In the cool of the night,

Posted: September 4, 2012 in Army, common sense, firearms, Northern Ireland
Tags: , , ,

It is 01:12, it is a pleasantly cool night here in the Pen. We have had just under a call a minute to our control. None for me though. I sit and type this drivel, and wonder whether I am more Poitier or Steiger.

Strange the things that occupy one when all that can be heard is the hum of the PC tower fan and the babble of the radio.

I watched an interesting, for me, documentary about the bomb disposal operatives from Northern Ireland in the 1970’s on the BBC, The Long Walk. I have watched those brave men (sorry there were no female operatives in my day) start the long walk toward possible obliteration. It was interesting for me as it centred around three operatives returning to the province. Each had particular stories to tell. None, so far as I recall, we’re known to me, but the type was thoroughly familiar. Brave quiet souls with a wish for a better deal for the people. A sense of humour that defies the odds, finding humour in black situations.

At the end of the piece, one of the men voiced what I am sure many old soldiers feel, that the Province is now peaceful and a hope, belief, that it may remain that way. The good people of Ulster deserve more than the ever present danger of the early 70’s. More than the fear of either Unionist or Republican or indeed Cromwells Huns.

I am saddened when I read, therefore, that the PSNI have deployed baton rounds at Carlisle Circus in North Belfast. I remember walking the streets of that troubled city, a baton gun slung on my back and a more lethal weapon in my hands. The sadness of a city battered and broken, infrastructure creaking under the pressure of attack and lack of real investment. People afraid to be seen talking to me and others happy to be seen spitting venom towards any kind of uniform.

It seems the Loyalists are revolting again. Petrol bombs, bricks stones and fireworks deployed by the mindless thugs against men and women whose sole desire is to see their city thrive and grow strong. Even in the darkest days of the 1970’s there was strong evidence that the ‘ordinary’ citizen was anything but ‘ordinary’. Mothers and children living day by day trying to live like human beings. Men struggling to work, to keep businesses alive against the tide of sectarianism.

The uniforms may be different, better designed to bear the brunt of a crowd’s rage than my open faced olive drab motorcycle helmet with holes drilled in to accept the hinge for a huge face guard. But the bodies of the officers are the same. Flesh and blood, tired but willing.

I expect that in 5 or 10 years time the current leaders of the extremists will be legitimised, as former PIRA commanders have been. They will pay lip service to the democracy so bitterly opposed. They will decry the very acts of savagery perpetrated in exactly the same manner they themselves employed and shed crocodile tears for the victims of senseless violence and indiscriminate killing. At the very same time that those ‘leaders’ are being so assimilated there will be another creature, pulling itself imperfectly formed from a bog or morass, clutching a weapon in one hand and a manifesto in the other to excuse the violence about to be visited upon the citizens for the benefit of the citizens.

Back in the Vietnam era someone voiced the phrase, fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity. As true then as it is now, why can we never learn?

  1. That’s a quaint saying, not one I’ve heard before. Very thoughtful in the middle of the night while most of us have been snoring away for hours. Do hope the Pen appreciates your philosophical ventures for our benefit.

    Did you decide who you were? If either? Ages since I’ve seen that.

    • I don’t like the idea of being Steiger although he does have some redeeming characteristics (or at least the sheriff played by him) I think on the whole I would rather be the uber cool Poitier

  2. Vicky says:

    A very poignant post, which immediately made me think of this Harvey Andrew song

    • I don’t believe it, someone knows who Harvey is. In 1977 I was sitting in my base, GCH in Belfast waiting to listen to Harv, just before he came on we got a call and had to go do something grim. It was not until 1991 I think that I saw him live. Did you know he headlined when Paul Simon was a support act back in the day?

      He does write exceedingly good songs.

      • Vicky says:

        I’ve never seen him live, though he was playing at The Swan Theatre in Worcester, a few years ago and I missed the opportunity 😦
        I’ve got his Writer of Songs album, which is how I knew of the above song, which I understand is based on fact.

      • Yes although not a soldier, it was actually a Royal Marine. That album has several cracking songs, Hey Sandy being one such.

      • Vicky says:

        Yes I agree.
        He is an excellent song writer, his words flow and they have such depth to them too.
        I’ve just found his website and notice he’s playing in Bromsgrove (eight miles away) next week, and I won’t be here aaaarrrggghh!!! 😦

      • I was completely wrong Sgt Willetts 3Para, found this should you feel the need to look

      • Vicky says:

        Thank you so much for the link, I’d always understood it was based on truth.
        It makes the song even more poignant to listen to now though 😦
        Such a total waste of life……….and still it goes on 😦

  3. I agree, we all know the possibilities when we sign on the line, but the reality of it is, in fact, incomprehensible. I thought I was prepared for anything that may happen, but found ultimately that I wasn’t and don’t believe anyone truly can be. However, there is / was an acceptance that was vital to being able to the job. Without the complete acceptance, almost a zen thing, those who serve could not keep going when every fibre of your being says stay here it’s safe, cower in this corner where you can’t be seen.

    Live life fully today,
    Tomorrow may be fraught
    Your mates all round,
    Your safety net
    There to watch your back

    The shilling paid
    Youve sold yourself
    Your body no longer yours
    Put in harms way
    That others may be, not

    • Vicky says:

      Are those your words, or words, that being in the forces, you live by?
      Whichever, it echos the total unselfish devotion that oozes out of the pores of every serviceman/woman.

      • Well, they are my words, they are what I lived by at the time and what I live by now. The pen is not so dangerous but there are times when pigs do things that others wouldn’t. The prime concern of most officers being the well being of their public.

        In a way, the creed can be associated with kismet in my view. Don’t worry about the possible consequences of your actions, if it is your time there is nothing you can do about it. I was lucky never badly hurt but these ideas were with me.

        Of course there are as many philosophy’s as servicemen I suspect.

      • Vicky says:

        I have always believed in fate and when my number’s called etc. but to take that outlook on life, when you knowingly put yourself in a dangerous situation for the protection of strangers, now that takes it to a totally different level of unselfishness.

      • Strange, I have always considered myself quite selfish, I was just doing what I wanted. Of course I can’t speak for the others.

        I think all public servants are special people doing their bit to make society better, except maybe politicians, high flying civil servants, …

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