My story starts in Germany and the reason I ended up on my first tour of Northern Ireland with another Regiment and not my own.
It was the summer of 1991 and I had only been in Germany a couple of years, it was a standard Friday night with a few of us going into town for a several beers, a bratty and a scrap if we didn’t pull one of the locals, as usual I opted for the scrap at the end of the night, you see I was single by choice, the choice of thousands of German women, I could put it down to the Brummy accent but I suppose all English sounded pretty much the same to the German girls so I will blame it on my ziti teenage complexion and the fact that I was missing my two front teeth due to losing a fight a couple of years previous.
The end of the night was a blur as usual but from what I can recall I punched a phone box window smashing the window a couple of knuckles along with it.
I was met at the guardroom by the Regimental Orderly Officer (ROO) and the German Civil Police (GCP) who kindly enough gave me a ride into town which at the time seemed a bit odd as I had just come from there.
The GCP agreed to let the ROO deal with the incident and I was duel warned for office and was to report to the Battery Sergeant Major (BSM) first thing on Monday morning.
I spent most of Saturday sleeping off my hangover and all-day Sunday at the local hospital getting my hand bandaged up, I didn’t have the time and in fact was in too much pain with my hand to sort out my uniform and polish my boots ready for my meeting without tea and biscuits with the BSM Monday morning. I was in rag order when I marched into his office at 07:55 just before the Battery parade.
After a lot of shouting and screaming I was made to wait outside his office until after the parade, and again had to wait until he had finished his meeting with the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) without tea and biscuits, apparently I had caused quite a scene on Friday night, it became apparent that I had smash the window because a couple of the local Turkish gentlemen had pulled out a pistol on myself and my drinking partner Ken Sullyman, not that I remember any of it.
I ended up a couple of hours later stood in front of the Battery Commander in my full No2 dress and a pair of bulled boots that I had borrowed of my roommate Brummy Davies. The Battery Commander gave me a choice, Commanding Officers orders or volunteer to go to Northern Ireland with 45 Regiment Royal Artillery, it was a simple choice really, so about an hour later I was stood in front of the Commanding Officer who also gave me a choice, 28 days jail or volunteer to go to Northern Ireland, I should have just volunteered when the BC gave me the choice it would have saved me the speed march to RHQ.
After a few months training with my new Battery (52 Niagara Battery) the time had come to deploy to Aughnacloy, or ‘Augh No Joy’ as we had already named it, not before a night out on the town with my new drinking buddies, we hit Paderborn for our last night of freedom before our R&R slot, which we had no idea when that was going to be.
We got back into back in the early hours of the morning, just in time to get to the MCCP and weight or bags in, bundle our weapons and begin the hurry up and wait, on the bus off the bus game that all soldiers like to play.
It was a long day made even longer nursing my hangover caused by the previous night’s drinking. We landed at Aldergrove Airport after a bumpy flight courtesy of Crab Air early in the evening, it was then in the back of a Civilianised Military Vehicle (CMV) for the long drive to South Tyrone. We arrived at our camp around midnight where we were huddled into the cookhouse for a brew and an egg banjo followed by a brief before being given our slots in the rotation. My section was given camp guard so after a quick handover by one of the outgoing Green Howards, who was only interested in getting back home could only manage to tell me left and right of arcs before shouting “Stag on” as he climbed down the step ladder of the sanger.
By this time, I was wishing that I had just taken the 28 days detention, I would have been long free by now and spending my Saturday night in Gutersloh getting pissed with the boys and getting fobbed off by the fraulein’s instead of being stood in a freezing cold and pitch-black sanger absolutely ball bagged in the middle of nowhere.
The time now was a little after 03:00 and I was totally hanging out, I hadn’t had more than an hours sleep since the Thursday and my eyes were starting to close involuntarily, I had been stood in the sanger for two and a half hours with nothing to occupy myself, all I could see where a few street lights in the distance, I had left my torch in my bergan which was in a pile of others in the cookhouse so I couldn’t even read through the log book to see what had been going on.
I decided that I couldn’t stay awake any longer and I had convinced myself that if anyone was to come into the sanger that I would hear them opening the door and climbing up the ladder to get in. I moved the logbook and the box of ammo off to one side and folded my arms on the shelf and rested my head on my arms, it took a few minutes to find the right position and stance but before I knew it I was out like a light.
I’m not sure what eventually woke me up, probably my legs giving way but I was wide awake and observing my arcs within seconds, I stood still trying not to make a sound so I could listen to hear if it was the noise of someone coming into the sanger that woke me up but I couldn’t hear anything so I decided that I wouldn’t take another chance and that I had to stay awake.
I reached out to move the ammo box to its proper position but instead of finding the ammo box a placed my hand onto someone else’s hand, “who’s that” I said almost crapping myself, it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable six-month tour if I had been caught sleeping on the first night. I shook the hand and asked again “who’s that” but with no reply. I let go of the hand and crabbed the arm just above the wristed and this time with a little more authority I asked who it was but still I got no answer, I decided to following the arm up to the head to see who it was as I did so it soon became apparent that it was in fact my hand, attached to my arm that lead up to my head. I must have been asleep longer than I thought and the weight of my head using my arm as a pillow had sent my arm numb.
I was finally relieved at 06:00 and spent the rest of the morning wondering how I could have been such an idiot. I did learn two valuable lessons, never sleep while on stag and always carry a torch on me.
Daz Gray 52 Battery RA
Aughnacloy Jan – July 1992