  stomach, or  head.  In any event,  we should  be  back
drinking tea and ordering our duty-frees before it was needed.
     We came back over to the briefing room.
     "Still waiting," Sean said.
     By now all  the air crews had arrived and  I could hear rotors turning.
The air crews came  in, flying  suits, pistols tucked in their harness, maps
and chinographs and bits of paper and radios all over them.
     We sat  there.  After ten minutes somebody said,  "Let's get  a  cup of
     Sean  said, "Yep, fuck off. But the only places I want You to be are in
the cookhouse, the living accommodation, or here."
     The scaleys said, "Let's sort out these radios  while we're waiting for
the brief."
     We checked  that our radios between us and the helicopter were working.
The helicopter would be  relaying everything. On  the  ground we'd only need
comms between us personally, working one to one with an earpiece.
     We sat there and waited, cups  of tea in hand. It was now  six o'clock.
The start time was eight o'clock. Sean let us  go to the cookhouse. A couple
of  people  wandered back to the living  accommodation, had  a wash, brushed
their teeth.
     Then what we got from Sean was: "Bin it. It's canceled."
     Oh, for fuck's sake. So near and yet so far.
     We kept all the kit in the room, went for a run, watched more -tv,
read the newspapers.  Later that afternoon we went for another  briefing. We
were told, "It's finished. It's binnedWe don't know why, so don't ask."
     We packed all our  own kit and handed the other stuff in to the stores.
We had two days off, so the most  important thing,  now that the weather was
hotter, was getting the wagons and having a couple of days on the beach.
     At  the end of the day we weren't that particularly fussed about it. It
was just another job that we'd got pretty bored practicing for.
     Soon  afterward  and  article  appeared  in  the  Times,  accusing  the
government of "squandering chances" to rescue the hostages. A Foreign Office
spokesman was  quoted  as  saying,  "We have vigorously followed up the many
approaches which have been made  to us.  All  of these have, sadly, run into
sand for a variety of reasons."
     Oh,  well, we never  found  out  what the sand was, but  at  least we'd
tried-and got a nice tan.
     The lecture room  in Hereford  was full as Bert from Int Corps  gave  B
Squadron the background.
     "As you are  aware, the Regiment has been involved in many antinarcotic
measures. We have worked with a  number of American drug  agencies,  such as
the  D.E.A,  whose personnel have visited Hereford on a number of occasions.
Members of the Regiment have also assisted the U.S Coast Guard with antidrug
     On the  domestic front, the Regiment has been  involved in drug-busting
operations in London, mainly to stop PIRA's fund-raising drug operations.
     "The  main market for narcotics is still  the United States, but Europe
is catching up fast; the inner cities have become major distribution points,
and it's feared there could be a major epidemic.
     Now it has been decided at the highest  levels that several UK agencies
will join in the fight, and you are one of them.
     "So, gentlemen"-Bert  pulled  down a roller  map of  Central  and South
America and jabbed at a specific  region-"I give you a theater of operations
that is  so  secret  that  anyone heard discussing it-even  in camp will  be
R.T.U'D on the spot." Then,  allowing himself a  brief tongue-in-cheek grin,
he said, "So to get you into the habit straightaway, even I am only going to
refer to this place as a certain Latin American country."
     His face  serious once more, he went on. "This is not going to be easy.
Our certain Latin American country' is one of the most violent in the world,
apart  from those physically  at war. There  were more  than twenty thousand
murders last year-at least three  thousand  drugrelated killings in one town
alone. In fact  these  days a local male  between  the ages  of eighteen and
sixty is more likely to be murdered than to die of any other cause.
     "The Latin  American drug  trade has  developed  from a  small  cottage
industry in the  early seventies into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, with
its own distribution  network and armies of narcoguerrillas to make sure  it
stays  that  way.  The  chief  villains  of  the  piece   are  the  cartels,
associations of  drug producers and smugglers who have combined to divvy  up
the market and intimidate the authorities. Their vast profits  have  brought
them power; they've killed politicians, judges, and senior army officers-and
got  away with  it. Measures have been  taken,  but it's  like pushing water
     "All efforts must be made to fight the drug trade in its  own backyard.
If we  can  hit them at  source and slow down the growth and  production, we
will then see the effect back in the UK."
     Bert distributed photocopies of an intelligence report that showed that
according  to  the  U.S  State  Department, three Latin  American  countries
between them produced enough coca leaves in 1988 to yield  360 tons of  pure
cocaine. At fourteen  thousand  dollars for a  kilo at  onethird purity, the
suppliers' income  would be fifteen billion  dollars from cocaine  alone-and
that  took  no  account  of  the massive  quantities of marijuana grown  and
processed. However,  since  the  cartels  also  controlled  distribution and
retail  sales, their profits were, in fact, much  higher-an estimated margin
of 12,000 percent from production cost to' street value.
     "To look  just at  cocaine  for  a moment,"  Bert said,  "it  takes two
hundred kilos of leaves  to produce one kilo of paste. The leaves have to be
converted  into coca paste  in their  country of  origin because  the  sheer
volume and weight of leaves make it impossible to move them very far.
     The plantations  were  scattered in  the  valleys,  with  thousands  of
collection points at which the leaves were rendered down. The coca paste was
then taken to one of thousands of small dirt airstrips hidden in the jungle,
and from there to  drug  manufacturing  plants to  be  converted  first into
cocaine base (it took 2.5 kilos of paste to produce 1 kilo of base) and then
into cocaine  hydrochloride-pure cocaine. IMTo run the drug production line,
the cartels  had ' ported skilled  technicians, many of whom were Europeans,
as well  as  specialized  equipment  and  supplies. They  also  handled  the
smuggling operation and had even set up  their  own distribution networks in
America and Europe.
     Bert said, "In the last two years the number of addicts in New York has
trebled  from  one  hundred eighty-two thousand to six hundred  thousand-and
that's without the up-and-coming generation of heroin users. just looking at
one of the problems  that  we've  got-cocaine-the size  of  the  job can  be
measured by a recent seizure: In September police  in Los  Angeles impounded
the largest single-consignment ever discovered, over twenty tons.
     Its  value was about two billion dollars wholesale, yet the seizure had
no effect on price. In other words, supply still exceeded demand.
     "Our  'certain  Latin  American  country'  is  itself  not a  fantastic
producer.  However,  rather  than  try  to  convince  other  governments  to
defoliate millions of acres of marijuana and  coca, it makes sense to attack
further down the chain, at the drug manufacturing plants.
     "We don't want that sort of problem to happen in the UK. We need to hit
the problem at  source. It is a proactive strike, a first strike;  if we are
successful in our task, we will cut down the stream of drugs into t'he UK."
     G Squadron  had been the first to deploy. I didn't mind going in  after
them a  few  months later.  In many  ways  it was better to  take over  from
somebody else; they'd have had all the cock-ups and found out all the little
bits and pieces that we needed to know, and squared them all away.
     B  Squadron started  to  plan and prepare for the  takeover. The  first
priority  was  to learn the language  to a passable standard,  as  it  would
obviously make our job i easier if we could communicate directly with people
rather than have  to go through a third  party; what is said can  be wrongly
understood by the interpreter, and his translation can't be confirmed.
     I  seemed  to  live  in  the  language  lab. All  around  me  blokes in
headphones were shouting, "Fuck it!" in  frustration and either storming off
for i brew or binning it for the day. Personally I used to go for a run when
the grammar got too much for me.  I  wasn't that fussed ah .  out getting it
exactly right.  I  just wanted  to get to grips  with  the  verbs.  When I'd
learned Swahili, I'd found that if I got hold of those,  I could work around
everything  else. Spanish is in fact  not that hard  to learn; within a  few
weeks I could hold my own in any conversation about the price of tomatoes or
the time of the next train.
     Some  of  the blokes picked  it  up  really well,  and one  of them  in
particular even appeared to have the accent down  to  a T. I thought, great,
if  ever we get time off, I'll stay near him. I changed my mind when I heard
him trying to chat up a Spanish all pair in the town one day.
     "Hello, love," he said. "At what time this evening do you terminate?"
     We were also doing  all the normal planning and  preparing that we'd do
for any operation,  as well  as  making sure  the weapons were okay  and the
equipment was sorted  out. Bert gave us detailed in-country briefs, teaching
us more about the main players.
     The Int  people dragged  in all the local  newspapers  and weekly  news
magazines.  A couple of the blokes had Spanish wives, and they came  in  and
chatted to us. It was  all part of  the  process of  getting tuned in to the
country, which we took seriously-so much so there was  a strong  rumor going
around at one stage that the boys in B Squadron were taking lambada  lessons
at Bartestree Village Hall. It all went back to the way people looked at the
squadrons, and B Squadron was definitely seen as the yee-hah party squadron.
     Some of G Squadron were going to come back with us to ensure continuity
in the task. They started  briefing us, confirming  what we  had been taught
but also giving their version of what had gone on  and suggestions as to how
we could make things better next time around.
     Our job was  going to be in two  phases.  First, we were  going to grab
hold of the paramilitary police and  assess their standard of training. Then
we would start training them from that baseline, taking them through all the
basic skills  that were going to be required, such as aggressive patrolling,
OPs,  and close target  recces. The object was to show them how to find  the
DMP (drug manufacturing plant),  then stay in close proximity and  send back
the information. It wouldn't be an easy task.
     "A  lot  of  DMPs  are  deep  hides in the jungle,"  said  Tony from  G
Squadron. "Fantastic setups,  well guarded  and  well  alarmed. They have  a
system of tunnels and escape routes for leaving the plant in the event of an
attack. By  the time they hear the aircraft bringing in a heliborne assault,
they'll be  away-down  the  tunnels, into other hides, or along  the  escape
     We  were  going  to  enter  Bert's  "certain  Latin  American  country"
covertly, not exactly sneaking in like spies, but  the Regiment's experience
was that if a trip was unannounced, there was less to go wrong.
     The first leg was by C130 to St. John's, Newfoundland, for an overnight
stop. The interior of a Hercules is  spartan,  not much  more  than rows  of
nylon seats  an'd luggage  racks, and this  one  was  also bulked  out  with
equipment. I tied  my hammock  to the aircraft frame and climbed  in with my
Walkman and a book. By the  time we all had our hammocks up the interior  of
the  aircraft looked  like a  nest  of  hanging  grubs  waiting to grow into
something nice.  Slaphead  nabbed  the prime spot  near the  tailgate, where
there was plenty of  room for a hammock and all your gear;  the only problem
was the proximity of the toilet, a curtained-off oil drum full of chemicals.
The stench was grim.
     We  stepped off the aircraft  in summer  clothes to  find  that it  was
winter in St. John's. We made our way to  the hotel in temperatures of minus
     "We've got to go out on the town," said Slaphead, get a few bevies down
     During the mad dash from the hotel into  the town Slaphead's dome froze
over and I grew ice on  my mustache. By  the time  we  reached  the drinking
district everybody was purple.
     Slaphead strode  up to  the bar,  ran his eye along the optics  of sour
mash whisky, and said, "Hot chocolate, please."
     The following  morning we took off again, finally reaching the military
airfield in  darkness. We  flew  in with the aircraft  unlit and the crew on
PNG.  As we landed and were taxiing along the runway,  I saw the silhouettes
of  twenty  or  thirty  aircraft  parked  up  on  the  grass:  small   jets,
twin-engine, an old Junkers 88, a couple of Dakotas.
     "Some of the aircraft  that've been confiscated from the  drugs  boys,"
said Tony. "Now they're just sitting there, rotting."
     Despite Bert's briefing sessions,  we'd all had  visions of being  in a
nice warm place-balmy  South American climate and  all that. In fact  it lay
high up on the  plain and was anything but  tropical. As we stepped from the
aircraft  into a  freezing  cold night, B Squadron's O.C and the SM, who had
gone  out the week before  with the  light HQ  group, were  there  shivering
inside their Gucci leather coats.
     Vehicles were there to  collect half the squadron and our equipment and
take  us  to  the  camp. "It's about twenty minutes  from  here,"  said  the
sergeant major. "If there's no traffic."
     "And if there is traffic?" asked Slaphead.
     "Three hours."
     There was traffic. Even so, we were the lucky ones.
     The other half  of B Squadron was  going  elsewhere, and that  was four
hours away-"when there is no traffic."
     We arrived at first light at the police camp where we'd be  staying. As
we came up the drive,. it looked quite a pleasant site.
     The  paramilitaries' camp looked  well maintained and very  clean, with
large, long buildings that were old but  in good repair. Then we turned left
and landed up in  a stinking old hut the size  of an  average sitting  room.
There were bunk beds and a table, and shower room off to one side. There was
no storage space. It felt like we were living in a submarine.
     "We've had to use the shower as a storeroom," I honked to Gar.
     "Just as well," he said. "There's no water anyway."
     We  soon found  out that  the toilets didn't work either, so  they also
became a  cache for bergens and other  kit. I put  my sleeping  bag  on  the
nearest bed, and that was it: home.
     In the morning we had a walk around the camp with Tony, who had been on
my second Selection but failed.
     He had come back straightaway and passed the second time.
     The police were  very much  the  paramilitary force  I was expecting to
see.  Their equipment  was  mainly supplied  by  the  Americans,  but I also
spotted a lot of European kit. Their weapons were also a mixture of U.S M16s
and Israeli Gauls, and quite a few Russian AKs.
     However,  the  patrols  that  we were  to  be  training  just  had  the
Galil-basically AK47 parts with a different barrel and furniture.
     "An excellent  weapon," said  Tony  as he stopped to  shake hands  with
people that he knew. "Unfortunately they don't know how to use them yet."
     The boys  were  dressed smartly,  and  all looked  very  organized.  He
introduced me to them, and they struck me as very open and sociable people.
     "The camp's looking good on the outside,"  Tony said, "but in fact it's
a heap 'of shit once  you scratch the  surface. Their living  conditions are
not  very good  at  allbetter than  ours, but  still not  good. The  food is
absolutely heaving, even by their standards."
     I wasn't  sure whether to believe him, until we went past the cookhouse
and two boys who had just eaten breakfast came out and puked it all up again
on the ground. The building reeked like a shithouse in an abattoir.
     "These  people  are the creme de la creme, but they aren't particularly
well treated," he went on. "However,  if you're  a peasant farmer with  jack
shit, six kids, and a donkey, why  not become  part  of the system? At least
you're getting paid, and in theory the family are getting looked after."
     Having  seen the  people outside the cookhouse,  I decided to  stick to
what we'd all brought with us. As usual, we had arrived laden down with tins
of tuna, bags of pasta, and bottles of curry sauce.
     Billy  from G Squadron,  the'world's smallest and most aggressive curly
blond-haired jock, was sleeping on the bottom bunk. As soon as he woke up in
the morning, he unzipped his sleeping  bag and  got his little petrol cooker
going  on the  floor. The  water went on  for  his brew; then  he  mixed his
porridge up.
     I peered over the edge of the bunk. "Oh, good, what's for breakfast?" I
asked pleasantly.
     "I'm surprised you're hungry, you bastard," he said.
     "We've spent all frigging night chewing on your farts."
     "Sorry," I said.  "Jet lag." I  got up, sat next to him,  and then kept
looking at him and smiling until he gave me a mug of hot chocolate  and some
porridge. Over the  next few days he got more and more annoyed that I wasn't
making my  share of the breakfast, which was exactly my intention.  Finally,
honking at me for being a lazy bastard, he picked the cooker up to  throw it
at me and forgot that he'd just used it.
     There was a sizzling sound, the smell of burned flesh, and the shape of
the  cooker top burned  into  his  hand.  It made quite  a  nice pattern,  I
     Since the shower room was now the storeroom, we had to go  and wash  at
outdoor taps around the corner.
     The water was freezing.
     The weather was a bit nippy  in the morning but then wonderful when the
sun rose in the sky. We were high up in the hills and were warned that  we'd
be getting out of breath for the first couple of days until we acclimatized.
Of course no one took any notice, and all went up the hills for a run. Billy
was loving it as. we were all in shit state.
     Everything  was  a  competition to  him  and he  enjoyed  stopping  and
shouting, "B Squadron, a bag of shite."
     I . watched the arrival of the people we were going to train.
     There were about  forty or fifty of them  all told,  and they swaggered
malevolently about the place like a convention of nightclub bouncers.
     The mentality  of  the  Latin  American male  was very macho;  we  were
somehow  going  to have  to  harness the  machismo and try and  turn it into
something of substance.
     We were sitting against our hut wall watching them assemble.
     Billy  started to laugh  and said, "If they stick their chests out  any
more, they're going to explode. I love this part-watch this!"
     He then  got up and walked into the middle of them and started shouting
out commands to get  them  organized. After all  this macho stuff they  were
getting ordered about by a two-foot midget barking at their kneecaps.
     Whenever  I met troops that  I was going to be staying with, their body
language was nearly always "We don't  need you; we're  hard as  fuck." Above
them,  the  prime personalities in the organization  also resented  us to an
extent because we were undermining their authority.
     We'd have to  be  really tactful  in the way that  we treated  them; no
lording it over thetil and playing the Great I Am, because that wouldn't get
the results. We'd have to  show respect to their leaders at even  the lowest
level so  they  didn't turn  against us, but at  the same  time  we had  the
problem that familiarity breeds contempt. By and large, however, we'd just I
make sure  we  were  friendly  and approachable; everything was  a  learning
opportunity, and we hoped to learn as much from Ithem as they from us.
     The paramilitaries  were  an  incrdible  sight. They  were  wearing the
world's  supply of  belt kit  and  webbing,  with  knives hanging  off  them
everywhere and six-shooters in holsters around their hips.
     Gar  and I swapped glances. We  couldn't just say, "This is  a heap  of
shit-get rid of this, get rid of that," because it wouldn't work.
     They'd  go against  us, and we wouldn't get what we wanted. So to start
with, we didn't say anything.
     Each one of us was given ten blokes, and it would be our responsibility
to take them from the  basics and build them up. The very first thing to  do
was sort them out.
     with some equipment.  We gave each of them a bergen, a sleeping bag,  a
sleeping bag liner, a waterproof outer, and a compass. You'd have thought we
were  giving them the crown jewels. A compass to them was gold dust. Even at
officer  level,  none  of them could read a map  ok use a  compass, so these
blokes had credibility straightaway with all their contemporaries; they were
the team with compasses. Nobody  knew what to do with them yet, but that was
beside the point.
     Before we could  start teaching them any sort of tactics, we had to get
to grips with their shooting. Their idea of firing a weapon was to loose off
countless rounds on full automatic and make lots of noise.
     It  was totally ineffective. The  weapons started to  go high, and they
mostly missed the targets.
     "Very good," I beamed. "Now can I show you a few little tricks somebody
taught me recently?"
     The camp  we were in was built  on the top of a hill of sandy soil, the
sides of which made excellent ranges.
     The first lesson was to teach them to conserve ammunition. "It's a good
idea  to  make every  round  count,"  I said.  "If you're getting through  a
magazine every five seconds, your ammunition won't last long.
     If you want to look after your ass, look after your ammunition."
     We took them  back  to first principles, starting with how to  lie down
with a weapon and  fire at a target, nice  and controlled.  Once we'd got to
that stage, we taught them in the kneeling and standing positions. We taught
them on  the  ranges, not  under  pressure,  but in a friendly atmosphere-no
shouting, no hollering, just attempting to get good results.
     These boys were soon starting to perform well  on the  ranges,  and the
other police who were not part of our group  were jealous, especially  those
of higher rank.
     None of them knew how to use their  weapons properly; I saw  some Gauls
and  M16s that were  still smeared  with  the grease they had been packed in
when they arrived.
     I was on the ranges one day  with the boys. We'd got to the stage where
they were moving from the lying position into the kneeling position and then
into standing, doing timed shots at about a hundred  meters. The  equivalent
of  a  sergeant major  from  another group came storming over and  said, "My
weapon does not work.
     Every time I fire it, it alms off. I need you to correct it."
     It was nothing to do with us, but I got the zeroing tool  out and did a
couple of twists  to the foresight  and rear I t sight. I looked, hrough and
said, "Yep, that's much better. You have look, see what you reckon."
