Authors: A. F. N. Clarke
Tags: #Europe, #Soldiers - Great Britain - Biography, #Northern Ireland - History - 1969-1994, #Northern Ireland, #General, #Clarke; A. F. N, #Great Britain, #Ireland, #Soldiers, #Biography & Autobiography, #Military, #History
"Tony!" A shout from Peter. "What's going on out there?"
"There's a mobile riot touring the area, with the main aim, it seems, to try and block the Shankill and stop all traffic from moving. We managed to break it up but they are circulating in large groups. The main job is to keep them fragmented and stop them getting together in a group too large to handle. They are also trying to trap a patrol so just drive straight through and don't stop until you have them running. Oh, and another thing, don't finish it before we get out again.
With a laugh, Peter is on his way again.
In the Ops. Room everybody is asking questions at once, the noise of the radio adding to the confusion until the O.C. clears the place and some semblance of order returns. After giving my report, it's time to wander zombie-like into the cookhouse and have a brew. Toms are sitting around still high on the fighting.
"Did you see that cunt go down when I swung the Pig door on him?"
"What about that other shit that Jimmy hit with the rubber dick gun, I thought he'd never get up from that."
"They need real bullets. That'll sort the bastards out."
It goes on, young lads, carried away with the "rush" and lightheadedness of the violence
and lack of sleep. Kept high on
the feeling of release from the long days and months of tension.
"O.K. lads, just quieten down a minute, we are going to be out again pretty soon so just get something to eat, sort out your kit and check your rifles because
you may just have to use them.
After a cup of tea, I wander along to the briefing room and flop into a chair, mind a virtual blank after the hours of non-stop concentration on what Paddy is going to do next. The O.C. comes in and quietly sits down.
"Did you hear any machine-gun fire whilst you were out?"
"Well, we just had a call from the Glosters who reported to have heard what sounded like machine-gun fire from the
I think a bit, trying to sort out what the O.C. is saying. It suddenly clicks and I laugh.
"That was no machine-gun, we were firing salvoes o
f baton rounds into the crowds.
"Well for God's sake tell us next time, you had TAC. panicking like schoolgirls. It was as much as I could do to keep them away from the place."
"O.K. Major. Promise."
The door opens and Hookey's face appears.
"Hello, boss. We've just got back in. I've told the lads to get something to eat and get sorted out. Do we know when we're out again?"
I look at the O.C.
"In an hour. We'll see how Peter manages and if things start to get a little warmer, you'll be out sooner."
The O.C. leaves and a smiling Hookey sits down.
"Well boss, the blokes sure did well didn't they? No problem at all, even Tully got carried away and was really letting them have it. We've got a good platoon."
And we both sit grinning at each other like fools.
We are out sooner than expected, with the ri
ots getting worse
as the afternoon draws into evening, the shadows lengthening over the beer barrels, broken bottles, concrete-filled oil drums and whatever else they have managed to lay their hands on. A group of die-hards have got a barrier set up across the Shankill, and have set light to it, the orange glow silhouetting the dancing mass of people busy tearing everything apart.
The C.O. is on the street now and we have been ordered back into static positions. Peter at the Tennant Street junction and me at the Agnes Street junction. The rioters in the middle. Why, I ask, don't we move in and deal with them? Because the orders from 39 Brigade say that we must contain it and let it burn itself out. Hamstrung again, by some clown sitting behind a desk with not an idea of what is happening on the ground.
We stand there, impotently watching the activities in the middle, stretching further into the evening. At last, the crowds thin out, and in a few moments there is nobody around, just the bright glow from the burning barrier. My skin starts to crawl and the hair stands up on the back of my neck and I'm thinking "Christ, the hair really does stand up. "
The C.O. is standing beside me and I scarcely believe his next words: "Tony, take a patrol down and start clearing those barrels out of the middle of the road."
"Did you say clear the barrels, Colonel?" I ask incredulously.
"Don't argue. Do it," says he.
