The Kosovo campaign was a 6 month excursion in to Greece, Macedonia and Kosovo. I met Tony Blair, his missus, Kate Adie, Jim Davison and possibly James Blunt. A lot of shit went down in Pristina and it was fucking bedlam to steal a James Blunt title.
Where do you start? The past Christmas was spent skiing for my Regiment. I was doing the Biathlon where we’d skate/ classic ski around set tracks and shoot at targets. I wasn’t particularly good at it despite being the team’s ski instructor. I was pissed up for most of it.
I arrived back to work after a week off, I saw Blamf (my section commander) going through a set of maps. I was in the Artillery Intelligence section and we were ‘go to’ guys for maps. What concerned me was the Cyrillic writing on the map that Blamf was scrutinising.
“Why are you looking at maps of Greece and Macedonia?” I asked.
He raised an eyebrow, his menacing 7 feet towering over me at the photocopier, “Have you not seen the news?”
Good question. Had I seen the news? Well, no, I hadn’t. If I had, I’d have seen that there were growing tensions between the Serbians and the Kosovars. Plans were already in place to send a NATO led force to assist the Kosovar Albanians who were currently being burned out of their homes. Don’t ask me to explain the political situation because I didn’t have a fucking clue and I still don’t have a pot of glue.
For two weeks we were stuck in 432 Armoured vehicles and getting them ready for action. There was always something wrong with those ancient machines. The problem arose when you thought you’d solved one problem and then you’d uncovered several more.
I was to fly out on Monday morning and had to parade at 3am. I was still shit faced from the night before, but I could still stand. The Army was good at parading people several hours before the buses turn up.
“Are you drunk?” Mick Lawrence, the Battery Sergeant Major, asked me. He didn’t look happy. I think it was having to get up so early rather than me looking half cut.
“I’ve had a few last night, but I’m alright, sir. I’m okay. Honest.” People ramble when they’re drunk or nervous. I was rambling.
“If you’re refused to get on that flight, you’re in a world of shit.” And that was that. That threat was not idle either. Blamf and Shippers had gone with the Advanced Party to set up in Macedonia. This flight was Main Body 1.
As hangovers go, this one wasn’t so harsh. The recovery time was getting longer as I got older. This one would last until we landed at Thessaloniki in Greece. We were to stay there for a few days at the APOD/SPOD (Air Point Of Departure / Sea Point Of Departure) and then move on north up in to Macedonia or FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia) as it was now known.
Thessaloniki was hot, and that’s all I can really remember about it. There was a core presence of RAF and MovCon there, as well as Military Police. We stayed for a night, where a few of the guys were apprehended for going into town and getting pissed up. I’ve got to say, I didn’t do that whilst on operational tour. I was a twat to myself in the barracks by being alcoholic there. On operations I had purpose and it was a meaningful existence. In the 36 hours of being there we paraded at certain times to be told that the busses would be delayed and our departure time for next leg would be couple more hours away. Cards were played, cigarettes smoked in their hundreds, coffee & tea drunk and books read. I wrote letters to a dutch girl I met 6 months earlier. She never replied to the letters. No great loss, but she was nice though.
When the bus turned up, we had to laugh. It was a holiday bus. For fuck’s sake. A smiley sun was daubed on the side with something in Greek. We pulled out of the city and made our journey north to the Macedonian border: yellowing, golden, dusty and deserted. What the landscape reminded me of was a spaghetti western. I slept with my head on the glass pane, it bounced and vibrated as we trundled along the pitted road. My beret was the best option and I lay on that to dampen the vibration. Tall mountains bordered the road as we bent and looped around rivers and knolls, then down spurs and into vast valleys beyond.
It’s probably best I explain that I was in 94 (NZ) HQ Battery, 4th Regt RA and we were part of the 4th Armoured Brigade Headquarters. I would be working alongside my peers the 22nd Signals Regiment. They facilitated the command and control element of the Brigade ensuring they had adequate communications. I would be the Intelligence function of the Artillery along with Shippers and Blamf. I know that Intelligence and Artillery are an oxymoron, but that’s what we were. On the whole I felt that no fucker knew what we did and we sort of waltzed in and out of part time jobs when on operations. Some people would have their own ideas and we’d sometimes be there to order maps, and order books and publications. In reality and this reality was dictated by Larkhill, the Royal School of Artillery, was that we advised on all artillery matters, especially when it came to the enemy. There was a big focus on Russian equipment, but the world had changed since the early 90s and it was in a state of flux; equipment changed and the tactics were becoming more and more asymmetrical (guerrilla). Moving on…
On the sunshine coach, it’s noisy to begin with as every fucker is looking for real estate. Two seats were preferable so you could get your legs out to stretch. I wasn’t arsed, I wasn’t pissed either or hungover, which was a bonus. I curled up on the seat and rested my head on the window using my beret as a pillow.
