I was helping out the Int Cell by stagging on their radio sets. The signals corps people do the radio shifts on their vehicle, but they needed another ‘flaggy’ qualified person. I began to scribble down normal radio traffic between units moving up north. Routes had been cleared to the west of Pristina and to the north. We were staying just outside Urosevac for the night before moving on up north to Pristina.
Pristina was in a state of chaos with multiple ethnic groupings and Serb Army withdrawing with its tail between its legs. The first shooting was when a drunken Serbian police man staggered out of a building waving a pistol. The Paras took him down with small arms and on another occasion, some daft twat decided to drive down the main street in Pristina, a man was half out of the sun roof with an Uzi. They should have known better, especially when you’ve got airborne troops patrolling. Needless to say, he was killed. This was the radio chatter I got and we began to piece events together as they were coming in like detectives. It gets like that when you get snippets of information and you begin to place them in geographical areas at certain times and you begin to get an idea of why it happened. There were areas in Pristina that were still in a state of denial; beatings, shootings and burnings occurred. The troops were in Pristina dealing with it and here I was, sat in an Int Cell AFV432, 50 km to the south and on radio shift. Not ideal, I joined the Army because I strayed off the well trodden path, I needed a little adventure.
I heard that mass graves were found. Atrocities were committed on both sides and there was an elusive guerrilla force called the UCK or the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). We had to disarm them and get a government up and running.
We packed up the following day and headed north, a long line of armoured vehicles, plumes of smoke drifted off into the morning sky. It looked a serene gesture to the sky, and to the city ahead, a smoke signal denoting turmoil. The next site we entered was just inside the city, sounds like it had walls, but that’s how I describe it – you could see all the high rises accommodation blocks within a klick and we were in the subdued suburbs.
We arrived later afternoon. The sun was beginning to descend beyond the hills to the west. We set up a guard tent and a perimeter was prepared. On no circumstances was anyone allowed to walk off the hard standing due to the mine threat. We were told not to enter any buildings of touch any of the armoured vehicles that lay scattered and broken. We were in some sort of old bombed out Serbian Army base with a whole range of soviet vehicles about – it was an AFV recognition instructor’s paradise.
“That’s a BRDM-2U!” Shouted a young soldier, clearly a candidate for the Intelligence Corps when he realised his potential for remembering soviet vehicles (tongue in cheek sarcasm here). Before he could pounce on the vehicle he was dragged back by another and warned that it hadn’t been cleared by the Engineers yet. The Engineers were a god send – they’d spend a shit load of time clearing the route to here from the border.
Foggy told me that he had to set up a Rebro when we began the border crossing. He had to drive his Land Rover to some high ground and set up two Antenna so that our long snaking Brigade convoy’s head could talk to its tail. He said there were bridges all down the Kacanik Defile and on one occasion he balked at the site of a Chinook landing on one to test its strength.
Our Big Fucking Tent was set up on concrete hard standing and I think this was a parade square of some sort back in the day. We kept the flaps of the tent open to get some draft in as it was roasting inside. I’d do a regular guard and radio shift to keep me occupied and help out. My first night was spent under a make shift poncho shelter by the edge of the square. I remember some twat telling me to roll down my sleeves as they were just rolled back from the cuff. One guy in the first few hours came running in to the HQ shouting that they were being shot at.
“Were they all on Tanks?” Asked the SO2 Media Ops.
“Yeah and they were opening fire!”
“In the air?”
“Yeah!” – He was fucked off back to his tent and told that this was what they did in this part of the world and to keep his helmet on when they did it. What goes up, must come down.
The toilet arrangements on the initial days were a plank with holes cut in to it. That first day I remember dropping my trousers and wedging myself into the arse shaped holes. Below the holes was a hole in the ground, which would get covered over and the plank moved elsewhere and a new trench dug. There I was contemplating how long I had until the end of the tour – if there’d ever be an end as this was the first. I heard the rustle of paper and looked right. There was an SO2 (Major) reading the Sun. He nodded to me and carried on reading. Well, this is a right funny situation, isn’t it?
