Plasticuffs are more painful than handcuffs – July 1991

I remember. It was on a wet morning in May 1991. We’d been dropped off by Lynx. There’d been 3 helicopters in total and we’d landed in a field that had been populated by cows. The cows scattered as we swooped in. My stomach churned from the breakfast, it threatened to make its way to my throat where I’d have no alternative but to spew. The door gunner, one hand braced on the inside, leaned out and surveyed the approaching ground. I felt the thud, and the gunner had no need to signal us as we were scrambling off the trembling machine. Flat bed mounted anti aircraft machine guns had taken down helicopters in the 1980s and we didn’t want to wait around. There was still one machine gun left in Ulster by all accounts; the other two had been found.img_1601
+++++The grass was ankle deep here and I made my way to the hedge line. Wet already, my boot had gone in a deep patch. Fucking brilliant. If my memory serves me well, ‘Sloth’ was in the team and he waved me on. We were in a diamond formation as we traversed the field. Sheets of drizzle could be seen in the distance heading our way. It seemed like there were queues of rain by the differing latticed shades of grey. Then it was on us, that cloying, misty rain that seemed to dance on to you.
+++++The hedges here gave us more hassle than the IRA. The first hurdle was a ditch, you went down in to it and climbed up the other side, but you had to get over the fence. The fence was generally barbed wire and this wasn’t the most stable of fences. Our clothing had been reinforced with crotch and elbow patches to reduce the wear on them. Sometimes, you’d hear a crack and a scream as a soldier fell back, comically, to the muddy ground as the fence gave way.
+++++I’ve had my fair share of moments on fences. There was a thing called a ‘speed wobble’. It’s when you were balanced on the fence, one foot on the barbed wire and it began to shake. The trick was to do it quickly, vault the fucker and land with two feet on the other side, but that’s easier said than done, when you’ve got all that shite on your back.
+++++I approached one fence. It was beyond a small brook. It was barbed wire that looked like I could simply hook one leg over and climb over it that way – nothing too high. With my LSW (Light Support Weapon) in one hand I grasped the barbed wire with my free one. A spasm shook my body. I had no control of it. My hand jerked back and my LSW went flying in to the stream. I fell backwards and lay on my back. I could just make out people laughing in the background.
+++++“It’s that an electric fence?” Someone asked, an obvious question to the uproar of the rest.
+++++“That was my Michael Jackson impression!” I shouted and picked up my LSW.
+++++Barbed wire fences weren’t normally electrified. I assumed that some farmer had rigged it up and decided to give us a shock. Twat. A lot of the time, electric fences were low, orange wires that ran across the field. If I had the GPMG I’d use the stock to pin the wire down or I’d roll under them. The problem with rolling under the fences was that if you were carrying a radio, it was the antenna that would catch it and you’d be in a world of trouble then.
+++++We were coming up to our primary objective now. From what I took in (which wasn’t a lot back then), we were to apprehend two people from a household. We were to liaise with the RUC who’d show up and we’d arrest the people.
+++++The sun was trying to break through the cloud shield that seemed to cover this country permanently. My team was to go in with the RUC. They turned up on time. An armoured, dark grey, Land Rover and a Ford Sierra arrived. Out came 9 RUC men, all tooled up, gloves, body armour the fucking lot: riot gear by the look of it. Looks like they were expecting trouble.
+++++We were on the periphery of a small village and I remember seeing an elderly gentleman standing at his gate. He was grinning at me. A toothless smile. I smiled back and nodded and he nodded back to me. The RUC strode in to the yard behind me. I was crouched by the brick wall of the house we were going in to. I should have really been behind some hard cover, but back then, my mind wasn’t as mature or sharp as the rest of the guys. I was in a dream world for most of it.
+++++Shouts and curses erupted, a rude intrusion to this quaint, solitary village. I felt like an intruder. A woman opened her door across the road and looked at us, our military team of men and the screams. I could hear a woman screaming.img_1599
+++++Fuck! What the hell? I remember getting up and walking in to the front yard then to the back yard. The sun had finally broken through and beat a wave of heat on my uncovered cheek. I could see RUC men negotiating with a woman, she was still in her nightgown. A man was being beaten with the butt of an SLR, the RUC man’s rifle. He was using it like a baseball bat and was whacking the downed man’s legs. Sloth, with his Antler on, sat on another man. He must have weighed a ton. No way that bloke was getting up from under Sloth. (Sloth wasn’t like that when I last met him by chance in 2008, he’d lost all that weight).
+++++“Get back in the fucking house yer fuckin’ taig cunt!” One RUC man shouted to the women as he held her back. She was going for his fucking eyes! Give her, her due, she was relentless.
+++++Taig cunt? I walked back as the men were being plasticuffed with black plastic ties. The back doors of the RUC truck were opened as two men were dragged to it and manhandled in. Then, as quickly as they’d come, they’d gone. Ford Sierra and Land Rover, gone and we were left to our own devices with a lone RUC man to deal with a hysterical woman.
+++++“You think you’re so fucking hard do you? With that gun? Coming here and taking him away?” She turned from us and headed back in. Every word stuck in me… You think you’re so fucking hard? I could feel the weight of pairs of accusatory eyes. This would be a small thing compared to what I was to face in 3 years time in Belfast.
+++++The old man was still staring at me. Not smiling any more. I shook my head and looked down as we made our way out of the village. I’m not sure if I felt shame, but I remember not liking the way those two guys were treated. In the same breath, retrospectively looking back, I wasn’t fully aware of what those men had done, so it was probably well deserved. To call the woman a Taig cunt though? Something didn’t bode well with me on that day.