We arrived at an Army base, it was medieval and made of large chunks of stone which had been cut from the local quarries. I hazard a guess that many had died whilst building these barracks. We parked up next to several Land Rovers and there was a large green tent which I presumed would be the ubiquitous cookhouse, the slop jockeys were already there, ladel in hand ready to dish out the biological hazards they’d concocted. To be fair, in their defence, those guys and girls did wonders with the food and the bacon butties were out of this world. I’d pile the bacon on the white bread – there’d be half a pig in there. Eating in the cookhouse was brilliant before Pay As You Die (sorry Dine) came in. The money for the food would come out of your wages before you were paid and you could eat as much as you wanted. It’s all fucked up now. The lads haven’t got a clue about nutrition or how to look after their own finances and often you’d get a ‘hungry soldier’.
The base here was pretty fucking dismal inside. I wouldn’t let my dog live here. It was damp and you could smell piss in most of the rooms. We were told that we’d stay the night and then we’d be off again in the morning. This was Macedonia. Had it been Greece then the place would have been a lot better.
We had to do a short guard stint to ensure no twat decided to take any of our gear, so we had a gate man and a guard ‘pill box’. I remember sitting in there with this other guy who was TA. He was giving me a heart –to-heart about the money incentives in volunteering for this little expedition. He said he’d changed his mind. I couldn’t help but laugh at him. He wanted to go back home. Bless. I tried to comfort him, but could source a sympathy, anywhere. I just laughed at the stupid twat. Take the money, do the job. Simples.
The next morning we set off. Sunshine tours. About half way in to the journey which was going to take 10 hours, some twat decided to clog the onboard toilet up – our only source of relief. Someone threw a shitty toilet roll across the coach aisle and swore. They slammed the door and stood, with hands on hips. “Who was the last fucker in the karzey?” I could hear several sniggers from the seat behind me. This dude was from London because he said karzey like, KAAHHZAAY. We were on a bus who comprised mainly of Royal Signals from Quebec Barracks in Osnabruck, Germany. This guy was a scaly back. “Eh? Wankers!” He stormed up to the front of the coach and whispered to the guy in charge.
The bus stopped at a lay by five minutes later. There was no cover, but that didn’t stop the cockney ‘liney’ and two others from dropping their trousers and shitting. Cars beeped their horns and then someone shouted for them to do it discreetly. One crab walked away much to the amusement of the coach.
The Brigade stores people had set up a tent 20km away and with it curry, rice and tea. When we arrived, there was a queue outside the portaloo. We were already hiring people to admin us, ‘Toifor’ were a company whom we’d be using a lot of and they supply the shitters, remove them and replace them when they got full – which they did often.
The Hotel when we arrived looked like it had just come from a set of a Zombie survival movie. We were in the middle of fuck all, and I mean it could have been the Yorkshire moors for all I knew. Welcome to the Hotel Macedonia. Such a lovely place. Such a lovely place Little did I fully understand was that to the north some 100km away it wasn’t such a lovely place for many people living up there. We saw it on the news: the bombings by NATO and the refugees fleeing.
Fact Sheet released by the U.S. Department of State Washington, DC, March 26, 1999
The U.S. and NATO objectives in Kosovo are to stop the killing and achieve a durable peace that prevents further repression and provides for democratic self-government for the Kosovar people.
We have three strong interests at stake in the Kosovo conflict: averting a humanitarian catastrophe; preserving stability in a key part of Europe; and maintaining the credibility of NATO.
First, Belgrade’s sustained and accelerating repression in Kosovo again is creating a humanitarian crisis of staggering dimension:
- Estimates are that up to 30,000 Kosovars have been displaced from their homes and villages just since the adjournment of the Paris talks on March 19;
- More than 60,000 Kosovars have been displaced since the end of the first round of peace talks in late February;
- The total number of displaced in Kosovo is estimated at 250,000;
- There are already 18,500 Kosovar refugees in Albania, 10,000 in Macedonia, and 25,000 in Montenegro with more on the way;
- In north central Kosovo, Serb forces in recent days have burned villages. Homes throughout the region have been looted and are smoldering;
- Nearly the entire population of one small city in north central Kosovo fled as Serb commandos stormed in over the weekend; and
- 40,000 Serbian security forces (military and police) are now positioned in and around Kosovo, poised for a military offensive.