Tuesday, 19 November 2013
chapters 7,8 & 9.
That morning Simon found me in the canteen eating a full army breakfast.
“Good morning.” He sat down, he only had a cup of tea “I’ll get you settled in at number 37 today.”
“I think I need to go to Castlederg bus depot, I just feel someone may ask me about my last depot.” I looked at Simon for agreement.
“Yes, busmen will be interested where you have come from.” I carried on eating, pleased with myself.
"I think you should go and see some of your relations.” Simon let this sink in. “They give you credence.” I chewed my toast.
The thought of my Grandmother’s house, with that smell of poverty, that smell of lentils and those worn out carpets. I knew he was right, so I nodded.
The rest of the day was spent travelling. Castlederg was small, but even so had a bus depot. We had a pint in one of the pubs, my first chance to talk to a local. Then we made our way to Derry for a quick spin round the town. I was reading the maps which had areas coloured to represent the various religions in the area.. Protestant, Catholic and mixed. Then we went back down the A6, back to Belfast.
We went into No. 37 Mount Pottinger Road, which had its front door on Madrid Street for some strange reason, but it was above the Post Office on Mount Pottinger Road, so that was the address. Directly opposite was the Police Station. At each end there were massive steel clad Sangers and you could just make one out on the roof. My flat was clean to a point and it had all the things I would need. I was glad to see a TV in the corner. I put the kettle on and realised that I had not done any shopping for myself.
“Why not go down and introduce yourself to the landlord, he owns the shop downstairs.” Simon went into his pocket.
“No, I have money.”
The doorbell made a loud pinging noise as I entered. It was the old fashioned type of shop where you asked for everything you wanted, whilst you stood on the other side of the counter. It had a small area glassed off, the Post Office, A large closed sign hung there.
“Hi, I’m moving in upstairs.” He was a big Asian man and I got a shock when he opened his mouth, his accent was as thick as mine.
“Sure, no problem.” He smiled at me. “It’s been empty since February since some Pikey did a runner. I had to decorate from top to bottom.”
I ordered all the things I needed and paid him with the money Mack had made me sign for.
I went upstairs with my little load of shopping. I realised that this was my first home, just for me.
“Do I need to keep receipts?” I looked at Simon as I passed into the kitchenette, he did not answer straight away, so I told him about the money Mack had given me.
“I’m not sure.” We didn’t mention it again.
He showed me a hidden phone in the bedroom; he peeled back the carpet and lifted two newly sawn floorboards and there was the phone. There was no dial for ringing numbers just a single button. He pressed it and was answered straight away.
“I’m just testing this line.” Simon told the listener. I could hear the other person.
“Clear as a bell Sir.” Having made contact and ensuring it was fully functional, he replaced the boards and carpet.
I carried on looking round the flat. The bathroom was small and the toilet was down some steep wooden stairs, but at least it was an inside toilet, so many of them were out in the cold back yards in Belfast.
That night I stayed in Holywood Barracks. On the Sunday, we started late. We walked around Belfast and had Sunday lunch in the Europa Hotel, Simon paid. Then we went down my memory lane visiting places which I only vaguely remembered.
Outside my old house, we were gathering too much attention, so we made a quick exit. My school, it looked so small now, had a burnt out car outside, half on the pavement.
The corner shop, which in my childhood was an Aladdin’s cave, was just a dirty old shop, the outer windows boarded up with signs pasted on saying “Open for business.”
“Do you want to see your Grandmother?” I shook my head. I was not quite ready for that. We made our way back to camp.
Simon had other people to look after, so when I’d collected my suitcase from the barracks, he drove me back to No. 37. We parked the car out of sight and quickly entered the flat.
Simon sat for a while and we went over last minute things.
“Where are you going to hide the mugshot book?” We looked around the flat and eventually decided on the cupboard which housed the gas meter. If anybody searched the house very thoroughly, I was in trouble anyway. Eventually Simon left, saying he would talk to me in the morning on the landline. I just sat there with the gas fire hissing and gathered my thoughts. I had never spent the night on my own, even when my mother knew she was going on a bender, she would farm my out to Mrs. Oxon, three doors down. I checked to see if the television was working. It was a small portable with twist tuning, but all three channels were clear and crisp. I finished my coffee and started to unpack, then watched the television for the rest of the night. Every time there was a noise outside, I jumped up to look out of the window, but otherwise I felt settled. Before I went to bed I practiced getting to the phone quickly. I did not sleep well and woke early. The question of the wig was beginning to worry me.
Monday 27th March 1972.
The Army had moved into the bus depot quite early on in the Troubles and the gate was manned by a couple of soldiers. I showed them my letter inviting me to an interview. They patted me down. I walked round the main building. There were busmen and soldiers all over the depot and one of them showed me to a rickety old stairwell leading to the top floor.
I introduced myself to a female clerk and she gave me a form to fill in while I waited. In the office there four women pushing pieces of paper around, waybills, time-sheets and engineer reports.
Eventually Mr. Jackson the depot superintendent came out of his office and invited me in. He asked all the questions we had anticipated, and I had my answers ready. He knew he had to give me the job, but he wanted to find out as much as possible about me.
“Well I can only offer you three day’s training.” He peered over his glasses to see my reaction.
“Oh that will be plenty. I’ve been doing the same job at Castlederg.” I was feeling positive.
“And how is Billy O’Brian?” He asked the question I had been dreading. I sat there racking my brain to remember O’Brian.
“Oh he’s always on about retirement, but I’m sure he’ll be taken out of there in a box.” I could feel the sweat running down my back. Jackson just laughed.
“Right then, you start on Wednesday.” He jumped up to open the door. “Doris, fix Mr. Deery up with a temporary bus pass, he starts Wednesday, transferred from Castlederg Depot.” He shook my hand and closed the door.
The office staff looked me up and down. They had not started anyone for over a year, jobs were hard to come by. They were curious.
Doris did all the paper work, temporary employee’s bus pass, public service badge, uniform chit, pay records, and timetables. I was feeling relieved as she gave me instructions as to what to expect.
She sent me off to the clothing store. I was issued with two pairs of trousers, two shirts, one dust jacket, one tie, an overcoat and a hat which I didn’t have to wear. I went round to the cashing-in office. Men were clocking on and off as the shifts were changing, so the cash clerk was not too happy about issuing me with a locker and a ticket machine, but eventually this was done. Like any other work place where men know each other well, the banter went on.
“Hey Billy.” One of the conductors, who was cashing in at the end of his shift, shouted across the office, “You know that clippie from the Newtownards depot?”
“Aye the one that shaves twice a day.” Billy knew exactly which woman he was talking about.
“Aye, well she’s left her husband and run off with a barmaid from The Kings Arms.”
“The dirty fucking cow.” The two men carried on their comments with other men, making occasional remarks about the woman. I noticed one of my target men come in. I had only seen photographs of him, but there was no mistaking him, Tommy O’Neil had just walked in. He was the union convener for the depot, but most of all he was the commander of ‘C’ coy. IRA East Belfast. I could feel the power and hatred, and so did the men in the office. You always knew when you were in the presence of a sociopath. Everybody continued to cash up or clock on; nobody made eye contact with O’Neil. I busied myself with my ticket machine but I was keeping an eye on him, without staring. The man walked over to the cash clerk, suddenly the whole atmosphere changed.
“Clock me off Sam.” O’Neil handed his money over.
The cash clerk deferred. He counted the money quickly. This gave me a chance to look carefully at O’Neil. So this was the man who ordered killings, bombings and still had over forty men under his command. The exact strength of the IRA was always hard to judge, active, passive, people who just made the numbers up. There was a huge sense of relief when O’Neil walked out of the office. I was excited, I had made a direct hit and I had not even started the job. I wanted to get back and report, but I knew that if I did that, I would be stuck in the flat until the next day, so I walked over the Albert Bridge and into town. I spent the next few hours riding around on the buses. I needed to learn the bus routes and know the layout of the city as well as possible.
It was a great idea. On the buses you can keep an eye out for everyone without raising any suspicion, observe, watch and gather nice low level intelligence to report back. I was feeling much better. The day had gone right to plan.
I got home late in the afternoon and started to get the flat clean, this was my army training kicking in. Simon came bang on time, but I still jumped a mile when the doorbell rang.
“How did it go?” Simon was smiling.
“You are not going to believe this.” I could not wait to tell him my news. “I saw Tommy O’Neil. He came in the office while I was there.” I wanted Simon to congratulate me, but he remained calm. He was pleased, pleased that I was enthusiastic, pleased that I had been listening and pleased that I had some sort of early success already.
