My name was Peter Williams, known to my friends and colleagues as Will. To my superiors I was known as 24151704 Craftsman Williams, a soldier in the British Army. The reason I am using the past tense will become apparent later in my tale.
Approaching Christmas 1973, at the age of twenty one I found myself barricaded into a run down junior school classroom on the Creggan estate in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It wasn’t the best run up to Christmas I’d ever had although thinking about it, it was far from being the worst. For one thing I was surrounded by a group of comrades who were arguably the best any man could wish for, certainly some of the closest friends I was ever likely to have.
It’s difficult to put into words the bond which develops among people who serve together in the forces. It’s not that you particularly like everyone or that they in turn particularly like you. On the contrary. There were several of my compatriots who I didn’t take to at all on some levels. Some men I was intimidated by, others I was even a little afraid of. However they were almost without exception men for whom I had the deepest respect and I could honestly say would have been prepared to risk my life for. I had no doubt at that time that I could rely on every last one of them to do the same should a life threatening situation occur. There could be no more potent starting point on which to base a friendship.
Combined with the relentless banter, shared dangers and discomforts as well as the good times we spent together off duty, relationships formed which had the potential to last a lifetime. We were thrown together from all parts of the United Kingdom and all walks of life, spending almost every minute of every day in each other’s company. A band of brothers is a cliché often used but I experienced the very essence of that description. Several of my mates in the REME were as close to me as any genuine blood brother could ever be.
So I had spent a good portion of my young life involved in an occupation I loved. One that I had become pretty good at and in which I took great pride. I’d been given opportunities to train at all kinds of activities from parachuting to canoeing, boxing to sports shooting. I’d even taken extensive first aid courses. Not many of my contemporaries back home would have experienced anywhere near the amount of personal development that I had. I barely remembered what life had been like before the day I joined up. It was the day I crossed over from being a naive kid with wide eyes and big ambitions to become a capable young adult.
I was a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers working out of a Light Aid Detachment attached to the 2nd Queen’s Infantry Battalion. A British soldier first and foremost but also a fully trained REME vehicle mechanic. Upon our arrival in Northern Ireland alongside the infantry, our LAD workshop had been set up in a relatively safe location in a factory unit in Tullyally, an area across the river and way out on the outskirts of the city. From there I had been seconded to the battalion’s ‘A’ Company and shared responsibility for those vehicles deployed on the front line alongside one other mechanic, a full corporal named Mike ‘Smudge’ Smith. Between the pair of us it was our job to carry out running repairs and basically keep the wagons battle worthy as we moved with the infantry wherever they went. Anything we couldn’t handle with our basic toolboxes was sent back to the main workshop where there was adequate equipment and manpower to deal with larger jobs. It had been a tough tour and there were still a few weeks to go. Everyone was exhausted, stressed out and looking forward to the day it would all be over and we could return to our unit as part of the BAOR back in Germany.
Before everything had kicked off in Ireland we had been garrisoned just outside a little town called Werl, in the district of Soest, North Rhine Westphalia. It was a picturesque location not far from the Möhnesee, scene of the Dambuster’s exploits during world war two. West Germany had been my first posting after training and in fact the first time I’d ever ventured beyond the borders of England in my life. Werl had been home to me for the previous three years and I loved it there. We all did. I couldn’t wait to get back.
The school classroom was temporary accommodation. The company had moved over and again around the worst trouble spots within the city, never staying more than a week or two in each location, sometimes just a few days. My living space, shared with my fellow REME mechanic and good friend Smudge as well as half a dozen or so infantrymen, was crammed full of graffiti covered tables, ink spattered desks and wooden chairs too small for an adult to sit upon. The cheap battered furniture smelled of dust, decaying varnish, brittle glue and dirty clothing. We had shoved the lot over to one side of the room, piling it up to the ceiling to make enough space for our camp beds, sleeping bags, holdalls, and rucksacks. Pristine weapons gleaming with gun oil leaned against the wall near to the door. Rifles and sub-machine guns, cold and menacing, ready to be called into lethal action at the drop of a hat. Webbing belts with ammunition pouches, sheathed bayonets, riot shields and pick handles sporting vicious metal clad heads completed the scene. All the equipment needed for us to batter Derry’s finest into submission, neatly stowed around the classroom so that each individual soldier could grab what he needed instantly if called upon urgently. It all looked so out of place among the school children’s paraphernalia.
Sandbags were piled up outside the filthy windows for our protection against snipers or petrol bombs which meant that the only illumination, day or night, came from the single surviving strip light that hummed and flickered annoyingly from the ceiling above. The room was stuffy due to the lack of ventilation and the combined reek of sweat, stale cigarette smoke, dirty socks and gun oil added a further unpleasant layer to the background notes of wax crayons and chalk. Somebody had drawn a crude, giant penis on the blackboard. Along its shaft was scrawled ‘2 Queens’. The head resembled the cab of a Saracen armoured car and a caption below the drawing read ‘Fuck the Irish’. We were safe and secure in our schoolroom fortress but The Ritz it was not.
Taking a short break from work I had nipped back to our room to get myself another packet of cigarettes. The place was unusually quiet and deserted and I decided to take advantage of the rare, peaceful moment that presented itself. I lit a fag and on a whim, lifted down one of the school desks from the stack to see what it contained. It was a particularly scruffy one, graffiti riddled and battered. I raised the desk top and browsed one of the dog-eared exercise books strewn within. In red coloured pencil it had the words ′Roitin Book′ scrawled across the outer cover in spidery, childish script. The young author’s name and age was written beneath. ′Eamonn Logan. 7 years’. The first page was illustrated with a richly coloured, lively crayon drawing depicting what appeared to be a British army vehicle engulfed in flames. An English soldier on fire, recognisable by the shape of his steel helmet was desperately jumping from the top of the vehicle as he burned while other soldiers lay scattered about on the ground where they also burned furiously. Another darkly clad character with a black balaclava covering his head was bludgeoning one of the burning soldiers with a huge club. Young Eamonn had gone into great detail. The soldier’s faces showed expressions of agony and desperation, well captured in just a few lively strokes of crayon, good work for such a young hand. The attackers looked tough and grim, blood red patches merged with the grey of the pavement. This grisly scene was accompanied by angrily written words matching the scrawl on the book cover. “Dy Englash scom!” “Burn barstds!” and “Kill! Kill!”
