The vast brickwork once held hundreds of workers here back in the heyday of british industry. Festooned on its castle like roof were an array of antennae and I could make out in the mist a sangar look out. No doubt I’d be spending a numrber of hours in there.
We passed a load of guys who sniped the odd comment at us. One they had that we didn’t have, and that was grins. They began to run and mounted the back of the Chinook we’d just walked off. We were their relief and they were more than happy to see us.
The tarmacced road to the Mill took us past a Lynx, a Wessex and behind us I could hear the rotor blades of an incoming Helicopter. The Mill would get nicknamed ‘The Battlestar Galactica’ by the pilots who flew in regularly. The lynx didn’t look large enough to carry a section, but it was more than capable of doing that.
At the top of the bank we reached Derrymore Road and into the Mill itself. The large iron gates were opened up for our group. Inside were garages, a gym, a cookhouse to the left and other places we wouldn’t normally walk in to – there were areas near the carpet sangar that were untouched.
The rooms we were given were tiny. A brick was assigned a room. Each room had a bunkbed and we’d form a routine in these tiny four walls.
I’d best cover this first, in that I was the Team Commander’s nightmare. To put it bluntly I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on and was as much a danger to myself as I was to the rest of the team. In my defence I was young, 18 and naive, immature and had a lot to learn. In that tour alone I went through 3 teams. The first team was led by a guy called Rossy, the other team members were Cuz and Dinga. Rossy was a guy whose temper frayed whenever I went out on patrol with them. I can see how this affected him – it must have been traumatic. Cuz was a no shit, sort of guy and wouldn’t hesitate to give you a dig (punch) if you needed it (which I did on many occasions). Dinga was tall, and quiet – I thought he was a decent bloke. I thought they all were, after all we were just trying to get through the tour without any injuries.
I remember we had to do an overview on a Video Hire shop. We had to go slightly covert on the patrol. Something was going down and we were to be prepared for anything. I decided to write a final letter home. I put the letter in my chest webbing.
The chest webbing was an additional item of clothing we were told would be beneficial to have. It wasn’t bought for us, but we were told to get them anyhow. I’m sure somebody was making a killing out of this. The chest rig had about six pouches with a large map case. The two outer pouches were large enough to put a water bottle in there or a first field dressing or two in there. We could also strap on other items such as the VJ (ECM) on the front strap. Another item we’d put on the front strap was a plasticuff and we’d slot our Magnum Torches in there (Urban – Belfast tours).
I think we were deployed by CMV (Civilian Military Vehicle) on this little task. We were about a kilometre from the target and had to make our way to the overview point. It was pitch black and maps had to be read using a radioactive green light source (I think it was called Betalight – as in it’s a Beta Radioactive source). This didn’t give off much light to harm our night vision.
I remember climbing through a fenceline and Rossy grabbed me. “What the fuck’s this!!? Eh?” He held a green scarf in his hand. It was mine – it must have come off me as I passed through a previous thicket. He pushed it into me and I put it away. I could see in the darkness the others looking at me.
We made it to the Lay Up Point and we sat there for an hour. Nothing occurred over this period, but I remember feeling or the letter and it was still there in my map pouch.
My Bergen lay by my side, the grassy floor beneath me felt soft and warm. A light breeze hit me square on in the face and hints of rain began to spray us. My helmet would push down over my eyes if I lay prone, so I’d have to push it back. The camouflage cream would stick to the straps and that would be sticky and cold in the evening.
I felt the plastic grip of the rifle and my finger rested on the trigger. It wasn’t cocked, but I squeezed the trigger all the same and kept the safety catch on. On the horizon, lights in the darkness marked the town of Newry. To the left I could see the red lights of Bessbrook, or was it a Romeo tower?