Tuesday, 11 May 2010
The Commanding Officer finished his long and detailed briefing. Like pre-programmed robots we turned to our right in our rank and file and marched onto the buses which were taking us to the macabre scene that awaited.
On the journey south, everyone was silent, deep in their own thoughts of the sights that lay ahead. Approaching Lockerbie, I gazed out of the window of the bus and was confronted with twenty or so small flags stuck in the ground looking like a golf course squashed onto a football field. Ironically, this field was right next to the golf course. I was soon to discover that the flags marked the positions of victims. Victims who like me had probably been looking forward to seeing their family and friends at Christmas.
Leaving the bus we were ordered to Pair off and grab a handful of body bags. In groups of twelve, armed with our over sized bin liners and makeshift stretchers we hesitantly approached the unknown.
Our area of responsibility was to be the small golf course I had observed earlier!
The first thing I noticed was the hole. A hole so large, it would have taken any man, an hour to dig. The hole, not a result of any mans hard toil but a crater formed in a split second by an innocent woman, who had plummeted seven miles from an airplane, the object of a terrorist attack.
The murdered woman lay on her side about five feet from the hole. Partially naked, like all the others, the force of the wind having torn their clothes from them, but these victims were never going to be embarrassed.
The feelings in me were not of sadness but of hate, anger and confusion.
Nudging me from my thoughts, my partner gestured me to get on with the gruesome task at hand.
I laid out the body bag as we prepared ourselves to lift the corpse into it. I took hold of her legs which were as cold as that first touch of snow in winter.
We lifted the lifeless figure and placed it into the bag. We then put the bag and its contents onto the stretcher and like lugubrious characters we carried her through the maze of bodies and bunkers to the collection point.
There the helicopter would descend to extract the lifeless souls who would never know of the devastation surrounding them.
We laboured all day telling silly jokes like children in a playground. This was the only way to momentarily block out the realities of the situation around us.
As night fell and the mound of bodies continued to grow, the order came that we were to pile the bodies into an ambulance. Although disrespectful, disorganized and undignified this allowed us and the helpless bodies to escape this pitiful scene.
Our refuge that terrible night was the local primary school. Here some women volunteers had mad meals for the mass of strangers who had descended upon this unknown town with its unwanted tragedy.
We all had our own stories to tell, none worse than the other but all just as gruesome and sad.
I did not find it hard to sleep that night as exhaustion overcame any emotional pain that I felt. As the darkness fell over me like a light being switched off I was glad that this day had come to an end.
I awoke the next morning momentarily forgetting what I had been a part of and would always be a part of. With our task completed we once again boarded the buses and commenced the journey back Edinburgh.
We left Lockerbie that day with different thoughts in our minds. From the oldest to the youngest we had all been affected and knew Christmas wouldn't be quite the same that year.
This article was written by Alan Parker from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, it sums up how we all felt doing that awful task.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passsion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long--
So why in--Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
Monday, 22 December 2008
I had been absent from my local pub for a couple of weeks as I had what I thought to be a chest infection which wouldn’t go away. I thought a couple of weeks wrapped up warm and taking it easy would do the job.
Feeling a little bit better, although, not as strong as I would like, I headed off for a lunchtime session to make up for lost ground.
The first thing the barman said was “Fcuck mate you don’t look too healthy”
“Cheers I thought, I love you too”
“Honestly” he said “have you lost weight?”
Even then I didn’t think too much about it and proceeded to get tore about my pint.
As the days slowly passed I went to the Doctors as the infection had not shifted and was given the bog standard course of anti-biotics, which seemed to clear it a little bit.
For the next year it was one chest infection after another and more anti-biotics. During this time I was losing weight going from my “fighting weight” of a mere 11 and a half stone down to eight stones.
I was having severe night sweats resulting in at least 2 bedding changes per night. And I had no appetite at all.
Still the Doctor diagnosed chest infection.
By this time I was in agonizing pain ( a pain like I had never felt before, if you’ve ever had broken ribs or pleurisy you will know that stabbing pain, this was 10 times worse.) and beginning to cough blood.
I had no option but to change doctor’s surgery as I was getting nowhere fast with the one I had.
My new doctor (a Scotsman) took one look at me and told me to get down to the Manchester Royal Infirmary at once and even offered to drive me there himself.
Off I went to chest x-ray and went home to wait on the findings.
Not too long afterwards I received a call from the Doctor asking me to go and see him.
He sat me down and he said “I’m afraid your x-rays are suggestive of Lung Cancer”
I expected that if I ever heard that statement it would hit me like a sledgehammer.
I could only say “Well that’s it then” and offer a smile.
He said “its only suggestive, nothing is written in stone”
He told me that he had already booked me in to see a consultant in Cardio Thoracic the following day.
I left the surgery and did what any former Scottish soldier would do. I went to the nearest off licence and bought a bottle of Famous Grouse and eight tins of beer.