     . He got  the weapon into  the  shoulder, looked through it, and was as
happy as a sandboy. As far as he was concerned, he was ready for Bisley.
     just as with young recruits 'at Winchester,  there was no such thing as
a bad soldier, only a bad instructor-once you had the right material. We got
them  to the stage where they could  fire their  weapons and  frequently hit
what  they were aiming  at. Whether  they could do  that  under pressure was
another matter, and our lives could depend on it at a later date.
     We started incorporating  live firing exercises. The average contact in
the jungle was  going to be at  a range of about five meters; they'd have to
recognize a target and shoot quickly and accurately.
     We'd  go out into the hills and rig up a scenario: They'd walk  down it
first as  individuals, recognize a  target, snapshoot and kill it, then move
back. Then we'd  do it in pairs, firing and  maneuvering,  moving  down  the
range. It reminded me of Selection.
     When we sat with them at lunchtime,  we'd be  chatting away, trying  to
find out how they lived. It was easy to see what the food was like.
     The storeroom their ration  packs came from was obviously Infested with
rats because everything that wasn't canned was chewed to bits.
     They threw it away and opened the cans.
     We were away from the camp training one day. The air was crisp, the sky
more blue than I thought possible.
     Everybody was boiling water on hexy burners, us for our pasta, them for
their coffee.
     "What about  all  this  fantastic coffee I've  heard so  much  about in
television commercials?" I said.
     I  knew  there  were  some  coffees  that you couldn't take  out of the
country, the penalty being something like a six-year prison sentence.
     They were throwing out tons and tons of drugs  all over  the world, but
if you took coffee beans home, you landed up in prison.
     "Yeah,  what's the  best coffee to  take home  from  all  the different
blends and roasts and so on?" Slaphead asked.
     "You don't want any of that shit," one of them said.
     "Our favorite is Nescaf instant."
     And ag we found out, they were right. Some of the coffee was dire.
     The first morning I took the group, I'd asked their names. "I am one of
three  Joses," this boy had said; in my confusion at using Spanish for  real
for the first time, I took it to be one of those long compound Spanish names
and replied, "Pleased to meet you, One-of-three-Jos&s."
     The name stuck.
     We talked about the situation here with  the cartels running everything
and the fact that all the farmers were workin for them.
     "If you're a farmer,",he  now said, "and  the government came along and
they  give  you  two  dollars an acre to grow  corn-and that's it,"no health
system,  just  a little bit of schooling, and you're living in a tin  hut in
the middle of  the jungle-and then along come  a  cartel, and they say, 'You
grow  for  us, we'll  give you seven  dollars  an acre; we'll also  build  a
football  pitch, we'll give you  medical  care, and we'll also educate  your
kids," what do  you do? Of course  you grow coca leaf; you don't care  about
what happens to the gringos. The farmer just thinks, Where's it  going? It's
going to  America. I  hate  the Americans, so I'm  getting my own back; fuck
them, it's their problem, the monkey on their back."
     The police  knew they were losing  the  battle,  but most of them  were
there for exactly  the same reason-job security. They  had families to feed,
and they didn't  particularly give a tuppenny damn if the  Americans had the
cocaine  or  not.  All  they knew  was  that they  were making  money out of
fighting it and securing food for their families.
     They'd got the nation behind them, and quite rightly so; if  I'd been a
farmer, I'd have been growing for them.
     Their whole culture revcilved around the drug trade.
     Marijuana and coca plants  were  a part of everyday life, so  plentiful
they even grew at the  roadside. In fact the police  themselves used to wrap
coca leaf around sugar lumps and suck away: they believed it would make them
macho and virile. As far as  they were  concerned, it kept  them  strong and
alert to go and fight the cartels, and nobody seemed to spot the irony.
     "The whole culture is based on violence," they said.
     "In the towns the  secret police will drag young  street urchins out of
the sewers where they live and kill them."
     At night, apparently, the ordinary sounds of the cities were punctuated
by gunfire.
     "A bus crashed  over a hillside in  the jungle about a month before you
arrived. When the  rescue services arrived on the scene, they  found all the
local  villagers  scavenging  through  the  wreckage.  Many  passengers  had
survived but were injured. The villagers ignored them in the rush to rip the
watches and the rings and wallets off the corpses."
     "It's true. The police had to cock their weapons and start shooting the
villagers to get them away," said  One of-three-Joses. "And as soon  as they
left, some of the police started doing exactly the same."
     "There is a disregard for life," another fellow said.
     "Life here revolves around death."
     We had  two interpreters with us to get all the technical details over.
Bruce  was  from D  Squadron and had only one arm; the other on'e  had  been
blown  off. The  Regiment always  kept its cripples.  We had blokes with one
arm,  one eye, one leg; two blokes in B Squadron only had about six  fingers
between them. There was a wonderful picture in the interest room of them  on
a  mountain-climbing course,  trying  to tie knots  with  only  a couple  of
fingers  each.  Some blokes  had lost legs  or  suffered  disabling  gunshot
wounds. One bloke who turned up for every Selection  to run around the hills
and man checkpoints had only one arm and one eye.
     It was just  part and  parcel of life; if they're living quite a  harsh
existence and  spending time on operations,  people will get injured or shot
or collect diseases that impair them at a later date.
     They were kept in the Regiment for two reasons. First, if we  were ever
in the shit,  we'd know at the back of our  mind that  even if we were hurt,
we'd have a future. Second, why pension off somebody who  has experience and
knowledge that could be used in training?
     We started looking at the tactics we would need  to carry out the  task
of attacking a DMP. At  this stage we didn't know exactly what we were going
to be attacking, so there was a bit of guesswork involved.
     We took it from the real basics, looking at  the sort of equipment they
had, which was essentially a  bit  of belt kit, a weapon, and their uniform,
and that was it. Then we looked at how they were going  to  move with it and
how  they  were going  to  live in the field.  They had a problem with  hard
routine. They liked to have the big fires  going at night to keep themselves
warm  and  boost their  morale  and  couldn't immediately  see the  tactical
benefits of shivering in a sleeping bag and eating cold food. This was where
the bonding and  the friendship came in. We  did hard routine ourselves, and
they copied us.
     We got out in the field for days on end and practiced moving tactically
around the jungle and the savanna.
     They learned to hold up before last light, get into a little L.U.P, and
stand to; at first light they stood to again, ready to move off.
     After a while they actually enjoyed it; it was something  different, it
looked macho, and everybody else wanted a piece of the action.
     We spent  weeks teaching  them  OPs  and  how  to  hide  up  and  watch
locations. They'd be holed up for a couple of days and have  to report  what
they saw, and they got very good at it.
     We also taught them how to do  close target recces  on locations: to go
in, try to get as much  information as possible on the target without  being
seen, then watch it and, when the time was right, hit it. They could destroy
all the ether,  chemicals,  and processing equipment,  but what  they really
wanted were the skilled people who did the processing; once they were out of
the  picture the  cartels would have  to replace  them, and we presumed  the
supply wasn't infinite.
     Map-reading lessons were hilarious. There's a big myth that the natives
of a country will  know the,"r way instinctively around the jungle. The fact
is, nine times out of ten, they're as stuffed as everybody else is without a
map,  and  they  just  stick to  high  ground,  tracks,  and  rivers.  In my
experience of people in the Middle East, the Far East, Asia, and Africa, the
locals  always  knew the  easiest route-and they found  it by  following the
animals, which  always take  the  easy option. Take the boys off that route,
and they're scratching their heads.
     When  they travel  across savanna for  hundreds of  miles,  they're not
navigating,  they're following minimal herds.  if  the  animals got lost, so
would they.
     We got all  forty  or fifty of  them  together in  the cookhouse  after
breakfast because it was  the biggest sheltered place where we could get the
maps spread out on tables and get them around. I hated the sessions, because
the place was stinking.
     Gar taught the map reading. "This is the compass," he'd say. "We take a
bearing like this."
     The rest  of  us would be moving up and down the  tables,  checking and
helping where we could. It was a total gang fuck. We had to interpret to the
soldiers what was going on; they  then had to come back with  any questions,
which had to be answered. It just went on and on.
     In the end we'd just start laughing, and they'd join in.  Gar  would go
mad and shout:  "Stop! Come  back  in half  an hour."  He would then compose
himself, after giving us a bollocking for not taking it seriously.
     We had to teach them how to look at the ground and interpret the map-to
be able to say, "Okay, we found a DMP; now we've got to tell people where it
is." It's hard enough in the British Army to teach soldiers how to map-read;
it's not  a  science, it's in art, and the only way a recruit can get a feel
for it is by getting on the ground and practicing the skills.
     Once they'd got the basics of using the compass, that was it; as far as
they were concerned, it was the best lesson of their lives.
     Officers  started  calling by,  saying,  "Any chance  of one  of  these
compasses?"  Not  to  use,  mind-they  just wanted them  dangling  on  their
uniforms to make them look good.
     These guys were going  to be  fighting in  a "real  time" war, and they
needed a taste of realism. More important, though, we were practicing in the
areas where they  would be  operating anyway,  so  if the shit hit  the  fan
during training, we had live ammunition on hand. They weren't too  impressed
to  start with, most of  them looking very worried about the  possibility of
shooting  themselves.  After a  while,  however,  they got into it  and then
started to come over all macho, swaggering all over the camp.
     "They think they're going to go off and kill every fucker," I said.
     Gar said, "We'll soon put paid to that."
     He got some P.E, and  we rigged it up around the training area.  We had
all  the  boys  lying down ready to go  forward, as if  they were on a start
line. One or two of them were lying there giggling and chanting, "Rambo!
     As they started to move forward, we initiated the explosives.
     There was shit flying everywhere;  they could feel the pressure of  the
explosives, and then dirt and bits of wood showered down on them.
     They hit  the ground, then  looked around sheepishly, suitably cut down
to size. Some of them looked  as if they were going to cry They quit the Sly
Stallone routine after that.
     We had to knock  all that shit out of them because as soon as the first
one of them got killed, and there probably would be quite a few killed, they
would be in for a very nasty shock.
     We  were  getting invitations back to their houses when they had  their
two  days off every  couple of weeks. We had to try to dodge  and  weave  as
diplomatically  as  we  could,  because  we didn't  really  want  to get too
     We wanted the  bonding  relationship, but we wanted  it in slow phases;
otherwise it would affect the training.
     Apart from that, we wanted to get downtown, have a shopping frenzy, and
generally get around and see the place and have some fun.
     By  now  we'd gradually  weaned  them off  the  great  big daggers  and
six-shooters that  had been hanging off their kits. We'd convinced them that
the thing about kit dangling all over the place is that it gets entwined  in
the  undergrowth  and  leaves  sign. We'd actually got  them  looking fairly
     We'd  got them tactically  okay and  they we're doing  live  attacks on
different targets,  training  for  every  eventuality.  What we  now started
looking  for was  certain  aptitudes  required  by a recce-cum-OP-cum-attack
     Their job  would  be to find the  locations,  look on the map, find out
where they were, and get as much information on the places as possible. They
would  then go forward with an attack force to take the place  out or put in
an OP and gather more nformation.
     OP work calls for people who are naturally quiet,  not active  or hyper
sorts.  They  have  to  spend  a  long  time  in a  cramped  position,  just
observing-two, three, maybe four of them in  a location,  gathering as  much
information as possible and sending it back over the radio so that the F.O.B
can plan and prepare. The ideal  is  to attack when.the processing personnel
are  there  and  all the  equipment  is  in  place.  Then  you can  get  the
personalities, as well as the kit, and close the place down.
     The people in the OP might be there for two or  three weeks,  living on
hard routine, shitting in plastic bags, 418
     pissing  in  water  canisters, not  moving  around,  and  under  severe
pressure because they were right on top  of  the  target; because they  were
operating in the jungle, they  were  going to be  much  closer to the target
than if they were out on the savanna.
     We were also trying to pick out the natural leaders.
     There  were designated leaders with  ranks, but that didn't  mean to us
they were  the  right  ones;  people  got  ranked  for  certain things,  not
necessarily their command of man management or leadership.
     It was  a  pain in  the  arse  trying to  bring  on the natural leaders
because  the  system  was   so  regimented.  Everything  had  to   be   done
diplomatically and by giving the prospective leaders responsibilities rather
than stripes.
     By picking the most capable blokes,  we had  more chance of getting the
result that we wanted: the successful  completion of a task.  And because it
was highly likely we would be there  with them,  we'd also stand more chance
of getting out alive. The best man in my group was One-of-three-Joses.
     Every chance we  had  we'd get  downtown. I found it  quite  a  modern,
cosmopolitan city,  with  mega  office blocks,  big  shopping  centers,  and
good-class hotels. But as in many other places, it was very evident that the
locals had either enormous amounts of money  or absolutely none. Ultramodern
skyscrapers stood next to derelict shanties; Mercedes limos drove over holes
in the  ground  where  the sewage  system  had collapsed  and kids had taken
     The  city was  also one of  the dirtiest and noisiest  places I'd  ever
seen. People seemed to throw away their rubbish wherever they were standing,
and  music blasted out in the streets, restaurants, and long-distance buses;
it seemed to be  an  integral part of  daily life,  culminating at night  in
discotheques, tabernas, and private parties.
     The blare of TV was just as bad. It appeared that sets in Latin America
had two unique features: It seemed impossible to switch them off  until late
at  night, and  the  volume  control  had only  two settings-very  loud  and
     The traffic noise was something else. I'd heard antiquated A.P.C.S that
were quieter than some of the deathtraps running around. Traffic jams seemed
frequent, and the etiquette if you were stuck in one seemed to be to lean on
your 'horn until you moved. When vehicles were  not stuck in a  traffic jam,
it seemed important to the  locals that they be driven at well above maximum
recommended  revs. I'd  already seen buses  flying at  breakneck speed  down
twisting mountain roads; in the city they speeded up.  There  was an amazing
variety  of taxis, ranging from old American Fords, made during  the time of
JFK, to brand-new Mazdas.
     There  were  traffic lights everywhere.  You  could cross  the  road on
either green or red and have an equal chance of being hit.  I found it  paid
to look both ways  several  timels before sprinting across, even if it was a
one-way street.
     Living and working  in  Dodge City,  we  all needed to  wear  concealed
weapons. I was sitting in the breakfast bar of  the hotel one morning when a
couple  of  whiteeyes  turned up. Normally  I'd  have  just  given them  the
once-over, but this time it was  a  double take. By the way  they wore their
shirts  I guessed they  were carrying weapons. Then it dawned on me  that  I
knew their  faces:  They  were two ex-members of G  Squadron.  Sometimes, on
different jobs around the world, we'd be working and  see somebody we  knew.
Nothing would  be said; everybody would ignore one another. They didn't know
what we were doing or who we were supposed to be, and  vice versa. Until one
approached the other, there'd always be a silly little standoff.
     Eventually the ritual finished, and it was okay. They came over and sat
     "How's it going?"
     "Not too  bad', Another  part - of this ritual  was  not really getting
straight  down to what you wanted to talk about. Most people were cagey when
it came to discussing their activities.
     We  chatted  away  about normal things, as you  do when  you  bump into
ex-members of the Regiment  on  the other  side  of  the  world. We  stagged
everybody down that  we knew and  discussed  what was  going  on in downtown
     After a while I asked the question,  expecting a "Fuck off,  big nose"'
in reponse: "So, what are you doing then?"
     "We have  a close protection job  here for  a while,  up north. Are you
still in or are you working?"
     Straightaway I realized that they were having the same doubts about me.
I decided to play them along for a while.
     "Yeah,  I've been here for a few weeks now on a training job. The money
is good, but the people can be a pain in the arse."
     "What's the money like? Maybe we could get a job with you?"
     "Same as if you were a corporal in the Regiment."
     T  . their job, it turned out, involved  protecting  people against the
     I wondered if ex-members  of the Regiment  really were working  for the
cartels,  earning fantastic amounts of money, adopting  the same attitude as
everyone sitting around us in this hotel; if these people want to use drugs,
more fool  them. Allegedly lots  of Americans and Canadians were working for
the  drug  barons; the Yanks were  advising, teaching, and  sorting  out the
business end.  The  cartels  had  fantastic wealth;  working  for them would
probably be  a cozy number.  But lucrative as  it might  have been, I didn't
think it was for me.
     A meeting  was  fixed for the  following week, but by then other events
had overtaken us.
     Things had not  been going  well. We'd been intheater for a  while now,
and every time we'd gone  in against  a DMP we found we'd captured the Marie
Celeste. Security had been fearsomely lax.
     Corruption  appeared  to  be  a  part of life;  it  wasn't unknown  for
helicopters, on the way to pick up troops for an attack, to fly over some of
the  processing factories as anearly  warning.  I  felt we were  fighting  a
losing battle.
     However, Gar gpt us  in the hut one  day  and  said,  "Right, there's a
change in  the  system. We're going to go and look for a  plant over in  the
west. . We'll get you in there  covertly. You go and find the place, take it
on, and then and only then will we brin the helicopters in.
     What's more, you'll report directly to us on the net back in HQ."
     We looked at a map that was spread out on his table.
     "We  know  there's a plant in here somewhere," he  said, indicating  an
area of about sixteen square kilometers.
     "We'll take four patrols in to  go and look for it-that's four Ks each.
The  patrols  are Tony's, Andy's, Rod's,  and Terry's. If we  find it, we'll
take it, because this is getting to be a pain in the arse.
     "Once an'y of you find the target, I want you to put a CTR  in. I  want
photography, I  want video, and I want as  much information as possible sent
over the net to me.
     I'll then  organize the helis. We'll  keep it strictly between us;  the
boys  are  not to  know until we  actually go on the op. Once  we're  on the
ground we'll give them orders.
     Helis  will be on  standby, but they won't know where  or  when they're
going. The only people who'll know what's  going on are us and the head shed
at HQ."
     None of us had any questions, and everybody probably felt the same as I
did: absolutely  delighted that we  were breaking out of  the vicious circle
and that everything  suddenly looked so positive. "All we have to do now  is
find it," said Rod.
     I sat on the steps of the hut and ate some food as I watched Wayne, who
had  chatted  one of the policemen into letting  him ride  his  horse,  come
screaming past  on an animal that 'Was well  and truly on Zanussi. Wayne was
tali, dark,  good-looking, funny, and intelligent-all the things you hate in
a  person.  He  had been brought up  with horses, which was  probably why he
hated  everything about them apart  from riding. They disappeared from sight
behind some buildings,  and the  next  time I saw him, about an hour  later,
Wayne was covered in cuts, bruises, and abrasions.
     "Fucking thing,"  he said.  "How come of  all the bloody  nags  in this
country I get the one that's just snorted a nose bag of white powder?"
     Each recce  patrol,  consisting of four policemen and one of us,  would
search an area of four grid squares-four  square kilometers. Time out on the
ground would be anything up to ten days, and  the object, as always, was not
to kill the people in  the manufacturing plant but to arrest them-especially
the European chemists-and then to destroy the equipment.
     At  the muster parade the next morning  Gar  announced to our trainees,
"We're going to  go out  and  do  some  training. We're going to be away for
about two weeks. Pack your kit,and be ready at lunchtime to move off."
     We  drove to  an area about an  hour  away  that  we had been using for
training.  Gar  told the boys to relax and get a  brew on, then said, "We're
not going training.
     We're going out on  another operation.  The lack of success  that we've
been having is because of leaks by informers in the system.
     We're going to  take you out of here  now,  and you're going  to go and
look for a DMP that is to the west.
     "It's up  to you to make sure  that  you put in all  your best efforts.
You've  done all this training, and you're getting  really  well paid. We're
expecting you to perform.
     We know you can do the job, we know you're good,  and we're going to be
with  you  all the way. We hope we're going  to find the  target-imagine the
prestige when you succeed. All you have to do is exactly what  we tell  you,
end everything will be  fine. Now let's get out there. The quicker we do it,
the quicker we can all get home."
     We got into our own little  groups  around the wagons and started to do
our orders. I could hear the others talking to their groups around  the area
of the wagons.
     Wayne and Gar were sorting out rations for the patrols.
     To my four  boys I said, "Once we've succeeded,  you will  have all the
credibility that you want and  deserve. If we fail, maybe they  will disband
the paramilitaries."
