Friday, 12 October 2012

Chapter 3.


I'm at work soon, but only have about 3 hours on a roof. It's raining hard, so a good day ahead.
Here's chapter 3.

Chapter 3. Monday 13 March 1972.

The transport rolled up spot on time, a three tonner. I had only just arrived from breakfast and making sure everything was locked up in my room. We clambered aboard and I saw Gaff and Jock, on their way to breakfast, they waved me off. I had a feeling of impending doom and lit a cigarette.
We piled out at 3rd battalion headquarters and were met by a sergeant who broke the news that because they were shipping in over fifty temps, we had to bunk in the gym. We struggled over there and found rows of camping beds, each one with a bedside locker, a floor mat, and pillow with no pillow case and two woolly blankets. In the drawer was an ashtray.
“The bogs and showers are over there.” The sergeant pointed over to the end of the gym. He looked at his watch. “You have forty minutes to get over to classroom two.” He pointed at the building we had just come from, and then marched off.
“It’s a regular home from home.” The chubby lad said sitting down on his new bed. It tipped over. I waited until he’d righted himself.
I stuck my hand out, “Billy Deery, I’ve seen you around.” He shook my hand.
“Brian Fodden.” He nodded over to the lanky corporal. “He’s Paul, Paul Walker.” I nodded.
“Do you think the cookhouse is still doing breakfast?” Brian had missed breakfast that morning.
Paul was busy making himself at home, putting things into his bedside locker and placing his case and kitbag neatly behind the top of his bed, like some sort of head board. “Do you know where the canteen is?”
“I just follow my nose when it comes to that sort of thing.” Brian took pride in hunting out food.
“I’ll come with you.” I stood up and looked at Paul, he had finished unpacking, so followed us as we tried to find the cookhouse. We had time to kill. Most of the ex-German barracks were arranged to a standard lay out, so we quickly homed in on the cookhouse and just caught the last few sausages and a cup of tea.
We were the last in to the classroom and had to stand at the back, still not knowing what our duties would be, what was our role. Surely it took years to train intelligence personnel, surely they had to be of the highest intelligence, code breakers, swots, doing the Times crossword over a cup of tea, the James Bond type, killing with one blow and disappearing in the night. What the hell could they want with us?
Captain Roberts came in; he looked like a desk clerk in a captain’s uniform, nothing to distinguish him, no high forehead, no bulging muscles.
“Look men, we are very short on the ground.” He looked around. There were about thirty of us, from all different units. “We have been  short for years and now we’re expected to put observations all over Northern Ireland. Your jobs will be to fill in on these observations, file reports and move around the city, eyes and ears.” You could hear a collective sigh from the men sitting around.
“You will be doing static observations on the more mundane side of things.” He went on. “Your training will start tomorrow. You need to able to observe and report, keep a close check on the mug shots and all the in coming intelligence.” He then gave us some news which made every single one of us cheer.
“From to day, long hair and long sideburns, beards and anything else is in.” Roberts smiled as a room full of squaddies cheered and whooped; he had to raise his voice to bring the room back to order.
“So we have a lot to do before we go. I want you all to look at the board over there.” He pointed to the blackboard with lists of men’s names pinned on it. “Find out who you’re teamed up with; remember you train as a team, you work as a team.”
There was a scraping of chairs as we all rose. I lit a cigarette and stood back, but most men pushed and shoved to find out who they would be working with. Eventually someone ripped his list off the board and started to shout names out.
I had gone into a little daydream remembering when I was younger, before we left Belfast. Would I meet my Gran, my Aunts and Uncles?
“Deery.” I came to, to hear my name being called out.
“Deery.” A small compact corporal with the uniform of the Royal Signals was calling.  
“Here,” I looked at him, “I’m Deery.”
“I’m Corporal Kelly. There are five men out near the front door, one’s fat and there’s another one black, so you should find them.” He then started to shout another name and forgot about me. I wandered out. The group was easy to identify and one of them was Brian. The coloured lad was about six foot four with an easy smile. I walked over and Brian was talking to the coloured boy.