One morning, I think it was the second one in, there was still a lot of turmoil with troops milling around, organising aid stations, helping out and setting up bases. I had some irate twat on the Ptarmigan Telephone demanding some information that I didn’t have and he wanted it now. I told him to calm down and repeat his request, but this only got his back up and he screamed down the phone line. I hung up after that. Stupid cunt should learn some manners.
“Dougy. They’re after volunteers. Do you want to do a 24 hour patrol stint with the Paras?” Blamf asked me that afternoon. Naturally I jumped at the chance. I was crawling the tent walls and the chance to get out was what I needed.
I, four signallers and a craftsman were driven out in to the City and dropped off at a Television Studio. We were greeted by a Colour Sergeant who showed us our digs and what section we’d be assigned to. Not sure on names, but I spend a week on and off, if you add up the days, with these guys. They were brilliant to work with and professional. I even got to lead a team one day. The sections within the Platoons had allocated themselves studios and offices that had already been ransacked by the retreating Serbian Army. I sat down by a fallen filing cabinet and cleaned my rifle.
“What’s your name, bud?” The first guy asked me and that was that, we got on great. There was no inter corps rivalry, just friendly banter. There’d be a shout and we would have to get our gear on – body armour, rifle, beret – and off we’d go. The Paras used Pinzgauers that had the sides down. We’d sit on the side with our legs dangling over the sides. Fuck health & safety. We attended house fires mainly. People were being burned out of their homes and I think the Albanians were getting the brunt of it. Fucking spiteful people. I remember hiking up an alley way to a blaze of light coming from a house. Two women were hysterical. I passed them, ignored their screams and surveyed the inferno. It was obviously their house and it must have been nice – 2 floors, nice garden – all burning up, all those memories turning to ash and smoke. Fucking arseholes.
Another house fire we attended I remember getting bits of timber and prodding the house to get it down. I tried to get the structure down. Reporters were ambling around the perimeter. There didn’t seem to be much control here, until I realised it was me who was in control. I then began to keep the reporters back and we kept the cordon secure until the fire stabilised.
Rumour had it that a sniper was in the area, but nobody had been hit. We had to patrol the streets back to a Pick Up Point one time and I began to do Northern Ireland style running across T-Junctions etcetera. Usual hard target stuff, keep in the shadows, kneel in cover and the like, until one Corporal told me to ‘knock it off.’ So I did and bimbled around like the rest of the guys. It was a different theatre of conflict and tension, so maybe it didn’t warrant that style of patrolling.
We had one occasion when we attended a high rise building that was on fire. Now on this occasion we didn’t have any real control over the crowd. A boy was on the seventh floor. You could see his upper torso and he was waving to someone down below. I say the high rise building was on fire, but there was a small amount of smoke coming from the cellar – it was smouldering. A reporter brought his microphone to the mouth of one elderly man who was looking up and raising his hands, as if in prayer, to the form in the upper window. I assumed this to be a relative, possibly the father. As soon as the camera was turned on him, he began to cry.
“He’s putting that on. You’ve put the camera on him and he’s gone and turned the ‘waterworks’ on,” I said and I think I said it too loud, as it was overheard by this reporter.
He looked at me and he looked disgusted, maybe the miserable cunt didn’t like anything in a military uniform, not sure, “I’m sorry. What was that?” It was an American with an irritating accent. It was irritating then and I knew this fucker wanted me to say something so he could make a story out of it. The light from the camera shone in my face. “Can you comment on that? You say he’s joking?”
“Sorry – what was that?” It was pretty noisy and a lot of our guys were pushing people back from the building.
“No comment!” I shouted and smiled at him. He turned and continued with the ‘distressed’ man. Maybe he was distressed. It was then I knew why reporters were portrayed as pigs in Spitting Image.