I’m not done with the Romeo Towers as they were great places of reflection. I remember the back Sangar at Romeo 13. It was nightmare getting up there. You’ve got to remember it’s January, we’re on a mountain and it’s Northern Ireland. That’s guaranteed rain and snow. The route up to the far Sangar was made up of locked together planks of wood, which in turn, were covered in chicken wire. It was the chicken wire that stopped many of us going arse over tit, up there. We were under a few inches of snow when I first went up Slieve Gullion. The wind would blast across the mountain and push you and you’d fight to keep upright as you walked up. On the way up you’d pass a communications installation. It was here that the Royal Signals / Intelligence Corps would come up and spend some time up there. We didn’t ask any questions and for all we knew they were performing satanistic ritualistic murders or fucking sheep.
Seldom we’d have a patrol come up and we’d have to remind the incoming patrol of all the trip flares and which way to walk in. Troops ladened by kilograms of gear, gingerly negotiating the barbed wire and traps we’d laid out for the IRA were faced with numerous challenges at 3 in the morning when it was pissing down and they’d just climbed the mountain. We’d get them in, gear off for a bit, brew on, and wait for the helicopters to pick them up. On one occasion a helicopter flight had been cancelled by the Battery Captain. It was 11 at night and that meant a 4 hour walk back to Bessbrook. The guys weren’t too happy with that prospect. In fact they were fucking livid. Getting back at half 3 in the morning, drenched from sweat and rain, river crossings and barbed wire fences, the lads were all ready to wring the neck of the Battery Captain. One of the lads banged on the Battery Captain’s door. Tinker Taylor was a stocky lad whom you didn’t mess about with. Captain Mason opened the door and shut it immediately when he saw what was on the other side; Gunner Taylor, remnants of camouflage cream like mascara on his cheeks, helmet strap off, weapon in one hand and his bergen on one shoulder. It must have been the look in his eye that the BK (Battery Captain) saw and knew he was in danger. The anger had bridged barriers.
The Sangar in the mountain was in some way a retreat for us, it was a two, three, four hour retreat where we could listen to music, write blueys home and wank ourselves into oblivion. We’d get up there and close the door. There were items to check, such as the GPMG, ammunition, smoke grenades, mini flares, flare gun, batteries for the ECM Violet Joker, CWS (Common Weapon Sight) (Night Viewing Sight), the VHF PRC 321 Radio which was communications to the main Ops room Romeo 13. This call sign was Romeo 13 Bravo.
I’d be listening to Terence Trent Derby, Seal, Enigma and Kate Bush cassettes on my walkman whilst writing blueys to a prospective love. One I was trying to get back to was from Horden, but the only way I could get her address was by writing to my College Form Tutor who we shared a class with. He thought I was in the Gulf fighting the Iraqis and must have broke protocol by providing me with her address. He thought my time on this planet was limited, he spoke of how tough it must be coming under enemy fire and hoped I would last the war. The daft fucker even put ‘Ensign’ before my name out of respect. I wrote to Marie and we traded letters, but I ended up being Dear John’d after the fourth letter. I think she wrote one letter to my 10. Every time I was on stag I’d write a letter to her, it must have looked like I was stalking her. I’d also send off applications to hair restoring firms or body shaping companies on behalf of some of the guys in the Battery.
The walk back to the Ops room was at times pretty treacherous and we’d be windswept by the time we got back.
It must have been an unhealthy existence being up on the Romeo Towers as a CONCO. All we ever did was read old newspapers, smoke cigarettes, drink tea, wank, and sleep. I drank that much tea once, I fell asleep and dreamt I was going to the toilet. When I woke I realised I pissed myself. I took my lightweights off and hung them on the radiator. I left them for a few hours. When I returned to the laundry room there was an acrid smell and a haze of smoke that layered at head height. I made it to where the radiator was and remove my lightweights – there was a burnt hole from the radiator. I was lucky it hadn’t caught fire.