“When do you start the job?” Simon was watching me, assessing me.
“Wednesday, very early, but I’ve already been out on the buses to have a look around with my free bus pass.” I showed him my uniform, PSV badge, pass. I was like a child showing someone his Christmas presents.
“We may as well go back to the barracks.” I packed my washing gear and some clean clothes in the brown paper bag from my shopping trip down stairs and we switched off the fire and left.
Wednesday 29th March 1972.
I got back to No. 37 at eleven thirty on Tuesday night. I had to be up early, so went straight to bed. I didn’t really sleep well.
I arrived at the depot at five thirty in the morning, wearing my smart new uniform. It was drizzling. What was strange was the number of vigilantes still on the streets, watching everything and the army watching them. There were men on doorsteps, standing on corners, hands in pockets, scrutinizing everything that moved. The busmen were largely ignored, as they made their way into the depot.
Buses were moving onto the streets going to their various routes to start the day.
I clocked on, Denis, the duty clerk, handed me the running board, my timetable for the day. “You’ve been placed with George Megahey, I’ll let you know when he comes in.”
I made myself busy checking my ticket machine and filling out my waybill, but all the time quietly looking around. George arrived with four minutes to spare before we were due on the road.
“Hello Denis, clock me on.”
Denis pointed to me and told George that he had got a trainee. His smiled. “I like it, I like it, some other bugger can run up and down the stairs.” He came over to me and shook my hand. He was about mid fifties, greying hair, short, with nicotine stains on his right hand, but there was a relaxed air about him.
“I’ve been transferred from Castlederg.” I said as an opening line, but he was more interested in how little he had to show me.
“So you’ve been on the buses before?” He checked my paper work over and pointed out that I had left off the duty number. We strolled over to the garage and found the driver, Danny Orr, doing his early morning checks.
“Hey Danny, I’ve got a trainee.” George was beaming.
Danny shook my hand and jumped into the cab and the next thing, we were out of the depot and making our way over the Albert Bridge, passing the markets and down to the bus station.
The rest of the day flew by. I was being shown fare stages, routes and given all manner of information to do with the job. It’s an interesting life, busily moving people from one place to another and there’s a feeling of achievement at the end of the shift.
“Are you coming for a pint?” George asked me while we were cashing in. It was only one thirty and I was never a big drinker, I just couldn't handle the stuff. But would I just go home and stay there till my next shift I asked myself, or should I start to integrate with my work mates? I found myself agreeing.
The shifts were changing, men were clocking on and off, the cash office was bubbling. I noticed that one of my key target men, a young Catholic called Johnny O’Neil the son of Tommy O’Neil was clocking on. I logged it into my memory, ready for the night’s report.
I drank shandy much to the derision of George and Danny, who after years of practise, could drink for all Ireland.
“Hell, he’s a Prod, I’m a Catholic, but we don’t let things like that get in the way.” Danny was filling me in. “We’ve known each other for years, but I don’t need to know where he prays.” He lifted his beer and took a long draught. “But there are plenty around here who do.”
Last orders were called at three; George and Danny got in another couple of pints and sank them fast. Even though I had only been drinking shandy, I went home with my head spinning.
They wandered off in the opposite direction to me. I just wanted to go home to sleep.
Simon was in the flat when I got to No. 37 and while I was having a coffee, I gave him all my information gathered that day.
“Johnny O’Neil came in to clock on, God he’s an evil looking bastard.” Simon already knew this.
He had the local mugshot book. “Look through this lot.” We went though them but I had not seen anybody else out of the book, but it helped to refresh my memory.
The next morning I got to the depot thirty minutes early. This gave me time to stand around and watch the crew members as they clocked on. As usual, George and Danny bowled in with just minutes on the clock to get on the road. George checked my paperwork, off we went. As it happens, we had a long tea break, this was quite common. Good rest periods were allocated on most duties, thanks to the Union rules. The canteen was at the back of the depot; it was higher than the rest of the building to save ground floor space. I had to buy the teas. It was a rule that the conductor would always pay for the tea. Generally that was because he was the one who could make a few bob, by short changing or not giving a ticket out for a short journey, whilst the driver kept a watchful eye out for inspectors. At this point I had no idea how to fiddle, but they assumed I did.
George and Danny started a card school. I was sitting watching them and looking around at the canteen, which was a scruffy place. There was a lot of litter on the floor and the table was wiped with what looked like a floor cloth; everything had a fine layer of grease. The pool table caught my eye, I loved pool. I spent all my leisure time, back in Germany playing and I took the game very seriously.
There were two men playing; they did not have a clue. I chalked my name on the board, so I would play the winner. Eventually game ended and I went to set up the balls. We had just introduced ourselves, when Johnny O’Neil came in. I did not turn to look at him as he swaggered over to the counter. The local pool rules were spelled out to me. The game started. Now I’m the sort of player who wants to win, big style. I want to crush my opponent, which was not hard in this case. Throughout the game, Johnny was watching me. First I beat the winner, and then eight balled the next man. It was a nice table, it ran smooth and the balls were accurate, the cues were kept in good order. I was enjoying myself. All the time, Johnny's eyes were on me as I demolished the two no-hopers.
“I’ll give you a game, these fucking wankers couldn’t hit a cows arse with a banjo.” Johnny was putting his name down on the board. I wondered how close Intelligence wanted me to get. I was smiling inside, but I didn't show it.
He was good, but erratic, which was how I liked it. I was making out that it was beginner’s luck, just having a good day. It helped to wind him up.
“You’re a lucky bastard, so you are.” I put on my soft face, as Johnny put in another tanner, even though it was not his turn, nobody complained. I won again, he was getting angry and I was really enjoying the situation. We had four games and he won the last one. He played well and had started to give me some respect.
“Come on young’un.” George was letting me know it was time to get back to work.
“Go on fuck off, now I’ve started to win.” Johnny wanted more but I had to go. What a good story to tell Simon. The rest of the shift flew past.
When I got back to No. 37, I pulled up the boards and lifted the phone out and pressed the button.
‘It’s Deery here.’ I did not recognize the voice that answered.
“I’ll put you through to Captain Ellis.” There was a moment, then a click.
“Captain Ellis.” I recognized the plummy vowels of Ellis.
“Sir it’s Deery, I’m just using my phone for the first time,” I explained.
“Oh well Lt. Adder’s not here at the moment, do you have anything to report.” I went on to tell him about the pool games with Johnny O’Neil and that everything else was going fine.
“Well done Deery, I’ll fill Simon in when he gets back.”
“OK sir.” I hung up and replaced the boards.
In the office, Ellis made a note in the large log, in his meticulous handwriting.
Wednesday 26 April 1972. Deery has made a good start, contact with John O’Neil C Coy E. Belfast, settled in well. Very promising.
We had a setback, Edwards has been sacked from Garson’s Bakery, and so he will be posted to Londonderry where we believe we can get him a job with the council. We have some influence in that area.
McDonnell has settled in well at the Coach House in Strabane, and has volunteered for extra shifts at weekends, but maybe having a fling with one of the barmaids (one to keep an eye on).
BBC News, 31st April 1972
..A British soldier died this morning, after being shot in the Donegal Road area of Belfast four days ago...
The three days of training were over on Friday and George and Danny took me for a pint.
“I see you’ve been put with old Jerry Mason, well he won’t throw you around.” They both laugh. George continued, “He’s never been out of third gear for five years.” We drank the afternoon away.
Saturday 1st April 1972.
The next morning it was cold and raining but I had gone in early to make sure I had all the fare stages and other things in my head. I wanted to be ready for my first day with no guidance. I was reading the notice board, when I felt a little poke in the back.
“You’ll not be so lucky next time.” I turned round to find Johnny O’Neil scowling at me. It was still bothering him. He had not been turned over for a long time on the pool table.
“What time's your relief?” He was trying to see which duty I was on. I looked at the running board.
“We are off from ten thirty till eleven forty seven.” I replied. Johnny smiled.
“Well, I’ll be ready for you. I’m the spare conductor today and will be warming up all morning.” He had a strange smile, the type you are instinctively wary of when you’re a child. This is not supposed to happen. I’m supposed to just watch from the sidelines.
Denis the cash clerk was calling me over.
“Jerry this is the new boy, he’s been transferred from Castlederg.” Jerry looked round and took me in with one glance.
“Just keep the kids quiet on the school runs and get the teas in on relief and you’ll do for me.” He walked out into the yard to find his bus.
They were right, Jerry never went over twenty five miles an hour, not that it made much difference to me. We did a workman’s special to Harland & Wolf, got a cup of tea at the canteen at Johnson’s metal works, and then a scholars’ run. The little bastards knew I didn’t have much of a clue, but I didn’t care, I knew I was not going to make a career out of this.