     I saw four worried faces, perhaps picturing  themselves back on traffic
     I said, I hoped in my best Spanish, "So, we're going to go and locate a
drug manufacturing plant.  We've  been  told that it's  roughly in  an  area
sixteen Ks square somewhere in  the  west. We don't know where  it is or how
big it is. We don't know if people are still there.
     If we find it, we're going to put a CTR on it, bring  all the  other ap
trois in, and then we'll get a plan together to go and attack it.
     There'll be  lots of  helicopter support coming in, and plenty of other
troops. if another patrol finds it, we'll  go to meet them, join forces, and
attack it."
     The ' boys were still looking worried. This  operation  was going to be
totally alien from  what they were used  to. Usually it was  the  helicopter
screaming in on top of the location, and everything all over and done within
a couple of hours. What we were looking at now was a prolonged operation,  a
very different kettle of fish.
     "Another  change  is that this time we're  not  going to helicopter in;
we're  going to drive in  the vehicles down to the area and gradually patrol
in. We don't want anybody to  see us or to know  that we're there. This time
we might find something. Do you say yes to that?"
     Four nervous smiles and a chorus of "Yes!"
     "It might take a couple of days to get into the area," I  went on, "but
it will be worth it. We'll be  taking our time; we've got plenty of food; we
know what we're doing. There'll be no problems."
     I laid  out  as much  information  in front  of  them  as  possible:  a
small-scale map, some drawings,  the area in general, and then a large-scale
map  for the detailed  briefs.  I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't
dealing with professional soldiers. I had to sit them  down and say, "Before
we start, does anybody want to go to the toilet? Anybody need to do anything
before I start?"
     After  every phase of the orders I made  a point of pausing and asking,
"Are  there  any questions?" They had to feel  comfortable about asking,  no
matter how stupid the question. It was important not to take the piss out of
them when they did  come  out with something really  bone, and  not to allow
others to either.
     I first  gave them all the political and military factors and made sure
they realized how  important it was  that they pushed themselves  forward to
stop the trafficking. I then talked about the ground, starting with the area
in general-all known enemy locations, all old processing sites,  and all our
own locations.
     We didn't have a target as yet,  but I  talked  about the  terrain, the
weather conditions, what we expected  the going to be  like, what the locals
were  like, the names of any towns and villages, the direction of the ma' in
rivers. al If the shit hit the f and they were on their own, they would know
that if  they followed a certain  river downstream, they were going to hit a
town. As I spoke, they checked everything on their maps.
     I then went into the situation. I told them everything  they needed  to
know about the enemy in order to carry out the task, including the fact that
the local barons were feeling pretty confident at the moment and would fight
if we came up against them. I described what  weapons they had and what they
dressed like.
     "Now-friendly forces," I said.  "There  will  be another three  patrols
that are  going to be patrolling in other grid squares." On the detailed map
I showed them the rough area where the other patrols would be operating.
     Next came  the mission. "Mission:  to locate  and CTR  the DMP in these
grid squares here." I repeated it, then went into the execution, which I had
broken down into phases.
     "Phase One, the infiltration. We're going  in by vehicle- As you  know,
once the stuff is ready it has to be moved out by aircraft or vehicle. There
is usually a road within ten to twenty kilometers of one of these plants.
     With trucks, we'll  keep control  of security.  It might take us two or
three days to patrol into the area, but that's what we get paid for."
     We'd be on hard routine. "I'll have a scout out at the  front, and I'll
be doing the map reading myself,  with the local patrol  commander checking.
There will also be  pacers and  check  pacers.  If it's dense  canopy, we'll
probably  patrol  in daylight and bin it at nighttime. If the terrain allows
us to patrol  at nighttime, all well and good, we'll do that as well. But in
that sort of terrain I don't anticipate any movement by night."
     We understood  the boys  well  by  now, and they understood  us. We had
mutual respect that bordered on friendship; when we said we wanted something
done, we expected them to comply-and they did. They no longer questioned our
orders because they trusted us.
     The slings had disappeared long ago from the 7.62
     Galits, following our  example. The swing  swivels  had also been taken
off  or taped down;  they were  designed to move,  and therefore  they  made
noise. Every man had about four to five  meters of paracord, so if we-had to
do any river crossings, they could tie their weapon securely.
     As a navigation  aid, I had taped a Silva compass onto the  stock of my
weapon, with the  big  arrow covered up to avoid having a  fearsome luminous
object moving through the jungle. If I was moving forward as a lead scout, I
knew the  rough bearing that I wanted to go  on and the compass supplied  an
instant  reference. As the patrol commander, with  the scout out in front of
me, I could also give an immediate indication of direction if required.
     When  the patrols were first issued with  magazines for their  weapons,
they started  taping  them together because they'd  seen a few  Oliver Stone
movies, and they thought it looked rather macho. We discouraged them as much
as we could.  The  7.62 is  a heavy round, and a twenty-round magazine is  a
hefty object. When they were down on the ground, some of the lads could only
just  about lift  the rifle up, let alone deal with the  weight  of a double
     The Regiment  blokes all took 9MM  Brownings.  The pistols the  rest of
their patrol took were weird and wonderful.  Some had  cowboy  six-shooters;
some had Colt  .45s. What they expected  to do with  them probably even they
didn't know.
     We carried plenty of plastic explosive for destroying the DMP, and also
we had the means to burn down any fields that we came across-P.E4
     mostly and  American  C4, and all  the odds and hods  that went with it
such as detonating cord, detonators, and claymores for our own defense.
     Once we'd  found  the  target we'd  put  in a  CTR. A  picture speaks a
thousand words when it comes to  reconnaissance,  especially  if the  troops
you're  briefing  don't speak your mother  tongue. We therefore also carried
cameras  and video  recorders  and  portable darkroom  equipment to  produce
negatives. I favored a Nikon  with a zoom lens, plus  a 28  men lens for I.R
photography, and a Canon point-and-shoot, also fitted with an I.R filter for
night photography.
     A video camera was excellent for CTRS, and we also had with us a little
Sony  play-back  machine; with  it, we could brief  the patrols with  visual
reference, so  they'd know what they were looking for when they got onto the
ground. The video had a manual-focus lens; an auto-focus lens  latches on to
the nearest  object in the center of the field of vision, which in jungle is
almost always a leaf.
     We   also   took   night-viewing  aids,   either   pocket   scopes   or
weapon-mounteds, and all the kit had to be waterproofed.
     Almost more important  than the kit we  took was  what we  didn't take.
Everybody had to go out sterile, apart from any  obvious documentation.  The
boys carried their police warrant cards,  but no home  addresses or pictures
of the wife  and kids. They all knew the statistics;  they'd all had family,
friends, or colleagues gunned down in the street.
     We  set  off  that afternoon  in  a  convoy of four  cattle trucks  and
traveled through the night. Everybody was subdued;  nobody was talking much.
The  occasional fag flared in the darkness. It reminded me of Selection  and
the long drives  to  the  Elan valley, and I tried to get as  much rest as I
could;  I knew I'd be running around like  a lunatic for  the next couple of
     For most of the  next day  we  traveled through towns and villages, the
roads getting more and more outrageous.  A couple of hours before last light
we stopped and had a brew. Gar came over and said, "We're going to split off
about three Ks up  the road. I'm going to take two groups, Wayne's  going to
map-read your lot. If there's any dramas, get on the net, because we've  got
the helicopters standing by.
     Don't fuck about, just get  on the net and  get the people out. See you
     We got back on the wagons. I was in Wayne's vehicle, which was leading.
The road  was metaled but badly potholed. The  suspension was shaking itself
to pieces, and we were getting shunted about in the back; soon everybody was
standing up to save himself from a battering.
     It was coming to last light. The vehicle stopped; the engine was turned
off. It went very quiet, and  the noises of the savanna took over. Wayne got
out and said: "This is your dropoff point."
     I got the  blokes off the wagon. They looked as  if they didn't want to
get off but at the same time knew the job had to be done.
     Shades again of Selection.
     "We aren't going to do anything tonight," I said. "All we have to do is
tab into our area."
     It  was all in slow time. We got our bergens on, sorted ourselves  out,
and started to walk off toward the  cover about  half a kilometer away. Once
we'd gone  a  couple of hundred meters we  heard  the engines  start up then
drive away.  After a minute or two there  was total  silence. I watched  the
headlights  threading their  way  along  the  road and  disappear  into  the
     I could hear my breath. I'd  had twenty-four hours of total inactivity,
and now I was starting to get my second wind.
     The weather  was  very  warm and moist. The  night was  full of  'ungly
sounds, though we were still in savanna."could hear crickets.
     There was  a very  light  breeze. It was moderately cloudy, but I could
see stars.
     I was feeling fairly comfortable.  We had  plenty of food and water and
were  going  to get  our heads  down for the night. I  was actually  looking
forward to a few hours in my hammock.
     In the morning, because we weren't in any danger,  I let the guys start
with a brew and hot scoff.
     One of the blokes in the patrol was called Rodriguez.
     He was about  twenty-two, tall,  black,  and rather effeminate.  He had
unnaturally long  eyelashes  and very  fine,  defined features, a  pianist's
hands and immaculate nails.
     He spoke  with a soft tone  and seemed to  apologize for everything  he
did.  He  was, however, very good  at  his  job, and  I wanted him to be the
     I said, "I want you to set off on this bearing, Rodriguez.  We're going
to go forward, and after about an hour we're  going to stop and have a brew.
Keep your eyes,open and keep on the bearing; we don't want to start  getting
lost. Do you understand? We are depending on you!"
     "Si." He smiled. "Si, sorry, no problem."
     The scout kept far enough ahead to give advance  warning  of a problem,
but close  enough for  me  to  see  him and signal occasional directions. He
really dictated the movement of  the patrol as The moved along: If he wanted
us to stop, he'd  tell  us  to.  If he stopped dead, I'd also stop dead, and
everybody else would do the same.
     He was the first set of eyes.
     After  an hour Rodriguez stopped in a  dip in the ground under a  large
tree. We hunkered down and got a  brew on.  Birds twittered  in the branches
overhead; some form of  wildlife rustled  in  the undergrowth. We  talked in
quiet whispers.
     "This will be the last brew," I  said. "Make sure you don't tell anyone
I let you have it!"
     They were pleased to think it was our little secret.
     I looked at . them and said, "Let's crack on and do it.
     Nobody let me down. Any problems with that?"
     "No. no  problems." Rodriguez wanted to be the  scout  again, so  I let
     Normally I'd have changed the  scout  every couple  of hours because it
was  a  strenuous job. Chopping  his way through would  have made noise  and
leave sign;  the  scout  had  to move  the  vegetation out of the way as  he
patrolled through.  He was on the  lookout for movement or any sign of there
having  been movement.  It could  be ground sign, such  as mud prints, or it
could be top sign, such as leaves overturned. A large rubber leaf  or  fern,
for example, doesn't naturally turn up onto its underside, and after a short
while it would  turn its way back to the sun-so  something  must have turned
it, and that meant that somebody had been there quite recently.
     The scout was looking, too, for any signs of animal traps.
     Indigenous  people  leave  signs that these things are  around, and  we
didn't  want to land up in a net dangling from a tree.  He was  also looking
for any  signs  of the DMP. This could be a lot of footprints  going  in one
direction; it could  be a noise; it could  be a smell. If he spotted people,
we wouldn't take them on;  the object was to avol id them, to see where they
went, and to follow them.
     It took us  nearly  half a day to start  getting into the rough area of
our four grid squares. By now we were all wet with sweat. It hadn't  rained;
I was just hoping that if it did, it was before last light so we didn't have
to sort ourselves out that night in a downpour.
     Then we started our search pattern, which varied with the terrain.
     Sometimes we might be  paralleling  along grid squares; at others  we'd
fan out from prominent  objects.  About once  every  hour we'd stop for five
minutes. That gave us time to tuck our shirts in, pull our trousers up, have
a drink, refill the  water bottles.  Every time we came to a source of water
we'd  fill up; if the  bottles were already full, then we'd drink as much as
we could. Some of the blokes  put lemon powder in one of their water bottles
and had the other as plain water. I preferred both to be plain.
     For  the  first afternoon  all the blokes  were keen,  but then fatigue
started to take its toll-the mental  fatigue of continually looking for sign
and the  physical fatigue of carrying a  bergen' in the heat. It was showing
on these people quite a lot.
     About an  hour before  last light it was time  to look for  a  place to
L.U.P, but  first we'd need to break track to make sure no one was following
us. Gonzalo-Gonzwas  the scout.  I  gave him  the  signal to  stop and  went
     "We're going to look for an L.U.P-I said into his ear.
     A big  smile came up  on his face.  He had massive tombstone teeth with
black marks between from chewing tobacco.
     I said, "Follow me," and he tagged on behind.
     Gonz was  about twenty-three or twenty-four.  He had a  really youthful
look on his face, as if he  still had puppy  fat, and was always smiling. At
times  I didn't know  if he  was  stupid or just happy. It was a mischievous
sort  of smile; I  never really  knew what was going on in  his mind, but  I
hoped there was a lot more tucked away than there appeared to be.
     We looped the  track and put in an  instant  ambush  on our  own trail,
because no matter  how carefully we went  through the jungle, we were always
going to leave sign.
     Then,  when  we were happy, three blokes stayed with the bergens, while
Gonzalo and I went to look for an L.U.P.
     The  ideal site was  not necessarily somewhere  that could be defended;
the main consideration was concealment.
     Everybody knew  what was going on now and was happy at  the prospect of
getting his head down.
     At  the  site  we  took our  bergens  off again and got into  all-round
defense, standing to until last light. First,  however,  came a good dousing
of  mozzie rep. All  around  my  head I  heard  the steady  buzz of insects.
Standing to  in the jungle, you  always see  and  hear a lot more  than  you
realized  was around you. You think you're moving covertly, but the wildlife
has  you sussed, and by the time you get there they're well and  truly gone.
Now,  just sitting there, doing nothing, I could  hear everything around me.
Apart from  the mosquitoes it  was lovely,  being sort  of  embraced by  the
     As soon as it was last light, we put up our hammocks and ponchos.
     There was  no  need  to talk; everybody knew what  to do, taking it  in
turns. While two of us got ourselves organized,  the  other three looked and
     I put my dry  kit on and got into my hammock and fell  asleep listening
to the hums and rustles and the rain that came about midnight.
     About an hour before first light we packed our equipment up.
     Again, there was  no reason  to talk; we just did everything slowly and
carefully to avoid making a noise.
     We left as soon as it was light enough to move.
     We  patrolled  for about two hours, then stopped to  make our sitrep to
the F.O.B, giving  our location, any  enemy location  or activity  that we'd
seen, and our  own activity and  future intentions, which  in this case  was
"carry on patrolling." Back at the HQ the blokes would  then plot us on  the
map;  if the shit  hit the fan later in the day, at least  they'd know where
we'd been at 0800.
     The boys sat there eating sugar and corned beef.
     For the next few days that was the routine:  moving off,  changing over
scouts, changing over check pacers.
     Once  or  twice  we  got  lost. We stopped,  moved  off track,  sat  in
all-round defense, and got the map out.
     "Where were we last time we  definitely  knew where we were?" I said to
     We methodically worked it out from there; it was no good running around
like lunatics,  chasing shadows.  I  sent two boys out on  a short  recce to
confirm that the next feature was five hundred meters further along. I hoped
they'd come  back and report, "Yes, there is a river, and it flows from left
to right."
     On the third occasion I sent out Gonz and One-of three-Joses on a recce
patrol. "Go down there no more than four hundred meters. As you start moving
down towards the  low ground, we should be on the highest point. Look around
and there should be no higher ground around you.
     If  not, we have una problems. And there should be a river  about three
hundred meters further down, running left to right."
     Off they went, Gonz with a big black toothy smile on his face.
     They came back much  sooner than  I had expected,  and Gonz's smile had
     Putting his mouth  to my ear, Gonz said, "We got down there. We were on
the  highest ground,  but there's movement ahead. We heard  a sound of metal
and some shouting."
     I got everybody together and said, "There's something down there.
     We  don't  know what it is. What  we're going  to do is move forward as
best we can. Gonz is going to  take us down there to the area where he heard
it, and we'll stop and take it from there. Is everybody ready?
     Just take your time; there's no need to flap."
     Everybody  started to  switch  on.  We moved down  the  hill very, very
slowly. Gonz was ahead of me, the others behind. I couldn't hear anything.
     Gonz stopped and pointed forward.
     I motioned for him  to come  with me, and the other three to stay  with
the bergens. "If there's any problems, you're soon going to hear.
     If we're not back by last light,  wait until  midday  tomorrow and then
skirt around  the noise,  hit the river, and turn  right  until  you hit the
     We'll sort ourselves out. Leave our bergens where they are."
     We crept forward through  the vegetation,  with nothing but  rifles and
belt kit. We were  going  to go just  far enough to confirm; it would be  no
good jumping up and down  thinking that we'd found it, after  only a cursory
     I  inched  through the jungle, following  Gonzalo. My eyes were darting
around all over the place. He was looking ahead, concentrating on trying  to
remember  where he had heard the  noise.  Every now and again he looked back
for a bit of reassurance, and there was no smile.
     At a point about two hundred meters from where  we'd left the  bergens,
he  stopped and held up his hand. I stopped. As a technical adviser I should
now have been helping him to  go and do the CTR, but I had to make  sure the
job was done and  we  all got out safely. Motioning for him to stay where he
was and give me cover, I signaled that I was going to go and have a look.
     I got down onto my belly and  crawled forward very slowly. I took three
or  four  little crawls, stopped,  us- I tened, looked around,  and  crawled
again. After about twenty minutes I couldn't believe what I saw.
     I was looking  through  about two meters of brush,  and  then the  area
opened up  into  almost a  small industrial  complex. I  saw three  or  four
buildings. One was a long, low one, which I knew was the trademark of a DMP.
     Inside, the coca paste would be laid out on long tables.
     Two other single-story buildings  were higher. They had corrugated iron
roofs, with attempts to camouflage them with leaves and branches.
     I  heard  a  South  American voice shout  a  question. The  answer,  in
Spanish,  was slightly drowned by the  sound  of a  generator, but it  had a
strong, almost Afrikaans twang to it.
     I saw an old boy walking between two of the buildings. He wasn't armed.
     I stayed  there for about half an hour, watching and listening for more
activity, not believing our good luck.
     It was the first manufacturing plant  I had seen in operation; I didn't
want to fuck up. I couldn't see much  from my perspective but heard  another
couple of people and the occasional banging of a door.
     The  mosquitoes loved what was happening. They  could  land on my face,
and it would take  me  long, slow  seconds to bring my hand up to wipe  them
away. I didn't  want to move to another position or kneel up to get a better
view. I didn't need to do that at this stage; all I  needed  to  do was make
myself happy that it was indeed a DMP.
     I crawled my way back to Gonz. I put my mouth to his ear and gave him a
thumbs-up. "Bingo!"
     He gave,  me a  flash  of  blackened  tombstones,  but  I  knew  he was
thinking, Oh, fuck, we've found one. . . .
     We moved  back to  the  rest of the patrol. I  got everybody around and
said, "We've found it. It's down there."
     I  told  them  exactly  what  I'd seen and heard. There  was an air  of
disbelief,  together with  a  mixture  of  happiness and  apprehension.  Now
something had to be done about it.
     We  moved right out of the area to avoid any  chance of a compromise. I
told  them,   "i'm   going   to  go  in   tomorrow   at   first  light  with
One-of-three-Joses.  The other three are going to guard the equipment at the
final RP, which is where we stopped with the bergens earlier on.
     This might take a couple of days. You're to stay there for two  days if
we  don't  come back. On the morning  of  the third day, if we're not there,
you're to head down to the river, turn right, and  hit the road. If you hear
any firing, you're to come down and help us. Got that?"
     The fourth member of the patrol, nicknamed El Nino, was about nineteen.
He was about five feet seven inches and had a skinny, bony body. He found it
very difficult  to look at anyone  when  he talked, looking above or  to the
side of the other person's face; maybe he was selfconscious of the jungle of
zits that covered his  own. He didn't have a clue what was going  on. He was
always  left  to  do  as  little  as   possible.  He  was  all  right,  just
inexperienced and worried.  He would rather  be  at  home with  his mum than
doing this  shit. However, he always tried to act the macho  bit in front of
the others, who took the piss  out  of  him nonstop. He was looking severely
worried but happy that he was in the final RP group.