“How the fuck are you going to fit in, in Ireland? I mean how many………” he looked for the right word and could not find it. “How many big black fuckers are there in Belfast?”
It was one of those moments when everyone wants to be swallowed up, or be somewhere else.
“Hi, I’m Billy Deery from 17th Engineers.” I stuck my hand out. Brian was grateful for the diversion; the coloured lad took my hand.
“Smudge Smith transport Bielefeld.” Brian, who was blushing because he had not introduced himself, just said, “Brian Fodden.” Smudge just gave him a wink and this helped to take the awkwardness away. At that moment Kelly came out of the building with another man following behind.
He took charge. “Okay everyone in my section,” he used his hands a lot; he pointed with both index fingers. “Make your way to room fourteen; it’s on the second floor.” The fingers were pointing towards the door we had just come out of, so we ambled back in and up the stairs. I continued to talk to Smudge.
“What do you drive?” I liked Smudge; he was self assured, he reeked of confidence and I wanted to be part of that.
“Oh, we have all sorts, mostly small stuff, but we got some big stuff as well, we got tank transporters an’ all sorts, but my favourite is the Stalwart, I just love that ride.”
We piled into room fourteen and found seats. Kelly had some notes.
“Settle down, we will be working together for the next five or six months and I want you to all stand up and tell us who you are, then I’ll be telling you what’s expected of you, I know this is all new and we don’t have much time, so you start” he pointed at Smudge, Smudge stood up.
“I’m Gerry Smith but people call me Smudge, I’ve been in the Royal corps of transport for just over two years, and come from Dover, we’re based in Bielefeld and I’m in the basket ball team.” he sat down.
Kelly pointed at me.
I stood up “Billy Deery, Royal Engineers, bridging, building and blowing, mine warfare laying and breaching.” I started to sit down and remembered “Oh and I’m in the regimental orienteering team” I hardly listened to the rest, but there was eight of us including Kelly of which two were full corporals.
“How many have driving licences?” We stuck our hands up, Kelly ticked off his list “And how many are radio trained?” We stuck our hands up again, more ticks “Good, and has anyone lived or has family in Northern Ireland?” I was the only one to hold my hand up, tick.
“Tomorrow morning were on the ranges, we get picked up at zero seven thirty outside the gym, full battle gear, piss pots and ground sheets the lot,” he looked up “weapons will be issued at the ranges, and don’t forget your mess tins and eating irons.” He thought for a minute “I’m bunking down on the top floor of this building,” he pointed to the ceiling, just in case we did not know where the top of the building was “room 211, and the other ranks bar is above the cookhouse.” he gathered his thoughts again “so go and sort your kit out, and I’ll see you all in the morning.” There was a scraping of chairs and people started to talk excitedly.
“Deery.” Kelly was talking to me, but my mind was on that camp bed “Deery.” a bit louder.
“Yes corporal” I made my way over to him.
“What family do you have over there?” It took me by surprise, I had thought it was just one of those questions, but no, it was one of those questions.
“Well my Grandmother lives there, and maybe my Dad, but almost certainly a few of my aunties and uncles live there, I was born in Belfast.” I let this sink in, he stroked his nose.
“You don’t sound like you come from Belfast.”
“That’s because I was brought up in Liverpool.” he pulled his nose again, I moved from one leg to another. At this point I thought I would give him a demonstration so I said “Come on Corporal Kelly, it’s not the sort of thing you tell people.” I had dropped into my home accent, I had not spoken in my home accent for years, I had in fact tried my hardest not to use it. I had adopted the local idiom as soon as I could possibly manage after moving to Liverpool.
“We moved to Liverpool when I was six or seven, my mother did a runner and that’s where my accent comes from.” all the time I’m speaking in my old accent.
He jotted some notes down.
“You do realise you could get an exemption from the tour?” he would dearly love an exemption, I had something he wanted. I pursed my lips. I think I was teasing him.
“But I want to go” what was the alternative, sitting back on rear party, hell on earth, an empty camp, a few losers left behind, no not for me, no I’m here for the ride, the sharp end, the deep end. I looked at him, almost insolently.
“Yes I want to go.” I had gone back to my normal accent.