Whoever the author was, in my opinion he had a definite talent for illustration but was badly let down by his text. The following pages all contained similar vitriol illustrated in the same way. I didn’t really want to read more but couldn’t stop myself going through the rest of the nasty story, taking some satisfaction in circling all of the spelling errors with a red crayon. It was a big job and at the end of it I gave the pupil just two out of ten for his skill with a crayon. I had considered going for five but after some thought I decided he shouldn’t be encouraged, so added ‘Troy focken harder’ at the bottom of the final page before chucking the book back in the desk with disgust.
As I slammed the lid down on it I became more aware of the rest of the art work surrounding me, pinned or taped to the classroom walls. These pictures had obviously been singled out as the best work, worthy of being displayed proudly for all to see and admire. There was one particularly well rendered depiction of a marching band, obviously from the same talented young hand I’d stumbled across in the desk, but everything else followed a similar theme to the ‘Roitin Book’. Blazing vehicles and dismembered bodies, rifles, explosions and destruction, all in vivid, waxy technicolour. I couldn’t help thinking of my own early school days back in Hertfordshire when I was a kid, not so long before. I was flooded with warm childhood memories of friendly faces, strict discipline but a good education even though times had been pretty tough back then in the fifties. The contrast to young Eamonn’s school life couldn’t have been more pronounced and I thought to myself that if such blatant viciousness was accepted and encouraged so nonchalantly in this depressing little classroom, what chance was there of any kind of peaceful future in Northern Ireland.
The hatred was being ingrained into the kids at such an early stage of their development. I could only compare it to a young puppy being beaten and abused in its first months of life. You were only ever going to end up with a savage and dangerous dog once it matured. If not already, within a few years these pitiful buggers would be on the streets hurling rocks and spouting hatred along with their older brothers, fathers and uncles. Then would come more serious violence before they sewed their wild oats and the cycle began again. I felt saddened, lit myself another fag from the glowing end of the first one and slumped onto my camp bed, trying to put the negative thoughts out of my mind. After a few minutes rest, with my head spinning slightly due to the effects of the double hit of strong tobacco it was back to work.
With every change of location, once we were safely installed, patrols were sent out onto the streets and woe betide any trouble makers that crossed our paths. We went in hard and fast and stood for no nonsense. The troubles were at their height and as it turned out, at their most vicious and deadly. We hadn’t reached the stage of trying to win hearts and minds just then. Rioting was rampant and it was more a case of broken heads and fire fights. Every day seemed darker and more violent than the one before. Hard, dangerous work so depressing and soul destroying that it ate its way into your psyche no matter how you tried to block it out. It fostered hatred, bad attitudes and contempt. But there was only ever going to be one winner.
Surprisingly, up to that point our battalion had suffered only a few minor casualties such as those one might expect to sustain during hand to hand fighting against hordes of drunken, rioting thugs. Many soldiers could be seen walking around with black eyes or bruised limbs. Muscle strains and joint sprains were commonplace. It was par for the course but wounds were stitched, tea and sympathy was doled out and reassuringly, luck appeared to be on our side.
One soldier from ‘A’ company, out on foot patrol had experienced a particularly nasty fright and a lucky escape when he’d been hit by a round from a high powered .22 rifle. The bullet had ricocheted off a bandoleer of baton rounds attached to his flack jacket, been deflected into the heavy duty zip and then had sliced a nasty track down his chest. One of the baton rounds had exploded with an impressive bang and those around him had feared the worst as they dragged the unfortunate squaddie, yelping with pain and terror to safety and took up defensive positions. Once the casualty had been safely sheltered in the back of an armoured truck and stripped off ready to receive emergency treatment, it was discovered that he’d sustained just a graze, a minor burn and a pair of badly soiled shreddies.
Our luck continued as the tour progressed but we all knew it was unlikely to last indefinitely. Sure enough, just as people were beginning to anticipate the end and believe we were going to get away with it an awful incident occurred. One of the guys from ‘B’ company got himself shot in the back by a sniper while attending to an injured child on Guy Fawkes night. The foot patrol he was part of had almost made it back to the camp’s entrance when it passed a bunch of kids letting off fireworks around a bonfire on some waste land. A jumping jack ran amok, hit a young girl’s legs and she’d screamed out in pain as it burned her young skin. Without thinking, the bloke had broken ranks and dashed over to see if he could help her. Despite the good intentions it was a bad mistake, a lapse in concentration and he paid dearly for it. A sniper’s bullet struck him just below the bottom line of his flack jacket as he stooped to attend to the injured child. Narrowly missing the enclosed armoured plates in the jacket it had torn into the unfortunate guy’s body undeflected, shattering a lumbar vertebrae before ripping through his small intestine and exiting above his hip. This time the calibre of the rifle had been more lethal, more than a match for his spine which was severely damaged. Being dragged to safety by his belt from out in the open had probably not helped his condition either. Despite not knowing the bloke well, I was glad not to have witnessed the incident first hand. I was later told by members of the patrol that he had been in a very bad state. The last news that filtered back to us was that he had been paralysed and was critical. The local medics having done what they could for him had somehow stabilised his injuries before he’d been airlifted back to Blighty for lifesaving surgery. Nobody thereafter had been able to tell us whether he had been permanently crippled or not but we all feared the worst. At least he’d survived. Other battalions had fared a lot worse than we had.
Yes it was a nasty and dangerous place to be and the final weeks, when everyone was beginning to look forward to going home and perhaps were losing a bit of concentration, were the most perilous of all. But this incident, gut wrenching as it was, served to focus my battle worn mind to a higher level. I came off autopilot and swore to myself that I’d do all within my power not to be caught out, not to lose concentration for one moment. I resolved to summon what mental strength I could dredge up and survive my remaining time in that god forsaken place safely. So it was sod’s law that soon afterwards the worst and most harrowing event of the battalion’s entire tour occurred and of course it involved yours truly.
Being REME mechanics attached to a company in the field was the most challenging and exhausting duty of them all as far as the LAD was concerned. Although pushed close to my limit I was proud to be selected for the job I’d been given. It indicated to me that my boss had confidence in my abilities as a mechanic as well as my level of common sense. Most importantly he trusted me to carry out my duties as a fighting soldier at the sharp end of things and not let the team down. Of course it meant that Smudge and I were always in the thick of it but we were having a far more exciting time than those left working in the main workshop back in a permanent and safe location well away from the main trouble spots. They all worked hard too but in a well organised environment with proper facilities and a more comfortable routine. They were out of serious danger, not being constantly dragged out on foot patrols and having to go head to head with the rioters. We on the other hand would certainly have more stories to tell. I was even hopeful of receiving my first stripe when we finally got back to Germany and my performance was assessed.