We were back at the depot at ten thirty, and Johnny O’Neil was sitting with his dad. I was not sure I want to be this close to these two evil men, but I smiled as I saw them.
“Two teas and a sausage sarnie please.” The lady served me quickly but I was not in a hurry to sit down; I wanted time to think. I sat with Jerry.
“Hey.” Johnny was waving me over. I didn’t want to be that close but the pressure was on. I took my sandwich and tea and sat with them.
“So you’ve come from Castlederg?” I nodded at Tommy O’Neil. “Well, I’ll have to send off for your union records. Do you still pay your dues at that branch?” I nearly choked on my sausage; my mouth went dry. At no point had anyone thought of my union records. The buses was a closed shop, you had to be a member of the union to be on the buses. Tommy was looking right into my soul, I lifted my tea to my mouth, just to give myself a few seconds to think.
“Yes, fully paid up member.” I smiled, but my hands were shaking so I hid them under the table.
“I’ll bring in my card tomorrow.” What else could I say? He gave me a form to fill in while Johnny was setting up the balls on the pool table. I was glad that I to get away from Tommy. We started playing pool, Johnny was not giving anything away, so the game was slow and tactical. I ground out three wins. All the time Johnny was getting upset.
“You are the luckiest bugger alive.” He was not used to losing but my mind was on the union records. I needed to get a message to Simon quickly.
“No more for me.” I put the cue away. Johnny was furious. He wanted to win, to prove that nobody could make a fool out of him. I wanted to get to the phone under the floorboards.
“No that’s enough for me.” I smiled and made my way to the door. Johnny came running after me and caught up with me at the top of the stairs.
“What are you doing tonight?” He had his hands on my shoulder. I slowly removed his hands.
“Not a lot really, why?”
“We can go to the club. It’s a better table there, come on, it's Saturday night.” I was a bit shocked, but I didn’t have an excuse so I agreed.
“I’ll knock for you at seven.” I was off, I had fourteen minutes to get to the phone, tell Simon and get back to the depot. I ran all the way and stumbled up the stairs of No.37 and into the bedroom. The phone was again answered quickly.
“Get me Simon.” It seemed like ages before he answered, but probably only took a matter of seconds.
“Ellis here.” I started to babble. “Sir, they are going to get my union records from Castlederg.” He was silent for a few seconds, “Hmm….” Then there was silence. Every second seemed a minute. “Sir I’ve only got minutes to get back to the depot, I must go now.” I slammed the phone down, put the boards back and ran like the wind. Jerry was standing at the depot gates, but I got there on time.
We got re-routed due to a suspect bomb, but time flew for me.
As soon as I got back to No 37, I was up the stairs and on the phone. Simon answered as soon as I asked for him.
“Yes, we forgot about the union records.” He said calmly. “The union convener at Castlederg is ex-army protestant. He assures us that you will have two months records of full union dues, when the request comes through and we will get the union card to you by tonight.” I was feeling much better, but just how many other things had we forgotten to cover?
There were still a few hours till seven, so I got some kip.
Johnny knocked very loudly on the door. I heard it clearly but I was ready for him.
We walked to the club, not the quickest way, Johnny didn't want to go though Protestant streets. Along the way, the vigilantes were out early that night, and most of them acknowledged Johnny.
The club was already quite full when we arrived and there were men playing pool. We took a seat and waited our turn. I studied everyone but not openly staring, just using the technique that Mack had taught me. How had I got myself into this position. I was supposed to be lying low and there I found myself in the lion’s den, surrounded by all sorts of God knows who. I didn’t know whether I’d done well or I’d stepped over the mark. Would they pull me out or what? I knew I was out of my depth, but didn’t know whether I should just keep mouth shut and carry on.
Johnny went on to the pool table first. It gave me time to look around the club. I started making mental notes. I had already seen two familiar faces, who were on the wanted list and two from the report list.
The winner stays on the table, so Johnny had to win so that we could play. Johnny lost and I could see his pride was hurt. I had watched the other man play, so I identified his weakness whilst he did not know my game.
“Robert, he’s a lucky bugger and he’ll clear up if you give him a chance.” Johnny filled the other guy in. I was thinking it might be a good time to lose; maybe he’d lose interest in me, if I played a duffer’s game, but the fighting spirit got inside me as soon as we started to play. We shook hands at the end of the game and as the night wore, on people lost interest in the pool table. There was bingo and a singer came on at nine, rebel songs were going down the best, she knew her audience. But Johnny and I played on. When he won, you could see the jubilation in his face but I didn’t let that happen too often. I knew he held me in high esteem, for no other reason than I could beat him at pool. He didn't even know me. At the end of the night, I deliberately missed the black. I did this because I knew him to be a sociopath and I had to walk home with him. It worked, he was happy and on the way started to sing. We were stopped by an army patrol and pushed against the wall. I gave them a bit of mouth. “Fuck off sunshine.” The squaddie made me lean over even further. He knew this would start to hurt pretty quickly but we were kept waiting whilst our names and addresses were checked out. Mine took forever, because I’d not been there long.
“Spell that again.” The radio operator had mispronounced my name. “Delta, Echo, Echo, Romeo, Yankee.” My arms were killing me, so I tried to stand up a bit more upright.
“Don’t fucking move son.” The soldier holding me had a baton pushed into my back and they were very edgy, but this did not help my arms, which were starting to give way. I moved again, this time the soldier brought me down with a head lock, my face caught the ground and I started to struggle. I was wondering how it had come to this, but my mouth said “You son of a whore, fuck off to where you came from.”
This was a bad mistake. A Land Rover was called up and I was whisked off to Mount Pottinger Police Station. I didn’t know what had happened to Johnny. They let me go at four in the morning; the 'reasonable force' showing as blue marks all over my back and legs. I got straight on the phone, blood still on my lips.
“Get me Simon Adder.”
“Hello?” The sound of Simon’s voice calmed me down, he said he would be there soon and he was. I suddenly realised that this is what it was going to be like.
“I’ve been lifted by the army.” I still felt sorry for myself. “I have to be at work in two hours.” Simon listened, while I moaned on, “I’m black and blue.” But then I remembered the four sightings and told him about them. Simon took the details down and before I fell asleep, he gave me my union card.
“I’ll catch an hour’s sleep and phone you after my shift tomorrow.” I looked at the alarm clock. “No, later today.”
I was not due to clock on until five past six, so I did get some sleep, but in the morning light the bruises on my back and legs were spectacular and I limped to work. The day passed over with no real happenings, but I did hand in my union card to Tommy O’Neil. At the end of my shift, I made my way to No. 37. I took some aspirins, which I bought from the shop downstairs, and sat looking at the Police Station over the road. I realised I was looking on them as the enemy, looking out of their Sangers, dominating the scene. It was a strange feeling. Then I went straight to bed, planning to sort out the reports later.
I was woken by banging on the front door. I rushed to pull on my pants and then walked down the stairs.
“Who’s that?” I had a frog in my throat.
“It’s me.” Johnny was talking in one of those loud whispers. Johnny had come to find out what had happened, and he was very impressed with the bruises. All I could think of was Simon suddenly phoning or worse, appearing.
I put the kettle on as I told Johnny what had happened.
“Four in the morning and will you look at that.” I was showing him my legs. The bruising look good enough to get a load of sympathy, but Johnny was not the sympathetic type. He did, though, like other people to hate the army as much as he did.
“Well, we’ll get them one of these days.” Johnny made a pistol with his finger and pointed it at me and fired. There was a quiet knock on the door; I leapt out of the chair and sprinted down the stairs. I did not ask who it was, but just opened the door. Simon tried to walk in, but I put my hand forcibly against his chest as he walked up the steps. At first he was surprised.
“No, they don’t live here anymore.” Simon nodded and walked away. I had said this more for the benefit of the person who upstairs than for Simon and closed the door noisily. I ran up the stairs and straight into the kitchenette and finished off the tea.
“Do you want a biscuit?”
“How many sugars do you take?”
“Who was that?”
“It was just someone asking for the people who used to live here.” I desperately wanted to change the subject.
“What happened to you last night?” Not that I gave a toss, but I managed to feign interest in how the night had ended for Johnny, after I was shuffled away.
“They’d had their fun, so I was soon on my way.” He took a drink of tea and looked at me, “I went straight home and told my dad.”
“You still live with your parents?” I forgot, not everyone has to get out as soon as they can walk.
Looking hurt, Johnny replied, very defensively, “Of course I do.”
I wanted to get rid of Johnny.