     "Don't put your ponchos up in the final RP," I said.
     "All I want you  to do is stay with those bergens.  It's  going to be a
long day-might be two day. Make  sure you look after the kit, and  you'll be
looking after us."
     I got the radio out and sent a sitrep back to the troop HQ. It was in a
rush because  I wanted  to bang it  out before last light. I told them  what
we'd found, what I'd seen. "Unless I'm told otherwise," I said, "we will CTR
it tomorrow."
     I  knew that back at the  squadron HQ they would be making the decision
as to whether to  tell the  other patrols on their next sitrep or wait until
it  was confirmed that it was the target.  If they told the other patrols to
stop  and  wait  out, they'd be  losing  time.  Not our problem;  we started
planning and preparing for the CTR.
     I'd go in myself with  One-of-three-Joses;  the other three would guard
the equipment at  the final  RP. A set of orders would have to  be produced,
covering all eventualities:  how  we were going  to get  there; what we were
going to do when we got there;  what we were going to do if the enemy opened
up  on  us. What would  we do if the final RP group had  a contact? How long
would the RP be open for before we changed to another RP?  What  would we do
if there was a contact and somebody got caught?
     We would plan  and  prepare in the area where we were now and then move
forward to the final RP, which would be the jumping-off point of the two-man
CTR team. The CTR might take one or two days, depending on what we could see
and where. We'd just have  to make sure that if we were  out during daylight
hours, we came back  an hour  before  last light; then we could move off and
L.U.P  somewhere  else. The ponchos  wouldn't be put up at the final RP; the
boys would just place out a couple of claymores, sit with their backs to the
bergens, their belt kits on, and then between themselves alternately stag it
and get their heads down, which wouldn't be good news.
     The teaching went to bollocks  now. In theory it should have  been  the
patrol  doing the  CTR  and conducting  any attack,  but  we'd get  only one
chance, and it had to be done properly.
     We were  about five hundred meters from the DMP  and were going to stay
there for the night. We got our ponchos and  hammocks out and settled  down.
One-of three-Joses wasn't getting his head  down, that was for  sure. He was
tossing and  turning all night, obviously flapping about what  was going  to
happen the next day.
     The others were apprehensive; they looked almost lost and lonely, as if
they wanted everybody else there as reinforcements.
     I was apprehensive myself. I didn't know what to expect; all I knew was
that if they got hold of us, we'd be in the shit. I lay there covered in cam
cream  and mozzie rep and thought  about Kate. I  tried to work out the time
difference and  wondered what she would be doing. I worked it out that she'd
probably just finished her breakfast and was getting ready for play  school.
I just wanted to get this over and done with  as  quickly as possible, so we
could get back downtown  and have a  good  time on the beach  with the  ex-G
Squadron  boys. I knew it wouldn't  be  long until I  was back in the jungle
     "We'll take  the minimum  amount of  equipment  with  us,"  I  said  to
One-of-three-Joses  at  first  light.  "BasicAlly just  belt kit,  plus  the
cameras, and a pistol and rifle each."
     We had already spent lots.of time making sure that our equipment didn't
shine, by blackening it with spray paint.
     Now  we  cammed  ourselves  up, too. Skin is a reflective  surface,  no
matter if you're black, Asian, or white.
     When  the  sun shines, your  skin shines'  At he beizinnine of a jungle
patrol, cam cream was difficult to keep on because of the sweat.
     After  a few  days, however,  when  the  face started  to get  a bit of
growth, the  stuff congealed into the beard and got engrained in the creases
in the forehead.
     It  wasn't  a matter of just a  few dabs  on  the  face like Indian war
paint. We  daubed it on all  over the face, the ears, behind the  ears,  all
around  the  neck and the  back of the neck, below the " neck of the collar,
down  the V of  our chests,  on  our  hands  and  up  our  wrists.  I had my
shirtsleeves  down to  protect  me  from  all  the jungly  nasties as I  was
crawling  about,  but I still  took it up past  the wrists because my  hands
would be moving and therefore the material would be moving.
     The  way the cam cream goes on is always a sign of a good  professional
soldier.  There was no need for all the  magic colors-dark green, brown, and
light green-all in weird and wonderful patterns and shapes.
     It wasn't there as camouflage; it was there to mask the shine and break
up the lines of our face.
     We now checked one another's cam cream in the buddy-buddy system.
     I checked One-of-three-Joses, and he did me.
     "Everything okay?" I asked him.
     "Is okay." He smiled nervously.
     We all moved down toward the final RP at about  0700. Rodriguez was the
scout, and  this time he was really taking  his  time. He was stopping every
five  minutes,  looking and listening. In my mind  I was thinking about many
things: about the CTR; about One-of-three-Joses-I knew he  was going to hold
back  and I'd have to do everything-and about what  would happen if  he or I
got caught. I decided that I would not get caught and that was that.
     A  very cautious  two  hours  later we reached  the  final RP, took our
bergens off,  sat down on  them, and  waited  five  minutes for everybody to
settle down and stop panting. I took the camera  equipment out of my bergen,
already stowed in a little  day sack. I checked  all our equipment  again to
make sure that everything was tied down and secure,  that we didn't have any
rattles. I also made sure One-of-three-Joses knew where all my first-aid kit
was. I ran  a discreet eye over his uniform and  kit to  make  sure all  his
buttons were done up,  and that he wasn't taking anything  with him that was
     "We are at the final  RP," I said. I confirmed our patrol and emergency
RVs and all our directions-the direction we were going out on, the direction
we'd be coming in from-and the time we'd got to be in by.
     Then it was time to go.
     I looked at One-of-three-Joses. I knew that if  I  was captured, they'd
take their frustrations  out on me; there  was a good chance  of  being held
hostage for a ransom.
     But for him the downside was much nastier, and he was sweating buckets.
The  police  were getting knocked  out left, right,  and center; even before
they finished training, many tens of them had been assassinated. The cartels
spared no effort or expense  when it came to reprisals. If  a member of  the
police was caught, he  knew he was guaranteed a slow and painful death. Many
of them  had been found dead at  the roadside, having had not a good day out
on the receiving end of a chain saw and hammer.
     Rodiguez insisted on going through all the  details again. "We're there
for two days? On  the third day we go to the river? Is that right? Sorry for
     I had built up the task at the original briefing to make them feel that
they were special. I went over to One-of three-Joses and said into  his ear,
"You  are  number  one,  the  best."  I  hoped  that  would  stop  him  from
hyperventilating- He tried  to grin,  but it came  out looking  more like  a
     We  moved very slowly;  there was no rush.  it was hot and damp; mozzie
rep was running into my eyes. My feet and boots were soaking wet.
     CTRs in the jungle are very scary things. We would be getting right  on
to the target; if we couldn't see what we needed to  see from the perimeter,
we'd have to go forward and then even more forward until we did. It would be
no good getting just half of the information; that i could mean having to go
back in.
     When I thought of CTRS, I always imagined one of those  toys that motor
forward on little electric wheels until they hit something They turn around,
come back, and then they bounce off  into it  again. The two of us would  be
going  in, coming  out,  going back  in at  a different angle, bouncing off,
going around. We'd go  around  the entire camp initially, looking for routes
in and out and any  signs of security. If we saw people  on guard, we'd note
what weapons they were carrying and  what they  were dressed like. Did  they
look switched on, or were they casual and  nonchalant? Were they young, were
they old?
     Were the  tracks in and  out well worn? Were there fresh marks on them?
Could we tell by the sign how many people had been going through?
     What sorts of noises can we hear as welre going around?
     Whereabouts can we infiltrate into the camp?
     Has it got barbed wire up, or rattan, or is there nothing?
     Is it in a small  valley and  camouflaged? How  many  people are in the
camp? Are there any communications?
     Are there any antennas? Are there any vehicles, are there any aircraft?
     What vantage points are there? Are there places  where we  could locate
fire support  groups? Are  there places where  we  could  put an OP  in; the
decision might be  not to attack it now, but just to  OP it and watch it for
weeks. Where would be a good start line for an attack?
     Where  could  we bring  people in? What are the main  processing areas?
Where is the living accommodation?
     All these questions would have to be answered from where I was lying on
my belly and looking up, from maybe a dozen or so meters away.
     We got to about fifteen meters  from the edge of the camp and  stopped.
Very slowly I got down and took my belt kit off. I handed it and my rifle to
One-of-Three-Joses, then pointed  to him and pointed to the ground, motionin
for  him, to stay  put. I did a little walking  sign with my fingers to show
him that I  was going  to  go forward and have a  look. I pushed the  camera
around  to  rest on  my back, got onto my stomach, and started edging myself
     Somewhere a generator was chugging. There were snatches of conversation
and the sound of a  radio,  playing panpipe music. As  doors were opened and
closed, the music got louder, then died a little.
     My breath  came in  pants; the crawling was  hard  work.  All  I had to
protect myself with was  my pistol as I kitten-crawled toward the perimeter.
I put my hands  out,  Put  pressure on  my elbows, and pushed myself forward
with the  tips  of my  toes. Six  inches  at a  time, I  moved  through  the
undergrowth.  I stopped, lifted  my head from the  dirt of the jungle floor,
looked  and listened. I heard  my own breath, and it sounded a hundred times
louder  than anything around me. The leaves crackled more than they normally
would; everything  was  magnified  ten times  in  my mind.  I inched forward
again. It took nearly an hour to  cover the distance. I was right on top  of
the  DMP now, and movement was the thing that was going to give me  away. If
one of the guards saw movement even just on the periphery of  his vision, he
would be  instantly drawn  toward  it.  I  stopped,  looked, moved  forward,
constantly looking  for alarm trips-whether they were wires, pressure  pads,
infrared beams, or maybe even a more sophisticated method based on empty tin
cans. I was right up on top of it now. If there was an opportunity, this was
the time to start taking  pictures of any personalities  in the camspecially
Europeans  or gringos. If it  all went  to ratshit, at least we'd  have some
sort of evidence of foreign involvement that the police could use.
     The sun was very bright,  making it-easier for me to see the target and
harder  for them  to  see me in the gloom of  the forest.  I could  see some
buildings, each  about  thirty feet  by twenty. They were built of  vertical
wooden planks with corrugated iron  roofs and leaves  and  rattan as a crude
form of camouflage over the top.
     The iron  sheeting had lost its  shine and was rusting, indicating that
the  camp had possibly been  there for quite a  while. Some of the slats had
gaps between them, I some were close-joined. All the  buildings had windows,
covered  with mosquito netting. There were  two doors, a wooden inner and  a
mesh outer, an antimosquito measure  that seemed strange given  the  gaps in
the wood.
     There  was  intermittent  noise-music,  a  bang  of  metal,  a  bit  of
shouting-indicating that there weren't that many people there. Very slowly I
eased the  camera bag  from my  back.  If  we were  going to hit this place,
people had  to have a  firm idea of their targets and  what  the camp looked
like.  With luck this would be the first  of many pictures as I moved around
the camp.
     I got the camera off  my head.  The biggest danger  would  be the  lens
reflecting the sun, so the whole camera was wrapped in a face net.
     It  wasn't  a  problem;  the photographs would still  come  out. ReAlly
slowly I  put  the camera on  the  ground,  aimed, and  gently  squeezed the
shutter release.  Nothing  happened. With my  thumb I tried to move the film
winder along, but it was stuck.
     There was  no time to muck about with it; I put it down by my side  and
kept  on looking. This was going to be a pain in the  arse.  I cursed myself
for not bringing the video camera; I'd  wanted to save the batteries for any
OPs that we might have to put on.
     I  stayed  where I was, watching and  listening. I could  see four main
buildings. To my left was the long, low building, of which I could see about
a third. I was assuming  that it was the DMP. To  the right of that were two
other buildings; one was definitely the kitchen and administration area. The
door opened, and out  came  an old boy of about  fifty  or sixty  wearing  a
football T-shirt, a pair of shorts, plimsolls and a fag in his mouth. He was
carrying a pile of pots and pans, which he just threw onto the ground. There
were small piles of kitchen rubbish strewn around within easy  reach of  the
     There was also a generator running, the noise seeming to come  from the
other side of the  cookhouse. I could still hear odds bursts of shouting but
had only seen the old boy. I wanted to know what the protection looked like,
how many of them there were, and what weapons they had.
     After about an hour I backtracked out. Whether it  was too early in the
morning or the .  re  simply wasn't a lot going on, I didn't know.  I backed
out until I reached One-of-three-Joses. He was sitting there grinning away.
     I took the camera off and gave it the cutthroat sign. I put my belt kit
on, pointed to him, and showed him the way we were going  to  go , which was
     It  took us about twenty minutes to travel thirty meters to be near the
edge of the amp again. We stopped, I  signaled to One-of-three-Joses to stay
where he was,  and I inched  forward.  This time  I  was  facing  the living
accommodation, and  almost  immediately  I saw a  white face. He was  small,
about five feet five inches,  in his forties, and in the process of throwing
away a bowl of water. He was wearing only a pair of shorts,  boots, and dark
glasses. His hair was wet and pushed back; I guessed he'd  just had  a wash.
His arms were darkly tanned up  to the T-shirt line, and  he had a big white
ring around his neck. He hadn't shaved for about  a week and looked  in shit
state.  He put a fag in his mouth and  lit  up and then walked back into the
hut.  I  was pleased:  at least one European. I  just wised  the  camera was
working and knew I'd get a bollocking from Gar.
     I had  been  waiting  there for  another forty-five  minutes  when  two
players appeared. One  had  a long, a G3 automatic nfl, the really old  type
with the  longer muzzle and  solid stock. The  other one  wasn't armed. They
moved from the living accommodation over in the direction  of the processing
hut, which  I couldn't  see. They  were  very casual,  smoking, talking, and
laughing, obviously very confident about where they were.
     That  was  three  characters,  not counting the  old cookhouse  boy.  I
stayed. I didn't move to swat the mosquitoes that were landing on me; I just
kept my head low, looking up  and listening, trying to take in every detail.
My head was starting to fill up with lumps, but I'd given up by  then. I was
lying there with my hands in front of me, resting my chin on my hands.
     To help me listen, I opened my jaw a little to close off any swallowing
     I was trying to get a  mental picture of exactly what this place looked
like.  I had only about 20  percent of the information at the  moment, and I
had to get as much as I could.
     I  could  see  where  the  generator  was now.  It was  between the two
buildings. I  could alsosee antennas  on the roofs.  There  was a  satellite
dish, which could have been for television or comms. There was also a normal
whip antenna.
     I  could  hear  music  playing  and  everyday  routine  noises.  Plates
clattered; men laughed. I heard two men talking in their own language, which
was possibly Dutch or Flemish-I  was  no expert. I didn't particularly care;
all I knew was that there were Europeans in the camp.
     I was starting to get really tuned in now. I could picture this side of
the  camp, where the doors were,  how they  opened  up. It  was  fairly good
construction and had been there  a long time.  The areas where  they  walked
were well trodden down.
     It started to look as if something was happening.
     From  the  direction of the processing  hut I  heard  another generator
sparking up. I decided to give it half an hour.
     The  European came out,  now  wearing  a  grubby-looking  T-shirt,  and
sauntered over toward the processing hut.
     Then another two came out.  They weren't talking, but they  were white.
One was rubbing  his hair  as he walked, obviously having  just got  up. He,
too, was in his forties, but much taller than the others. He wore A American
combat trousers and a dirty smiley-face T-shirt. His hair was  long and dark
blond and elither wet or greasy. The  other was about two paces  in front of
him and enjoying a cigarette. He was in his late twenties or early  thirties
and looked much smarter, and was carrying a leather bag.
     Something was about to start.
     I now knew there were definitely at least six people in the  camp,  but
there were still people in the accommodation, and I needed to know how many.
All I'd seen so far was one G3; I also needed to know how many weapons there
     I waited for another half an hour,  but nothing happened. I could still
hear music and the sounds of the  cook throwing around his bits and  pieces,
but it seemed that everything was happening around the other side. I crawled
back out. One-of-three-Joses was really happy to see me this time; he'd been
sitting there for what  must  have  seemed  like hours, and  in his head  he
didn't know what  was happening.  I motioned for him to stay still  and then
set off.
     I mooched down a few more  meters, following the rough line of the camp
perimeter.  I moved  on my hands  and knees trying to find another point  to
move in. I couldn't see  the  camp but could hear it. I was not getting down
near the river, which was the original feature that  the blokes on the recce
patrol had gone to find. I moved between the  water and  the  camp  and came
across a wellwom track with tire marks.
     Have they got a vehicle? I decided to  go  down to the river and follow
the track. On the opposite side  of  the track were two  rubber Geminis with
outboards. They  were  beached  on the  bank and concealed in undergrowth. I
still couldn't see where the vehicle tracks came from.
     It must have been something that was carried on the boats and then used
as transport.
     I  now wanted  to get onto the other side of  the  DMP to see  what was
going on and how many people were involved. There obviously weren't going to
be  that many because  there wasn't enough accommodation. I went back, spoke
right into One-of-three-Joses's ear and said, "We're going to go back around
the other side." He nodded, turned, and off we went in really slow time.
     Every time there was a noise we stopped and listened.
     Once it subsided,  we carried on, keeping far  enough from the camp not
to be seen, but close enough so we could hear what was going on.
     When we were right on the opposite  side,  I stopped, took  my belt kit
off, and  kitten-crawled in. There was  a  definite  amount  of activity.  I
wasn't bothering to look up at the  moment;  all I was doing was  getting as
near as I  could.  As soon as I  could  hear  clearly what  was going on,  I
stopped and listened.
     It looked as if things were about to  spark up in what I presumed to be
the actual  manufacturing area. As I got closer and closer, I could see that
the  manufacturing  building,  about  two-thirds of the height  of the other
buildings,  was in  fact an open  hut with the roof  supported by posts  and
walls  that only went a third of the way. In the  shadows I could see people
moving around.
     There wasn't a massive hive of activity, but there were certainly other
generators running. I could see the heat now  coming  off the  ground in the
exposed camp.
     To the left of the processing hut was another building.
     I guessed that it was a storeroom of some kind.  Also  on  that side, I
saw a three-wheeled trike with a trolley.
     I waited another ten  minutes,  took a deep breath, and started  moving
again. By  now it  was starting to get pretty hot. The sun was up, and I was
on the edge of the  cleared canopy. I could feel  the heat on the back of my
neck and on my shirt. I  was  a bit worried at one stage because  I  thought
that if my stuff started to dry out, they might see the steam.
     I was stinking. The bottom  half of my body was soaking  wet, and I was
covered in  mud and bits of twig and brush. I kept wanting to scratch it and
rub at the  mozzie bites  that felt as if they covered every exposed inch of
     But the only thing I wanted moving were my eyes.
     I was  breathing really heavily.  I didn't want to go further  forward,
but I knew I had to.  We needed information; otherwise  we'd just have to go
back the next day.
     The  next thing I saw  was a  weapon. It was  an  oldtype  M16  with  a
triangular stock, left leaning against the trike. It meant these people were
fairly  nonfussed;  they  were  obviously  feeling  comfortable  with  their
     I  still couldn't see how many people there were. Probably some of them
were still in the huts. All  I  could  see  from  this  perspective was  the
processing hut; I  couldn't see the'living accommodation.  I'd fucked  up; I
should have stayed on the other side for longer so I could see people coming
and going.
     I was annoyed with myself. I didn't want to  stay there any longer than
I had to,  and I didn't want to  come back another day.  I imagined what the
people at  the  final  RP  were  thinking.  They'd  be  sitting  here  doing
absolutely  nothing,  frustrated as  hell. I knew; I'd  done it myself often
enough. I hoped they felt confident enough to sit and wait.
     At last there was movement. A boy came out to the trike  and sat on it.
He lit up a cigarette and leaned back on the seat, soaking up a bit  of sun.
He had  sunglasses on and a pair  of jeans that were rolled up to halfway up
his calf muscles, and trainers but no  socks.  He had a  light-colored denim
shirt hanging out of his jeans. That was one more narco.