The vehicles under our care consisted of Saracen armoured personnel carriers, Humber Pigs, Land Rovers and Bedford trucks. During the day all of these motors were in constant use being thrashed and battered to within an inch of their lives out on the streets. It was therefore well into the evening usually before we were able to get our hands on them. More often than not, after a hard and tense day of soldiering we were required to work late into the night but there was never the luxury of a lie-in allowed the following morning. That was out of the question. The infantry company’s officers who had always looked upon the REME as jumped up second class soldiers, seemed intent upon getting full value from us.
Smudge and I had been worked beyond the point of exhaustion. Both of us were used as infantrymen or drivers whenever we weren’t up to our necks in grease, spanners and spark plugs. It was seven days a week of hard graft, danger and stress with very little sleep, erratic meal times and barely a moment for the most basic of ablutions. Nobody under those circumstances could have been anything other than totally knackered. We didn’t complain, we carried out every task that was asked of us. I was young and fit and to be honest, towards the end I was beginning to feel very proud of the way I was coping.
My worst nightmare began early one morning after putting in an eighteen hour working shift, finishing at about midnight before getting the chance for a quick bite to eat and crashing out in my pit. I had adopted the habit of changing into the next day’s clothes before turning in for the night, sleeping fully dressed apart from my working boots and dirty overalls. This gave me a chance to get up and ready for whatever the following morning had in store for me at a slightly more leisurely pace. Every precious extra minute I could steal and spend lying in my bed in the morning was to be savoured and appeared to be worth at least ten of any others during the day. I was therefore not best pleased to be prematurely and unceremoniously shaken back into consciousness by an over exuberant infantryman, whispering harshly right into my ear.
“Will! Wake up, c’mon, get up. Will! It’s game on.”
It was still pitch black in the stuffy, smelly room. The air was thick and humid, stifling and rank as only a barracks could be. The bovine like murmurings and grunts of the comatose bodies surrounding me continued undisturbed in the darkness as the infantryman shook my shoulder again and hissed into my face with mounting urgency.
“C’mon fucksake Will. Wake up!”
My befuddled, exhausted brain concluded that I was being molested by a giant serpent. One with halitosis and wearing a beret. Fighting the urge to head butt the creature I struggled back into the real world, squinting at my luminous watch which never left my wrist night or day. It wasn’t yet six o’clock in the morning, well before first light and I’d managed little more than five hours sleep. I peered back up at my tormentor and was able to just make out the pasty, spotty face of a certain Private Greaves as it came into focus. Quite a bit younger than I, perhaps only eighteen or nineteen he was not someone I knew well but I’d been out on patrol with him before. He seemed a nice enough kid although perhaps a bit out of his depth compared to some of the other more mature soldiers he was serving with.
I wriggled out of my sleeping bag in the dark, moving as quietly as I could so as not to disturb my slumbering room mates, and followed Greaves out into the corridor. Briefly he explained why I had been woken at such an ungodly hour. Having just finished his two hour stag of guard duty the guard commander had collared young Greaves and sent him off to wake the duty officer urgently. He was reacting to a tip off that had just come in by radio. The duty officer had taken it upon himself to organise a patrol immediately which was to travel out of the city and into the surrounding bad lands. I had been given the dubious honour of forming part of the reconnaissance platoon which would stake out a remote farm where a wanted man, a suspected IRA gunman was apparently hiding. We were going to roust him at dawn and make an arrest. Somewhere deep in my heart I felt a tiny twinge of empathy.
As the wide eyed Greaves hurried enthusiastically away to wake up someone else I presumed, I hastily got myself ready. After taking a quick icy cold wash in the school bogs to force myself fully awake I put on my boots and the rest of my combat kit. Grabbing my rifle and checking I had two full magazines of 7.62 ammunition to go with it, I joined the rest of the patrol in the school playground which doubled as our vehicle park. There we shivered beside the bulky dark shapes of Land Rovers and Pigs, Saracens and Bedford trucks. Our breath formed misty clouds around our heads as we stretched creaking backs and stamped our feet to get the circulation going. Men coughed their smoke starved lungs back into life and muttered obscenities while we received a brief outline of our mission from the platoon commander. Our convoy was to consist of three vehicles, two Land Rovers and a Pig. There were nine of us in total, three to a truck and I was gutted to see that the patrol was being led by the officer I had the least respect for and absolutely no faith in at all. Second Lieutenant Charles Lockley was a young and inexperienced officer not long out of Sandhurst and I detested him.
There was always a strict division between the officers and men, a line which was rarely crossed. The more junior the officer it seemed the higher the barrier thrown up between us. However I knew quite a bit about Lockley as he came from the same area of Hertfordshire that I did. Assuming that common thread might serve as an ice breaker I’d even once attempted to strike up a conversation with him while working on his vehicle back in Germany. His world however was on another planet entirely from mine. He was the son of the current Lord Lockley and their family home was Lockley Hall, set in a magnificent park landscape about five miles from where my family lived in much less salubrious accommodation on a council estate in the nearby town of Welwyn Garden City.
“My brothers and I spent our summers charging around on your father’s estate when we were kids. You know, bird nesting, playing war games and exploring the woodlands. We’d be out from dawn until dusk. A fantastic place to spend the school holidays for us it was.”
I had just been making friendly conversation to fill the silence while I did my best to get his staff car started but was given very short shrift. In no uncertain terms his curt reply indicated that I should know my place which wasn’t chatting on an equal footing with the likes of him.
“One of those scruffy little shits were you? You’re lucky you didn’t get shot. Stop your waffling and get this car sorted will you? I’ve got an important meeting to attend.”
With nose put firmly out of joint I did as I was told and made no further attempt to pass the time of day with him. Embarrassed and unimpressed I subsequently formed the same opinion of him as everyone else had done. He was an Eton educated, egotistical prat and as time passed I realised he possessed about as much idea of soldiering as I did about organising one of his family’s weekend pheasant shoots. The talk was that his Lordship had persuaded his son to enter Sandhurst and take on a short service army commission in the hope of making something of him before the time came when he would be required to take some responsibility for the running of the family estate. Probably a good idea in theory but as had been pointed out to me on many an occasion, you can’t polish a turd. The man was an idiot and always would be. What seemed like the right decision for Lord Lockley to take had just made life a bit more difficult for all of the members of the British army who had the misfortune to come into contact with him.
