ONE OF A KIND
© Copyright 2016 by Terry Aspinall
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Published by Terry Aspinall
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This novel is a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The story is a product of the writer’s imagination. Although some of the incidents are based on fact, as are the Histories of Angola and Vietnam.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I was born during the Second World War while my Father was chasing Rommel out of North Africa and Italy, for this reason I never saw him until late 1946. I grew up in the sleepy little Suffolk countryside town of Stowmarket, and underwent an education that to me seemed an absolute waste of time. Although with that wonderful tool known as hindsight, my reading and writing skills would have served me well in the writing of this book. I should have taken the trouble and given the teachers my full-undivided attention and not the girls sitting next to me, while behind me was always the wall. Yes, I was a back of class type of guy who was always getting into trouble and talking during class. Upon leaving school I became what was known as a Teddy Boy, and hung around with the Ipswich town teenage gangs. Once the novelty began to wear off, and I realised that if I carried on along the path I had chosen, it would only lead me into trouble with the law, so I decided on a complete life style change and joined the Royal Marines. My growing up during this period of time can certainly be attributed to my Royal Marine training, something that is still part of my life to this day. I tell of my service years and of being on active service in Borneo. Upon my release I became very interested and involved in the Rock n Roll music of the day, and helped form a local band in the town of Leiston in Suffolk. I also became involved in the then new sport of hang gliding. Which later lead me to strapping an engine on to my glider, and being amongst the first in the UK to pioneer the sport of Microlighting, and to set a record that still stands to this day. Eventually while working for Bernard Matthews I upped my family and immigrated to New Zealand, to help build a new factory in a small country town of Waipukurau on the North Island. Where I experienced a complete new style of living that my family and I all enjoyed, and took to it like ducks to water. It was a taste of what was to come when after three years I once again up rooted my family and moved over the ditch as they say to Australia. Where I later became involved in the changing of history involving the invention of the modern Hang Glider.
TABLE OF CONTENT
Chapter 1. The Electrician.
Chapter 2. Chris Lawler.
Chapter 3. Heaven to Hell.
Chapter 4. Foreign Legion.
Chapter 5. French Indochina.
Chapter 6. Vietnam.
Chapter 7. Return to Blighty.
Chapter 8. Angola.
Chapter 9. Royal Marines.
Chapter 10. Northern Ireland.
Chapter 11. Mi6.
About the Author.
Other Books by this Author.
With a deafening BANG! The front door of number 9 Hillcrest Avenue was smashed open, completely tearing it from its hinges. By an armoured clad Police Officer using a 14lb sledgehammer. It ended up lying on the floor in front of him, almost blocking the hallway into the block of flats, and hindering other Officers who were trying to gain a swift entrance into the building.
Being the early hours of the morning the noise was so loud it carried far, and awakened the whole neighbourhood of the quiet leafy suburb of Bermondsey, located south of the river Thames in London.
The forced entry operation was being carried out by the London Armed Offenders Squad, under the special direction of Detective Inspector Ronald Knights from New Scotland Yard, who was hoping to arrest one of the buildings occupants.
Chris Lawler was suddenly woken from a light sleep, by the loud bang that sounded below him in the building. Without hesitation he jumped from his bed, throwing some of his bedding on the floor towards the door, hoping to throw whomever it was from his scent by distorting their view under the bed. He then dropped to the floor sliding underneath, with his head pointing towards the door, and took up a statue like pose. Holding an old pair of black boots in front of his face, to break up his outline. Just in case somebody was to bop down to look under the bed from the doorway. Lucky for Chris the blankets he had thrown on the floor had landed in a good position to break up the intruder’s line of sight.
It was all part of a plan that Chris had practiced in meticulous detail several times in the past. He had even chosen to rent this top floor flat, with a possible event like this in mind. Knowing that his pursuers would have to climb two flights of stairs to get to him, and thus allowing him precious seconds to hide from whomever they were, and he had no doubt in his mind that it was him they were after.
By now, he could hear the heavy clumping of many boots making their way up the stairs giving him prior warning that it was either the Police or the Military.
As the bedroom door was kicked open, Chris watched as two sets of boots entered the room. By watching how they were walking and stopping gave him all of the information he needed. Informing him that they were both armed and covering each other’s every move. One of the intruders bent down and touched the bed linen on the floor in front of him, remarking to his partner, that it was still warm. Un-lucky for Chris the guy was not low enough for him to see his face.
From his hiding place, it was hard for anybody to see him, as the bed was very low. Giving the impression to anybody who walked into the room, that there was just no way that anybody could actually fit underneath. Earlier Chris had managed to have it specially adapted for him, with the divan base section having been hollowed out enough to take his frame. While on top was a very thick special mattress that was designed to take a 9mm pistol round if it was fired into it.
From the top and to an un-trained eye, it looked like any normal double sized bed. However, its lowness was against him, preventing him from making a fast escape from its cover, if required. Chris had placed a lot of his trust in the fact that, whoever would be after him would not know what room he was in, and so they would have to search every single flat in the building. Being an ex-military man, he had worked out that they would have allocated at least four men to a floor. With this in mind each group of four, would have to cover each other’s back while searching every room on their level as quick as possible. Just in case he was escaping from another room.
Once it was ascertained that the rooms on each level were all cleared, they would return to go over each room in minute detail. With a fine toothcomb as their instructor had once named it, in their quest to find any evidence of the occupant, or of where he might be.
After just a few seconds one of the intruders called out that the room was all clear and secure. Adding that the window was also shut, thus informing those in charge down stairs that he had not escaped through the window. They then made their way to the next room, as Chris heard them kick the door in. Without hesitation Chris slid quietly from under the bed, headed straight to the window, and quietly opened it. Although he need not have bothered as by now the whole house was reverberating to the sound of heavy boots clumping around on hollow wooden floors. While others were shouting out instructions and confirming that certain rooms were secure.
Chris climbed out onto the fire escape, and then closed the window behind him. Having no intentions of letting the intruders know how he had actually got out of the building. This was all part of the plan that he had run through his head a hundred times, and if successful he would be able to use the same trick again. Now he could make his way down onto the flat roof one floor below and to freedom across the other buildings.
As he quickly made his way across the rooftops, he knew exactly what lay in front of him, having undertaken a recognisance of the whole area when he first took up residency in the flat. Ahead lay a three and a half metre gap to the next building, and so without hesitating or wanting to check out the jump distance first. Chris increased his speed, in the hope that it would help propel his leap across the void to the next building. The jump turned out to be relativity easy, however he landed a little awkward hurting his right ankle.
For Chris the adrenalin was flowing very fast around his body, disguising any pain that he should have by now been feeling. His eyes were already on the other end of the roof as an area he was heading for. He knew that there was a fire escape ladder on the end of the building that led all the way to the ground, and would be out of sight of any Police cars that were by now all parked by his front and back doors.
Halfway across the roof he was suddenly confronted by two heavily armed and armour clad Police Officers, who suddenly appeared from behind a chimneystack just in front of the fire escape.
Chris had always imagined that at one time or another, he was going to be caught, along with the distinct possibility that he might be killed in the process. Therefore, he had long since decided that rather than spend the rest of his life in prison. It did not worry him if he were killed during his attempted escape. With this attitude in the back of his mind, it did not worry him whatever he tried, in his desperate bid to evade capture.
He never hesitated, but headed straight towards the backyard side of the roof, hoping that the Police Officers at the front of the building would not know what was happening. As far as he as concerned, one way or another he was going to be killed, and so without looking down at whatever awaited him below, he suddenly leapt off the roof feet first.
The two Police Officers were left standing speechless, and wondering what to do next. While Chris was praying that providence might interfere and play a very small part in his future, if indeed he had one. What he was doing was comparable to purchasing a lottery ticket, all he had to do now was to just hang around long enough to find out whether his lucky numbers would come up.
A split second later he crashed through the roof of a tin shed with a terrific bang, collapsing its empty structure under him, while sending up a dense cloud of dust that obscured everything.
Staggering out of the ruins he could not believe that he was still alive. Although it only took a split second for him to realise that he was by now limping badly, suspecting a broken ankle. While one of his arms felt as though it was also broken. However, no amount of pain was going to stop him from making his escape from the scene.
Only to stagger straight into the arms of another Police Officer pointing an automatic weapon at him and telling him to give up, as it was all over. He finally fell to the ground unconscious, after being pistol-whipped on the back of the head, by another Police Officer that had managed to creep up behind him.
As Chris started to regain consciousness, he had a distinct feeling that he was in a hospital. Maybe it was the disinfectant smell of the place, or the stiffened freshly ironed sheets covering his body that was the giveaway. Not to mention the terrible pain that seemed to be affecting his whole body. He might have been unconscious, but he could still remember everything had happened to him.
If he was in a hospital, it was a sure bet that a Police Officer would be within arm’s reach of him. With this in mind, he did not want to let them know that he was coming around. Instead, he pretended to be asleep while using his senses to work out his next move.
He decided that no matter what was to happen to him, he would not move his body, and with the pain, he was experiencing that was going to be hard. What he really wanted to do was to slightly open one of his eyes so that he could get his bearing and take a look at the layout of the room he was in.
It only took a couple of seconds for his suspicions to be confirmed, as a nurse enter the room and asked somebody very close to the bed, how was the patent doing. The guy who answered was on his left, and was sitting down. As he spoke it sounded like his mouth was only a couple of feet away from his head. Chris then realised that he got up, and it seemed like he was walking over to where the nurse was standing. A conversation developed between them, which started about his condition, but soon developed into a question and answer exchange between them. He surmised that the guy who must have been a Police Officer was trying to pick the nurse up. Now would be a good time for him to take a peek, as the Police Officers brain and thoughts were elsewhere, and on another completely different subject, probably that of sex.
He could hear them talking on his left, making an assumption that the Police Officer would have been sitting between him and the door, and when the nurse came in she was also on that side. This told him that the door was on the left side of the room, and knowing that he was a wanted man, he did not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that he would also be in a room on his own.
Very slowly, Chris opened his right eyelid a couple of millimetres, taking a brief look around the right hand side of the room. However, there was nothing but the wall and a couple of hospital machines next to a bedside locker, but at least it confirmed where he was.
As the couple were still in conversation, Chris decided it was time to take a look through his left eye, and there they were standing over by the doorway chatting to each other as if he was not even in the room. They were so carried away in what they were doing that Chris was able to look around the room in very fine detail. He was correct in his assumptions that he was in a small single ward with only one door leading in and out, which was to his left and towards the bottom of the bed. There was a chair to his left and as suspected near the bed. Other than the couple of machines and the locker to his right, the room was completely empty.
He lay back wondering what his next move should be, as there was nothing within arm’s reach that might aid his escape, and that was assuming that he could get past the guard. A sudden twinge of pain shot through his body bring him back to reality, and reminding him that he was also in no fit state to take on the guard, let alone to escape walking unaided.
Chris knew that the best time to escape was just after he had been captured, mainly because you know the area and its surroundings. Once you have been moved to another location that might be hundreds of miles away, you would not have a clue where you were or better still where to go. However, even though he had just been captured he had no idea where he was. Although he knew that if you escape immediately, it would usually catch the enemy off its guard, not expecting it so early in the capture. Especially if you had looked defeated, and willing to give yourself up to the enemy in the first place. For some reason they usually let their guard down and assume that you would do anything they said or wanted you to do. This had all been drummed into his head many years earlier, while he was a member of the military.
Suddenly the Police Officer and the nurse slowly walked out of the room while still talking to each other. By the sound of their voices, they were moving away from his ward and heading down the corridor. Chris could not believe his luck and the opportunist within was going to take full advantage of the situation. He threw back the sheets from the bed and wasted no time in getting his feet to the floor. However, suddenly his whole body was racked with pain as he dropped to his knees cursing. Most of the pain seemed to be coming from his right leg. Upon looking down, he discovered that it was heavily bandaged from the knee to the ankle, and was the main source of his pain. However, he convinced himself that it was not broken because it was not in plaster. Although he suddenly realised that it was going to be very painful to walk on. He also noticed that his left arm was also bandaged from his wrist to his elbow. However, his brain seemed to be working and was racing ahead wondering what to do next. Because it was a sound bet that he was not going to get far, in the condition he was in without help. All of a sudden, he heard the voices coming back up the corridor and they seemed to be getting closer to his room.
Without hesitating he pulled the bedside locker that was on wheels, away from the wall and crawled behind it, where he tried to make himself as small as possible. Once in a reasonably comfortable position he pulled the cupboard back in front of him, held his breath and awaited the outcome.
As the Police Officer entered, the room Chris heard him stop in mid-sentence, realising that he was looking at an empty bed. Immediately his voice was raised asking where the hell was he, the nurse must have been speechless as well because she never said a single word. Instead, it was all left to the Officer, who by this time was going off his head, and talking about being thrown out of the force.
From his very small hiding place, the top right hand side of the bed also protected his position making it very hard for the Officer to see him. For a few brief moments, he froze completely, even holding his breath not wanting to make any sounds that would give his position away. He was also praying that he would not pull the bed away from the wall or in fact walk around the bed to where the locker was positioned. Instead, the Officer totally panicked. His voice got louder and louder, knowing full well that his boss was going to be in one hell of a bad temper, once he told him that he had lost his star prisoner.
As the Officer ran out of the room, Chris could hear his footstep heading down the corridor and away from his room, and was guessing correctly that he was hastily checking the other rooms, before informing his boss of his loss. For some reason and lucky for him the nurse also followed the Officer, leaving him on his own and in an empty room.
Chris slowly crawled out from behind the locker and looked around the room trying to see if there was anywhere better that he could hide. Knowing that when most people are placed in a predicament just like the Officers, they panic and just keep running in the hope of catching up with whomever it was they were looking for. Everybody seems to assume that the escapee will want to place as many miles between themselves and their hunters. When in actual fact Chris had been trained in a completely different manner, it being the total opposite, and to take full advantage of a situation like that. By hiding very close to the scene of the crime. Anyway the pain in his leg was telling him that he was not going to get very far in his condition.
There was nothing in the room that was going to help him and so rather than waste any more time, he slowly hobbled out of the room to be confronted by several hospital staff, all going about their daily chores. Not one of them seemed in the least bit interested in him, and so taking full advantage of the situation he slowly made his way down the corridor in the opposite direction to which the Officer had fled. He had no idea where he was going, but as long as it was away from his room and the guard that was all that mattered for the moment. Now, he was running on instinct and looking for a place to hide. As every step he took brought pain to his body, constantly reminding him that he was not going to get much further. With this in mind, he started trying every door he came across. Looking for an opportunity or a suggestion of an idea of what to do next. A couple of times he was confronted by surprised people within the rooms, but he just apologised closed the door and moved on to the next door.
As he approached a ward reception desk, he could not help noticing that there was at least three nursing staff manning the phones. While others were attending to several people all positioned around the desk making enquirers of one kind or another. The place seemed to be in pandemonium as everybody was asking questions at the same time.
Once again taking full advantage of the situation Chris just looked down at the floor and blatantly walked past them all. One of his old service mottos was, to never give people eye contact, and usually they would not challenge you. Once again, it worked, as he slowly made his way past the desk, heading further down the corridor and to what he hoped would be his freedom.
Then as he rounded a corner, he came upon a wheel chair with a blanket draped over one of the arm rests, parked by the main toilet block. He could not believe his luck. It was just as though somebody had left it especially for him, and there was no way he was going to refuse such a kind offer. As he lowered himself into the chair, he felt the severe pain from his leg ease slightly. He then wrapped the lower half of his body with the blanket, trying to cover up his bandaged leg. No need broadcasting to everybody that he had a bad leg. Believing he was on a winning streak, he released the brake and tried to grab the wheels to propel himself down the corridor. It was only then that he realised that it was not going to be as easy as he had first thought. Because his left arm was heavily bandaged, he could not use his wrist as normal, and when he first tried to push the wheels it went round in a circle as the left hand was not doing anything. After a couple of minutes, he gradually got the hang of it and slowly he made a little progress. Although it was very slow going it was still better than walking and he was going to take full advantage of that fact. It was also his belief that his captors would not be looking for somebody in a wheelchair.
It did not take him long to get the hang of it, and he headed down one of the corridors quite blatantly weaving in and out of other patents and staff, in his effort to escape. At one stage, two very young nurses even opened a door for him and giggle as he thanked them.
He even managed to get passed a second receptionists desk manned by two more nurses, without even raising an eyebrow, and headed into a lift that had been left open for him by a very kind old gentleman.
Chris realised that it was no good going down to the front entrance, as the building was going to be crawling with Police within just a few more minutes.
He decided to get out of the lift on level 7, being his lucky number. As the lift door opened, the old feller helped Chris steer the wheelchair out of the lift and wished him a nice day. Chris thanked him and told him that so far it had been. He then smiled at him and made his way down another corridor, reading the names that were printed above each and every door.
Within just a few minutes, he came across one that read laundry, and tried the door to find it open. He then got out of the wheelchair and pushed it into the room, stowing it in a corner amongst a few cardboard boxes. He then examined the room and discovered a ventilation grill in the ceiling above a wooden rack that was full of hospital linen. Somehow, he managed to climb up the rack, forced open the vent and crawled inside. For the moment he was safe, but for how long he had no idea. By staying around the scene of the crime, he was hopping that his would be captors, would be looking for him elsewhere, giving him a little breathing space. After just a few moments he fell asleep completely exhausted at what he had just accomplished.
Chris was awakened and startled by the sound of a door slamming just below him, as he looked through the grill from his hiding place. He watched a nurse removing bed linen from the shelves. While trying to keep as quiet as possible, so as not to arouse her suspicions that he was right above her. It also gave him a chance to try and work out exactly where he was, and to what time of day he had suddenly been awoken to, as there were no windows in the room. One thing he did know was that he was feeling very hungry, and his mouth was also very dry. Somehow, he would have to try and find some food and drink. He was also feeling very cold lying in the metal duct, as he was only wearing a thin pair of cotton pyjamas.
Once the nurse had left the room he quietly climbed out of his hiding place and down the shelving to the ground. As he looked around at all of the items stored on the racks he noticed a pile of dressing gowns, and grabbed the top one, and put it on. He also found a pair of crutches in the corner deciding to use them rather than the wheel chair he had found earlier. Slowly he opened the door and looked out into an empty corridor, and decided that it did not matter which way he went, as he had no idea where it would lead him. Although the one thing a hospital is good for, is signage, showing you the way around the building, as long as you know where you are going.
Slowly he hobbled down the corridor just hoping that it was not the middle of the night, as that would arouse the nurses, in to wondering why he was out of bed. When he came across a lift, he took a ride down to the ground floor, as his stomach reminded him that he had to look for some food. Chris had not visited many hospitals in his lifetime but he knew that the ground floor was usually where you would find a cafeteria. He also knew that was where he was going to find several Police Officers manning the exits and looking for him.
The lift door opened on to a very large open reception area that also lead to two large sliding glass doors, that opened out to daylight and a busy main road. While positioned on the other side of the doors stood two large burly Police Officers.
The entrance hall had several people walking around, with some entering and some leaving the building. The Police Officers were checking every one of them. However, Chris had no intentions of leaving the building. For the moment, he felt safer staying where he was, but he was feeling very hungry. His nose suddenly informed him that food was being cooked and served somewhere in the near vicinity.
The cafe was easy to find as it was positioned to his right in an open fronted side room. Quite a few people were sitting at the tables, but there were plenty of empty ones. However, what Chris was looking for was a table that had some uneaten food left on it. For once Chris was hoping that the cafe staff was a little relaxed in their cleaning routines. Not only did he not have any money, he did not even have any pockets in his pyjamas. For the moment he would have to try and scrounge whatever he could get his hands on.
Luckily, he found a table on its own with a half-eaten sausage roll and a mouth full of cold tea. Chris was not the type of person who worried what people thought of him, he was a survivor, and if it meant people looking and talking about him, well so be it. Although normally he would go out of his way, to ensure that people did not notice him, he usually liked to blend into the background when possible. The one thing in his favour at the moment was the fact that he was in a hospital, and you meet some strange people in hospitals. He made up his mind that if he were challenged he would try and act a little retarded, at least that way he might get some sympathy and maybe a little help.
As he looked around he spied a newspaper on another table, and so he walked over, picked it up, and then returned to finish off his cold cup of tea. He was not interested in the front-page story, just the date. It was the 15th, and from that he deducted that he’d been unconscious for almost two days. So now, he knew that it was a Sunday. While stamped along the top of the newspaper in bold red ink, it read, ‘This is the property of the St James Hospital for the use of its patents’. Now he knew where he was, and lucky for him he was only a couple of miles from his flat, so once he got out of the hospital he knew the area, and would be able to escape down any of the side alleys that he knew well.
Unfortunately, as far as he could see there was no more food to be had from the other tables. Chris convinced himself that people were a little more careful with their money than they used to be. It was no good sitting around as it might draw attention to him, and there was also the chance that the Police might still be walking around the building. As he got up to leave, he noticed a clock above the counter informing him that it was 11-35. He worked out that it must be in the morning as it was light outside and anyway there were plenty of people walking about.
It was a good job that he remembered the floor back to the linen cupboard, otherwise he would have been in trouble, when he realised that there were 15 floors to the building. As the lift door opened on floor 7, the smell of food greeted his nostrils. Looking in the direction from where it was coming from, he noticed a meals trolley standing on its own in the corridor outside one of the wards. Obviously, a hospital helper was taking the midday meals around, and had stopped to drop one off into the room it was standing in front of. Chris left one of his crutches by the lift door and hobbled up to the trolley. Without hesitating, he took a plate of food that was covered by an aluminium cover, from the top of the trolley and limped off in the direction of his hiding place.
He found it a little awkward climbing the shelving in the linen room, to return to his hiding place in the air duct, while carrying the plate of food he had just stolen from the hallway. However, when you are desperate you can usually undertake super human feats, with great success.
It was while he was eating the long awaited meal that he started to think of where he was. With the constant air flowing past his body, he knew that he would not be able to stay where he was all of the time. The cold air that was constantly flowing through the duct would soon dehydrate him, and drop his body temperature to a dangerous level. Although he had grabbed a couple of blankets from the room, to cover his body and to keep him warm. Not only that the plate of food he had with him would also be giving off smells that would not usually be coming out of air ducts. He would have to find somewhere else within the hospital building to move to, but at this stage, he had no ideas.
Inspector Knights was sure that the ‘Magician’ as his team had nick named Chris because of his disappearance, was still hiding somewhere in the building. He had ordered his men to make a fine search of the building. However, it was turning out to be an enormous task, as the building had fifteen floors, not to mention numerous out buildings. He had set a task room up on the 10th floor not far from where Chris’s ward had been. For some reason he was convinced that he had not left the building, as Officers had been stationed in other parts of the building, and nobody had seen him.
With a few of his men standing around him, Inspector Knights was running over a few of the details, of areas that they had already searched. Suddenly he noticed the smell of food in the room. It caught his attention because it suddenly came from nowhere. He asked if any of them had food with them, to which all agreed that they did not. That’s strange, he told them, and I was convinced that I could smell some sort of cooked food. One of his Constables agreed with him, that he could also smell whatever it was. Within seconds, all in the room were sniffing and agreed that they could faintly smell something. Being detectives it only took them a couple of minutes to work out that the smell was coming from the air vent above their heads.
Inspector Knights took his Officers out of the room and into the corridor. Quietly he informed them that maybe the ‘Magician’ was in the air vent, after all he would have to eat. What better place than to take your food back to your hiding place. It was an area that they had not thought to search, and why would the smell of food be coming from the air duct anyway. He continued to talk very quietly just in case their prisoner was above them listening to what they had to say. There was no need to pre-warn him of their plans, as sound travels long distances in air ducts.
He ordered the search to be stopped, so that they could re-group and start again. Only this time they were to start from the top, and work their way down. There was no way that he wanted to flush him out onto the roof, after the last stunt he had pulled on them, back at his flat. This time they were to check every single nook and crannies they could find and that included the air vents. For some reason Inspector Knights was convinced that the Magician’s instincts would force him to go up the building, in order to escape his capture, rather than down, where he knew the Police Officers would be waiting for him. He even detailed one Officer to look into the possibility of using a Police dog, being allowed to enter the air ducts.
Once a floor had been secured, an Officer was to be placed at each set of lift doors, so that the ‘Magician’ could not move between floors. He wanted to be able to move on right down the entire building, knowing that there was no way that he could double back on them. While outside every exit and ground floor windows had to be guarded, and every person who entered or left the building, had to be checked, with no exceptions. Knights was convinced that Chris was holed up somewhere within the building, and there was no way that he was going to let him escape.
It wasn’t long before Chris heard noises coming through the ducting system, informing him that the Police were checking out his hiding place in other parts of the building. It was only going to be a matter of time before they stumbled onto him. As far as he could make out the noise was coming from above him. Now was the time to move out of his air vent hidey-hole, but to where he had no idea, just as long as it was lower down the building. He knew that these building were usually duplicated on every floor, making it easy to find another vent on another floor. However, it was a waste of time, if they had worked out where he was hiding, it would not be long before they checked out every single floor. The only alternative was to break out from the building, and to try and disappear out in the street.
Grabbing just one of the crutches, he made his way down a corridor looking for any type of clothing that he would disguise his looks. For now, he was using the crutch but he knew that at some time or other he would have to dump it, as it was a dead giveaway as to who he was.
Luck was with him, when he stumbled onto a changing room area, and found a patients clothing hanging on the back of a door. To his amazement, there was also a small brief case in the cubicle.
Chris set about removing the bandages from his arm, to discover a very long stitched up gash down his forearm that had needed over twenty stitches to close it up. Luckily for him it was not bleeding otherwise he would have been in trouble, trying to hide it. After taking the bandages from his leg, it revealed a very swollen ankle, but there were no cuts. When he removed his pyjamas, he noticed that his chest was very black, indicating that he had probable got a couple of broken ribs. He then wasted no time in putting on the clothing he had just found. Although they did not fit him perfectly, it was good enough to disguise his looks and hopefully aid his escape from the building.
This was what he wanted, something to completely change his looks to throw his chasers of the scent. All he needed now was a stethoscope to hang around his neck and with a little luck he might pass as a doctor.
Chris made his way to a lift, and mingled with several people who were already riding it down. Unfortunately, it stopped at almost every floor, as people came in and others left. On one level one guy carrying a large bag, banged into Chris’s left arm in his effort to squeeze in. For a brief moment, pain shot around his body, leaving Chris to grit his teeth not wanting to attract any attention towards him.
Every time the door opened, his heart stopped wondering what was going to happen next, and of who might appear in the lift doorway. Luckily for Chris, he had made his way to the back wall, in order to hide behind the other people. This helped save him on one floor, when the door opened and two Police Officers entered, the by now almost full lift. Lucky for him they got out three floors below, and he breathed a little easier.
As the lift door opened on the ground floor, he walked out quite blatantly in front of another Police Officer, standing by the door waiting to enter. Playing the part of a Doctor, he imagined he was, while making sure that he did not make eye contact with him. As his earlier training had taught him, you never turn away or hesitate in situations like this. These actions can always be noticed and picked up on, by people like the Police, who are trained to pick up tell-tale signs that criminals tend to leave in their wake.
Unfortunately, Chris was having problems trying to walk normally. The ankle was giving him a lot of pain, However, he was determined to act as normal as possible. While in his now painful left hand he was trying to hang onto the brief case. Leaving his right and good hand free, just in case he needed to use it. He made his way towards the cafe where he took a seat facing the exit doors. Now it was a case of watching the Officers manning the door, and to try and find a chink in their armour. Somehow, he had to work out a way of getting passed them and out of the building.
He was presented with another problem, as he had no money. He could not buy himself a cup of tea, or make a phone call. If and when he finally got out of the building, he would not be able to phone for a cab. It was just more food for thought as to what he could do next. However, he was an opportunist and what he was looking for was an opportunity that he was going to grab with both hands, once it presented its self. He was also a strong believer that if you waited long enough, something would usually turn up. However, he also knew that he could not hang around too long, in case he aroused somebody’s suspicions. He was also convinced that the people searching the building were slowly making their way down to where he was actually sitting. Time was not on his side at the moment, even though so far he had been very lucky. All he needed now was for his luck to hold just that little bit longer.
It was a tension filled time for Chris knowing full well that at any moment somebody might recognise and arrest him. Where he was sitting he was in constant view of a lot of people as they arrived or left the cafe. At one time, a Police Officer and a plain cloths detective came in to the cafe for a cup of tea. Lucky for Chris they sat right behind him, so neither could see his face. There was no other way, he just had to brave it out, and wait for his moment.
His chance came when he spied a coach load of old people pull up outside the main doors. His brain was working overtime and fast as he realised that they would all be walking along very slow and getting in everybody’s way. To add to this, two of the main lifts had just disgorged full loads of people into the main entrance hall. Who would soon be heading for the main entrance to leave. Without hesitation Chris got up and somehow managed to walk over to join in with the large group of people leaving the building. Then just as he had imagined, they all reached the front door at the very same moment as the thirty or so old people did on the other side. It was pandemonium for a few moments, as the Police Officers did not know what to do. There was just no way that they could check everybody, instead they choose to eye as many people as possible. Chris, who was by now carrying the brief case in the other good hand, broke all of his rules and raised the case a foot into the air as if to acknowledge the Police Officer with a polite hello. One of them returned the gesture by nodding his head as if to say sorry for the bedlam, but it was out of his control. Un-known to Chris, when his arm had been hit in the lift, it had broken a couple of the stitches. By now a small amount of blood was running down his arm into his half cupped hand and dripping on the floor as he walked.
He could not believe his luck he was actually outside of the building and walking with everybody else towards the main road. Just behind the bus was a taxi and somebody had just got out and was paying the cabbie. He made his way over to where it stood and once the traveller had left, he called out asking if he was free. At this stage, Chris was not worried about the fact that he did not have any money, he just wanted to put as many miles between him and the hospital as possible.
The cabbie told him to hop in, and so Chris opened the back door. However, just as he bent down to get inside, a hand suddenly gripped his right shoulder. As he turned his head he was greeted by a smiling Inspector Knights, saying “not so fast young man. I think you have a few questions to answer.”
Un-known to Chris, Inspector Knights had been one of the many people coming out of the lifts. While walking towards the front doors his suspicions had been aroused by the awkward way in which he was walking. Once he had looked down at his feet, because of his limp, he realised that the trousers Chris was wearing were a little short and did not seem to fit him correctly. It then became apparent to him that the jacket was also short and very tight. In fact, everything about him was starting to look quite odd. The final straw was the sight of a small amount of blood running down his left wrist into his hand and dripping onto the floor.
Inspector knights was not sure who he was, or if in deed he was the man he was looking for, but at least he was going to check him out. While later he might chase up the Officers who had let him pass unhindered out of the building.
Chris found himself in a windowless room, and handcuffed to a wooden chair while seated at a bare wooden table, and staring at two plain clothes Police Officers. He knew from when he was first brought into the building, that it was somewhere deep within the bowels of the local Police station.
The larger of the two, who looked in charge, introduced himself to Chris as Detective Inspector Knights, and gesturing to his partner, he announced him as Detective Ben Wright. The Inspector then asked Chris what his name was, but he was having nothing to do with it. He had decided to sit it out in silence, while contemplating his next escape. Having been able to watch the city whiz past the window of the Police car, as they delivered him to the station, he still had a little idea as to where he was. There was no way he was going to assist them in their quest for information, by giving details of his past, that he believed they did not already have on record.
The Inspector had a good idea that Chris was not going to cooperate, as he had not spoken a single word since his capture. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise to him when he refused to answerer his question. Realising that he was going to react in this way, the Inspector had decided to carry on as if nothing had gone wrong with his plans. His next move was to take a small folder from his brief case with the words ‘The Electrician’ typed on the front. He then opened it, before dropping it on the table in front of him. Slowly he proceeded to read from the very first page, so that Chris could hear and hopefully understand every single word, he was about to tell him. By taking his time he was hoping to stretch out what few details he actually had, while also trying to hide the fact that the pages were few and far between. Not to mention that many were in fact blank.
Chris looked down at the file and almost laughed to himself at its thickness, thinking that all they had on him was the address of his flat. However, Detective Inspector Knights surprised him when he suddenly asked why he had always used cable tie wraps, to bind up his victims. Trying not to alter the expression on his face, Chris continued to say nothing. It was also his aim to try and not alter his body language. In this way, he was hoping that he would not give them anything in his armoury of tricks.
Once again, his military training was coming into play. He knew that when it came to interrogation and torture, there was nobody in the world who would not crack under some of the methods now being used throughout the world. Unless that is, they were prepared to die, while with holding their secrets.
Suddenly the whole atmosphere in the room changed as the door was flung open and three men entered, with one waving a piece of paper in front of Detective Inspector Knights. At almost the same time an argument started to develop between the two different factions within the room. From what Chris could work out, they were arguing over him, and to who owned him.
Almost immediately Inspector Knights lost his temper, explaining that he had spent the past few years trying to capture him. It had cost his office a lot of sleepless nights, time, personnel and money, and here were a couple of strangers waving a piece of paper at him. Declaring that the law had decreed that they had jurisdiction over him, and could take him away. It was no good him arguing because it soon became evident that the new comers were going to take him whatever avenue of protest Knights tried to pursue.
It was then that the word Mi6 was mentioned, putting a new light onto the predicament that Chris now found himself in. All of a sudden the atmosphere in the room changed, and Knights signed the piece of paper that had been thrust in front of him, releasing Chris from his jurisdiction. He was also ordered to hand over all files and records they had in connection with him. With this completed they both left the room feeling a little dejected, leaving Chris to be escorted out of the building, by his new owners.
This time he was covered with a thick blanket, before he left the building. Making it impossible for him to see where he was going, and leaving him a little disorientated. It was also to stop the public from seeing who he was, and of being able to identify him at a later date.
Although you did not have to be a brain surgeon, to know that Mi6 operated from the heart of London, and he knew that area quite well. There was no cause for alarm, if he could come up with a plan he would know the layout of the land as they say.
He tried his hardest to listen to the sounds from outside of the car, for that little tell-tale noise that would give him a clue as to where he was. However, his new captors were one step ahead of him as they had the radio turned up full blast. They had obviously been trained well in the prisoner deprivation stakes, and were going to be tougher nuts to crack than Detective Inspector Knights. For the first time Chris knew that this time, his capture was for real. He doubted very much that he would be able to escape from these guys, but it was always worth keeping an open mind.
When the blanket was finally removed from Chris’s head, he found himself sitting in an almost bare windowless room, containing only a small wooden table and four old steel framed chairs showing their age with signs of rust on the legs. Along one of the walls was a small mirror, which would leave the average person wondering as to why you would ever want a mirror in a bare room. After all, not many people would want to tidy their dress or hairstyle before being questioned. With this in mind Chris came to the only conclusion possible, that it was probably a two-way mirror. After all, isn’t that what is usually portrayed in the vast majority of cops and robber films that are released nowadays.
The man who had removed the blanket was by now sitting on the opposite side of the table. Not directly in front of him, but to his left. While the chair directly opposite was empty. Standing a little further back near the door was another figure, a rather large gentleman who Chris quickly decided was the boss, and in charge of what was going to be some sort of an interview, or whatever was about to happen to him.
After a few seconds the person near the door introduced himself as Harry, as he walked forward and sat down opposite Chris. He then placed a rather thick folder on the table in front of him. Chris immediately subconsciously nick named him Uncle Harry, something he did with most people he met.
Chris could not help noticing that the folder was much thicker than the one Inspector Knights had placed in front of him only a few hours earlier. Glancing at the front cover, Chris read the word ‘Electrician’, which left him wondering what it was all about. Although he made a sure bet with himself, that before he left the room he would know a lot more, than he did when he first arrived. After all something was in the wind, and guessing by the way he had been snatched away from the clutches of Inspector Knights and secretly delivered to his present location, it had to be of importance. Which left him thinking that he might be in the company of Mi5 or 6, and you can’t climb the ladder much higher than these guys.
Once Harry was comfortable and had stretched the silence out as long as he thought necessary, just like a play actor. He then opened the folder and glanced at the first page. After a further period of silence, he looked up at Chris. “I’ve told you my name, now wouldn’t it be polite if you were to tell me yours, that way we could both have a nice cosy little chat,” Harry asked.
Chris was adamant he was not going to talk. So far he had been in Police custody for more than two days, and in that time he had not uttered a single word, so why should he start now. Besides nothing had been offered as bait dangling in front of him. He had no idea who Harry was, or what he wanted, so for the moment he decided to leave things just as they were. However, Chris had already made up his mind that with a folder that thick, if they had known his name it would have been on the front page.
After another pregnant pause of silence, Uncle Harry once again cut the ice, by explaining to Chris that it would be easier and better for him if he had a name, and so for the moment he would like to call him Chris. At least that way it would be easier for him to be able to talk one on one to somebody who had a name.
This caught Chris a little off guard, realising that they did in fact know who he was. Although he decided he would stick to his guns and not to acknowledge the revelation. Anyway, maybe it was all they had on him, and were just fishing, and so for the moment he was not going to take the bait.
Harry started reading from the first page of the file teasing Chris with details of his early life. Catching Chris off his guard believing they were very private. While wondering how they might have obtained such information. Although he had to admit that they were very accurate. However, there were details that only he or very close members of the family would have known.
Gradually Chris became interested in just how much they really did know, although he tried not to show it. However, he listened to everything Uncle Harry had to say, and wondering what was coming next.
Without realising it Chris withdrew into his own little world, as the details of his early history continued. They were accurate and within his mind he started personally filling in the little gaps and to relive the experience of his growing up.
Chris had been born on the colourful island of Singapore in the Far East, to British parents Peter and Irene Lawler. While his father was serving overseas on a special assignment for the British Army. Upon his birth, his mother had named and registered him as Christopher. Although his father had other ideas, and having a forceful nature and reputation, he immediately abbreviated it to Chris, and insisted on its use.
It was January 1947, a time when most people were still trying to get their lives back together after the ravages and upheavals of the Second World War. A time when the British where still bravely showing their flag around the world, in the hope that it was still a sign of their so called world dominance. Hoping it scared other lessor nations into cooperating with them, as they tried to protect their world business investments and interests they had lucratively enjoyed before the war. Trying to give the impression to the rest of the world that they would assist the evolving nations around the world. In their quest to become independent and helped into the twentieth century. As long as they toed the line and chose the Westminster system, and still allowed Britain first choice of any trade. Strange as it might seem their plan seemed to be working okay. Although for Chris he found that part of his life a little hard to recall in minute detail, if at all.