“Okay, I’ll file this, go and sort yourself out” he nodded at the door, I was dismissed.
I made my way back to the gym, at one end of the gym someone had a portable tape player blasting Johnny Cash, Smudge and Brian had changed into civvies and was relaxing on their beds.
“You’re a Paddy.” Brian was laughing at his own joke “You should be in the Pioneers not the Engineers, but there’s not much difference.” he looked around for support.
“Hey don’t turn your back to me when we’re there.” I had dropped into my Irish accent. I made a gun action with my hand pointed at Brian’s head and blew imaginary smoke away. I started to get my things ready for the next day.
“Fancy a pint tonight?” I looked over to the other two.
Smudge was the first to answer “Yes suits me.”
“Deery.” There was someone was calling out my name, I looked around “Sapper Deery” I saw who was calling and stood up.
“Over here.” I held my hand up and a young private from the intelligence Corp was approaching me.
“You're wanted by Captain Roberts now, follow me.” I shrugged my shoulders at the other two.
“I’ll see you soon.” I followed the private.
“What do you think it is?” I tried to get an idea.
He took his time answering “not a fucking clue mate” we carried on over to the block.
“Just wait there.” I seem to be waiting outside offices quite a lot lately, he disappeared into the office and came out quite quickly and walked off.
“Thanks mate” I put in as much sarcasm as I could as he walked away. 
The door opened and Roberts head popped out.
“Come in Deery.” I followed “Sit down.” Well I’m not in the shit, you don’t sit down when the shit's flying.
“Are you a Catholic?” That took me by surprise.
“No, well yes, but...” the army never pushed religion so I could not see where he was going and I was starting to sweat.
He tried another tack “Do you have family in Ireland?” that was better, now I felt I knew where he was coming from.
“Yes Sir, my Gran still lives there, and I lived there until I was seven, and I also have other people there like my Aunt.” I was trying to please him, but he did not show any emotion.
“So why is your accent Scouse?” he corrected himself “From Merseyside?”
“Well we did a flit to Liverpool, just me and my mother,” I started to relax “and I had to fit in so just started to talk like them, Sir.” the wheels were turning in his head, he was trying to evaluate me.
“One last question, is there anyone in Belfast who knows you’re in the army? Think very carefully” I sat there for over a minute, I knew the answer but my mind had started to think of the pint tonight, and I also thought it gave the question gravity.
“No Sir.” I also thought that if this did not swing my way I could just remember someone who knew me.
“Look we need eyes and ears in the community, and we have to find people who can live and work on the streets,” he’s watching my reaction, “we need people on the streets, we need people who can fit in. I’ll admit that most personnel who come from Ireland just don’t want to get mixed up in this, to close to home I’m afraid.” He sat back and let this lot sink in, there was a long pause. I’m a bit shocked, it’s one thing to ride around in a team, but to pose as a local and rub shoulders with known IRA and UVF activist this was a different world. He could see the cogs turning.
“Of course you would be promoted to corporal.”
“Do you mean full corporal?”
“Yes, and you will be trained, and your cover will be water tight.”
I do want promotion, but I’m still not sure, now I was really sweating.
“Deery, this is a big step, but you will have twenty four hour back up, and if you feel compromised at any time we will pull you out.” I was getting scared again, my mind was racing.
“What job have you got lined up?” I want to know more.
“I need someone on the buses, there is a good cross section, Catholics and Protestants a mix from both sides, but the O’Neil family work from that depot, and we want to keep an eye on them.” He’s watching me again, but giving me time to let all the information sink in, he knows that if I go away and think about it I will reject it, stripes or no stripes.
“We need to push on.” He knows I’m under the cosh, but I’m stalling.
“How long is it for?” I wanted the stripes.
“No longer than the full tour,” he was reeling me in like a trout. “after that, just back to normal duties, with two stripes.”
It sounded easy, in a childish way I had always wanted to shout “Hold tight please and ring the bell twice.” and run up and down asking for fares.
“Just go to work, keep you eyes peeled, and report back.” He was pulling me in further. “Do you want in?”
“Yes Sir.”

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