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Sunday, October 30, 2005


As we move into November Rememberance Day approaches. It has been held in this country every November 11th since 1921. It was inspired by the poem by John McCrae:

In Flanders' Fields the Poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

When I was growing up Rememberance Day was heavily associated with the First and Second World Wars, and understandably so. But now during the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War there are an increasing number of veterans and widows from much more recent conflicts who need our help.

Whatever your thoughts on recent conflicts please donate and wear your poppy with pride. People like this need your donation.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Now Have I Got Everything?

Sat on my bunk in the hut we were staying overnight in I looked down at my bergan. If I added up all the time I had spent packing, repacking, emptying and packing it again I could probably have taken a day off.

Every spare piece of clothing waterproofed in its' own bag. Ration packs broken down and split up, unwanted items discarded. Boot cleaning kit, washing and shaving kit, sewing kit, rifle cleaning kit all packed away properly. Spare water bottle emptied out and refilled. Yup my bergan was quite full.

Herein lay the problem. I'd packed what the average infanteer carries but having passed the Signals course I was now the Platoon signaller. Somehow I now had to fit in a radio, batteries, spares and various different types of antennas.

Ah well best start unpacking that bergan again........

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Slow Boat To Scotland

Stood at the aft of the ferry I watched the Emerald Isle slowly disappear. Not forever, just for a couple of weeks.

Our training period was coming to an end and the bosses had decided we were going to Scotland. Apparently we were going to practice being 'proper' soldiers. We were due to leave Northern Ireland in the next few months and move to Germany. There we would be expected to do the things that normal soldiers do. A year and a half in Northern Ireland had meant we had lost many of the skills that are expected of soldiers going to war. Yes we could patrol around some of the harder estates that Northern Ireland could offer. Yes we could support the police. Yes we knew what to do if there was a riot. But no - we could no longer assault an enemy position. We could no longer march for days on end across difficult terrain. We could no longer dig a hole and live in it.

Well maybe we still could - just not as well as we used to. The next two weeks were going to let us know what we could and couldn't do.

I wasn't really looking forward to it - if truth be told.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Soundtrack To Our Lives

"....We had three million sides of old blind horses hides
We had four million barrels of bones..........."

Certain songs trigger certain memories for me. The soundtrack to a piece of my life. Any time I hear The Pogues I'm taken back to my room in Northern Ireland.

The NAAFI bar has shut. There's no work tomorrow. We're having a bit of a party. There are around fifteen of us crowded into our four man room. We're sat around on beds or the floor drinking warm Harp lager from the tin. There's a warm fug of cigarette smoke mixed with a little Chinese takeaway and the faint hint of too much aftershave. One of the lads is doing his best Michael Flateley impression - totally out of time to the music but it's a good effort anyrate. Someone turns the volume up too high and the speakers jump themselves from the shelf and come crashing down on the floor.

There's a change of tune and suddenly it's another favourite - The Cranberries and 'Zombie'. Our selection of late night music is somewhat limited but no one cares.

It's odd how a song can take you back through the years. So all together now.........

"I could have been someone..................."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Weighing Things Up

When I wrote 'A Good Day At The Office' Pat asked if I had ever fired my rifle in anger. I was originally just going to answer the question with a 'No' and leave it at that. Thinking about it though I realised that it is actually just part of a wider issue. So for one day only I'll get away from the memoire.

When soldiers join the army they don't do so to kill people. At least in the British Army they don't. Most of them don't even join up with a definite idea that what they are doing might involve them going to war. I certainly didn't.

Most of us join up to 'see the world' or 'do something different'. I've never been in a position where I have had to fire my weapon at another human being. I do know people who have though. Often for them the training took over. That's not to say that they didn't make a conscious decision to fire but they did so in response to a situation they had trained and trained and trained for. Those people I know who have taken human life have expressed regret that another person died but most often it was a case of 'them or me'.

There have been several media reports recently about the number of troops serving in Iraq who are now leaving the forces. The implication is that they either feel it morally wrong to be there or that the evironment they have served in has mentally affected them.

For most of them it is neither. They joined up for some excitement. Many of us wanted to know if we had what it took to do the job 'for real'. A lot of soldiers have now had enough excitement and have found out the answer to the question they posed themselves. Some of these soldiers have understandably left the army, others have relished the experience and look forward to returning to operations.

Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Bad Day At The Office


As I pushed the magazine into my rifle an ice cold drop of rain left my helmet and deposited itself down my neck. So far it hadn't been a good day.

Already I'd had to endure the "concurrent activity" while I'd waited to fire. It had been a lesson on "Why things are seen" - something we all knew and had all heard many times before. For those of you who are interested it's - shape, shine, silhouette, shadow, spacing and sudden movement - or the 6 S's. Interesting stuff I'm sure you'll agree.

As we'd gone to load our magazines the rain had increased - it was now up to a steady downpour.

"Prone position down."

As I began to lie down I took a quick look. As I suspected there was a small puddle awaiting me. The cold water took little time to announce its' presence as I lay down.

"Targets to your front watch out."

I pulled the rifle into my shoulder and looked through the sight. I could barely see the 300 metres to where the target was going to appear. And then my sight steamed up.

Things were not going well at the office.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Good Day At The Office

The day had started off very relaxed. If we weren't firing we were allowed to laze around at the back of the range. None of the dreaded "concurrent activity" had been foistered on us and we'd lay around chewing the fat and drinking brews.

Now, lying on the firing point I could feel the sun's strength on my back. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. The butt of my rifle was sitting snugly in my shoulder and I was watching in the distance for any movement.

300m away a man sized target swung up. I'd already been steadying my breathing and now I held my breath. I squeezed the trigger steadily. The rifle kicked slightly in my shoulder. The target disappeared.

10 seconds later the target decided to have another go. He met the same fate as before. It was a good day at the office.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


As we marched back from the gym my breathing slowly returned to normal and my pulse returned to something approaching normal.

As I stepped into a very hot shower the feeling arrived. The feeling apparently has something to do with endorphins. Whatever causes it it is a physical 'high'. I've never taken drugs but I should imagine it's probably not far off it. An immense feeling of wellbeing - partly physical and also part mental - knowledge that you have earnt the right to feel this way through your efforts.

The feeling also makes you forget how much pain you were in a short while before. Unfortunately the next few weeks saw us being reminded on a daily basis.

Monday, October 17, 2005

No Pain No Gain (Continued)

We were half way through the session and I was hurting. The concept behind the session was easy. We were paired off. One of the pair would run up to the other end of the gym and do ten sets of the exercise and then run back. The other member of the pair would do the same.

After that it was down to nine.

Then eight.

Then seven.

You get the idea.

If it had just been one exercise it might have been ok. But it wasn't.

We did ten sit ups. Ten press ups. Ten burpees. Ten star jumps. Ten crunchees. Ten squats. Ten....... Again you get the idea.

We were down to five of each and every part of my body hurt. My arms, legs, shoulders - in fact every part of my body was jellylike. As I ran back to my partner I glanced across. Just about everyone looked the same. I glanced up at the clock. We still had twenty minutes of the session left.

This wasn't pretty.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

No Pain No Gain

"When I say 1 I want you to touch the floor with your left hand."

We were jogging round the gym. It was only the warm up and already I could feel that two weeks of drinking too much, eating too much, and not doing much else hadn't been such a good idea.

"When I say 2 I want you to touch the floor with your right hand. If I say 3 touch the floor with both hands. If I say 4 jump in the air, pretend to head a football, turn around and run in the opposite direction."

It was probably at this point that I realised that I hated PTI's (Physical Training Instructors).


I'm sure I'd known it all along.


It was just that after a couple of weeks on the beer any semblance of physical fitness had disappeared.

"3. 1"


We were only 5 minutes into the warm up and already I knew that pretty soon I'd be blowing out of my arse. We carried on jogging around in a big circle for another 30 seconds and then he decided to get funny.


If there was one thing I hated more than a PTI it was funny PTI. After breakdancing until he got bored we carried on with the warm up.

Eventually he decided we were 'warmed up' enough to start the PT session proper. I was in pain already.........

Friday, October 14, 2005

Homeward Bound?

The two weeks off had been good but I felt a sense of relief as the plane touched down. The sense of relief was coupled with a slight twinge of nerves. The security I'd had at 'home' was gone.

I fetched my bags from the carousel and went to where I was supposed to get transport back to camp. There were a couple of other guys from the company there.

"How you doing mate?" someone asked me.

I felt at home again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Nine

Anyone can be cold and wet. It takes a wise man to stay warm and dry.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Homeward Bound

As the plane gained height I looked out of the window. We were crossing the coast and the Irish sea looked invitingly blue below us. I was going home on leave. I had mixed feelings.