After completing a tour of duty while on loan to HMS Terror Naval Base, Major Peter Lawler was recalled back to England. To be posted to the Military Police Headquarters based in the Suffolk Military town of Colchester. Where he was placed in charge of the detention centre located within the barracks. Ensuring that the Army personal who were incarcerated within as punishment for some sort of military crime. That they were and severely punished and corrected. In military terms indoctrinated by putting them through the ringer. Although some would say they had been hung out to dry. A position he held for several years, while undertaking his role to the full extent of the law.
By nature, he was a man who up held the military rules and regulations quite verdantly, which meant that he did not have many social friends. It was also this same part of his nature that rubbed off on his family life. Ensuring that Chris also adhere strictly to the rules, something he hated but was forced to comply. There was no doubt that he had been brought up knowing right from wrong, and was more than happy to go along with that line of thought. However, what he did object to was the way in which his father ruled the roost, and in the way he usually went over the top. Especially to other members of his own family, and that included his wife. So to say, that Chris was brought up quite strict was an understatement. Knowing no other way of life, he grudgingly he had to go along with it. Secretly Chris always believed that his father should have left the Regimental side of his life in the Army Barracks, along with his military friends.
As the family had always lived on military establishments, Chris had always been involved in the service way of life.
Being an only child, he had grown up missing the basic essentials of life, by not getting used to the sounds of other children playing around him. Missing their screams, arguments, fights, and most of all the closeness and bond that most families of more than one child seemed to develop. A bond that later in life helps them look after, and help each other in most situations. Hence in later life he found it hard when he was around young children at play. It was another reason why he had grown up as a bit of a loner, never relying on anybody. Whatever needed to be done, he would do it himself. In that way he knew the task had been completed and to his satisfaction.
However, being an only child he did not believe that his parents had spoiled him. Something he occasionally heard being said by others. Although only when they thought his back was turned. Just like other children he had received presents, but no more than other families.
During days when it rained, and in the UK it rained on many occasions during the winter. He would have to try and amuse himself the best way he could, on his own. Chris always believed that it had a large bearing on his life style in later life.
Around the age of ten he managed to secure himself a local newspaper delivery round. The money he earned and tried to save was not a vast amount. However, his father would make him hand over a few shillings each week to his mother as housekeeping money, as it was called in those days.
At the time he did not believe it was fair. However, it was later in life when he realised that the experience had helped him look after his own monetary affairs. Pay your own way was his motto, along with if you have not got the money, save up and buy it. For him, there would be no such thing as on the Tick, Hire Purchase or on the Slate as it was sometimes known. This was discouraged and enforced at every opportunity by his father.
While delivering newspapers around the area, and especially when he collected the payment each Saturday morning, he had made friends with one of his customers who was known as Old Tom. Tom had also gained the title of being the Local Poacher, and was good at it. He was an elderly gentleman who had never married, and had lived on his own for most of his life. He lived off the land and had made an art of secretly collecting his food from the countryside around him. This did include a certain amount of poaching of the local game and it was illegal. It was this activity that gave him a bad name amongst all the towns folk. However, it did not stop Chris from visiting him at every opportunity, and of becoming one of his only friends. There were those from the town that said, Old Tom was supposed to be a Gypsy or of Romany blood. Although nobody ever proved it as it was just idle gossip. However, it gave the local people with nothing better to do, something to talk about.
Tom would take Chris out with him and show him the tricks of the trade where possible. The favourite catch for Tom was always a rabbit, while it is not strictly game, it was still caught on private farmland and this was what made it illegal. The lessons that Old Tom explained and demonstrated to Chris were secrets that had been handed down over the years to only a few select people. These lessons would contribute to his survival in later life, while trying to survive on his own. There was an art to skinning a rabbit and preparing it for the cooking pot. Lessons that Chris learnt well.
One incident that Chris remembered was when they were out late one afternoon. It had been raining and was by then starting to get dark. Old Tom was showing him different ways of coaxing rabbits out of their burrows. Chris put his hand down one such burrow like he had been taught a hundred times before. Suddenly he looked at Tom telling him that something was wrong. It was not like all the other times. This time he had hold of something that felt strange to him.
“What does it feel like,” Old Tom asked. Chris went on to describe something that was long round and about a quarter of an inch in diameter.
“Let it go, and leave it in the hole and slowly withdraw your hand,” Tom told him. Which is exactly what Chris did, he then turned and asked Tom what it was. “It’s probably a rat, you would have been touching its tail. It would not have bitten you because it was in the darkness of the rabbit burrow. However, if you had brought it out into the evening light, then it would have sunk its teeth right into your hand. There’s a good chance that it would have infected you with one of many diseases that they carry.” This was a valuable lesson that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Once Old Tom told him a story of and earlier London Street entertainer who used a Post Office mail bag in his act. These bags were made up of a very close tight weave, that would not allow daylight to pass through. The entertainer would then be seen to place a few rats into the bag. He would then stick his head in side of the bag and suddenly appear with a rat in his mouth, having grabbed it at the back of its neck. He ended the story by telling him that he used the same principle.
In the past Tom had also shown Chris how to catch a rat, skin and cut it up for cooking in a stew. Although Chris had stopped short of actually eating it, but not Old Tom he had finished off a full plate right in front of him.
Tom also kept four Ferrets in a cage at the back of his house. These were also for assisting in the capture of rabbits. They would be placed down a rabbit hole and as they went through the burrows they would chase the Rabbits out of what were known as bolt holes. These would have been pre-covered with a net so that as the rabbits tried to escape they became entangled in the net and were then very easy to catch. Old Tom would flick the net in a certain way allowing the rabbit to fall to the ground already dead from a broken neck.
The ferrets had very sharp teeth that pointed back into their mouth, just like a Shark or fresh water Pike. This meant that if you were bitten on the hand, when you tried to pull your hand away, the teeth would sink further into the flesh. Chris learnt that you move your hands very slow whenever you were around ferrets. They could also sense and pick up if you were scared of them. This would also have made them bite in order to protect themselves. Chris was very good with them and in all the time that he worked and played with the ferrets he was never bitten. Even Old Tom had been bitten a few times in his career and had the scars on his hands and arms to prove it.
Tom also had a faithful old dog named Bob, who was getting passed his used by date. It was hard to tell what breed he was by just looking at him. He was more of a bittza breed, old Tom would say, a bittza this and a bittza that. He would sometimes use Bob to chase and catch the occasional rabbit that tried to get away from their nets that they had set. Although Bob was getting a little too old for this type of work, he still enjoyed a run with Chris and his master.
Chris’s parents had never allowed him to have a dog. So whenever he could he would always make a fuss of Bob and treat him as his own.
It was also amazing that Chris’s parents did not stop him visiting the old hermit. They felt and believed that at least it was keeping him out of mischief and off the street corners. A favourite saying of his father that he would constantly keep using.
His father could see that Chris was growing up and growing up fast. It would not be long before he could take care of himself. A lot of boys his age was ending up in trouble with the law, while hanging around in gangs on street corners. But not Chris, he was a loner. Although the poaching was against the law, at least his family were eating well and the Police were not knocking on the door on a regular basis. The bonus for them was that he would bring some food home if he had been lucky that day out in the fields. It was not a case of stealing for the sake of stealing and throwing away whatever it was that they had caught. Old Tom had taught Chris well, that you only take what you need. Leave the rest for other people or so that they might multiply for the future. Yes, Old Tom had taken Chris under his wing and he was a very good teacher. Although Chris had become a very good learner and was quick at picking things up.
During the last four years of his schooling as well as handing over the house keeping money to his mother he managed to purchase himself a bicycle to help him deliver his newspapers, an encyclopaedia to assist with his education and knowledge of the world. Along with small camera, that was of poor quality and lasted only a couple of years. Although it was a bit of a god send really, as he could never save enough money to have the photos developed, sometimes being months after they were originally taken.
While still very young and against his wishes his father enlisted him into the Boy Scouts. Once again taking the view that it would be a good way for him to get used to discipline. Chris remembers this part of his life well and in fact enjoyed meeting the other boys many of which were not from Military backgrounds. Especially the instructors, who were friendly while teaching the boys the basics of survival. He became one of the top pupils in rope work and the art of tying knots, most of which were not only used in the military but by many civilian trades. They were also taught the art of camping, cooking, and the basics of looking after themselves, that could also be used in his daily routines back home.
While at the same time he was also being educated at a local school near the military camp. However, it had all been a great disappointment to his father, when he turned out to be a so called average pupil in his class. Unfortunately, not the genius scholar that his father had always hoped he would be, and had certainly tried his hardest to push him towards.
At the tender age of 15 during January of 1962, he was once again forced by his father to become a boy soldier and to join the ranks of the Army Cadets. Just as he had guessed, the main emphasis of the training was on discipline and the so-called making of the man, as his father had always called it. The hardest part of this whole experience that upset Chris was that he was always expected to be as good or even better than his father. Although there were times when he doubted he wanted that, and if it were to happen he would have found some reason to criticise him. This sort of pressure that was always being placed upon him was laying the groundwork for him to totally rebel against authority at a later time in his life. It was as though his father was living his life for him, and doing what he had wished he had done while he was young.
How could he be as good as his father, after all he was still of school age. While his father was 38 and had twenty years of experience in the Army. With all that time under his belt, how could he not be good at his job? Chris wanted to make it in the world but on his own terms and in his own chosen subjects. To do what others expected of him just seemed so artificial and a total waste of time, as his heart was not in it. Full credit must be given to Chris for the way in which he overcame most of the early obstacles that were placed in front of him.
Although during those four years, he achieved the rank of a Section Leader and stood out amongst all the other lads around him, something that made his father very proud. Although he never once let his guard down to confided in Chris that he was proud of what he had achieved.
By the time he was 18 he had once again been encouraged, although Chris believed that he was forced by his father to move on. To enlist into the Army full time, and to make a full career of it. That meant the possibility of serving his country for at least twenty-two years. Something he had never contemplated or had given it a lot of thought. Therefore, for the first time in his life Chris had only agreed to do so, if he were allowed to become just an ordinary private. Not the Officer as his father had tried to push him into being, just so he could be proud that his son had carried on his family tradition. After a lot of arguing with his father, Chris won the day and enlisted. Being sent to Aldershot to undertake his basic training.
It did not take long before Chris was standing out above some of the others boy, and not because of whom his father was. It was his sheer guts and ability, along with the fact that he had been in the military now for over four years, and so he knew the ropes as they say. Whereas most of the other recruits around him had just simply walked in off the street.
Even as recruits, there are always those that are promoted and placed in charge of the other fellow recruits. In this way, the Officers and Non Commissioned Officers can see who amongst them have leadership potential. It also helped them to work out who of the recruits are going to make the grade, and who were going to fall by the way side.
Therefore, Chris found himself being made up to a Section leader, and the responsibility of mustering up the other new recruits on to the parade ground. His first reaction was that the other recruits might resent his promotion, thinking that it was his father’s connections that had ordered it. However, and to his surprise, most of the other boys welcomed his promotion, for it meant that he was taking the heat and attention away from them. Not many of them wanted the extra responsibility and work that went along with the job of Section Leader. As far as they were concerned, he could have the job. Although for Chris it was their respect that he really wanted. To gain that he was going to have to earn it, prove to them that he did indeed deserve the job, while not looking down on them.
It was impossible for Chris to hide the fact of who his father was, that sort of gossip went around military camps like wild fire. Some of the sadistic instructors would have pounced on to that sort of information. Then there would have been the fully trained soldiers who had been detained and served time under the brutal regime of his father in the detention centre. Not many people would have been able to forget their time spent in the so-called glasshouse. However, he seemed to have been able to weather that sort of attention and most people just left him alone. Especially after witnessing him in the boxing ring something that all recruits had to go through during their basic training.
Chris became a champion even after a bad start when he had to confront one of the instructors who did have a small grudge against him. He then broke one of the golden rules, that you always let the senior instructors win. Otherwise they will do their utmost to break you, for making a fool of them in front of the other recruits. Chris laid the instructor on his back and almost out for the count. He then had to await him getting to his feet and for the battering he expected to come his way. As the fight continued Chris once again almost dropped the instructor to his knees. However, the fight was finally stopped by the Sergeant referee who made them shake hands, and clear the ring, so that the other recruits could have their turn. The instructor then surprised Chris by coming over to him and offering him his out stretched hand in an offer of friendship. He then told Chris that as far as he was concerned he did not need his old man’s help to survive the rigors of Army life, and that he could stand on his own two feet unaided.
His basic training only lasted six weeks and Chris could not believe that he actually enjoyed most of it, and as had been predicted by the Officers he came out as one of the top recruits. Before being posted to a unit, he volunteered for parachute training and to his surprise his request was granted. Within a couple of weeks, he found himself arriving at the Abingdon barracks fit and ready to jump.
Abingdon was not an Army camp, it was run by the RAF (Royal Air Force), an old throw back from the Second World War when the RAF undertook all of the parachute training. Which actually works in the volunteer jumper’s favour. Instead of an Army Sergeant screaming at you to do whatever it is, with the RAF Officers it’s more of a case of them politely asking if you would like to do this or perhaps you wouldn’t mind doing that.
Once again Chris stood out, when he volunteered for anything, whenever the instructors asked for somebody it was always Chris who got his hand up first. It was not a case of him wanting to stand out. It was just that he loved and enjoyed most of what they were doing. During school he had learnt that he who actually undertakes the task, learns far more than somebody who just sits back and writes it down. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise when during the first jump he asked to be the first to exit the Balloon basket from 800 feet. A request that was willingly given to him as most of the others wanted to exit last.
Exiting from the balloon can be very scary to the raw recruits. There is not a lot of noise just the gentle sway of the basket and light wind making gentle whispering noise as it blows past the guide wires. Not like jumping from a plane when the roar of the engine drowns out most of the hesitation within them. It’s why a soldier is taught to scream when he runs at the enemy with just a bayonet on the end of his rifle. It’s still very scary, but at least you won’t hear the enemy scream back when the bayonet makes contact with his body.
The other recruits would not refuse to jump; it was just that they did not want to be the first. It gave them a chance to watch somebody else be the so-called test dummy. Then if they were to do it wrong, or if something was to go wrong. Then they would be able to see it happen to somebody else. So it was that it got to the stage whenever volunteers were asked for, his fellow jumpers would all point at Chris, who took to the challenge with a smile. The instructor’s favourite joke was to tell them that if the parachuted failed to open, they should take it back to the store-room and draw another one.
Each section of the military that are trained at Abingdon is made up of all of the services, Army, Parachute Regiment, Marines, Navy and even the Special Air Service (SAS). Therefore, it was not a case that Chris was standing out from guys with his own Regiment. This time he was standing out amongst some of the best military personal that was being sent for the drops. At one time, he was beginning to think that he had made a mistake by joining an ordinary Army Regiment. Thinking that he would have enjoyed the life style in the Parachute Regiment far better, with all the excitement of the jumping.
When it came to jumping from the plane that was something different. There was just two long lines of military personnel seated with their backs to the outside of the aircraft. Once you were ordered to stand up and turn towards the direction of the exit doorway towards the back of the aircraft. Above them was a steel wire running from the front of the aircraft to the back. To which they were all ordered to hook on their chutes. Each guy was stood so close to the person in front of him, and as you slowly shuffled your way towards the doorway the guy behind you made sure that you kept going forward. Therefore, even if you wanted to refuse the jump, there was just no chance. Then as they reached the doorway they would turn and faced outward into space. The instructor would then tap the jumper on the shoulder and told to Go. If he hesitated the guy behind him usually pushed him out anyway, as he was also being pushed along by others behind him.
Once they had all made six jumps from an aircraft, one of the instructors informed them, that as they had just completed their sixth jump, they could not refuse to jump at any time in the future. Failure to do so would mean that they would be placed on a charge of refusal.
Un-known to Chris there are always top military people stationed at Abingdon full time, whose job it is to search out the best that attend these courses. Therefore, it was of no surprise that Chris’s name was entered into their little books for future reference. Once again he finished the course as one of the top jumpers, even feeling a little big headed at his achievement.
He was soon brought down to earth with a jolt, when he was ordered to re-join his Regiment still based at Aldershot. Within just a few days they were to be deployed on a six-month tour of duty in Germany.
The Regiment had been posted to JHQ (Joint Headquarters) of the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) at Rheindahlen, a large military base in Monchengladbach, in Northern Germany having been set up during 1954. It’s function being the main headquarters for the British Armed Forces in Germany, and of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Northern Army Group. Later to be known as the Rheindahlen Military Complex.
This hurt his ego a little as he wanted to travel the world. Although he had always believed that at times his wishes would not always be possibility, and that he could end up in some little out of the way camp miles away from what he called civilisation, deep down inside he had been dreading it.
Chris wanted to see the world, and not be stuck in the German backwoods. Believed it to be sandwiched, between two very large warring countries. This was the time when the so-called ‘Cold War’ was taking place, mainly between Russia and the United States of America, with both counties wanting to rule the world. Having just emerged from the Second World War what better opportunity to make a show of strength. Chris called it Cage or Sabre rattling. Both countries had and had threatened the use of Nuclear weapons. It was left for the rest of the world to decide whom they supported. Needless to say it became an East against West game, as each tried to outdo the other in any subject you could think of.
One silly issue was the carving up of Germany after the Second Word War. There was no way that the victors were going to allow a unified self-run Germany. Instead the Russians took control of what became known as East Germany, and was governed by a Russian Communist Regine. While West Germany was watched over by America, the United Kingdom and France.
For some reason the city of Berlin and its prison, housing the German convicted war criminals, was divided into three monthly periods to Police. Russia, America, United Kingdom and France, and each took control of the prison for three months. When it came to the United Kingdom’s turn, Chris did not want to be part of it, and luck for the moment was on his side. As his Regiment ended up guarding the Rheindahlen Military Complex.
Checking the cars and personnel was a long boring and tedious job. Each vehicle had to be logged inn along with its occupants and then searched thoroughly inside and out. Chris was one of eight fellow soldiers who had to eat, sleep, drink, and be merry as they say. They lived in an old brick guardhouse by the main gate that was heavily fortified with sandbags, barbed wire and booby traps in an effort to protect them and their position. They worked in groups of two. Each group would be on duty for two hours at a time and off for six hours. However, in those six hours there were chores around their quarters that had to be undertaken by the soldiers. Even so there was still a lot of free time to kill. As nobody was allowed out of the sand bagged emplacement at any time, unless they were checking vehicles. This routine was carried out for a week after which they would be relieved by another team of 8 soldiers while they had a week off. A time when they would re-join other members of the Regiment and carry out other military duty’s around the main camp.
In conditions like that boredom can set in and there is always the chance that you could let your guard down. The whole camp relied on them doing their job correctly by protecting them.
At times like this, there are always church groups, especially the Salvation Army who try to make the soldiers life as comfortable as possible. By giving them lots of books to read, jigsaw puzzles and other things of that nature. It was one such gift box that had been sent them that Chris picked through and found a book on the art of Magic. It was not a very involved sort of book, only showing the basic of a few card tricks that some of the Magician used many years earlier. Something different he thought plus deep inside he had always enjoyed watching the magicians perform in the past, and like every other watcher wondering how it was all done. Once he had started to read and go through its pages he could not put it down until he had read the complete book. The next step was to try out some of the tricks he had just read about privately, just to see if they worked. Once he had proved it to himself, then he was not going to be able to contain his excitement wanting to amaze his comrades with the new skills that he had just acquired.
Packs of cards are always easy to find in the services, almost every man has a deck and anyway the Salvation Army had left a few new decks for the guys on their last visit. Chris just amazed himself, the very first trick he tried worked perfectly and to Chris it seemed so easy. It took him just a short time to pluck up the courage to show and completely amaze his opposite number on guard one night. It did not take him long to work out that it was not just the trick that looked good, but it was also the way in which it’s presented. From then on there was no stopping him as he undertook to learn almost every trick in the book. Once he had done that he contacted the Salvation Army members to ask if they could come up with any more books on the subject. To his surprise on their very next visit, they had a small box for him containing five more books. It seemed that other members of the armed services where not quite so interested in the subject, so the field was open to just Chris.
His Tour of Duty in Germany turned out to be a quiet one, only seeing a couple of incidents, when a small group of so called peace activists tried to break into the camp. Although nobody was injured, a few egos of the civilians were brought down to earth.
However, by the time his Regiment returned to England Chris had mastered the basics of a lot of magic tricks, using cards and coins. His party piece was to roll a coin along the top of his knuckles, on his right faced down clenched fist, without the help of his left hand. Chris became so good at the tricks that he even started studying the art of card cheating, and for practical training he used to try it on his roommates in the barracks. Always making a point of never doing it when money was involved, knowing that the repercussions would be enormous, if not deadly. The last thing he wanted was for that sort of publicity to accompany him throughout his Army life. He became so good that it almost bordered on his believe that he would never be caught out. To cover his actions just in case it was to happen, he always chose moves that were easy for him to find a way out. Or at least give a valid excuse if his mates picked anything up.
The later part of 1965 turned out to be one of the best years of his life, when by chance he met up with a young local girl at a dance being held in town. Chris had taken a little time, plus a couple of glasses of beer, before he had plucked up enough courage to ask her for a dance, when she walked past him returning from the lady’s room. He stepped out in front of her blocking her way, and asked if he could have a dance. To his great surprise, she agreed and so together, they took to the floor to the sounds of a very slow ballad that was being played by the band. This turned out to be good timing by Chris, in order to synchronise to the slow music, he placed both his arms around her waist and she responded in the same way towards him. Together they slowly smooched around the by now crowded dance floor. The music seemed to be the trigger for most of the other guys to take advantage of the slow music, just to cuddle up to their chosen girlfriend for the evening. The one they were hoping to take home after the dance, as was the custom amongst the young at that time.
Chris and Brenda hit it off right from that very first meeting having a so-called whirlwind romance. Within six months they were married even though Brenda’s family did not agree, they felt that she should have waited just to make sure that their relationship was going to pass the test of time. Living in a military town they knew that a lot of so called quickie marriages did not last very long.
Chris got a couple of days leave from the Army and they had a honeymoon by the sea at Great Yarmouth. The relationship between them just seemed to grow from strength to strength, Chris idolised Brenda and in his eyes she could do no wrong, all he ever wanted to do was to please her.
Because of his military life and the probability that he could be posted elsewhere they rented a couple of rooms near the camp, making it easy for him to get to work. Life just seemed to get better for them as they enjoyed each other’s company. Then out of the blue came some good news from the Army. Informing Chris that he would more than likely be station at that same camp for a couple of years, so for the moment they had no problems.
There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for Brenda treating her like a lady of leisure, and she being the realistic girl that she was did not take advantage of his devotion. Instead, she also chose to treat him in the same way, by always being at his beck and call whenever he arrived home.
1967 saw the birth of their first child, a daughter who they named Diane after Brenda’s Mother. Once again, it just made things so much better for them as they now devoted themselves to the little girl. He even became a dab hand at nappy changing, something that a lot of men shy away from.
Chris was still only 20, when later that same year the Army chose him ahead of other volunteers, to report to the Special Air Service (SAS) training camp in Hertfordshire. It being a big honour to be selected, from the hundreds who would have volunteered from all of the Army units though out the country. A lot of the rejected volunteers would have given their eye teeth for just such an opportunity to be selected.
With Chris being away it was going to be a big test for them both, being the first time that they would have been separated. He wanted to go because if he were to be accepted, it would mean that he would be able to bring more money in to the house for them. With little Diane to bring up it was surprising just how much it took to run a house each week. The day he left was very sad for them. There were a few tears and lots of kissing. Chris finally managing to break away from Brenda, reminding her that it was only going to be for a couple of month and then he would be home.
The Special Air Service course is called the ‘Selection’ it is designed to sort out who they think will make the type of military personnel they are looking for. Only about ten out of one hundred and twenty-five people will make it through to completion. For any soldier ‘Selection’ is the ultimate test of endurance and mental strain, and so to be accepted is the prize that awaits them.
One of the first things people think about when they hear the word SAS. Are the images of ski-masked soldiers in black clothing storming buildings, but to the selected few, it’s the word ‘Selection’.
‘Selection’ is designed to break people, for any volunteer it is the ultimate test of endurance and mental strain. It’s broken down into six phases of training, each being a huge mountain to climb. The course begins with Phase one, ten days of fitness training and map reading in the Breacon Beacons and the Black Mountains in Wales. During this time, Chris was one of a group of about twenty volunteers.
One test that was carried out on all recruits was to be blind folded in a darken room. They would then be fitted with a radio head set and hand led to a wooden ladder. Over the head set the recruit was order to climb the ladder. While at times he was given an update of the height level he had reached. Upon reaching the top rung of the ladder, he was then ordered to stop, and feel above his head for a steel bar and to hang from it. After a couple of minutes, he was then ordered to drop back to the floor. After being informed that they were about seven meters from the ground, it was a big decision for them to make.
However, those that chose to drop to the floor were quite surprised to find that they only fell a few feet and landed onto a deep pile of straw. While other climbers decided not to drop and opted to climb back down the ladder instead. It was then decided that these recruits would make good Leaders. Having thought before they carried out the order, knowing of its repercussion, and of re-thinking the situation. Of finding another way of getting back down to the floor uninjured. While those that let go and dropped were classed as followers. Whatever they were ordered to do, they would follow orders.
Phase two follows with another ten days in which they are engaged in long cross county marches in the same area, but this time they are alone. With each route march the Bergen rucksacks on their backs get heavier and heavier. Culminating in a forty-mile endurance march to be completed within twenty hours. In which the soldier’s Bergen must weigh fifty-five pound, plus food and a ten-pound rifle. This time he may travel alone or with other volunteers, which ever he chooses. Phase two, is ‘Selection’ with a capital ‘S’, because when it is over those who are not suitable and have not yet left the course voluntarily are then returned to their parent Army Regiments.
The survivors are then sent on to Phase three, a fourteen-week continuation of the same, during which time he will also be tested for his suitability as an SAS Soldier.
Phase four is the standard Amy parachute course, the very same course that Chris had already trained for and passed with flying colours. Even though he had his wings, he still had to go through the course.
Finally, he faced Phase five, that is all about combat survival training. It includes escape and interrogation methods. Some men are rejected on the final day of this exhaustive process. For the tiny few remaining from the original volunteers, they are presented with the SAS Tan Coloured Beret, and the Regiments Famous Winged Dagger cap badge. This marks their acceptance into the Special Air Service Regiment. The successful volunteer has been capped as they say, now it is up to him to prove himself in live theatres of war though out the world.
The volunteer’s induction is now followed by phase six, specialist training as a member of one of the Regiments. Where Morse signalling, Linguistics, Field Medical care, use of explosives, and pistol shooting are taught. Combined with tactical assignments to one of four sixteen man troops skilled in boat work. Climbing, long distance overland navigation in Land Rovers, and free fall parachuting. By the time the postgraduate’s course is completed, the volunteer has been with the Regiment for almost two years, he is at last able to be called a trained soldier.
Usually they will then spend at least a three years’ tour with a unit, and if fit they might be able to complete a further three years. Three tours are about the most that they could ever hope to serve as an active member of the Special Air Service.
Chris was just one of four guys who were presented with that famous Sandy coloured beret, as all the others on his course had failed. This now meant that he was going to stay in the Herefordshire area where most of his follow up training was about to take place.
Brenda and Chris had discussed just this sort of scenario before they married, and knew that one day it might happen. However, they both agreed that it would not take long, and then they would be back together once again. What they had not taken in to consideration was that the time they spent apart could possibly escalate if he were to be sent on an assignment. Chris was not sure of his future with the unit, or of what would be expected of him for the remainder of his time in the service. They had also discussed the possibility of what to do if their time apart became unbearable. Brenda was going to move back in with her parents so life would be a little easier for her. Also she did not want to be pestered by other military personnel who were always after the women folk of the area, while their husbands were away. Without Chris’s presents she felt a little vulnerable and did not want to end up in a situation that she could not get out of. Something Chris had always told her, as with a few other friends.
Chris took to the training like a bull in a china shop, using it as a way of getting his mind off the separation that he was experiencing. Like in his earlier training he did well and stood out once again to most of the instructor. He even returned to RAF Abingdon where he under took a High Altitude Low Opening course (HALO) while training with seventy-pound packs and an oxygen mask. Dropping from the back of a Hercules aircraft from twenty-five thousand feet was a big buzz for Chris and he soaked up every adrenaline-rushing minute of the experience.
The one thing that stood out to the instructors was that Chris was a loner and liked it that way. Unfortunately, it was a well-known fact that the SAS liked military personal to work in teams of three. They worked on the principle that a group of three soldiers should be able to sort out any problem that could be thrown at them. So if one of them was a radio operator, a mechanic and weapons expert. Then one of the others would be an electrician, a pilot, or an unarmed combat specialist. Leaving the third to be whatever the first two could not do. All had to be able to pick up on at least three foreign languages and be able to speak them fairly fluently. Then in the eyes of the SAS you had a team that could be parachuted anywhere in the world. Being able to live off the land indefinitely and to look after themselves, but always making the right decision at any time.
However, with Chris it was looking a little different, he did not seem to fit the mould in what they were trying to achieve. It was also noted that he was of such high calibre that the SAS could not afford to let him go. After all there are the odd occasions that the skills of a loner can be used even though such work was limited. The military had in the back of their mind that the Northern Ireland issue was still very prominent, and that they did have a couple of lone soldiers already serving there at the moment.
During the first year of their separation he only saw Brenda and his daughter Diane twice and that was for two days on each occasion. So the day his company commander gave him a two-week leave pass he returned home in record time. To them those two weeks were like being married all over again. They were just like a couple of lovers having met for the first time. The end result was to be seen nine months later by the birth of a son who they named David. So once again there was this loving bond between them and the family, it was as though their little world that they lived in had just been made perfect for them, by the birth.
However, after having been accepted into a SAS Squadron, that was based in Hertfordshire. Chris had to move his family to that area so that he could be close at hand with the military while still having the closeness of his family. Brenda was more than happy with the move. Just the thought of getting away from Aldershot was enough to put a smile on her face. She had hated the place and the fact that any soldier, who came near her, made her feel like she was being propositioned. It was as though the soldiers thought that every girl was fair game, and that they were going to take advantage of the situation. Especially if they knew that the girl’s husband was away on duty somewhere.
Within just a couple of weeks of the birth of David, sadness reared its ugly head when Chris was called away by the military, and sent on an assignment out of the country. What hurt Brenda more was the fact that Chris could not tell her where he was going and even less on what he would be doing. She knew that his work was top secret and dangerous and could not stop wondering and worrying about him. What also hurt him was the fact that he could not give her any idea about how long he would be away. The only hint he had been given by his commanding officer was that it would be at least four months. So with that in mind Brenda decided to move back to Aldershot and in with her parents once again.
Chris found himself on his way to Ireland having guessed correctly that was his destination several days earlier. After reading in the Newspapers that the situation there was deteriorating. No Army can make decisions unless they have the relevant correct information on the situation, and it was to be Chris who was to supply some of that information.
He was being sent into a known area of terrorist activity where he was going to have to live off the land and feed information back to headquarters. Usually when the Army goes in to search such area’s they make a lot of noise and are seen by most of the locals. What Chris was to do was to use the softly approach and to remain in the background. He was to watch for anything that might be of use to the top brass back at Hertfordshire. He was to move mostly at night and during the daytime he was to hide in such places as only he knew and had been trained for. His only means of communication would be a small hand held radio, disguised to look like a normal AM radio, with a very small solar battery charger.
Not even the military in his area would know that he was there and so he had to remain undetected at all cost. The last thing that Headquarters wanted was for their man to be shot by his own people. While at the same time they did not want the locals to know why he was there. If the Army knew of his existence, then there was a possibility that the local Police would know. Which meant that the IRA just might have a mole in the Police force, and the repercussions of that did not bare thinking about.
Chris had to make his own way to Irelands North South border, by way of the car ferry from Swansea to Cork in the Southwest tip of Southern Ireland. From there he made his way north using public transport where possible and even the old well tried and tested thumbing method. Using the cover of a backpacker tourist on holiday from Australia. To cover his lack of an Aussie twang to his voice he always told people that his parents had emigrated there while he was at an early age, from Canada. It seemed to satisfy most who had asked, as they soon dropped that line of questioning. In case his cover was blown the SAS had issued him with an Australian Passport, with a few false entries into other countries to cover his story of a back packer. He had also covered himself well if he were ever to be searched. The only piece of gear that would arouse suspicion was his radio. It was very neat, small and sophisticated, allowing him daily contact with his headquarters. Being made to look like a small hand held AM radio. The small solar battery charger did not look out of place given the fact that he was posing as a backpacker, how else would he be able to charge up the batteries. The binoculars he had around his neck were civilian ones, once again he was hopping they did not stand out too much. He was also to let it be known that he was an ardent bird watcher. The remainder of his backpack was made up of things that would be required for his survival, while not stand out of place. Considering that he was supposedly hitch hiking around Ireland.
Slowly he made his way towards South Armagh and to a pre-selected spot that over looked a major road intersection in the countryside on the Southern Ireland side of the border with Ulster. These roads were known routes of the undercover IRA terrorists, who used them as a means of gaining entrance into Ulster, and to hit predetermined targets in and around the Armagh area. His task was going to be made even harder by the fact that he would not know what a terrorist looked like, as they were just ordinary looking local people wearing civilian clothes. They did not stand out in a crowd wearing a flashy uniform that said, “Hey I’m a member of the IRA”.
South Armagh had a reputation of being one of the worst hot spots in all of Northern Ireland. At all costs Chris would have to stay alert and be on his guard, the last thing he or the SAS wanted was for him to be exposed and captured. The repercussions and the pain that would follow did not bear thinking about.
He selected a spot on the side of a hill, which was only about one hundred meters from a road Junction, just outside of Monaghan, which lay to his right. Ahead of him was the Northern Ireland border and the road leading to Armagh and Portadown. While to his left lay another road leading to the Northern Ireland border, through the towns of Omagh in the county of Tyrone, and Dungannon and Enniskillen in the counties of Fermanagh.
There he found an old tumbled down dry stone-wall that are very common in the area. Having been built many years ago as a wind protection for the sheep and to also keep them fenced in. Fortunately, throughout most of Northern Ireland this type of wall is usually in a bad state of repair, so it suited Chris well. He got down behind the wall and then proceeded to move a large amount of the fallen down stones into positions that would give him all round protection. His aim was to arrange as many as he could around a position where he would be lying, even giving him a little protection overhead. He then removed a couple of small stones from the wall, from an exact position where he would be lying so he could look through the wall and down on to the road.
Finally crawling in to his new home and checking to see that the hole he had made through the wall did in fact line up with the crossroad below. However, it was important that the hole was not too big and noticeable to anybody walking in front of his position. Although it was a few yards back from the road. He was pleased with the result, for even if they walked on to his position from the back it was so well camouflaged that he hoped they would pass him bye without a second glance. To assist in the camouflage, the whole area was covered with lush thick fern vegetation, also affording him a lot of protection. The one thing in his favour was the fact that it was summer, so the night temperatures were not going to be a problem or at least he hoped they would not. The one thing he dreaded was if somebody was to pass close by with a dog, and for that he had to depend of crossed fingers and a short prayer asking for a little help.
So Chris settled in to the long laborious task of recording car numbers and the directions that they were travelling, and radioing every single one back to headquarters twice a day. Most of the traffic he was interested in usually moved at night, so in the evenings he would make his way down to within just a few feet of the crossroad. They’re being no street lighting in the area, he wanted to be able to see the car numbers close up. The protection of another wall right by the side of the road was about as close as he could get. He once made the remark to headquarters that if the number plates had been in Braille, then he would have been able to run his fingers over them.
Chris knew that he was going to be in the area for a few months, so to beat the boredom he got the okay from headquarters to set up another small camp at another minor junction about two miles away in the Omagh direction. This allowed him to move from one camp to the other whenever he felt like it thus helping him maintain the alertness that was required. He would also walk the lanes posing as the tourist he was portraying, occasionally staying at the local public house’s where he could take a well-earned bath, this was also the time when he would try and stock up on food and water.
He seemed to be blending in to the countryside well, but it was no time to drop his guard. The Para Military groups knew that their area had the reputation of being the top hot spot, and that no stupid backpacker was going to be dumb enough to be walking around. In fact, this was exactly what Chris played on, and in fact started to act a little dumb to the locals whenever he had to talk to them in the Public houses or the small shops that he frequented. To help his cover whenever possible he usually let it be known that his Grand Father on his Mother’s side had come from somewhere around the area before emigrating to Canada during the early thirties.
To Chris’s amazement his ploy seemed to work, but at the same time he had to be careful not to draw to much attention to himself. It was not the name of the game, all he wanted to do was to blend in to the background. So his contact with the locals was always as brief as possible.
What hurt him most was that he was not allowed to contact his family, as it had been stressed to him that they did not know where he was. If the IRA were to get wind of what he was up to, then the repercussions and reprisals against his family would be swift and deadly, so it was best kept this way. However, on the long nights of boredom that he always had to endure, sometimes it was more than he could bear. More than once he almost walked to the nearest pub in an effort to ring Brenda, but the military within him always prevailed, worrying about the safety of his family. So to help fight the boredom he would spend hours and hours playing with a deck of cards. That he had brought with him trying to perfect new tricks that came to mind and even trying to invent new moves. The only trouble was he did not have anybody who he could try them out on. He had previously made up his mind that he would not try anything out on the locals in the public houses. Quite rightly that would just bring to much attention to him, the last thing he wanted at the moment.
Then out of the blue he received orders from Hereford to move to a new location, but his orders where the same. To help his cover he let it be known in one of the shops that he was going to head north that he believed he might find a connection with his Grand Father Armagh.
Chris set about dismantling his hide out and camouflaging the area he had disturbed. Hoping that nobody stumbled upon it until he was long gone. As they might put two and two together, and a contract and a price would be placed on his head that might put an end to his snooping around. The people he was up against were not the kind of people one would like to make friends with. Most were killers and practiced their trade at every opportunity.
Upon his arrived at the new location he made up his mind that he would use a different cover. His plan was to use the truth of his past, in such a way that if anybody was to check up on him it might be more credibility. He was going to still use his Mothers Father as the reason he was in the area. He was not going to hide the fact that he had served a short period of time in the British services a few years earlier. The one thing in his favour was that since joining the SAS, it was automatically part of the job that his records in the ministry were made to look like he had left the service. There was always the chance that this highly restricted information might be leaked. At that time there was a lot of Irish people in the British services. However, it could help him if they thought that he might just start working for them, as a few ex-servicemen had done in the past. Another idea he was thinking about was that if he could find a girlfriend he might just look that little bit more believable. Although there was no way he would jeopardise his relationship with Emily. Drawing a line in the sand he convinced himself that sex would definitely be off the menu. It could be any anybody, he did not have to be in love with the girl, just look like he was to the watchers and gossipers.