“Do you want to go out tonight?” Johnny asked.
I was knackered and bruised and I wanted to get to the barracks, not just make a phone call report.
“No way, I’m black and blue. Do you want to beat a man who’s wounded and anyway I’m on an early start tomorrow.”
Johnny finished his tea and left with my promise that I would give him a chance for revenge soon.
I was on the phone before Johnny had got to the end of the street.
“Tell Simon I’m coming in.” That’s all I said, when my call was eventually answered.
I got the number eighty six bus to Holywood. I did not use my staff pass and the bus conductor did not know me, but I still got off two stops after the barracks, preferring to walk back, rather than get off nearer to the barracks. I had no ID so had to wait at the guardhouse until Simon came to identify me.
As we walked back to the offices I gave him all the details as to what had occurred. Simon was just listening and calculating the effect of these changes of events.
Captain Ellis, joined us in Room seven.
“So you’ve bonded with a known IRA sympathizer and you have not even been in position for a week!” He looked pleased. I had mixed feelings.
“Obviously we don’t want you to rush things.” Ellis could afford to be relaxed he didn’t have to be out there. “But to be close to some one the likes of O’Neil, it’s a big plus.”
He looked from Simon to me. Simon was trying to look encouraging.
“It could take years to get to this position again, you’ve done really well lad.” But they could see it was lying heavily on me.
“I do my best.” I smiled weakly and was given no further instructions, other than to keep doing what I was doing.
I made my way to the canteen. I thought I might as well get a proper meal while I was there. The cook sergeant wanted to know who I was; my hair was getting long as were my side boards. I explained I was MI and it would be foolish to carry an identity card.
I walked back up a few stops to get the bus home and was in bed by nine thirty.
Wednesday 19 April 1972 BBC News.
A British soldier was shot today in the Lower Falls area of Belfast, while on foot patrol, his next of kin has been informed...
In the OP’s room at Holywood barracks, the radio operator turned round and announced “One shot Willy has done it again.” All the men in the office knew it meant another mother would be getting a visit from the Army.
I had done a week of early and a week of late shifts and was well into my second week of early shifts. Life was settling down and a pattern was evolving. Johnny and I played pool every Wednesday and Saturday night, plus we got a few games at work when our paths crossed, which was quite often, because we were on the same shift. One of the really good things which I had not even considered. I received two wage packets. I was allowed to keep my bus wage and the army paid my wages into the bank in Germany and they paid my rent. I felt rich. Simon said “Well you need money to live, don’t you?” I didn’t think he knew how much I could have earned, with a little bit of overtime, so I kept schtum.
It was amazing how much I saw on the buses. I kept writing the reports and spotting things which army patrols never saw. Both Protestants and Catholics kept a close eye on the army – when they were planning anything. The problem was how slowly my information got to those who need to know, but it was better than nothing.
We were diverted regularly on the bus route because of a suspect bomb here, a demo there, sometimes even gun fights occurred. A lot of this was not even newsworthy.
Jerry the driver just plodded on, nothing fazed him. He had been a merchant sailor in the war and lost a lot of friends one way or another, so this little tiff didn’t worry him. Most of his stories started “I remember the time” and he was a great raconteur, remembering dates, names and places in great detail. I asked him once, when we were standing at the terminus waiting for the return journey, whether he ever expected to die whilst he was in fighting.
“Oh yes, every time we left port, I used to write my last letter to my mother. She couldn’t face opening them until I was back, I never understood that.” He looked into the distance, miles away, remembering the distant conflict.
On Saturday, when Johnny knocked, I was wearing a new shirt and feeling very flash.
“Electric blue, you look like a Belisha beacon.”
Johnny was not impressed with my new shirt. I’d also bought myself a two piece pool cue and carrying case, which I hoped would improve my pool.
“Just wait until this little beauty starts to talk.” I was winding Johnny up, he was inspecting the cue while we walked to the club and as he was putting it back in the case, a foot patrol soldier came around the corner. We carried on walking, but the section leader decided that we perhaps might be carrying some sort of weapon. I could see it coming and they may have checked us out even if we hadn’t had the cue box with us, but that just tipped the balance. Why they had to lean us against the wall and kick our feet around I don’t know, but with the best will in the world it got us going.
“You just leave my bollocks alone you puff.” Johnny was getting indignant at the process and I couldn’t blame him, I felt my own temper rising.
“Have you no home to go to?” Johnny kept up the pressure, I did not want another beating, answered their questions.
Eventually, we were allowed to go on our way. Johnny was furious. “Well that makes my mind up." I looked at Johnny quizzically. He said, “I’m going to join my dad’s unit.”
“What do you mean?” We were getting close to the club and as we entered he said slowly, “I’m going to join the IRA.” I nearly said, that I thought he was already a member, but managed to hold that in.
Sitting at the bottom of the club house, we watched the other pool players as we waited our turn.
“My dad has always expected me to take more of an active part, but until now I never felt the need.” This information went directly against all the intelligence reports I had studied.
“I go on the demos and to the funerals, but not any real action, but now...,” he tapered off, a grim look on his face.
I played badly all night. The new cue was not doing anything for my game. There was a subdued atmosphere to the night.
The next day, news got to the O’Neil’s that Paddy McVeigh, a family friend, had been shot by an under cover British Intelligence Agent, from a passing car, in the Andersonstown part of Belfast. Johnny was away from work for six days, to mourn the death of his friend.
I went into Holywood for a night of R&R on the Wednesday night. Fat Brian and Smudge were on their night off and the film Soldier Blue was showing in the canteen. We had more than two cans that night. I slept in my bunk, which had not been re-allocated.
I read the reports before I went back to No. 37. A soldier, who had been shot by a sniper two days before, was in intensive care. There were some of my reports on the list, which made me feel proud.
Johnny came back on the Friday, you could see some change in him and he was full of hate, so a bit scary. We just saw each other briefly, whilst passing in the yard, and arranged to meet up on the Saturday night.
That Saturday, I had only just finished reporting and put the phone away, when Johnny knocked.
“Fancy a night in town?” He was imploring me to go into Belfast for a pub crawl.
“No problem mate.” I put on the electric blue shirt and polished my shoes, while Johnny watched the TV, then we walked through the back streets to Albert Bridge.
He was back to normal and we were chatting away about how many girls we had been with, both exaggerating about our exploits, as we got to the first bar.
I’m not a big drinker, so I had to make sure that I didn’t drink too much. Bar after bar we visited and even though ever time Johnny turned his back, or went to the toilet, I poured some of my drink into his or any other glass near to me, I could feel I was slowly getting drunk. I suggested we have half pints at each bar, but Johnny ridiculed me.
“Are you a queer?” I was shamed into drinking more than I could take. My guard was going down. We fell all over the road on the way back, Johnny picked me up.
“I’m going on training exercise next week.” I tried to comprehend this piece of information.
“Where to?” My head was spinning but I knew that I had to listen.
“Three days, out in the sticks.” Johnny was holding me steady and watching my response. I needed to look dumb; it was easy because of the beer.
“My dad has arranged for weapon training and I want you to come.” I could not believe what was happening. I let myself fall to the floor, to give me time to think.
“Come on, you hate the bastards as much as me.” Had I been acting that well?
“I’m just a bus conductor.” I wailed.
“We have to make a stand.” He was really putting the pressure on. “They need us.” I was sobering up very fast here. “I can’t be taking time off work. I’ve only just started.” My mind was racing, what would Simon advise me to do?
“You get three days off next week I’ve already had a look at your duties.” He was serious. The adrenaline was kicking in and at that moment I knew that the army would like to have me there.
“OK, but don’t expect me to be any good.”
He hugged me. Here was I, having just agreed to join the IRA, standing on the streets of Belfast, being hugged by a man who, for all the world, wants me to shoot and maim my own side. You could not make this up.
I didn’t report in that night, it would not have been worth it, I would have been incoherent.
The next morning with my tongue rasping on the top of my mouth, I spoke into the phone. “Get me Simon.” Simon was there.
“I’ve just joined the IRA.” There was a long silence and after a while I explained how the night had gone and why I had agreed to the offer.
“You need to come in. I’ll have things ready when you get here.”
“I start work at two thirty,” I reminded him. “I have other things to do, besides running up to Holywood every five minutes.”
“I know, but we still need a full report on this.” I looked at my watch. I supposed it could be done.
“I’ll be on the ten thirty bus.” I could get my breakfast in camp.
“No we’ll pick you up in twenty minutes. Be at the junction of Mount Pottinger and Madrid Street.” There was a new firmness in his voice, which told me how important this was.