     He shouted at somebody, went around the back, and  disappeared. He then
came back into view and started to walk toward me. He didn't pick his weapon
up, but I was flapping.  One  thing I didn't want was eye-to-eye contact;  I
kept looking at his feet.  I  had my chin on  my hands; I kept still, taking
really slow, deep breaths. I thought: If he walks much closer, he's going to
see me.
     What then? Am I  going to drop him and  run? Or am I going to draw  the
pistol and shoot him and  run?  Or do I just take him, get him down, tie him
up, and keep him quiet?  I wasn't too sure. I decided to play it  by ear; it
certainly wasn't a good day out at all.
     I was sure he hadn't seen me, or he would have picked his gun up.
     He  didn't look  inquisitive;  he  was  just walking.  But  the  closer
somebody gets to you, the more chance  there  is of being seen.  He  got  so
close I was bracing myself for a shout.  Suddenly he veered to the left-hand
side of me. Fuck, I thought, if he's going to  start mooching in the jungle,
he'll find.One-of-three-Joses. Was he going for a shit?
     They must have some facility, probably for shitting into the river.
     What the hell was he doing?
     He  walked past, no more than  two meters away from  my  face.  At that
stage I put my head down, closed my eyes, and kept as still as possible.
     I heard  his trainers  kicking  the ground; then  he  shouted  back  at
somebody.  I was looking on the jungle  floor,  trying to  keep my breath as
slow  and controlled as  possible.  I wanted  to start  going slowly  for my
     But  it was in a shoulder holster, and to get it, I'd have had to cross
my  hand over my chest and go down for the pistol grip, which  was  going to
create movement  and noise. If he came over, I'd just  have to spin over and
draw it. Mentally  I was  running through it.  The safety catch  was on; the
hammer  was back. All I had to do was drive it  out, flick that safety catch
off and I could shoot him.  I'd turn over and  push my foot up because if he
started lunging at  me, I could keep my foot up and keep him off my body and
then drop  him.  And then I'd just run for it-and I  hoped  not  get shot by
     He carried on moving to the left. About two minutes later he came back,
carrying a small cardboard box.
     There must  be  another  part of  the camp that I hadn't seen,  another
storeroom or  something. So  could there be  more  people up there? Could it
Just be a storeroom?
     Why would they have a storeroom that far away?
     He went back to the trike and dropped the box onto the floor.  It split
open, and cans fell out. He picked one of them up, stabbed it, and lifted it
to his mouth. Yet it wasn't a drinks can, it was small and flat, more like a
can of tuna. Then it dawned on me: It was milk.
     It was condensed milk.
     After about another hour I  decided to move. I wasn't seeing that much,
and it was starting to get really hot.
     People weren't moving around. I didn't know how  much activity it  took
to  manufacture drugs. All I knew was that  I'd seen people doing  things in
the processing hut.
     I had a good idea of the  layout of  the camp but  not what  lay to the
left-hand side.
     My heart was pounding severely. I was  pleased that we'd found  a plant
and revved up because now we had to do something about it.
     I eased myself back and got  back to One-of-three-Joses. We  had eye to
eye, and I gave him a thumbs-up before quietly putting my kit on. I  pointed
up to the area where the character  had been walking and further to the left
of the target. He  didn't seem too pleased,  as  he'd obviously assumed that
the recce was  over; time was pressing, and if we didn't get back  soon,  it
meant a  night in the FRP. We mooched on very slowly. We  started going up a
gentle rise, and then we hit a track.
     The  trees and vegetation  were very  sparse now, and  we had  beams of
sunlight coming down on  us. It was boiling. it was  obvious to  me  at once
that  this must be the track the character had  gone to. Up to the  left was
flat ground; we  doubled back on ourselves and went up onto the high ground.
We stopped. I took my kit off and went forward on my hands and knees, pistol
in my hand.
     It  was a clear, flat area with a wooden platform-a helipad. There were
odds and ends scattered around, including  cardboard boxes.  Some  food must
have  come in by  helicopter and been  left there. A helipad  was  excellent
news; it meant we could get helicopters in right on target.
     By now I  was  sweating good style in the heat.  Crickets were chirping
away; the noise was different outside the canopy compared with the inside. I
could feel the wind, and the light was hazy, shimmering.
     It  made me want  to  go and stretch out in the  sun before I went back
into the other world of doom and gloom.
     I got back to One-of-three-Joses and sat there for a while. Back in the
relative  safety of the undergrowth, I  allowed myself a few  deep  breaths.
jose was grinning again, and this time it was pure relief.
     He knew that we must have finished. In my mind I ran through whether we
knew everything we needed  to  know. I came  to  the conclusion  that it was
pointless coming back  in the next  day; I knew as  much as  I was going  to
know, unless I sat there all day again and tried  to count people. It wasn't
a mass of activity, which made it difficult  to count. I  knew there were at
least two weapons, and I could only guess that the  guards would use them to
defend the plant.
     There was a lot of money at stake. Some of these people  would stay and
defend the plants  at any price;  they knew  there couldn't  be an unlimited
supply  of men coming in and attacking the place, so it might be worth their
while just taking us on.
     I  was satisfied that we  had all the first-phase information  that  we
needed. I tapped One-of-three-Joses on the  boot and  nodded toward the FRP.
He was happy now as we made our way carefully back to the others.
     We met the bergen cache from exactly the same direction we  had left. I
passed on all the information so that everybody  would know exactly the same
as we did. If One-of-three-Joses  and I suddenly dropped dead, at  least the
information would have been pooled.
     "We're going to stay here for the night," I said. "I want to go forward
again tomorrow morning."
     Their faces fell, and it suddenly dawned  on me that I'd  forgotten who
these guys were and had been treating them as members of the Regiment.
     I changed my mind. "We're going to leave  from here in a  minute and go
back to the L.U.P."
     The  relief was evident; as far as they were concerned, they were being
cut from the danger area. Rodriguez flashed me a brilliant smile.
     We got back to the L.U.P-I was going  to send a sitrep out  that night,
but it was getting too dark. I decided to prepare it and encrypt it and bang
it out first thing in the morning. I'd tell them what I'd seen of the  camp,
the numbers, the grid of where we  were going to sponsor the troop RP, which
was  where we were. Once the four  recce patrols  were  assembled,  we would
become a fighting  patrol. I'd also say that  I was going to send an OP  out
the- same day to go and get more information. I decided not to use the video
the next  day as I didn't want to put them under pressure to use it and then
fuck up.
     It felt good to know that the other patrols would  be on their way, and
all we had to do now was gather as much information as possible.
     It was  going to be difficult to decide who was going to go down on the
OP the next day; it couldn't be me because the priority  was to stay put and
sponsor the troop RP and prepare for the attack.
     I decided  one of them  had to be One-of-three-Joses because  he'd been
down there anyway and knew the area; the other would be Rodriguez.
     I didn't  want  to  send  El Nino, purely because the strain would have
been too much. I didn't particularly want to send  anyone down there, but we
needed more  information-the other patrols would expect  it.  In,  any event
these guys would  have to do it themselves sooner or later, so they might as
well crack on and do it now.
     I got everybody together  just before last light and  said, "Well done,
everybody,  excellent.  Tomorrow  we're  going  to  send  this  information.
Everybody's going to come  to us, we're going to  show them where it is, and
we're going  to hit it. It's been a  really good day-well  done! Tomorrow we
need people to go down there. I  want responsible people, and  it was really
difficult  to  decide  who,  but I  want  you,  One-of-three-Joses, and you,
Rodriguez, to get down there and get as much information as possible.
     It's your job; it's your responsibility. Think  of how good  it will be
to get down there and do it."
     Their faces were a picture.
     "I want to know how many people there are and what weapons," I said  to
them. "I want to know if any  boats come in,  if they  use  the trike, if  a
helicopter  comes,  what time  everybody  goes  to  dinner. I want  to  know
everything  you can see.  But most of all,  how many narcoguerrillas and how
many  weapons. If you think you can't do it, don't  push yourselves.  Try to
listen to  what they're saying, but only do enough to get the information-is
that all right? Everybody is depending on you two to get that information."
     We had rain in  the early evening,  and everyone lay there  absorbed in
his own thoughts. In the  morning Rodriguez  and  One-of-three-Joses set off
toward the camp. I stayed  behind to sit on  the radio because I was waiting
for a  reply about  what was going on. Two  hours later Gar came back on the
net and said, "Let's go for it.
     I'm going to tell the other patrols to 'start moving in toward you, and
you sponsor the RP."
     On day  one,  he said, which  was  the following day,  the first patrol
would be  coming  in  between ten  o'clock  and midday, on a  bearing of due
south. If  they didn't  make that, the next  window would be the next day at
the same time. He then gave  timings for the other two patrols  to arrive in
the afternoon. If they missed their,windows, they, too, would wait until the
next day at the same times.
     With  Gonz  and  El  Nino I  began preparing  for the  other patrols to
arrive. We dug up an area the size of  a dining-room table to make a sandbox
model.  I  made model  buildings in  the  soil,  together with  a river  and
helipad.  When that  was done, we  sat  around  drinking  water  and  eating
     I spoke with El Nino. He was very quiet and insecure.
     He wasn't happy about what was going on. He didn't want to be there; it
had  probably  all sounded  like  good  fun in  the  beginning, but now  the
realities of  it were  living in the field,  wet and stinking, and going  in
against a  violent enemy. The only thing he was pleased about was being part
of the final RP.
     "Where do you come from?" I asked.
     As we chatted  on, he started to come  out with  some fasc' ating stuff
about malaria. "The strain is  very  weak in in Latin America, compared with
Southeast Asia, so  it'sea I sier for scientists  to work on. That's  what I
really want  to be.  I want to go  to university and  study medicine.  But I
can't afford to, so here I am."
     I  put my bergen next to a tree and sat against it. It was wonderful to
relax and listen to the birds in the canopy.
     The  only drawback  was that I could smell  myself, and I stank like an
old druggie.
     About two hours before last light Rodriguez and One of-three-Joses came
back. I was on stag, still sitting against the tree but watching the area of
the plant.
     "What did you see?" I asked.
     They spoke quickly, saying a  lot that I didn't understand. I went back
to basics. "Narcoguerrilla?"
     I asked what the narcoguerrillas had been doing.
     Rodriguez grinned, tilted  his hand, and said, "Cerveza." So there were
eight  men with  weapons and three white-eyes.  On the  model they showed me
that  the people  were  just wandering around  doing  nothing in particular.
Maybe they were waiting for a delivery or a pickup, but there didn't seem to
be much going  on.  It would be  quite worrying if they were waiting  for  a
pickup. Did that mean that boatloads of people would be turning up?
     My concerns  were  suddenly  put in  the shade.  The  sound of gunshots
echoed through the canopy, coming from  the area of the camp. Birds screamed
and lifted  from  the  trees;  the  whole  forest  was  alive. Single  shots
followed, then a quick burst,  and  another burst. Then silence, and another
couple of single shots.
     The boys looked at each other in alarm, then to me  for reassurance. We
all had our belt  kits on and weapons;  we got down by our bergens and stood
to, trying to listen.
     I couldn't work out what it was all about. There were  no other patrols
in the area; they weren't arriving until the next day, so they wouldn't have
stumbled on it. So what the hell were they firing at?
     Five  minutes later there were  another two  single shots, followed  by
another two. This went on for about twenty minutes. I thought, Do we go down
there tomorrow  and  find out? Were they  arguing  among themselves?  Was it
another gang coming in to steal their supplies? It was quite worrying.
     The only thing I could put it  down  to was that  they were  pissed and
doing target practice or firing into the river.  Whatever, it confirmed that
the weapons worked, which was a bit of a shame.
     That night we got the ponchos and hammocks up. I didn't get much sleepI
was  running through in my mind exactly what I had  seen and hoping that the
model  was right. Everybody was, I hoped, going to start coming in tomorrow.
The first patrol, Terry's, wasn't that far away. I knew he'd be cracking on,
no longer concerned about being tactical, just making distance.
     They'd be holding  up for  the night, then  motoring  on again at first
light. I felt sorry for his patrol;  I knew what it was like. I imagined the
big, sweaty  messes  sorting themselves  out after  a  hard tab through  the
     We were up at first light. I  spent some  tim  at the model, trying  to
come up with some sort of plan so I could start talking as soon as the other
patrols arrived.
     At  half past nine we  covered  all  the  arcs  and waited  for Terry's
patrol. They arrived just over an hour later.
     Looking down at the slightly lower ground, I could see Terry looking up
with a big  bone grin on his dark,  sweaty  face. It was obvious they'd been
screaming along.
     Terry was twenty-nine, tall, blond, had sticky-out  ears, and was madly
in love with his wife and two kids.
     He  had the sort of West Country  accent that only  bad actors  put on.
He'd come from the R.A.F regiment, having  decided that he either  wanted to
be in the Regiment or become an accountant. Many a time he was told that  he
might have been better off as an accountant.
     "How's it going, mate?" I said.
     "Fucking good one."
     "You're looking a bit fatigued. A long distance for those old legs, was
     "Fucking distance-tell me about it," he said, bent  double, leaning  on
his weapon.
     The rest of the patrol tabbed in,  breathing heavily, their  faces  and
hair soaking wet. As soon  as they stopped,  I saw steam  rising  from their
     I turned to Terry. "What I want you to do, mate, is get the patrol down
where you see that big crooked tree.
     There's no big rush, so  get some  scoff  and we'll get together  later
     "I'll get the boys sorted out..Then I'll come up and see you."
     His patrol were grinning at my lads and giving them the thumbs-up.
     My group looked happy to have support; the  other  patrol were happy to
have finished the tab.
     I started preparing the sitrep I was going to send out that night.
     I hoped it would say that everybody was in.
     If not, we still had the window open the next day. It was important  to
stagger the arrivals, to prevent a blue-one blue.
     The  next  two  patrols  arrived  on  time,  between  twelvethirty  and
two-thirty and three and five; they all looked knackered after the fast hike
without stops.
     I said, "I'm going to send the sitrep off  now; then I'll show you what
we've got and see what you reckon."
     An hour or so later we sat on our bergens around the sand model and did
an appreciation. I explained the layout of the camp and said, "It's  obvious
that  the  majority of the stuff comes up and down by river. They've got the
two Geminis down at the bottom there, and there's the helipad. We're looking
at eight  narcos with five  fifty-sixes and seven sixty-twos. There's  three
EuropeansGerman or  Dutch, who knows? Do you  reckon we've got enough people
here? There's twenty of us, against eight. They're extremely casual; they're
walking around leaving their weapons all  over the place, and it  looks like
they've even been on the piss."
     Terry  muttered, "Lucky  fuckers."  He  went  on.  "I  reckon twenty is
enough, no problems."
     Rod had mixed us up some cold Camp coffee. As the mug was handed around
he said, "Let's bin it now.
     We'll stand to, then crack on with it in the morning.
     Anyone want a sip?"
     Rod  was the  cleanest, tidiest, and most  organized man  I'd ever met,
with the possible exception of Eno.  He was thirty-six going on  sixteen and
seemed  to  care  about  nothing.  His  hair  was   always  very  short  and
fashionable, and he was forever moaning about his  chapped lips, carrying  a
jar of Vaseline with him everywhere. To Rod,  the operation seemed secondary
to making  sure his lips  were okay and that there would be some time off to
buy some new fashion clothes.
     As I lay in my hammock, I mulled everything over again in my mind.
     It  seemed really  straightforward,  and I wasn't  particularly worried
about it. We had four Regiment  blokes and  sixteen well-trained  policemen,
and we had the element of surprise. I  was looking forward to getting it all
over and done with  and  having a few days  off before we came  back to find
some more.
     My thoughts drifted  to Kate and domestic  things.  Our house still had
bits and  pieces to be done to it. The garage roof was starting to leak, and
we'd been talking about painting the hallway when I got back.
     I thought about wintertime in Britain. I loved walking through the town
at the dead of night, when all the shop lights were on and it was drizzling.
I  thought about taking  Kate down to the shops. We  used  to go to a  penny
sweet  place  and  pick  and  mix all  her  favorites,  which  seemed  to be
everything in the shop.
     At  first light we packed'up and sent a sitrep to Gar,  telling him all
the  patrols were  in. By now rriy patrol were used to this place; it seemed
we had been there for weeks, not just days. It was the same feeling as going
into a strange house,  which  becomes more and  more familiar as the evening
wears on.
     It was quite a boring  time for most people, but they didn't mind as it
was better than tabbing like a man possessed to get to an RP.
     They had  been given a warning ordei about an impending attack and were
now sorting their kits out and cleaning their weapons. They should have been
field-stripping the weapons, taking the working parts out and cleaning them.
But as  long as  a weapon was well maintained, there was no need to do that.
All that was  needed was  a quick squirt with something like WD40 around the
working  parts  so they knew the thing was going to go backward and forward.
The blokes were checking  their magazines, making sure they weren't damaged,
since most stoppages came from the magazine. Apart from  that  everybody was
just generally  resting, waiting  for any tasks before  the orders, such  as
patrols being sent back to confirm information.
     The  police carried pounds and  pounds of sugar with them and seemed to
eat it with everything. The one good thing they carried in their rations was
a small can of condensed milk. Years before,  we used to have condensed milk
in a tube in our rations, but that was taken out, which was a shame, because
it  was lovely. We mixed up the milk with Camp  coffee and lots of sugar and
settled down around the model to get to grips with what we were going to do.
     Rod finished putting Vaseline on his  lips and  said, "We know what the
mission is: to arrest the occupants of the DMP and  destroy their equipment.
We know we've got three Europeans, who are unarmed. Shame we haven't got any
negatives of them. Chances are they're just there to work on the processing.
They won't resist an attack."
     "What  comms have they got?" Tony asked as he passed the mug around and
opened a packet of boiled sweets.
     I said, "We saw some antennas and a satellite dish.
     We don't know if it's TV or comms. Chances are it's a TV dish; however,
that can't  be confirmed. But if  we're going to  bang them at first  light,
they're not going to have time to get on the net. Even if they do, nothing's
going to happen. Gar'll get the reaction force in very quickly."
     I looked at Terry and  had to smile. He'd been rubbing his chin and had
come across a zit. Now he was squeezing it and inspecting the yield.
     I carried on: "There's one building down the bottom that looks like the
cook and bottle washer's area.
     There's  been someone seen going in and out. He  hasn't been armed-just
an old boy in his sixties. About five meters to the south of that is another
building that looks like the administration block.
     It has its own generator.
     The one above it is certainly the living accommodation."
     "What makes  you think  that?" Terry  asked, wiping  pus  on  his shirt
     "That's where they all were coming out of, and I saw the boy coming out
after his wash. The other hut is definitely where they do the business. It's
low and long; it's only partially walled. There was a lot of movement in and
out during the time we were watching.
     There's one other storeroom, but I couldn't make out what was in it."
     I  took a swig of Camp  coffee and pointed at the model. "As far  as  I
could see, the perimeter isn't protected, but I didn't see jack shit.
     The area was cut out of the forest, and that's it."
     "Whereabouts did  you hit the perimeter,  mate?" Rod was looking at the
model and making more coffee.
     "Here  was definitely  okay," I sat,  pointing. "And  here's definitely
okay. We then moved around left and went up near  the  helipad, and that was
     "What's the going like in the camp? Is it well trodden or do we have to
start scrambling over shit?" Tony said.
     "I'm fucked after tabbing here yesterday."
     "Well trodden.  It's been used for ages. There are  no duckboards,  but
it's old baked mud  because it's exposed  to the sunlight. It looked like it
was cleared and burnt, like the farmers do. There's some  stumps around from
when it was cleared, but apart from that, it's okay."
     "What are the buildings made of?"
     "They're solid wood, with atap and palm-leaf coverage,  over corrugated
iron. They're obviously trying to cam it up."
     "What's the walls like and the doors?"
     I explained about the inner and outer doors.
     "We need to make sure we can get into these fuckers," Rod said.
     "We'll go for an explosive entry anyway."
     "Yeah, why not?"  Terry  took  a mouthful of cold coffee and passed the
mug around. "That'll fuck ) em up."
