Books & Beyond

Contact by AFN Clarke (Excerpt)

Posted on: December 6, 2013

Clive, one of my fellow platoon commanders, shares this room with me but I haven’t seen him for a week as he has been on one of the OPs. Next week my platoon will be on the OPs so after a brief handover, we won’t see each other for a further week. Are we in the same Army?

I drift off to sleep amidst the sweet sound of a Saracen whining off down the road on another patrol, and the distant rumbling thud of another car bomb in the city centre.

"Sir, O.C. wants you.” I struggle awake; who is this apparition thumping me and bellowing in my ear?

“O.C. sir, wants you right away.” Fuck the O.C., fuck the Irish, fuck the Army.

“O.K. Green, don’t shout for Christ’s sake. Hey, get a brew on and bring it into the Ops Room, will you.”

“Can’t sir, just going on patrol.”

“Then tell some other cunt.”

The O.C. is O.K.; he just nods off to sleep in mid-sentence. We figured he managed to get at least a full eight hours just by dropping off at his desk. He didn’t need a bed to sleep on. Yesterday, he even fell out of his Landrover. Lucky for him, the driver still hadn’t learnt where the accelerator was otherwise it would have been nasty. As it was, he just picked himself up, shook his head and climbed back in. He even fell asleep whilst briefing us on back-up patrol after a contact in the Ardoyne. Now everyone just takes it in their stride and Brian delights in taking videos of him asleep.

I move zombie-like, downstairs again – think I’ll move my bed into the Ops Room. At the bottom there is a violent commotion. Brian has apparently caught a sentry asleep in one of the base OPs and is busy kicking him all around the stand-by room. His anger was further inflamed when he tried to hit the poor unfortunate, who ducked, and Brian broke his hand on the offered steel helmet.

“Stupid fucking crow.” Thud, kick. “Asshole,” etc., etc.

There is no formal charging of offenders in this company. The treatment may be rough but it is short and effective. We can’t afford to have anybody languishing in the cells. There is not enough manpower as it is.

The O.C. looks up bleary-eyed as I enter. He’s just woken up and even recognition is difficult at this moment.

“Tony, another patrol please. Some disturbance on the Shankill down by Agnes Street. There is a patrol there at the moment but I want to block off the top end of the Crumlin with a V.C.P., and have another V.C.P. at this end near the Woodvale Road, Ballygomartin Road junction.”

“Where do you want me?”

“On the Woodvale, Peter will put his on the Crumlin.” I motion to Paul, one of my section commanders, and he goes out to round up the lads.

V.C.P.s give us the chance to fly around in stripped-down Landrovers and when I say stripped-down, I mean stripped- down. No doors, no roof, no tailgate, no windshield. It means we can bail out in seconds in a contact situation, and whilst driving, have maximum vision. On days like today, with the rain, we would all prefer a cosy Saracen or Pig.

Out into the cold wet April afternoon. Where the hell did lunch go? The Landrovers are bristling with rifles – four men in the back of each, facing outwards. The driver and one in the front. We drive slowly amongst the Belfast traffic. No cars pass. The locals have been warned to stay clear of any Army vehicles. At night, oncoming or following vehicles douse their lights. If they don’t, they are stopped, searched and on occasions have had their lights smashed. Up near our destination we swing the vehicles across the road, blocking both lanes. Rear four out into fire positions, driver down by the vehicle, leaving myself and platoon sergeant in the middle. He has the search team in his vehicle. We stop all the cars and back the traffic up the road. Then take the numbers of cars turning around at the sight of the V.C.P. and relay to a mobile patrol.

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Genre – Autobiography / Biography & Memoir

Rating – 18+

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