“Would you please step out of your car and open the bonnet and boot.” It takes time to go through each car and P. Check the occupants. O.K., move off. Occasionally we get abuse but mostly people are well used to this sort of thing. We even got two Royal Navy clowns in this V.C.P. out for a sightseeing tour of the city. Didn't someone tell them that they could get killed doing that sort of thing? Jesus! Sit in their boats month after month and then think they might see a bit of action to tell their mates about. Here mate, swop places with me!
Ten minutes the V.C.P. has been on. I start to get jumpy standing around for too long. just make sure that there are lots of cars and people standing around to spoil the chances of a sniper. Trouble is, being a placed V.C.P. we cannot lift it at our own discretion and have to wait for orders. Please don't go to sleep, Major. Not this time.
There is a commotion behind us and one of the toms emerges from a bush with a scruffy young teenager in tow.
“Found him hiding in the house behind us, sir. Keep still you little shit or I'll pan you!"
Lay him face down on the road and P. Check. He must be up to something because he is just not at all nervous. Very unsettling that. Still, one consolation is that he is not very good at whatever he was up to. Perhaps he was trying to pick up some Brownie points with the local U.V.F., or Tartan gang. He clears out on the P. Check but we can still lift him on suspicion. Keep him on the deck until this V.C.P. is over. He's quiet enough at the moment.
The cars keep coming through, but it's a slow process. Wet beret clamped to my head, denims clinging to my legs, it is difficult to move around, talk into the radio and write down car numbers at the same time. The harsh sound of the ghetto Irish grinds in my ears. Girls look good until they open their mouths and a stream of expletives rolls easily off their pretty little tongues.
Fifteen minutes. Come on, Major.
Nervous eyes flicker up to the Holy Cross church just up the road a bit. The last battalion on this area were sniped at from the tower a few times, and last year some guy was blown up by a booby trap in the graveyard. An Irish terrorist with a sense of humour yet! Rain still bucketing down; at least these others are getting soaked too.
“Any mouthy buggers, keep them out in the rain longer, Hookey.”
It's easy to get mean when you are holding the trump cards, isn't it, Clarke. Shit, why not? We don't get any favours from them and anyway, most of these buggers would shoot me in the back as soon as look at me. So? Fuck, forget it. The radio crackles, good old Major, not asleep after all. Hookey hears it as well and in two minutes we are halfway back to Leopold Street.
Sitting here in the de-briefing room, I'm having difficulty in believing I'm not in dreamland. Telephones are appearing from thin air. Black ones, blue ones, red, yellow. Normal types, fancy ones, thin, fat.
“What's this with the telephones then?”
“I need an extension at home,” pause, “and one in the bedroom, one in the toilet, one in the garage...” it goes on and on.
“O.K., O.K., but how?"
“Just asked the telephone engineer in the van we stopped. Nervous type, you know.”
Jesus, what next. Three-piece suites, refrigerators? As it happens, yes. All manner of goodies were being salted away in secret places to be shipped back to England at the end of the tour as part of the platoon freight. Some freight. Still, back in England, our platoon office was very well equipped. My spare telephone never worked, though.
“Right, forget the telephones, de-brief. Anyone have anything to say?" Series of shaking heads.
“Yeah, boss, that little shit who was spying on us.”
Of course, I had forgotten about him. He was in fact at that moment being interrogated by our own company Int. cell. We preferred to try for some information before the ham-fisted twits at TAC HQ got hold of them. Usually they let them go because the idiot we had as Intelligence Officer thought that all the energy should be expended in the direction of the Ardoyne. We were later to leave him and the rest of the Battalion with egg on their faces, as at the end of the day we had the most finds and kills to our credit. So up yours, I.O.
De-briefing over, pasty faces and tired bodies make their way to find a brew and food. Hookey and I sit alone, staring at the mound of telephones.
“You've got to have a go at the O.C., boss. We can't carry on at this pace for ever. The blokes are beginning to crack.”
“How about giving each tom a day off? We can fill in with one of the cooks or the R.C.T. drivers. On their day off, they can get pissed, sleep, or do what they like. It's not much, but it may just ease the pressure.”
“Not a bad idea.”
So the day-off system was born. The only ones that did not get time off were the section commanders, Hookey and myself. The problems of being in command.
I look in at the Ops Room on the way through to get a much-needed bite to eat. I swear the O.C. hasn't moved from the spot for the last forty-eight hours straight. The 2 I.C. Sits staring at the map humming tunelessly. His main object in life at the moment is to get through this tour without ever having to put his head outside the door. The radio op. still has that same magazine.
“On your bike, sir!”
The O.C. hands me the next week's programme and I see that he has decided that the OP platoon does very little during the week, so now they will have to do some patrolling around the immediate area. just the sort of thing to raise morale to another all-time high. Well, what else do We have to do? Did someone mention overtime? What's that?
“Our area is going to be extended to include the entire Forthriver area. We take over next month.”
Oh, delight. Much cheering. Can We go home now! That means that we will now have an area four times the size of the Ardoyne with half the number of men to cover it. What lunatic in the Northern Ireland Office dreams these amazing things up? Some civil servant sitting at a desk playing with figures on a piece of paper.
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Genre – Autobiography / Biography & Memoir
Rating – 18+