On arrival at one of the Pubs in Armagh Chris ordered a drink just to show his face, giving the locals their first glimpse of him. All he was carrying was a canvas bag that was slung over his shoulder. He was trying to give the impression that he was a backpacker and wanting a look around the town. After finishing his drink, the landlord pointed him in the direction of a house at the end of the street where an old lady had a room advertised for rent. As he left the pub he could feel many sets of eyes all piecing him in the back of the neck.
He took the room and started to look around the town for some sort of work. The room had been the easy part it was the work that was going to be a problem. There was not much employment in this part of Ireland. Therefore, he decided to make the pub his regular haunt in the hope that he might get to know some of the locals. Chris was also a reasonable drawer with a pencil, so he started to carry a sketchbook and pencil with him as a mean of introduction. He also bought himself a pushbike so that he could visit the countryside. Where he would sketch places that he thought might be of interest to the Secret Services back in England. However, he would always try and impose somebody’s portrait into the picture of a location. Just in the hope that it might put any suspecting person off his scent.
While in the pub at nights he would sit in one corner and sketch anybody that caught his eye. At the end of the evening or if that person was about to leave Chris would give them the picture. Some of the old guys took the picture with them while others gave it to the landlord who stuck them up on the walls around the pub.
Un-be known to all Chris was using a duplicate page below each page that he drew on. As he sketched the faces he would press just that little harder so that he was left with a copy in his note book.
Chris was very interested in the younger people that frequented the pub. As they could have been the young bucks that the Para Military were recruiting at that time. If and when he was ever to return to England, he would take their sketches with him.
On one of his trips into the countryside Chris hid the radio that was about the size of two matchboxes, within a dry stonewall that surrounded a field. It was by a hedge and large tree so that it would give him good cover and a prominent feature, so he would know where it was. He had removed one stone then put the radio inside the cavity, and then replaced the stone. He felt good that he had been able to get it out of his room. He knew it would only be a matter of time before somebody searched the place if in fact they had not done so already. The little old lady would have been too frightened and scared to say anything to anybody who might turn up at the house. She also could have been a very active member in the organisation, although he doubted that.
It was almost three weeks before he got into a conversation with someone in the pub. One night as he sat next to a middle-aged gentleman that just happened to have a small building firm and was short of a labourer. Chris, who had just finished drawing him, gave him his picture and accepted the job. His name was Sean and the first thing he asked was to look at Chris’s hands.
“Hope there not artist hands mate, all soft and smooth like a baby’s bum, if you work for me then I expect you to work hard,” he said in a stern voice.
With that Chris thrust out his hands.
“Tell you what mate, if I can’t come up to your standards within the week I’ll leave on my own accord, How’s that,” he said.
“Fine, be outside the pub at seven tomorrow morning sharp”.
Chris was pleased he had made his first inroads into the town life, plus he would be earning some money. His funds had been running a little low lately. To make his cover more believable it had been decided that he would have to live off whatever wages he could earn working locally.
His life on the building site could not have been better, he liked the work and even the small bunch of four guys that he worked alongside. They seem to all hit it off well, and Chris was true to his word showing the boss that he was indeed a good worker. He got to know them during their lunch breaks when Chris answered most of their questions that they would keep firing at him. At one time he even wondered if the IRA had ordered Sean to employ him, just to get what information he could. Although, later he wasn’t so sure it seemed more of a case that people are inquisitive and would just like to know. Chris was probably the newest member to stay in the town for a couple of years. The younger two of the gang had never been out of the Armagh area and were very keen to know what life was like outside of Ireland. Chris used all this to his advantage just to gain their confidence and become good friends with them. Although he made a point to never discuss religion or politics during any of his conversations. That it would be like waving a red flag at a bull in a china shop.
After a month Chris was involved in a minor accident when he fell off the scaffolding around a house they were working on. He fell about eight feet to the ground, landing badly on his ankle in to a heap of sand. Sean got him in his truck and took him back into the town to see a doctor. It turned out to be a bad sprain that was going to put him off work for at least a week.
However, what caught Chris’s eye was the pretty young nurse in the surgery, the one who had to bandage up his ankle. They got talking and the atmosphere became very friendly right from the start. It turned out that her name was Maureen and she had wondered about him since seeing him when he first arrived in the town. The conversation developed to such a point that Chris asked if she was attached, to which she gave a little giggle and answered no, adding that she did not have a boyfriend either. Chris was in like a shot “Well how about letting me take you out for a drink tonight at the pub.”
Maureen agreed and said “But only if you do not walk around on that ankle too much.” Then yes she would meet him there at seven that evening. Chris could not believe his luck she was very pretty and it had been so easy. He was certainly going to play on his bad ankle during the next few days, so she could bandage it daily for him.
That night at the pub they got to know each other while Chris was sketching Maureen. They looked the perfect couple laughing and joking and blended in as locals. Maureen was amazed at the finished picture and showed it off around the pub. She had lived in the town for almost ten years and her skills as a nurse had made her a very popular person. Many of the younger males had been trying to date her for a long time. Chris’s only worry was that he would upset these youngsters. Because he was the outsider, and now it looked like he was the first to score with the locally good-looking nurse. The evening was soon over and time for Maureen to go home. They even got into an embrace with some kissing, once Chris had managed to hobble along escorting her to her front door. They had both enjoyed the evening and plans were laid to repeat the evening. However, as Chris walked away he felt a little bit guilty that he was betraying his wife, and he had promised himself that he would not do that.
They began to meet on a regular bases several evenings a week and it was not long before Maureen fell head over heels in love with Chris, although it was one sided. It wasn’t meant to happen that way, because Chris was struggling not to fall in love with her.
Chris was also worried that others in the town were watching, and that tongues would be wagging, and information might be passed on to the IRA. Retribution would be swift and taken against Maureen and anybody who was connected with her. The IRA was ruthless in demonstrating to the people what they would do to collaborators and sympathisers of the British government.
During one evening while they were together in the pub, Chris noticed that several of the usual drinkers were huddled together talking quietly. Eventually it got the better of Chris and he asked Maureen what was going on. At first she tried to brush him off, that they were probably cracking jokes. Although Chris was quick to point out that there was no sign of laughter taking place. Eventually she told him of an incident that had taken place a few days earlier. That the IRA operating in an area further north, had killed someone they believed to be helping the British. They had dragged him to a river estuary and tied him to an old tree stump sticking a couple feet out from the riverbank and located on the high tide mark. He had been left all night, being able to watch the incoming tide. While the IRA had hoped that the water level would only reach his chin. Being able to watch the water raise and death approach, while not being able to do anything to prevent it. Sadly, he did not survive, and upon the IRA’s return the following morning the lower part of his body had been badly eaten by crabs and other crustaceans. Leaving Chris to remind himself that he could never let his guard down, and give himself away.
Chris had been very lucky so far and had got away with his deception. However, he had to be on his toes at all times. Remembering his old saying, never let your guard down. You only need to do it once and it could contribute to the ending of your life.
Chris should have been made to repeat those words over and over, as his meetings with Maureen started to cloud his judgement. One night Chris announced to all in the pub that they had been together for two months and wanted to celebrate by buying everybody a drink. This coursed a lot of laughing and joking and general talk about them in the town. In fact, it made them the centre of attraction, something that should never have happened. It starts people talking and asking more questions, and answers that could be listened to by the IRA. However, Chris did detect a little more interest in him. However, behind his back other issues could be talked about. People who he had never spoken to in the past would stop and talk to him quite out of the blue. He started to suspect that something behind the scenes was going on and that it all revolved around him. If he was right, he could only hope that it would not involve Maureen. The last thing he had wanted to do was to endanger her life.
On one occasion two strangers entered the pub both wearing dark trench coats, it looked so obvious to all within the pub. Chris knew straight away that they were IRA you could just feel it, plus the site of those coats. The place went so quiet, that you would have been able to hear a pin drop. Chris reflected about the first day that he had walked in, it had sounded like a dance hall compared with now. Chris used his skill to draw both of the strangers while keeping another couple of portraits handy so he could cover up what he was really doing. The last thing he wanted was being found out what he was up to. This was the sort of information that London wanted so that they could keep tabs on these guys. Chris did something different and out of character the next day when he actually posted both portraits to a safe house in North London an address that he had memorised, but he did not sign it in anyway not even with his code word.
Then one day while he was at work with Sean, a messenger drove up to tell Chris that he had better come back to the local Police station that they wanted to talk to him.
As he entered the Police station he could sense that there was a problem. He was questioned about Maureen, when was the last time that he had seen her, as she had been reported missing. She had not turned up for work that day at the surgery. Chris explained that he had left her the night before at her front door round about 10pm, and had witnessed her going inside. He slumped down in a chair devastated by the news.
She was not found that day or the next, Chris started to panic if she had been taken by the IRA then there was a good chance that they would make her talk. Although she knew nothing, he had never told her one word of what he was up to. If that were the case, they would certainly kill her thinking that she was protecting him in some way. He had hoped that it was a random hit by some local manic, but then on second thoughts she would still be killed. After possibly raping her, whoever it was they would not risk being identified, so he would definitely kill her.
He decided not to tell London just yet about his predicament, feeling that he had coursed this problem it should be he who got himself out of it. Anyway to panic now was unnecessary as he was only guessing at this stage maybe there was a perfectly logic answer.
On the fourth day Chris was once again summoned to the Police station where he was told the bad news that Maureen’s body had been found. A couple of local Policemen had by accident stumbled upon her while searching an old farm house ten miles away.
She was found strapped to a bed with her hands above her head and tied to the bed frame. While her legs were hanging over the top of the bottom bed frame. Her ankles had been tied to the bottom supports of the bed frame near the floor. She had not been sexually assaulted, but there was blood on her knees and legs. It was running from several little holes that had been made in her kneecaps. The Police suspected that an electric hand drill had been used to make these. It’s a method that the IRA uses while trying to make somebody talk. Chris knew this and wiped a tear from his eye. Having heard the grisly details, he then asked, but how had she been killed and why. The chief of Police went on to tell him that she had died from a single shot to the temple by a handgun, one shot and it would have been all over very quickly. Although not the torture part that would have gone on for hours. Nobody knew why she had been killed it was all a big mystery to them.
Chris went back to his room he had to think what his next move would be. He desperately tried to search his memory. Looking for some shred of evidence that he might have missed, something that he could connect with Maureen’s disappearance. The only issue that kept coming back to him was the two men that had turned up in the pub, wearing those dark trench coats. Had there been a spy back in London who had seen the sketches that he had sent. Had someone put two and two together, linking them to him. More to the point, had they got anything out of Maureen or were they just guessing. Either way Chris was feeling a little scared and very vulnerable. The loss of Maureen had been a devastating blow to him after all he had like her. For two days he did not make a move not even leaving his room, mainly because he had no plan and secondly he had the feeling that he was being watched. If he ran now, there was the chance that he would not make it out of Ireland. After all he was on his own he had nobody to turn to. He could not even go out to the radio, just in case he was being watched. One thing he did know and that was the perpetrators of this act would never be brought to justice. He wished that he could dish out the same punishment to whoever it was. He would make them pay in pain, over and over again.
He decided to go back to work and try and act as natural as possible. However, in the meantime he would try and prepare his work mates and Sean with the idea that he might go back home. That he was all mixed up and missed Maureen. He spent about a week and a half with Sean, finally handing in his notice once the funeral was over. It seemed a reasonable amount of time to pay his respects and then he was off. He entered the pub for the last time around early evening telling everybody that his loss of Maureen had left him devastated. So much so that he could not handle it and that he was going home. He had a last drink with them then threw his old canvas bag over his shoulder and with a final. “I’ll be back one day” he vowed, turned and then walked out.
The idea of this charade was in the hope that it would all look as natural as possible to the locals. Not like he was making a run for it, because if they thought that, then he knew he would be a dead man. He caught a bus and made his way across the country to Dublin where he made a phone call to England leaving the message that said, “Sleeper has fled the coup”. Next day while on the ferry he felt a little relieved, but still kept looking over his shoulder something he would probably be doing for a long time to come.
HEAVEN TO HELL
Chris opened his eyes and looked down at the folder still spread in front of Uncle Harry. Amazingly, he had only been through about half of the file. Leaving Chris to realise that they had a lot more information on him than he had at first thought. Although originally he had believed that many of the pages were blank, and that he was trying to bluff him.
Uncle Harry looked up at him saying, “Oh you are awake, I thought for a moment you were asleep.” “You see even your records show that you have the ability to sleep sitting up, so that people around you do not know”. He continued, asking how was he going, while adding that his past was the type of information that one could write a book about.
For the very first time Chris opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He had wanted to say something, but from within, his training stopped him. Harry was taken aback, realising that he had almost succeeded in getting him to cooperate. He continued his line of attack my making nice comments about his family in the faint hope that it would open him up just like the folder on the table. After all Harry had also realised that the one floor Chris might have, was his family. Even his reports spoke of his devotion towards Brenda and his children.
“Would you like me to continue Chris, maybe it will help you, and then after wards, maybe we can talk about your future”. Inwardly Chris thought to himself, what future. If I don’t get out of this mess the only future, I’ll have will be in a prison cell. Being the true professional soldier that he was, he knew that once he said one solitary word, Uncle Harry would have him in the palm of his hand. If you say one word, it’s a safe bet that you will say another, and another until you spill the beans.
His training had taught him, even though you are allowed to give your name rank and number when you are captured, it always leads on to other things. By just saying thank you, when something is offered, that word thank you will lead to other. You have said something other than your name rank and number, and your interrogator knows that he can get you to say more. Although Chris did not know it, Uncle Harry was a very shrewd person, who also knew all of these details, having served in the military himself many years earlier.
Uncle Harry continued to talk of Brenda and the family, and occasionally looking up at Chris, he watched as a small teardrop appeared in the corner of his right eye. He knew that he had Chris in the palm of his hand, and that he was almost ready to crack. He also realised that he had touched a nerve, after all he knew that the files in front of him contained details that were going to hurt, if he pursued along the line of questioning he had chosen.
For a second time Chris slowly opened his mouth, and after a few seconds quietly uttered the words, Trooper Lawler 21414. It was as though Chris believed that he was still in the service and had been captured on a mission.
However, for Uncle Harry it was a starting point, something he could build on, but he showed no sign of elation on his face, not wanting to show signs of success. He was also a very good professional, and now was not time to gloat about what he had just achieved. It was not his aim to break Chris, the only thing he wanted at the moment was his cooperation.
The room suddenly fell into silence as neither of them spoke for a few minutes. Until that is, Uncle Harry started to once again read from his files. He knew what was to come, and was pinning his hopes that it would be the trigger to get Chris to talk to him.
If 1965 was one of the best years that Chris had ever experienced, then 1970 turned out to be an absolute disaster for him. It started off well but soon deteriorated into one hell of a mess for all of the family.
While Chris was still on active service in Ireland, and had taken to his situation like a duck to water settling down to getting the job done and done well. Only then would he be allowed back to the Squadron Headquarters in England and eventually a long awaited reunion and leave with his family. Failure to Chris was just not an option, to him if a job is worth doing then it’s worth doing well, living on the edge to Chris was just one big adrenalin rush, and he thrived on it.
Brenda was living with her parents in Aldershot, and although the house was crowded with the two children, they all seemed to get on reasonably well together. Most parents will always have time for their own children and grandchildren, its only with the Son or Daughter in laws that they seem to have problems. They had all accepted what Chris was doing and that it was important to him, even though they had not planned for the separations that it brought upon them.
One thing that was constantly on their minds was the fact that Chris was missing the children growing up something that he might regret in later life. Once they are teenagers it’s too late, and you cannot have those years back to relive them in a different way.
In order to get out of the house as much as possible Brenda, would always volunteer to do most of the shopping taking the children with her. While at other times, she would take them to different parts of the town to show them places of interest. Being a military town, she was never comfortable, and was always conscious of all of the Soldiers around. At times, it felt like she was being harassed by every single one of them. To most people who had been brought up in a military town there was no problem they just seemed to think nothing about it, but to Brenda it was constantly on her mind. She longed for the days when as a family they could just move away to a quiet little village somewhere. Her preference had always been to move to Suffolk, ever since Chris had told her all about the area. She was not a person who was into travel even though she had heard of all the exotic places that were out there. No, she just wanted to settle down to a quiet life in the country somewhere with Chris and the children.
One day Brenda was with the children in one of the local supermarkets buying the weekend groceries. It was very late in the afternoon and there was not a lot of people around. Being very cold and snowing outside, most had returned home early to the comfort of their open fires and central heating. Brenda was slowly making her way up and down one of the isles trying to decide what to buy, while she carried Mark in front of her in a harness. Diane was running up and down and just generally playing games around her Mother’s trolley. Brenda was able to take her time, as there were not many people around, so nobody was getting into each other’s way. She could just amble around at her own pace taking it all in and choosing the best value buys.
She heard what sounded like a scuffling noise over the tops of the very high shelves that she was walking amongst heading in the direction of the checkout area, but did not pay any attention to it. She just carried on up one isle picking up the odd item and then down the other. Finally, as she rounded the last isle and turned in to the area where the checkout desks were, she walked on to a man confronting the four girls manning the desks. He was hooded and brandishing a saw off shotgun that he had pointed at the girls and was demanding money.
Brenda was immediately struck by horror, and worried for the safety of her children. The fright of the scene that greeted her made her jump, and the trolley she was pushing hit and knocked over a large display of stacked up tins of beans. The noise of the tins all falling to the ground made a deafening crash, while at the same time startling and frightening the holdup man who was waving the gun at the terrified check out girls.
It frightened him to such a point that he swung round and fired before he had realised what the noise was. The blast hit Brenda right in the middle of her chest having passed through her son Mark. The force of the blast flung them both back and onto another display, that was made up of tins of fruit. The scene was one of utter chaos, with tins, blood and debris going everywhere. The checkout girls were by now screaming at the tops of their voices, thinking that they were going to be the next to be shot.
As little Diane came running around the last isle, it was her turn to startle the robber. Who still had the shotgun pointed in that general area? He pulled the trigger without hesitation, and at such a close range could not help hitting the little girl. The robber by this time was completely mixed up in his head not knowing what to do next. Suddenly he turned his gun around and back on to the girls, waving it around while shouting at the top of his voice that they give him the money. However, they were so scared and screaming that he could not make himself heard above their screams. Then suddenly a woman came running while screaming at the top of her voice down the last isle and straight past the man with the gun, through the front door and out into the street. Even if he’d had wanted to stop her, it would have been out of the question. As he had used up both barrels of the shotgun, and had no spare ammunition. Although he had not intended to use the gun on any one, he had only meant to scare the people with it. By this time, he had realised what he had done and that shooting somebody else, was not going to help him get the money anyway. Looking out of the front window of the shop, he could see people coming over to investigate the shots. So he just grabbed as much cash as he could from the cash register that he was standing nearest to him, and ran out of the shop as fast as he could, knocking down one old lady who was using a walking frame. He then hit another middle-aged guy in the chest with the stock of the gun who got in his way, before disappearing into the fading light of the late afternoon.
An ambulance was called and the paramedics worked hard on all three of the victims trying to stabilise them so they could be worked on in the hospital, but it was all for nothing. On their arrival, Brenda and both the children were all pronounced dead. Her parents were asked to come in and identify them for the authorities and left very distraught. While the Police were informed that her husband Chris was away on special work for the military and would not be able to return home.
The SAS decided not to tell Chris of the event even though they had a big debate over the subject. It was felt that there were no advantages in placing his work in jeopardy at this stage. Therefore, he was left doing the work that he had been sent to do and it was accepted that it was giving the military good results.
Two months later when it was deemed that his mission had been successful and fully completed, he arrived back at Hertfordshire. Where he was met by his Commanding Officer at the Barracks, and in the privacy of his office he was given the tragic grim news of the death of his complete family. Chris was left completely stunned, not asking one single question of the Officer, leaving his office in complete shock and silence. He returned the following morning to see the Officer with a full list of questions to confront him with. Top of the list was why he had not been allowed back to at least attend the funeral, so he could have seen them all just one more time. He was given the old answer that he was doing to valuable job for his country. However, they did not want to place all of his good work at risk, or the security of the country. Knowing the military, he knew it was pointless to keep pushing the question, so he left it and start asking as much detail as possible of the killer.
There was not a lot that he could learn, as the killer had never been apprehended and brought to justice. Nobody had identified him or been able to give any details on the botched up robbery. He had just vanished into the night never to be seem again. The Police had been of the thinking that he was a military man, and felt that he might have been drafted to another part of the country with his unit.
After a month of just sitting around on his own, and only occasionally leaving the house to visit the grave of his family. It became more than he could bear, so he started to hatch a plan in his head on what he wanted for his future. He wasted no time in seeing his Commanding Officers and telling him, that he wanted to buy himself out of the service. The Officer spent a lot of time trying to persuade him that the SAS was now his family, and that they would look after him. Chris was adamant and persistent that he wanted to leave and as soon as possible.
He had made up his mind that if the Police could not find the robber, then he would. Therefore, he spent the first couple of weeks chasing up leads, if they could be called leads. Just hoping that he might be able to come up with that little shred of evidence that the Police might have missed. However, it was all for nothing, there were no leads, and the Police had been honest with him when they told him that the trail had gone cold. His constant worrying and searching for all the answers laid very heavy on him and he came close to having a nervous breakdown. He went days without sleep and food, and was almost on the point of passing out.
If it had not been for his Parents who searched him out, he would have ended up being very ill. They took him home to live with them, who at that time were still living in Colchester. He spent a month living with them and in that time, he became withdrawn never leaving the house or talking to anybody. Over the years, that he had been married there had not been much contact between them, just their occasional visits so they could see their grandchildren.
When finally, he came round and started to accept the hand that had been dealt him, he started leaving the house and spending hours on his own walking around the town. He started reading the local newspapers and generally taking an interest in what was going on around him, especially anything to do with law and order and how it was affecting the town. He became obsessed with the subject and of how high the unsolved crime rate around him seemed to be increasing.
A lot of the trouble seemed to happen during weekend nights and usually in and around the centre of town where most of the public house were congregated. Every Friday night he would take a bus ride into town and just slowly work his way around the pubs, looking for youngsters breaking the law or just pushing the law to the limit. Whenever he decided that somebody had over stepped what he considered the thin blue line of law and order. He would then serve out his form of justice, whenever he could, to the unsuspecting victims. Chris was always careful not to pick on large groups of youths or to give his victim any clue to his identity. Most of the time he would follow his chosen victim until he found a darken area and there he would dish out a battering with his fists and unarmed combat blows that had been taught him in the military. He became so obsessed with what he was doing that he actually believed that he was helping the law. After all the newspapers were always printing stories that there were not enough Police to cover all of the town or indeed the country for that matter. Occasionally if he caught anybody actually breaking in to premises, he would knock them out and bind their hands behind their backs using electrician’s cable tie wraps, which he carried. By first placing, their arms behind their backs and around whatever was close at hand like a lamppost, and then tightly fix their thumbs together around the post with the cable ties. He would then ring the Police giving them the briefest of messages of where they could find the victim and what he had done.
The Police started receiving so many calls directing them to scenes where they could find victims near the location of break-ins, that they started a file. Although at that time nobody noticed the similarity, that they always had their thumbs bound together behind their backs using plastic cable tie wraps.
This went on for almost six months and in that time Chris was almost caught a couple of times by Policemen who just happened to be passing the scene or were close to it. Once he had to actually out run one Policeman, it was only his fitness, and cunning that got him away and from the scene of the crime.
Detective Ronald Knights had been assigned the investigation, and to stop whoever it was, before he went too far and killed somebody. By this time, the Police had a large file on the subject and it was becoming thicker by the week. The Detective was sure that his man was a serviceman or had been one at some time in his life, by the way in which he was carrying out his work. The calls to the Police were all made from local call boxes and it was widely believed that the caller stayed around to watch the Police arrive, or to make sure that the villain did not get away. However, they were wrong on that account, because Chris was always long gone.
By now he had attracted the nickname of the ‘Electrician’ and was helping the Police solve a large amount of crime, but it was felt that he could not be allowed to keep getting away with it. Who knew how far he would go and what if he was to eventually kill one of his victims. Then the newspapers would have a field day with that story, and would more than likely accuse the Police of letting him get away with it. Maybe even accuse them of assisting him, in helping them clean up their soaring crime rate. Consensus of opinion at the Police station were divided, with half of the staff were quite happy to let the ‘Electrician’ carry on solving the crime rate for them. After all, since he came on the scene the petty crime clean-up rate had dropped off the charts. All he was doing was giving the louts a good hiding, something their parents should have done during their early years. In fact, at times some of the Police wished that they could do the same, but with litigation like it is. They dare not exposed themselves to any smart lawyer that might be waiting in the wings for his chance to make a name for himself, and a lot of money for his troubles.
The heat was on Chris and he knew it, he had also had time to think over the past six months, as he had mellowed down a little. He had started to accept that his wife and family had gone forever, and no matter what he did they would not be coming back. With no description of their killer there was no way that anybody was going to apprehend him. It was about time that he just dropped his vendetta while he was ahead, and got on with his life the best way he could. He strongly believed that the Police were slowly closing in on him and that it was only going to be a matter of time before he made a mistake and they caught him. The best thing he could do now was to move away and find a new home.
He was still in his twenties and had a long life in front of him, there was a whole new world out there waiting to be discovered. Up till now he had only knew a military style of life and sadly now he did miss it. He missed the camaraderie, the travel and the unknown that lay around almost every corner. His one wish was to try and get back into the SAS, but he knew that would be almost impossible. Chris knew that he could not just walk back in and pick up where he had left off. He would have to join a parent Army unit and then apply to join the SAS ‘Selection’ team just like everybody else. There was then the scenario that he might not be accepted, or dread the thought, if accepted then he might fail the course. Having passed it once did not necessary mean that he would automatically pass it a second time. He was a different person now and his metal ability would also be checked carefully.
It was always believed by the top military staff that when SAS soldiers returned to their original units they would take with then skills that could then be passed on to others, and so help in the training of other units. There were also the other things to be considered and that was the total number of members who served in the SAS at any one time, with only three squadrons, there was a limited amount of personnel required, hence the very high attrition rate during training. In this way, they could always ensure that only the very best survived to serve in one of the best military units in the world.
If his application was rejected, he would then be trapped in an Army unit and that was not what he wanted. He also considered the Royal Marines, from there with luck he might be able to gain entry to the SAS. Although once again if he failed to get in, well then he would have the option of staying and trying to gain entry into SBS (Special Boat Service), but once again he might not be accepted in the SBS. However, at least he would still be in in the Royal Marines and they had a good reputation to serve in.
Chris spent a full week going over all of his options, time and time again until he came up with the answer, and it was a good one, at least as far as he was concerned. He would make a clean break from all that had gone before, he wanted a new life, a new start. Therefore, he had to try something completely new.
Chris took the channel ferry from Dover and headed for France, eventually making his way to Paris and to the ‘Fort de Nogent’, with the intention of joining the French Foreign Legion. Once there he was challenged in French, by a Legionnaire guarding the main entrance. Chris had no idea what he was talking about, as he could not speak one word of French. Finally, the guard used a radio to ask for help explaining that he had a mad man at the gate waving his arms about. A duty officer arrived and lucky for Chris he could speak a little English. After explaining that he wished to volunteer and join the Legion, he was then lead away and taken to the guardroom. He was asked to remove everything from his pockets, and lay it all on the table in front of him, including any money and his Passport. Then everything was itemised on to a plain sheet of discoloured paper, and then placed into a large brown envelope along with all of the items. Chris watched as everything that he owned including the only items that could identify him was then tucked away into a filing cabinet in the corner of the office. He was then taken to a barrack room where he was given a cot to sleep in for the night. The first thing that struck him about the place was how dirty and shabby everything looked. Not like the spick and span conditions that confronted him upon his first night’s stay in the British Army.
The following day Chris was taken to see an Officer who explained through an interpreter what was happening. He went on to explain that every Legionnaire is given an alias and that it is mandatory to use it for three years. After which time, he may then request to resume his real identity if he wished. Whether or not his request would be granted and his real identity returned would depend upon his Police record in civilian life. His name was to be changed in order to separate the Legionnaire from his past and to protect him from any person seeking his where about. In this way the Legion Security Office effectively discourages anyone who might be seeking to locate him for any reason. All of his identity papers had been confiscated and would be returned after the completion of his minimum five-year enlistment. Then just like all other Legionnaire he would be free to start again. What he was involved in before he joined matters to nobody other than the Legion.
Who he really is, where he came from, and why he has joined the Legion. These questions are recorded and filed with the Legion’s Security Bureau. This file belongs to the Bureau and its contents are kept in strict secrecy and open to no one. Before he left the office, he had taken on the alias of John James, the name of a fellow recruit who he had trained alongside while in the Army back in the UK. Chris had no idea why he had chosen the name, it was just a split second decision being the first thing that came into his head.
The Legion operated under two golden rules placed upon them by the French Government and enforced by law, that they would at all times be led by French Officers, and would never operate within France.
The next day along with four other EV’s (Engaged Volunteers) and accompanied by an NCO (None Commissioned Officer) he was taken by train to Aubagne a small town east of Marseille’s. To the General Headquarters of the French Foreign Legion. Aubagne houses the Medical, Transit and Musical units and is the main Legion Logistic storehouse. It contains everything that is needed to supply the active service units wherever they are operating around the world. Although at this particular time the Legion was only involved in two countries, and both were in Africa. That of Chad, and the French Territory of the Afars and Issas, but commonly referred to as just Djibouti.
Also housed at Aubagne is the Legion’s Official Museum, containing a breakdown of their complete history, along with military artefacts of war, medals, and descriptions of heroic deeds that earn those medals.
In Aubagne, he was housed in a large Barrack room that was ringed by a ten-foot high wire fence, giving everybody who entered the impression that they were entering a Prison camp. It certainly gave those who entered the impression that they were not going to leave, until the authority’s allowed them. Along with the other recruits, he was given three weeks to make up this mind if he still wanted to join the Legion. If he chose not to, then he was told that he could request a train ticket to anywhere in France, and that no more questions would be asked. If he declined the offer, then he would be in the Legion for the full duration of the five years that he was about to sign up for. There would be no buying himself out of this man’s Army once his contract was signed.
During these three weeks, they had already started undergoing physical and mental tests as well as being screened by the security Bureau, who were always trying to learn of their true history.
These three weeks were also very boring for John, as he was now known as. He found himself doing a lot of reading, not wanting to mix with most of the recruits and any way he could not speak any of the languages, and there were several. The boredom left him thinking of Brenda constantly and whether he had done the right thing in running away from his loss. There was always that nagging feeling in the back of his mind, would he ever get over their passing.
It surprised him just how many people from all over the world wanted to join the Legion. Although the vast majority did come from European countries, like France and Belgium, followed by Germany, Turkey and Italy. John was surprised that there were not many English in the Legion. From what he was told, at no time since the sixties had there been more than about a dozen or so English in the Legion at the same time. He was also informed that there was also a Spanish and a Belgium Foreign Legion, something he kept in the back of his mind just in case he might like to move on at a later date. It was also made plain to all of the EV’s that the Legion did not take kindly to deserters, and would hunt them down where ever they were. Then serving out severe forms of justice and punishment if and when they were captured, wherever they were in the world.
John made friends with a Frenchman known as Dominique, mainly because Dominique volunteered to act as an interpreter for him. It was Dominique that also started to help him learn the French language. Something he had to learn quickly as the instructors all spoke French, although a few did speak German. If he could not speak French, then he was going to suffer badly at their hands. They insisted that it was the EV’s problem to sort out for himself. At all times French was the first language to be used at all times. As it turned out John and Dominique became very close friend, and were together for almost the full term of their enlistment.
As each group of EV’s are trained, they are then posted as a unit to wherever they are required.
Dominique also introduced him to a friend he had known in Paris over the years, a Dutch man known as Hans and that they had both joined up together. Hans was lucky having lived in France for more than five years, so his French was very good as was his English, which he had learnt from his English Father. These three were seen constantly in each other’s company, but usually away from the main body of the EV’s. During those three weeks at Aubagne, their ranks swelled to nearly 100 new recruits.
When the Security Bureau were happy that they had answered all of their questions honestly and had passed the criteria to join. Then they were called in to the Commanding Officers office and handed a contract to sign. It made no difference that John could not read it, or that he had not the slightest idea what it contained. The officer just pointed at the dotted line and John signed his real name to make the document legal. He was then given an identity card in the name of his alias John James. Then along with Dominique, Hans, and about twenty others who had all signed their contracts, they were allowed to go to Corsica to start their long awaited basic training.
They boarded a ferry in the harbour at Marseilles and set off for Calvi the citadel township located on the western coast of Corsica, and the headquarters of the 2nd Parachute Regiment. Upon their arrival at Calvi they boarded trucks and set off on a ten-hour trip to the town of Bonifacio, a small tourist village on Corsica’s southern tip.
John, Dominique and Hans managed to stay together and ended up sharing the same barrack room, so at least John would have some help with his French. All three of them were discussed with the condition of the place, it being dark damp and very dirty. They were only issued with two sets of clothing and were only allowed to shower twice a week. “They couldn’t afford it” became the catch phase amongst the recruits. Because the Legion really could not afford it, was always the answer when questioned by the recruits. It became very common for them to go a full week without washing their uniforms. Uniforms that did not fit, with dates stamped on them confirming that they were manufacture during the Second World War. With ill-fitting boots and socks it became a common sight to see the recruits emptying the blood from their boots on their return from the constant route marches that they took part in in order to get fit.
There was a total lack of hygiene and it became apparent after only ten days. The slightest cut on their body would swell overnight into a festering wound. Blood poisoning and hideous skin sores became a common sight. The medical personnel at the infirmary were unable to offer any treatment or prevention. Penicillin was forbidden because it cost too much, “They could not afford it”. As a result, most of the recruits had to go through their training while suffering from scores of ugly open infections that marked their face and hands.
Discipline was strict, it being a case of do what you are told the first time. Failure to do this resulted in beatings, prison terms with no bed, and very little food. Plus, an array of silly but demoralising exercises around the camp. Like waddling around like a duck with at least thirty kilos’ in a pack on your back. While hard labour was constantly dished out for minor offences.
Fitness was a priority, but did not come anywhere near, what John had experienced back in the UK in the Army. John was lucky he was still at the peak of his fitness for his age having been guided to that position by the SAS. He felt it was cruel to watch as some of the raw recruits were put through their paces and had not a chance of ever completing their assignment in the time allotted or to the level that was expected of them by the instructors.
John had made up his mind that he would not mention his time in the British Army. He definitely would not tell his fellow recruits that “In the British Army we would do it this or that way.” Knowing that the repercussions would look badly on him. Nobody wants to be told how to train their military force, believing their way to be the better way.
The training did have a big emphasis on live round firing and it was expected of everybody that they would do well, if only so they did not waste the ammunition. It was constantly reported to them that France was a poor country, and that they did not have the money like most other western countries to just throw it around.
Now that the training was in full swing there was not much time for him to lie on his cot and let his imagination run away with him. For the first time since her passing, he had been able to move Brenda to the back of his mind. She was still there but she was not dominating all of his thoughts. In fact, it was only after not thinking of her for a couple of days, that it came to him that he was possibly laying his family to rest. He would never forget them, but at least they would not dominate his every though. It also showed in his training, as he became the old military person who had passed everything with flying colours while in the SAS, where he had been the outstanding trainee.
Now John James was fast becoming the standout recruit in the Legion and that was surprising, as the French do not like the English. They would usually go out of their way to constantly make examples of them, handing out humiliating sentences whenever possible, so that the other Legionnaire’s could laugh at their expense.
John would not take crap from anybody, dishing out better than he received. Most of the other Legionnaires would give him a wide berth if possible, unless that is, they were drunk, and alcohol was abundant on the camp. So much so, that to the French it seemed to be a national pastime, the strange thing is that drunkenness was totally frowned on, with severe punishment dealt out when Officers felt like it. This John found very strange, as half the camp were drunk at one time or another.
It was while under the influence that the so-called hard men of the camp thought that they could take John on. They were soon proven wrong. Even if he had also been drinking he was still a handful and fought controlled taking on all comers. If a few others got themselves involved, then there was always Dominique to protect his back. Hans was more the intellectual one he preferred reading to fighting, but when it came to legal matters, he even left the Officers speechless. Hans was the original barrack room lawyer, and used his skills well. John and Dominique liked him so well that more than once they protected his back, fighting off would be assailants.
Once the training was over all three of them along with twenty others, were posted to Djibouti in Africa. They left the island of Corsica and returned to the transit company of the Legion at Aubagne. There they were all issued with hot weather gear and given inoculations against some of the tropical diseases that were prevalent in that area. Loosing count of the jabs, they received once it got past eight.
Upon arrival at Djibouti airport they were quickly transported to Camp Gabode, about two kilometres away, situated on the out skirts of the city of Djibouti itself. The Command Support and Services Company and the 2nd work Company of the 13th Demi Brigade of the Legion Occupied Camp Gabode. Their function was to provide all the needs for the exterior companies, who were the peace keeping forces located in the border forts along the frontiers of Somalia and Ethiopia. The 13th numbered about twelve hundred men each of four exterior companies. Containing about one hundred and fifty men each, plus the four hundred or so personnel stationed at Gabode.
Once settled in they were given a week to get their bodies acclimatised to the conditions that were very bleak and basic. Added to this was the sun that was merciless to all who walked around unprotected.
All three of them managed to stay together, and were sent to one of the forts along the border with Somalia, all agreed that this was a god-forsaken place to spend the next six months. There was nothing to do and certainly nowhere to go. The only reading material was what the Legionnaire’s brought with them, and hence books were as scarce as hen’s teeth. They also turned out to be a form of currency, there being nothing else to spend one’s money on. Nothing ever seemed to happen here.
Occasionally a small section of Legionnaires would go out on a patrol just to show a French presence in the area, but to whom John often wondered. During his first patrol, he had not seen a single living sole outside of the camp.
Cards and gambling played a large part of life in the camp, even though John did not like cheating, the boredom just got to him and he used his magic skills to win many a large jackpot from his fellow Legionnaire’s.