Holy shit! Jesus, you had better be on my side today!
I gather one of my section commanders and three toms and move away from the security of the Pigs into the now deserted open road. Fright is not the
word. Numbness would be nearer,
because I know for certain that there is someone out there with a gun.
Ten yards and we are still in one piece. Twenty yards and the sweat is dripping down the inside of my flak jacket. Twenty-five yards and all hell breaks loose. I don't dive for cover,
my knees just give out as a burst of fire sends bullets ripping across the wall beside us. I look up to see if anyone has
been hit and see toms scrabbling about on the pavement trying to dig in. My section commander has rolled behind a concrete-filled barrel.
"Go, I'll cover you," says he, and when I pass him I get the idiotic notion that he is covering us with a rubber-bullet gun. No, it can't be true. My ears hurt like hell from the crack of close-passing high-velocity rounds, and everything is moving in slow motion.
The Pigs are just ahead and I can see the toms in fire positions and the flash as another round is fired down the street. I can see the anxious face of Hookey yelling fire-control orders and the O.C. ducking round a corner as another burst cracks overhead and around my feet.
Somehow, we make it. Twenty-five yards and it was like twenty-five miles. I stumble behind a Pig, turn and see the other toms bundling into safety. My Cpl. is still behind his barrel and I see to my horror that he really does have a rubber bullet gun. That's like pissing against the wind in this situation.
K. cover Geoff back. Ready, fire."
As the section fires, Geoff leaps to his feet and zigzags back to the Pigs, rounds kicking up the dust on the road beside him and ricocheting off the walls to spin off down the road, embedding themselves in parked cars, doors and other sundry items.
"Where's the fucking C.O.?" I yell at Hookey.
"Gone back to TAC. I should think," he yells back.
The noise of the rifles thunders against the walls echoing back against our ears, bouncing away over the roof-tops. The comforting heavy crash of the S.L.R. the chatter of a Thompson and high-pitched crack of the M.16. Having checked that the lads are O.K., I'm trying to get my pulse-rate down and pull together my brain into some co-ordinated action. Anger helps. Anger at that stupid little man. Perhaps it was just as well he did go back to TAC. because the Prots having failed to terminate my Army career, he would have done after I'd hit him. Cunt, cunt, cunt.
I'm still seething as a whoop comes from one of the toms lying down by the wheel of one of the Pigs.
"I got one of the bastards, I got one."
"Hello 3, this is 33 Lima, one hit over."
"3 Roger out." Cool calm voice of the C.S.M. in stark contrast to my own high-pitched squeal. Peter is also having fun at the other end, so much so that we are getting some of his ricochets.
He, apparently, is also getting some of ours.
The evening is drawing rapidly into night and so making aim difficult, so now the image-intensifying sight comes into its own. However, we onl
y have one, so the toms with S.U.I.
T. sights fitted are going to be the only others capable of being able to see the targets.
I still have not been able to get permission to move in and take the gunmen out. Apparently because the Northern Ireland minister himself has taken over control of the situation. Politics, bloody politics. Jesus, now we have civvies running the Army and dictating tactics. Soldiers' lives being gambled for the sake of bloody politics.
A helicopter is now circling overhead and we have him on our Company radio frequency. He has a huge spotlight and by circling well out of the danger zone can light up the whole area that the gunmen ar
e hiding in. We also have an I.T.
V. camera crew with a reporter from News at Ten: "You can film, so long as you don't show any faces," says
"Fine," says the reporter and we get on with the war.
Lucky he didn't arrive earlier as we nearly shot one of our own who had appeared in a window between us and the gunmen. My sniper was just about to zap him when I not
iced a beret and through the I.W.
S. could make out the badge.
"There's one of ours in that house, for fuck's sake don't shoot," I yell, and get straight on the radio.
"Hello 3, this is 33 Lima, there is some clown hanging out of a window, one of ours, and if he doesn't get out he's going to get shot, over."
"3 Roger, out."
