We spent a lot of time in the Ardoyne. I’m not sure why we ever went in there. It was classed as Republican / Nationalist territory and would have a Green colour on the map to denote the majority’s political persuasion. The honey combed network was something to be very wary of. If you were caught unawares and left by your team, then you’d be in a world of shit. The majority of the people living here didn’t want us there. For a small portion of the Ardoyne they were mainly protestant and segregated by a ‘peace line’ which was a corrugated steel wall. A flag flying the ‘Red Hand of Ulster’ flew high above the wall in full view of the predominantly catholic Ardoyne.
Sometimes we’d be in the Ardoyne in the morning and we’d go back in there in the afternoon. The plan was not to set patterns – I’m not sure how we were meant to achieve that as the estate wasn’t that big. We’d try and spice things up and one Troop Commander had this light bulb flash in his head, it was an idea to try and confuse people. Normally we’d be out there with a team multiple, but, he reasoned, why not have a 5th phantom team that would just pop up when you weren’t expecting them like a jack in the box? So we did this on a few occasions. No webbing, no body armour, as speed was of the essence and we would be paggered at the end of it. You’d be sprinting around and jumping into people’s back gardens like a bunch of escaped lunatics. It didn’t last long, I think we only did it twice. Daft twat.
It was on one afternoon we were called out in reaction to an incident.
I was in the prefabricated welfare building typing out a story on my electronic typewriter. I had a can of coke in by the table and a packet of Opal Fruits. It was one of my first stories I’d sent to MENSA for publication in their Creative Writers Group. They weren’t very good, but it was early days for me. The door opened and Vinny stuck his head in.
“Dougy. I think you’ve just been called out mate,” he said to me. True, I was on 1 hour’s notice to move, so I packed up and headed to the accommodation block.
I could see Doddy wrestling with his rifle, pulling it through the heavy blast doors of the accommodation. “We’ve got a briefing in 10 minutes, mate.”
I entered the bedroom dorm. It was tiny and accommodated 8 people, that’s about 2 teams. We had us, Whiskey Two-Five, and there was Whiskey Two-Four. Two other teams who were in our multiple were next door. Chubby was here. He grinned at me. “There’s been a shooting at the Okay Corrall,” he announced in his Yorkshire accent.
I gave him a puzzled look.
“They local boyos have took on Old Park, haven’t they? We heard it from the cookhouse.”
Soon, we were marching up to the ops room, and met the other guys, some were smoking and nattering amongst themselves. I was one of the few guys who didn’t smoke.
The briefing took only four minutes. A car had been stolen and driven to the junction of Old Park Road and Ardoyne Avenue. From there a burst of 20 – 30 rounds were fired from an automatic weapon at the watch tower that towered over the bullet riddled RUC Station.
We were to act as cordon troops in the follow up investigation. There were no Saxons for this trip, we were presented with three fibre glass plated Land Rovers. It was cramped enough as it was and to be perfectly honest I preferred to stand up in the top cover hatches.
I shared a Land Rover with Solid. He looked at me under his heavy set eyebrows and he shuffled the ECM from his back.
“Come here, mate,” I said to him and reached over to take off the antenna that’s whipped a top cover lad in the bollocks.
“FUCK!!! What the fuck yer doing!?” The Top Cover squealed. We grinned.
“Shuddup!” Solid said and reached over to grab the red lever by my head. He wanted to sit up and this red lever was the first thing he saw.
“NO!” I shouted, but it was too late. The small, red lever was pulled down and I could hear the sound of hydraulics kicking in. There’s was whoosh and the entire cab was beginning to fill with white liquid in spirts. It was like the Land Rovers was jizzing on us. We scrambled out, between the top covers’ legs and out onto the tarmac in front of the ops room.
He’s laughing. I’m laughing. Cossy’s not laughing.
“What the fuck? We need to get going lads,” Cossy says in his irate voice.
“His ECM caught on the red handle and the Internal Extinguisher system went off,” I said and we began to dry off the ECM.
We were then separated and squeezed into the remaining Land Rovers. I looked up at Arnie, who wasn’t too impressed. “Well this is cosy, isn’t it?” We were like sardines in that Land Rover. If we got hit by a rocket or an IED then we’d lose a lot of blokes.
“Get fucked!” Danny shouted from top cover. I could see him give the finger to someone with his black gloves on, his rifle was rested on the vehicle mounted Perspex glass. We also had Perspex visors on our helmets and I could see a black object strike the vehicle Perspex shield. He ducked and laughed. We must have been passing into the Old Park area, it was the interface between Cliftonville and the Ardoyne. They were a particularly nasty bunch in this area. The kids were marksmen when throwing the rocks at us.
The Land Rover stopped suddenly and there was the order to ‘Debuss’. I was at the back so I lifted the handle and popped out to the surprised look of a woman with her shopping. We just kept on coming out of the Land Rover. “It’s like the Tardis in there,” I said to her. She ignored me and carried on her way down Ardoyne Avenue.
On the junction with Old Park Road I could see an elderly RUC man pointing at a group of kids. “Stand back!” Then to me, “For fuck’s sake. Would yer believe it. Bloody kids. Trampling all over me forensics.” He looked like he was about to explode. At his booted feet were a smattering of golden coloured cartridge cases. They looked 5.56mm, and probably from an American AR15. You could see the observation tower from here and that was likely to be the Contact Point.
We put up cordon tape and sectioned off the road. We spend the next four hours turning people back and shooting the shit with kids who’d walk up to the cordon and try and take it down. Little shits had fuck all better to do.
Doddy informed me that a car had been abandoned at Havana Way and burnt it out.
I pressed play on my Dictaphone and played a dance tune on it. We did a little jig by the side of someone’s garden and waited for the EOD team to sort out the car. We were out of there by half four, but had a patrol scheduled at 9pm. We were going back to the same place, dropped off at Old Park RUC station and then we’d make our way over the playing fields to the Jamaicas. Joy of fucking joys.