John’s personality was changing and changing fast. It was as though at times he was a completely different person, as might be expected from anybody after losing his complete family. It was also the small things that he noticed. Where once he would never have cheated anybody, not even his enemies, now he believed it to be okay. Whereas before he would never speak out and give himself a reputation, now it did not worry him. Something he constantly did, that frequently drew attention towards him.
He started to become very bitter that others had not gone through personnel strife as he had, and constantly argued with his fellow Legionnaires, but never with Dominique or Hans. They had thought that it was all part of an act to establish himself at the top of the pecking order above the other Legionnaires.
The most amazing thing was that with his new character he was not dwelling on his family anymore. If ever he were asked if he were married, he would immediately snap the head off the person asking, answering that he was a loner and did not need anybody.
Those six months dragged for all of them and upon their return to Djibouti all hell was let loose on some wild drinking parties by all who had returned. However, the drinking got out of hand and Hans was severely injured when he was flung from the roof of a stolen car that Dominique was driving, while John was a passenger inside. Dominique had just got carried away with the drink inside of him, and thinking that Hans could hang on, raced the car up to over 100 kmh. Then while trying to navigate a sharp corner Hans had rolled of the roof and was slammed into the side of a house. He had so many broken bones that he was evacuated back to France on the very first plane that was available. John and Dominique were never to see him again.
Three months later John and Dominique were moved back to another of the border forts, where once again they settled in for a boring six months of reading, gambling and occasional going out on patrol, looking for illegals who were crossing over the border. Dominique would laugh and remark that there were no people trying to cross into Djibouti, who the hell would want to ever cross over the desert that lay out in front of them.
The very next day while on a patrol driving through a very rocky outcrop they were fired upon. The shots had them pinned down for almost two hours, until finally the firing ceased. Slowly they came out from under the rocks they had sought for cover to find that the enemy had vanished leaving behind then two dead Legionnaire’s. This brought them all back to the real world. The world they had been trained for, how was it they had let their guard down and been caught off guard. From then on, they did everything by the book, but it was all for nothing as it was the only time they were shot at during this stay on the border.
The Legion was always making it plain they frowned on people who deserted and that they had agreements with Somalia and Ethiopia that if any of their Legionnaire’s crossed over the border they were to be locked up and the keys thrown away. When they eventually decided to release them, it was agreed that they would then return them to the Legion. Who would once again dish out a second round of severe punishment to them. Hoping it would deter other would be deserters.
Upon the completion of their six months on the border, and their return to Djibouti, everything seemed to be different. They still got involved in a couple of parties, but they did not get plastered as they had on their first return, that had led to Hans’s accident. Of his condition they were both pissed off as they could neither find out how he was or where he had been sent.
This time they were assigned to other duties mainly driving the Officers around the local area of Djibouti. It was a plumb job and sought after by most of the other Legionnaire’s. Rumour had it that they had bribed an Officer who had been taken for a lot of cash during a card game. John would always laugh when asked if it was true, not really wanting to tell them that in fact it was.
Together they returned to the border for one more tour, this time there was a little more excitement as the fort was attacked four times. To say attacked would not be totally accurate, it was more like on each occasion shots were fired from a long distance away into the fort. Although it was impossible to find out where the shots came from. As a precaution, they were still made to stand too, and too take up defensive positions for most of the night. Not knowing if the so-called enemy might return and attack the camp. John knew this was an old ploy, one man could fire a single shot into the fort and keep the whole camp awake for most of the night, if they chose. If this was done over a period of four nights, you can imagine how tired the Legionnaire’s would soon become.
After three years, John and Dominique were returned to Aubagne in France and enjoyed a cooler climate for a year. Neither applied for their real identity to be restored. They could not see what difference it would make, as far as they were concerned they were in the Legion for five years and during that time they would not be going anywhere. At one time, they thought they might see out their remaining time in France, but fate was to deal them a cruel blow.
Back in Djibouti, one of the forts located at a place called Holly-Holly had been under attack, and there had been many casualties. A large group of Legionnaire’s who had all served in that area before were hastily rounded up and flown out at record speed. Although it was almost a week before they arrived on the ground at Holly-Holly. To walk right in on a large firefight as the place had been under siege for over a week.
John knew very little about the area, not having served there in the past. However, with the French Government cut backs taking place, they had decided to withdraw in a few months. To protect them during the withdrawal they needed a reconnaissance unit to cover the withdrawal. Holly-Holly was an area that had never been completely secured from guerrilla activity. It was believed that if an attack upon the French withdrawal were to be launched, it would come from this area.
When things happen in this sort of work they happen very fast. This was no exception, and John was given only four hours to be ready to move out.
Once again John had been teamed up with Dominique who used the code name of ‘Firefly’. While John kept his original SAS name of ‘Sleeper’ after all it had been lucky for him during other trips, so why not now.
Later that day, with about an hour of daylight left, they boarded a transport aircraft to make a parachute drop. The area chosen was close by a couple of tracks that they knew the enemy would have to pass if they wanted to get to Holy-Holy. The Legion needed as much pre-waring as possible if they were going to be attacked.
They delayed opening their chutes until only fifteen hundred feet from the ground. However, just in case they had problems, they did have an automatic opener to assist them. Their skill in steering the chutes saved them a lot of marching to their pre-planned destination.
Once on the ground they located each other and buried their chutes in the sand. Then they made their way across the desert to a waddy that had been previously marked out for them as a place to set up a base camp. The waddy was an old waterway that had not seen water for many years. Hiding within its steep sided banks would give them good cover. Plus, they would be able to dig in to the banks to build some sort of hide out where the radio could be hidden. From this location they would be able to go out on their reconnaissance trips. The reason Dominique had been chosen was because he spoke Arabic and French fluently. Even while they were on the plane flying to the destination, Dominique was giving John his first lessons in Arabic. It had been one of his strong points, an ability to pick things up quickly and this included languages. He might not have the time to get the accents right, but it would get him through if ever they were caught in a tight spot. To help them further they had with them local Arab costumes and they were to let their beards grow nice and bushy. Add to this a bottle of walnut stain that they were to use for their hands and faces, and overnight they were to become instant locals. If you were ever to meet these two you would not be able to tell them from the real thing.
They were hiding very close to a large high escarpment. Which daily they would climb to look down on to a cross track junction, and take notes of the traffic that was passing by. It was also known that there was an Arab village as well as a terrorist camp in the area. They were to watch the comings and goings from this village as well. However, the village was also to become their lifeline. They would have to visit it to get some water. Water being the lifeblood of everybody and everything in this environment. At the moment they would have to get around on foot, but they were constantly on the lookout for a vehicle, that they could seize, or even a camel if it were possible.
During the long cold nights when the temperatures drop down as low as zero, they found it very hard to keep warm. They could not light a fire, as this would give their position away, and anyway there was no timber to be found in the area.
It became a boring routine that consisted of climbing the escarpment and lying out in the full heat of the day, while watching a track that only a handful of vehicles were using daily. They had to be careful not to be seen by anybody, they could only guess at what might happen if they were caught. The French were not very well thought of in this part of the country. Even though it had become common knowledge that they were pulling out. The activists in this area would love to make one final strike against them, and be able to inflict as many casualties as possible. This would be a propaganda coup for them.
Dressed in their Arab gear they visited the village on a couple of occasions to get a closer look and to purchase some food. It was always a good thing to eat the local foods so that their bodies smelt like the locals. It was for this same reason that they would not use body deodorants and after shaves or anything westernised. These smells would stand out like a pork chop at a Jewish wedding, and giving them away. All races have their own body odours that are derived from the food and the way in which they live. To be successful in this type of work you have to become a local in every sense of the word. As John would always say “You have to eat, sleep and drink like a local.”
On several occasions they reported back to headquarters by radio the movement of a few trucks that had a cargo of men all sporting firearms of some description. On another occasion a truck was seen to be heading towards the direction of Holly-Holly. Although they did not know if Holly-Holly was their eventual destination, for all they knew it could have turned off and headed in another completely different direction when out of sight.
One morning they were awakened from a light sleep while lying in the Waddy. The low bleeping sound from one of their alarms had been set off. Some body was approaching their base camp, and who it was they did not know. They had to assume that whoever it was, it had to be the enemy. They had dug a large hole into the bank of the waddy, and had placed large rocks and boulders around its entrance in a manner not to arouse suspicion. At all times they had kept as much of the gear as possible within this hide out. It was just a matter of brushing away what tracks were visible and crawling inside, sliding a larger boulder across the entrance behind them. It was very dark inside plus there was not a regular flow of oxygen for them, but it would have to do. Now it was just a case of lying quietly and waiting to see what was about to happen. They had the motion sensor alarms set up in about six different locations around this part of the Waddy. With the receiving station now turned down very low and inside of their dug out with them. They would not dare to venture out until one of the other alarms went off, hopefully telling them that the intruder or intruders had passed them by. However, their plight was not over quickly, as they had to wait for more than three hours, before the alarm finally sounded once again. In that time, they had both nearly suffocated by the lack of oxygen.
Upon sliding the boulder back very slowly nobody was to be seen. They then took a look to try and work out whom their visitors had been. About one hundred meters up the Waddy the remains of what looked like an area where a small group of men had stopped for a break and to take a rest. They even found some small holes in the ground that had been used as toilets. John climbed out of the Waddy to see if their intruders were still in sight. In the distance he could see what looked like a small group of about a dozen armed men. All were making their way up the Waddy towards the escarpment. Up at that height John and Dominque would be very easy targets, therefore they decided to return to their dug out. They put their heads together and came up with the conclusion that somebody had seen them at some time, and now a search was on for them. Although they also decided to stay where they were for the moment. Maybe they were safer here, as this area had already been searched.
Headquarters had asked them to stay put for one more week and to then make their way back to a location where they could be airlifted out by helicopter. They sat down to try and work out how they were going to achieve this trip after all it was a distance of nearly one hundred and twenty miles. As it was at the moment it looked like they were going to have to walk every single mile. They decide that it would be easier and safer at night. Working on the assumption that they could cover forty miles a night that meant that it would take them three nights.
They waited two days before venturing back into the village to get some water for the trip. They were trying to stock up but not to arouse anybody’s suspicions while doing so. Plus, whatever they bought they were going to have to carry it for three days. It was water that was going to be their biggest problem. Although by walking at night they would miss the heat of the day, so it would be cooler and they would not need as much. But where to lie up during the heat of the day, that was going to be a big problem, and as yet they had not come up with an answer.
They eventually set off as soon as it became dark giving themselves three days to make it back. It was no good taking chances, they would only get one stab at this. Although they did not know what would happen to them, especially if they were captured.
That first night they covered about fifty miles at almost a running pace. It was hard work as they were on soft sand for some of the time. But both of them knew that they had to get some lea way up their sleeve. If they were to hit problems later and not be able to do the miles, then it was better to have something in hand now. Besides they knew that by daybreak they would have to make for some sort of cover, to get out the heat. Also there was still the possibility that the enemy were looking for them.
Their destination had been towards a small rocky outcrop that ran across their path. This out crop would also slow down their progress the following day. So it was with great relieve that they made their goal that first day just as dawn was breaking.
After a short rest they decided to push on, believing that the rocks they were now picking their way through would provide them with a little cover. Also they were thinking that if they could get through the rocks in daylight, it would be easier to see where they were going. Once through, it would also be easier once again when they were out on the open desert.
They decided to rest up at midday. They were now very tired and besides it was very hot. So they found an overhanging ledge that they could get under and out of the midday sun. Even though it was stiflingly hot it did not take them long to fall asleep.
Un-known to them they had been seen by a local out on patrol aboard his trusty camel, as they made their way off the soft desert sand and into the rocks. The Arab had got a message back to his headquarters reporting the sighting. The Arab terrorists then sent a body of men to try and capture them at all costs.
John and Dominique awoke around five in the afternoon as it was cooling off and decided that they must carry on. With luck they could find a way through the remaining rocks before darkness fell. Then it would be easy to walk on a compass bearing across the desert. Which is what they did, but at around midnight when they were in total darkness, suddenly from nowhere four or five lights were switch on to them from all around. The lights were almost blinding and caught them completely off guard. Both men brought their guns up into a firing position, but before they could open fire. A single shot rang out and Dominique fell to the sand with blood running from a small bullet hole in his forehead, between his eyes. Before John could respond in any way he took a heavy blow to the back of the neck. They had truly been caught with their guard down, both had thought that there would be nobody out there that late at night. How wrong they had been, and now Dominique had paid the ultimate price with his life.
When John came around he was tied up and lying in the back of an open sided land rover style vehicle, like the ones used by the long-range desert group during the Second World War. It was completely open and had no sides or covers on. Strapped to the outside was just about everything that was required for desert travel.
He ached from head to foot guessing that he had taken a major beating during his capture. He looked around and to his amazement there were only two other guys in the truck and both were in the front. Now was the best time to escape he thought, in training you are taught to escape as soon as you are captured. If you wait until your captors get you back to their camp, then you are on their ground, and you might not know where you are. You will also be surrounded by a larger number of the enemy, making it harder to escape.
It was still dark, but he had no idea what time it was. His first problem was to remove the bonds from around his wrists. Because he was being tossed around in the vehicle as it sped across the desert, it would give him a little cover while he struggled to get them untied. While all this was happening he suddenly remembered Dominique and that he had been shot. He started to wonder why they had chosen to do this, why had he been the one chosen to live. What he did know was that there was nothing nice awaiting him when they finally arrived at their destination. Believing that he was the one they had chosen to torture. He dreaded to think what was going to happen to him next.
John could not believe his luck as he managed to untie his wrists, from there it was easy to get the bonds off his feet. The darkness was helping him as he suddenly jumped up and grabbed the two guys in the front by their heads and banged them together, while they were engaged in a close conversation. John was suddenly wracked by pain from his beating, realising that it must have been much worse than he had first believed. Lucky for him the guy on the left in the passenger seat was knocked unconscious and fell out of the vehicle. However, the driver started to struggle so John put his arm around his neck and applied a lot of pressure, it was only a few seconds before he broke his neck and also pushed him out of the truck. It was very painful for him to try and hold on to the steering wheel, and to climb over into the front of the vehicle at the same time. Somehow he managed it and within a few seconds he had control of the vehicle.
Suddenly shots were being fire in his direction. It was only now that he realised that there were three other vehicles in the convoy. From the position he had been lying in the back he had not realised this. There was one ahead of him and two behind, who had probably seen the two guards being tossed out. He swung the wheel to the right and headed off in another direction with all three vehicles now chasing after him. In order to try and dodge the hail of bullets that were heading in his direction he was swinging the steering wheel from side to side while keeping his head low. The chase went on for a long time and to make it harder John was weaving around any large boulders that he could find. At one time when he looked back he was relieved to see that one of the vehicles had disappeared. He was hoping that maybe it had broken down, “Then there were two,” he said to himself. At least the firing had eased, he just hoped that they were running low on ammunition. Up until then their aim had not been too good, but he wasn’t sure how long his luck was going to hold, if what happened to Dominque was anything to go by.
He knew that before long it would soon start getting light, so he had to shake these guys off his tail before then. He had to find somewhere to hide and lay up for the day. During the day it would be easy to locate him and pick him off. He also needed some rest, his body was still very sore. He had not checked himself over so at this stage he was not sure of the full extent of his injuries.
In the distance he could make out what he hoped was some sort of small rocky mountainous area, so he headed straight for it. Once there he started weaving in and out of the rocks and boulders just praying that luck was going to be on his side. It was, and soon he could not see anybody behind him. Although he had to be careful one false move, and if he hit a rock or tore the engine sump off, then he was in trouble. After a time, John swung the truck between two very large rocks into a dead end canyon and stopped. He then switched off the engine to have a listen. He could hear the other vehicles, but they were a little way off and sounded faint. He decided to stay where he was and too try and get some rest. So he crawled under the truck to try and get a little protection from the sun that was by now starting to come up.
He did not get much sleep because of all the excitement, plus he was expecting to be found at any moment. At least he was resting his weary body. His thoughts drifted on to Dominique and of what they might have done with his body. Then on to him and of making it back in time to be airlifted out. At the moment he had no idea where he was. The only thing for certain that he knew was that if he slept through the day. That would only leave him one nights travel to reach his goal, because the next day was his dead line. The latest he could arrive back to Holy would be around four in the afternoon.
As the heat of the day started to wear off, John crawled out from under the truck and dusted himself off. He had survived the day and upon inspection of his body found himself to be relatively unscathed. He had a large amount of bruises on him and there were a few cuts to his face that had been bleeding. Other than that, he was not in to bad a shape. He scavenged around the truck looking for anything that might be useful to him. To his amazement there was a radio on board and also a Russian built assault rifle that had belonged to the driver. However, there was very little ammunition to go with it, only about forty rounds. For John these finds were a gift from heaven and all that he needed. With these two items plus the vehicle he would be able to make his way back. He spent some time trying to tune in the dilapidated old radio. Scanning through the bands for anything that resembled a French-speaking wavelength. It was then that he realised that it was damaged. It had taken a bullet during the chase. Although it did seem like it was sending a message, it was just not receiving. Although John had no way of knowing this for certain. He spent almost an hour sending a message that read “Sleeper is running late for rendezvous keep an eye out for me, Fire Fly is dead”
It was also lucky for him that he had not been stripped of his watch an old fashioned one with hands. This would enable him to use it as a compass. John had studied the sun and had worked out a direction that he must head, in order to reach Holly and safety. He would be heading due south so to start with he should have the sun behind him. About an hour into his drive he came across what is called a road in the desert and it was heading in his general direction towards the South. A road out there consisted of a line of sand filled forty-gallon oil drums stood on end and in a rough line across the desert about a quarter of a mile apart.
After travelling for about four hours he stopped to have a drink and to stroll around the truck for a little exercise. He had been lucky once again when he found some water on board in an old jerry can. As he turned and looked back the way he had come from, his attention was drawn to what looked like a speck of dust on the horizon. He immediately knew that he was being chased. The terrorists as he liked to call them were on to him and in hot pursuit. He could be wrong, but he did not intend hanging around to find out, after all he still had a long way to go before he would be relatively safe.
John jumped on the gas and just kept the truck in a straight line. He had to be careful not to overcook the engine. While at the same time he had to keep the speed up in order to out run his pursuers. He did not know how fast they were travelling and he did not intend stopping to look behind to find out. At the moment it was a case of head down and arse up and no regard for anything else. The occasional glance over his shoulder was of no help to him anyway. With the vehicle jumping around he could not see very clearly plus he had no goggles to protect his eyes from the sand and glare.
Then quite by chance in the distance ahead of him he could see what looked like a sand storm whirling around. This was his only chance it was too big to go round and he dare not stay where he was and let it pass. John just drove straight at it and prayed for the protection that it might give him. Within ten minutes he was completely engulfed by the swirling mass of sand that stung every part of his bare flesh that it came into contact with. However, he kept driving even though he had his eyes held shut as tight as possible and could not see where he was going. He had tied a handkerchief over his mouth and nose but it was not doing much good to protect him. Finally, in shear desperation he had to stop and grabbing an old cover from the truck he jumped out and slid underneath, covering his head and body the best he could while he tried to wait out the storm.
The storm raged for the rest of the day and well into the night. So much for John thinking that it was just a little storm and that he would be able to weather it out. When the wind finally drop it was past midnight. John was not sure where he was, so he decided to take a further rest through till morning.
Once awake the first thing he did was to spend half an hour resending his message, in the faint hope that somebody just might pick it up. John’s hope of the message being picked up were coming true, not by his friends, but by the terrorists. The radio message told them that he was still alive, and they also had a rough idea as to where he was. They could also wait until morning before going in for the kill. The terrorists had wanted him alive so they could interrogate him. Upon reflection they wished they had shot him along with Dominique, when they had the chance.
At daybreak John climbed on board the truck and made some calculations with his watch against the sun. Then without a minute to spare he set off in what he had decided was a southerly direction. It was now Friday morning and by his calculations he only had about ten hours to make the rendezvous with the Legion. He was hoping that if he kept driving in a southerly direction he should hit the main track. Then it would just be a case of deciding whether he turned east or west to drive into Holly Holly.
In the distance he could see a high escarpment, if he was correct the road should be on the other side. However, for the moment it looked a long way off, if in fact it wasn’t a mirage.
After several hours he stopped to take a break and to recheck his directions against his watch. Looking behind at the direction he had just come from. A cold shiver was sent down his spine. There in the distance on the horizon was the tell tail blob of dust that told him that his pursuers were once again hot on his trail.
Without a minute to spare he jumped back onto the truck and sped off as fast as he could. He was now driving into an area that was scattered with boulders some of them quite large. The last thing he wanted now was to hit one of these that really would be the end for him. He could feel his heart racing as the adrenalin was passing through his body. Had he come this far only to be caught within sight of his goal. Without warning the trucks engine started to splutter and the drive became very erratic.
As he glanced down at the dashboard he could see that he was out of petrol. The one thing he had never thought to check, he pulled over and searched around the truck just hoping that amongst all of the stuff that was still strapped to its outside there would be some fuel. However, this time he was unlucky and he found nothing. He climbed back on board thinking that he should keep going until it stopped completely. After all it was better than walking and it looked like he was going to be doing a lot of that very soon.
He only got about a mile further on before the vehicle came to a permanent stand still as the engine finally died and stuttered to a halt. He jumped out grabbing a water canteen and the assault rifle and struck out on foot. No way was he going to just sit and wait for the inevitable. He would fight to the end, something he had always done. He immediately set of at a jogging speed with the sweat pouring from him. Being just after midday the sun was at its hottest, as it mercilessly beat down on him. However, it was not going to stop him as he headed for the escarpment lying dead ahead. Behind him the vehicles where gaining and gaining fast, they had him in their sights. Within half an hour they started shooting at him. He could hear the shots, but the bullets were not reaching him, and dropping short. Although this soon changed when he heard a couple go over his head, then a couple landed in the sand beside him. But he was determined to keep going, at least if they shot him in the back he would not see it coming, and it would be over very quickly.
By now he was in a hell of a mess his lungs were bursting because of the break neck speed that he was keeping up. There was so much sweat in his eyes that he could hardly see where he was going. A large volley of shots rang out and he felt the shock waves as they passed perilously close overhead. He knew now that his would be captors were only a couple of hundred meters behind him, and that it was all over.
John finally stopped through shear exhaustion, turned around and sunk to his knees facing them. He knew it was all over and he had given it his best shot, but it hadn’t been good enough. The terrorists eased up their vehicles and advanced very slowly towards him. John was a spent man he even had a slight tear in his eye as he watched them approach.
Suddenly an engine could be heard thumping away and getting louder by the second. When from nowhere a French Puma helicopter appeared coming up from behind a very large sand ridge directly behind him, and started pumping automatic fire into the rebels and their vehicles. The firepower was awesome, destroying everything that it struck. John knew it was the Legion after all he had undergone some of his training with these aircraft. He never even fired a shot himself he just sat in amazement and watched the destruction and carnage going on right in front of him.
When it was all over the chopper landed right beside him and a warm out stretched hand was offered to pull him on-board. As John grabbed the hand he looked up in to the eyes of a door gunner who mouthed the word, “Room for one”. There was no time to talk, and anyway with all the noise of the chopper it would have been pointless. They did not need words as they hugged each other in the doorway as the chopper took off and headed for safety.
The pilot shouted into his ear as they put down at Holly Holly that they had picked up his radio signal, but had not been able to pin point his whereabouts accurately. It had been like looking for a needle in proverbial haystack. It was a matter of just looking in areas that they thought he might be.
As he stepped from the chopper John had a big smile on his face, he sunk to his knees and kissed the ground. Only now amongst friends did he feel safe. Finally, he could put his feet up and un-wind, he could now enjoy his freedom. A freedom that just a few hours earlier did not seem possible.
John had been very lucky, as it turned out he really was amongst the very last to leave the area, the Officers and big wigs having left an hour ahead of him.
When eventually his five years in the Legion was up, he was returned to Aubagne where upon he was handed his worldly possessions that had been taken from him during that first day he had arrived, including his Passport. He was also handed his honourable discharge paper signed by the duty officer of the day, along with a medal for his troubles and a train ticket to an Airport. However, he was not sure whether he was happy to be leaving or not. After all, he had just given five years of his life to the Legion and at times, he had enjoyed the way of life and the job he had been doing. Although he had lost two very good friends and they would be sadly missed.
Arriving back at London’s Heathrow Airport was one of the best feelings he had enjoyed for a few years. It felt good to be standing on English soil once again. However, as he passed through customs he almost used his alias name of John by mistake. Which might have caused a few problems.
While serving in the French Foreign Legion Chris had learnt that France had at one time ruled over Indochina. Before the Americans eventually became involved. After which it was to become known as South Vietnam. Its history became of great interest for him, and a willingness to learn more took over a lot of his spare time.
Whenever possible he would try to obtain English printed newspapers, and magazines covering the so called Indochina War. While at other times he would ask around his fellow Legionnaires. In fact, the Officers encouraged the learning of their history. As many Legionnaires had been killed during one of Indochina’s biggest battles against the French, that took place at Dien Bien Phu in 1955.
During many conversations with close friends most were fascinated that he was even interested in the subject. He also let it be known that giving the chance he would like to visit the country at some time. Although he did realise that it would not be easy, as it was a war zone, and getting into and out of the country would not be easy.
In those day’s Private Military Companies would not openly advertise for military minded recruits, jobs like that were passed around by word of mouth. Although he did learn that the American military did hire certain civilian companies to undertake and assist them with supplies, and what were known as quite missions.
Over his five-year enlistment with the Legion, Chris had come up with a long interesting documented. The history of France’s domination of what was originally known as ‘French Indochina’. Which wet his appetite for more? He usually carried a small note pad around with him, and whenever possible could usually be seen making notes.
France had started its conquest of Indochina in the late 1850s, and completed pacification by 1896. Although the ‘Treaty of Hue’ formed during 1884 was the basis for French Colonial rule in Indochina for the next seven decades. That was in spite of a military resistance, most notably by the Can Vuong of ‘Phan Dình Phung’.
By 1888 the area of the present day nations of Cambodia and Vietnam were made into part of the Colony of French Indochina, and later Laos was to also join the Colony. Various Vietnamese opposition movements to the French rule existed during this period, such as the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, who staged the failed ‘Yen Bai’ mutiny in 1930. However, none were as successful as the Viet Minh Common Front, which was founded during 1941, and controlled by the Indochinese Communist Party. Being funded by America and the Chinese Nationalist Party in its fight against Japanese occupation.
In February 1950 Vietnamese General Giap seized the vulnerable 150 strong French Garrison at ‘Lai Khe’ in ‘Tonkin’ just south of the border with China. Major General Thai attacked ‘Dong Khe’ on the 15th September and it fell on 18th September, while ‘Cao Bang’ finally fell on the 3rd October. As a result, ‘Lang Son’, along with its 4,000 strong French Foreign Legion garrison was attacked immediately after.
The retreating French on Route 4, together with the relief force coming from ‘That Khe’ were attacked all the way by ambushing Viet Minh forces. The French air dropped a Para-troop Battalion South of ‘Cao Bang’ to act as a diversion only to see it quickly surrounded and destroyed. On the 17th October after a week of intense fighting ‘Lang Son’ eventually fell.
By the time the remainder of the garrisons reached the safety of the Red River Delta, 4,800 French troops had been killed, captured or were missing in action and 2,000 wounded out of a total garrison force of over 10,000. Also lost were 13 artillery pieces, 125 mortars, 450 trucks, 940 machine guns, 1,200 submachine guns and 8,000 rifles destroyed or captured during the fighting. While China and the Soviet Union recognised Ho Chi Minh as the legitimate ruler of what was to become Vietnam, and sent him more and more supplies and material aid.
1950 marked the first time that napalm was ever used in Vietnam, after being supplied by the Americans. Having been designed especially for the use of the French Bearcat Naval fighter aircraft.
The military situation improved for France when its new Commander, General Jean Marie de Lattre de Tassigny, built a fortified line from Hanoi to the Gulf of Tonkin, and across the Red River Delta. It was to hold the Viet Minh in place and to use his troops to smash them against this barricade, which became known as the ‘De Lattre Line’. This led to a period of success for the French.
However, on the 13th January 1951 General Giap moved the 308th and the 312th Divisions, made up of over 20,000 men, to attack ‘Vinh Yen’ 20 miles northwest of ‘Hanoi’. Being manned by the 6,000 strong 9th Foreign Legion Brigade. The Viet Minh took the bait and entered a trap. They were caught for the first time in the open and actually forced to fight the French head on, without the ability to quickly hide and retreat, they were mown down by concentrated French artillery and machine gun fire. By the 16th January, the Battle of ‘Vinh Yen’ ended as General Giap was forced to withdraw, with over 5,000 of his troops being killed, 6,000 wounded and a further 400 captured.
On 23rd March General Giap tried again, launching an attack against ‘Mạo Khe’ 20 miles north of ‘Haiphong’. The 316th Division composed of 11,000 men, along with the partly rebuilt 308th and the 312th Divisions in reserve, went forward and were beaten in bitter hand-to-hand fighting against the French troops. General Giap withdrew on the 28th March having lost over 1,000 dead and wounded.
On the 29th May General Giap launched yet another attack, known as the Battle of the Day River, with the 304th Division at ‘Phu Ly’, the 308th Division at ‘Ninh Bình’, and the main attack delivered by the 320th Division at ‘Phat Diem’ south of ‘Hanoi’. The attacks fared no better and the three divisions lost heavily. Taking advantage of this De Lattre mounted a counter offensive against the demoralised Viet Minh. By driving them back into the jungle, and by the 18th June had eliminating the enemy pockets in the Red River Delta. Costing the Viet Minh over 10,000 killed.
Every effort by Vo Nguyen Giap to break the ‘De Lattre Line’ failed and every attack he made was answered by a French counter attack that destroyed his forces. Viet Minh casualties rose alarmingly during this period, leading some to question the leadership of the Communist Government, even within the party. Although, any benefit this may have reaped for France, was negated by the increasing domestic opposition to the war back in France.
On the 31st July the French General Charles Chanson was assassinated during a propaganda suicide attack at ‘Sa De’c in South Vietnam that was blamed on the Viet Minh although it was argued in some quarters that Cao Dai nationalist Trình Minh could have been involved in its planning.
On the 14th November 1951, the French seized ‘Hoa Bình’ 25 miles west of the ‘De Lattre Line’, by a parachute drop to extend their defensive perimeter.
In January 1952, General de Lattre fell ill from cancer and had to return to France for treatment. He died shortly after and was replaced by General Raoul Salanas the overall commander of French forces in Indochina. The Viet Minh launched attacks on ‘Hoa Bình’, forcing the French to withdraw back to their main positions on the ‘De Lattre Line’ by the 22nd February 1952. Each side lost nearly 5,000 men in this campaign, and it showed that the war was far from over.
Throughout the war, the Viet Minh cut French supply lines and began to seriously wear down the resolve of the French forces. There were continued raids, skirmishes and guerrilla attacks, but through the remainder of the year each side withdrew to prepare itself for larger operations.
Starting on the 2nd October the Battle of ‘Na San’ saw the first use of the French Commanders ‘Hedgehog’ tactics. Consisting in setting up a well-defended outpost to get the Viet Minh out of the jungle and force it to fight conventional battles instead of ambushes. At first this strategy was successful for the French Union, but it ended with a fiasco during 1954.
On the 17th October 1952 General Giap launched attacks against the French garrisons along ‘Nghia Lo’ northwest of ‘Hanoi’, and overran much of the Black River valley. Except for the airfield of ‘Na San’ where a strong French garrison was entrenched. Giap by now had control over most of ‘Tonkin’ beyond the ‘De Lattre Line’. Raoul Salan, seeing the situation as critical, launched ‘Operation Lorraine’ along the ‘Clear River’ to force Giap to relieve pressure on the ‘Nghia Lo’ outposts.
On the 29th October 1952 in the largest operation in Indochina to date, 30,000 French Union soldiers moved out from the ‘De Lattre Line’ to attack the Viet Minh supply dump at ‘Phu Yen’. Salan took ‘Phu Tho’ on the 5th November, and ‘Phu Doan’ on the 9th November by a parachute drop, and finally ‘Phu Yen’ on the 13th November.
General Giap at first did not react to the French offensive. He planned to wait until their supply lines were over-extended and to then cut them off from the Red River Delta. Salan correctly guessed what the Viet Minh were up to and cancelled the operation on the 14th November, beginning to withdraw back to the ‘De Lattre Line’. The only major fighting during the operation came during the withdrawal, when the Viet Minh ambushed the French column at ‘Chan Muong’ on the 17th November. The Indochinese March Battalion eventually cleared the road after a bayonet charge so the withdrawal could continue. The French lost around 1,200 men during the whole operation, most of them during the ‘Chan Muong’ ambush. The operation was partially successful, proving that the French could strike out at targets outside the ‘De Lattre Line’. However, it failed to divert the Viet Minh offensive or seriously damage its logistical network.
On the 9th April 1953, General Giap, after having failed repeatedly in direct attacks on French positions in Vietnam, changed strategy and began to pressure the French by invading ‘Laos’, surrounding and defeating several French outposts such as ‘Muong Khoua’. In May, General Henri Navarre replaced Salan as supreme commander of French forces in Indochina. He reported to the French government “there was no possibility of winning the war in Indo-China,” adding that “the best the French could hope for was a stalemate.”
Navarre, in response to the Viet Minh attacking ‘Laos’, concluded that ‘Hedgehog’ centres of defence were the best plan. Looking at a map of the area, Navarre chose the small town of ‘Dien Bien Phu’, located about 10 miles north of the ‘Lao’ border and 175 miles west of ‘Hanoi’ as a target to block the Viet Minh from invading ‘Laos’. ‘Dien Bien Phu’ had a number of advantages, as it was on a Viet Minh supply route into ‘Laos’ on the ‘Nam Yum’ river, it had an old airstrip for supply, and it was situated in the ‘Tai hills’, where the Tai tribesmen who were still loyal to the French lived and operated in the area.
‘Operation Castor’ was launched on the 20th November 1953, with 1,800 men of the French 1st and 2nd Airborne Battalions dropping into the valley of ‘Dien Bien Phu’, and sweeping aside the local Viet Minh garrison. The paratroopers gained control of a heart-shaped valley 12 miles long and 8 miles wide surrounded by heavily wooded hills. Encountering little opposition, the French and Tai units operating from ‘Lai Chau’ to the north patrolled the hills.
The operation was a tactical success for the French. However, General Giap, seeing the weakness of the French position, started moving most of his forces from the ‘De Lattre Line’ to ‘Dien Bien Phu’. By December most of the French and Tai patrols in the hills around the town were wiped out by Viet Minh ambushes. The fight for control of this position would be the longest and hardest battle for the French Far East Expeditionary Corps and would be remembered by the veterans as ‘57 Days of Hell’.
Despite official propaganda presenting the war as a ‘Crusade Against Communism’.
By 1954 the war in Indochina was fast growing unpopular by the French public. The political stagnation of the Fourth Republic meant that France was unable to extract itself from the conflict. The United States initially sought to remain neutral, viewing the conflict as chiefly a decolonisation war.
The Battle of ‘Dien Bien Phu’ occurred in 1954 between Viet Minh forces under General Vo Nguyen Giap, supported by China and the Soviet Union, and the French Union’s French Far East Expeditionary Corps, supported by its Indochinese allies. The battle was fought near the village of ‘Dien Bien Phu’ in Northern Vietnam and became the last major battle between the two sides.
The battle began on the 13th March when a pre-emptive Viet Minh attack surprised the French with heavy artillery. The artillery damaged both the main and secondary airfields that the French were using to fly in their supplies. The only road into ‘Dien Bien Phu’ was already made difficult to traverse, was also knocked out by Viet Minh forces. With French supply lines interrupted, the French position became untenable. Particularly when the advent of the monsoon season made the dropping of supplies and reinforcements by parachute difficult. With defeat imminent, the French sought to hold on until the opening of the Geneva peace meeting on the 26th April. The last French offensive took place on the 4th May, but it was ineffective. The Viet Minh then began to hammer the outpost with newly supplied Soviet Katyusha rockets and other weaponry provided by their Communist allies.
During the 6th and 7th May the French fought on but were eventually overrun by a huge frontal assault. General Cogny based in ‘Hanoi’, ordered General de Castries, who was commanding the outpost, to cease fire at 5:30pm and to destroy all weapons and transmissions to deny their use to the enemy. A formal order was given to not use the white flag, so that the action would be considered a ceasefire instead of a surrender. Much of the fighting ended on 7th. However, the ceasefire was not respected on ‘Isabelle’ the isolated southern position, where the battle lasted until 1:00am on the 8th May.
At least 2,200 members of the 20,000 strong French forces died, and another 1,729 were reported missing after the battle. Of the 50,000 or so Vietnamese soldiers thought to be involved, there were estimates of anything up to 8,000 killed and at least 15,000 wounded. Prisoners taken at ‘Dien Bien Phu’ were the greatest number the Viet Minh had ever captured, one third of the total captured during the entire war.
One month after ‘Dien Bien Phu’, the composite Group Mobile 100 (GM100) of the French Union forces evacuated the ‘An Khe’ outpost and was ambushed by a larger Viet Minh force at the Battle of ‘Mang Yang Pass’ from the 24th June to the 17th July. While at the same time, General Giap launched some offensives against the delta, that all failed. The Viet Minh victory at ‘Dien Bien Phu’ heavily influenced the outcome of the 1954 Geneva accords that took place on the 21st July. During August ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’ began, consisting of the evacuation of all Catholic and Loyalist Vietnamese civilians from communist North Vietnamese persecution.
1960 saw the first American Military Advisors arrived in what was then known as French Indochina. Their involvement escalated during the early 1960s, with troop levels tripling in 1961 and again in 1962. Their involvement escalated further following the 1964 ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ incident, in which an American destroyer clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft, which was followed by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Which gave the American President authorisation to increase its military presence in the area.
The Americans were worried that the Communists would eventually take over many other countries in the area, calling it the ‘Domino Effect’. Regular American combat units were deployed from 1965. Their Operations crossed international borders, into ‘Laos’ and ‘Cambodia’ as the Americans forces heavily bombed them. The American involvement in the war peaked during 1968. That same year the communist side launched the ‘Tet Offensive’, which failed in its goal of trying to overthrow the South Vietnamese government, but became the turning point in the war. Instead, it persuaded a large proportion of the United States population that its government’s claims of progress toward winning the war were illusory despite many years of massive American military aid.
