To be honest we sussed it — it was money, drugs and robbing banks when I was there in the 80s. That’s how it worked, I could spot it and I was just a bit of a kid. And they screamed it was political.Anonymous Paratrooper, 2018
If it’s coming it’s coming. The bullet’s coming. Be aware. Aware of your surroundings and the situation, you know you’re walking up the street where someone can shoot you. Snipe you from up on a roof, or out of an upstairs window. Stay aware.
If you’ve got good mates, you stick together forever. Stick together even if one dies, you stick together. Long as you stick together, they are the best hope you will survive. I got mates I’ve not seen in 25 years, if I ring them up I will get what I need.
You get it in your mind, no one is taking me out. That’s the name of the game: you gotta think no one will kill me. Be aware, look, but don’t think they’ll get you. Don’t ever think that.
In Belfast, if one of the guys was shot, it was already too late to find who done it. Find the house, break down the door, run upstairs, all you’ll get is an empty room and a gun on the floor, nobody there.
When you get out of it alive, go on the piss. You forget but it comes back. Then you go to the Sergeant Major, or the captain, or the chaplain. The chaplain he’s heard everything. Talk about it to him if it helps, or God. When I was in the army we didn’t have stuff like PDST, or psychiatrists, you just spoke to the chaplain. Things hit you after. Handle it, or you’re out.
First of all, you’ve got to read Irish history to understand anything. We got given the books, and there was bugger all else to do. You was stuck there for three months in the barracks in Northern Ireland. Couldn’t go out, except for a bit of training in the yard. So, you read the books. The history of Ireland: it wasn’t just about religion. They hated the English cos of the potato famine. The big hunger. We shit on them, basically. Several times.
When it started kicking off in the 60s, then the 70s, 80s, 90s, it was presented as the political angle, cos of what they were trying to get away with. Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Ian Paisley, they was all rich blokes, all connected.
I remember going on patrol and Gerry Adams’ house was right on the border. When he knew we were coming he’d stand in his kitchen which was over the border, over in Southern Ireland, out of the Province. We could see him, but couldn’t touch him. He had the house built like that on purpose. The Crown didn’t own him. They used to call us The Crown.
Now you’re not telling me those people lasted so long without knowing what was going on high up. It was all about conversations high up, out of our hearing. Remember those two SAS guys who drove into a funeral parade and they were shot and killed and mutilated? They were already known about before that car was stopped. Someone from on high grassed them up.
My first tour in Ireland was 82, straight after the Falklands. They didn’t give us a chance to calm down, just chucked us into the next thing. In 82 I was was — what, 21? — I was a kid. You just went where they sent you. Wouldn’t do that now, I’d tell em: “No way am I doing that. Ridiculous.”
The Orange Marches, d’you remember them? Couldn’t stop em marching, like clockwork soldiers. We had to protect them sometimes, when they marched where they shouldn’t. Sometimes us and sometimes the police took turns to protect them. Those big drums they carried on their chest. The sound of the drums! It went right through your body. Fires I remember, oh yes. The burning tyres in the road. That was “politics”. To be honest we sussed it — it was money, drugs and robbing banks when I was there in the 80s. That’s how it worked, I could spot it and I was just a bit of a kid. And they screamed it was political.
Most of the IRA and the Prod leaders knew each other. And they all knew what was going on upstairs. To be honest I think it’ll come again, the Troubles. Starts with stones and petrol bombs. And then the first bullets fly.
Gunshots don’t worry me. Gunshots and bullets we got used to on the firing range. But the noise I always remember was breaking glass. And the big bombs. Buildings coming down. 500 yards away you still feel it like you’re standing next to it.
The consolation we got was we knew we were coming home. Even though you was out on patrol with some woman screaming in your face, and people trying to shoot you, you knew it was only three months.
The guys would be yelling, “ I hate you!” at me and I’d be asking em why. I’ve always asked troublesome questions.
“Why d’you hate me? You don’t even know me. And anyway I’m going in a coupla months.”
They used to spit at us, “You Brits!”
“But you’re British too. Where are you standing? You’re part of Britain.”
Some of our lads were Irish and they got spat at even worse for being traitors.
“I’m fucking British mate, just like you — ya cunt.”
It was totally different to the Falklands. That was battlefield war and we’d been trained like that, even though we was really just mopping up. They were only bunch of youngsters who never got proper training and they surrendered soon as they saw us. Now I know there was some bad stuff happened to our ships as they went in, but mostly what I saw was surrendering. If you see it on them old films, they’d give up before we even got to them. Don’t blame em. If I saw some big, daft squaddie who’s 23 years old, fully trained, heavy armed ready to pop me I’d’ve surrendered too. Hands up. It was all foregone conclusions. On the news, you’d of seen when the Armada went over, but the squaddies were already there on the ground, right there, in a war we were trained for. The officers knew where to send us, we knew what to do.
Then you step into Northern Ireland and you’re already lost. You’re walking down a street waiting for someone to shoot you and you don’t know who they are, what they look like or what they believe. Don’t know where to point your gun. Spend half your time walking down the street backwards, covering your friends, waiting for the ambush. Hoping you don’t get fucking killed but at the same time not thinking about it, not wishing it into happening. I’d go round those streets thinking nothing but: ‘I’m gonna come back safe and have a beer tonight.’ Some people won’t talk about it even now. They don’t talk about it cos they don’t want to go through it again. Don’t want to see those streets again, even in their head.
You don’t expect to walk down a British street and someone randomly kills you. Or your friends. But Paisley, McGuinness, the top IRA, they all stayed alive. How? The SAS could’ve taken them all out, anytime. So why weren’t they touched? It’s because the government didn’t want them to die. I take it as something higher up than we were seeing. You got to be be in Whitehall, among the higher beings. Maybe there was a top spy in the IRA and some guy in the government protected em. Maybe it was dirty money and drugs.
We was just there as extra policemen and three months later the tour was done and we was gone. But I’d love to know what the other side was thinking, what them Catholic kids was told, I’d love to hear the rest of the story.
Interviewed by Philip Davenport, Booth Centre, Manchester. 2018