It certainly helped.
The next day I donned my lucky Hearts top and off I went to see the “Big Doctor” as they would say in Belfast.
He was stood there mulling over my chest x-rays muttering away and said to me “You don’t have lung cancer”
You would have expected me to be overcome with relief but I wasn’t.
“What is it then” I said
“Tuberculosis” he replied. “But don’t think your out of the woods, this is a killer disease and judging by this x-ray you’ve had it well over a year.”
I said “I’ve had my BCG injection, I should be immune”
“Afraid not” he said “unfortunately it only gives 70% protection”
I thought for a moment and asked “how did I get it?, I thought it had been eradicated in the UK”
He said "we had it under control for a while, unfortunately there are people coming into this country and not being screened properly,”
“Well there’s a slap in the face’ I thought, after having served in the Army in several TB hotspots I had to go to Manchester to catch it.
For the next six months I went through a course of chemotherapy albeit in the tablet form, I was also on steroids to build my body up again.
It was a case of 20 tablets to be taken before breakfast without fail. If I had missed a few the TB may well have turned into Multi Drug resistant, which doesn’t bear thinking about, having to lie waiting to choke in your own blood.
Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculosis are:-
- cough, lasting three weeks or more - with or without sputum (phlegm)
- coughing up blood
- fevers or night sweats
- loss of weight
- chest pain
- loss of appetite
- enlarged glands (usually in the neck)
Having also served as a soldier in West Belfast I hope you can indulge my little story on this thread.
On my arrival in NI on that cold winters morning in a transit van with all my belongings plus a wife and three children was totally surreal. Whereas previously I had been surrounded by mates armed to the teeth, here I was, a civvy, a nobody totally bewildered and defenceless.
The view that hit me driving into Belfast as the sun was coming up, was one of a sleepy slumbering peaceful giant, Harland and Wolff to my left and the rolling hills to my right, although I knew of the tragic secrets this wee town held.
Arriving on the Shankill I was greeted by the wifes' whole family (it seemed like the whole road had turned out) and immediately whisked away for an Ulster fry. I was aware of the murals that I had seen on the 1983-85 tour but only really noticed the detail for the first time.
It took me 4 months of living with the in-laws before we found a council maisonette in the Glencairn Estate and a further 16 months to find a job.
The people I met in the City Centre where amongst the friendliest, both Catholic and Protestant, and I enjoyed many a pint of Guinness with both. It was amazing then, that at 1800hrs the bars emptied and everyone went home to their respective areas to continue drinking in their own pubs.
The City Centre became a ghost town except for the odd fella going to work security nightshift somewhere.
The troubles were still going on although not to the same previous extent and in the main, shootings were confined to kneecappings on teenage anti social behaviour. The paramilitaries were policing their own patch. At the same time turf wars were starting to intensify over drugs and extortion.
This was a society going to the brink of anarchy yet again.
Then one awful Saturday on the 23rd October 1993 while my Brother in- law and myself were having a few sherries on the Shankill Road and the wives were shopping an almighty thud and tremor hit us in the pub.
On running outside through the dust and debris we saw that the fish shop three doors up had been totally demolished. Everything was deafeningly quiet for what seemed like an eternity until what had happened had sunk in.
With no thought for our own safety the two us charged into the rubble along with the rest of the assembled male crowd and started to tear frantically at the loose brick and woodwork.
The rest you have probably seen on television.
For a few hours we toiled until we could no longer feel our fingers which were torn and bloodied, but a small price to pay for what had happened.
Our thoughts returned to our wives whom we had lost track of.
Eventually we found them and realized that only minutes before the blast they had been in the fish shop.
Once the emergency services had secured the scene we made our way home and said our goodbyes until later.
On going into the house I ran to the toilet and threw up everything I had eaten for the past 10 years.
I knew I wanted to talk about it but as had been ingrained in all our skulls Big boys don't cry.
The same questions hit me then, that had hit me at Lockerbie.
What had these innocent people done to deserve this ?
What was the mindset of the people who had not just planned this, but carried it out?
What did it achieve?
How could a way be found to stop this madness?
It didn't take long for the Loyalist Paramilitaries to attempt to answer my questions as nineteen people were killed by the U.V.F and the U.F.F in the next two months, mostly at random.
Of course in 1985 Margaret Thatcher brokered the Anglo-Irish agreement (although talks had been going on for some years) it appeared to me that this was certainly no agreement.
The kids were being shot by their own, kids were glue sniffing, the kids were joy riding and kids were committing suicide at an alarming rate in fact it was the kids, the future generation of that wee island that were bearing the brunt of the â€œright and just struggle that both sets of paramilitaries would have you believe they were carrying out.
Above is just an extract and a few paragraphs from the book I am writing entitled "The adventures of a nobody"(it goes into a lot more detail)