     Having looked at the camp, we looked at the enemy.
     "What do you reckon their intentions are?" Terry said.
     He couldn't resist it; he had to keep playing with  his zit, hoping for
more to come out. The thing was bleeding.
     "I don't know," I said.  "Basically there's  nowhere for  them to go. I
think they'll take us on. They'll protect it.
     There's  a  lot of  money involved, so  they'll look after the produce.
That's why they've got so many people armed.
     What do you reckon?"
     Rod jumped in. "I agree. All they're going to  do is blat off  loads of
rounds and try to  leg it,  but they'll retaliate, without a doubt. We might
get one or  two  runners.  I think  we need  to  get  right on top of  these
     "We  know they've got  five fifty-six,  and there's  a  G three running
around, so we know we've got that coming down on  us. We don't  want to take
them on, because we don't want  to  start taking casualties. We want  to hit
them as early as  possible, bang them while they're sleeping. Then let's get
the fuck out of here for a few days because  I think I have a zit coming up,
and we can't have that now." As ever, he looked completely relaxed and there
wasn't a hair out of place.
     Now we looked  at their relative strengths and capabilities, which were
basically that they  just killed every fucker. Their tactics,  if they  were
members or ex-members of any narcoguerrilla organization, would be very John
Wayne: just loads of rounds going down everywhere.
     Then we  looked at the  ground-the  terrain and  vegetation-then "vital
ground": If we got a certain bit  of  ground, would that  dominate the whole
area? "I had a look around," I  said. "There's  no vital ground. The helipad
might have been okay because  it  was  higher  than the  camp and in  theory
overlooked it, but in fact I couldn't see Jack shit."
     "So there's nowhere we can put a decent cover group in high ground. The
only way it could happen is by its coming into the camp."
     "Andy, tell us how we can get in."
     "When I went down there"-l pointed-"there weren't any obstacles.
     It was quite easy to get to. There's just  one  small river to the east
of it, but that's knee-high and slow-flowing, not a tactical problem.
     I've got an area for the FRP; I've also got an area for the start line.
I reckon that the cover roup  needs to go in with you to be right on target.
I don't think I can go anywhere to get the high ground."
     Tony said, "Okay, no drama. So do you reckon we need more'people in, or
     Rod  cut in. "I don't think we need it at all.  If we hit these fuckers
at  first light and go  for it,  we'll get them while they're still in their
little old beds."
     Terry  nodded. "If we get that  explosive entry on, we can  sort it out
there and then, in two or three minutes," he said.
     "Sounds  good  to  me,"  I  said.  "We  could  get  it  done,  get  the
reinforcements in, then withdraw and get back for tea and cakes."
     We  then had to look at time and  space: What  was the earliest time we
could get the attack in?
     "I don't particularly want to rush this." Rod had made up his mind what
he  wanted to happen.  "I don't want to go  in tomorrow  morning.  I want to
spend the day  planning; we've got to get  our  guys sorted  out.  If we  go
straight  in at  first light, it means  we've  got to move before last light
tonight. Let's go in the day after tomorrow."
     Everybody was in agreement.
     "If we move from here to the FRP tomorrow, spend the night at  the FRP,
and then go and do  the attack at  first light,  then  we've cracked it.  So
we've got tonight  and  tomorrow to sort our shit out. More nods. "I'll send
the . sitrep in  a minute. If they want us to move earlier, they'll tell us.
But by the time we  get an answer, we won't be  able to move for first light
tomorrow morning."
     "We've  got enough P.E and  all the  kit we need," Rod said. "We  don't
need anything bringing in apart from Gar and his gang."
     "Easy one," Tony said. "Just- get them straight in on
     the helipad. We'll get that cleared as soon as we take the camp."
     The last item on the checklist was the assessment of tasks.
     "We've got the two  huts people are staying in," I said. "And we've got
the river and those boats. I don't know what was down there with  the boats,
I couldn't  see far  enough. I  don't know if people  were staying there, or
what. But  the only  escape route I can  see is  from the  camp down to  the
     "I think we do need  a cutoff group," Rod said. "If there's any fuckers
coming down  that river and we're mincing around, we've got no early warning
and nothing to stop them. We could be in the shit."
     "I agree," said Tony.
     "So one patrol will become a cutoff group down the bottom there."
     Rod  pointed.  "Their job  is  stop  any runners, take control  of that
northern end of the camp, and give us early warning along the river."
     We'd made a guess about how the enemy were going to react to an attack.
They'd got the weapons, and it wouldn't be the first time  they'd used them.
The effect of that  would be that we  might have our own casualties, so we'd
got to cater accordingly. We had the patrol medic packs, which for this sort
of task mainly contained trauma management packs. We'd got a helipad, so all
we had to do was make sure  that squadron HQ had a heli stood by to casevac;
where it was going, and why it was going there, the pilot wouldn't know yet.
All he would know was that his aircraft was stood by.
     The  next stage  was to summarize  all the deductions that we'd come to
and to look at the different options open to us; it was a matter of weighing
up the advantages and disadvantages and selecting the best course.
     That then became the plan, and from that plan Rod would make orders.
     There were going to be  four groups: a  cutoff group by  the river, two
assault groups  that were  going to  take the houses, and a cover group that
was going to cover the advance up to the two buildings and dominate the area
in  case there were runners. On  top of that,  Gar was organizing  everrhing
back  at the F.O.B. He had  helis stood by to bring in a  force to burn down
the camp and the publicity machine to film it.
     It was now past midday on day five since finding  the camp. Rod  had to
put it in some form of orders that the patrols could understand.
     This  was quite difficult  because our  Spanish was only good enough to
get by. We  needed to involve them as much as we could,  because in the near
future they would be doing this themselves.
     Everybody assembled around the sand  model with  weapons and  belt kit.
Some  of  the  boys  were  interested in it;  other '  rs  looked  tired and
indifferent. Terry spoke the best Spanish, so he did the talking.
     "We have found the camp," he  said, 14 and this is what it looks  like.
Tomorrow morning we're all going to leave here, and go to the final RP. From
there my group will move to the other side of the camp and become the cutoff
for the attack. Everyone else will stay at the final RP.
     The following morning the three groups will move to the camp.
     Andy's group will be the cover group;  Rod's  group  will  attack  this
building, and Tony's group will attack this one. Each patrol commander  will
show you what  he wants you to do. In the camp  there are  about eight armed
men. We will go in there early in  the morning, when they are  asleep. There
will  be no problems.  All  you have to do  is  listen  to  what your patrol
commander is telling you.
     "In  a minute,  when we've  finished,  the patrols will get together in
their areas  and the patrol commander  will tell you what he wants done. Are
there any questions?"
     They all shook their heads and split into their groups.
     The four of us got back together to confirm what would be going on.
     Terry's cutoff team  would move to the north of the camp. They would be
in position as a cutoff if anyone legged it  from the camp to the boats, the
only known  escape route. It would be no good  their  going  to the helipad;
there  was nothing there,  and it was surrounded by jungle.  "I won't bother
trying to rig  the  boats," Terry  said, "because  of the  compromise factor
during daylight hours." If  anybody found  the boats had been tampered with,
they'd be suspicious and on the alert.
     The cutoff  team's other job was to give  an early warning  of anything
coming down the river. We could be sitting  there in the daytime in our FRP,
ready to do a first-light attack, and six boatloads of narcoguerrillas could
slip quietly into the camp for a big piss-up.
     There'd  be  twenty  of  us  screaming  in  there  big  time,  suddenly
confronted by a defending force of eighty. Not to be recommended.
     It was now starting to rain, and it was a funny sight  watching all the
normal activity going on with water dripping off people's noses.
     The cutoff team  would  take  their  bergens  and belt  kits with  them
because they would be working independently. They would split off from us as
soon  as possible  once we'd  reached the  FRP, because they  needed as much
daylight as possible  to get there, sort  their shit out, and do their recce
so they'd  know what they  had to do and where  they  had to do it.  As they
moved into  position, the  rest  of  us would be in  the FRP, acting  as the
immediate action; if they were compromised, we'd soon know because we'd hear
the shooting and commotion.
     We'd then  just  have to go for it,  straight into  the camp  and do it
there and then.
     "As soon as you're in position, give us a shout on the Motorola channel
six," I  said. "If  we don't hear anything, we'll just carry on as  planned,
because we might not get the comms."
     All the patrol commanders had  Motorola comms  that we had brought with
us  from  the  UK. They  gave us about  a  kilometer and a half in good open
countryside; sometimes we'd get comms in  the jungle with them; sometimes we
wouldn't.  If  we  didn't  get  a  report  from Terry, and hadn't heard  any
gunfire, we would have to assume that he was okay anyway and carry on.
     One-of-three-Joses  would take Tony and Rod down to the  camp  and show
them the start line and the  two buildings. Once they  came back, we'd  wait
until first light the next day, when we'd start moving off.
     "Once the  camp attack goes in," Rod carried on to  say,  with the rain
still falling and being ignored by everyone, "the cutoff will stay put until
it gets the all clear from me.  if I can't raise you on the comms, I'll send
a runner down.
     Make sure  your  patrol knows!  Once  the  buildings are secure  I want
Andy's team to clear the work hut and then go up to the helipad. If you move
in once it's secure, we'll centralize all the boys, get them  down, and I'll
call Gar in with the aircraft, so I want  you, Andy, to take the  comms with
you.  Once  Gar comes in  we'll get back  to the  bergens and sort ourselves
     "That's that, then," said  Tony. "We'd better get the sitrep off to Gar
and make sure he knows when we're  going in, then sort the boys  out and get
our heads down."
     The sitrep stated what we were going to  do, what time the camp  attack
was  going in,  the  way  we were going to  do  it, and  how we  wanted  the
helicopters brought in, which was on orange smoke. We said that we'd open up
the net the following morning to get a confirmation that everything was okay
before we  went in.  We wouldn't move until  0900 hours to the final RP, and
from there we'd go ahead with our plaa.
     We went to  our own  individual  patrols and started explainiqg what we
wanted  them to do. "When  we get  to the  FRP  tomorrow morning,"  I  said,
pointing to One of-three-Joses,  "you will take Tony and Rod to the camp and
show them the  edge and where  the two  buildings are. It's a very important
job. If they want to  see anything  else, show them where  it  is, then come
back to us.
     Is that all right?"
     He grinned and nodded, proud to shoulder the responsibility.
     "When he  comes back," I said, "we're going  to  wait there  all night,
back to back, and wait for first light.
     We'll  then  move forward; it's our job to make sure everybody else  is
protected  while they're going into the position. What I want you to  do  is
follow me; I'll put  you in  the position  and  show you where the  rest are
coming in and where to be looking. If you  see anything, I don't want you to
shoot, I just want you to tell me,  and I'll decide if you shoot or  not. If
you hear me shooting, you shoot. Is that okay?"
     They nodded; they  were happy with  that because  there wasn't  much to
think about. I really wanted to labor this point because I didn't want  them
flapping and landing  up shooting one of our blokes as they were coming  in.
"When we  get  into  position, you  will see  our people  coming  from  your
right-hand side, going towards those buildings.
     Anything  else could be the enemy. But I don't want you to shoot unless
I shoot or tell you to.
     "Once the  attack has happened we'll then  have to do two other things.
We'll have to move to the long building here, check the storeroom, and go to
the helipad. But I'll tell you where to go and when. Keep nice and calm, and
if you see something, shout: 'Get down!
     Get  down!"  If  they shoot  at  you, you shoot  back. You must be very
careful. You'll hear lots of explosions and maybe other gunfire.
     Don't worry about that. You just keep looking at your job."
     I looked at each of them in turn. "Rodriguez, any problems?"
     "Good. Tomorrow Gar comes in  with helicopters and more men. We put our
bergens on and fly out. Thenparty time!"
     Rodriguez whispered, "Yee-hah! " and everybody gave a low laugh.
     I liked  these guys.  I enjoyed talking to them; they had a really good
sense of humor. We were very much on the same wavelength; all they wanted to
do was get the job done and then get back and have some fun. They  were very
much into dancing  and whiskey;  me, I couldn't dance, but I did like Famous
     The  blokes in charge  of  the assault groups had a  harder job getting
across what they wanted their-boys to do. Looking  over from our position, I
saw Rod's  group standing in  a line, as if  there was a  door; he  had them
walking in and  practicing their moves, all in slow time and very  quiet. It
was still raining, and their drenched  uniforms were clinging to them.  Some
had  packed their  issue sombreros with  them, and  now I saw why; they were
perfect for keeping the rain off their faces.
     It was getting to last light. We stood to and then put the hammocks up.
I lay in my hammock, eating cold bangers and beans. For pudding, I'd swapped
some of my  food  for  a can  of condensed milk, which  I poured  over  some
hardtack biscuits.  It made me  think  of Tiswas, where Lenny Henry played a
reggae  bloke called Winston; he used  to eat condensed  milk sandwiches.  I
thought about other kids' shows, and  then I thought about Kate and how much
having a child had changed my life.
     In my early days I'd have  been relishing the task and  looking forward
to a lifetime in the Regiment; I used to take the piss out of people on jobs
who talked about their kids or said,  "My boy's got his piano exam tomorrow,
I hope he's okay." Now I could see their point.
     Such apparently trivial things  were in fact very important.  Kate  was
walking, talking, and being stupid, and I  was missing quite a bit  of it. I
decided that when I got back, the three of us would go off on a holiday. And
this time I meant it.
     It  had stopped raining  by first light. I  told my group  to make sure
their  weapons were  oiled up  and a  round  in the  chamber. I checked  for
rattles amid lots of thumbs up and winking.
     The Regiment blokes met up, and  we  got, the radio out. As soon as Gar
had confirmed, we could go in.
     It came up: "Yes, go ahead. The helicopter reaction time will  be about
one hour. It will come in on your orange smoke. If there's no sitrep sent by
ten  hundred hours on  the morning of the attack, we will  come in anyway to
take it."
     We were going to move off half an hour later for the final RP.
     The  order of march was my  patrol, then  the cutoff group, and finally
the two assault groups.  There  was an air of excitement and acceptance that
finally the show was on the road.
     I  told  Rodriguez that  he  was  going to  be lead scout for the whole
troop, and that sparked him up into being very official and important.
     Everybody was leaning on his weapon, bergen on, ready to go.
     Rodiguez  was at the  front, checking his compass. He already knew  the
way, but it looked good.
     We  set off,  and  Rodiguez became the  world's  best  scout.  We  were
stopping every fifteen meters for him to check for movement or sound.
     When we got to the area of  the  FRP, we  stopped  and  everybody knelt
down.  When Terry came up, I pointed, "it9s  in that direction; that'll take
you round the right hand side."
     We checked the  maps,  and he said, "I'll get  down to the line of  the
river and go left, and see where I can get  in. Once I see the Geminis, I'll
sort myself out from there."
     "Right," Rod cut in. I could see the shine on his lips; it was a wonder
they didn't stick together  with  all  that  grease on.  "We'll open  up our
Motorolas at five o'clock tonight.
     We'll keep it open until last light. If we haven't heard  anything from
you, we'll just take it that you're  there and we're not getting the  comms.
If there's been a change of plan, tomorrow morning, when the attack goes in,
just sit tight and  there'll be a runner  down to get you. The helis will be
in at  ten o'clock  anyway if we  fuck UP.  If I don't  see you then mahana,
we'll see you at some other time. I take it you'll chuck a right and go down
to the road."
     My lot and  the  two assault  groups  sat  in  a large circle,  resting
against our bergens in the FRP.
     Tony turned to me and said, "I suppose we'll be off now. We'd better go
and have a look at this place, hadn't we?"
     I  went over to One-of-three-Joses  and  said  with  a  thumbs-up, "You
     "I'm ready."
     I had a quick check of his kit and that his safety catch was on, and he
mooched into the canopy  with Tony and Rod.  I could see him  stopping every
six paces, probably to  show off  to his mates  that he was big time now, he
was leading a recce patrol. Tony went up to him and pointed in the direction
of the camp with a motion of  "let's get on  with  it," and they disappeared
from sight.
     The aim  was  to confirm what had  been seen. If there was  any change,
we'd have to reassess and tell the  cutoff that night. If not, too  bad, the
attack would still go in.
     Tony and Rod  needed to  be  on this  recce because they needed to know
where exactly the  two  buildings were  located. They'd seen models of them,
they  had an  idea  of where  they were; however, it was a lot easier to see
them on the  ground,  for somebody to  point them out and say,  "That's your
one, and that's yours." The  rest  of  us just sat  there for the next  five
hours,  eating  biscuits,  drinking water,  swatting flies, and  rubbing  on
mozzie rep. There was no talking, no smoking, no brewing  up. The odd one or
two  were nodding off. it was  a really boring time, as  it so often was. My
mind drifted to Hereford; for the first time ever in my life I felt pangs of
homesickness. I missed family life; I missed our times together.
     There were a couple of trees that needed to be chopped down because the
roots were going to affect the foundations of our house at some stage,  so I
was going to have a look at that. I thought about the  holiday; then I had a
chuckle to  myself, thinking about Rod and Tony  on their stomachs,  puffing
and panting, kitten-crawling through the mud and gunge.
     It  looked  as  if  we were in  for  a downpour, which wasn't  the most
exciting prospect, seeing as how it was  the  equivalent  of  a night out on
belt kit. I told the boys to jet their ponchos out, really  nice and slowly,
and prepare for the rain. It came, not too hard, but insistent.
     The  recce patrol  came  back  in  at about  four-thirty,  looking like
drowned rats.
     "What do you reckon then?" I said.
     Rod  was drinking some water from a bottle,  then  pouring it  over his
head to sweep his hair back. He said, "There's no problems with  that. We'll
just bung an explosive entry on there.  But  you will get in  position first
because we go over that open ground. If we're seen, we're in the shit."
     "We saw the cook and bottle  washer running around in that first  hut,"
Tony said. "Then  we saw a boy coming out with a Car fifteen [small  version
of the M16].
     And  that's  all  we saw. The  generators  were going,  and  there  was
activity, but not much. Good here, ain't it?"
     Rod grinned  with a face full of mud and said, "We should be down there
on the piss with those boys, not sitting here waiting to jump on them. We're
on the wrong bloody side here; look at the state of my kit."
     We  had a little giggle at the thought of Terry; his boys wouldn't even
have their  ponchos out, they'd be sitting  on their bergens, ready  to  go,
probably shivering their cocks off.
     We got our Motorolas out and put our earpieces in.
     At five o'clock we switched on to see if Terry was going to come on the
net. We got jack shit.
     There were no big problems with that. Maybe it was  the distance or the
weather, or maybe they were all hanging upside down from a tree having their
bollocks tickled. There  was nothing  we could do about  it now.  If  he was
there in the morning, he was there. Nevertheless, we kept the net open.
     Just before last light Tony tried again. "Terry, Ton check?" Y5
     Nothin . Everybody hunched up in his poncho as the rain fell harder.
     Back at the squad . ron HQ there would have been maximum activity going
on. Gar would have been getting everybody geared up, and everybody would now
be  stood  to.  Gar had said it  would take them about sixty minutes' flying
time  to  get  to  us.  He  wouldn't  have enjoyed having  to involve  other
agencies, but there was  no option; we needed the aircraft-especially if the
shit hit the fan and we needed some casevac aircraft in.
     We  settled in for  the  night. We  had our belt kits  on,  we  had our
weapons, and everybody was just resting against his bergen, getting his head
down as best he could, waiting. First light would be as soon as we could see
well enough to walk without knocking into one another or the vegetation.
     I listened to  the  buzzing of insects and swatted the occasional thing
that  crawled on  my  skin.  Nobody was really  asleep; I could sense  their
anticipation about the next day. There  was the occasional light snore until
a pal gave  a quick little shake or pinch of the nose, being careful that he
didn't wake up with a startled cry.
     The temperature dropped a bit, and it was pretty wet and uncomfortable.
I looked at my watch; it was one  o'clock. Half an hour  I looked again, and
it was ten past. I nodded off, woke up, nodded off.
     About an hour before first light I nudged Rodriguez
     and motioned for  him  to pass it on. He leaned across  to the next and
gave him a little shake, and so on around.