Not long before we’d left Germany there had been an incident involving Lockley as he’d staggered blind drunk from the officer’s mess one night and driven away in his sports car, a magnificent red Ferrari. Within just a few yards he’d smashed the beautiful and extremely valuable car straight into a rust riddled Vauxhall Viva parked on the kerb nearby which belonged to a lowly Lance Corporal. To avoid trouble Lockley had persuaded the Lance Corporal to accept a brand new Viva with no questions asked. Of course the bloke had been well chuffed to be offered a new car and who could blame him. It was duly shipped out from the UK a couple of weeks later. Lockley and his family therefore avoided any unwanted embarrassment or prosecution, continuing much as before and the incident became just another anecdote of which he appeared to be quite proud. The damage to the Ferrari hadn’t phased him at all. Rich, ignorant and obviously spoiled he was the type of person that, given the choice, I would never have anything to do with but of course under the circumstances there was no choice for the likes of me. A man of low integrity, even lower intelligence and zero common sense he didn’t inspire any confidence as a leader.
With all this in mind I was therefore feeling quite apprehensive as I ground my cigarette butt into the tarmac under my boot and got ready to embark on what promised to be a dangerous patrol, hurriedly organised by a buffoon. I wasn’t asked to drive on this occasion so was ordered to hop in the back and ride shotgun in one of the Land Rovers which was to be piloted by an infantryman I knew reasonably well called Brian ‘Sully’ Sullivan.
Sully was a nice enough guy but never the sharpest tool in the box. He was notoriously slow on the uptake so we only ever conversed about the most simple of subjects in equally simple terms. Trying to hold a conversation with him could be likened to the need to slap the side of a malfunctioning TV in order to settle the picture down. In the front passenger seat beside him sat Lockley. Armed with a nine millimetre Browning and dressed in his pristine, freshly ironed camouflaged kit he was the only person I ever saw with sharp creases in his combat trousers. He had a map spread on his lap and was fiddling with the VHF radio beside him, crammed into the gap between himself and Sully.
Camouflage cream was passed around, kit checked and last minute instructions given. Engines started, shattering the peace as they were allowed a few minutes to warm up pumping acrid fumes into the gloomy pre-dawn stillness. Then, as I winced at the crunching, torturous sound of gears being engaged the patrol lurched into motion. With Lockley’s vehicle leading we left the school and drove steadily in convoy taking a south easterly route through the city. I looked back at the vehicle following behind ours as we proceeded along the deserted, dimly illuminated streets. Quite clearly I could make out a guy in the front passenger seat gesticulating, using the hand signals we were trained to use when moving covertly in the field. The gist of the message became clear when I recognised his final gesture which was the universal sign for ‘wanker’. Obviously someone else was as enthralled as I was about being led into battle by the idiot Lockley.
On deserted streets we made good time and soon left the city, heading out into the dark foreboding countryside. There wasn’t much in the way of suburbs around Derry. One minute you were threading your way through a concrete maze and the next minute the landscape became devoid of any sign of habitation, in fact any signs of civilisation at all as the roads became lanes and the lanes got smaller and narrower. Before long we were on nothing better than glorified farm tracks, heading through a desolate area towards Kildoag. Our world was draped in a thin, murky mist which soaked and dripped from every rotting leaf of foliage. We travelled for about two hours with dawn still refusing to show its face. Visibility worsened and it began to drizzle that cold, clinging, fine rain that seems to find its way through every layer of clothing and seep right into your bones.
The three vehicles spaced themselves out further as we entered well documented bandit country, driving on dim convoy lights in an attempt to remain discrete. Every now and again we pulled over and piled out fast, diving into ditches or taking cover behind trees. Covering each other’s backs we scrutinised the immediate area using starlight scopes, studying suspicious objects, always on the lookout for booby traps. Mental tension increased at the same rate as did the level of our physical misery the nearer we got to our destination. Pretty soon we were all drenched, freezing cold, covered from head to toe in slimy mud and cloying debris. With dawn just struggling to make an impact on the dark and lifeless landscape my only slight relief from the grimness came from watching the state of Lieutenant Lockley’s combats deteriorate until he became unrecognisable as anything other than a filthy, wet squaddie, just like the rest of us.
Once close enough to our objective we pulled over for the final time on a track half way up a steep slope which ran parallel to and overlooked the farm. By then there was enough light seeping through the heavy low clouds to enable us to break out binoculars and take a proper look. Our vehicles were partially obscured from view by a thick, tangled hedgerow of brambles and blackthorn. I lay on my stomach and through a gap at the base of the hedge I focussed my bins on the scene below. We had arrived at the most decrepit looking farm property I’d ever seen. It was a ramshackle collection of small barns forming three sides of a square with an old two story house at the end of a rutted track leading back up towards us. To me the place looked derelict. Not a glimmer of light escaped from any of the windows which all had ragged, faded curtains drawn untidily across. Through the mist and murk I could make out a number of filthy milk churns close to the front door, one of which lay on its side. There was a large log pile nearby, covered partially by a patchy green tarpaulin, a futile attempt to keep the firewood dry. Plenty of places to hide just about anything. The chimney was devoid of even a hint of smoke and it didn’t look as though the wood pile had been disturbed for years Those logs which were visible through their ragged covering each had a top dusting of green and yellow mould. I didn’t know how reliable the intelligence tip off was, but the scene before me had all the hallmarks of a great place for an ambush. Fraught with danger, an impossible target to approach discretely, let alone safely. Two words began to repeat silently deep within my mind, keeping rhythm with my quickening heart beat. Death trap. Death trap. Death trap.
There were no animals around the house which I would have expected at a working farm, not even any chickens or dogs in the yard. Very odd. All of the surrounding fields were empty too, not a cow, sheep or pig in sight. Just silence, mud, mist and drizzle to welcome the slowly improving light. If ever a place needed a long bout of surveillance before moving in, it was this place but it was too late now. We had driven close enough to have been seen or heard by any occupants, in fact anyone within half a mile. I looked over at Sully who had disembarked from the Land Rover too and was crouched behind the hedgerow a few paces away from me. I could see he wasn’t happy with the scenario either and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled with uncertainty. I tried to take the edge off our tension.
“What do you reckon then mate?” I whispered, still scanning the scene below with my binoculars. “Just like something out of The Archers eh?”
“Dum darrum darrum da dum, dum darrum de da da....” came Sully’s muted reply, an awful interpretation of the radio soap opera’s theme tune.
“Eeeeh.... an everyday story of country folk.” I continued in my best Borsetshire dialect.