Brian was detailed to pick me up and was a bit frosty with me. He didn’t like having to taxi me around and I did not want to be explaining things to him, so there was an atmosphere in the car.
“Oh, it’s just a general reporting session,” I lied. Well could I really say that I was about to go on an IRA training course?
“They seemed a bit anxious, that’s all.” I shrugged my shoulders and changed the subject.
“How are things going with you?”
“Every minute feels like an hour.” He was not having a good time.
I told him that the buses were a lot more interesting than I expected. We arrived at the camp and went straight in, no messing this time. Brian dropped me at the door.
“See you later.” I tried to be friendly, but I felt he saw through me.
Bloody hell, they had brought in every Tom, Dick and Harry to listen to my report. We were in the room at the end of the corridor, which was a bit larger. There were seven of them, one was a half Colonel. There was an air of excitement. I still had a hangover and still wasn’t sure I had done the right thing.
Ellis asked the questions, everybody else just listened. I was sweating.
“Do you think it was the beer talking?”
“No Sir, he’d looked at my duties, so it was premeditated.”
“You know things are going very fast here, but you have to go with the flow.” I nodded. I was ambitious and wanted to do my best, but also knew that it would be very dangerous to continue. Everybody in the room knew that.
At this point, the colonel opened his mouth.
“We feel because of the responsibility you are taking on, that you should be rewarded, so as of today you are now Corporal.” Not very long ago, I was a Sapper, now I had suddenly become a Corporal, I was receiving two wages and my head was spinning.
After every one had gone, Ellis and a tough looking man in civvies, who had not said a word during the meeting, stayed behind. He introduced himself as Captain Lunn of the SAS and actually shook my hand. His hand shake was firm and my hand was wet through with sweat, but he did not appear to notice.
“We need to go though certain things. You need to make it look like you are unfamiliar with weapons and we need to know where the training takes place.” I nodded my head and listened as closely as I could. Out in the corridor, the Colonel was giving instructions.
“Put Mr Adder on this one full time, I don’t want him distracted by anything else.”
“And get the techs to bug Deery’s flat, we need to know what’s going on in there, without his having to report it.”
“Yes Sir.” The wheels started to turn.
Back in the big room, Lunn gave me pointers, which were obvious, but it helped focus my mind. I was offered coffee, to help me concentrate. The mugshot book was out and Lunn pointed to his main targets. At last they were finished with me.
“Do you want a bed?”
“No sir, I wouldn’t mind grabbing a meal, and then I’ll get back to my flat.”
It had been a long day. I could feel my batteries running low.
“Ok, go to the mess, get a bite to eat and we’ll organise a lift.” Ellis was patting me on the back, as I made my way to the door.
“Well done, Deery,” Lunn said. I felt very proud at that moment.
I wandered out to the mess and felt the cold of the night. A heavy dew had fallen and there were no clouds to keep the temperature up.
Ellis sipped his coffee as he filled out his report, which then was sent directly to The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Outside the vigilantes stood on doorsteps, men moved weapons and bombs from one safe house to another, doors were kicked in and heavy boots stamped up stairs. It was just one more night in the province.
Brian came to my table with a large cup of tea and the morning paper and sat down.
“A couple of our lads were in a gun fight last night.”
“Do I know them?” I was happy to talk about anything except what was happening to me.
“Yes, do you know that fat bastard from Two Troop, Johnston?” I nodded.
“Well it was his section, they were on patrol and all hell broke loose down on McAuley Street, someone had a rifle and a few hand guns, shooting from an old warehouse.” He started to chuckle. “They ran out of ammo, didn’t hit a thing.”
He finished off his tea and we made our way to his car. He drove me back to my place, dropping me off in a back lane.
“Be careful,” he said as he drove off. I went to my cold bed.
My shift on the buses went over that night without much to tell, but I was sure Jerry’s driving was getting slower, or was I just getting impatient. When I got home to No. 37, something was different. I sat and looked about the room. I could not put my finger on it, was that glass there before? Was the door just like that? Was there a smell? I decided I should start to take precautions. There were two ways into the flat and I needed know if anyone came in while I was out. I put a tin can behind the back door. If this moved, I would know that someone had been in.
I was on a late shift that night and as I went through the gates into the yard, I bumped into Tommy O’Neil.
“Here’s your union card.” He handed over the card and looking at me closely. “There’s a funeral for one of our boys on Monday, I’d like you to be there.” I was taken aback, but managed to say, “I’ll be there, is Johnny going?”
“Yes he can pick you up at ten thirty.”
On the Monday morning Johnny was at the door bang on time, and we walked to the stop where the forty one bus would take us up Falls Road to Milltown cemetery.
As we went along, he told me of the training which was to take place that weekend. He knew that it was my long weekend, so I would not need to take time off work.
We arrived at the cemetery and walked past the Police Station, which was heavily fortified with barbed wire and sand bags. You could clearly see RUC and army officers photographing everyone one who entered.
In the cemetery, a big crowd had gathered and we fell in with them. The cortège meandered down the path, the family at the front weeping quietly as we all gathered around the grave. We were at the back. A tricolour had been placed over the coffin and as the body was lowered into the grave, I saw six men with black balaclavas and green army styled jackets, line up next to the grave. Suddenly they pulled out pistols and with one of them shouting out the time, fired six shots into the air. Immediately the RUC tried to move in, grey Land Rovers rolling down the path, to where we were milling around. The gunmen ran down in the opposite direction and climbed quickly over the fence. Meanwhile the men in the crowd blocked the road and were banging on the windows of the vehicles, generally making things difficult for the RUC. Tempers were rising and some of the men started throwing stones and branches which were lying under the trees. The RUC started to pull back and then the army came down another path with riot shields and batons. As the RUC retreated, we got braver, pushing hard. It ended up as a stand off, with the RUC and the army outside the gates and us just on the inside. Photographers had been running around most of the time, largely ignored by the crowd, but snapping away. We didn’t know whether they were press, army or IRA sympathizers and I didn’t care. I was close to Johnny all the time. If anyone had asked who I was, I knew he would vouch for me. There was great excitement amongst the men, we stood around and going over the whole event. Everybody wanted to get to the pub for the wake, so the first of the brave souls left and we saw them being allowed to leave, without any retribution from the RUC. We followed them out and down the Falls Road to the pub.
“Did you see them run?” Johnny was full of himself. We arrived at the pub, which was full to the brim with people ordering drinks and recalling their part in the day’s action.
“What you drinking?” Tommy O’Neil was getting the order in. I was trying to remember as many faces as possible without looking too obvious.
A man, who Johnny referred to as Joe, was telling his tale. “Then did you see me hit that bastard with that rock.” He was beaming and excited. We listened to him telling the story, exaggerating the victory over the RUC and army.
The pub was now full and suddenly a big cheer went up. I could not see at first, but six men were pushing through towards the bar. They were the six men who had fired the salute at the graveside. They were being patted on the back, drinks were set on the bar, the noise and excitement increased, songs were being sung, stories of the deceased were being told and people got drunk. I was watching, listening and making mental notes. I also had a shift on the buses that night.
Tuesday 2nd May 1972.
The next morning Johnny knocked on the door while I was reporting to Simon on the land line. I had to quickly put the carpet down and hide the phone, to get to the door.
“Have you seen this?” He was holding out a copy of Belfast Today. He pushed past me and went up the stairs. I followed.
The headline read, “Mob protects gun men” and there on the front page was a picture of Johnny and me, he was throwing something and I had a snarl on my face. I didn’t remember snarling. The photographers had been from the press. Johnny was delighted, I was wondering what Simon and Ellis will think of this.
In an office back at barracks the radio operator listened and made notes. The wire had been installed. That was the someone who had been in the flat.
“Look at your face, you look as though you’re going to bite them.” Johnny was pointing at the picture of me.
“Aye, but you’ll get lifted for that photo, not me.” I quipped.
Johnny sat and read parts of the report, reading out loud bits that vaguely had anything to do with us.
“It says ‘the crowd at this point turned ugly.' They are talking about you.” He was like a child with a new toy. I put the kettle on and made two cups of tea, he shouted through to the kitchen.
“Hey, it says the wake went on until the early hours, you’re not joking, I never got home until three in the morning.” He tossed the paper down and leaned back.
“Come on, let’s go for a game of pool.” I was on the middle shift, so I had a few hours spare.
“I’ll only thrash you.” I was trying to wind him up.
“Fuck you, I’ll play you for a pint and I’ll be pissed in an hour.” He stood up.
“You always did get pissed easily.” Its part of the game, make it important to the other player, so he tries too hard. I picked up the cue case and put my coat on. There was a fine drizzle as we walked to the club.