I know that the person concerned has heard because the rifle is hastily withdrawn and about ten minutes later the same voice is on the Battalion radio frequency, sitting in the Ops. Room at TAC. H. Q. Everyone wants to get in on the act. All the fools and idiots who are so bad at basic soldiering techniques that they should never be allowed near an Infantry Battalion. No wonder the blokes have no time for the officers. For sure, if filmed, it could have been a very embarrassing moment.
The battle continues with the pilot of the helicopter telling us where the bodies are being taken, telling us whether or not we have any hits after an exchange of gunfire.
Suddenly a shout from all the platoon and before we know what has happened, they are all firing like crazy, a great cacophony of sound with Hookey and I screaming at them to stop. Which they eventually do. A gunman had leapt into the street and started blazing away like some cowboy out of the movies and was chopped down by God knows how many rounds. Sure as hell there ain't going to be much left to pick up.
A car appears from a side street, lurches, engine screaming, across the road, picks up the dead or wounded man and, tyres squealing, vanishes out of the pool of light away amongst the houses, the toms firing all the while.
"How is the ammunition, Hookey?" I yell.
"Getting down, we are into our last box."
Our last box of buckshee ammo. that is. The stuff we managed to acquire from the previous Battalion, about 400 rounds in all, plus the 10 rounds per man that is issued at the beginning of the tour.
I'm standing alongside Hookey, behind the Pigs trying to figure out the current rate of fire when a burst of Thompson comes from behind us making long scars in the road between and on either side of us. The
C. has taken a sideways dive to the pavement and everyone else is looking at us, who have just grasped what's going on and t
urn to see Smith firing towards
the street that
houses one of the biggest U.D.
A. clubs in the area.
"Did you get him?"
"I think so, boss, but it's quite hard to see."
"Just keep our backs covered, for Christ's sake, it's what you're here for."
Hookey tells Geof
to go and join Smith on the street corner and as he moves, a trail of bullets follow him across the road. Hookey and I are still standing where we were when the last burst came and are by now a little punch-drunk with the noise and the heady charge that comes from announcing another hit on the radio.
Jones, the best shot who is taking out the most gunmen, shouts and rolls over. My heart stops for a second, but he's O.K. The round hit the road just in front of him, throwing chunks of tarmac into his eyes and bouncing off his flash hider. Lucky lad, but he'd better move because the sniper has his position now and next time will be it.
The gunfire is becoming sporadic now as the gunmen begin to get the message and during one of the lulls, a woman comes walking calmly as you like up to the Pigs from the direction of the city.
"Don't go down the Shankill, love, or you will be likely to get shot."
"Fuck off youse bastard, nobo
dy ever shoots on the Shankill.
With that, she waltzes off past the Pigs and down the road. A hail of bullets stops her dead in her tracks. She freezes, unable to move as the rounds ping around her, and then suddenly she snaps, turns and runs screaming back to the Pigs.
"What did we tell you, stupid cow."
"Christ, you fucking Irish, never listen to a word do you."
The words go straight over her head as she screams in terror with Hookey eventually slapping her to bring her to her senses again. We send her on her way, physically none the worse for her ordeal but perhaps a little wiser.
s are longer now and seems that
there is perhaps only one gunman left to keep us occupied whilst the others get away. I have been asking Coy H.Q. constantly for permission to move in but keep getting the same reply. Stay where you are and only move when we tell you. The whole thing is so frustrating. If we go in now, we can get those that are still alive, the bodies and the weapons, why wait? The pilot of the helicopter has pinpointed the houses that the injured have been taken into and so far we reckon to have zapped about five, but unless we get down there we cannot confirm them and so the whole thing has been a total waste of time. With no confirmation of kills, as in every war, the enemy will deny that they have taken any casualties. It all comes down to political expediency in the end, no confirmed kills and the Prots. can continue to be one up on the Catholics. "We may have our little incidents but the Army are really on our side. See, no casualties." As if the whole thing didn't happen.