A slightly louder whisper hissed from behind us. “Shut up you two gobshites or I’ll have you in front of the CO when we get back!”
Lockley emerged casually from the passenger’s side of the vehicle and without hesitation, using hand signals he directed all of us into position. He was lapping up the situation as if he was directing a war game but the rest of us, despite the bit of banter between Sully and I were well aware that this was no training exercise. Moving silently as the light continued to improve, we spread out. I settled into a deep drainage ditch at the side of the road, close to the vehicles in an elevated position with a good view of the farm. By peering through the fringe of long grass and weeds growing along the lip of the ditch I could just make out the buildings through the murk about four hundred yards away. Visibility was still absolutely awful despite dawn having broken at last. I cocked my SLR and thumbed down the safety catch, checked that my spare magazine was easily accessible and scrutinised the scene below me. There I waited, concentrating like mad.
Sully and Greaves, each gripping a handle on either side of a heavy box of ammo slung between them, took a general purpose machine gun to a spot about fifty yards to the left of my position and slightly lower down the slope which overlooked the farm from a different angle. The GPMG, known to us as the Jimpy, is a belt fed machine gun which uses 7.62 shells the same as the SLR, firing at a rate of 750 rounds a minute in sustained fire mode. Ours was fitted with a bipod making it accurate and deadly up to a distance of around a mile. A great bit of kit which served to boost my confidence slightly. I’d fired a Jimpy often on the ranges. I could hold my own as a marksman alongside any infantryman and when utilising the single shot setting I reckoned I could hit the centre of a five inch target at four hundred yards every single time. I hoped that Sully and Greaves were as proficient.
Two more guys took shallow cover about ten yards apart, half way between me and the house and about fifty yards to my right. The other four including Lockley spread out wide, keeping low and stealthily descended the slope, approaching the front door with two SLRs and a sub machine gun between them. Lockley had his nine millimetre Browning pistol drawn and ready in one hand and held a percussion grenade in the other. At least our patrol was armed to the teeth.
The careful approach up to the house took them an excruciating four or five minutes until the guy on the left broke away and sprinted around the side of the buildings, taking up a position beside one of the rickety old barns and covering the rear of the house. The bloke on the right stopped and took up a position about fifteen yards from the log pile before Lockley and the guy next to him eventually positioned themselves one each side of the front door. My heartbeat quickened further and I consciously began to control my breathing in an attempt to keep calm. This was the climax of the raid, imperative to get right. The following few seconds would be unpredictable, dangerous and would define whether or not the patrol had been worthwhile. Would it be a success or was it going to go tits up? The tension increased even more as through the drizzle I could just make out Lockley tentatively reaching across to turn the door handle. But the door didn’t open, obviously locked. Then everything happened at once.
Rather than the predicted kicking in of the door, the lobbing in of a grenade or two and the screaming entrance which I was expecting, there was a sort of metallic ping that came from one of the milk churns which even I could hear in the quietness of the dawn from my position up beside the road. It was followed by a puff of blue smoke and at the same instant Lockley and the bloke next to him turned and launched themselves full length onto the muddy ground, rolling away in opposite directions and screaming their heads off.
The next moment there was a massive explosion from my left, absolutely deafening and as a thick pall of black smoke erupted from our machine gun position I just caught sight of a body within it, or at least most of a body, arcing gracefully through the air as if in slow motion. It landed with a slap some thirty feet away in the field, rolled over once and lay still. While the percussion from the explosion was still echoing around the surrounding hills the shouting and screaming from below intensified to a new level. Lockley continued yelling at the top of his voice.
“Trap! Booby trap! Take cover!”
With my ears still ringing I heard a harrowing, long and drawn out wail like that of a badly wounded animal rise from the Jimpy position. It was accompanied by some small arms fire coming from the same direction but further beyond, the other side of the smoke cloud. Through the misty, drizzly gloom I caught sight of quick movement up there perhaps about fifty yards away which focussed my attention. Two darkly clad figures were dashing down the track towards the machine gun position, at least one of them carrying a hand gun and shooting randomly as he ran, spitting fire into the smoke.
Adding to the chaos another shot rang out, this time from behind me. It was from much further up the slope on the other side of the road, the unmistakable crack of a high powered rifle which began methodically pounding the position of the two guys who had taken cover to my right. The soldier closest to me, a young infantryman named Bull, was hit almost immediately. The force of the impact hurled him onto his back where he began writhing about, bellowing non stop, his cries rising to a high falsetto as the pain and shock kicked in. His partner, a lance corporal Jones positioned just a few yards further away, yelled to me urgently.
“Will! Get the Jimpy! Will! the Jimpy!” Still laying prone he rolled frantically to face the sniper and began pouring a stream of rifle fire to our rear at roughly the position from which the enemy shots were coming.
All this had taken place in the space of only a few short seconds. It was pandemonium. The crack of pistol shots from the attackers running down the road from my left through the smoke was punctuated by one single shot after another from Jonesy to my right. Bang! bang! bang! obviously covering me and keeping the sniper’s head down. Bull continued to cry out pitifully. The commotion intensified as a fire fight erupted down near the house too. Despite any misgivings I may have had, I was like any other soldier who found himself on a battlefield anywhere in the world, any time in history. There comes a point where fear and common sense give way, overwhelmed by a massive surge of adrenalin. Months of intensive training kick in and cancel out a lifetime of self preservation instincts. It was obvious to me what I had to do and within those same few seconds, urged on by the urgency of Jonesy’s renewed yells of encouragement, I acted.
Leaping to my feet, in a shallow crouch I sprinted as fast as I possibly could towards the Jimpy position, covering the fifty yards in a direct line. Shots were cracking off all around me and I was screaming like a banshee at the top of my voice as I ran into the cloud of black smoke still swirling around after the explosion, not dissipating very quickly in the dank and wet atmosphere. Through the smoke I could see to my horror that the two gunmen had made it there before me. One shadowy figure was hurriedly picking up the Jimpy as the other turned in my direction brandishing a pistol. I had nowhere to go and not a moment to think about it. My momentum coupled with the surge of adrenalin propelled me at top speed into the gun position which was now a blackened, shallow crater. From its rim I took an almighty leap, both feet forward and smashed my boots hard into the face of the first gunman. His head snapped back and the pistol simultaneously fired harmlessly into the ground. We both went down in a heap but I’d surprised him enough to cause the pistol to fly from his grip. I was first to my feet and swung the butt of my rifle with full force at his head as he tried to rise, catching him cleanly on the temple with a sickening crack. I knew straight away that he wasn’t getting up from that blow any time soon. Allowing the momentum of my swing to carry me I whirled around to face the other attacker who had gone for the Jimpy. Before I could do anything there was an ear splitting pistol shot from point blank range, causing me to tense every muscle in my body but I felt no impact from the bullet. Almost close enough to touch me the other gunman danced on uncontrollable legs as the heavy machine gun fell from his grasp. A neat hole was drilled in his cheek and as I watched the top of his skull disintegrated. A macabre fountain of blood, bone shards and white matter sprayed into the air above his head. He tottered then crumpled, collapsing like an abandoned marionette, dead before he hit the ground. Sully had got him with the discarded pistol that had landed in the mud close to him.