While we were in the club, Johnny told me that we would be getting picked up on the Friday at six thirty, for training.
At Holywood barracks, in the large training room, Major Ellis was talking to all ranks. There were detailed maps on the wall behind him.
“As you know, sadly, we lost another man to One Shot Willy and we have to make finding this man, a top priority. It could be there’s more than one man, but it’s doubtful that they have more than one with these skills.” He glanced down at his notes.
“He’s currently taking out a man every ten days, with a single shot to the head. His average distance from target is two hundred and seventy five yards.” He looked up.
“This is very high calibre shooting, even with a specialist rifle and taking all things into account, this man is a top notch marksman.” There was a murmur from the men assembled, Ellis went on.
“We don’t have much, but I will tell you this, we think that he’s been brought in from abroad, probably East Germany or Poland and he works for money. Of course we have to keep an open mind and it may turn out that they just have more than one operator and they may be local.” Ellis stopped to think for a moment.
“We do have our ears to the ground and all intelligence on this subject is being collated by Captain Lunn Special Forces.” He pointed over to Lunn. “If you have any information, no matter how tenuous, you think may be linked to this problem, you must pass it through his department.” He turned the page on his notes.
“Now I want to cover the riot involving the Para’s on Crumlin Road. I want to say that they acted well within the rules of the yellow card....” He went on to other business.
Monday, 29th May 1972.
The rest of the week passed by, my driver, Jerry was off ill and I was given a young driver called Kerry Howell. We left late and arrived early on every trip, he was throwing the bus around but he made up for that with his wit.
“I like my girls to have a pulse and still be warm.” He was girl mad. Often he would slow the bus down and open his window to wolf whistle, even when we had a bus inspector on board.
“Hey love, fancy a good time?” I started to blush, but this easy going attitude with girls, was part of his life.
On my last shift, before we went to the training with Johnny and the IRA, Kerry and I were on the number twenty four route, which went from Dunmurry to the city. We were waiting at the terminus for the return journey. Two of the loveliest young girls got on the bus. Kerry had seen them and had come from the cab and to sit in the back with me. He was chatting away.
“Where are you two lovelies going then, on the town?’ They were enjoying the attention.
“None of your business.” The older one replied, but she still kept eye contact with Kerry, obviously wanting the conversation to carry on. Kerry was not put out of his stride one bit.
“Well I’m off tomorrow, if you would like a good time?” He gave an easy smile, not taking his eyes off the girl. She was about seventeen, purple mini skirt and her coat was even shorter.
“Do you think we go out with any old man who asks?” She was smiling; her friend and I were just watching this go on.
“Well do you want a drink then?” Kerry kept going; the girl looked at her friend, who took a sly glance over to me. I had got what I thought was my best face on.
“Well you’ll not get me drunk.” She was defiant and started to lay down conditions. Kerry knew he’d scored.
“Would I do that?” Kerry looked more roguish when he was trying to look innocent, but everyone understood, that he would try and she probably would get drunk. He now wanted to draw me and the other girl in. I at this moment, remembered I had a date with the IRA.
“I’m sorry I can’t come.” I didn’t want to look like a party pooper, so added that I was going home to my mother’s for a long weekend.
“Sure your mum will let you out for once.” Kerry felt as thought he was loosing it.
“Sorry, she lives in Liverpool, I’m getting the ferry across and won’t be back until Monday.” What could I say, if looks could have killed, I would have been dead meat.
Kerry tried to salvage something. “Me and you could go out?” He looked at the first girl.
“What me? Go out with the likes of you, I’ve got a reputation to keep.” At this moment an old man got on the bus and looked at his watch.
“I thought I’d missed it,” he said.
“God look at the time.” Kerry jumped up and left saying, “We’ll meet you at O’Donnell’s at eight on Wednesday.”
The journey back into town must have broken a speed record. Even though we picked up a passenger at almost every stop, I never really had time to speak to the girls again, but the young one smiled every time I passed. Later Kerry quizzed me about the trip back.
“Did they talk to you?”
“No, I was busy.”
“So they did not say they would not be there?”
“No.” I was getting impatient with him.
“Where did they get off?”
“Bedford Street and they walked towards City Hall.”
At the end of the shift I went to No. 37 and reported to Simon on the phone.
“Will you be monitoring me?” I wanted to know whether I would be followed.
“No I’m afraid you will be on your own, you’ll have to be very careful. If you want to get out of this at any point, get yourself to a phone and we’ll pull you.” Simon knew this was a golden opportunity, but that it was me taking the risks.
“Report in as soon as you get back and don’t take any risks.” This was stating the obvious.
I slept quite well considering and the next morning I just hung around the house, trying to relax.
Friday 2nd June 1972. BBC News
Another British soldier was shot today by a sniper in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, whilst on foot patrol……
Friday 2nd June 1972.
“Have you got a sleeping bag?” Johnny enquired as he came through the door.
“No, what do you think I am, a Boy Scout?”
“You’ll have to take a few blankets rolled up then.” He went past me into the bed room and stripped off the only bedding I had and made a neat roll, tying them with a belt. He looked down at the two pillows on the floor, where I had been resting my head while reporting to Simon.
“Have you been sleeping on the floor?” I blushed.
“No I was going to wash the sheets before we go.” I picked the pillows up and placed them on the bed, I was not a good liar.
“You also need some warm clothes.” Johnny was sitting on the bed and I was thinking that I didn't like him being too close to the phone and I wanted him out of the bedroom.
“Hey you’re like my mother, get the fuck out and make a cup of tea.” I pointed towards the kitchen. He went though and put the kettle on.
I filled my duffle bag with some clean socks and a warm pullover, collected a few things from the bathroom and I was ready.
Johnny looked at his watch. “We’ve got twenty minutes”.
I told Johnny about the two girls and at the mention of Kerry’s name, I could see he did not get on with him.
“Kerry’s a lad, so he is.” But he didn’t mean that, he meant he was a fucking proddy bastard, who got all the girls. I made a mental note not to mention Kerry again.
It was raining as we went to the pick up point. I was feeling self conscious about my blanket roll, I felt like some carpet bagger.
We were picked up by two men in a Ford Capri; we threw our stuff in the boot and were on our way.
The driver was about thirty years old, but the man who sat next to him was much younger, barely eighteen. Johnny ran the conversation, “Hiya, this is Billy Deery.” He pointed at me; I leant across and shook their hands
“What’s your name?” Johnny was looking at the young man.
“Rory.” He did not give us his last name.
Johnny knew the driver. “So Hugh, how are things?”
“Not so bad, Johnny boy and yourself?” We were heading out of town, and the windscreen wiper on the passenger side was all but useless. As we left Belfast, I started to consider my position; it could have turned into a full blown panic attack. Were these men were my execution squad? Imagine if they had known all along who I was? Were they going to take me to some dark corner of Ireland and leave me dead?
The radio was on, I remained silent. I was watching where we were going for one, and two I was starting to think too much. After an hour and a half I sat up.
“Hugh, can we stop for a piss?” I was not sure I wanted to go to the toilet, but I sure needed some fresh air, he went on for a further five minutes then pulled in.
It was not a lay-by but there was cover. We got out of the car stretching our legs and lighting up cigarettes, I walked into the trees. Now there were all sorts of things running through my head and one was Simon saying not to take any risks. I felt as though something was wrong, I didn't have any evidence, just a gut feeling I was going to end up in a ditch.
My experience so far was telling me that if I ran and they found me, that’s where I’d be. If I stayed the course and they were who they said they were, then I would gain some very valuable intelligence.
“Hey Billy, what the fuck are you doing?” I was brought back to the present by Johnny.
“Move yourself, you’re not on your father’s yacht now.” He had a lovely way of saying things. I trudged back to the car, not having the nerve to make a run for it. Needless to say they gave a little cheer as we crossed the border. We arrived at our destination about fifteen minutes later, driving along a very tight lane and going over a hill to a farm.
I was surprised at how many people there were at the training camp. We were met by an old man, who checked us off his list.
“Just park over there.” He pointed to where four other cars were parked. We picked up our bags and things and followed him to a barn. By now it was completely dark, there were no lights at all, and only the old man had a torch. Inside there was a single bulb lighting the whole barn. About a dozen men had already taken the best sleeping places. Half the barn was stacked with bails of hay; the other half had old tractors and bits of very old farm machinery lying around.
“When you’ve got yourselves sorted, there’s a meeting at eight in here.” He disappeared into the dark.
Rory was still outside trying to wipe cow shit off his boots.