The Australian involvement began during July and August 1962. When a small commitment of 30 military advisors known as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) arrived. However, their numbers were to increase over the following decade. Especially during April 1965 after a decision to upgrade its military commitment to South Vietnam’s security was put in to operation. The Australians aim was to make friends with the locals, so they could depend on them for help if and when the communists threatened them. A system that was working well. However once the CIA got involved they were ordered to do it the American way. Bomb whole villages off the map. On the understanding that maybe one communist might be living in the village. And so the locals tuned against them, and in many instances turned to the communist for help. Many of the American troops with tongue in cheek, had nicked named the CIA as ‘Christians in Action’.
The withdrawal of Australia’s forces from South Vietnam began in November 1970 when 8 RAR completed its tour of duty and was not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed, and by 11th January 1973 Australian involvement in hostilities in Vietnam had ceased. Nevertheless, Australian troops from the Australian Embassy Platoon remained deployed in the country until 1st July 1973. While other Australian forces were deployed briefly during April 1975, and the Fall of Saigon, to help evacuate personnel from the Australian Embassy.
Once again Chris found himself as a civilian, and on familiar ground back in the UK. Having settled in to a rented furnished flat in Bermondsey located on the southern side of the river Thames in London.
After an absence of just over five years it was also nice to be once again known, and referred to as Chris, and to bury John James into the back of his mind.
He was anxious to call in a few long outstanding favours from some of his old friends, trying to find a way of getting himself to Vietnam. Originally he had thought of immigrating to Australia to join the Australian Army. Although he knew time was not on his side, as the news coming out of Vietnam at the moment was a little confusing. There was even talk that the Americans might pull out of the country all together. Although, unknown to Chris at the time, he could have presented himself at Australia House in London and signed along the dotted line as they say.
Then by chance one of his friends informed him of a rumour going around, that several Aid Agencies were involved in something that was brewing and about to take place in Saigon. Although he was not sure what, and had no way of confirming the information. Chris made many phone calls until eventual he was put through to one, he was pinning his luck on. Not sure how he should approach the subject, he started the conversation by explaining who he was and that he had a fairly long military background. Ending by adding that he would like to help with countries that have experienced the ravages of war.
Chris was in luck, as the person on the other end of the phone sounded as though he was interested. Insisting that as long as he was prepared to travel. As they were both based in London they arrange to meet up the following day.
As previously arranged they met at the Aid Agency headquarters. Where it was explained roughly how the agency worked. Adding that at the moment they were working with the American Government in Vietnam. However, not too many details were disclosed. Although Chris was happy with the six-month deal being offered and could not wait to sign along the dotted line, asking, “when do I start.” “Be here tomorrow morning at 10am” was the reply. Chris wasted no time in making the necessary arrangements to carry out his orders.
The following morning along with four other guys, who already worked for the Agency were driven to the American Airbase at Lakenheath, situated in the Forest Heath district of Suffolk. Where the US Military would fly them to Vietnam along with other members of the team who had also joined them at the Air Base. Chris could not believe his luck that within a week he would be standing on Vietnamese soil.
It was a long flight via America, but a time when the team would get to know each other and of what was expected of them. It was also a time when friendships were made and of who they thought they might be able to trust, as they were going into a war zone.
Upon their arrival at ‘Tan Son Nhut’ Airport about four miles north of Saigon, they were greeted with turmoil as was usual in most Asian countries. Although this country had the added threat of war all mixed in with the mayhem. Within an hour their little group were ushered into a room at the Airport, where they were informed of the situation that not only involved them, but the whole country of Vietnam. Being briefed on what had happened during the past three months and of what the country had endured, and at a guess what was to be expected might happen next.
“The situation has changed drastically since you boarded your aircraft in England.” The organiser told the awaiting crowd of agency workers gathered around him.
“I’m sorry to have to inform you that the central Vietnamese city of ‘Da Nang’ fell to the Viet Cong (VC) during March, and Saigon is about to be encircled, probably shelled and then attacked.” He continued, “The American President Gerald Ford has already publically announced that the American Government will begin evacuating orphaned children from Saigon.
“Operation Babylift as it has been named is about to evacuate South Vietnamese orphans to the United States, and other countries including Australia, France, and Canada. In the hope, that they will be adopted by families around the world. It’s strongly believed that American servicemen may have fathered many of the children. Therefore, it’s our duty to try and save these children by getting them away from a war zone. Failing to do so would probably lead to their deaths, as some twisted form of retribution.” He continued “A series of 30 pre-planned flights had already been organised using C-5A Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft.”
“Your job is to use military trucks and to find all these orphans where ever they are across the city. They will then be paired up with carers to be flown out of the country from about the 3rd of April. You are to try and keep it as low key as possible. If word gets out, almost all the city’s inhabitants will want to be on board those aircraft. In fact, the biggest worry is that they will all flock to the Airport, and in their determination to leave would simply block the runways, trapping everybody including your selves.”
However, they were not told of the North Vietnamese rapid advances towards Saigon since March and early April. There was concern by the military leaders in Saigon that the city, which had been fairly peaceful throughout the war, and whose people had endured relatively little suffering, was soon to come under a direct attack. Many feared that once the communists took control of the city, a bloodbath of reprisals would then take place.
Chris teamed up with John who he had made friends with during the flight over, and had already nick named him Johnno. They took to one of the fleet of trucks awaiting them outside, along with a driver and several female service personnel. Whose job it would be to carry the children while in the trucks. At least the drivers knew the area. While some of the female staff knew where the orphanages were located, and there were many of them. As Johnno and Chris had military backgrounds they had been selected to protect the team and to assist in any problems that might arise, including the paper work. Something which did not go down to well with both of them. It was to be one hell of a job to undertake, and the distant sound of explosions and gunfire was not going to make the job any easier. As daily it sounded like it was getting ever closer.
It was the introduction to their female workers, that one of them known as June Brennen caught Chris’s attention. She was very pretty, something he had not noticed in any female since the loss of his wife. Although deep inside he knew that the situation would arise one day at a later time in his life. He had been on a couple of dates in the past, such as a meal, or a drink and the cinema. But he had never slept with another woman. However, he had always found the opposite sex to be more interesting to chat with, and he certainly enjoyed their company, whenever possible. With their introduction all of a sudden he had a little sparkle in his eye for June.
Whenever possible he would end up chatting with here. The nature of their work always brought them close together, as Chris made sure he looked out for her. Trying to protect her at every opportunity.
With each orphanage they visited, there were always problems to over-come, mainly involving the staff. They knew that with the speed in which the children were being taken from them, that something was about to happening, and happen fast. It did not take a brain surgeon to work out what it was, as they could also hear the sound of distant explosions. Whenever asked why the children were being taken Chris chose to only tell them the basics, and to be as brief as possible. He totally refused to tell them lies. If need be he would not answer them and just walk away. Knowing that several wanted to go along, and act as the child’s carer. There was also a language barrier added to the mayhem of yelling and shouting. Many believing that the louder they shouted in the local tongue the better chance they would have to be allowed to get on the truck. However, it was not going to happen. It only hardened the team into making quick decisions, and to not being conned into dragging headquarters into the argument. The quicker they could leave with the children the sooner the arguing would finish at that particular location.
Chris tried to keep June in sight at most times, not wanting anything to happen to her. Both Johnno and Chris had been issued with pistols as personal protection which they tried to keep hidden whenever possible. Although they had been given the authority to use them if any of their lives were in danger.
After a couple of days, it became obvious that the explosions were getting closer, and some of the team were getting worried that they might become special targets, as the Military Truck told everybody who they were. There was also the possibility that the locals looking ahead and thinking that if they changed sides and killed a few Americans the V.C. or Charlie as Chris had already nick named them, would look on them favourable, rather than kill them.
Although at that time the American military were un-aware that Charlie had sent what they called small death squads into the city. Their aim was to kill as any Americans and sympathiser they came across. As a result, many bodies were seen lying around in the streets. While Military vehicles also became larger targets that were set on fire. The effect was to scare the locals to flee the city, and knowing that it was almost completely surrounded, they would eventually end up somewhere looking down the barrel of Charlies gun.
While driving around the city in the truck Chris would always try and sit next to June as their friendship developed further. It was not a sexual one, more like grown-ups, of being able to talk and enjoying each other’s company. By this time both had come to the same conclusion that military wise things were going to get worse the longer they stayed in Saigon. From the length of the orphanage list their work was going to take some time to complete. Both agreed that they had volunteered for the job and while it was still possible, they would keep their side of the agreement. Their talking became very personal, where they had come from, whom they had been with, and what they were hoping to do in the future, if indeed they both had one. Although at no time had there been any bodily contact. Chris did confide in June how his family had been killed, and that he had never got over it. The thought of going to bed with somebody else, in his mind was cheating on his wife. June said nothing, but took it all on board not wanting to upset the friendship they were experiencing. Chris explained that his love of being in the military had helped soften the impact of her loss. Explaining that service personnel make friendly bonds for life, and help each other out during the bad times.
By now it was definite that Charlie was gaining ground, as each day the explosions were sounding nearer to the city centre, as the collection of the orphans still tried to continue. While some of the teams working the outer edge of the city were coming under fire and their losses were starting to mount.
Chris tried unsuccessfully to talk June into staying at the airport for own safety. As it was quite obvious that the situation was getting out of hand and becoming very dangerous. Anybody who was of western appearance where now targets, for Charlie, or any local trying to make a name for him-self. In the hope to convince the soon to be new rulers of the area, that they had always been on their side.
Earlier secret plans outlining the first ‘Babylift’ flight out of Saigon were finally launched into operation on the 3rd April 1975. However, the first flight eventually took off on the 4th April. A C-5A Galaxy flew the initial mission taking off just after 4pm in the afternoon.
Twelve minutes after take-off, there was what seemed to be an explosion as the lower rear fuselage of the aircraft was torn apart. The locks of the rear-loading ramp had failed, causing the door to open and separate. A rapid decompression occurred. The control and trim cables to the rudder and elevators were severed, leaving only one aileron and the wing spoilers operating. Two of the four hydraulic systems were also knocked out. Leaving the pilot and co-pilot, trying to regain control of the airplane, and to perform a 180-degree turn in order to return to ‘Tan Son Nhut’ Airport.
The crew wrestled with the controls, managing to keep control of the plane with changes in power settings by using the one working aileron and wing spoilers. The crew managed to descended to an altitude of 4,000 feet on a heading of 310 degrees in preparation for landing on ‘Tan Son Nhut’s’ runway 25L. However, halfway through the turn to a final approach, the rate of descent increased rapidly. Seeing they could not make the runway, full power was applied to hopefully bring the nose up. The C-5 eventually touched down in a rice paddy field. Skidding for a quarter of a mile, after which the aircraft became airborne again for a half mile before hitting a dike, and breaking into four parts, some of which caught fire.
Survivors struggled to extricate themselves from the wreckage. The crash site was in a muddy rice paddy near the Saigon River, one mile from the nearest road. Fire engines could not even reach the site, and helicopters had to set down some distance from the wreckage. About 100 South Vietnamese soldiers were deployed around the area, which was near the site of an engagement with the Charlie the previous night.
The flight had been carrying 243 children. Of the 313 people on board, 138 were killed in the crash, that included 78 children and 35 of the Defence Attaché Office, 14 Secret Saigon personnel, and 11 U.S. Air Force personnel, while 175 survived the impact.
At the time of the crash, various adoption and church groups had all been working frantically to shuttle the infants out of the country before it fell to the invading, North Vietnamese Army. With this tragedy, the mission was severely disrupted, but it continued. Within 24 hours 1,200 children, including 40 of the crash survivors, were evacuated on other planes.
Growing panic in the streets of Saigon started to escalate, as the evacuation continued. Constant rocket attacks turned the loading of the infants and children into a safety nightmare. While many adult participants wondered if the plane they were boarding would even get off the ground. If it did, would it then be shot down? Two armed military security Police Officers rode shotgun on nearly every subsequent evacuation flight.
Daily Chris and his team were coming across bodies in the streets, while people were running around waving their arms in the air shouting and screaming. Chris and Johnno were starting to realise that they were not going to finish their task, and their own lives were now at risk. They were also wondering if plans had been hatch to get them out.
On the 9th April the North Vietnamese (PAVN) forces reached ‘Xuan Loc’, the last line of defence before Saigon, where the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 18th Division made a last ditch stand to try and hold the city, during fierce fighting that lasted for several days.
However, the PAVN finally overran ‘Xuan Loc’ on the 20th April despite heavy losses, and on 21th, President Thieu resigned in a tearful televised announcement in which he denounced the United States for failing to come to the aid of the South. The North Vietnamese front line was now just 26 kilometres from downtown Saigon.
The victory at ‘Xuan Loc’, which had drawn many South Vietnamese troops away from the Mekong Delta area, opened the way for the PAVN to encircle Saigon. Moving 100,000 troops into positions around the city by the 27th April. However, by this time the ARVN having few defenders realised, the fate of the city was effectively sealed.
Increasingly flocks of helicopters were constantly flying overhead. They watched, as some landed on pre-selected buildings picking up what Chris could only guess were important people from around the city. While not receiving any information from headquarters, as to what they had to do in a situation that might cut them off from their headquarters. Chris and Johnno decided that it looked like they were going to be hung out to dry as they called it. Increasingly they were coming across burnt out vehicles all over the city, and in some places the roads were completely blocked.
Suddenly as they turned a corner a large bright flash of light filled the truck, very quickly followed by a deafening explosion on the bonnet of the truck in front of them. The vehicle jumped into the air and rolled over on its side, sliding about fifty feet along the road before coming to a halt. It was a couple of minutes before Chris came around and started to feel his body for signs that he had been wounded. No use relying on his body to tell him as he ached all over. Although he and probably all of them had been deafened by the explosion. A couple of minutes later Johnno was shaking his hand asking how he was. Johnno had managed to get away without a scratch, while others in the vehicle were not so lucky. Both the driver and front passenger were dead. A couple near the front in the back were also dead along with three children. Two of the women including June had survived along with two children, as had Chris and Johnno. It took several minutes to get themselves out of the vehicle and check each other over for wounds. The women were not too bad and could at least walk. Although Chris was more interested in June, who seemed to have gotten away none the worse for wear.
Suddenly another military vehicle pulled up beside them to offer help. It was already crowded with military personnel fleeing the area, and could only take two. Chris was by now walking okay, and insisted June and Anne along with the two children they were now carrying were to get on board. Insisting that he and Johnno would carry on by foot and try and get a lift further down the road.
It was only at that point he suddenly realised that they were about to be parted, and he still wanted to learn more about her. Would they ever meet again? Panic took over him on what to do next. He grabbed her by the waist and planted a big kiss on her cheek. Then after helping her climb on board, the truck started to pull away from them. “Where do you usually live” he shouted to her. “London” she called back, and within seconds she was gone. Leaving Chris feeling sad, and realising that he would miss their chats and daily company. Not to mention would he ever see her again.
It did not take them long to realise that two western looking guys walking along a road in Saigon were probably Americans. While there only protection was Johnno’s pistol and six rounds. As Chris had lost his during the crash, and in his haste to extricate himself from the vehicle, although he had not realised it at the time. Being civilians on foot in a war zone, makes them very vulnerable. To not only to Charlie, but also a target for the local thieves and looters, most of who were armed.
As they made their way in the direction of the Airport they did not notice that the exploding shells seemed to be getting closer. Suddenly a single shot rang out and Johnno dropped to the ground just in front of him making no noise. Chris dropped to his knees beside him and checked him out looking for a pulse in his neck. He was not surprised to find that there was not, as there was a fast bleeding hole on the left side of his temple. His first reaction was that a professional had delivered a shot that good, and if he did not move quickly and get out of the area he would be the next victim.
It hurt Chris to leave Johnno lying in the road, but this was not a time to be sentimental and hanging around. He was in a hurry and needed to keep moving. All the time trying to come up with a plan on what he was to do next. However, there seemed to be a lot going on in the area as helicopters were still frequently flying around overhead. Chris was a realist, he knew that no pilot would waste time trying to pick him up from the street, as they were probably all under strict orders to pick up more important people that himself. Anyway they would not have known who he was.
Un-known to Chris, President Ford had finally approved a plan in which all but 1,250 Americans would be flown out of Saigon. Those remaining would be enough to be evacuated quickly, and flown out in a single day’s helicopter airlift. It was also unknown to Chris, that this plan had just been put into operation.
President Ford was hoping to prevent total chaos, and to prevent the real possibility of the South Vietnamese turning against Americans, and to prevent all out bloodshed from occurring.
The U.S. was also concern as to whether the use of military force to support and carry out the evacuation was permitted under the newly passed War Powers Act back in the U.S. Although eventually White House lawyers determined that the use of American forces to rescue citizens in an emergency was unlikely to run afoul of the law. However, the legality of using military assets to withdraw refugees was unknown at that time. The troops on the ground needed protecting and time discussing the fine details was running out fast. Somebody had to decide and the paper work could be worked out at a later date when everybody was safe.
When Chris arrived at the next corner he looked up to read the name of the street sign hanging on a nearby lamp post. It read ‘Gia Long Street’, suddenly the brain started turning over as he realised that he knew where he was. If he was not mistaken the American CIA Headquarters was located along this road at number 22, just his luck that it was at the other end of the street. Although that played to his advantage because as he approached he could see that some of the Helicopters were picking up the staff and agents from the flat topped roof. It was only then that he suddenly realised why Embassy’s and other Agencies all had flat roofs, now he knew. Learn something every day had always been his motto.
There were two Vietnamese guards on the front gate leading into the building. A small crowd had already started to gather as locals could see what was going on, and were hoping to be included in the evacuation.
Being white it was easy for Chris to bluff his way past the guards, ordering them to keep the gates locked and the civilian locals out.
Once in the house there was no movement or sign of anybody telling Chris that they must all be up on the roof, so he headed for the stairs. As he reached the top floor he could see through the window that a crowd had gathered on the roof. Chris climbed out of the window onto the roof of another part of the building. He caught the eye of somebody he realised must have been in charge and asked what was happening. His response was to tell Chris that a flight had just left heading for a carrier waiting off shore. He would then return to what he thought might be its last flight as Charlie was closing in fast, and they did not want the chopper brought down.
Chris looked around at the size of the crowd and could not help thinking that he was not going to get a seat, leaving him to conclude that he would probably be left behind. Realising that he was not as important as the CIA members. With that he headed back down stairs looking for ideas as to what he might do next. Looking around the room he found a short length of rope, which gave him an idea. Arriving back at the window he decided to stay where he was until the chopper arrived back. Not wanting to give his plan away too soon.
He then tied the rope around his waist with a Bowline on the bite knot. Sometimes known as a double Bowline. A knot that will not slip if tied correctly. When tied you pass two loops around your waist and make the double knot in front of you. One of the loops is then passed around your waist, while the other is adjusted below your backside so you can sit in it and lean back. It being a quick and easy way of making a Boson’s chair used by many to rescue people, either hoisting them up or to lower them down.
After 15 minutes the chopper eventually arrived and landed on the roof. Once it was stationary and the guard standing to the right of the door hatch started loading those waiting. It was chaos with everybody pushing and shoving. Something that Chris was about to take advantage of. He walked over and just a little further to the guard’s right hand side started to tie his rope to the landing gear skids. The guard was occupied with the chaos, and loading of the passengers that he did not notice what Chris was doing.
As the last passenger boarded there was only one seat left and the guard just turned and jumped in screaming to the pilot to go. As the chopper started to lift it could hardly get off the ground, and it was only then that the guard saw that Chris was hanging from his rope below him. It was also apparent that the chopper was drastically over weight, but as it lifted it also moved forward and by now they were over the main road running along the front of the building. Chris screamed frantically above the roar of the engine to “keep going”. Somehow the message was passed on to the pilot. Who was struggling with the controls to gain height, by now some of the other passengers were getting worried that they might all be killed. Ordering the guard to cut Chris free and drop him. “Better to lose one guy, than a dozen.’ one of them shouted.
Somehow the pilot managed to keep going although he could not gain much height and was wandering around to miss other high building in the area, rather than fly a straight line over them. Therefore, he headed for the river, which was an open expanse of water, so he would not have to go around or over other buildings. Slowly he gained a certain amount of control. They were also in luck as Charlie, who had previously been entrenched in the lower river area a few days before, had moved to take up other position within the city.
By now Chris was shouting to the guard to head for a ship he could see ahead of them toward the river outlet and the sea. The guard suddenly realised what Chris was thinking and shouting the message onto the pilot. Although Chris was still being swung around and from side to side. At least they were making head way down the river. All Chris could do was to take in the view that was happening below on the river. As well as the large ship he wanted to get to, the river was full of many smaller craft all trying to escape from Charlie. Not to mention their intent of cleansing the city of all western ideas that they had been fighting for many years.
As they approached the ship they could see that it was a medium size local cargo Freighter, with a couple of dozen containers on its deck. As for friendly or not, at least it was heading in the right direction away from Saigon. Therefore, Chris just assumed and hoped that it was on their side. Anyway it was too late to change the plans. Knowing full well that the overweight Helicopter would never make it out into the bay and the safety of a USS Okinawa Aircraft Carrier.
With a smile on his face Chris shouted up to the Guard “Lend me a knife”. Although he did not have one, the Co-pilot passed one back and it was handed down to Chris. “Thanks” he shouted, “Now just drop me off on one of the containers and I hope you all make it” “By the way my names Chris what’s yours”. To which he shouted “Jake, Jake Fields, Best of Luck.” “And the same to you all.” Chris replied.
The chopper slowly made its way to one of the containers that had a lot of clear space around it, so as not to hit anything with the rotor blades. Finally, Chis was standing on the container and cut himself free. Then waving to those above, and thanking them they gained some height and headed off towards what Chris could only surmise was where the USS Okinawa was waiting for them.
The chopper was still struggling to gain height, leading Chris to believe that they had already been over weight before he added his little bit of extra hanging underneath. Much later Chris was to learn that the Chopper was just pushed over the side of the carrier to make more room for many others that kept arriving. Therefore, Chris had been correct if he had not tied himself on he would have been left behind.
Chris did find himself on a local cargo Freighter that was also trying to escape the clutches of Charlie, and of the blood bath that all in Saigon were expecting to follow.
Within a few days the Freighter docked in Singapore, and immigration handed him over to the British Embassy who fixed him up with a new passport as Chris had arrived with only the clothes on his back. A few days later he bordered a flight to the UK.
Tuesday 29th April 1975 had not turn out to be just any old Tuesday. The NVA forces under the command of General Van Tien Dung began their final attack and assault on Saigon. The ‘Tan Son Nhut’ Airport was also bombarded and killed the last two American servicemen to die in Vietnam. Flights having continued until the artillery attacks rendered further flights impossible. However, not before 3,000 infants and children had been evacuated. Along with ‘Operation New Life’, over 110,000 other refugees were eventually evacuated from South Vietnam to the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean before the fall of Saigon.
By the following afternoon the V.C. troops had occupied the important points of the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace. The South Vietnamese Government capitulated shortly afterward, and it was renamed ‘Ho Chi Minh’ city, after the Democratic Republic’s late President Ho Chi Minh.
However, the capture of the city had been preceded by the evacuation of almost all the American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians associated with the Southern Regime. The evacuation culminated in ‘Operation Frequent Wind’, the largest helicopter evacuation in history. In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and institution of new rules by the Communists contributed to a drastic decline in the city’s population. During the last days of the Vietnam War, helicopters evacuated more than 7,000 people from various areas around Saigon. The airlift resulted in a number of enduring photos. Like the evacuation of CIA Headquarters personnel by Air America from the rooftop of Number 22 Gia Long Street on the 29th April.
RETURN TO BLIGHTY
Chris found himself excited and relieved to be boarding his final connecting aircraft at Bombay airport, on his way back to the United Kingdom. Looking forward to a spot of long awaited leave.
He was pleasantly surprised to find himself seated next to a pretty young girl to his right. While to her right, was a young guy who he assumed incorrectly was her boyfriend. To his left was the aisle, with a further three seats on the other side of the aircraft. There did not seem to be an empty seat anywhere.
They were seated on the starboard side, a few rows back from the galley area from where the hostesses would serve their meals. While directly behind the galley draped across the aisle was a curtain preventing a view of the First and Business class passenger’s area from the Economy class, or as Chris often called it, the Cattle Class.
Upon further inspection of his surroundings and looking out of the window to the right he noticed that they were seated in line with the trailing edge of the wing, slightly restricting their view outside. However, Chris was satisfied and aware of his position on the aircraft.
Knowing that they would be seated next to each other for several hours, Chris introduced himself to the young girl, whose name was Emily and came from London. “Oh that’s where I usually stay, what suburb,” Chris asked. “Camberwell” she replied. “Wow that’s close, just up the road from me” Chris answered. That was the opening for them to carry on talking. It was also then that he realised the fellow to her right were not connected in anyway. When he introduced himself to both of them as John Taylor from Ipswich in Suffolk.
Within thirty minutes the aircraft took off and levelled out at its chosen flight altitude, and all three sat back to enjoy a couple of drinks that the air hostesses were already serving the passengers, from their portable bar trolleys.
Chris decided to leave the alcohol alone for the time being as it was going to be a long trip, instead he chose a soft drink. At first all three of them chatted. Talking about where they had come from, where they were going and of what they did for a living. Although when it came to Chris he just kept it simple and said that he had been in the military.
John was the first to drop out of the conversation triangle, probably realising that Chris was getting more attention from Emily than he was. Chris thought Emily to be a good-looking young girl, although picking her up was the last thing on his mind. Once again he had to admit that he preferred talking to female company rather than males, as he had mentioned to June back in Vietnam. Believing them to be far more interesting in many ways, and that he always felt relaxed and at ease when in their company.
After a couple of drinks Emily began to feel at ease with Chris and dropped her guard a little and started to open up about herself. She was not married or in a relationship with anybody. Although she had to admit that she was still looking. She was full of giggles and certainly enjoyed a joke. Something that Chris could not help himself with, and exploited the situation cracking as many as was possible. She even wrote down her phone number, and Chris popped it in his wallet for safekeeping. Slowly the conversation gradually ran out of steam and subjects to talk about, as Emily closed her eyes and nodded off to sleep.
Being a military minded person Chris was constantly monitoring what was going on around him. If anything was to happen, he always needed a plan in his head of how he was going to respond. On many occasions whenever he entered a lift he would always look up searching for the trap door that he knew would always be there, if needed.
A couple of hours into the flight and his attention suddenly became focused on a passenger of middle eastern appearance who had been sitting a few rows in front of him on the other side of the aisle.
He suddenly jumped up and positioned himself in the middle of the aisle in front of the galley waving a pistol, and screaming at the top of his voice. While looking around him at break neck speed, in case somebody tried to creep up behind him. He continued to warn all passengers that they should stay in their seats. Although Chris doubted very much that many understood what he was saying as his English was poor. Once some of the passenger’s start screaming it sounded like a rock concert he had attended many years earlier when he couldn’t hear the music. However, it only took a split second for Chris to realise that they were all in deep trouble, and it was not going to be easy to extract himself from the situation. Realising that was more than likely going to develop further.
Watching and listening closely as to what the gunman’s demands were, Chris could not help noticing that he had a slight bend in the end of his nose and within seconds he subconsciously nick named him ‘Hook Nose’. An old trick he had been taught by an old friend Vince a magician who he had befriended many years earlier while he was in the Army. Vince had called it facial recognition, a way of putting a person’s name to his face and remembering it later. Vince’s claim to fame was that at the end of each show, he was able to remember the names of up to 250 people in his audience. Having earlier been personally introduced to them as they entered his show. The trick was to find something in their looks that stood out, and in most cases the funnier the look you could focus on, the easier it was to remember the name.
Just then a girl with a silk scarf covering her head, but not her face, appeared through the curtain by the galley waving a pistol. Without hesitation Chris named her ‘G-hat’ on account that the scarf looked like a hat and she also looked like a person of Arab descent. Her sudden appearance only raised the level of screaming that was coming from the passengers, especially the older ones.
Chris was now aware that there were at least two of what he was now convinced were hijackers. He also knew that two was an unlikely small number, and would expect that there were at least another two somewhere on board the plane. It was easy for him to surmise that one would probably be breaking into the pilot’s cabin at that very moment, who he had already nick named the ‘Pilot’. Maybe there was another one further back near the rear of the aircraft, who he was about to name the ‘Rear Gunner’.
After a few moments the girl then turned and returned back into the first class compartment drawing the curtain behind her. Immediately Chris picked up on a mistake, and if they had made one, he was guessing that they would make another. By closing the curtain, she was isolating Business Class from Economy and of seeing what was going on. It also meant that the hijackers were also out of each other’s line of sight. Not knowing what was happening to each other. It also occurred to Chris that maybe G-Hat was in charge, otherwise why had ‘Hook Nose’ not looked in on her to see what she was doing.
Chris was trying to keep calm while trying to build a picture in his mind of what was happening. While all around him pandemonium had set in, as many of the passengers were crying and talking aloud. Some were even trying to stand up, which only infuriated ‘Hook Nose’ further.
‘Hook Nose’ made his way down the aisle attempting to hit those that were standing with the butt of his pistol, while shouting at them to sit down and shut up.
It was second nature for Chris to slightly look away as ‘Hook Nose’ walked past him and to give the impression that he was shaking, not wanting to draw attention or to make eye contact. Whilst at the same time not wanting to attract his attention further by staring deliberately in the opposite direction. Chris looked briefly at him and slowly dropped his glance down toward the back of the seat in front of him. He was at a loss as to what to do next. He sure as hell did not want to end up being pistol whipped or dead. He dared not think of the consequence if the hijackers aim was to crash the plane in to a building somewhere. Although if that were the case he did not mind sacrificing his life to at least try and stop them from achieving their goal, and hopefully save other lives.
He also realised that whatever he tried, he knew he was on his own. For the moment he was assuming that there were only four suspects on the plane. However, for all he knew there may have been dozens of them, staying seated and in the back ground watching where problems might arise, so they could tackle it head on.
Any thought of an armed Air Marshal to help out was almost none existent. He knew that they were only assigned to a low percentage of aircraft, and on certain flights that might attract a terrorist’s hijack attempt. Without realising it he found himself saying that the powers that be, had sure got this one wrong.
Suddenly everybody on the flight were stunned and shaken by the sound of a single shot, coming from somewhere up the front of the Aircraft.
Unknown to the passengers, ‘G-Hat’ had made her way to the cock pit hoping to take control of the aircraft, only to find that she was locked out.
However, unbeknown to ‘G-Hat’, as she had pushed her way past a quick thinking hostess she had pushed a button in the business galley. A pre-arranged signal warning the Captain that there was a problem back in the passenger department. Immediately he flicked a switch securely locking the door behind him.
Finding the door locked her frustration got the better of her as she started constantly smashing the pistol butt up against the door. After a few seconds her temper got the better of her and she stood back and fired a shot, that penetrated the door, spraying her with a small amount of debris, some of which ending up in her right eye. However, she was not aware that the shot after passing through the door had struck the co-pilot in the upper left arm.
As pre-planned, the Pilot made no verbal contact with whoever was behind the door. This frustrate her further to the point where she returned to the Business class intending to vent her anger on them.
While back in Economy class, gun tooting ‘Hook Nose’ was still shouting at the passengers not knowing what was going on forward of the aircraft. He suddenly shouted out asking if anybody on board were Jewish. This also confirmed to Chris that they were definitely of Middle Eastern origin. Slowly some of the passengers raised their hands, while Chris was relieved that his two fellow passengers next to him did not put their hand up.
It was only then that Chris realised that, sat in front of ‘Hook Nose’ was one of the airhostess’s. Whenever ‘Hook Nose’ made a threat and waved his gun around, he always ended up pointed the pistol at her.
Those that raised their hands were ordered forward to sit in front of him. While the passengers already seated there had to move back and find a seat being vacated. This turned into a bit of a farce as people were squeezing past each other, and at times ‘Hook Nose’ could not see what was going on.
Chris used the confusion to lean forward to lower his profile a little and leaned over facing Emily beckoning David to lean towards him. “Listen to me we haven’t got long. This is a hijack, do what I tell you and you might be okay. Whatever happens, do as I say and do it fast, but don’t panic. Whenever they walk our way along the aisle don’t look at them. Do not give them any eye contact. They will be looking for people to make an example of, or bargain with. Don’t look at them at any time like I say give them no eye contact. Just hang your head and look very scared.” Although he did not need to mention that, as he could see that they were already well and truly terrorised. Already believing that they were going to die. Chris then regained his position, to await further developments.
Once the Jewish passengers were re-seated, ‘Hook Nose’ then asked everybody to take out their passports, as he wanted to check them personally.
Within a split second, almost every passenger in the economy class stood up at the same time and tried to get to their hand luggage from the overhead lockers. Chris could see that they were all terrified and panicking. Gun tooting ‘Hook Nose’ completely lost his temper shouting to the passengers to do it in an orderly fashion. Finally, he ordered those on the left to do it first. This was even more confusing as the passengers got their left and rights all mixed up. Not knowing if it was their left and right, or the gun mans. Adding to the commotion was the lockers being opened and closed, while passengers were talking and shouting. It all aroused the attention of ‘G-Hat’ who suddenly re-appeared from behind the curtain to see for herself what was going on.
This really did confirm to Chris that she was in charge of what was taking place. He could also see in her reaction and speech that she was not happy in the way that ‘Hook Nose’ was conducting his role in carrying out her orders. Leaving Chris wondering if in fact it was his first attempted hijack. Whereas she seemed like an old hand at hijacking, having under taken it before.
Chris’s brain was working over time trying to take in every minute detail that was happening around him. He was still not sure if there were other gunmen on the flight, but he was starting to think that maybe it was just these two.
‘Hook Nose’ was definitely the new guy on the block and to Chris he would be the easiest to take out. Lucky for him, once again ‘G-Hat’ suddenly disappeared behind the curtain and Chris gave a sigh of relief. This was just what he needed, and time to think. Although planning was not usually something he would normally do. In these situations, you have to take your chance whenever it presented its self, although knowing the lye of the land before hand was usually a great help.
When ‘G-Hat’ returned she whispered something in ‘Hook Noses’ ear and proceeded down the aisle looking at the passports that by now most had retrieved from their belongings. After looking at Chris’s and his friends she proceeded up the aisle. He wanted to look back and see what she was doing, but did not want to draw ‘Hook Noses’ attention standing in front of him. Chris bit his lip as they say and kept looking forward hoping to blend in as planned.
Un-aware to Chris, ‘G-Hat’ was slowly making her way along the aisle looking at all the passengers and their passports on both sides of the aircraft. Some had to move forward, creating fresh confusion as they squeezed past each other in the aisle. Eventual she arrived to a position near the back of the aircraft where the three seats on either side dwindled to two.
Where she came across an elderly woman sitting near the window who was having a problem trying to control herself with what was happening. ‘G-Hat’ asked for her passport, which became a signal for her to really panic. After standing up she was now talking aloud, and fast as she continued to fumble around in her handbag, not realise what she was doing. In order to get to the Passport, she attempted to remove another item from her bag.
At the sight of an unidentified dark coloured object starting to appear from her bag ‘G-Hat’ also panicked, and in that split second she fired at the old lady. Her action had been so quick and un-planned that the gun was not even accurately pointing towards her. Instead the bullet passed very close to her right arm and hit the window beside her.
There was an immediate almighty explosion as the window shattered and was sucked out of its frame. Tearing a gaping hole in the side of the fuselage, next to where the woman had been standing. As she was standing and not strapped in, along with the rush of pressurised air in cabin she was immediately sucked out of the hole and disappeared along with other small items that had been around her. As ‘G-Hat’ had also not been strapped in and was leaning over towards her, she was also sucked out. Leaving the old lady’s friend who was strapped to his seat, sitting by the hole with a torrent of loose objects and rubbish flying past, hitting him as they were also being sucked out. The size of the hole in the fuselage was not much bigger than the window had been, but the bodies were squeezed through in a slit second. Immediately the cabin looked like it was full of fog, as the air pressure dropped dramatically.
Pandemonium broke out everywhere on the plane. The sound of a gun being fired followed by an explosion meant only one thing to most of the people on board including the staff of the aircraft that they were they going to crash.
The Aircraft suddenly dropped its nose as the pilots were trying to control a dive to get the plane to a much lower altitude, as most of the oxygen masks throughout the aircraft were suddenly dropped from above the passengers.
With all the mayhem going on Chris knew it was his one chance to disarm ‘Hook Nose’ as he struggled and tried to make his way up the aisle to see what had happened to his friend. Although it wasn’t going to be easy as anything loose was by now flying around inside the cabin. A very loud high pitch hissing noise deafened many of the passengers near the area of the explosion, as the air was escaping from the cabin. However, their screams and shouting although very loud could not be understood as the roar within the cabin became even louder.
Slowly ‘Hook Nose’ approached Chris’s position, as he slowly tried to inch his way along the aisle to try and find out if his leader was okay. Which was not an easy task as some of the lockers above were by now dropping open and spilling bags and belongings on to everybody below, while others landed in the aisle.
Once he had passed Chris, he knew it was his one and only chance. Quickly but silently he parted his seat belt and got to his feet and turned to face the back of his intended victim. He took one step to his left and another forward bringing him unseen up close behind ‘Hook Nose’. His left hand reached around ‘Hook Noses’ left side of his head and he grabbed hold of his nose and mouth squeezing them both closed in a vice like grip. While just a split second earlier he’d raised his right foot and flicked it into the back of ‘Hook Noses’ right knee. This at first would have startled and surprised him, wondering what was going on and to try and take a deep breath of air through his mouth. Which was by now totally impossible as Chris was keeping it shut tight. The kick also meant that his legs became bent and he fell back onto Chris who was already removing the pistol from his right hand. A method he had learnt of silently creeping up to disable and disarming a sentry on guard at night, while in the military earlier in his career. In fact, if the sentry had been standing with a rifle on his right hand side, as with most military establishments. Chris would have used the same foot that kicked him in the back of the right knee, to stop the rifle dropping to the ground and making a noise. Having dropped his knife, he could then have grabbed the rifle as it was leaning on his right foot.
While still holding ‘Hook Nose’ Chris pushed him back up to an upright position and then forced him to fall forward to hit the deck with a loud thump face down. Chris immediately dropped to his knees that landed in the middle of his back. Knock the remainder of the air out of his lungs. Chris turned around trying to shout to the other passengers to stay where they were. Just in case there were other hijackers on the aircraft. Not realising that the noise within the cabin was deafening.
