I wasn’t asked if I wanted to do civpop for Tin City, I was lined up with a load of other young gunners and told I’d be on the other side of the dividing line which we were exposed to a year earlier. I was a nineteen year old scrotebag who pissed himself after four pints –I still do, nothing’s changed much. All I had was a sausage bag and a hold all, sat on a green bus, hired by the British Army and off to Sennelager on a 2 hour journey. I’d been in the Army for nearly two years now and I was still a nig, you were always a nig to somebody, that’s what they said.
We got off the coaches at the other end and stood around not really knowing what was going on. We generally coalesced into groups; troops, sections, ranks and trades that stuck together. I was a flaggy about to join HQ Battery as a clerk so I just hung around some of the HQ Battery lot, they were friendly enough. I was to be put in a house with a couple of the HQ Battery guys and it was on Rice Row at the end of Fazackerly Avenue.
A Sergeant in a Glengarry beret (no doubt I’ll get flamed by a load of sweaty socks for calling it a beret) corralled us and showed us around the other parts of the ‘town’.
“Here’s where y’can make a bit of dosh on the side,” he said pointing to a largish building at the bottom of Rice Row. It was the boozer. “Whoever’s doing the job of Landlord’ll be keeping the place busy in an evening.” He sniggered at this, though we didn’t find it particularly funny. Nob. We later found out that the Landlord’s job had already gone out to someone. Probably someone from the BQMS department. Somebody who wasn’t as much an alcoholic like the rest of us.
We were shown the cookhouse where we’d get our slop dished out by the slop jockeys. Several of the guys had cars and the lads were hopping with excitement. Most of us couldn’t wait for the end of the week so we could brick those fuckers. It was pay back time. We got it last year. I’m not sure if they timed it right so we got to brick the ones that did it to us, but we didn’t really give a shit, they were going to get it.
The first evening we were told to be nice to the ‘Brits’ and we just kept to ourselves while they sorted themselves out and got used to the area when they patrolled it. The bar was pretty basic, but, again, we didn’t give a shit so long as we had beer and we were warm. We had crates of McEwans Lager (Blue), Boddingtons (horrible stuff), Guinness (vomit) and this other one with a tartan pattern on it – I can’t remember what the hell it was called. Nowadays it’s all Fosters and Carling, McEwans was my favourite and it always reminded me of going home on the train from Kings Cross to Durham with that Simple Minds song Alive & Kicking in the background.
I met this guy who was punching holes in bits of wood and pieces of furniture like he was fucking ‘Bruce Lee’. He was Dave Batey and made quite an impression on me. A nut case of the highest order, but a decent lad. He’s not like that nowadays, but back then, I think we all had a nut loose somewhere in our heads.
There was another guy who ripped an empty can open and cut himself with the sharp bits because ‘of the dolphins’…. Yeah, I know. We all had a nut loose, and all you had to do was add alcohol.
There were the usual fights and scraps – that was normal and it just spiced things up. We’d stagger from the bar (which I can’t remember what we called it) and head to our breeze block homes. These breeze block houses had solid fuel stoves in them and the warmth generated was tremendous. The problem you got though was Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I’m sure we lost a few blokes to that in the past.
One early morning I could hear shouting outside. I peered out of the window and looked up the high street past the pub and saw an ambulance. Its blue lights flashing and reflecting off all that wriggly tin. What the fuck? It was a real one.
We were all on parade at 2.15am.
“No one goes anywhere until I find out which fucker did this,” the BSM’s cockney accent was distinct amongst the northern accents in the parade.
“Shut the fuck up!! Keep fucking still!!” Bill Waller shouted at us. He was raging. At this point in time I still didn’t know what had happened.
I then overheard someone mention a lad called ‘Simmo’ and that he had been severely injured.
Several lads to my left raised their hands (I’m not going to name them as I can vaguely remember). An RMP Corporal took them to one side and they were then escorted from the camp. Bill was still raging. Why hadn’t someone seen that this was going to happen and prevented it? I’m assuming that they were his thoughts. Bullying in the military was still a common thing in the Army and the early 1990s were becoming a turning point in that culture.
Some lads had gone in to the breeze block home of his and beat 10 shades of shit out of him. They put him in hospital. A bit out of order if you ask me. There were a couple of them as well and they weren’t small lads. The poor fellah didn’t know what hit him. He recovered from his ordeal and did well in the Army, that’s the good part of the story.
Like I said earlier, we all had a nut loose, and it was rattling around in our heads. One afternoon we had a NAAFI run and I bought a bottle of Glen Morangie Whiskey. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t a Whiskey drinker, I just drank lager – I was a lager lout like the rest of the mob.
I was sharing a house full of HQ Battery lads and one of them said he’d stay in and have a quiet game of cards with me. It was in the living room, the fire was roaring away with the coal we’d chucked in there. The three other residents stood by the doorway shaking their heads.
“Fucking wimps. C’maaaahhn y’fuckin’ kids’ bellies,” that was Ian Grange shouting and was soon followed out by Jimmy Carter and one other. The pub was only 50 metres up the road, we could have easily gone out there and I could have saved myself a lot of pain. But, no, I decided to play a game of ‘5 card turnover’ with Dave Ede.
Big fucking mistake.
You were dealt 5 cards and you turned them over one by one, if you beat the opponent then they would start to turn their cards over until the winner was revealed.
“What we doing for a forfeit?” Dave asked.
“Dunno. Can of lager?” I suggested. We only had about 3 cans of Tartan and that stuff tasted like rat’s piss. “Got anything stronger?”