I went and got a bail of hay, dragging it over to where I planned to sleep. I cut the rope and spread the hay level, then getting my blankets out, made my bed for the weekend.
“You’ve done this before.” Johnny was watching and copying me.
“Aye a regular Boy Scout that’s me.” I really should not have looked so useful, but the army training kept kicking in.
“There’s a pub not far from here, after the meeting I’m off for a pint.” Johnny smiled at the thought of it.
I knew what sleeping rough was like and a few pints inside always helped. “Count me in. Does it have a pool table?”
“No, but the music’s good and the landlord does not have a watch.”
One more car arrived after us, but there was only the driver inside. He came in and without saying anything, he set out his camp bed. He had a gas light and some home comforts, a folding chair and the biggest chunky sleeping bag I’ve ever seen.
Not long after some men came into the barn. One young man called us all together.
“Get yourselves over here.” We all gathered at the other end and they did a roll call, very military.
“Right you’re here for basic training, reveille is six thirty, you can get washed in the farm and breakfast is in two stages.” At this point he read out the names of those in the first and those in the second shift for breakfast. Johnny was on the first and I was on the second. I was not displeased about this, I would have more opportunity to look around and make mental notes, remember names and faces.
The young man continued and told us that we would be covering basic discipline, small arms, organising riots and how to deal with the forces.
He then introduced us to the other men who would be training us that weekend.
As soon as the talk was over, Johnny said, “Come on, off to the pub.” We made sure everything was packed away.
There was not much light and Johnny tripped on our way to the local. We arrived at the village, it was not really a village, no more than a few houses but they had a pub. We stumbled in and were hit by the warmth and light. You have to give it to the Irish; they are well blessed with homely welcoming ale-houses
There were quite a lot of people inside, dogs lying in the middle of the floor, a heavy pall of smoke hung around and on one of the tables, a fiddle and a few penny whistles. Some of the men from the farm had already beaten us down there. We got our pints and joined them.
“We’re from Derry, Bogside.” The oldest man said by way of an introduction. He was in his late twenties, with long dank hair and that pinched mouth look that only poverty can bring.
“I’m Johnny and that’s Billy.’ Johnny introduced both of us.
“John, Pat and I’m Seamus.” He pointed out the other two and they nodded.
Hugh and Rory came into the bar and ordered pints, and we made room for them.
“You two must have sprinted down here,” Hugh observed looking at Johnny and me.
“Hey, we're not wasting drinking time.” Johnny opened a pack of cards, “Anyone in for Crash?” He started to shuffle the cards. Soon the musicians started playing over in the far corner. A guitarist and a small harp player came in later during the evening. We all rolled back to the farm late, stumbling and laughing, and fell into our beds. I slept well.
Saturday 3rd June 1972.
The next morning I could hear the rain falling, I did not want to get out of bed. The lone man who was dressed like a hunter was up and dressed. All of his things had been packed away.
A voice in the gloom said, “Come on get yourselves up.” I struggled out of bed and walked across the yard. In the bathroom, there was only one cold water sink and the door was missing. I waited my turn, decided against shaving, just rinsed my face and had a quick brush of the teeth and I was out. While Johnny was at breakfast, I had a chance to study the last man to arrive. He’d bedded down on the other side of the barn. To my knowledge, he had not spoken to anyone. He was sitting on his camp bed reading a paper backed book. He wore black boots, which tied a long way up the leg, a camouflage jacket with a hood and dark trousers. His watch was one of those big heavy duty things which could probably go down to a hundred yards under water and tell you the time in every country of the world. He was not very tall, but had an air of strength, confidence and looked very sure footed. I was trying to work out why this man would be on basic training, when Johnny came back from breakfast.
“Fucking lovely,” he was smiling, “as much as you can eat, eggs, bacon, sausage and every damn thing you could want, go on get yourself in.” Johnny jumped back onto his bed. I went off, but I noticed that the quiet man, the Hunter, did not come in.
It was like the monkeys’ tea party, people grabbing tea and toast and generally making pigs of themselves.
“Yes I’ll have another slice of toast if you don’t mind,” announced one of the men who had eaten the most. I was glad to get out of there, but not until I had taken a very good look at every face at the table. I still had a job to do.
The rain was easing off as we paraded, although 'parade' would be too strong a word. We stood in two lines with three men out in the front. The Hunter stood off to the left, smoking a cigarette, his hood up, he was becoming interesting.
“OK, we are going to break you up into three groups of six and in that way, you’ll circulate from one area to another over here in the big barn. We’ll be doing tactics. Out here, we’ll be marching and practising parade stuff.” He pointed to the yard.
Parade stuff? I nearly burst out laughing.
“Over that hill to the left, about half a mile, we’ll be using the guns and things.” Johnny and I were put in the barn for the first part of our training and the young man, who had done most of the organizing, led us there.
“Hi, I’m Noel Dougal; I’m the adjutant of ‘D’ company. I want to take you through the tactics of resistance. We have to be organized, we have to be disciplined and above all we have to be smarter than the Loyalists and the army.”
Dougal delivered a great two hour lecture. He was young, but he was passionate, intelligent and dedicated and he definitely motivated the men in our group.
“Remember, be smart - use the situation to your advantage and don’t take stupid risks.” He looked at us and stood up. “Has anybody got any questions?”
I wanted a cup of tea and didn’t want a long question and answer session to make it hard going. The rest must have felt that way too, because when one daft sod asked, “Do we get identity cards?” Johnny gave him a swift clatter on the back of the head.
We all strolled out of the barn and as we rounded the end, the other group was standing to attention. The rain was that type of drizzle that soaks you through before you realize. We went straight into the kitchen, there was a bit of a fight to be first to the tea urn, so that we could get a good seat next to the stove. I was at the front and sat next to the window, just the right distance from the fire, and lit a cigarette.
“So if you’ve got your ID and the army pull you over, do you just show him your pass and go on your way?” Johnny was taking the piss out of the daft lad, who blushed.
The lad tried to defend his stupid remark. “I meant so that we could prove to other members that we were on the same side.”
“For fuck sake,” Johnny kept up the attack, “just turn out your pockets son, next thing you know you’ll be in The Maidstone eating gruel.” Johnny took a long drag on his cigarette, he was feeling pleased with himself. At this moment the men who had been doing foot drill poured through the door, there was a mad rush for the teas and as they sat down and made themselves comfortable, Johnny started to recount the story of the ID card to them. To our surprise, the young lad jumped up and gave Johnny a punch to the face. For a moment I thought Johnny was just going to take it, but in an instant, Johnny was up and at him. Most people in the kitchen didn’t know what was going on. As they both fell to ground, Johnny was on top and the other men were trying to pull them apart. Eventually, and not before Johnny had given the lad a head butt, they managed to separate them. In this incident, Johnny showed his killer instinct. He had had that look a man gets, when no matter how large or small the insult, something snaps.
I always do the same thing when men fight around me, hold my pint or tea out of the way and wait to see who’s going to win, this was no exception. It could have been interesting, a big strong lad against this wiry little psychopath! But the fight was stopped. I took Johnny outside, with him declaring that he would have killed the bastard. I knew he would have.
“Come on, save it for the army, we don’t want to be fighting amongst ourselves." He was still flushed from the fight and had a trace of blood in the corner of his mouth, from the first blow.
“I hope he doesn't stand in front of me, when I've got a gun.” I remembered that we would be having the experience of small arms later.
“Calm down, he’s just a boy.”
“Well the fucker started it and I’ll finish it.” That threatening look came over Johnny’s face again.
At this point, the men who had been over the hill, doing small arms, came into the yard carrying an assortment of weapons. One of them held a Tommy gun, which must have been forty years old. They were smiling and joking.
The Hunter was at the back carrying a rifle and a green case, he looked just the part. The men stacked the guns on a ground sheet, just inside the first room and piled in to get their tea.
I went back in with them. The lad was nursing himself in the corner.
At the end of the break, Noel Dougal asked us to line up in two ranks.
“I’m sorry, but some of us have to go, there’s trouble at Derry and we have to be there, the prods are marching.” Dougal added, “If anybody wants to come with us, they’d be welcome.”
Dougal turned and made his way into the farm house.
Johnny turned to Hugh and Rory, who were in the same transport as us. “Well do you fancy it?”
Hugh, the driver said, “I’m going.” The excitement was tangible. Men were hurrying back to the barn. We went in and packed our things. I noticed the Hunter sitting on his bed, carefully cleaning his rifle, a Lee Enfield with telescopic sights. It didn’t look as though he was going anywhere.
Within a few minutes we were packed and making our way to the car. Noel Dougal came across to talk to us.