Sadly, it was too late as a couple of the older ladies around him had already started screaming even louder. Chris had no choice but to totally disable the guy he was still holding tight. Whereas he’d been trained to use a knife in his right hand he now had a gun and did not want to use it as it might alert other would be terrorist on board the aircraft. Not to mention upsetting the passengers further, not knowing what they might do. On the other hand, in order to free up his hands he had to disable the guy permanently.
One of the hostess realised what was happening and grabbing a small piece of string from one of lockers in the galley, rush forward to give it to Chris who tied his thumbs together behind his back, and to one leg that he had brought up behind his back. While ‘Hook Nose’ was still wondering what had happened to him.
Having picked up the gun Chris left his prisoner lying face down in the aisle and grabbed the hostess arm and leaned over to shout near her ear. “We should check the passengers further back where all the debris was heading, somebody might need our help.”
Slowly they both made their way to the back to where the explosion had taken place. Hoping to help the old gentleman who was still strapped in the aisle seat, next to the hole in the fuselage. Although his wife who had been seated beside him on the outside was gone and there was a lot of blood around the hole. The gentlemen looked in pain and his face was covered with blood.
It was not easy as the rush of air was so powerful it was hard to keep your footing around that area. They needed to move some of the passengers further forward as the row in front, and a couple of rows on the other side of the aisle could be seen moving. Leaving Chris to suspect that the passengers still seated were in danger of also being sucked out. A couple of them were nursing their heads leaving Chris to suspect that flying debris had injured them.
Other passengers started to join in and help after seeing what Chris and the Airhostess where trying to achieve. They were further helped as the pilots had managed to drop the aircraft to a much lower altitude relieving the pressure in the cabin with that of outside. Although the hissing had stopped, there was now a roar although being a deeper sound it could be tolerated more than the high-pitched hiss that they had first endured.
Even though things were starting to look better for them, some of the other passengers were still in a state of utter shock. Some were crying, some were talking aloud asking others what was happening, always adding “are we going to crash”.
Moving the passengers around from the accident area, was harder than had been first anticipated. Owing to the fact that the aircraft was full, and that it had a very narrow gangway. To complicate matters further the prisoner was still lying face down in the aisle near Emily. Where he was to stay during the remainder of the flight.
Chris’s seat had been given to one of the movers. It was hard for people to brush past others who had earlier been moved forward. Some were allowed to sit on the floor by the emergency exits. Usually against all the air navigation rules, but this was an emergency and they had to go somewhere. While others stood around in the galley area, two lucky ones ended up with a seat in the First class area. How the rules were going to apply about seat belts being worn while landing, nobody had even thought of that. Chris believing that he or the hostess would come up with something when it happened While his comical brain told him that they might not need that if they were to crash.
Chris grabbed the hostess arm and leaned over to shout near her ear, telling her that she should go forward and tell the Captain what had happened and that he would like to go with her.
They arrived at the cockpit door to find it still locked and with what looked like a bullet hole in the middle at about chest height. At first the pilots would not let the hostess in. However, after some sort of code between them, and against company rules they finally unlocked and let them in.
Somehow the Captain had miraculously gain some sort of control the aircraft and was about to level off at a much lower altitude of around 9000feet, so that the passengers who had no masks could at least breathe a little better. While it was plain to see that the co-pilot had been shot, as there was blood all over his clothes. However, he was still assisting the captain to fly the aircraft.
The Airhostess told the Captain what had happened and that Chris had disarmed the other one. After which Chris handed over the pistol, thinking it was best up the front, as he was still not sure if there were any other gunmen on board. Thinking along the lines that the less amount of weapons in the cabin, the better. He had come to the conclusion that if there was another gunman on board he was not going to show himself. He was probably waiting a chance to leave the aircraft along with all the other passengers and escape quietly into the background.
Chris then asked the Captain of the predicament and crisis they were in and what were his intensions. To which he replied that they were over Northern Jordan and that there were not too many airfields where he could make an emergency landing. Adding that at the moment he was still heading for Istanbul airport in Turkey.
Chris jogged his memory of an incident that had taken place during September 1970. When four civilian aircraft bound for New York in American were hijacked and ordered to land at Dawson’s Field a remote desert airstrip that was formally an old British Royal Air Force base, near Zarka in Jordan. The Captain joined in telling Chris, that Dawson’s Field would be his last resort, not wanting to go anywhere near it. Unless things change for the worse, he was going to keep going, and had already pre-warn Istanbul that they were in an emergency condition, and was wanting a priority landing when they eventually arrived in their area.
The next hour was one of total worry for all on board, and of what might happen to them next. Were they going to make it or were they going to crash.
An hour later and all on board were informed by the pilot that they were flying over Turkey, and that he was in the process of lining up the aircraft to land. A few minutes later the aircraft bumped onto the tarmac, as the passengers let their emotions be heard, with signs of relieve and a lot of clapping, and loud cheering.
As for Chris, he was trying to think of a way that he could leave the aircraft un-noticed. All he wanted to do was to fade into in the back ground, not wanting any publicity.
Back in London Chris was taking a breath of fresh air and wondering in what direction his future was going to lead him. Too assist him he picked up a daily newspaper to see what work was available in the area. Eventually deciding to take up something local, and not so complicated. After he had finished going through the employment column. While folding up the paper he could not help glancing at the headline. It read ‘The Angolan War of Independence’. Apparently it had begun way back during 1961 as an uprising against forced cotton harvesting, and became a multi-faction struggle by 11 different separatist movements, for control of Portugal’s Overseas Province of Angola.
Essentially a power struggle had developed between two former liberation movements, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). (Earlier known as EPLA). Many of their first cadres had received training in Morocco and Algeria.
During one of its early operations that took place in January 1962, the EPLA attacked a Portuguese military post in Cabinda, killing a number of troops.
During the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the EPLA operated very successfully from bases in Zambia against the Portuguese in eastern Angola.
After 1972 the EPLA’s effectiveness declined following several Portuguese victory disputes with the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) forces, and the movement of about 800 guerrillas from Zambia to the Republic of Congo.
It was essentially a guerrilla war in which the Portuguese Armed Forces successfully fought against several independent groups dispersed by some sparsely populated areas of the vast Portuguese administered Angolan countryside. All forces involved in the conflict committed several atrocities.
On the 1st August 1974 a few months after a military coup d’etat had overthrown the Lisbon regime and proclaimed its intention of granting independence to Angola. The MPLA announced the formation of the Forças Armadas Populares de Libertaçao de Angola (FAPLA), which replaced the EPLA. The war ended in 1975 when the Angolan government, UNITA, the MPLA, and the FNLA all signed the Alvor Agreement, after a leftist military coup back in Lisbon during April 1974, which overthrew Portugal’s Estado Novo regime.
On the eve of Angola’s independence during November 1975, Cuba launched a large-scale military intervention to defend the leftist liberation movement MPLA from a United States backed invasions by South Africa and Zaire in support of two other liberation movements competing for power in the country, the FNLA and UNITA. Following the retreat of Zaire and South Africa from Angola, the Cuban forces remained in the country to support the MPLA Government against the UNITA insurgency in the continuing Angolan Civil War.
Suddenly the planning and thought of an ordinary local job was wiped completely from his line of thought, after watching the evening television news. One section was completely devoted to the military problems arising in Angola. Towards the end it mentioning that an Ex-British serviceman was recruiting an English group of Mercenaries to go and fight for the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that had broken out after Angola gained its independence from Portugal in late 1975.
Chris wasted no time in writing a letter to the television company asking for the address of the recruiter. A week later they answered and he wasted no time in sending a letter asking for an application form. It was addressed to Rose Lane in Norwich, Norfolk. Now it was just a matter of sitting around awaiting an answer. Although knowing that the post was not crash hot, he was expecting to wait another ten days. Only hoping that the troubles in Angola were not over before he could get his foot in the door. However, it did give him a little time to kill and he used it to start digging around for more information on what was going on in Angola.
One morning he had to visit his doctor about a sore on his arm, and while in the waiting room, as is usual for most people who visit their doctor, he picked up a magazine for a read. Just a few pages in he came across an article that mentioned Angola.
It went on to mention that Saigon had just fallen during the spring 1975. With the last of the Americans fleeing to get out of the country before they were captured. Something that could have probably led to their execution, a horrible fate that actually happened to many American sympathisers that were left behind.
While at the same time the fallout from Watergate was still hanging heavy over the United States. The Pike Committee of the House of Representatives was investigating the CIA’s foreign covert activities. While on the Senate side, the Church Committee was doing the same, and the Rockefeller Commission had set about investigating the Agency’s domestic activities. The American morning newspapers brought fresh miss deeds and revelations about the CIA and FBI. While the CIA and its influential supporters, warned that disclosures would inhibit the Agency from carrying out the functions necessary for the U.S. National Security.
While at the CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, they were busy preparing for their next secret adventure, that of Angola. To set up a military operation at such a moment in time, that the reasons one would imagine, must have been both compelling and very urgent. Yet, in the long history of American interventions around the world it would be hard to find one more pointless, with less to gain for the United States or the foreign country involved.
The United States was not normally in the business of supporting liberation movements. Decided that inasmuch as Portugal would probably be unable to hold on to its colony forever, establishing contact with a possible successor regime might prove more beneficial. For reasons lost in the mists of history. The United States, or at least someone in the CIA, decided that Robert Roberto was their man, and around 1961 or 1962 placed him onto the Agency’s payroll.
At the same time, and during the ensuing years, Washington provided their NATO ally, the Salazar dictatorship in Lisbon, with the military aid and counter insurgency training needed to suppress the rebellion. A bit like having a bet on both sides.
The Soviet Union, which had also given some support to Reberto, embraced Antonio Agostinho Neto instead during 1964. Arguing that Roberto had helped the discredited Moise Tshombe in the Congo, and curtailed his own guerrilla operations in Angola under pressure from Washington. Before long another movement, UNITA by name, entered the picture and China dealt itself into the Great Powers Poker Game, lending support to UNITA and FNLA.
That the CIA’s choosing of its ally was largely an arbitrary process was further underlined by a State Department cable to its African Embassies in 1963 which stated, ‘U.S. policy is not, repeat not, to discourage MPLA too move toward the West and not to choose between these two movements.
Even in 1975, when the head of the CIA William Colby, was asked by a congressional committee what the differences were between the three contesting factions, he responded: “They are all independents. They are all for black Africa. They are all for some fuzzy kind of social system, you know, without really much articulation, but some sort of let’s not be exploited by the capitalist nations”.
When asked why the Chinese were backing the FNLA or UNITA, he stated: “Because the Soviets are backing the MPLA is the simplest answer.” “It sounds,” said Congressman Aspin, “like that is why we are doing it.” “It is,” replied Colby. Nonetheless, the committee in its later report, asserted that in view of Colby’s statement, “The U.S.‘s expressed opposition to the MPLA is puzzling”. It must also be noted that the Portuguese as communists and terrorists denounced all three groups.
After finishing the article Chris came to the quick conclusion that with the major countries of the world getting involved. There was going to be a lot of money spread around all the groups fighting each other, money that he would like to tap into and be a recipient. A slight grin appeared on his face as he remembered what the troops in Vietnam had nicked named the CIA, ‘Christians in Action’. The name suited them well.
Carefully, and in the hoped he was not being watched, he folded the magazine and placed it into his inside jacket pocket. Realising that it would be worth another read later in the confides and comfort of his flat.
Finally, the wait for his application form was over, when eight days later the letter was delivered to his lodgings, and dropped on the mat by the front door. Wasting no time, he immediately set about filling it out, and was surprised at the lack of information required. Basically only wanting to know the Military units he had served in and for what period of time. Along with the usual, his name, address and next of kin. It was so basic that, as long as you had set foot in a military garrison somewhere, you would probably qualify. Posting the application form back to Norwich was completed and on its way within two hours. It was then another case of once again waiting for the reply.
While un-known to Chris, the wheels had been turning by the recruiters, having already signed up twenty-five supposed ex-military recruits. They were all sent £10 for expenses and instructed to assemble at noon the following day in the ‘Tower Hotel’ in London. Where they were booked in as a group under the title of the ‘Norfolk Ping Pong Club’, while a flight to Brussels had already been booked for the team.
The arrangements and gathering had taken place so quickly that several of the recruits did not even have passports. Helping in the background the British Government sent a message to the Immigration Department allowing all to fly out. Thus proving that they were also deeply involved in what was happening in Angola, and wanting to have a presence in the area. Something they denied vehemently at the time.
Although the team tried to keep a very low profile, one of the Sunday Newspapers came out with a story titled ‘Jailed Soldier Recruits Mercenaries’ The article named some of the team, and had dug up some dirt on one of the organisers. That included a two-year jail sentence served. Apparently earlier in his career he had been caught selling arms to the Ulster Loyalists. It also gave a very accurate account of how the 25 had been recruited. By now the term Mercenary was openly being used. The story went on to mention that some of the members got cold feet, and pulled out at the last moment. Leaving the organisers to find replacements at very short notice. Although unknown to the organisers a couple of the replacements were secretly working for Mi6. As they wanted someone on the ground to report on what was actually happening in Angola.
Eventual the twenty-five-man team flew out to Brussels, where once again travel documents were awaiting to allow the team to transfer to another flight to Kinshasa in Zaire. Upon their arrival they knew that the government would ferry them to the battlefront in Angola.
Where they met up with their Commanding officer, who later was to show his true colours, that of a psychopathic killer. Also unknown to all was that he had never been an Officer, or led troops before. He had also promoted himself to the rank of Colonel. However, during those first few days he had led the Mercs in action against the Cuban forces with distinguish success.
By now the recruiters back in the UK were gathering a second group of recruits together, so that they could follow the earlier group.
Stories of their exploits were starting to appear in most of the daily newspapers, leaving Chris feeling very disappointed that so far nobody had made contact with him about his application form. The way in which the Mercenary exploits were being told, made it seem like the action was not going to last very long. Leading to him believing that his services may not be required after all.
Then as if to rub salt into the wound, one daily newspaper published a photo of the second group on board a bus arriving at the airport. That hurt Chris, wondering if he was wasting his time.
However, the very next day Chris took a phone call from a person calling himself Fred, and telling him that his application had been accepted. It did not take long for Chris to make a note of the arrangement detail, and what he might like to take with him. They would provide all military equipment when he arrived in Zaire. Once again the meeting would be at the Tower Hotel, by the end of the week.
It was now late January and Chris had finally become a member of the next group of Mercenaries to leave for Angola. Although not realising it at the time, it would also be the last group to leave the country.
Upon arrival in Kinshasa and leaving the plane via a gangway to the ground, the first thing that hit them was the stifling heat, catching many of them off their guard. Within minutes they were all sweating profusely, and many wondering what it would be like when they were all kitted up. After all many of them were only in shirtsleeves and jeans, having already ditched thick jackets and raincoats.
An FLNA supporter with a large note pad under his arm led the group to an old Military building on the edge of the airfield. Where they were kitted out for the overland trip in to Angola on board two three-ton trucks. After which they hoped to join up with the other British Mercs, who had arrived earlier in the month. The leaders were hoping to hold back the Cubans hard pushed advance coming towards them. Unfortunately, the note pad carrier did not correctly inform them of the situation and conditions that awaited them. Leaving all to believe that they were soon to be part of the winning side.
At first the roads through the city were covered with asphalt and the ride was comfortable, plus there were many places of interest to help pass the time. The first part of the journey was to take them over the border of Zaire into Angola. There was no actual border crossing point with a building, as it had long since been deserted and left un-protected. However, once they had crossed over and were heading into Angola the road conditions suddenly changed dramatically and for the worse. As the asphalt was sparse and even disappeared in many places, to be replaced by twisting winding dirt tracks. However, the drive was to take them several more hours to reach their final destination.
During the trip the group was still introducing themselves to each other. Chris became surprised, and the alarm bells started ringing in his head, as one of them admitted that he had only served in the Royal Navy. There were a few more questions asked of him. While someone said “he did not realise that Angola had a Navy”. His response was that he had been recruited to help train the Angolans and others for sea service. It was only when a few of them burst into laughter, that another one admitted that he was only a Cook. The atmosphere of the group suddenly started to change as each were asking others where they had completed their military service.
Un-known to all, their recruiters had agreed on a quota during the negotiations and signing of the contract to supply ex-British military personnel. However, with this third group the experience of the applicants had been very limited and lacking. They did not have the choice of the earlier applicants. Therefore, to make the number as they had agreed, they had to scrape the so-called bottom of the barrel, in the hope that they would fill the quota. Failure to do so meant that they would not be paid the bounty of £100 per head. Later it was rumoured that a couple of homeless guys had even been recruited off the streets of London, although that was never confirmed.
A couple of hours into the drive and the vegetation alongside the track became greener as the jungle crept in on them, but it was very sparse and best described as light. Vehicles could drive through it if they took it easy, although it was broken up occasionally by quite high rocks formations.
As they were all seated in back of the truck they could only see the land scape while looking out of the back. Chris was of the opinion that at least somebody armed should be looking forward lying on the cab above the driver. Pointing out that the rocks would make good ambush positions. Most disagreed telling him that the driver knew what and where he was going, and would be keeping an eye open for them. With that remark Chris was starting to realise that there were not many on board who were of a military mind. After all they were entering a war zone, and that those on board should undertake some sort of serious vigilance.
Just as night was falling the truck swung off the track and into what resembled a dilapidated old barracks of some kind. To be confronted by a figured dressed in the same uniform as those on board. Without warning he suddenly he started shouting at the top of his voice ordering them out of the truck and to fall in. An operation that was carried out quickly as the sound of his voice certainly sounded like that of authority.
The camp was not in the best of shape and as suspected had not been used during the past few months. It was explained that their headquarters had been moved on a minute’s notice, and that their Operational Head Quarters was soon to be based there. They were then asked to sort themselves into groups of eight and pointing to a row of huts told to settle in. There would be no food, as they had not got a cook. To which some of the group all turned and point at the Cook, saying, “He is.” However, they were then informed that there was no food either. All that sort of organisation would be worked out the following day. Leaving Chris to remark quietly to himself, as in the Legion they could not afford it.
Chris noticed that at least there were a couple of local guards walking around the compound and manning a couple of towers by the main gate.
The next morning a couple of the Mercs promoted to the rank of Sergeant who had arrived with the earlier groups turned up to explained everything to them. The earlier Mercs were a couple of hours drive further up the track and fighting hard to hold their positions, and holding back the Cubans. In reality they were doing a reasonable job, considering they were up against military trained troops. Although the Cubans use of tanks at the head of their advancing troops was starting to swing the advantage in their favour.
They were fell in on the rough looking make shift parade ground and quizzed as to their experience under fire. One of the recruits raised his hand, and was then asked what his experience was. To which he answered that he had been shot at while in Malta. “Malta” one of the Sergeants yelled at him. “Yes Sergeant, I had put my girlfriend in the family way and her Father came after me with a shot gun”.
Once the laughter had died down. They were evenly divided and placed in to four separate sections. Each section was also given two local recruited Mercs who lived in the area. Most were of Portuguese origin and had lived or owned land in the area before the troubles started many years earlier.
As soon as Chris mentioned the Special Air Service he stood out amongst the others. Immediately he was placed in charge of one of the sections to be used as a fast deployment group, and given two old Land Rover type local vehicles. The other three sections were to try and hold three areas located around the outside of the camp. Everyone was issued with an FN riffle and given a map of the area, and orders that they were to try and hold their positions. As the camp was preparing itself in case the other groups up the track had to withdraw back to this location.
It took the rest of the day to build up the sections fortifications around the camp. While Chris added a couple of fixed machine guns and a radio to his vehicles. Along with ammunition and a couple of extra petrol jerry cans. Picturing in his mind that of the SAS founder David Sterling and his long Range Desert group that operated during the Second World War in North Africa. He also spent time going over the maps with the two Sergeants, asking lots of questions and storing it neatly in the back of his mind.
Gradually stories started to emerge of the two earlier groups of Mercs who had arrived during mid-January. Some were not very encouraging as to who was going to be leading them, once they all joined up. As Chris had already been led to believe their Commander was a psychopathic killer. He had already changed his name to that of a film star and promoted himself to the rank of Colonel. He could usually be seen walking around brandishing a Russian Kalashnikov machine gun. If the stories were to be believed his two henchmen friends were no better. Apparently one of them was always seen walking around with a sawn off shotgun ready to use at all times. Constantly bragging to all whether you wanted to listen or not, of how useful it was in close quarter fighting. While wearing two 12 bore cartridge bandoliers crossed on his chest bandit fashion. Apparently, at one time to prove his point he had ordered a local who was walking past, to open his mouth. Upon which he stuck the barrel of his shotgun in his opened mouth and pulled the trigger. He then ordered another local to drag the body behind their quarters and left it lying in the open for a few days. Knowing of his reputation, they were too scared to refuse his order.
All three believed and called the locals low life at every opportunity, and would not hesitate to shoot any of them for the slightest thing they did wrong. They would certainly carry out any command they were given.
On another occasion the Colonel had found a couple of civilian clothes in one of the local’s kit bag, and believing that he was about to desert shot him, along with a couple of his friends, so others would know what would happen to them if they intended to desert. Amongst the UK Mercs there were many local Portuguese volunteers, who the Colonel and his henchmen had nicknamed ‘Pork’s’.
Chris started wondering what he had signed up for. Knowing of his past history, in those sorts of situations he would not stand around and do nothing. However, with three of these psychopathic killers on the prowl and watching each other’s back, that was a different matter. Remembering his Father’s early teachings to him that he should never get himself into a situation he could not get himself out of. He made up his mind that if they were ever to confront him, he would keep his cool, while keeping his Fathers advice at the front of his memory, so he might live another day.
The following day Chris was asked to take both vehicles out and to get to know the area. The very first thing he did was to promote one of the two locals he had been allocated, as his guide. Chris nick named him Paddy and ordered him to sit up front with him at all times. Choosing Paddy as his guide rather than the other local, because his English was very good. Chris needed somebody who spoke good clear English. If a firefight was to develop the last thing, he needed was to keep repeating himself.
While mounted on a frame up and over the middle of the open backed vehicle they fixed a 7.62 Bren gun to the top of the frame, giving the operator a wide 190-degree angle of site in which to fire.
Chris would lead while the second vehicle was to follow about a hundred meters behind him. If they were to come under fire it would be too easy to hit two vehicles close together, keeping a distance allows time to take avoiding action.
Chris’s two vehicles dropped into a daily routine of checking out the area around the camp, and covering an eight to ten Kilometres radius. The only vehicles they came across where a few trucks bringing in ammunition, fuel, and food into the camp from all over the area.
At times it was becoming a little boring for some of the group, even wondering if the problems within Angola was over. They also thought it strange that they had still not met up with many of the other earlier recruited Mercs.
About a week into their stay at the camp, they were awoken to the sound of explosions in the distance, coming from the direction of the track that ran past the camp. Chris was ordered to take his vehicles along with one of the Sergeants to investigate further. Ten kilometres up the road they halted and took up a defensive position. While the Sergeant and Chris made their way to higher ground with a pair of binoculars, to try and see what might be happening ahead. The occasional explosion could guide them in the right direction, but they could see nothing. Not even smoke, which they thought might aid their search.
Chris had privately nick named the Sergeant Moe, as he sported an old English RAF style of moustache, that looked like he used a little wax to twist the ends into a point. Confided in Chris that the other earlier Mercs were in two camps way up ahead. That they were fighting hard to hold on to their positions, and that it was not all going their way. The Cubans far outnumbered them, and also had several tanks to hide behind during their advance. Adding he had been sent back knowing replacements was on the way, meaning Chris and the other new boys on the block. However, even he was shocked and surprised that their numbers were low, and their experience was not what he had been told to expect. Coupled to that Chris had informed him that several were not what he would call front line fighters.
They had been sent to try and prepare the fort as a base, if the unthinkable were to happen and that they all had to drop back. The reason also being that at least it was nearer to the Zairian border and if need be would offer them a safe haven, or that’s what they had been lead to believe.
They radioing back to the camp and passed on their information. Then Moe came up with a plan of leaving three of the team along with the radio for a one-night stay. While they would head back planning to return the next morning. Chris left them what water and food they had in the vehicles and the radio. Soon after the remainder headed back to the camp.
Upon their arrival the other Sergeant who Chris had nick named Spit and Polish, as he was always ordering somebody to do something around the camp, and would inspect the end result minutely. Although by now his name had been shortened to Spit.
Spit had most of the group fell in on what they were using as a parade ground, inspecting them in their newly acquired uniforms and weapon. Even Moe was surprised and mentioned to Chis that at times his rank gets the better of him. Adding that weapons yes, they need to be kept in a good order, but cleaning your boots at a time like this is beyond me. What the Army usually call as going over the top. Shaking his head as he walked over to address the group with what they had found during the trip out. While adding what he thought they could expect.
Un-known to Moe, the Cubans had broken through the Mercs forward position, after a rocket hit their Colonels Land Rover and blew it on its side, killing the driver and injuring others that included the Colonel. However, the survivors had managed to crawl into the bush and sort cover amongst some rocks. Although they had no radio, food and only a couple of pistols that were holstered at the time of the roll over. The only bit of luck was that immediately after the incident the Cubans had not been able to find them. Trying to gain the advantage and chaos that they believed the Mercs would be going through, they had pushed on. Intending to come back later to try and find them.
Now the remainder of the forward Mercs were withdrawing back to the other group a couple of kilometres further back along the track.
After a time, the Colonel and the four other survivors headed deeper into the undergrowth searching for better cover. However, the Colonel’s wounds would not allow him to make his own way un-assisted and he was carried. They were lucky and found an old grass constructed hut and decided to stay there. At least they were a little further in the under growth and well away from the track. However, after a day the Colonel ordered two of his men to go and try to get help, and gave them one of the pistols. They were never heard of again. Leaving the Colonel to wonder if they had been killed, captured, or had simply done a runner just to get away from him. He was crippled and was going nowhere. A day later he sent the remainder of his men, only this time he kept the last pistol with him.
The next day the Colonel was awakened by voices heading his way and they were not talking in English. He knew this would be his last stand, and started shooting blindly in the air. Trying to attract attention in the hope that they might kill him quick. However, it was not to be, and he was captured alive and taken prisoner. However, it was later learned that after going through a military trial he was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad.
The next morning Chris’s camp was awakened very early, as the explosions sounded considerably louder. Some estimating that they were only a few kilometres way. Moe ordered Christ to ready his vehicles to leave as soon as possible, so they could go take a look.
Chris wasted no time in leading Moe and his team to the usual position they travelled each day. Upon arrival some of the explosions sounded as if they were almost upon them, but for the moment they could see nothing.
Before they had time to disembark from the vehicle to take up their usual defensive position behind some rocks, another vehicle could be heard, that suddenly appeared around the corner driving almost flat out. It came to a halt just in front of them. Shortly followed by another one two minutes later. The leaders got together to explain what had happened.
Apparently the Cubans had broken through their lines and were now heading their way with no defensive lines to hold them back. Those that had not been killed or taken prisoner were hopefully in other following vehicles, if indeed there were any.
It was also mentioned that at one time the Colonel had lost his temper with some of the earlier Mercs when they question his authority to order them what to do. They had not signed up to fight, but to train the locals. This ended badly as 11 were ordered on to a truck and driven down the road to an unknown destination. Having disembarked from the truck, they were then ordered to run. While a couple of the Colonels right hand men were allowed to participate in a live firing exercise, shooting them as they ran. However, one refused to run denying them the pleasure of shoot at a moving target in the back. Instead he stood his ground directly in front of them facing the gunmen, until he was the last man standing. One of the gun men then took out his pistol held it against his forehead and pulled the trigger. They left the bodies where they were, climbed back in the truck and headed back to re-join the rest of the Mercs. However, when the story leaked of what had taken place their morale immediately dropped. Who wanted to serve under somebody who could shoot you or have you shot at any time, just because he was having a bad day.
By the time they had all returned to the camp Spit had been informed by radio, that owing to the disappearance of the Colonel, the next in command had ordered the full withdrawal of all the Mercs back to Kinshasa. Now it seemed like it might be a case of every man for himself. Although Moe tried to keep and boost up a little morale amongst them, insisting that they all help each other, and that nobody was to be left behind. No matter what was to happen to them.
Anything that was left behind would be of use to the Cubans, so it had to be destroyed.
The remaining trucks were lined up and only personnel gear plus their weapons would be allowed to go with them. Chris had the sense to check that he still had his passport in the shoulder bag that he had brought with him from the UK. Not wanting to end up once again in a British Embassy.
Then at the very last moment Chris was ordered to head for the local Airstrip just in case the Colonel, and some of his men had made it, and needed a hand to get out. Chris did not like what he was being ordered to do, but never the less he accepted it. Along with three others they immediately set off for the Airstrip, believing that others had been left guarding the strip. It was a half an hour’s drive, and he knew the urgency, keeping his foot to the floor for the whole trip.
Upon arrival they were surprised to find it deserted, there were no men and no aircraft. It was a sure bet that the pilot had realised what was going on, as he more than likely had heard the explosions in the distance. Although he had been ordered to wait for the Coronel before taking off, he had probably been worried about being captured and fled. Although un-known by Chris a few had managed to escape via the FLNA Fokker Friendship aircraft that operated from the strip, as to how many had got out it was not known.
It only took Chris a few minutes to summarise the situation they now found themselves. Realising that to drive back would endanger their lives, and anyway the others might already be heading for the Zaire border, leaving them behind.
However, the jungle around them was very thick, and to try and drive through it would be almost impossible. On the other hand, to try and walk out would be twice as bad, as they had no provisions or idea what lay ahead of them. It was all unknown territory to them.
Chris talking to the other four told them that it looks like they were on their own. However, it would be easier for them to head back, at least they knew a little about the area. Adding that they should all keep vigilant and alert at all times. At least they could use the vehicle to get back to the camp, and maybe catch the others up. They dreaded the thought of breaking down or running out of fuel, and having to foot slog it out on their own.
It would be a brave attempt trying to escape not knowing who were their friends or enemies were. At least they were having a go at getting out. There was no way they wanted to just sit around, and be rounded up by a very confident and fast approaching Cuban Force. To let themselves be captured was a no brainer, as their execution would be swift and brutal.
At least they had the luxury of a track to get them back to their camp. Sadly, when they arrived it was almost deserted, as the convoy had already moved out.
Most of the camp had been destroyed not wanting to leave anything of value for the Cubans. Even the tap on the Petrol tank had been left open. To which Chris ordered that nobody light up a cigarette. After a lot of searching they found a couple of jerry cans around the back of the stores and topped up their vehicle. One of them wanted to put a match to the petrol and burn the whole camp down, However, Christ stopped him. Reminding him that it would create a lot of smoke and give their position away, so it could be shelled. Not knowing how close the enemy were and not wanting to waste any more time in the camp. Besides there could be other Merc’s fleeing the Cubans, and if they made it this far, they might be able to use some of the gear.
They sped up the track to try and attach its self to the rear of the convoy, they knew was just up the track hopping it would lead them all out of Angola.
The small convoy of trucks and Land Rovers had left the camp around midday, for the long drive back to Zaire. Hoping that they could stay ahead of the pursuing Cubans. Which was the correct call, as they were not far behind them. Sensing the smell of blood and a Victory for Angola and its backing local militia groups.
As the convoy made its way to safety, most of the trucks in the middle of the convoy experience dust storm conditions and problems. As it had not rains for quite some time the track had turned into a bit of dust bowl. At times the dust was so thick that the gap between each vehicle became wider and wide. Chris being the tail end charley was almost down to a crawl unable to see the road ahead clearly.
While unknown to them, they were leaving a fingerprint as to where they were and heading. All the Cubans had to do was to follow the dust, and with the difference in speed between the Mercs and the Cuban the gap was decreasing rapidly.
With the ever-increasing distance between each vehicle increasing, the dust trail was so long that from high ground they could work out where they were, and to shell that particular part of the track, with tank and heavy weapons shells.
Now the column was in real trouble as shells started dropping alongside of the track where they were. While smoke and debris was also being added to the dust disturbance they were creating.
As they were being shelled large holes suddenly became visible at times alongside the track. Catching some of the drivers out, only being able to swerve at the very last moment.
As Chris swerved to miss a small crater to his right an explosion sounded over them and immediately a hole appeared directly in front of them. It happened so fast that Chris’s reactions would not have helped him, as he slammed on the brakes so hard he thought his feet were going to go through the floor. The next second the front of the Land Drover and wind screen was covered in debris, as the vehicle rocked violently as it drove over more debris and then nosedived in to a massive hole that had appeared in the track straight in front of him.
The vehicle ended up on its side in the bottom of the small crater. While Chris had survived the crash with several cuts and bruises, the other front seat passenger was dead. One Merc, who had been sitting in the back, was suddenly flung forward past Chris and continued on through the windscreen ending up on the ground in front of the vehicle. Along with Chris two others also survived, having several what can best be described as light injuries. However, their situation had suddenly become critical. Being the last vehicle in the column and a thick dust cloud all around them. They did not know where they were, or what lay ahead. The worse scenario possible was that the trucks in front of them would not have seen what had happened and missed them. The bad news continued to worsen as Chris realised that they did not know how close the enemy was behind them.
After clambering out of the vehicle and crater, Chris tried to take control of the situation. Knowing that the track ran roughly parallel to the Zaire border, to their left, and facing north. Although it would mean that ahead of them was a several hour slog across desolate rocky and jungle countryside to be covered on foot. It would not matter where they crossed the border, as it was not usually manned out in the country. At least it would get them off the track and while the dust storm was still swirling around it would also give them good cover.
They grabbed what small hand luggage they thought they could carry for such a long trip. Chris managed to find his beloved shoulder bag, while telling the others that the radio was stuffed and anyway it would have been too heavy to take with them. Lady luck was with them as they grabbed all the personnel water bottles they could find. Along with their FN riffle and a couple of magazines each. Within a matter of minutes Chris ordered them to head for the border not knowing how close the enemy was behind them. Ordering them to look for cover to assist them. One thing he did know was that nobody was going to come back to pick them up, mainly because they would not have known what had happened.
During all that time shells were still passing overhead and explosions could be heard, nobody knew where or upon whom they were falling. Chris and his two friends could not run as the dust was still quite thick, keeping each other in sight at all times. From out of the blue a large explosion took place right on the last Merc. One minute he was there the next he was gone. Both Chris and Chalky were covered with debris and even splatters of his blood. Chalky had gained the nickname on account that his surname was White.
Chris could only assume that it had been a lucky hit. No time to hang around but to keep walking as fast as they could, while all the time looking for something large to hide behind. It was hoped that when the dust settled and cleared, they would be able to see where the enemy was. Although, Chris knew that if it were tanks following behind them, their tracks would churn up an even bigger dust cloud.
Once they found cover they decided to sit and wait it out, to try and see what was going on and to decide what to next. To their surprised once the dust settled nobody or vehicles were in sight. Whether the column had made it to safety or not they had no idea.
Looking at his watch Chris could see that there was still a couple of hours of daylight left and decided to try and use the time to place some distance between him, the track, and possibly the enemy. For a compass to help steer them correctly to the north, Chris lined up the hour hand on the dial of his watch with the sun. He looked at the twelve o’clock position and divided the distance to the hour hand by half. However, something was wrong as by his calculations they had to head back towards the track. For a minute he was confused and kept rechecking his watch. Just as he was about to claim that his watch was faulty. He smiled at Chalky saying, “of course we are south of the equator aren’t we”. Realising that in the southern hemisphere its 180 degrees opposite. Then pointing to the north told Chalky that was the way home.
In order to cover as much ground as possible Chris set the pace, hoping to distance them from who or what might be on their trail. All the time being observant of their surroundings. In case they were surprised he needed an escape route fast. The land was covered with thick gorse bushes and short trees and bushes. While scattered around were many rock formations that at times were several hundred feet in height. Meaning that at times they had to go around some of them. That was when his compass was used to its full potential.
As the last of the sun’s rays were about to drop below the horizon, they came across a small assortment of rocks sticking out of the ground and decided to make camp hidden behind them. Although it was against everything he had been trained for, Chris chose not to post a guard. They were so tied and believing they had been unseen and out of the way, it was worth the gamble. If they had been on an existing track, he would certainly have posted a guard.
The following morning, just as the sun poked its head up from the horizon to the east they broke camp and were ready to strike out again. Same as the day before Chris set up his compass, pointed north and away they trudged. Every hour he would re-check their position lining the compass up with a prominent feature that stood out on the horizon, and that was what they would head for.
They were still carrying their rifles, although being a weight they would have liked to ditch. Although Chris knew while still in enemy territory they might be needed if they were to come across a nasty situation.
Luck was with them as they crossed over no other tracks, and never saw any sign of life anywhere, apart from a few local animals. Chris was wondering why there was not even aircraft flying overhead looking for them. Although the vehicle had probably been found, there were a couple of body’s nearby. Maybe the enemy had come to the conclusion that there were no more Mercs in the area.
It was a long day and once again they walked until the sun was about to disappear. When they sort a spot to spend the night. The next day found them still walking, but with no idea as to where they were. Although by this time Chris was of the opinion that they were in Zaire, but had no way of knowing. Suspecting that the area was so remote that it was not even marked locally. Oh it might have been on a map, but not all maps are correct. Chris had talked it over with Chalky and they had agreed that they keep going until they found some sort of life. To then approach them and hope they would tell them where they were, and not hand them over to the authorities. Although food was becoming a problem, not wanting to shoot something and worse still light a fire to cook it. They had been lucky in the water stakes by coming across a very small stream, at which they had taken a break, drunk plenty of water and filled up the water bottles.
Meanwhile and un-known to Chris, the column had eventually reached Kinshasa airport after only losing two trucks. They met up with Mick Ball who by now had become President Roberto’s chief paymaster. A deal was worked out and the lucky ones were given a flight out of the country via Brussels. While a not so private welcome awaited their arrival at London Airport a couple of days later. Where their return was well publicised in the press under such headlines ‘Dogs of War return home with their tails between the legs’. They were made to feel like and were treated like criminals.
Eventually on the third day Chris and Chalky found themselves walking through what could best be described as some sort of plantation. The plants were so high they could not see above them. They decided to go around as the very long leaves had razor sharp edges, and they didn’t want to keep rubbing up against them. There was also the problem of seeing where they were going. Even if they jumped up they could still not see over them. There was also the noise they made as they pushed their way through. It would have woken the devil himself. Finally, Chris reminded Chalky that there could also be a snake problem, not having undertaken a little more homework on Angola before he left the UK. He was not sure what snakes did actually reside in that part of Africa.
Although Chris had taken into consideration that with a cane crop there just had to be a farmer somewhere in the area, and a possible track or road nearby.
