We stood statue-like on the parade square that cold December morning whilst our commanding officer briefed us on the forthcoming task. Everyone had been in high spirits until this moment. It was twenty four hours until our Christmas leave commenced. However, we weren't going on any Christmas leave. Instead, we were going to Somewhere near the Borders as I heard an authoritative voice explaining where Lockerbie was.
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.