     I hated  peeling off my  poncho and  getting  that first  whiff of  the
coldness, but at least it had stopped raining.
     We started sorting ourselves out in our area, plastering the cam  cream
on top of our  own dirt and grime. After so many days in the jungle, we were
in shit state. I couldn't see the DPM on my trousers because they were caked
up with mud. My hair was greasy and flat on my head; I had days of growth on
my face and it was thick with cam cream.
     No doubt I'd be dezitting with Tony in a few days' time.
     As soon as we could see three meters in front  of  us, we began to move
out. The  order  of march  was  first the lead  scout, One-of-three-Joses; I
followed, and behind me were Rodiguez, El  Nino, and  Gonz. Behind them came
Rod's and Tony's assault groups.
     There was no need to  communicate with the cutoff group. If  there  had
been a drama during the night,  we would have known about it. And regardless
of them, this was going to go ahead.
     We all knew what  to do; there  was no  need to talk, and there was  no
banter. It was pretty serious stuff now.
     One-of-three-Joses led us to  the start line. There  Rod and Tony would
get hold of their  assault groups and move  them  forward to the edge of the
forest.  They  wouldn't move toward  the huts until my cover  group  were in
     I looked at them, pointed, and they nodded. They knew  where they were;
they knew what they were doing. Then I led my group away.
     From now on I was  in front because  I knew where I wanted to go. I was
covert in my movements, but at  the same time forceful. I wasn't too worried
about disturbing the  brush;  the attack  was going to happen now come  what
may. The priority was to  get to  the cover position.  My weapon  was in  my
right hand; I was moving the vegetation with my left, looking around all the
time. I wasn't even checking that the others were behind me.
     I knew that all the  commanders had their Motorolas on,  waiting for me
to get in position. I knew that as  soon as  I was sorted  out, I would push
four  clicks  on  my  radio. Rod, Assault Group 1, would come back  with one
click. Tony, Assault Group 2, would come back with two.
     Then  I would  know  everybody  was  ready  and would give another four
clicks in two sets of two.
     Click, click-click, click: "Stand by! Stand by!"
     The  groups would then  start  to move  forward from the rolling  start
line; ideally they would be covert right up to the doors. However  ' if they
were compromised  on the way, it would just be shit or bust and  they'd have
to go for it, and it would be time for the cover group to earn their wages.
     In my mind's eye I pictured Rod and Tony, each  with his patrol behind.
They weren't wearing  belt kit;  all each had  was their  rifle, pistol, and
ammunition. On their rifles some had  mounted a  Maglite  torch with masking
tape around the stock and, between the Maglite and the stock, a little wedge
of wood to keep it  at the  right angle. The  Maglite  would provide a crude
form  of  zeroing as they went through the door. It  was first light; it was
going to be dark inside the buildingsAnd with the explosive charge going off
there would be clouds of dust and  debris; the Maglites might be  needed  to
penetrate it.
     The second man in each group would be carrying  an explosive  charge. I
imagined  the  commander pointing where  he  wanted the  charges to  be put.
Everybody  else would be covering the  windows and the general area, pressed
right up flat against the door itself. All it  would take was a small dab of
P.E with det  cord running through it onto a clacker-the same as used on the
claymore. At the end of the wire of the clacker there was a detonator, which
was clipped on  to the  det cord.  Once the  explosive was in position,  the
figures would move back a couple of feet and turn their backs. The commander
held the clacker.
     Whoever was  doing  the firing  would have  to hold the wire, keep  the
connector in to the clacker, and squeeze it-or put the wire in and give it a
good dose of masking tape.  Whatever, but he had to  make  sure  he got that
good connection, because it had to go first time.
     I  imagined  the  two  loud  thuds,  doors  caving  in,  and  the  boys
disappearing inside.
     We got to our area, on the side nearest the processing hut. As I looked
forward, I could see no change, except that  the ground was wet with a  thin
film of mud. The trike was missing, but the cardboard box that had contained
the tins of condensed milk was still there. The cans had gone.
     It was more  or less full light now.  Within the hole  in the canopy  I
could see it was a beautifully clear day, a  deep blue sky without  a cloud.
It was going to be really hot. Soon the mud would start steaming.
     It was quiet;  none of the  generators  was running.  As I panned  from
right  to left, I could see  the  cook's hut and  beyond it the roof  of the
other one. I  knew the assault groups  would be lining up on the edge of the
canopy,  ready  to come forward to place the charges. I  knew everything was
all right; I knew we could cover.
     I said quietly, "Here we are going to cover. El Nino, keep your eyes on
that building going left towards that track. Understand?"
     Everybody nodded. El Nino knelt down, his weapon in the aim.
     To the others  I  said,  "I want  you,  Rodriiguez, to watch  from that
building to there. If there's shooting, shoot back.
     One-of-three-Joses and Gonz,  I want you to look for anybody running up
towards the heli-" BANG!
     What  the fuck  was that? When you hear  a gunshot  totally out  of the
blue,  the  whole body jerks. As I turned around, I saw  Nino looking like a
puppy that knows it shouldn't  have pissed  on the kitchen floor. He started
gabbing off: "It fired! It fired!" As  he took the safety catch off, he must
have had his finger on the trigger and had an ND (negligent discharge).
     My mind screamed: Fuck! as I went straight on the net and shouted: "Go!
Go! Go! Go! Go!"
     To El Nino, I motioned with my thumb to put his safety catch on.
     It  had  been  initiated now. It was. pointless staying there."I  waved
them  on, and we moved toward our target. "Go!  Go! Come on!" I knew we were
heading for a total and utter gang.fuck.
     It  wasn't  slippery underfoot,  but  I found  it  difficult  to get my
footing  in the slime. I was  expecting to hear the explosions  or  gunfire.
just as we  approached the  hut, there  was some automatic  fire and  single
shots coming  from the  area  of the huts.  I wasn't bothered,  I kept going
forward. My eyes were focused on the building and who might be coming out of
     I got there first, followed by Rodriguez. "in, in, in!" I said.
     He hesitated, not understanding what I wanted.
     I pointed at him, then at me, and I went in.
     There were long tables with trays stretching to the far end.
     Butts in the shoulders, we moved down either side.
     I was shouting at Rodriguez. He  was shouting in Spanish: "Stand still!
Police! Police!"
     To the far right I heard Rod shout: "Move up! Move up!"
     The firing had stopped now; there was just yelling and shouting and the
sound of metal falling and furniture being overturned.
     There was something  coming  on,  the radio,  but I couldn't understand
what it was.
     In  the semilight inside  I  saw  large, oil  drum-type barrels,  empty
packets of cigarettes, beer cans lying on their side.
     I was hoping the other three were outside and covering our arses.
     All I wanted to do was get to the other end of the hut and get out.
     I  heard more  shouting,  then  gunfire. Fuck! As I looked  around in a
semistoop, I saw a figure running down the path toward the Generators.
     Then there was more gunfire.
     I knew it was Nino, Gonz,  and One-of-three-Joses firing,  but  the boy
kept running. I knew the cutoffs would take him down.
     I shouted at Gonz and the others to go to the storeroom. They ran up to
it, but  there was no  way they were going  straight in.  They  shouted  and
kicked against the wood. They worked their way to the door, gingerly  opened
it, and took a tentative peep.
     "Get in there!" I shouted. "In, in, in!"
     They  crept  inside  and  reappeared two seconds later.  It was full of
barrels; there were no people.
     To the right there was shouting, but I ignored it. "Helipad!
     Helipad!" I shouted, chest heaving as I tried to catch my breath.
     I had a pain  in my throat from all the shouting and  running around. I
told Nino and Gonz to stay where they were; Rodriguez and One-of-three-Joses
were to come with me.
     We ran across and started- going up the track. There wasn't time to get
them to  cover each  other;  we just  ran  as  fast as we could  toward  the
     I was flapping and breathing hard, my face drenched with sweat.
     This time I was checking behind me as I ran, to make sure the other two
were  with me. As  we hit the rise, we could see the  opening of the helipad
itself. I could now feel the heat on my back.
     I was  going to  run  around the edge of it to make sure everything was
clear.  There was  no time to  tell them; I  just hoped that  they  would be
     We started to move around the line of the pad, just waiting for someone
to  run or fire. I couldn't care less either  way, I just wanted to get this
over with and recover something from the shambles. The area was - clear.
     The  sun  was burning the mud; the floor  was  covered with mist,  like
ankle-deep theatrical smoke on a stage.
     Standing on the edge of the helipad,  I heard screaming from  somewhere
down near the living accommodation.
     I got on the net and said, "Rod, check? Rod, check?"
     Nothing. Then, "Send! Send!"
     "We're up on the helipad-that's clear. I'm now coming down."
     "Roger that. We've got a man down. Get down here, we need help.
     That explained the  screaming. Having a man down  made me  seethe  even
more about Nino having an ND.
     He'd  fucked everything up; blokes  were  getting  hit, and the chances
were people were getting away.
     We got down to find total chaos. Rod  was controlling and looking after
the casualty. The boy was on his back, screamin his head off.
     A  7.62 round had hit him in  the wrist  and traveled  up his  forearm,
exiting  just below  the  elbow. He'd lost all the  muscle mass on the lower
     He  was screaming like  a pig.  He was going to live,  but he must have
been in agony. All the other boys were clustered around, looking very sick.
     It was a matter of controlling the people who were in the huts and also
controlling  our own people, who  looked as if they wanted to bolt back into
the jungle and run and run.
     "Get back!" I shouted. "Cover that hut!" My ranting and  pointing meant
more to them than what I was saying.
     Rod had the medic  pack with  him. He looked up  at me and  said, "It's
just  a matter  of plugging  up  the holes to  stop the blood. If he stopped
screaming, he'd  see he's okay." Then he looked at the boy on the ground and
screamed: "Shut up!"
     He unwrapped more field dressings and pressed them hard onto the wound.
He grabbed a pack of hemocell and tried to get an IV line  into him. The boy
had  lost a lot  of blood  and  needed more  fluids fast. He was going  into
shock. Still,  some people just stood around;  perhaps they  were  in shock,
     Tony  was  in  the huts,  controlling the  people inside  with  lots of
shouting and kicking. I  heard a shout of  "Shut the fuck up now!" His group
had  plasticuffed them, picked them up, grabbed  them by  the  hair or their
clothes, and got them  on  the ground, hollering  and  shouting to keep them
scared and under control. Now they were manhandling them out of the door and
making them lie down on their stomachs in the mud.
     While  some  of the  police  covered the prisoners with  their weapons,
others searched them.  Some of the boys started to kick and rifle-butt them.
There was no time to  stop it-and why should we?  We  were not interested in
names, who they were, what they  were; that was someone else's job.  All  we
wanted to do was control them  and make  sure they hadn't got  any concealed
weapons or run.
     "We are now going to search  you," one of the police said, slapping the
back of a narcos head. "If you resist, you will be shot. Do you understand?"
     I called over to Tony. "I'll just get the people out of the other hut."
     As I  went In, I saw wooden beds with tables, a couple of old chests of
drawers, ashtrays full up, cans of beer.
     The room stank of sweat and farts. A group of people lay on their beds,
faces down, hands on the  back  of their heads.  There  must  have  been two
weapons pointing at every prisoner.
     I went  back  outside,  got hold of Nino,  and  said, "Help me put  the
antennas out for the radio."
     I  started to get the sitrep ready.  Originally  it was going to  be  a
proper sitrep, saying: Done, we  need the helis in now, how many people we'd
caught, how many casualties. But instead I just  banged it out: "We've got a
man down. I want the aircraft in on the orange smoke."
     Rod was still with the casualty. He called out,  "Everything all right?
We got the aircraft coming in?"
     "Yep, just waiting for the auto acknowledgment."
     I got  it.  The helis  were on their way in. I left the radio where  it
was; we might be needing it in a minute.
     On the Motorola I heard Tony talking to Terry-.
     "Terry, check?"
     "Come on in now, mate, Move down the path."
     ."Roger that. We've got a dead runner. Do you want him brought in?"
     "Yeah, bring him in."
     Tony was shouting  to make sure everybody knew the patrol was going  to
be coming  up the path. Everybody was  so hyper at the moment, chances  were
they'd just turn around and shoot them.
     A  couple of minutes  later I heard them shouting that they were coming
in;  then I saw them. Two of the policemen were dragging the dead man; Terry
had his weapon, a G3.
     Terry's patrol were really happy with themselves.
     They had the air of hunters  home with the kill. They left the  body to
one side, giving him a quick macho kick and a prod. Then they found out that
somebody  on their side  had been  dropped, and their expressions changed to
one of concern.
     By now he'd been stabilized. He'd gone into shock, but Rod had got some
hemocell into him. He  wasn't going to lose any more blood, but he was down;
he was severely down.
     By  now  everybody  had  been sorted out,  trussed  up with plasticuffs
between the two buildings. I went over  and  had a  look.  There  were three
narcos, the bottle washer, and one white-eye.
     "Fucking hell,"  I said to Tony. "We saw  eight. We've got some runners
     Tony  kicked one  of the narcos  and shouted: "Gringos? Where  are  the
     He shouted to the European, holding his head up by the hair: "Where are
they? Where are they?"
     The white-eye said nothing.
     "Look, if they're running, they're going to get shot.
     Tell us where they are. We might be able to save them."
     Nothing. It was the  boy I'd seen on my first CTR, still in  the shitty
T-shirt. He was severely scared.
     Tony started on the old man: "Where's the gringos)"
     He started  gabbing off, indicating  with  his  head  that  they'd gone
toward the river.
     "Fuck!" I said. I couldn't  believe they'd got  past the  cutoff group.
Straightaway I blamed it on Nino. The stupid wanker.
     The wounded boy had  been sorted out, and another  couple  of lads were
looking after him now. Rod came over, looked at me hard, and said, "What the
fuck happened?" with a look that blamed me.
     "That cunt had an ND."
     Nino sat on the steps of the hut, severely pissed off.
     "Get him out of the way," Rod said. "Tell him to sit by the radio."
     He stormed off and checked the casualty.
     Terry came  over. "Right. I'll get  my lads down to the river  and tell
them to keep  their eyes open. They will knife  up the boats, so  if we have
got  runners, they aren't going to take  them. We're  not going to get  jack
shit out of this lot. The white-eye's a pain in the arse.
     He knows the score, he knows he's going  to get away  with it.  This is
fucking annoying."
     Rod agreed. "Yeah, do that, and we will get a brew on.
     I  went  over  and  cut the plasticuffs off the cook. He went up on his
knees, doing all the signs  of the cross and putting his hands up to heaven.
I didn't know if he thought he was going to get shot, or what.
     I picked him up and dragged him into the kitchen. "Cafe " I said.
     "Can con leche." He looked at me in total surprise.
     Rodriguez stood over him while he sparked up the generator  and got the
brews on.
     Tony was  running around placing  people  in case  we -T had  any  fire
coming  back at us.  "You go there, look  that way' You stay here, look this
     We  passed the  brews around. The  sun  was  beating down,  and  it was
boiling hot. Everybody  was  trying to  get  into  the  shade. My  eyes were
stinging;  my  mouth  I tasted  foul;  my  teeth  had  sheepskin  coats.  My
shoulders,  arms, and  legs were drying  off,  but  the crotch area and bits
under the webbing stayed wet. It was starting  to itch where the wetness had
     I  was feeling a bit  pissed off  with myself, purely  because it was a
member of  my patrol that had had the ND. It wasn't anything to do with  me,
but I felt responsible all the same.
     The other patrols didn't know  yet what  had caused the problem,  but I
kept Nino away from the others for his own safety.
     Tony  and I  stood near  the  casualty,  who  by  now was  pumped up on
     "He's looking better," I said.
     "Won't be wanking for a few days, though," Tony said, and I had to turn
away so the boy didn't see-me laugh.
     Rod  was trying  to  get information  from  the  white-eye, but he said
nothing. They searched him, but he had nothing on him; he was sterile.

     We went back into the hut and had a look around.
     Porn mags lay on the floor by the sides of some beds; old copies of USA
Today and Herald  Tribune were  piled up  on a chest  of drawers; one or two
shortwave radios were on tables or by beds. We still couldn't work  out what
the satellite dish was for, because there wasn't  a TV set  or  any  sort of
satellite comms, just a shortwave set. We weren't worried about  finding out
what  radio  frequencies  they  were  on  or  whatever;  that  would all  be
discovered later on.
     Some of the  police had helped  themselves  to  cans of food  from  the
cookhouse and  were  passing  them around.  They  were  munching and smoking
themselves stupid with the packs of 200 Marlboro they found in the huts. Now
and again there was a volley of excited, relieved laughing.
     If any of the narcos had been wounded, we would have treated them.
     It would  have been pointless letting  the characters die; quite  apart
from  humanitarian considerations, the police were scared  enough as it  was
about reprisals. Police students were being killed by the cartels as soon as
they  started their training. Four out of a .  group of thirty had been shot
with their families in the time we'd been there. It was good for  the police
that the narcos were seen to be getting medical treatment; it meant that the
police were looking after their prisoners humanely, and obviously this would
be reported.
     We started  to hear the helis coming  in. I  ran up to  the helipad and
threw  out an  orange  identification smoke;  besides giving them  a precise
location, it told them the wind direction.
     We had line of  sight so I got on my  Motorola to talk  them in for the
final approach, in  case they hadn't seen the smoke. "Gar, Andy, check? Gar,
Andy, check?"
     There was no reply.  I tried twice more, but by then the helis had seen
us because they started to turn toward the smoke.
     Rod and a cou 'le of his patrol were lifting the casup alty and walking
toward the helipad. The first Huey landed, and Gar jumped off with the first
replacement  patrol,  his  clothes  smelling  all  rather nicely of  washing
     Gar came up to me, really serious. Behind him were the two colonels  in
charge of  the unit.  "What have  you  got?" he said.  Then he  spotted  the
casualty: "Okay, let's get him in the aircraft and gone."
     Tony told Terry to take the new patrol down to the cutoff position near
the  river to  give us early warning and  bring  back the  two  lads who had
stayed there on stag.
     The two officers went over to the narcos. Pointing at the European, one
of them turned to Gar and said, "He'll be out very soon.
     He won't go  to  jail.  There's so much corruption, he will be out. The
important thing is that we've stopped all this."  He walked  off and started
to look around.
     The officer was quite tall, about six feet,  and in his early thirties.
He wore glasses with square, gold wire rims. He had an American twang to his
accent and had probably been educated in the States. All  the times I'd seen
him,  he'd sounded  very conscientious  and straight to the point, as if  he
really did  want  to stop the drug  trade.  The  other one was in  his  late
forties, early fifties, and  was more of a realist."He  knew  what was going
on, and he knew the business was never going to be stopped.
     He got his cigarettes out, lit one up, and walked around talking to the
     Five heliloads came in, about forty blokes in total.
     The aircraft took off again and headed for the nearest refueling point.
     The  younger  of the  two officers was sorting  them all out.  They had
their own command  structure. I watched the  changeover; I didn't understand
exactly  what was being said by the boys who'd done the attack, but by their
body language I could see it was very much along  the lines  of  how fucking
good they were.
     The new boys went over to look at the  body, and some of them gave it a
little poke.
     I went over to  Nino and the radio. He was still pissed off. I gave him
the  day'sack and  told him to  pack the  radio up  and put it on  his  back
because  we'd be going  in a minute. He looked as if I'd just told him  he'd
won the state lottery; he had a second chance now, an opportunity to show me
that he could do something right-even if it was just to put a radio in a day
     "On me," Gar called to all the patrol commanders.
     "Right, this  is what's happening.  It's  being handed over  now to the
police. I want you to get  hold of the patrols, bring  them all in together,
make sure that you've got everybody, and go back to your FRP.
     Pick up the kit, and wait over in the corner  there." He pointed at the
edge of the compound.
     "Get under the canopy, get  some scoff on, and once the helicopters are
refueled they'll come back and pick you up."
     Terry sparked up. "Well, chuffed to fuck-we've already  got our kit, so
we'll go over there and wait."
     We went back to the FRP, and then we trogged back and joined him.
     They were brewing up, everybody very jovial and having a laugh.
     Gar was still outside doing his liaison  with  the two police officers.