Then out of the blue they stumbled onto a narrow dirt track and got their rifles to the ready position. Their pace slowed while watching all around them. With Chris watching the front, and Chalky covering the rear. There were a few scattered trees along one side of the track that they could use for cover if they came under fire.
Later an old tumbled down farmhouse came into view. Lady luck had smiled upon them as they were confronted with a very friendly local farmer, who spoke reasonable good English. Allowing Chris, the opportunity to ask where they were and could they buy some food. They were in luck as he invited them in to his house and fed them. Answering most of their questions and informed them that yes they were actually in Zaire. Although they were a long way from Kinshasa, but there was a bus route at the bottom of his one and a half kilometre track to a sealed road. They finally thanked the man for his hospitality and he drove them to the main road.
Sure enough there was a bus stop as had been explained. Although they were still a long way from Kinshasa, but at least they could have another rest. However, not before they hid their weapons in a ditch full of water by the roadside. After which both agreed with each other that the war for them was over, and that they had not even fired a single shot.
To their relief they were never challenged, but upon their emergence from the jungle within the Congo they were rounded up by the local militiamen and lucky for them taken to the Capital.
Because of the publicity that surrounded the Massacre of British citizens the public wanted answers. Every member who returned was questioned and this included Chris, while a few were handed over to the authorities for outstanding warrants to be served upon them.
For the first time in his life he had been able to see another side of this sort of work and the dirt that surrounds it.
Once again Chris’s shoulder bag would come in handy, with his passport and a little money he had been carrying around secretly since arrival. Never one to trust people, as more that once he had learnt the hard way. The only thing that Chris and Chalky were un-happy about was the fact that they had not received a single penny since leaving the UK. He believed he had enough money to purchase them a couple of tickets although he was not sure how much the tickets would be, he might have to end up doing a little bargaining. At least the money was in the local currency as he had changed it before he left the UK.
Having his Passport meant that at least he would not end up at the British Embassy like in Singapore less than a year ago. However, his luck was to run out, as he did not have enough money for his air ticked. Together they both made their way to the British Embassy.
Chris was after the airfare home, while Chalky needed the airfare and a new passport. Both were lucky after spending just two nights in the Embassy, found themselves flying out of the Congo, with Chalky claiming “never again”. To which Chris added, “Never say never.”
A couple of days later Chris was back in London, having once again taking up lodging in the Bermondsey area of London.
Upon reflection Chris had been involved in two separate war zones in less than 12 months, and not having fired a single shot to protect himself during the hostilities. Furthermore, he had also had to run for his life on both occasions in order to extract himself from the hostilities that were developing around him. Although on a brighter note he had experienced a great adrenalin rush that many military personnel exposed to that way of life seem to enjoy. Chris was beginning to believe that it might be the right time to ease up a little, and to maybe settle down to a smoother life style.
While taking a quiet walk around the suburb, his journey just happened to take him past a Royal Navy recruitment office. His curious nature got the better of him and he had to enter to look around. He wasted no time in walked right past the Royal Naval counter on to the Royal Marine one at the far end of the Office. Upon which he picked up a recruiting leaflet, and started to read.
The Royal Marines undergo the longest basic training of any infantry force in the world a grand total of 32 weeks.
The ordeal starts at Deal in Kent, for what’s known as square bashing. Learning how to take orders is a priority and part of the drill. While later they move onto the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) at Lympstone in Devon. The Royal Marines are the only part of the British Armed Forces where Officers and other Ranks are trained at the same location.
Officers and Marines undergo the same training up to what is called the Commando tests. After which the Marines go on to deployment in a rifle company, while the Officers continue their training. As Officer candidates are required to meet higher standards especially during the Commando tests.
The culmination of training is a period known as the Commando Course. Following the Royal Marines taking on the responsibility for the Commando role, after the disbandment of the Army Commandos at the end of the Second World War. All Royal Marines, except those in the Royal Marines Band Service, are required to complete the Commando Course as part of their training. Key aspects of the course include climbing and rope work techniques, patrolling, and amphibious operations. This intense phase ends with a series of tests, which have remained virtually unchanged since the Second World War. Again, these tests are carried out in full fighting order, carrying a grand total weight of 32 lb (14.5 kg) of equipment.
The Commando tests are taken on consecutive days. That consists of a nine-mile (14.5 km) speed march, in full fighting order, to be completed in 90 minutes, a speed of approximately 10 minutes per mile, round about 6 mph.
The Endurance Course is a six miles, (9.65 km) course across rough terrain at Woodbury Common near the Lympstone camp. That includes tunnels, pipes, wading pools, and an underwater culvert. The course ends with a four mile run back to the to the CTCRM. Immediately followed by a marksmanship test, where the recruit must hit 6 out of 10 shots at a target without cleaning their weapon, it represents an enemy soldier at 200 metres. All have to be completed in 73 minutes (71 minutes for Officers).
The Tarzan Assault Course is combined with an aerial confidence test. It starts with a death slide, and ends with a rope climb up a thirty-foot vertical wall. It must be completed in full fighting order in 13 minutes, (12 minutes for Officers).
The Thirty Miler is a 30-mile (48 km) march across Dartmoor and roads, wearing full fighting order, and additional safety equipment. It must be completed in eight hours for recruits and seven hours for Officers, who must also navigate the route themselves, rather than follow an instructor with the rest of a syndicate and carry their own equipment. Although during the 1960’s the 30 Miler time limits was as low as 6 hours.
The day after the 30-miler march any who have failed any of the tests may attempt to retake them. The point needs to be made that, unlike so many other military training courses, that for Commandos stresses the importance of the team, completing the-30 miler as a syndicate and finishing the nine miler with the whole troop, the overriding factor being the unity shared by the wearing of the Green Beret.
Completing the Commando Course successfully entitles the recruit or Officer to wear the coveted Green Beret, but does not mean that the fledging Royal Marine has finished his training. That decision will be made by the troop training team and will depend on the recruit’s or young officer’s overall performance. Furthermore, Officer training still consists of a couple of more tests.
The last week of the 32 is mainly given over to administration and preparing for the Squad pass out parade. Recruits during their final week of training are known as the ‘King’s Squad’.
After basic and Commando training, a Royal Marine Commando will normally join a unit of 3 Commando Brigade based in the West Country of England or on the East coast of Scotland.
Royal Marines may then go on to undertake specialist training in a variety of skills, Platoon Weapons Instructor, Mortar Operator, Signaller, Clerk, Sniper, Physical Training Instructor, Mountain Leader, Swimmer/Canoeist, Chef, Landing Craft Coxswain, Telecommunications Technician (Tels Tech) etc. Training for these specialisations may be undertaken at CTCRM or in a joint environment, such as the Defence School of Transport at Leconfield or the Defence Police College.
Some Marines are trained in military parachuting to allow flexibility of insertion methods for all force elements. Marines complete this training at RAF Brize Norton, but are not required to undergo the Pre-Parachute Selection Course (P-Company) training with the Parachute Regiment.
Royal Marines in their infantry role use a total of 12 weapons ranging from semi-automatic pistols up through individual sniper and light support rifles, light and heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles to 81 mm mortars.
Chris sat back and read through the leaflet a second time, only this time a little slower taking in every minute detail.
It’s now or never Chris thought, the sooner I make up my mind, the sooner I will have a new future. He was so excited and asked the recruiter if he could undertake the standard education test there and then. Although he was not sure he would pass, not knowing anything about the type of questions that might be asked. However, Chris was encouraged when he was told that they were general every day sort of subjects. Followed by trying to place small wooden square blocks into different shaped holes. To which the recruiting Sergeant was only too pleased to oblige, almost rubbing his hands with joy. Now he was well on his way to making his monthly quota. To Chris’s amazement he passed and also chose to take a medical that same day. Using public transport, the Sergeant took him by bus to a local medical centre.
Once back at the recruiting office Chris was asked to sign all the necessary forms and was informed that if he were successful they would be letting him know by post. Chris was quite pleased with himself, especially passing the written test. However, unknown by him at that time, he was later informed that nobody ever fails the test.
Sadly, for Chris things did not happen as quickly as he had expected, and a couple of times he even thought of trying to get back in the Army. Although deep inside he knew that if he was to fail the SAS Selection course he would be trapped in the Army, and that was not what he wanted. He was still young and fit and craved to get involved in something exciting, with a little action thrown in for good measure. Any thoughts he originally had about looking for something local, and something easy had long since gone completely from his head.
A month later he received his letter and yes he had been accepted. Just another month to wait and he would be able to get stuck in to the training.
As Chris stepped off the train at Deal railway station, a very tall slim built man in military uniform strutted down the platform heading in his direction. “You one of mine” he bawled, “What’s one of yours” Chris asked sarcastically. “Don’t be smart with me laddie, you’ll make a bad name for yourself. I’m addressed as Colour Sergeant to you”. Under his breath Chris uttered, “Thanks for telling me,” not wanting to start off on the wrong foot. If his earlier military service had taught him one thing, it was to never get on the wrong side of authority. The Sergeant then continued shouting at him “By the looks of you, you must be one of mine, outside and in the van”. With that he suddenly turned and strutted off down the platform looking like a tin soldier bawling at anything that moved, including other bewildered looking young men standing on the same platform.
Chris made his way along the platform and out of the station building into the courtyard, where he was confronted by a van standing in the station courtyard, just as the Colour Sergeant had told him. The van was a dark blue Bedford Door Mobile, with the letters ‘RM’ stamped on the side. Must stand for Royal Marines he thought, or on second thoughts maybe it stood for ‘Right Mess’ something he thought he might be getting himself into. Once the van was full it sped off at break neck speed to the Royal Marines barracks.
Upon arrival they were all ordered out, and met up with an earlier group of recruits standing outside of what was known as the ‘New Intake Block’. Where they were to spend a couple of hours filling out papers and signing forms.
Later they were taken into a lecture room where the brain washing began. They were confronted by about a dozen different people all telling them what to do and how to go about it. However, for most it was very hard to take it all on board and remember it, not being military minded people. By the time the third person had spoken to them most had already forgotten what the first one had told them.
One of the recruits was dying to go to the toilet. He raised his hand so that he could ask to be excused. When the Sergeant in charge finally took notice of him and asked what was wrong. The recruit replied that he wanted to be excused to go to the toilet. “To the toilet” he asked. “What’s a bloody toilet” the instructor shouted back, and then carried on talking to somebody else totally ignoring him. To his surprise his request was declined because he had not used the correct Naval terminology. He was in the Royal Marines now, and whatever he wanted to do he had to use the correct Marine slang word. He spent the next few minutes in dire pain crossing everything from his legs to his fingers. Finally, and to his relief a fellow recruit put his hand up and when asked what he wanted, he asked to be excused so that he could go to the ‘Heads’ whatever they were. However, it was not long before he realised and made the same request only to be told that he had to wait until the other recruit returned. The Sergeant went on to explain that he was not going to have two young men playing around with each other in the heads on his shift. Chris was beginning to wonder what on earth he had gotten himself into.
The formation of a Royal Marine squad can take up to four weeks. During which time, they are given a bed in a dormitory style building. Draw all the necessary clothing and gear to get them started, while fill out more forms. Have lectures about what is expected of them, and what they can expect to be doing next etc. etc. It’s also a time when they sort out who will be their friends, and of whom they will be avoiding within the squad. The Squad was made up of about 43 recruits, 15 came from Scotland, 15 from the London area and the other 13 from all parts of England, Wales and Ireland. Some recruits had even managed to be transferred from other services, electing to join the Royal Marines.
Once they had all their clothes and gear issued, the squad Corporal went about showing the recruits how to maintain it. The first thing they were taught was how to wash a shirt in a bucket, (or pail) called a Dhobi bucket. Then it was how to iron a shirt, how to darn a pair of woollen socks, wool being good for your feet when you are marching in heavy leather boots.
Next came the brass belt buckle. When they are issued its edges were very rough and would not shine. First it had to be rubbed with an abrasive paste cleaner on a piece of cardboard and clothe. After many hours hard work its surface would be able to shine after ‘Brasso’ silver-cleaning polish was applied. Then there were the leather boots, of which the toecaps were expected to shine like mirrors. Once again upon issue the leather toecaps had a rough pimpled finish. The first job was to try and smooth the leather. This was achieved by an array of different methods, but mainly by rubbing it with the back of a heated spoon handle, many times. Although this method was not permitted by the instructors. It all had to be under taken secretly. Upon the instructor’s approval of the shine, and asking how it was achieved. It was simple everybody lied, saying that they had achieved it with only a cloth and polish.
It took about four weeks to form up the squad, and by then it had been moved from the New Intake Block, into the main building that ran along the head of the parade ground. Then the instructors informed the squad that they were about to get down to the real hard training. Most believed that they were already doing it, surely it could not get any harder.
While all were feeling very cold around the ears, displaying their new extremely short haircuts. Just as the Sergeant had predicted, they all looked the same.
The Royal Marines are the top service in the United Kingdom, although they are part of the Navy. Who it’s always assumed as the Senior Service. This was constantly being explained to the recruit’s, that you could always transfer up the line to any other service of her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Unfortunately, you were not allowed to transfer down. Hence, the Instructors delighted in constantly ribbing recruits that this was the end of the line for them. From here, there was only one place to go and that was out of the gate.
An essential part of the training was to learn the ‘Corps History’. The Corps revolves around its history and is very proud of what it has achieved over the years. Corps History was drummed into the recruits at every conceivable opportunity. Items like the Corps Battle Honours, and ‘Victoria Cross’ winners, there being about ten of them so far. The last one was, having been posthumously awarded to Corporal Hunter from 43 Commando, while in Italy during the Second World War. It was reported that he sacrificed his own life to save his troop from heavy casualties as they advanced over open ground just north of Comacchio.
Had he survived he would have most likely been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. The main reason being that when you salute an Officer you are actually saluting his ‘Rank’, not the person. The other ranks (ordinary Marines) salute the Officer first. The Officer then returns the salute acknowledging the gesture. However, there is one exception to this rule. Everybody and that includes Officers, always salute first any person who has been awarded the ‘Victoria Cross’. At times you can imagine that it could be a little intimidating for Officers to have to salute first. Therefore, the quickest way to cure this problem is to promote the other rank with the ‘Victoria Cross’ to the rank of Officer, problem solved.
Recruits also had to keep up with world events and news. At any time of day, they are asked questions by almost anybody of a higher rank.
The Deal Barracks was where all the marching skills and drills were to be learnt. Known as square bashing, this was also where taking orders is drummed into your head and thrust down your throat at every conceivable opportunity. You are expected to do as you are told the first time around, and to not to ask why. For some it was a very tough lesson to learn. Deal is a place where only the strong and easy to adapt people manage to survive. If you can’t take it at Deal, there is no way that you will be able to handle it at Lympstone.
Many of the recruits cannot take this type of military regime and either drop out as they say, or are thrown out. Or in a better language escorted off the premises. If you were very slow at picking things up you were what is known as, back squadded. Back squadding is where you are dropped back to the squad that formed up behind you. It was a dreaded scenario that most recruits hated, not wanting to go through a repeat of your past months hard training. Another bad thing about being back squadded was that it became hard to make friends in another Squad. The friends you make within the squad usually become friends for life.
However, back squadding also applied to the people who broke limbs, or became injured during the training. Only they had to wait for the break to heal, before they were finally allocated a new squad. It usually ended up with them being a couple of months behind their original one. In the meantime, they were not allowed to lie around on their beds. Even though they were almost crippled, they were expected to undertake other chores around the camp. Jobs that included cleaning, washing up in the canteen or the dreaded coal delivery to the Officer’s mess. However, this category of back squadded Marines was usually accepted back into the fold without too many questions being asked.
Then there was Physical education, which was a necessity for all recruits. Having come from all walks of life it was not known how fit they were. Therefore, all had to participate in a program that included two sessions a day, to be run over a period of four months, the complete duration of their time at Deal.
The Royal Marines had always prided its self in producing the fittest service personnel in the world. Circuit training was the key to this fitness, something that was very new and unknown to most of the recruits. In addition, there were lots of sport and cross-country running, weight training and much more.
It was very hard not to be picked on, and Chris knew it was no good thinking that he would not give an instructor eye contact. It is drummed into you to always look straight ahead. If he was standing right in front of you and you moved your eye away from him, you were called ‘Shifty’. You would then be given a lecture that ended in his famous words, that “shifty eyes mean that you have a shifty nature, and a shifty nature was not to be trusted.” You just could not win, so Chris always did just enough to get through each test. Anybody that stood out was picked on and treated as if being too smart for themselves. Anybody who hung back was picked on as being a malingerer or to being just plain lazy. Not to mention that some of them might have been trying to work their ticket as it was known, to hopefully return to civvy street. Every time you did something wrong or something the instructor did not like, you were ordered to run around the parade ground, being half a mile in distance. Alternatively, you could be ordered to do ten press-ups or climb the ten-foot brick wall at the bottom of the parade ground. In doing so you would get your uniform covered in red brick dust, thus insuring that it would take you at least three hours that night to get it all cleaned up. Not to mention before that happened, other instructors would have given you further punishment for turning up to their classes with a dirty uniform, because you had not had time to clean it.
Sometimes the Squad was marched into the drill shed and told to strip to their under wear. Anybody found with dirty undies were called ‘Crabby’ and were ordered to be cold water scrubbed by his fellow squad mates in an old iron bathtub a very painful experience. Recruits were expected to wear a clean set of clothes every day. It being explained to all Marines, that if you are on board a ship or in battle, you have to keep yourself clean at all times. It was further explained that decease could spread very quickly throughout a ship. It was also mentioned that at one time an aircraft carrier, had an outbreak of ringworm on board. The ship was locked down and the crew were ordered and confined to their mess decks. However, the ringworm still spread throughout the ship like wild fire.
Chris tried to stay in the background during those early days, which was quite hard as he was tall and in some situations stood out like a sore thumb. He also had a tendency to crack jokes at every conceivable opportunity. Therefore, if he was going to blend into the background, he would have to completely change his approach, and while on parade keep his mouth shut. There was no way that he wanted to be the unlucky Marine, who is picked on at every opportunity. Although it was something he was never completely successful at doing.
A squad is usually formed up with the tallest on the right and the shortest on the left method. It usually resulted in him being in the front row, and usually right under the instructor’s nose. He was usually the first or second from instructors left. However, it was very hard not to be picked on, and it was no good saying that I will not give him eye contact. You just could not win.
However, Chris was determined not to mention that he had once been a member of the Special Air Service. That would really open the floodgate for ridicule from everybody. He believed correctly that he would be picked on at all times when volunteers were required, or asked what he would do in a certain situation. Then there were the occasions that he had not even thought about.
Life at Deal soon dropped into a routine, up at 6am for a 6.30am breakfast, it being a crime not to have one and was enforced by military law if you passed out on the parade ground. Then there was the 8am parade, which meant being on the parade ground by 7.50am to be formed up by 7.55am.
The Parade started bang on the stroke of 8am. Then there was a roll call, to find out who was late or who had so called gone over the wall (deserted) during the night. This was then followed by a full inspection of the recruit and his uniform. Not many people survived without being picked up for one fault or another. The punishment was usually a further inspection at the guardhouse later in the afternoon. Somehow they all participated in this ritual of daily punishment that was dished out by the instructors. Who seemed to delight in the thought that they had to ridicule them every single minute of every single day? Then there was the square bashing, marching here, marching there and marching every bloody where. To be followed by physical training, battle training, educational training, swimming and more physical training, all followed by more physical training. If they were lucky, they were allowed to finish around 4 to 4.30pm in the afternoon. To be unleashed into a frenzy of washing all of their cloths that had become dirty during the day. Not to mention the ironing, cleaning their boots and polishing brass buttons and badges etc. etc. All this had to be completed in the very close confines of their dormitory style room, amongst all of the other recruits. At times, it seemed more crowded than Piccadilly Square on a cup final night.
The day in, day out discipline was very strict, while the punishment being dealt out was plentiful, that included extra kit inspection, extra parades, extra uniform inspection, extra drill, extra guard duties and extra fatigue work around the camp. Not to mention the constant running round the parade ground. With the constant threat of all that lot hanging over the recruit’s head, Chris did his best to get things right the first time. Later he was to proudly boast that during his entire time at Deal, he only ever received one extra guard duty, believed to be some sort of record at Deal. Unfortunately, he did receive a few runs around the parade ground and a couple of runs around the battle courses that came later.
On one occasion while on morning parade the squad Corporal informed the squad that there was a certain clause in their enlistment papers. This informed the recruits that if they were not happy in the way in which they were being treated. As long as it was within the first six weeks of their training they could leave the Marines with no questions asked, and just walk out the gate. However, he went on to inform the squad that the six weeks had expired the previous day. As of today there was no way that they could leave, other than health issues or being escorted out. Not one of the recruit’s in the squad had bothered to read the contract and so none of them knew of the clause he had mentioned. At least he told them, even if it was a little too late to act upon. Although to be fair many had chosen this way of life and were quite happy to keep going. Their gaol being the famous Green Beret that awaited them if, and when they were successful and passed all the training.
With the completion of the first six weeks it also meant that they were allowed out of the camp for an afternoon on a weekend. However, they were only let through the gate, after a fair amount of blackmail threats and intimidation from the instructors. You still had to undergo an inspection of your appearance upon presentation at the guardhouse, before finally being released through its gates. They were only allowed out in their uniform, as their civilian clothes had been taken from them upon their arrival at the camp.
Although some of the recruit’s wondered whether it was all worth the effort, because it was just a case of looking around Deal and having a drink. With their short haircut, they would never have managed to pick up any of the local girls. The short haircuts told them that they were only passing through as recruits, and that they would all move on to another camp in just a few weeks. Who wants a boyfriend who is constantly leaving home and travelling around the world? Chris knew all about the hardships he had experienced with his own marriage.
Once their marching skills had been put to the test in front of an Officer and passed. They were allowed to join in with the remainder of the barracks on their once a week march around the streets of Deal. Years earlier the Royal Marines had been granted the freedom and keys to the town, and were allowed to march through the town behind the brass band with bayonets fixed. The Royal Marines exercised this right every Friday morning at 8am sharp. Over the years this had become a great spectacle for the locals, but was also good for the majority of the recruits. It is hard to walk behind a brass band and not drop into step and push your chest out, as most of the recruits did. It was a great time for showing off and trying to impress.
The Squad membership had dropped from the original forty-three members down to around thirty-three, as they lost a few recruits back into the clutches of civilian life. A few more were back squadded, while they had gained a further couple of back squaddies from squads ahead of them. One recruit who had been in hospital with a broken leg for six weeks, was back squadded two months, it must have broken his heart to go through all that training again. However, that’s what it’s like being a true Marine, someone who can overcome, no matter how hard the objective is, and that nothing will stop you reaching your goal. Called will Power, Stamina and the Embedded urge to keep going.
The Royal Marine’s Latin motto is ‘Per Mare Per Terram’, ‘By Sea By Land’. Therefore, after learning how to march around a parade ground, it was only fitting that they should also undertake some form of seamanship, just in case they go to war on a ship. What better place to be taught these skills than at Portsmouth the home of the British Navy. Where they spent two weeks learning how to row a whaler (small wooden boat). How to hang and sleep in a hammock, splice ropes and wire, to tie knots and a lot of other nautical challenges connected with the Royal Navy.
Then they were on the road again heading for Poole in Dorset, for a one-week stay. Poole is the home of the Joint Services Amphibious Under Water Warfare Centre. It’s is also the home of the famous SBS, (Special Boat Service and the Cockleshell Hero’s) who carved out a very famous history for themselves during the Second World War. They were the Marines who under took a famous canoe raid across the English Channel into France. The name Cockleshell refers to the type of canoe that was used in those days.
Poole was where they learnt how to disembark safely from a landing craft and to what was involved in underwater warfare that was carried out by the SBS. They are also known in the Royal Marines as a ‘Swimmer and Canoeist’, it being a rating that they are rewarded with on successful completion of their course. Their very small plain looking badge is worn on the top of their left arm to prove that they have been to hell and back, just to earn the right to wear it.
They were also shown how to fight fires of all description and even went inside of a spectacular stage-managed building fire wearing breathing apparatus. On another occasion they were shown how to use fire hoses and extinguishers in all sorts of different situations.
They then under took a long drive by three-ton truck to the Infantry Training Centre at Lympstone near Exeter in Devon, where they were going to complete the final most important stage of their training. Lympstone is where the Battle Training takes place it is the home of the so-called dreaded ‘Commando Course’. A feature they would have to tame and pass, if they wanted to win the prized Green Beret. This is what it was all about. If they wanted to earn that treasured Green Beret and become a Commando, then they were going to have to succeed at every challenge that would be thrown at them during the next few months. At least it was going to be a little cooler, because by now the summer was over.
The day they entered the gates of Lympstone Camp they were greeted by a cold wind that they knew was going to sort the men from the boys. They also knew that most of the training would be under taken on Dartmoor, a notoriously cold bleak open wilderness area. If they thought that Deal was tough, then they were in for one hell of a shock at Lympstone.
Lympstone was also the place where Chris started to excel and to stand out, while at the same time he started enjoying most of the tasks. Having earlier passing the SAS training, this course was made a little easier for him. He loved every minute of it. Being the type of person who packs a lot into a lifetime and having always considered himself as a hyper active person. Therefore, he did not have to worry about sitting around doing nothing. These four months of Battle Training were crammed packed with challenges and not a single minute was wasted. Dartmoor to him was a dream place. Of all the times he went out on its rough terrain, he never once used a compass, He just had the knack of finding his way around, as they were not allowed to wear jewellery and that included a watch.
As in Deal, life at Lympstone soon dropped into a routine, only this time it was even harder, the only thing in their favour was their fitness. Deal had certainly built them up and made them very fit, but this fitness would have to be improved upon drastically for all the tasks that now lay ahead of them. Just like Deal the day started with an 8am Parade, although square bashing was now down to a bare minimum, just enough to keep their hand in. The emphasis now was on weapon training. Being taught all the weapons of war that the Marines use in modern warfare. Like the SLR (self-loading rifle), sub machine gun, Bren gun, 3.5 Rocket Launcher, Hand grenades, Mobats, Wombats. You name it they had to learn all about it, taking it apart, putting it back together and sometime while blindfolded. While at the same time still learning about the Royal Marines Corps History that included most of its earlier war battles, their victories and their defeats.
The fitness side of the training was a continuation of what they had become used to while at Deal. It usually included lots of physical jerks and runs along with a continuation of the highly successful circuit training that had been perfected at Deal. Then there was the assault course that was positioned down in front of the gymnasium and the twenty-five-yard rifle range First you had to run to the course and then around it starting with a six-foot wide tank trap hole. They would have to jump over it, not being allowed to fall in. It was six-foot-wide by four-foot-deep and constructed of brick and usually full of stinking water. Then they had to run over a plank of wood eight-foot-long and suspended on wires so that it swung backwards and forwards as you ran. This was also suspended over a hole once again full of slimy mud. Then it was onto a long scaffold frame where you hung by your hands, no feet needed here, for once they could take a rest. Here your hands did all the walking as you swung from one bar to the next. If you were unlucky and fell, it was once again into a hole full of stinking water, and a return to the start to attempt it again. Then it was onto a twelve-foot high brick wall where you needed each other’s help in order to scale the obstacle. To then be confronted by a four-foot high solid wooden fence, that had to be jumped. You then had to run to a selection of long tunnels. That were all about six meters long by about a meter in diameter and constructed of concrete, being buried about three feet underground. As you entered any of these tunnels they were always very damp and smelly owing to the sweat that had been lost in them over the years.
At times, they used a different style of tunnel that was set-up nearby. It was just along trench that had been dug and then corrugated tin had been placed over the top. This had then been back filled with a couple of feet of soil. The worst thing about this tunnel set up was that the instructors persisted in throw thunder flashes right behind you, to hasten your progress. Best described as a rather large Firework with one hell of a bang. Trouble was after a couple of these things banged off in your ears, you could not hear a single order the instructors were constantly shouting.
Whichever tunnel they choose the recruit to go through it was usually followed by a run back to the gymnasium where there were several ropes hanging from a scaffold frame, about twenty feet from the ground. They would all have to pull themselves up to the top and back down to the ground. If they thought that the climbing up was hard on their arms. Then they were in for one hell of a shock when they started to make a controlled return to the ground. Having pulled themselves up their arm muscles were aching badly. Therefore, the slide down was even harder to control. Some recruits would slide all the way to the ground. Allowing the rope to slide uncontrollably through their hands, to which they would receive very bad rope burns to the palms of their hands. These injuries could and in some case did result in their being back squadded.
Then they would have to move onto a round brick tank of water four-foot deep. Passing above the tank was a rope suspended about eight feet above the water. They had to lie on the rope on their stomach so that they could pull themselves across the water. Once in the middle of the tank they would have to swing their legs off the rope and to hang only holding on by their hands. Once stationary they somehow had to swing their right leg back up onto the rope. Then their left arm up over the rope and to then pull themselves back up in to a position where they were once again lying flat on their stomach on the rope. Once in that position they would continue to pull themselves across the top of the tank to safety. Failure to get back up onto the rope meant that you had to drop off into the icy cold water of the tank, that lay below. This was not an easy task and for many they had to attempt it a few times before being successful. It usually had to be completed before you were finished for the day. Upon completion this was followed by a run back to the barrack room shower block. Where they had to shower, warm up and to then wash and dry out all their wet clothing and gear, for the following day.
The camp also boasted a Tarzan course, the name Tarzan being used because it consisted of many ropes that were strung around the trees within the camp. The recruits would travel a distance of several hundred yards without their feet touching the ground, about ten feet below. All types of different obstacles were used, there being about ten different variations. Like laying on your tummy and pulling yourself along, or two ropes one on top of the other about four feet apart. On this particular one you placed your feet on the bottom one and hands on the top one.
There were two side-by-side ropes about two feet apart. For this one you had to use your hands, knees and ankles to inch yourself along. Then you would have to swing on a single rope, letting go in mid-air as you aimed your body to land in a rope net suspended about ten feet up off the ground hanging from a couple of high trees. Finally, the high light was a scaffold tower built around a very large tree, about forty feet high. There a rope was strung from the top of the tree to the ground about one hundred feet away. They would have a loop of rope that was spliced together and called a strop or toggle, this was placed over the main rope to the ground. Then your hands were placed through the strop sides, one each side of the main rope and gripped it tight. You would then proceed to step off the tower and slide all the way down to the ground. At first your legs would buckle as you reached the ground and crumpled into an untidy heap or at least that is until you got the hang of it. All Marines knew this set up as the ‘Death Slide’. After only a couple of slides, it was loved by most of the squaddies, especially as they perfected their landings. Some nights after a few beers, squaddies would sneak up into the trees for a midnight slide. There had been a few accidents over the years, usually by people falling off the scaffold tower, a drop of about forty feet. The course was always out of bounds after working hours, but as with all rules they were made to be broken.
All recruits used the rifle range at Oakhampton about a couple of hour’s drive from the camp. Dartmoor is shaped like a diamond, with Oakhampton at the very top. Oakhampton Camp had only the basic of facilities and consisted of a few wooden huts with cold water washing only. It was also used for live firing, which meant live bullets passing over your heads as you scramble through obstacle courses and barbwire. They would also have to walk in a live shooting gallery. As they walked along with a Sergeant right behind them, targets of soldiers would pop up all around them, giving them two seconds to fire at the target, and to then take up a secure position. All the time they would be stumbling through rivers, bombed out buildings and thick vegetation. Not to mention the Sergeant screaming in your ear, telling you what you just did was wrong and how in real life you would now be dead.
It was always wet at Oakhampton, somehow it always rained up there, but life never stopped, rain never stops a war, or so they were constantly being informed. The most uncomfortable time for recruits would be the sitting around in the rain, while in wet clothes. Awaiting their turn to shoot and that could be five or six hours a day in wet clothes and usually in a cold driving wind that went through every stitch hole in their clothing.
The famous Green Beret that is awarded to the recruit, on the completion of his final five weeks of hell that was known as the Commando Course. It also identifies him throughout the world as a Commando. Most countries have what is known as Shock Troops or Special Forces and use the same colour green to identify them as Commandos.
Their physical training now doubled in intensity, and included a four-mile route march in full kit, with fifty-six pounds on their back twice a week. This then changed to an eight miler after a couple of weeks. Doubling along in a group was very hard for Chris, as his legs were very long and this meant that he had to take longer strides than the average recruit, so it was hard work within his group. There are usually three columns of Marines about twelve recruit’s long. In addition, the heat inside this group at times from sweaty bodies can get very hot, sticky and smelly, and steam can usually be seen rising from them. Therefore, he would always volunteer to become a traffic guide. They would have to run faster, but at least it was at their own pace and Chris loved that, the whole test seemed so much easier.
Then it was stepped up to the sixteen miler, all these tests had to be completed within a time limit of about twelve minutes a mile. Or they had to do it all again the very next day, but in the evening as an extra test. There was no way that it could interfere with the normal day’s routine. In addition, there was always the threat of being back squadded even at this late stage.
On the Wednesday of the final weeks training, the distance was increased to twenty miles, this being the last of the timed route marches on a road. This was the one that one the squaddie cracked his femur on. Finally, on the Friday the ultimate challenge the thirty miler that consisted of ten miles across the moor, and the remaining twenty miles on the road. The dreaded thirty milers, had to be completed in a given time that seems to have been decided by the instructors of the day, which for Chris’s squad was to complete it in under 7 hours. Failure to do so would certainly mean that they would have to do it all again the following day or the possibility of being back squadded.
Chris’s squad had gone through some of the worst weather experienced at Lympstone for many years, which on its own had tested the squad to its limits. Somehow, most of them had made it, so here they were with this one final test and with snow having been forecasted for the day. Unfortunately, that would not be enough to stop their training, and so in true Marine spirit we set off.
The first section of the march was undertaken as a group walking in single file across the moor. Added to their woes, as they set off it started to snow. Luckily they were still walking as a squad and being pushed ruthlessly by their instructors. They knew that the weather was closing in and would slow them down, so they wanted them off the moor as quickly as possible. As the snow became deeper, their feet started to sink through the thin layer making it harder to walk. However, those at the back had it a little easier walking in the footprints of those up ahead. Worse for Chris there were no traffic wardens required on the moor. There would be no stopping until they all got off the moor. The instructors feared that they might become trapped and they had no emergency rations or overnight protection with them.
Upon the completion of the first ten miles they hit the main road. Here they split up into groups of three and got stuck into the last twenty miles. That included snowdrifts and slush. You name it and that day the weather threw it at them. They took very few rest breaks because they knew they were way behind their time schedule. Which helped to push them faster.
Great relieve was had by all as they eventually turned the last corner to be greeted by a couple of Royal Marine three ton trucks awaiting their arrival, and under the time limit. Failure to do so, would have meant been given a second and final attempt the following day. Failure to do so meant a return to civilian life. However, lady luck was with them as the whole squad was awarded the treasured Green Beret.
The final two weeks at Lympstone were known as ‘Kings Squad’ it was just a case of brushing up their marching skill and uniform inspections. It was also the time to volunteer as to where they would like to be stationed once they left Lympstone. Chris volunteered to serve in 41 Commando who at that time was based in Plymouth.
As had been hoped, Chris received his wish and was posted to 41 Commando. Upon his arrival he was issued with all the usual kit he was going to need during his stay, and settled in for a two-year stay. However, his plan of not letting it be known that at one time he had served with the SAS collapsed. Upon arrival his new Company Commander who had also served in the SAS a few years earlier recognised him. The information spread around the camp like a wild fire. As did some of the heroics he had been given the credit for. The powers that be, decided that they could not let his military experience and knowledge pass them by. A decision was made that they should cash in. Within a few weeks he was made up to the rank of Lance Corporal.
During the early months of his tour of duty with 41Cdo, an exercise took place in order to help explain to all Marines, that of ‘Escape and Evasion’. What was expected of them and how to evade capture, and how to capture anybody of importance? Chris was one of twenty Marines who were chosen as escapees’ while the majority of the unit would be their captors.
The escapees were gathered in a locked classroom where all the details that was expected of them were explained. They were instructed to keep within the legal rules, not being allowed to break the Law. Upon which if caught they would feel the full force of the legal law. Other than that, they were informed that they would be taken by a truck and released at a secret location known only by them. The instructor then uncovered a map on a black board, and allowed them to see where they were, and to where their expected goal was, the ‘Butchers Arms’ public house on the eastern out skirts of Exeter in Devon. They were to operate on their own and to make their way unaided to the Butchers Arms. Where they were to approach a lady using a password. The one thing they were not told was where they were going to be released.
The next minute the map was once again covered up, and the Instructor said, “the exercise starts as of now, and you’re all captured”.
Most of them were interrogated during the night, and also tied naked to steel posts positioned around the parade ground, and were constantly doused with buckets of cold water at hourly intervals. Being the end of a British winter the nightly air temperatures were still low. In fact, two prisoners gave up as dawn broke. The rules being if you mentioned anything other than your name, rank or number, you had surrendered.
During the early morning they were issued with a set of new cloths, as they were not allowed to take anything with them, especially money, and it was surprising where they checked each escapee.
They were taken by truck and dropped off at Land’s End, and told to start walking east. They were also pre-warned that the remainder of the Commando, being the catchers could stretch their force across the whole of the toe of England. This would mean that they could check the identity of every single person coming their way. Although this was not practical, plus the civilians and the Police would never tolerate such actions. However, it did give them a strangle hold as any advancing enemy would have to physically pass by them at some point or other. The main objective was not only to reach the target, but also to have done it using their initiative and training.
Chris’s main plan of action was that he would stick to the main roads as much as possible. However, he would be hitching a lift with whatever became available. But he would definitely be swimming every major river that crossed his path. He knew that the Marines would be right across the land from the English Channel to the River Seven estuary. So everybody would have to pass by them at some stage. This being the case it was only natural to surmise that all escapees would have to pass over the bridges at some stage. Unless some of them contemplated swimming out to sea and around the river estuaries, Chris guessed that a few would have tried that over the years. By only guarding the bridges it was easy for the Marines who would not need many men for the task.
Chris climbed out of the truck at Lands End beach with the other escapee’s just after midnight. It was very dark but Chris was still in a hurry to get off the beach. He had once heard of a story that was told around the mess decks. That a group of guys had all been rounded up on the beach within thirty seconds of setting foot from the truck. There was no way that this was going to happen to him. It was agreed that for the moment they would all run as fast as they could to get off the beach and take cover. It was also agreed that nobody would follow anybody. Even if it meant some of the guys having to lye up for an hour in a hedgerow to let the others get a head start. The only thing in their favour was that there were two distinct separate roads that led in land, so at least there need only be a few of them heading up each road.