I was leaving behind the sometimes irksome routine of guards, patrols and training. I was free from living behind a wire fence. I was free from feeling uncomfortable whenever I went out socially. I wouldn't have to "book out" at the guard room every time I wanted to go shopping. If I came in late I didn't risk going to jail for a month.

What did I have to look forward to?

I'd get to spend time with my parents. I'd have fantastic meals cooked for me every day. I could stay in bed, in a room by myself, until I wanted to to get up. No one would shout at me for two weeks. There was also even less chance that someone would try to blow me up, shoot me or otherwise deprive me of life.

But I was leaving my mates. Sure I'd get to go to the pub and maybe catch up with people I'd been at high school with. They'd ask me about what I was doing. They'd not understand anything I'd told them. We'd talk about nothing and I'd get to go home bored.

I left with mixed feelings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Eight

Never stand up when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down, never stay awake when you can sleep.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Watching The Clock

The last few days had been interesting - fun even at times. I was tired though. The chuff chart* had been looking good for a while and now I was ready for some time off.

Lack of sleep builds up over time and I needed to catch up. The whole company was going on leave so I wasn't going to miss out on anything.

Next stop the airport.

* A chuff chart is a calendar or piece of paper on which you strike off the days until you get home. In general it's a very bad idea and makes the days go much slower - but we've all done it from time to time.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Tall Tales?

"You're a lucky bas***d you know that don't you."

We were sat in the NAAFI bar the night after our day of excitement.

"Why's that?"

"Well you were there weren't you? You got to nick one of them."

"Well not really. We were there but that was about it."
"But you were there."

"Well - yeah we were."

"What are you drinking?"

"Oh.....erm I'll have a pint please........"

Friday, October 07, 2005

Being Scared And Egg Banjos

We spent the rest of the day escorting our policemen around while they searched other properties connected with the gentleman they'd nicked earlier. Middle of the afternoon, we still weren't finished and our coppers were getting a little twitchy.

I soon realised why:

  1. The local population had realised what was going on.
  2. They didn't like it.
  3. It was Friday and everyone had started drinking early.
Later in the afternoon and we had a pause in another police station. A welcome chance to grab a brew and a rather stale sandwich. Returning to the vehicle we could see the copper's getting their riot gear on. This was not good. We didn't have ours with us.

The next few hours were interesting to say the least. The police searched a house in one of the 'hardest' estates in the area. The semi-drunk local population turned up on mass and started to vent their anger at us. Abuse was hurled at first and then the odd stone. One of the copper's told us just to sit tight inside our van. Not feeling quite so puffed up and proud, we retired inside the vehicle. After what seemed like an eternity the search was completed and we all returned to camp with nothing damaged apart from maybe our egos.

It had been a long day and we hadn't eaten much. 'Dinner' had finished hours before but, as always, there were bags of bread and trays of eggs lying out in the canteen. A few minutes for the hotplate to heat up, a couple of minutes cooking time and hey presto - Egg Banjo's.

Seconds later there was hot yolk streaming down my chin. Happy again.

I was going to attempt an explanation of the Egg Banjo phenomenon but this does it so much better.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Follow That Car

The course over and done with and I returned to 'normal' work.

We'd left camp and arrived at the police station where we'd meet the men we'd be escorting for the day.

The team commander went and met up with them. We followed them to another police station.

"Just go and chill out in the NAAFI, we'll give you a shout if we need you lads."

Didn't sound like much was going on.

50p later and I had a cup of something scalding hot that could vaguely be described as tea. There were 20 or so lads from the resident Scottish unit waiting around in the NAAFI canteen.

"Been here long lads?"

"Aye, been waiting here all bloody night. Something big is going to happen."

Looks like we'd be sat around while they had all the fun.

5 minutes later and our copper came running in.

"Quick lads we're off to the ****** Estate."

A collective groan went up from the Scottish lads. I tried to swallow a mouthful of tea and burnt my mouth.

I was the driver for the day and as we followed the police out of the gate I was determined to keep up. No chance. Their vehicles were half the weight and twice as powerful as ours. We lost sight of them after half a mile. We followed the sound of the sirens and eventually caught up.

We were just in time to see a man in handcuffs being led out of a house and put in the back of a car. Our copper came over.