“You’ll have to come into the city from the north, the army have road blocks all over the place.” Hugh got out an old map and they poured over it while we sat in the car. It had started to rain and the inside of it had one of those wet dog smells. With the directions sorted, Hugh tried to start the car, but there was just a clicking sound when he turned the key.
“Fuck, come on, get out and push.” We leapt out and started to push the car back across the farm yard, a few more men came across to help. It started on the second bump, we were on our way.
We travelled north, with the radio on. Reception was a bit poor in that area, so it took a while to find anything out, but what we did hear sounded like big news. The main story was that a land mine had killed two soldiers in an attack at Rosslea. We all gave a cheer. I found it hard, but nobody seemed to notice.
Rory was map reading and Johnny and I were in the back, chain smoking.
We entered the city and almost immediately came to a road block. I just knew we would get pulled over. Well what could you expect; we were four men of the right age group. The soldier pointed to a side alley, which we pulled into. Several soldiers immediately started to look under the car with mirrors. Hugh wound down the window and a young soldier leaned in.
“Where are you going?” Hugh handed over his license.
“We’re off for Saturday lunch with my sister.” This went right over the top of the soldier’s head.
“Can we see in the boot?” The traffic was starting to build up and the soldier was in a hurry. Hugh jumped out and opened the boot. The soldier had a quick glance, pushing a few of the bags around.
“OK sir.” We were on our way.
“We need to get parked up soon. We can walk from here.”
Hugh seemed to know his way around. I had only been to Derry once with Simon. We pulled off the main road, parked up and started to walk towards the city center. As we walked along we talked excitedly about the events which were about to unfold.
“We can kick fuck out of them prods.” Rory was expressing what the others were thinking.
“Come on down this road.” Hugh lead the way, we walked through blocks of flats, through the maze of alleyways, eventually arriving at a street of small terrace houses. He knocked gently on the door, eventually it opened slowly.
“Hugh Dolan, what are you doing here?” The man who opened the door came into the street and started to shake Hugh’s hand. He had a big smile on his face.
He nodded in our direction. “Who’s this lot?”
“We’re here to see the prods off, they’re marching sometime today. That’s Billy, Johnny and Rory. Rory’s dad is Jacky Docherty. Remember he worked at the factory on Antrim Road in the early sixty’s. The man looked at Rory. “Oh yes I remember him, always singing at the top of his voice.” Rory smiled, recognizing the description of his father.
“Boys, this is Seamus.” Seamus smiled.
“Come in, come in.” We were waved through the door into the smallest front room I had ever seen, somehow they had managed to fit two large sofas and a small table into the room. The place had a damp smell and had obviously not been decorated for decades.
“Mary, put the kettle on.” Seamus called to his wife in the kitchen. He was about fifty and had dirty, grey hair. There was no collar on his shirt and his braces had lost most of the elasticity and had been adjusted to take this into account. We squeezed into the seats and made ourselves as comfortable as we could.
“Are you working now?” Rory enquired.
“Hell no, there’s no jobs here for the likes of us.” He looked to us for sympathy and we nodded knowingly. “But the Prods walk into a job anytime they want.”
At this moment Mary came in, carrying a pot of tea and a plate with biscuits, she returned quickly with the cups and milk and sugar.
“Could you put the three o’clock news on the radio?” Rory asked. I noticed then that they had no television. In fact there was precious little, except the sofas, in the room. The radio was switched on as Mary poured the tea and we helped ourselves to sugar and milk.
On the hour, the bleeps told us it was time for the news.
“Shush, Shush, listen.” We all stopped talking.
“The marchers will be leaving the Irish street area of Derry at about three o’clock. They are protesting about the No-go areas in the Bogside and Creggan. William Craig has spoken these words “We are no longer protesting, we are demanding action.”
We started to talk over the broadcast on the radio.
“Well that’ll get the bastard re-elected.” Seamus’s face had a look of disgust, we all had sympathised with him.
Rory jumped up. “Come on, let’s get at them.” I bolted my tea down and grabbed a handful of biscuits and before I knew it, we were making our way round the city walls.
As we got closer to the bridge, we saw the army were all over the place, every street corner had men with full riot gear and weapons at the ready. There were armoured vehicles with men on high alert, sitting inside. We came down Aberckon Road and could see that they had fenced off the bridge at both ends with barbed wire and a six foot fence. Nobody was going over that bridge today. I was relieved, Johnny was disappointed.
“Let the fuckers come.” Johnny was joining in with the rest of the crowd.
The army had put a roadblock of barbed wire and fencing at the junction of Harding Street and Aberckon Road but we all pushed as close as we could. Soldiers were facing us and we cursed and goaded them. The press were taking photographs of everything that happened.
Suddenly a bottle was thrown by someone at the back of the crowd towards the army. At first it looked as though they wouldn't respond, but they were waiting until two Land Rovers with half a squad of men were in place behind us. They marched up towards us, close to the temporary fence. We were spitting and bad mouthing them. Then they pulled the barricade to one side and charged and at the same time a snatch squad jumped out of the Land Rovers and was baton charging from the back.
It had the right effect; we were running everywhere to get away from the soldiers, who were using their batons indiscriminately. I stumbled on the corner of the pavement and went down like a ton of bricks, catching my right eyebrow on the ground. My biggest fear was to be trampled under foot, while I was down, still dazed from the knock on my head. The soldiers passed me by, but as people fled, the soldiers re-grouped and came my way again. I stood up and blood was pouring down my face, two squaddies lifted me up, pulled my arms around my back and marched me off through the barrier. I was aware that some of the protesters were trying to stop them from arresting me, but the soldiers closed ranks and I was quickly through the barrier, but not before the press had taken some fairly good pictures of me covered in blood being choked by an arm around my neck.
There was a big temptation to shout “I’m on your side.” Then I was in the back of a Pig with two squaddies sitting on top of me and another holding a loaded gun to my head. The Pig was hammering up the hill to God knows where. The driver knew, but I didn't. The Pig swung into a yard full of Army vehicles. I was dragged out and rushed into what turned out to be part of the library.
“What’s your name boy?” I was being questioned by a corporal from the military police, at the end of an aisle in the library.
“37 Mount Pottinger Street, Belfast.”
“Date of birth?”
“11th December 1951.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I was minding my own business, when you lot picked me up.”
He leaned forward and snarled, “Shut the fuck up, we’ve got witnesses who say you were the fucker who was throwing bottles. I’m probably going to do you for grievous bodily harm.” He stepped up close, but he didn’t know that better people than him had breathed their bad breath over me and I had been threatened by better men than him.
“You were handed over to me covered in blood, no one will notice a bit more.”
I didn’t flinch. He stormed off.
“Keep an eye on that twat.” I stood in the aisle, while he went off to check my details. I had a chance to check myself over. The blood had stopped running down my face, but I had a nasty cut above my right eye and this had a swollen and felt puffy to it. Someone had stood on my left leg while I was down and they were trying to escape from the soldiers in the initial charge. All in all, I felt rough.
I leaned against the wall at the end of the aisle, resting and thinking of the events of the last few days. I was exhausted. When the military policeman came back his attitude had completely changed, he was carrying a cup of tea and a chair.
“Sorry mate.” He placed the seat down and handed the tea to me.
“They're sending someone to see you.” I looked at him to see if he knew what was going on.
“Who’s that?” I asked suspiciously, staying in character.
“Dunno mate, but the word has come down to look after you.” He started to walk away.
“I‘ll get someone to clean you up, give me ten minutes.” And with that he was gone.
The tea was hot and sweet and I sat there having a smoke and just resting, the toil of leading a double life had at last caught up with me. I reflected on what I had been first directive, just observe from the bus what was going on in the city. That was my only task. How things had changed.
After thirty minutes a medic set about washing and bandaging my head.
“How’s that?” he inquired, standing back to survey his efforts. He had been very careful, only two butterfly stitches and some liniment on my leg.
“The bandage will need changing in two days, so go and see your doctor.”
He thought I had a doctor, my documents were with the M.O. in Germany, I had better get that sorted, I thought.
After a while a Captain from the Fusiliers came down the aisle.
“They're sending someone from Belfast to see you, do you want a rest?” He didn't know what my status was but he knew I was important and people in high places wanted me to be kept safe.
“Yes please.” I kept the accent going, but I was beginning to relax.
“Could I have something to eat?”
After steak and kidney pudding, chips and several cups of tea, I was taken through the library and up the stairs into an office, where there was a lone camp bed for me.
“Get some rest.” The officer disappeared and in the warmth and safety of that office, I soon dropped off.
Posted by Ol' Grumpy. at 00:02