Chris had other ideas he had holidayed here once and knew the area reasonably well. He also knew that at this time of night there would be no cars passing by for them to thumb down. Nobody drove these roads because most holidaymakers stayed in Penzance and that was twenty miles away. So he set off across the land. Lucky for him a full moon had just come out so it was going to be quite easy. His aim was to make Penzance before daybreak and to also pick up a few items along the way to assist in his swimming of the rivers. What he was looking for was two rather large plastic bags and a length of string. These were usually easy to find specially around farming areas. Even if they were only fertiliser bags, but he would prefer them to be a little cleaner if possible. As Chris would always say ‘Pickers cannot be choosers’. String could always be found usually laying around the place like snow or at least until the night you needed to find a piece. However, Chris was in luck he had found everything he needed before he reached Penzance. As they had been dropped off wearing Marine style work clothes. Chris had already changed some of his cloths by exchanging them with a scarecrow he had found while looking for his plastic bags. The other items he had taken from a caravan park clothes line just outside the town. Now he looked like a real holidaymaker with his Hawaiian colour shirt and a parcel rolled up under his arm. He had also grabbed a turnip and some potatoes so that he could eat while on the move. The second most favoured place to be captured would be in or around Penzance. The Marines knew that both of the coast roads had to pass close to the town and that most guys would stop to get a lift or to beg for food.
However, Chris was long gone, he knew that his best chance was to get to the Mount (landmark) where it would be easy to get a lift. From there once again two main roads take you right into the heart of the county. What he did not want was to be amongst the other escapee’s all looking pretty much the same, and all thumbing on the same stretch of road, or would that would be coincidental.
Chris could not believe his luck when a Royal Naval three-ton truck stopped to offered him a lift. Chris could feel the sweat running down his back. Having told the driver that he was just staying at RNAS Couldrose and that he had been out for the night and missed his lift home. He hoped that this would account for the way he was dressed. The driver dropped him right outside the Main gates. This was a very cheeky act, as Chris along with everybody else in the game knew that the Marines would be staying at the camp. Chris’s theory being that they would not expect anybody to be as stupid as to stop right there, he reckoned that it was the safest place to be.
He made good time heading in land but upon reaching the first of the big rivers he hid in the bushes. From there he did a reconnaissance of the area and sure enough there were people on the Bridge. So he decided to sleep until it was dark.
Once it was dark he stripped off all of his clothes and neatly stowed them inside one of the plastic bags and tied up the neck. Then he placed that bag inside the other one and blew it up with air. He then tied that one up as well leaving a long piece of string hanging from the knot. Chris’s theory was that in order to succeed you must always be warm and have dry clothes. So it was simple just swim the river and tow your clothes behind you. And that is exactly what he did making the least amount of noise that was possible. Once on the other side it was just a case of drying off the best that he could. Then to put on the dry clothes and off he set once again. He did this four times and for his trouble he was successful in reaching the ‘Butchers Arms’ public house just outside of Exeter.
The next part was a little trickier as he had to enter the pub and find a certain lady that should be present. To then approach her with the secret password code. The first problem was that he did not have any money so how was he going to get away with being inside without buying a drink. Then somehow he would have to work out whom he had to approach. The lady in question was the wife of one of the Officers back at Plymouth, and in fact was the ladies free fall parachute champion at the time. However, he had never met her or knew what she looked like. He decided to just walk up to the landlord and start talking to him about the first thing that came in to his head.
He had been on the road now for two days and nights and he was looking a little scruffy and unshaven. But he had come this far it was no good turning back now.
Chris walked in to the pub and slowly made his way to the bar, but all the time he was looking around for the lady he had to contact. The pub was quite full and they’re just happened to be six females present, some with guys and one who sat alone. Which one he thought, as he suddenly had a brainwave and choose to head for the toilets. Once inside he was still in luck there was a guy in there doing his hair. Chris asked if he knew whether there was a lady out there that was in the service, her name was Peggy Anderson. Suddenly his luck was starting to run out as the guy told him he did not know.
As he slowly walked away from the toilets he looked at all of the women one by one scrutinising every feature. He had to make up his mind, after all that was what his job entailed making decisions. Right there and then he made one and walked straight over to a table that had three guys sitting around it and to Chris they looked like service men because of their short-cropped hair. He walked up beside the lady bent down low almost on his knees so that he could talk quietly in to her ear.
“Can I have a little bit,” he asked.
With that she slapped his face and the three guys all jumped on him. Chris was no match for them, he had not eaten or hardly slept in the past two days and was feeling very weak. The landlord called the Police, and as he was taken away in hand cuffs. As he was being lead from the pub he suddenly noticed sitting in the corner was a lady smiling at him. It must have been Peggy the most unlikely looking Army Officers wife he had ever seen. While to fool him a little further she was also with a couple of longhaired youths.
After telling his story that it was an exercise The Police knew all about him and he was handed over to the Marines, but not Plymouth as he had requested. The Police Sergeant insisted he knew what he was doing. In fact, as it turned out they were already aware of what was about to happen, as it was all part of the exercise.
He was loaded in to the back of a three-ton truck, were he joined four of the other so-called escapees. They had been picked up miles away from the target. So far Chris was the only one to reach the pub. As they sat in the back with two guards sitting on the tailgate one of the guys secretly showed him a smoke grenade. Chris had no idea how he obtained it, just accepting that he had it. On the back of the three-tonner was a frame and this was covered over by a camouflaged tarpaulin. But the section up front just behind the driver’s cab was missing, so a wind was whistling through this gap.
Suddenly and without a word of warning the guy with the smoke grenade who was sitting right beside the cab, just pull out the pin and leaned towards the cab and threw it in to the driver’s cab open right hand side window. All hell was then let loose as the vehicle swerved all over the road and ended up with a big jolt in the ditch. Before anybody knew what was happening all the prisoners jumped out and ran in different directions all-trying to escape during the confusion. This was going to be their only chance so they felt they had better make a good job of it.
However, their running was all to no avail as they were very quickly rounded up by another truckload of Marines that just happened to be following a little further behind them. For the damage they had coursed they were subjected to a harsh type of punishment. They were stripped of their socks and foot wear and then made to walk through a field of freshly ploughed corn stubble. The stubble was only about four or five inches high and very sharp. Those that refused were physically beaten and hit with the rifle butt. Chris knew what the score was. They had done the crime now they were to pay the fine and a very painful one at that. By the time they reached the truck once more, Chris’s feet were bleeding very badly and he was in great pain. But there was no way that he was going to give his captors the satisfaction of knowing it.
They were all interned at Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth. But before they could get settled in it was straight into the interrogation part of the exercise.
Chris had not slept or eaten now for almost two days so he was feeling very weary and tired. As he was ushered in to an office to face the interrogator he was cold and naked. He was made to sit on a chair in front of a desk that had an Officer seated on the other side. Beside him sat a very large Doberman dog that was glaring at Chris. Suddenly the silence was broken when a serviceman entering the room placing on the desk in front of him a tray that contained a teapot, two cups and a plateful of biscuits. Chris could taste the biscuits and just wished that they were offered to him right away. To his surprise the officer poured out one cup of tea. Great Chris thought that would do for starters. But then to his surprise he picked up the cup and then poured it in to a saucer, he then placed it on the floor in front of the dog. Who made a loud slurping noise as it gulped the lot down. The Officer then finished off the remainder of the tea from the cup. Up and until then not a single word had been spoken by anybody. Next the Officer started feeding the dog the biscuits from the plate. This angered Chris as he was starving and really wanted to try a few of them. Once all of the tea and biscuits had been finished and still without a word being spoken. Chris was led away to an area that looked like it was the dungeons of an old castle. He was then placed into a very small wooden crate, that had just one of its side’s open, but this had wooden bars across preventing him from escaping. It was so small that he could only just get up onto his knees, but at least he could look around.
Every ten minutes the guards would enter the room and turn a cold-water hose onto him. Suddenly the sound of church bells rang out, and at times was almost deafening. There was no way that Chris could get away from it. He would just have to tolerate its constant chimes. He had heard of this before as a method of breaking a person. In fact, he had been told of one particular guy who thought he could beat his captors by insisting that he liked the bells, and that he always wanted to go back to the box to listen to them again. Sadly, it all back fired on him when in fact he did go crazy, and ended up in a hospital for the mentally insane in Plymouth. It surprised Chris that they were still using methods like this.
After two hours of this torture he was taken out of his wooden crate and asked some questions of which Chris had been given the answers at the start of the exercise. But he did not reveal what it was, so it was straight back to his wooden crate for another dose of the cold water and bells.
Once again after a couple of hours he was brought out and questioned again but all was for nothing, so Chris was returned back to his box. But after that third dose of the bells that left him almost totally deaf for a week he gave in. After all it was just an exercise what was the point of going in sane at the hands of your own men. Although the one thing that was learnt by all, was what to expect if ever you were unlucky enough to get captured by the enemy. For him the exercise was now over but it had not been a waste of time. He also felt good that most of the other guys had given in long before he did. One guy had been made to fill a steel helmet up with mud and to urinate into the mud. The foul smelling contents were then put on his head and stayed there until he finally gave in a day later.
Back in 41 Commando Chris was eventually enlisted to take a Corporal’s course. Something that took place before it was revealed that 41 Commando was going to Northern Ireland to help Police the troubled area.
The authorities had received urgent reports that an official pre-arranged political march that was on the move along a designated route was becoming a little rowdy.
The Military and Police had the luxury of hindsight, of many earlier marches that had become out of control. Their usual tactic was to try and defuse the situation as soon as possible, while it was still thought to be controllable. Their aim being to show a security presents in the area before it deteriorated further. It was common knowledge that anything religious in that area was usually a recipe for escalation, and could possibly and usually did lead to a disastrous outcome.
With this in mind the Royal Marine duty officer at the military barracks ordered Chris’s section to the western suburbs of the city.
The section consisted of twelve members who were seated in two six man rows facing each other inside of an armour vehicle as it sped across the city heading for the area requesting help. A manoeuvre they had practiced and carried out many times in the past.
While on active service Chris never used first names when he spoke to his men. He had come up with the idea of using numbers. It being the number of the position each member always formed up in, while patrolling with the section. He had even issued a small pin badge with the relevant number to each member. It was then attached to their uniform just above their left hand side breast pocket. In this way it was hoped that the locals did not discover the names of his men. Hoping it would protect their families if retribution were ever planned against them. The section spent all of their time together, so each knew the numbers of their friends off by heart. The pin badge was to help others who might want to identify or talk to them.
Not wanting to unload his section close to the march, the vehicle arrived in a neighbouring street of terraced houses. Its two heavy back doors opened automatically and without warning, as the vehicle slowed down to a slow walking pace. The personnel then alighted from the vehicle in two’s, and made their way to the left hand side of the road forming a single file, leaving a gap of around four meters between each Marine.
The same procedure was taking place from the other Armour vehicle that had been following them. Disgorging its cargo to the right hand side of the road. Each section then took up a very slow walking pace after taking up a defensive moving position. With their eyes and riffles looking at a well-drilled arc of vision, that they had been trained to do. Many believing that they had been brain washed to a point where it became second nature and executed by instinct. Both sections had a tail end Charlie whose job it was to cover the backs of their respected sections, keeping a close watch behind them at all times.
There were now two patrols paralleled with each other, both making their way along the road hugging the terraced housing fronts towards the reported troubled march.
As well as their pre-determined arcs of watch and fire, they were also watching above the heads of the other section on the opposite side of the road, especially the up stair bedroom windows. All of them had been well trained in this style of riot duty over a long period of time, meaning that very few questions needed to be asked or answered, as the section slowly made its way along the street.
Their aim was to try and keep the march as peaceful as possible. Although if it became violent their orders where to try and clear the area, by forcing the people from the streets. The good news so far was that nobody had reported weapons being seen in the area. Although it was common knowledge that the military usually expect it, especially if the marches got out of hand and the people would not disperse. Although by now the noise of the crowd could be heard and seemed to be about a couple of streets away. Leaving them to keep their approach as silent as possible. Something Chris always described as searching for the enemy on his terms, while not attracting them towards him unknowingly.
The first obstacle they faced was a crossroad. Knowing that the parade noise was coming from their left, both sections knew they would have to turn to the left. In doing so they executed another manoeuvre that they had been trained for. As the right hand side could now see around the corner from across the road, they took up a kneeling static position pointing their guns across the corner.
Six guys from the left hand side section rounded the corner and took up a static kneeling defensive position, and once secure. The section on the right hand side of the road was given a signal of all clear. Once both section leaders where happy with the new formation they signalled each other and then continued to move up the road towards the noise that by now seemed to be coming from what looked like the next crossroad a few hundred meters further up the road.
Both sections had a wireless operator in its ranks and both sent a message back to base of their change in direction and of the area they were now heading, adding that so far they had not met any resistance or made contact with the march.
The movement of the sections as they advanced up the road was very quiet and unusual. Normally they would be pursued by the local children calling out abuse, and in some incidents throwing stones at them. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of breaking glass coming somewhere above and in the middle of the left hand side section.
A gloved hand had been thrust through one of the bedroom windows above. The hand then dropped an object that landed on the fourth man’s left shoulder before falling to the ground. Being directly behind him Chris witnessed what had happened. Without hesitation he automatically shouted out “Grenade” and both sections dropped to the ground trying to lie as flat as possible. The word Grenade did not need further explanation of what they were required to do next, to hopefully protect them from the expected explosion. All they could do was to make their profile as flat as possible on the ground, and to hold their breath. As the suppositious ones might have crossed their fingers and offered a prayer. All had heard the breaking glass and had a little idea as to where the explosion was going to come from.
After taking to the ground, it was only then that Chris realised that number Four who was in front of him had not dropped to the ground like the rest of the section, but had started running up the road in the direction they were heading. Chris could not help thinking that he was going to run into further trouble if he did not stop and take cover, as the area had not been checked and made safe.
Suddenly there was a very loud explosion, and shrapnel could be heard flying through the air. Followed by pavement debris and glass, that by now was landing on members of the section close to the explosion. Nobody in the section was protected by what could be classed as cover. By just lying flat there was a good chance that some of the explosion would have gone upwards. The other reason for staying where you were, meant that you knew the area they had just covered, believing it to be safe. To run further ahead you were moving into unknown territory, where there could be further problems. However, the main reason was the time factor. As with most hand grenades the fuse was only five seconds long. It was best to use those five seconds wisely and to make your body into the flattest profile possible. The only bad and unknown point was how the grenade landed, as the base plate would shoot along the ground in the direction it was pointing. Anybody in its line of fire would more than likely be very unlucky taking a direct hit to whatever side of his body was exposed to the grenade.
Once most of the debris had landed Chris looked up to see that the number Four who had run, disappearing around a corner to his left. Chris’s first thought was that at least he had not been injured, but he had panicked and was now in an unknown, un-cleared, possibly hostile territory, and could be in further danger.
Chris called out to both sections to stay where they were, and asked if there had been any causality’s. It was only then that he realised that number Three was moaning and it was obvious that he was in pain. Chris got up and made his way towards him as the other members of the section took up their original defences positions.
The blood on the path around him told its own story, he had definitely taken a hit of some description. Although it was amazing that he was the only one that had taken an injury. Most service personnel carry a first field dressing (bandage). Chris’s was taped to his riffle stock near where his head would normally lean against the wooden stock. He wasted no time in removing it, taking it out of its wrapping, to fluff it up and push the wad into the hole he had discover in the left side of number Three’s waist area. He was hoping that this action would help stop the bleeding, while they radioed for help and an ambulance to evacuate him as quick as possible.
It was bad luck that he had dropped in a position pointing from the house to the road. While all the others had dropped to the ground pointing the way ahead. In this way they presented a much smaller body area to the grenade. In doing so blast would have only struck their legs or feet, and not the vital organs in their body.
Six, Seven and Eight kicked their way into the front door of the house and under took what’s known as house clearing. Although very cautious they realised that the bomber they were looking for would have been long gone. Probable out of the back of the house as the grenade went off. The houses usually had another street running parallel along the backs of the houses small gardens, making it very easy to gain entry to the lane and into any one of fifty other houses in that area.
He doubted that the owners of the house had been involved as they would be the first suspects, and if they had not agreed to let the bomber in, at a later date they would have been on somebody’s hit list for execution. The so-called terrorists rule by fear that had taken place over many years. Most of the locals kept their mouths shut on what was going on around them. However, when it came to the terrorist most had to do as they were told. After all they had to live in the area, as there was nowhere else to go.
For a split second Chris had forgotten about number Four, who by now was long gone and out of sight. He then proceeded to ordered One and Two too stay where they were, guarding their front line and the wounded number Three, then ordered Nine and Ten too follow him, and they made their way up to the corner in which Four had disappeared, leaving Eleven and Twelve too guard the rear end of the section. Not knowing where Four was or of his condition, it was imperative that they found him as quickly as possible, before he found himself in more trouble than he was already in. The news got worse as Chris realised that he was the new guy on the block as they say. He had joined the company straight from receiving his Green Beret at Lympstone only a couple of months earlier.
Which brought to mind of an incident a few weeks earlier when two British Army personnel who were on a spot of leave and wearing civilian cloth’s, had mistakenly drove their car around a corner and found themselves in the middle of a funeral possession. That was slowly making its way to the local church. Even though they tried to apologise loudly through the car windows. They were dragged out of the car and beaten to death by the crowd. Sadly, they had only been in Northern Ireland a few weeks and did not know the area they were driving around. The incident had taught the British many lessons of how to patrol the streets, something they did on a daily basis.
Within a few seconds Chris and his team turned the corner where Four was last seen, to be confronted by him on the ground slumped up against a wall, looking as though he had been knocked out.
They made their way to him as quickly as possible while Ten and Nine took up a protective position, allowing Chris to take a closer look at him. He was dazed and all he could say was that two people had confronted him and then hit him with what looked like a big piece of wood. Which made sense as Chris could see a little blood on the side of his head. Nine and Ten helped him up and kept a hold of each arm assisting him to walk, while Chris kept an eye on what was happening around them. He wanted to get back to his section as quickly as possible, and to carry out his original orders of keeping an eye on the march.
Suddenly and without warning two young men appeared from the backyard of a house carrying pieces of wood in their hands. While another two appeared from another garden, and one had half a house brick in his hand. By now it did not take Chris long to realise that the situation was starting to deteriorate, and that if further locals where to join in, then he and his section would be in deep trouble.
Chris shouted to them to back off and let them get their injured friend to a hospital. However, it had no effect on the situation as the young men continued to inch slowly towards Chris, adding threats of “We are going to kill you bastards, like you kill our people”. Chris wasted no time in raising his rifle up to his shoulder and threatened to shoot them if they did not back away. This did not have any effect, as they believed that he would not have the guts to shoot them. Slowly they continued to advance waving their pieces of wood in threatening gestures. Chris responded once again telling them to “Back off”.
The situation was starting to go from bad to worse, as the threats from both sides deteriorated with their use of bad language and swearing. The distance between them was becoming closer as they slowly advanced. Within minutes they were only about four or five meters apart. Suddenly, one of the teenagers jerked forward a few inches while thrusting his piece of wood even closer towards Chris who was standing in front of his men. At the very same time one of them who Chris thought to be around 30 years old suddenly produced a small pistol from his jacket pocket.
BANG! The sound of a rifle being discharged rang out and the person with the pistol was blown off his feet backwards a couple of paces, and ended up sprawled on his back on the ground. Within seconds blood could be seen coming through his clothing from his chest area. The remaining two wasted no time in turning around to run as fast as they could, and disappeared into the nearest backyard they could find.
It was a split second decision that Chris had made. He felt justified that it was the correct one, as the life of his section was in imminent danger, especially after the pistol was produced. One second’s hesitation and the situation would have had a completely different serious outcome. Although with hindsight it was a decision that he was suddenly realising he might live to regret, as it could come back and haunt him at a later date. However, the bottom line was that he was responsible for his men’s lives. It was his job to try and protect them at all times and at all cost.
Once the ambulance arrived, number Three along with the local who had been shot was dispatched to hospital as quickly as possible, although upon its arrival he was pronounced dead. Chris’s section was replaced and withdrawn back to base while crime scenes were set up around the area of the grenade explosion and the shooting. Another section was sent to try and help with the religious parade, in the hope that they were not too late. However, they were, as soon as the shots were heard a full scale riot broke out, and took the authorities a couple of hours to disperse, after having to use a lot of tear gas.
Chris and the remainder of his section were returned to base and stood down while an enquiry was set up to find out what had taken place.
As with all military enquiries it was a long drawn out affair, as the government went into damage control. Trying to only release information that would not tarnish its name. Chris always maintained that all he did was to protect his men, and only had a split second in which to make up his mind. While the newspapers where having a field day trying to paint the military as gun tooting cowboys, who shot first and asked questions later.
It was a long drawn out process that played very heavy on his mind, and he became very depressed as it was spread over several months, while the locals and the press were insisting on him being charged with murder.
At one time his commanding officers Major Taylor took him to one side and asked what he thought his future was. Chris wasted no time in telling him that he did not think he had a future and was thinking of leaving the Corps. That he was fed up and wanted to get away from all the bad publicity. Major Taylor then explained a couple of scenarios, and ended up by asking him not the leave. He was trying to explain that while he was in the Military if he was charged with murder, and a court case was to take place, then they would look after him. They had legal advisers and because they would pay for all the costs. For him to leave would mean that he would be on your own, with nobody to turn to for help or financial assistance. He also imagined that everybody would wipe their hands of him.
After much soul searching and further discussions with Major Taylor. Chris accepted his advice and all the help he and the Corps could offer. It turned out to be one of the better decisions he ever made.
However, a couple of months later Chris and his legal team were shocked to learn the prosecution had applied to the court to revoke his bail. Adding that he was a danger to the public, and that later they would be showing evidence to prove their point. After two days of debating the judge finally ordered that Chris be held under house arrest at his military barracks, until that day of the trial.
As a member of the military if you are charged by the Police and end up going to court and are found guilty. When you eventually return to the Military, in many cases they will also charge you for breaking military laws. Being found guilty you can end up having to serve two sentences.
It took a further couple of months to bring the case to court and then the first couple of days was a big bore for Chris, as the boundaries of the case were set and discussed. During which time Chris became very fidgety and would spend a lot of time just looking around the courthouse. By this time, he had given up any chance of being found not guilty and released. He had condition himself to expect to spend a few years behind bars inside one of her Majesty’s prisons. Only hoping that he would at least be transferred across the water to an English one. Realising that an English man in an Irish prison, would need to spend his complete duration in solitary confinement, as almost every prisoner would be out to try and beat him up, if not kill him.
The Prosecution argued the point that Chris should have challenged the diseased John Brennen, before he fired and killed him. While the defence argued that the troubles had been going on for generations and in that time the death toll was in the thousands. Proving that anybody carrying a gun would almost certainly use it. That they were not playing cowboys and Indians, this was for real and many people had died. It was then pointed out that it could have been a water pistol, with the deference adding that during all the time the troubles had taken place, not one single person had ever been found to have carried or been charged with having a water pistol while on the streets.
About a week into the case, it came to a standstill as the prosecution announced that they wished to introduce further information that their team had just learnt. The Judge ordered the Prosecution and Defence to join him in his chambers at the back of the courthouse, for a discussion. It really did not make any difference to Chris as he had not been involved too much and was as bored as ever, as he sat twiddling his thumbs thinking that he had been hung out to dry, having been made an example for others to learn by.
After the legal wrangling was over and they took their places in the courthouse, Chris was still not interested. However, that was all about to change as the Judge announced that the Prosecution had some new evidence they wanted to introduce, that would prove that Chris Lawler had indeed murdered Jim Brennen in cold blood. Chris could not believe what he was hearing, wondering what lies were to follow.
The prosecution called their next witness, a Police Officer from Aldershot in England. Suddenly Chris became interested, as he had once lived there.
The Police Officer was asked about a murder that had taken place in his town during 1970. To his shock the questioning went on to describe how Chris’s wife and family had all been killed while shopping. Immediately, Chris had a tear in his eye as the memories of his family came flooding back, only to be soured by the description of how they died. Although wondering why and how it was relevant to the predicament he now found himself in.
The Police Officer went on to inform the court that for several months they had no idea who had carried out the shooting, as the culprit had been masked at the time. However, several months later somebody came forward and told the Police that while drunk in a pub one night. The witness, a criminal himself had befriended a fellow drunken drinker. The conversation included describing something he had done several months earlier, and that he was lucky nobody was able to describe him. He ended by saying that he was getting out while he could. The Police later traced him after he did a runner to Ireland. First heading to Swansea and crossing by ferry to Cork in Southern Ireland. Later to make his way to Northern Ireland and to join a Para Military group, that was opposed to British rule and trying to get them kicked out of the country. Apparently he had weapons and explosives knowledge that was greatly needed, to pass on to others. Once there he dropped out of sight as the IRA protected him, and kept his locations secret from the general public. Even giving him a new identity.
The court was stunned and a hush fell over the room lasting a full minute. Suddenly the case had taken a turn for the worse for Chris. The Prosecution attacked him believing that he had murdered Brennen as retribution for what he had done to his family. Immediately Chris’s Defence jumped to his aid, trying to explain that he did not know who it was, and that anyway he was out of the country for five years. He had in fact joined the French Foreign Legion and served for five years, in France and Africa. Mentioning that he even had a couple of medals to prove it. Knowing that to try and trace his record from the Legion would almost be impossible. As their records were closed to all accept the Legion.
Because of the latest evidence the case was extended as each side tried to persuade the jury, one way or the other. While Chris was left a little traumatised as to the new so called evidence? Wondering if the court would believe his version. It started to bother him that to go to prison is one thing. However, to go to prison for something he did not do, that was going to be hard to accept. It would be a nightmare that he would have to suffer for rest of his life.
One day as he sat in court and took his usual look around the courtroom at all the faces looking glaring down on him from the gallery. His eyes settled on a lady and hesitated for a couple of seconds, but then moved on. However, the image of the lady in his brain got the better of him, and he slowly went back to her. Suddenly realising that he had seen her before, but for the moment he could not place a name to the face. A few minutes passed by and suddenly his brain clicked in to gear and came up with the name of June. Now his brain was working overtime, and to where he thought he might have known her.
Vietnam, yes the evacuation of the children just before Charlie over ran the country. He glanced at her again, wondering if he was right. Not being able to call out to her. Strange, she was also looking around the room and as she glanced at him, there was no emotion and her glance also moved on. For some reason Chris thought he must be mistaken.
While still looking at her, she slowly looked at him again only this time there was a hint of amazement followed by a slight smile.
Whatever was she doing here and how did she know that he was on trial. There were a lot of questions and answers they were both contemplating, although not knowing how they could be asked.
The prosecution still believing they had a strong case, persisted in the jury believing that Chris had planned the killing, therefore it was Murder of the first degree.
During the long afternoons grilling, and of having to answer many questions of his past, he suddenly became aware of why June was in the courthouse.
Her surname was Brennen, with shock he suddenly realised that in some way she was related to Jim Brennen the man he had shot.
That night he told his Defence team that June was in the courthouse and that he had once known he. He was keen to know the relationship with Jim Brennen. As the prosecution continued to talk to Chris, one of the team left the room to see what he could find out.
The news shocked Chris, when he was informed that June was in fact Jims Brennen’s elder sister. While his first thought was that she would not think much of him, let alone want to talk to him.
The case dragged on for a full week and true to their word the Royal Marines stood by Chris helping in any way they could. It was plain to see that as the situation had developed, there was just no way that Chris could have manipulated a situation where he could have carried out the murder. It was never proved who the killer of his wife was. The situation in which he was killed could never have been planned. After all it was Brennen who suddenly appeared brandishing a gun and threatening to kill. Chris was just trying to protect his men, something that would be expected of all service personnel.
When the jury finally returned from deliberation the vote was unanimous with a not guilty decision. Chris was discharged with no black smear recorded against his name. As he left the courtroom some of his legal team stayed by his side, wondering how June had taken the verdict and of what she might do.
Just as he was leaving the courthouse, June came over to Chris, and asked if he was okay. His team realising her tone of voice and the way in which she spoke was friendly, moved ahead leaving them together.
June let it be known that she had never known what her brother Jim had been up to or of where he was living. It was only after reading in a newspaper that he had been killed. That she made a decision to try and attend the court case. Not even knowing that Chris was involved. They spent fifteen minutes talking about the past and what of their futures. The last time they had met both had wanted to take the relationship a little further. However, this incident was to change all what both had dreamt of for a long time. June admitted that if they were to stay together she would always be remembering how Chris killed her Brother every time she saw him. While he let it be known that June would always remind him of who and how his entire family had been killed. Maybe things might be better down the road, but now was not the right time. Both had a lot of mental healing to seek help with.
Chris was suddenly jolted from his dream like state and looked across the table at Uncle Harry, who was still sitting in front of him, flicking through the pages of his folder. Once again Chris broke his code of silence and opened his mouth and slowly spoke, telling Harry that he had covered just about every single moment of his life so far. About the only thing he had not covered was what was to happen to him next.
“Oh, I could also fill you in on that part of your life if you liked, I’m especially interested as to why a guy like you with a brilliant military history, would go off the rails as they say. I’d like to know why you chose that particular track to follow, and how did you think it would all end up.”
Now it was Uncle Harry’s turn to be caught completely off his guard, as Chris asked, “What department are you representing”. To which he replied “Mi6”. Chris pushed his luck a little further, and asked, “What is the difference between Mi5 and Mi6”. Now it was Chris’s turn to be caught off guard, as Harry went into great depth and detail to explain.
Mi stands for Military Intelligence and the differences between the two organisations is vast. They are answerable to different departments and completely different people. The Mi5 answers to the Home Secretary. This was an indirect confirmation of the organisation’s focus on domestic as well as external threats. While in contrast, Mi6 answers to the Foreign Secretary in part due to its exclusive focus on external threats. The two organisations have their headquarters in different locations. Mi5 is based at Thames House. While the offices of the Mi6 are located at Vauxhall Cross in London on the banks of the river Thames. Sometimes referred to as SIS the ‘Secret Intelligence Service’
The budget and operations of the Mi6 are understandably cloaked in secrecy. While in comparison, Mi5 is relatively more transparent. In order to fulfil its mandate, Mi5 concentrates its focus on several key areas, terrorism, both domestic and foreign that takes top spot on its list of priorities. This is partly due to the rise of global terrorism as a serious challenge to the security of the United Kingdom and its interests globally. To effectively respond to these threats, the organisation spends a large percentage of its budget on non-domestic counter terrorism. The rest of its budget is shared out almost equally between counter espionage and domestic terrorism. Mi5 also works to counter subversion and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
To put it in layman terms, Mi5 is for domestic intelligence, and Mi6 is for international intelligence. Put crudely, Mi6 are ‘our’ spies while MI5 is there to catch ‘their’ spies. It gets a little more complicated in that Mi6 has its own ‘counter-intelligence’ section.
‘Mi5/Mi6’ were the original designations given when both organisations came under the War Office, now the Ministry of Defence. Although their official names were acquired during the 1930s.
Harry sat back and took a deep breath, after rattling off their history in one go.
Chris was quick to answer Harry “Must be good, if you are telling me so much fine detail, that I’m inclined to believe you.”
Eventually Harry who by this time was looking Chris straight in the eyes told him “You are a person of great interest to us.”
“Oh and why is that” Chris asked.
“We know, and like what you have achieved so far in your life.”
“Therefore, we would like to offer you a position within our organisation, that of Mi6.”
“When do I start?” asked Chris.
“As soon as you sign along the dotted line,” replied Uncle Harry.
Then upon his command a secretary entered the room carrying what looked like some sort of document. She walked over to Chris and placed it on the table in front of him. Then without even reading the small print, or hesitation, he scribbled his signature along the bottom of the document. He then slid it over to Uncle Harry.
Chris then leaned back and took a deep breath, as a broad smile appeared on his face. He placed his hands firmly behind his head and neatly interleaved his fingers feeling good with the deal.
For the first time he made eye contact with the secretary, and to his amazement it was Emily.
OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR
‘Almost Total Recall’ an Autobiography by Terry Aspinall. Who grew up in Stowmarket and the Teddy Boy gangs of Ipswich? Later to serve in the Royal Marines Commandos and saw active service in Borneo. Was involved in Hang Gliding during its early days of development in the UK. Played in several Rock n Roll bands around the world, before immigrating to New Zealand and a few years later to Australia.
‘Correcting History’ the invention of the Modern Hang Glider seems to have been shrouded in mystery and incorrect information for many years. It is only now with the luxury of hindsight, very fast computers, IT media and our constant quest for more and more information, that the story has been slowly unravelled. I’m not sure if it would have been possible fifteen or twenty years ago, as earlier hang gliding historians found out at their cost. As they had published articles and although read by many, nobody seemed to have picked up on what they were saying, or did not care.
‘Royal Marines 350 Years’ is a brief history of the Royal Marines that were formed way back at 11.58 am on Tuesday 28th October 1664 by King Charles II. It describes some of its history up to the present day. Along with its traditions that have moulded Royal Marines into what has always been one of the finest fighting military forces in the world. Those that they fought in battle were so impressed with their courage and skill that their countries formed their own version of the Marines. To copy is the best form of flattery, a way to acknowledge just how great the Royal Marines were respected. Once A Marine Always A Marine.
‘Landguard Fort’ Royal Marines Museum’. Royal Marine museum is within the Landguard Fort complex situated at the southern end of Felixstowe (Suffolk). It is the last place a foreign invading force landed and was defeated on the British main land. It was also the very first battle that the Royal Marines fought on land, having been formed only three years earlier during 1664.
‘The British Hang Gliding History’ is an updated history of how the hang glider was invented in Australia during 1963, and of how it arrived in the UK to be manufactured and flown for the first time during 1972. This book is a shortened version of the successful website of the same name www.british-hang-gliding-history.com there are working hyperlinks to the BHGA early Hang Gliding magazine ‘Wings’ and also the BMAA early Microlight magazine ‘Front Line’.
‘Transfer Music from iPod to Computer’ This is just a short easy to follow free article that I’m sure will help many people to move their music collections from their iPod and iPads to their computers. I do not use legal or illegal software that usually bring loads of other rubbish into your computers. It will only take you a few minutes to learn and a couple of hours to move folders and files around on your computer.
‘An Easy Guide to Self-Publish Your E-book’ this short book will enable you to self-publish your work in E-book format with Shakespir.com. Its valuable information that can get you started on a literary career. It’s short, basic, and very easy to follow. It covers the so-called tricks of the trade and mistakes that I learnt along the way. Explaining to the reader a rough idea of what will or won’t be accepted with their publication.
‘Aldeburgh’ Photo Memories 2014 is a collection of photo’s that were taken during a short holiday stay in the town during September 2014. It’s my way of being able to remember the trip and to also allow my friends and family to enjoy what Aldeburgh has to offer. My wife grew up in Aldeburgh and could not believe the changes that had taken place over the past thirty years. People who keep this E-book record will be able to use it in the future as further changes take place as the town changes and grow.
‘Birkdale Road’ A photo album capturing the different colours that are annually displayed, and enhance the Birkdale Road just east of Brisbane Australia. As with most countries one can usually tell the time of year by the vegetation that nature displays all around us. I get a great sense of pleasure looking at the different colours that enhanced the Birkdale road, and of their constant changes that take place during the different seasons.
‘The Fabulous Spawlszoff Brothers’ a fictitious story, that is based on actual funny events that the author has experienced during his 50 years in the music industry.
‘Johnny Morris and the Convertibles’ is a fictitious story that is based on actual events that the author has experienced during his 50 years in the music industry.
‘Chasing Shadows’ this novel is about Englishman Michael J. Thompson. Who joined the Australian Army so he could serve in Vietnam during 1968. There were only a very few British who got to fight in this theatre of war and Michael was one of them. Michael had his own ideas of jungle training and fighting that he had learnt in other theatres of war. Where they had worked well and saved many lives. He always wanted to help others survive in a hostile environment. Where your next step could kill you if you walked into a bobby trap or ambush. His ideas on cross border patrols where later to be adopted by other western countries. However, his special teams were at their best on information gathering patrols. His golden rule was ‘To see but not be seen, and eat nothing red’.
‘The Kansas Rascal’ Ten years after his wife died, Australian Bradley Newman is living a lonely life. Never being able to accept her death has made it hard for him to find another partner. His love of music and magic has been his saving grace. Accepting that he will never find that special person that could replace her. After his son sets him up with a computer he becomes excited at the prospect of learning a new technology. Then by chance during 1998 while on line he meets a girl from America, and falls in love with her. However, he has not the courage to tell her of his feeling. He secretly flies to America to meet up with her, but walks into a lot of trouble that he did not see coming. Feelings of love can sometimes blind the beholder.
‘The Autumn Reunion’ A fictitious story of a school reunion that tempted James through the painful journey of having to choose one girlfriend above another.
‘The Adventures of Henri and Charlie’ is a very young children’s short story about the authors pet Peach Face Parrot and Canary that escape from their cages and are taken on a wild ride, with no hope of returning to the security of their own cages back home. In this story the birds talk to each other.
‘Matthew Returns’ Matthew has been discharged from the British Army after serving 22 years. He returns to Suffolk and the small countryside town of Stowmarket, in which he grew up. At first he finds it hard to settle back into the life he once knew. Finding it hard to obtain employment with skills he had picked up while serving in the Army. However, a shock awaits him when it comes to finding himself a girlfriend.
‘Unexpected’ John is in a great relationship with his partner until the day she disappears. His friends and the locals turn against him, thinking that he has done something wrong. Luckily he befriends somebody who takes him for who he is. However, he is in for a shock and an ending that he did not expect.
Chris Lawler was born into a military orientated house hold, on the colourful Island of Singapore. where his Officer Father was serving at the time. Which led to a very strict up bring by his Father. Although later Chris was go a little further in recalling that his Father believing he was running the house hold like a military regime. As Chris was certain he thought he was ordering recruits around, when he was ordered to do things. He was forced to join the Army, which turned out to be the start of a complete military way of life. As he went on to join other units, that took him around the world. After a short courtship he was married and started a family. Sadly, there are times when the family spent a lot of time apart, and a major tragedy changed his complete way of life that eventually lead to crime. However, he was later to joined the French Foreign Legion, and travelled to Africa. While later he travelled to Vietnam, Angola. Eventually ending up in the Royal Marines and Northern Ireland.