"He's the f***er who blew up *********," we were told.

Suddenly we felt all important. We'd had absolutely nothing to do with the arrest. We'd had absolutely nothing to do with the operation leading up to the arrest. I didn't even recognise the terrorist I'd seen. We stood around for a half an hour looking important and keeping the public back from the house. Our chests were suitably puffed out when the Scottish unit arrived to relieve us. We departed with our policemen for more fun............

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Leaving the land of midgies, mountains and tartan we returned to Northern Ireland. For some strange reason the end of course piss-up was arranged for the night before the final written tests.

Several pints of Guiness and a couple of large Bushmills later and my revision was complete.

The next morning we congregated in the classroom for the final test.

The instructor looked at the sorry state we were in and handed out the exam papers.

"I've just got to pop out for 5 minutes. On no account is anyone to look at the answer paper that's on my desk."

We all passed..........

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

That'll Bring A Smile To Your Face

Back to the memoir.

After a week of putting up masts, tuning in radios, laying wire, coding messages, decoding messages and generally doing lots of signalling we finally heard the word we were waiting for.

It is a word that will almost always bring a smile to the face of any squaddie who hears it. And that word is.......


A word that signals an imminent return to normality. You will no longer have to go everywhere with webbing and rifle. You will no longer have to shield lights at night. You know you will get a good nights sleep and in the not too distant future some decent food and a pint. Soon you will be able to sleep in a proper bed and take a hot shower.

Exercises can be fun. Finishing them is great.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Scum Of The Earth? (Updated)

UPDATE: Apparently the Chief of the Defence Staff thinks something fairly similiar.

Although this blog is primarily a memoir, events over the last few months have caused me to reflect on the army as a way of life and the way we are viewed by the general public.

It used to be that 'Tommy Atkins' could do little wrong. Our lords and masters would be pilloried in the press from time to time for 'letting the boys down' but down at the coalface it appeared we were almost universally loved.

Now it seems that every week in the media there is another story of squaddies up to no good. Has our behaviour got worse? I very much doubt it. Perhaps the press coverage is the same and it's just I've become more sensitive to it.

I suspect our continued deployment in Iraq has something to do with it. Incidents such as the prisoner abuse court martial may have led to a change in perception and even such postives as Pte Beharry winning the Victoria Cross have not counterbalanced this.

The British Army website describes us as "a force for good, carrying out essential work both in the UK and overseas." That's the way I like to think of us.

Maybe we just need another Fireman's strike...................

With relatively little contact with "civi's" perhaps I'm totally wrong. I'd appreciate your comments on this one - especially from British readers.

* - The Duke of Wellington once described his army as consisting of "the scum of the earth"

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Wire In The Blood

Radio waves can be intercepted. We do it, the Americans do it, the Russians do it, in fact even private individuals do it.

To try and cut down on radio intercepts if a unit is going to be in a location for any length of time it will lay wire between all of it's major locations.

If you are an Headquarters officer this is very convenient. You have your own little phone network and no one can hear you make an arse of yourself on the radio except the person at the other end.

If you are a signaller this is far from convenient as it is you who has to lay the wire.

I shouldn't complain. I've only had to do it a few times on exercise. During the First World War this was the only real form of communications and signallers would be laying wire behind the advancing troops.

The first time I had to lay wire I was in charge. It was my "command appointment" during the exercise. A kind of test of leadership as well as technical ability. I was instructed to lay wire between Point A and Point B. A quick look at the map and I knew it wasn't going to be easy. It was at least 2 miles.

That might not sound a lot but wire is heavy. Three of us went out to start the job. One of the guys had the first spool of wire on a reel while the other two of us had spare reels in our rucksacks.

It took us about 3 hours to lay the wire. Stumbling around in the dark. Digging the wire in deep if it crossed a track. Joining the reels together with crimpers as each ran out. We got to Point B. We cut the wire to the right length to plug into the exchange. We bared the ends with a pair of wire cutters. We plugged it into the terminals on the exhange. We held our breath. It didn't work.

It actually took us another 4 hours to prove the line. Working back a few hundred metres and checking the connection. Repairing flaws in the line. Getting a bit further and finding another piece of old crappy wire that had failed.

It was dawn when we finally got it working. 30 minutes later we had the order to strip it out - we were moving again.

"Keep smiling," I told the blokes. Fat chance. Top of the British Blogs