Laying on his back and still holding the gun, where poor Sully’s legs were supposed to be there was now an horrific, bloody mess of shredded combat trousers mixed with exposed mangled flesh and bone. The colour drained from Sully’s face turning a deathly grey with eyes bulging. He stared at me in shock, mouth wide open in a silent scream.
“Man down!” I yelled maniacally into the chaos around me. Rifle shots were still booming, my voice was cracked and hoarse. “Man down!”
In desperation I picked up the Jimpy from where it had fallen and turned towards the ongoing fire fight down at the house. Through the residual blue haze of swirling gun smoke I couldn’t see clearly what to aim for down there. Holding the twenty five pound lethal weapon at waist height I let rip but not wishing to risk hitting our men I aimed high, spraying the roof of the house, the barns and the far end of the yard with a brutal barrage until the ammunition belt jammed.
Silence descended. The rest of the shooting ceased and all I could hear was my own rapid breath rasping through my clenched teeth. My chest was heaving and my limbs began to shake uncontrollably. It appeared that our attackers had legged it, or at least those who could. The remains of our patrol broke from cover slowly and retreated back towards my position. I dropped the Jimpy and sank down to the blood soaked mud where I turned my attention to Sully, gripping him tightly around his shoulders.
“Man down!” I shouted yet again with as much urgency as I could muster. My voice was stronger than it had any right to be. At that point my body felt weak and entirely spent. Sully’s lips were quivering as he looked up at me but he was on the verge of passing out, just moaning quietly.
It seemed an age before I was joined by a couple of the others who took over, doing their best to stem the flow of blood from Sully’s wounds by applying compression to his groin. As I fought to regain my composure, two men worked their way over to help Bully while the rest took up defensive positions to cover them, scanning the area intensely.
There was no sign of our attackers and Jonesy beckoned to me. He spoke calmly.
“Come on Will.”
Together, with renewed confidence we carefully made our way up the slope towards the place where the sniper had been, making use of what little cover was available. When we arrived at his position he was long gone. He’d obviously legged it over the ridge and away. All that remained was an acrid stench, a discarded chewing gum wrapper and a number of shiny, pristine cartridge cases. They looked so out of place lying there like a hoard of glittering treasure, scattered amid the filth and dirt. Jonesy collected them all and we made our way back down to the road and rejoined the others. The fight was truly over.
Lockley strutted about, continuing to give half hearted, confusing orders. Everyone ignored him. Our entire stock of field dressings were broken out and we did what we could for Sully who had now mercifully slipped into complete unconsciousness. Bully had been shot through his left shoulder but was remarkably stoic now that the fighting was done, sitting quietly as his arm was bound tightly and immobilised. It was a case of stemming the worst of the bleeding from our wounded as best as we could and administering pain killers from the first aid kits. There was nothing to be done for Greaves. He’d been blown to pieces, taking the full force of what we presumed to be a mortar shell but his body had somehow shielded Sully from the worst of it before the poor guy was launched into the field.
The terrorist I had bludgeoned with my rifle butt was handcuffed and tied up securely before he regained consciousness, then slapped vigorously awake prior to being bundled unceremoniously into the back of the Pig where he was watched at gun point by Corporal Jones while he fully regained his senses. He had a lump the size of an egg on the side of his head and was bleeding profusely from his busted nose and mouth but we didn’t waste any medical treatment on him. The other bastard who had been shot by Sully had died instantly. His corpse was searched and then left in the mud where it had fallen. Somebody threw a drab green scrim net scarf over his face, just to conceal his wide eyed deathly stare rather than for any sense of respect for the dead.
The whole incident had been a carefully planned but crudely executed IRA ambush. After rigorous investigations were carried out at the scene, it transpired that several booby traps had been set up at the farm house, one of them hidden in the milk churn which had been laying on its side and pointing towards any unsuspecting enemy visitor. The device had been triggered by a switch attached to the front door knob but although the detonator had gone off which was the ping I’d heard, fortunately for Lockley and the others the rudimentary bomb had failed to explode. The misfire had possibly been caused by the condition of the binder used in the plastic explosive which if exposed to extremes of temperature for any length of time can become dry and crumbly causing it to disintegrate. Whatever, it had been a lucky escape for the men approaching the door.
At least two other gunmen had been hiding in one of the barns to the rear of the farm and had opened up on our guys from the hay loft before scurrying away through a rear entrance. They had obviously lost their appetite for the fight once they realised that their booby trap on the door had failed, leaving the odds much less in their favour. Up on the other side of the road the sniper had taken Bully out as soon as the fight had kicked off and I was pretty sure his attention would have turned to me if it hadn’t been for Jonesy returning such efficient fire. I definitely owed him a pint. Meanwhile the remaining two terrorists had made their bid for the Jimpy. If they had been able to secure it the chances are that we would all have been wiped out regardless of everything else going tits up. As it was, the sniper on the high ground had fallen back and legged it once he’d had enough and Sully and I had dealt with the other two gunmen.
In the aftermath of the fight, once we got our acts back together Lockley used the radio to call for assistance. The rest of us remained in our positions, sitting in silence, tending to the wounded, each of us silently turning over in our minds what had occurred, shock setting in as it probably always did after any episode of such brutal violence.
I found myself transfixed by my wristwatch, staring at it without really seeing as the minutes slowly ticked by. To help myself snap out of it I got back on my feet and busied myself with the task of checking all of the weapons, making safe those we had taken from the terrorists, trying to stop my fingers from trembling as I worked clumsily. It was a huge relief when after about half an hour we heard the unmistakable sound of several army vehicles approaching at speed. Military ambulances arrived first with an escort of infantrymen in a four ton Bedford RL. They poured out from the back of their truck, fully armed and chomping at the bit. They were swiftly followed by a multitude of other personnel including a bomb disposal squad and a platoon of paratroopers accompanied by three navy blue lightly armoured Land Rovers belonging to a squadron of the local RUC boys. Last to turn up were a section of creepy blokes from the SIB.
The Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police were referred to by the rest of us as spooks and were only ever seen during or in the aftermath of highly serious incidents. My one previous contact with them had been when some IRA suspects had been brought in to a guard house where I was on duty after they’d been apprehended trying to rob a petrol station. When the SIB guys had arrived they’d seriously kicked the shit out of the prisoners before taking them away. I’d been quite stunned at the level of violence dished out but kept my feelings to myself, not wishing anyone to think I was too squeamish or not up to the job.
It’s a fallacy that REME personnel are not ‘proper’ soldiers and lack the training and skills of the front line troops such as infantry and paratroopers. In the course of our line of work it was possible that members of my corps could be posted out to any unit in any location in the world wherever there were vehicles or in fact any sort of hardware deployed. The majority of us had been well trained in all aspects of soldiering to meet the demands of whatever might be asked of us. I for one had always kept myself extremely fit and had completed paratroop training that included numerous low altitude jumps. I’d also endured a gruelling Mountain Leader course which prepared me for Arctic warfare and cold weather survival. I’d found the climbing, skiing and weapons training in extreme conditions to be invigorating, hugely satisfying and something I had excelled at. I’d become an excellent marksman, well experienced in competition and trained to use a wide variety of weapons. Training was one thing though, reality had turned out to be quite another.
On this occasion the SIB were taking in-depth statements from everyone still standing, as the wounded and the dead were rushed off to the Area Hospital. Their officer in charge meanwhile took our live prisoner away with an escort of a couple of mean-looking paras. Since he’d regained consciousness the bloke had been spitting blood and teeth as a result of my size tens rearranging his face. I reckoned him to be about thirty years old, although difficult to tell considering the state he was in. The look he gave me as he was roughly frogmarched past was born of pure malevolence. His eyes stared unblinking into mine, obviously committing my features to memory. They were the cold eyes of a soulless killer and I felt obliged to look away. I desperately hoped that our paths would never cross again. He spat on the ground directly at my feet and received a sharp dig in the ribs from his escort for his trouble. Wincing with pain he was manhandled by the two paratroopers and thrown unceremoniously into the back of one of the SIB vehicles. At that point his defiant expression wilted as I watched. Now I could see that despite his best efforts to maintain bravado, swearing and cursing vehemently at his captors, his face was tinged with fear. I for one didn’t envy him what he was about to receive during his forthcoming interrogation at the hands of the SIB. I silently hoped that it would be worse than even he was imagining.
The patrol had been a total screw up from the moment the tip off had been received. I was pretty sure that Lockley was largely to blame, going off half cocked in the hope of making some sort of name for himself. I was equally sure that strings would be pulled and he would manage to weasel his way through what repercussions followed. My general dislike of officers dropped to a new low. We’d suffered one fatality and two soldiers had serious life threatening injuries. It might easily have been a whole lot worse. Our only saving grace as far as the mission was concerned was the fact that we’d captured one of the terrorists alive and taken another out of the game permanently.
On a more personal level, despite the thought of whatever black marks might soon adorn the record of any of us who had been mixed up in today’s fiasco, I was relieved to have confirmed in my own mind that I was no coward. It was only natural I supposed as an unbloodied soldier, that there would be an element of doubt as to how one would perform when the shit hit the fan. Well it had hit it at great velocity that morning and I believed I’d given a reasonable account of myself under fire, despite everything going tits up.
At long last my turn came. I was debriefed by an SIB man, chaperoned by one of the infantry officers and then also carted off to hospital in the back of a truck. Walking into the brightly lit and pristine reception alongside my fellow comrades I felt completely out of place. I was enveloped by paranoia sensing that everyone was staring directly into the very depths of my soul. There was a surreal contrast between my camouflaged blood spattered body clothed in filthy combat kit as opposed to the crisply starched uniforms of the freshly scrubbed, attentive nurses. It brought home to me the fact that it had been months since I’d last been in such a bright, clean and friendly environment in the presence of attractive people who didn’t curse and swear with every other word. What some might call normality.
The hospital staff chatted to me as they worked, obviously aware of what had occurred but avoiding the subject as much as possible. The inane and meaningless conversation seemed ridiculously inappropriate under the circumstances considering how just a short while before I had been fighting for my life. The vision of good men hideously mutilated refused to be cleansed from my mind. The part I had played in the killing of a fellow human being, despite the fact that he was doing his best to kill me at the time, added to my distress. Feeling awkward, clumsy and ugly, I had no wish to converse apart from the essential replies to questions about my state of health. My hackles were still up and I began to feel unsafe. Something wasn’t right. I later became aware that irreparable damage had taken place somewhere within my psyche but of course I wasn’t being treated for that at the time. I was just given a thorough physical check over and treated for shock with some intravenous fluid. I drank numerous cups of sweet tea with sugary dry biscuits which did make me feel a little better, although a double brandy would have been twice as beneficial I felt sure.
I had sustained a nasty deep cut to my forehead, just below my hairline and blood had trickled down into my eye socket. I hadn’t even noticed and had no memory at all of how it had occurred but a good antiseptic cleansing that stung sharply along with several stitches were required. After looking into my eyes at great length with some sort of ophthalmoscope, the ward sister expressed a wish to keep me in the hospital for some rest and recuperation and I was tempted to comply. The prospect of an extended kip in a comfortable bed while being waited on hand and foot by attractive nurses was a difficult one to resist. I was still trembling from the morning’s trauma but in the end I decided that I wasn’t going to be having any of it. I was afraid that if I succumbed at that point to a bit of TLC it was only going to make it more difficult for me when I finally did have to go back out on the streets. In my opinion it was imperative that I returned to the company of my friends and comrades sooner rather than later, so I forced myself to get a grip of myself and insisted that they let me head back to my unit straight away. The hospital staff didn’t put up too much resistance and after a bit of form filling they agreed to release me. Soon afterwards one of the boys from the LAD arrived in a Land Rover to pick me up.
