A Map to Remember Me. Part 8, Belfast

A Map to Remember Me. Part 8, Belfast

  Belfast   I was sitting there watching Andy smoke a joint as he lay on his pit. I got the dope from a girl back home. She sent me dope and my father sent me the local newspaper. ‘Leisure centre hosts flower arranging debacle’ that kind of thing. We even used to read it sometimes. I suppose it was comforting to know that the world, however meaningless, carried on, even if we weren’t in it! The smoke was drifting and curling and we philosophised as the night wore on. We ain’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too, But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you; An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints, Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints; In the weeks before we went to Belfast we had lost three soldiers to accidents, suicide and stupidity. Archer had stolen a land-rover and driven it into a lake when he was drunk, another lad whose name I cannot remember was found dead at the bottom of some backstreet steps in the city and a lad named Brooker when coming home drunk one night decided he wanted a snack. That’s what killed him, not the snack but his attempt to get one. He climbed down the stainless steel flue of a little food stand that sold burgers and hot dogs. When he got inside and turned on the gas he found he had no matches so climbed out again and asked a passer-by for a light. He climbed back inside, lit the match and blew the whole thing...

A Map to Remember Me. Part 7, Germany 1945

Germany 1945   He is in an armchair and takes off his reading glasses, tics, lays his book in his lap; Bronowski’s, ‘The Ascent of Man’, and tells me about Germany 1945. There sit I, his luckless double, and listen again to the silence between his nonchalance. I was on my way back to the regiment and when we got as far as Soltau we stopped for lunch on rising ground and watched a British unit about 5 miles away mopping up some SS Hitler Youth troops who were in a small wood. They were doing it with crocodile tanks that have flame throwers – didn’t half bring the buggers out of the wood a bit sharpish. There was a railway line nearby with some burnt out wagons on it. I went for a leak and had a look into one of them and saw a British sixpenny piece inside. Then I saw a line of stakes going into the woods. Following them I came upon a big circle marked out in more wooden stakes, it was about 10yards across. The soil was fairly loose over the circle and all of a sudden I noticed a boot with a foot inside sticking out and then I found another. I yelled out and some of the others came over, among them a RSM. I told him about the sixpenny piece and we went and found it. The RSM got on the wireless to the camp at Venlo on the Dutch border. An SIB (Army detectives) unit caught up with us at the next place we stopped. They took statements from...
A Map to Remember Me. Part 6: Normandy

A Map to Remember Me. Part 6: Normandy

Normandy This is where I began; after my father died. It’s a beautiful part of France and the beaches that stretch along the coastline as you pass through the towns of Ouistreham, Luc-sur-Mer, Lyon-sur-Mer, Arromanches, Colleville, Veirville and Le Madeleine are clean and inviting. I rode a motorcycle, got wet and hot in equal measure. Took my time. The beach at Arromanche and the remains of the Mulberry’ harbour in the bay I swam at some of the beaches especially Sword beach, venue of the British attacks at a place called Lyon-sur-Mer and listened to the Garry Owen playing on my heaphones. My dad was a cavalryman and it seemed an appropriately memorable and comic piece of music to play at his funeral as the coffin descended. I felt that he would have approved somehow. So I stood in the sea looking towards the town of Lyon-sur-Mer which is in the area designated as Sword Beach and I thought about what it was like, advancing up the beach. I imagined the whistle of shells followed by explosions. The tranquillity was now only disturbed by early morning joggers, walkers, cyclists, gulls and me, the solitary swimmer. My father was due to land with the 11th Hussars on D-Day + 9 but on 6th June, as the Allies were landing in France he was helping to pull the pontoons of a floating bridge out of the ground when one came loose a bit quicker than expected and broke his leg. He spent the next few weeks recovering which is when he met my mother so but for that stroke of fate, I may...
A Map to Remember Me. Part 5: Meat Wagons & Memorials

A Map to Remember Me. Part 5: Meat Wagons & Memorials

  Meat Wagons & Memorials   Because we were involved in covert soldiering in Northern Ireland we were transported from Aldergrove Airport, Belfast to the Special Forces Training centre, Ballykinla, a journey of several hours, in an articulated lorry normally used for transporting frozen meat. This place does not show up on maps and you will not get any hits by googling it either but it exists on a particularly windswept and gorse-clad part of the coastline. The vehicle was empty when we got in still wearing civilian clothes, jeans, t-shirts, a few people had coats. Even though, of course, the freezer plant in the meat-wagon was not on, it was still very, very cold. We were sealed up inside the lorry in a darkness so complete that it was impossible to see a hand in front of your face. To avoid being thrown all over the place we sat and lay on the filthy floor of the container and after the jokes and banter wore off we began to pray for the journey to end. I remember thinking about my sisters, trying to give myself courage to not complain about the dark and cold. I repeated their names to myself in a kind of mantra. It was so cold that we held each other on the floor of that truck with no embarrassment or hesitation. After a couple of hours someone began crying. No-one told him to shut up. I never found out who it was and no-one ever asked. It could have been any of us.  A voice with a Lancashire accent said, ‘I’ve got to piss’....
A Map to Remember Me. Part Four: Cadiz

A Map to Remember Me. Part Four: Cadiz

Cadiz   Auntie Elsie married Uncle Charlie; they had a son Arthur and a daughter Monica. Arthur was about my age. Charlie was a lovely man and a solicitor so they were “posh” and lived in Wandsworth by Wimbledon common. He had been a prisoner of war during the 1914/18 War and was very poorly for a long time after he returned. Father, a ship! A child lies on floor looking out from a window. His father says: ‘Yes Charlie, my son, a ship. Look Charlie, she’s tacking. One day Charlie you may go to sea and have great adventures in the service of the king. The boy leaps up and runs around pretending to be an aeroplane, finally falling and lying still by his father. A foreign voice calls and is lost in a whisper. Father says, ‘Charlie, now you must put away childish things and become a man’ The boy says, ‘I need more time; it’s too hard, father, dad, daddy’.   A mother’s voice from downstairs sings to the boy, Charlie Bourne, Charlie Bourne Wondered just why he was born Eat his tea in the sea . . . A foreign voice calls and is lost . . . like the voice of a ghost. In Cadiz! The city lights shine up through the opaque, green ocean. Cadiz; a drowned world! The voice calls and is lost again. On that lonely swim In that cold place, we let it all slide While we swam with the fish, The world turned, we became, cold The daily victories mocked our silent prayer Oh, admit it! We drowned out...