“Bacardi?” He said, and we agreed.
The bottle came down from his hold all and he began to pour a good amount in my cup. Cup? Yes, we were using cups, not glasses. I’d make a coffee and drink from this. “In one,” Dave said in his best ‘Bullseye’ voice.
I necked the Bacardi. It was vile. I stood and went to the stairs. I ascended, turned left at the top and dug out the Glen Morangie.
“Dougy! I fuckin’ hate Whiskey,” he protested so we agreed I’d drink the Whiskey and he’d drink the Bacardi.
Another big fucking mistake!
Dave lost a couple and I was on a roll. The Bacardi wasn’t doing a thing to Dave. Looking back on it now, his tolerance level must have been of Godlike status.
It was then my turn to lose and the Whiskey burned. I don’t remember much about the evening, but the other guys had come back at around 1140pm.
“Fucking hell, Dave!! I thought you were only stopping in for a quiet drink!?” Ian Grange had exclaimed at the site of the creature I’d become, glassy eyed, slurring my speech and bouncing off all four walls like a ping pong machine.
I was carried up the stairs and there I stayed for the next 2 days. I look back now and see the danger I was in, maybe that’s because I’m twice the age and hardly drink. Would I do it again? Not sure. I’m ambivalent on that one.
So, I’d skipped a day. I was roused suddenly by Dave and Ian. Lifted out of the piss drenched sleeping bag and dressed quickly.
“Come on! Hurry,” I heard – it didn’t sound good. Something was up. “They’re coming!!”
I was dragged out from my room, but as I was leaving I looked out of the window and saw a group of people walking down the street towards this house. One was the Padre. Fuck!!
“They’re doing a shoot from your window, Dougy! C’mon!”
I bypassed a young fellah on the stairs. He had a balaclava rolled up on his head like it was a dut. In one hand he had an M16 and in the other a magazine of ammunition. I was quickly brought in to the living room where the back door was. Just as the OC, the Padre, and the DS (Directing Staff) entered the front door I was pushed out the back.
I was frog marched to the shower blocks by Dave and shoved in a shower, fully clothed. The cold shower encased my in a freezing hold, I shivered and howled. I vomited. I howled. In the background I heard the fire cracker noise of an automatic weapon being discharged, but I paid no heed to it as I dry vomited.
“Here, get this.” Dave handed me some water and I gulped this down, then vomited it back up again. Drank some more and vomited it again.
I lay back and drifted off. Dave picked me back up again and shook me awake.
“Dougy, man! Stay awake!”
“Aye man. Aye man,” I croaked. “Fuck off.”
He put me back in the cold shower again. I howled and cursed like I was possessed. Looking back on it, I tend to think I must have been possessed.
For several days after, whilst in the city. I retched and kept a low profile. It was more like projectile vomit, the retching. I’d like to think I’d learnt my lesson when it came to alcohol, but that was far from the truth. Little did I know, Wegberg was calling 5 years later. That’s another story.
For now we had the riots to deal with. I’d recovered. My 19 year old body had done wonders in removing the toxins from my blood. I did a ceremonial smashing of the Glen Morangie bottle several days after the drunken incident. I was shocked to see how much I’d drunk. It was just over half the bottle. For many years after that I couldn’t whiff Whiskey without retching.
We were warned off that some of us would become casualties during the riot. I was determined not to become one, but to make those bastard Brits behind the shields injured. We gathered on one of the streets, one crisp, cold and sunny morning. The sun half blinded us from its reflection on the virgin frost that lay on the road. We began to prepare. The ‘Union’ coal blocks were shovelled on to carts and then brought in to the area where we’d start and get nasty with the troops.
The Padre was dressed up as some Catholic Priest and I think he actually was a Catholic Priest anyway, so that wasn’t too much hassle for him. He went from the church with what appeared to be a funeral procession. It was from this we’d have Loyalists starting to riot against the Republican group and then the troops would come in to break it up. We would then turn on the Brits.
It was a pretty tough work out. Those kids chucking rocks and petrol bombs for real in Belfast and Derry must have been fucking knackered. We got to work and began to make some noise and chanted, “Brits Out!” and other nasty things. We bashed bin lids on the ground and battered the corrugated buildings with sticks. The bricks were then thrown. I skimmed them so they skitted on the ground to get the lads on the shins. I bet that fucking hurt, ya bastard!!!
My world went blank for a nauseating moment, the sky whirled and I missed a few seconds.
I looked up at the Padre, who looked down at me. “I bet that fucking hurt,” he said. “You alright, son?”
“Aye, father,” I managed to answer back. Somebody grabbed my shoulders, dragged me back a few meters, and lifted me up into a sitting position.
A brick was presented to me, “See this?”
“I heard that crack off your fucking bonce,” he looked more shocked than me. I reached up and felt the back of my head. I could see bright red on my fingers.
“Best take him to the doctors,” the padre said to the guy who was helping me, then to me, “Good work son. May God go with you.” With that he gave me the sign of the cross as I was helped to the back and in to an Army ambulance.
No major shakes there. The padre had a sense of humour which was good to see.
I’ve heard the term ‘Character Buiding Stuff’ to describe shit you do that’s stupid and dangerous. This was ‘Character Building’. Definitley, I could see that from the smoke billowing from the riot shields as one of the lads chucked a petrol filled bottle at the Brits and it exploded in a sea of flame. Lads, pissed up from the night before, taunting the Brits, fuelled by adrenalin….. I was a part of this and it was beautiful…just fucking beautiful.