After a while he came over and sat down with us, helping, himself to some of
my brew.
     "What happened then?" he asked. I told him about El Nino and the ND.
     Rod  jumped in and said, "As  soon as we  get back, we need to fuck him
off. Once everybody knows, especially  since this  boy's been  shot, he's in
severe shit."
     "I'll sor that out now," Gar said, going over to talk to  the older  of
the two officers.
     I spun the shit with  One-of-three-Joses and the others  and  told them
they mustn't say anything  to  anybody about what happened. I  said it would
get everybody  into trouble. They thought it  was  great; they  had a secret
     I could hear  the helis returning.  Gar came back.  "The first  heli is
going to lift the prisoners off," he said. "The next ones are for you."
     We walked up to the helipad and  watched  the narcos getting loaded on,
everybody wanting to hit them  on  the way. All the boys then had  to unload
their weapons  and  put all their live ammunition in  the  top flap of their
bergens. The last thing we wanted now was another ND.
     Aboard the helicopters  all the euphoria  had died down by now. We were
all realizing how tired we were, and  probably thinking about what  we  were
going to do when we got  home. I dozed  off, waking with a jerk each time my
head fell forward.
     The first thing  we had to do when we got back was sort out our weapons
and equipment and ourselves.
     That only took a few hours, and then the boys got stuck into a barbecue
of fresh and a massive piss-up on beer and whiskey.
     Everybody was best mates. "Come to my village; it is really beautiful,"
said One-of-three-Joses.
     "Not as beautiful as the women from mine.1) Rodriguez laughed.
     Everybody  got  completely  pissed  and  had  a  good  old night. Nino,
however, wasn't there. He had been told he was out on his arse;  by the time
we were on  our third can of beer he was  probably  already back on  traffic
     At midday the next day the Regiment blokes started our debrief We  went
through  it all again: what we did right, what we  did wrong, how we could '
     "The only improvement I can suggest is to get our finger out and  learn
better Spanish," Terry said.
     "And to  make  sure the safety  catches  on the Gauls are harder to get
off," I said.
     Gar told us that under interrogation the narcos had revealed that after
a big farewell piss-up the day before the attack, some  of their  number had
left the camp to escort the other two Europeans down river.
     The European we had captured had already been released on bail.
     The  next day  our  patrols were  all  off home as  war heroes,  and we
screamed downtown for three days of eating  ourselves half to death,  trying
to put  back  on the  weight  that  we'd  lost  in the jungle, buying  cheap
emeralds and leather jackets, and going down to the embassy  area, where all
the nice bars were and  saying hello to exmembers of G Squadron. And at last
Rod was happy because he'd got out  of the jungle without a zit and now  his
hair wasn't flat and greasy.
     ithin hours  of Iraqi  troops  and armor rolling across the border with
Kuwait at 0200 local time on 2 August 1990 the Regiment was preparing itself
for desert operations.
     I  was  still  3 i/c  of the  team, and my  gang were unfortunately not
involved.  I  watched  jealously as  G Squadron  drew  their desert kit  and
departed "on exercise."
     Our nine-month  tour 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.  We got all the bullshit: "If it
starts, there's still the antiterrorist threat in the UK.
     You'll still be  needed here." I just kept  my fingers crossed that the
squadron  changeover would happen  as  planned and  G Squadron  would be the
pissed-off ones for a change.
     My marriage to Fiona had broken down, and I'd made the decision that it
was  better to go while Katie was young rather than  have her grow  up in an
atmosphere of rowing and honking. Although her mother  and father would have
split up, at least she wouldn't be experiencing bad feeling in the house and
maybe going through the trauma of us parting when she was eight or nine.
     There was no way I wanted to go back to living in the block. One of the
scaleys was getting out to  be a mature student but couldn't afford to  keep
up his mortgage on his student allowance; I said I'd rent the house off him,
and if eventually he did want to sell it, to give me first refusal. So there
I was, back in a two-up, two-down on a Westbury estate near the camp.
     I threw  myself into my job on the  team. Everybody was mightily pissed
off that we were probably going to miss out  on  the Gulf.  We were  sitting
drinking  tea  in the hangar one  morning,  honking severely about  what was
going on.
     Harry said, "I remember talking to A Squadron after the Falklands.
     They  were severely  pissed  off because  they were on  the team at the
time. And now it's going to happen to us."
     At that moment Gar walked in with two strangers.
     "These blokes have just come from Selection," he said.
     "This is Bob,  and this is Stan. Bob's going! to go to the sniper team,
and Stan, I want you to latch on to Andy.
     He'll show you the ropes-get all the kit; I bet you don't even know how
to put it on, do you?"
     This  fellow  turned around and said,  in a thick Kiwi  accent, "No,  I
don't actually."
     Bob Consiglio and  Stan were to have a good effect  on us all: Straight
out of Selection,  they were raring to go; they loved being on the team, and
their enthusiasm was infectious.
     It was  round about this time.that I spotted  a  gorgeous girl  at  the
local gym. We  were both sweating buckets, attending a new session  that was
particularly difficult.
     She was working out in front  of me, and I couldn't  help  appreciating
the styling of her leotard.
     After I'd seen her five or six times at the gym, I came across  her one
Saturday  evening in a wine  bar down  town. She  was with a girlfriend, and
they were being chatted up by a bloke in D Squadron.
     It was the first  time I  had seen  her  fully dressed, and again,  she
looked great.
     A tinker came in selling  roses. I bought  one and asked her to take it
over to the girl in the corner.
     She came over afterward, gave  me a  radiant smile,  and  said,  "Thank
     "It's  nothing,"  I said.  "I only  did  it  to annoy  the bloke you're
talking to."
     "So charming," she said. "Your name must be James Bond?"
     "No-Andy, actually.  Look, your friend is getting  on  really well with
that bloke. Seems a shame for you to go back and break it up.
     Can I get you a drihk, Miss Moneypenny ?"
     "Jilly, actually-and yes, a bottle of Piis."
     That  was how it started. We talked to each  other  now  at the fitness
center, we saw  each  other in the town  a  couple  more times, no dates  or
anything or phone calls.
     But  about three  or four weeks  after  that things just snowballed and
toward the end of October I asked her to move in.
     On Remembrance  Sunday  the Regiment gym becomes a church. Every member
of Stirling  Lines-Regiment and attached personnel,  serving and retired-who
can  be there is there. So, too, are their  wives, girlfriends, and families
and the families of people who have died.
     Serving  members of the Regiment wear full-dress uniform, the only time
it  is worn. This year  I was  in civvies as I  was part  of the  protection
outside the camp during the service.
     After the service everyone moved outside to the Clock Tower.
     Wreaths were laid by all the different squadrons, and all the different
departments  and  organizations  that were  in  and  around  supporting  the
Regiment. There was  a two-minute silence, and then it was into the club for
drinks and food. Many saw it as a chance to talk to ribtired members-the old
and  bold-because a lot of them only appeared for  this one occasion a year.
The party would go on for the rest of the day and well into the evening.
     Instead of doing all that, I went with jilly down to the graveyard.
     The regimental  cemetery isn't in the Lines, it's in the local  church;
the Regiment has its own plot, and it was almost full.
     "They'll either have to buy  a  bigger  plot  or  stop all the wars," I
     jilly gave a smile that was more of a wince.
     One  or  two  other  people  were there  to  pay their respects  to old
friends. One of them  was an  ex-B Squadron warrant officer who'd got out  a
couple of years before.  It was the first time that  I'd seen him in a suit.
He had nothing with him-no flowers or anything like that.
     He wasn't going to any grave in particular; he  was just walking up and
down,  alone with his thoughts.  His shoes and the  bottoms  of his trousers
were wet from the grass, and his suit collar was turned up against the cold.
     Jilly and I fell in step beside him.
     "You going up the camp?" I said.
     "Fuck that. There's too many people up  there as it is, desperate to be
part of the show. This is where people should be."
     He  was  right.  The  Remembrance  Day service  was  packed  with  camp
followers and hangers-on who  seemed far  less interested in what was  being
commemorated than in being able to. say afterward that they'd been there.
     Blokes who really are in the Regiment either  feel  sorry for or loathe
those  who've had some sort of contact  and make themselves  out  to be more
than they are or were.
     They must have very low self-esteem if they feel the need to bluff, but
what they perhaps don't realize is that they are normally found out. It is a
very  small  world, and  everyone knows  one  another or  can  connect. Such
characters  would  not  be worthy  of  licking the mud  off the boots of the
people in the "plot."
     I thought about the  blokes I worked with. They were as much of a cross
section personality-wise as would be found in any organization.
     They  ranged from  the  slightly  introverted  who  kept themselves  to
themselvesto the point  of training in the gym at 1:00 A.m.-right the way up
to the total and utter extroverts who moondanced all over the place. There's
a hill  outside Hereford called  the Callow;  as you hit  the brow of it  at
night, you see below you the lights of  the town. On their  way back  from a
trip a  lot of the singley  party animals call it Hard-on Hill; they've been
away for six  months, and all they  want  to  do is  get  into camp, have  a
shower, and scream downtown. At  the other extreme  was a single bloke I was
flying back  with  from  a  trip  who turned to me  and said, in  his  thick
Birmingham accent, "I can't wait to get back to clean my windows."
     Then there were  all  the people in between. Everybody  from  a  Hell's
Angel  to  an  exotic  butterfly  collector,  and  men  of  all  colors  and
creeds-Australians, Kiwis, Fijians, Indians from the Seychelles.
     Blokes were doing Open University degree  courses; one wanted to become
a physics  teacher when he left.  People who'd really  got into  the medical
side had gone on to become doctors.
     There  were other blokes who really got in  to  a  country where they'd
been operating-in particular, the Arab countries. A  lot of them became very
proficient in  the language and got interested  in the culture, the  people,
and the country itself and ended up going and living there.
     In B Squadron there was a former taxidermist who was also an ex-convict
and boxer.  He had a deep freezer in  one of  the spare rooms  in  the block
where he lived.
     Inside, instead of frozen pies and fish fingers, there were dead foxes,
owls, and salmon and cartons of chemicals.
     Some  blokes would bring him back dead animals from trips; others would
use his services to get their pet dogs stuffed.
     A lot of people got into anything to do with the  air; once they joined
a free fall troop, they got  this  fixation  with anything to do with flying
and free fall. Nosh had bought himself an old Cessna in the States and flown
it over to  the UK-an outrageous journey on a single engine. The fuel ladder
in  the back was leaking, it looked like the thing was going  to fall apart,
so he put his parachute rig on, took out all but two screws in the door, and
flew high enough  so if the bladder went, he could just jump out. The radios
were not  the  sort for transatlantic  flights, so  he put  out the antenna,
which  was a  wire tied to a brick,  and  then measured  it  out to get  the
frequencies to hit the stations.
     There were people who were severely into the old jap-slapping; they got
to international level sometimes.
     Others got into  weird, obscure sports,  especially the Mountain  Troop
blokes.  They  nearly always  got into  sheer-face climbing and developed an
obsession with climbing Everest.
     There was also Mr. Normal, Mr. Family Man with the house and 2.4
     kids; he'd get back from a job, do all the debriefing, and then it  was
a total cut. He went home, mowed the grass, found the lost cat, and replaced
the tile on the roof.
     A major  part  of what  made  the  Regiment more professional than  the
normal military unit was that  it was staffed by people who could.-tell  the
difference between work time  and  play time.  When  you're  working, you're
working; when you're not, then it's time to be the idiot.
     You can do whatever you want: You can go and get drunk out of your head
or you can go home and mow the grass, it really doesn't matter.
     But everybody has to be able  to  cut between when  they're working and
when they're not.
     There was one particular crowd that came from all squadrons, called the
Grouse-beaters-all  the  Highland  jocks who used  to  get together  and  go
downtown and drink. At New Year the  Grouse-beater would  hit  the town with
their skirts and  fluffy  shirts. Such occasions apart,  the ordinary man in
the street would find it very difficult to pick out Regiment blokes. Anybody
seeing a squadron away would probably think it was a school outing.
     With such  a cross section, there were bound  to be personality clashes
now  and  again; it's just a normal human reaction, and it  clears  the air.
Fortunately the Selection  process cancels a lot of that out because they're
looking for blokes that can mingle with one another in closed  environments,
but it's bound to happen.
     We'd  just  come back from over the water one Christmas and were in one
of the  bars  downtown. Eno,  the  midget, was drunk; he  was getting behind
Regiment  blokes  that  he knew,  jumping  up and slapping their heads, then
disappearing  giggling into the corner. It pissed  off one of the blokes  so
much that he  turned around and dropped him. In the morning Eno phoned me up
and  said,  I don't know who it was, but  I was  obviously out of  order." A
couple of days later he found out it was one of his really good mates out of
the same troop that had decked him.
     "Ah, well," he said, "that's all right, as long as I know."
     The culture is downbeat. Elitism is counterproductive, it alienates you
from other people, and we depend  on a working  relationship with many other
groups like Special Branch or the security services. After all, the Regiment
is  there as  strategic troops,  to  do  tasks  that  enhance  other groups'
capabilities.  It was always hard,  however,  to break down the  barriers. I
remembered going on courses or being seconded to other units. I'd be sitting
there  on my  own for  a  couple  of days before  anybody  would talk to me.
Everybody would stand off because of the  mystique that was  created  in the
army about the Regiment. We had to make an  effort to go and talk to people,
to show them  that we  were normal,  approachable,  and just  like everybody
else: We had grass that was overgrowing; we had a cat that was missing.
     That wasn't to say  that we didn't  know  we were very professional and
very  confident  in what  we  were doing, but that had  nothing  to  do with
elitism. Blokes just looked at it as a job, as a profession.
     Soldiering was something that they found they had the aptitude for, and
they wanted to take the profession to another level.
     It was sadly  ironic  that because they were so  good at what they did,
they  were more likely  to be at the  sharp end;  because they were so good,
they were more likely to end up getting killed.  What it all  boiled down to
was  that if we were there shooting at somebody, chances were  that he'd  be
shooting back at us-which meant that we were in the shit, and we could die.
     A lot of the time  to be shooting at somebody  means  that  the task is
being  compromised.  The  Regiment is not a  big,  aggressive,  overt  force
looking for trouble; it's about  small numbers of strategic troops, a covert
force that spends as much time intelligence gathering as anything else.
     The Regiment's  roots  were in the  Second  World  War and  the  Malaya
conflict, both of which  involved a lot of information  gathering  and quick
strikes.  It  wasn't  about inflicting  massive casualities;  it  was  about
destroying equipment and communications, and lowering morale.
     As  a  small  force during the  Second World War, killing forty Germans
meant little in the scale of things. Destroying forty aircraft, however, was
a different matter: It embuggered the enemy, and it saved Allied lives.
     My own ideas about killing had changed  a  lot since  I  was  young.  I
killed my first man when I was nineteen.
     There was a big celebration purely because I'd done what I'd joined the
army to do. But now I got a kick from stopping death, not causing it.
     It certainly didn't worry me when enemy were killed in contacts.
     I didn't  celebrate  the fact, but there  again I didn't lose any sleep
about  it. I  understood  that they  had  sons and  daughters,  mothers  and
fathers, but they  were  big boys,  like  all  of us, and they knew what was
going on. They knew that they stood a chance of being killed, the same as we
     I'd  never met anybody  who kept a  running total  or said, "Yeah, good
stuff, I've killed so-and-so."  If  it had to be done, I didn't know anybody
who wouldn't try  to make it  as quick as possible-not so much to make  it a
nice clean way of  dying  for them,  as to  make it  safer  for himself. The
quicker  they  were  dead,  the less  of a threat  they were; it's no picnic
getting  shot. In the  films it's all rather nice: The guy takes  a round in
the shoulder and is  still running  around shouting good one-liners. Load of
shit: You get hit by a 7.62 round, and it's going to take half your shoulder
     During  the  Second  World  War  David  Stirling," the  founder of  the
Regiment, threw  a grenade into a room and killed several Germans. He didn't
need to do it to achieve his aim, and he bitterly regretted it.
     He said it was a waste of life and it pissed him off.
     We walked home through the park, taking the cold November wind  full in
the  face.  Leaves swirled in small  typhoons, and it started to  pour  with
     "I love this  weather," I said. "Best part is knowing I'll be home in a
minute with a brew in my hand."
     Jilly turned to look at me. She looked strained.
     "It's going to be a bit hotter where you're going, isn't it?"
     "You what?"
     "Kuwait. You can't kid me you won't be going if it blows into a war."
     In the short time  that I'd known her, 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 might be going.
     I didn't want to mess things up between us. I wanted this to  be it. My
marriages  had failed  mainly  because of my commitment  to  the army. Now I
realized I could have both-a career and a strong, lasting relationship.
     Our future was together.
     "Don't  worry,  mate," I  said. "There's more  chance of Maggie getting
kicked  out of Downing Street than there is of  me being sent downtown for a
new pair of dessies and some Factor twenty."
     As I  put  my arm around her,  I only hoped she  didn't notice that  my
fingers were firmly crossed.
     203  M16   rifle   with   40MM   grenade  launcher   attached   2   i/c
second-in-command  66  lightweight, throwaway antitank rocket 109 or  Agusta
type of helicopter 109
     A.R.F  airborne  reaction  force A.P.C  armored  personnel carrier Atap
foliagf-covered  A.T.O ammunition technical  officer  basha shelter beasting
army slang for  a beating or very hard run with kit  bergen pack  carried by
British forces on active service BG Bodyguard  biwi bag Gortex sleeping  bag
cover blue-on-blue friendly fire bone narr brick four-man infantry Patrol in
Northern Ireland C130 Hercules transport aircraft C4
     U.S plastic explosive can Saracen  armored personnel  carrier  hexamine
(hexy) small block of solid fuel chinstrap, be on really knackered, as in "I
can't  go H.M.S.U  headquarters  mobil  support  unit  your  on,  I'm  on my
chinstrap here" I.A immediate action C.O.B.R cabinet office briefing room ID
identifylidentity CQB  close quarter battle I.E.D improvised (or identified)
explosive  CRW counterrevolutionary  warfare device  CTR close  target recce
I.J.L.B infantry  junior  leaders  battalion CT team  counterterrorist  team
infil  infiltration  Cuds  countryside  mt  intelligence  Delta  Force  U.S.
equivalent of 22 S.A.S iv intravenous drip Regiment jark technical attack on
weapons or dicker IRA observer improvised (or identified) explosive DMP drug
manufacturing  plant  device  DPM  disrupted  pattern  material  leak  sweat
(camouflage)  LMG light  machine gun DS directing  staff (instructor)  L.O.E
limit of  exploitation DZ drop  zone long rifle dry bag diver's dry suit  LS
landing  site E&E escape  and evasion  L.U.P  lying-up point  eppie  scoppie
tantrum M.O.E method of entry E.R.V emergency rendezvous mozzie rep mosquito
repellent exfil exfiitration ND negligent discharge of weapon F.O.B  forward
operations base net communications network Foxtrot on foot NVA night-viewing
aid fresh  fresh  food NVG  night-viewing goggles FRP final  rendezvous  O.C
officer  commanding  fuddle  or  getting  together  and  having  a  brew  OP
observation post kerfuddle  OPSEC  operational  security  Gemini  inflatible
assault boat P.E  plastic explosive GPMG general purpose  maching gun pinkie
11  0,  a  long wheel-base Land Rover green slime (or member of Intelligence
Corps PIRA Provisional IRA slime) QRF quick reaction force HE high explosive
R.T.U  return  to  unit  head shed nickname for  anyone in authority. rupert
nickname for  officer, not always From Malaya days, this is  what derogatory
any form of leadership in the RP rendezvous point  regiment has been called,
after  the  Sat nay satellite navigation  term for the  start  of  the river
scaley signaler course scaley kit signals equipment SF security forces short
pistol sitrep situation report SLR self-loading rifle sen sergeant Major SOP
standard  operating  procedure ssm squadron  sergeant major  stag  sentry or
sentry duty stand to prepare to defend against attack tab hard long-distance
march  wirn   R.I.T  T.A.C.B.E  tactical  beacon   radio  TCG   tasking  and
coordination g?u-p  vc voluntary contribution  to squadron funds VCP vehicle

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