There were three remote outposts we would occupy at 9 days at a time. They were the Romeo Towers and would command a perfect view, a wide arc of ground covering various travel routes to and from the Border to Belfast. The first time I went up there we were airlifted by Wessex. The Sieve Gullion bore its great hulk against a storm. White pitches of lightning could be seen in the distant, a roil of darkness rolling in westwards from the Lancashire coastline. We were to get off, take the food we’d brought, all fresh food, yoghurts and fruit as well. Our logistics was governed by 45 Cdo RM and they weren’t stingy when it came to dishing out the food. I particularly liked the yoghurts.
We were to get off quickly and then the oncoming troops would bypass us and we’d be left to the CONCO – COntinuation Non-Commissioned Officer. That was some fucking skive up here. When the Wessex lifted off, we were gathering the boxes up, shouldering our rucksacks and loping off to the Bombardier who casually flicked his cigarette away and shook Rossy’s hand. We were shown our digs and around the place. Chicken wire was nailed to the wooden walkways, without the chicken wire we’d be slipping all over like muppets. There were a number of pre-fabricated blocks put together and linked by pipes for plumbing, electricity and a telephone system.
The observation building overlooked Camlough which was about 4 miles away, but you could still see with perfect clarity if it didn’t rain. The scopes came in various shapes. We had a silver swift scope which was easy to use, this was most used. There was a huge telescope that was missing a camera to be screwed on to the back of it. It looked like it required 2 people to lift it. There was a video camera and I decided to tinker with this – I was on night shift and we had fuck all else better to do. I managed to get it linked up to one of the screens. It looked like it hadn’t been used in weeks and the easiest option was being used, the silver swift scope. You’d get a car in the distance and if you could get the VRN (Vehicle Registration Number) you could get a plate read from Bessbrook. It’s no secret nowadays I’m sure. Camlough was a good 4 miles out and I trained the large telescopes on a car which was parked near the Post Office.
That was the post office, rumour had it, that many an IRA recruit would sear the oath and given a copy of the ‘green book’. One would imagine a midnight ceremony in a basement beneath that post office, the tri-colour flag and a high ranking IRA member giving the would be adventurers the speech and what the commitment entailed. I’m sure as hell it probably never happened like that.
“Stay still please, I’ve got a car outside the post office at Camlough.” If you moved in OP block the scope would shake and the image would blur.
“Fuck off! You’re going to get a plate check on that!? No chance.” That was Taff, the Bombardier who was on night shift at the time. We did 12 hour shifts, the full screw (Bombardier) would be in the OP block for the duration and then there were the three sangars to man. There were other sangars, but they weren’t manned as it was bloody freezing and they were just places to set off the Claymore mines if we needed to.
“Alright, Taff. If I get this right, I’ll get the brews on.”
He laughed, “You’ll get the brews on anyway.”
“Hello Zero, this is Romeo One Three, Plate Check – Lima India Alpha Two Four Six Six, over.”
Taff grinned and shook his head.
“Zero, White Ford Cortina, Hatchback, Over.”
It was a fucking white Ford Cortina. To the untrained and unassisted eye, it was a whip blip in the grey of the buildings that formed Camlough.
“Coffee?” I said.
“R. H. I. P. Nig.” He said and I went off to make the brews.
R.H.I.P. is the acronym for Rank Has It’s Privilege. Nig, has no racist connotations, it could mean either – New Intake Gunner or New In Germany.
We had a kettle in the OP block as the kitchen was a good 40 metres from here and you had to go outside for that. It was blowing a gale and freezing.
“Hello Romeo One Three,” you could tell this was a helicopter by the sound of the engine over the radio. Plus we could hear the rotor blades somewhere in the distance. “this is Lynx Seven, be at your location soon, over.” Lynx Seven. That pilot was a nut job.
“Romeo One Three, Send ETA. Over.”
“Five seconds over.”
“Roger out.” Taff replied as I pulled apart the bullet proof windows and stuck my head out. I had to clamber up on to the laid out, map of south Armagh to get there. This black mass thrashed over my head, I could feel a warm updraft of air.
“Come on!” Taff was already out the door and making his way to the HLS (Helicopter Landing Site) by the time I got out, leaving the radio unattended. A bit like leaving the chips on the pan unattended. It was something you didn’t do, but we had a helicopter landing uninvited.
The crew dropped off a bag of milk, some coffee and a box of tea bags, then fucked off to Sugar Loaf mountain (Romeo One One and One Two). We didn’t need coffee or tea bags, we had plenty of them. We just shrugged our shoulders and lugged the brew kit to the kitchen.
There was one time we were rolling out the razor wire to improve the already shambling barbed wire defences. The purple heather had overgrown most of the rusted barbed wire we’d rolled out. It seemed like a miracle that nobody had tried to take on a Romeo Tower. The northern section of the perimeter was covered by the sangar up on the high point overlooking where the ground gave way and opened up to the lake beyond. We had a General Purpose Machine Gun up there and it could put down a heavy weight of fire on anybody trying it on.
Razor wire was much more nasty than barbed wire and I often wondered what would have happened if we’d used this stuff in World War One. It would have ripped people apart. The barbs on them were literally razors. We were handling this stuff already in their cardboard boxes, they were a 2 man lift. We were to wear gloves designed to protect your hands, they were lined with metal in the gloves – they did the trick though. What wasn’t protected was the rest of our bodies and I got jabbed by a fence as we were uncoiling it. I thought nothing of it, but wondered what that warm feeling was going down my leg. Initially I thought I’d pissed myself. I lifted up my combat trouser leg to see a steady stream of bright red blood pissing down into my boot.
“Hey lads. I think I’ve cut myself.”
Craig looked down at my leg, “Rossy! Dougy’s bleeding.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Rossy turned to Dinger. Dinger checked me over and told me to put my hand over the 2 inch cut in my knee.
“We’re gonna have to casevac him. He needs stitches,” Dinger said. As the team medic it was his job to advise the commander.
A Gazelle came to the rescue within 40 minutes. It landed and I got in to the back of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t stretch my leg out and had to bend it, opening the wound. The seat at the back was tight. It wasn’t designed to be people carrier, but had room for a small one behind the pilot. I got to wear the headset thought, which was pretty cool for an eighteen year old.
I was kept on light duties for a week and had the stitches removed. By that time I was due to be moved from Rossy’s team and in to Bill’s. I’d also heard that whilst on Romeo One Three, Jiggy Jowers (RIP) had set his arm on fire and ran down the mountain side with it ablaze, much to the laughter of the guys. There wasn’t much damage, apart from his combat jacket, a few singed hairs, and he was the brunt of jokes for a few weeks after.
Jiggy would lose his life 15 years later. He was one of the best guys going and I never had a bad word to say about him; Rest In Peace.