Before I left the hospital though, I made a point of finding out as much as I could about Bully and Sully’s condition. In particular I was concerned about Sully. He was by no means a close friend but I realised we would forever be locked in each others memory banks after what had taken place out there on that miserable, godforsaken farm. All I could glean from the nurses and doctors was that Sully’s condition was critical. He’d lost a significant amount of blood and was at that very moment undergoing emergency surgery on his legs, both of which had been severely mangled in the explosion. The exact prognosis was unknown but I was half heartedly assured with a dubious level of confidence that he would likely survive his injuries. However it was still too early to say what state either of his pins would be in for the long term. I really hoped he was going to recover fully, we owed each other a pint or two at the first opportunity that was for sure.
As for Bully, his shoulder wound wasn’t nearly as severe as first thought. Despite being shot by a high powered large bore rifle, the round had passed cleanly right through his upper shoulder, ripping open the very top edge of his trapezius muscle and taking a decent sized lump of flesh with it. He’d lost a fair amount of blood and would have a scar to be proud of but had been extremely lucky. Not a bone, sinew or nerve had been seriously damaged. Sitting on his hospital bed, stripped to the waist and propped up by several enormous pillows he seemed more worried about the state of his tattoo which had once been a ferocious dragon clawing its way up his upper arm, seeking to bite his neck. Now, wearing the most forlorn expression imaginable Bully informed me that his pride and joy was going to look for evermore like an over sized cod with three feet, trying to give him a love bite. There was a prolonged silence while I absorbed that image and then we both began laughing hysterically. While we chatted on, Bully was patched up by the nurses. Then a colour sergeant appeared and informed him that the following day he would be put aboard a plane back to Germany. I had no doubt he’d be in for a severe ribbing from his mates after word got around about the fuss he’d made immediately after being shot.
I walked out of the hospital into a colourless grey day. The sky hadn’t cleared at all but at least the rain had eased off. My driver and his co-pilot chatted non stop for the entire journey back into the city and I did my best to appear cheerful but was glad when we arrived back at the school. I had the beginnings of the mother of all headaches. As expected, the details of the morning’s drama had filtered through well ahead of me. Climbing from the Land Rover I thanked the guys for the lift back and turned to go into the school entrance. In the corridor I bumped into a group of squaddies on their way out on foot patrol. They parted to allow me to pass and I received a spontaneous round of applause from them as I made my way through. In the relative sanctuary of the classroom Smudge shook my hand firmly and said “Well done mate.”
The peace didn’t last long. My headache notched up to the next level as every few minutes people popped their heads around the door to see how I was. Each time I had to endure a lot more back slapping and hand shaking. Gallows humour was rife, always a good way of taking the edge off the trauma but I had to relive the morning’s drama more than a dozen times. With each retelling I got a little more angry about how things had been handled, how things should have panned out. My head was banging and eventually, using the excuse of needing to find something to eat I left the classroom and headed towards the kitchen. I hadn’t eaten much all day but the food turned out not to be such a great idea. To be honest dining in the field kitchens of the 2nd Queens Infantry Battalion never had been and shortly after polishing off a plate of pork sausages and baked beans, without warning my stomach lurched and I was violently sick on the floor.
Smudge, who had accompanied me to the kitchens, put a hand on my shoulder and guided me back out into the corridor while someone else volunteered to clean up my mess.
“Come on mate, let’s get you to sick bay. You’re not right are you? Perhaps you should have opted for the Cornish pasty. Anyone would think you’ve had a bad morning.”
At that point the frayed and weakened thread that had been securing what remained of my sanity, twisted and snapped. I lost the plot entirely. I became incensed, furiously threatening people around me, getting really worked up. Then I got it into my head to search out and confront the person I blamed for the morning’s catastrophe. Shrugging off Smudge’s grip on my arm and ignoring his protestations I burst open every door I passed shouting for Lockley. I intended to have it out with him regardless of his rank but fortunately for him and no doubt for me too, he was nowhere to be found. It transpired that he’d been carted off immediately upon his return, probably for a more in-depth debriefing and hopefully a good dressing down.
As I strode angrily about slamming doors and shouting at the top of my voice, Smudge became increasingly concerned, convinced that I was having some sort of meltdown. Never known to be someone who threw his weight around I was acting well out of character, totally out of control. Smudge was a big man and regained a firm grip of my arm, pulling rank and at the same time manhandling me down the corridor away from trouble.
In the office situated next to our billet the radio room had been set up. A sign on the door read ‘Mrs. Glasscock’ who we presumed was the school’s head mistress. Subsequently, since our commandeering of the premises whoever was on radio duty became known as ‘Brittle Dick’. It was how we contacted our workshop to arrange collection or delivery of spare parts. After settling me down in our billet with a firm order telling me to remain there, Smudge went next door to the office to contact our boss. Never having been one to worry too much about trivia such as radio protocol, Smudge took great delight in our new call sign. I could hear the muffled dialogue through the partition wall.
“BD to Z-Victor 1. Come in Z-Victor 1.”
“What do you want Corporal Smith?” came the exasperated response.
The exchange was brief but to the point as Smudge updated the LAD ’s senior NCOs of his concerns regarding my behaviour. Once he got off the radio Smudge took me outside and sat me down in the rifle unloading bay at the school entrance. It was a small hut built from sandbags, a quiet oasis remaining undisturbed in between returning foot patrols. He lit two cigarettes and handed one to me, succeeding in calming me down a bit. My headache began to ease off a little and twenty minutes later the same Land Rover with the same crew that had dropped me off earlier returned from the main REME workshop. After grabbing my kit and another muscular handshake from Smudge I was driven away.
In a much less volatile atmosphere and better organised surroundings I was left alone with my thoughts for a while in order to get my head back on straight. Another craftsman replaced me as ‘A’ company’s assigned vehicle mechanic and I saw out the remainder of the tour in the relative safety of the LAD workshop. The change of scene was quite a relief and the amount of sleep I averaged just about doubled, although my headache never completely dissipated and I continued to be irritable and edgy where once I had been so laid back.
As well as working in the workshop I still carried out my share of guard duties and continued to work incredibly hard. I certainly didn’t miss going out on foot patrol although I did feel a little guilty about having an easier time of it. I felt as though I had left a job only half done and constantly worried about how Smudge and my replacement were faring out there in the thick of it. Keeping busy and living in close proximity to my mates played a big part in getting me through those final weeks which seemed to drag on and on so slowly. Thankfully, as my head wound healed and the graphic details of that terrible morning receded to the back of my mind, the remainder of the tour passed without further serious incident for the 2nd Queens Battalion. Before long it was all over and I found myself on a plane back to Germany with the rest of the LAD intact. Spirits were high, spirits were consumed and songs were sung continuously for the duration of the flight.