'We Came in the Morning' by Ray Derrick (2002)
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author Ray Derrick, with the permission of the publisher, The Book Guild Ltd. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This chapter is taken from the book:
WE CAME IN THE MORNING
First published by:
Photograph: © Eamon Melaugh
These extracts are included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publisher. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
From the dust jacket:
Northern Ireland, 1971. On the orders of the British Government, over 300 suspected IRA terrorists are being arrested and interned. The atmosphere in the province is tense and the mood ugly. For a group of young soldiers posted there with the Royal Artillery, Northern Ireland is a death trap waiting to happen.
But they believe in what they are doing. They believe that to achieve peace there must be sacrifices; people will inevitably die, on both sides. They are willing to kill and are prepared to be killed, because they believe that their cause is just. Until, that is, they are posted to guard a mysterious airfield, which they are told is a top secret 'communications centre’. This too they are prepared to believe, until they hear the first screams...
This is the true story of one man's experience on a four-month emergency tour of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, and of how his faith in the system that had trained him was shattered by revelations of torture and manipulation by his own side.
It was 2a.m., 9 August 1971. I was a sergeant in charge of a platoon of British soldiers stationed in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. We had all been roughly woken an hour previously, and given a briefing for the day’s events. We were excited, apprehensive. It really was going to happen. We had heard rumours, whispers, a few days before that all the top IRA sympathisers were going to be arrested and imprisoned. We were living in anticipation, just whiling away the hours, waiting for something exciting to happen. We were confined to our rooms, ten soldiers each, on camp beds in windowless, smoke-filled dormitories. Almost all the ‘other ranks’ smoked. The air was stagnant. We all sat around, confined, thinking our own thoughts. The telephones had been put off limits lest those with families or friends outside could be warned. Each soldier had completed his last will and testament, written in the back of his paybook.
We constantly checked our clothing and equipment. No bright shiny buttons or buckles, nothing loose that could clink or fall. We wore standard British Army camouflage uniforms, we carried 7.62mm SLR rifles with one end of the rifle sling secured to our wrists. We were issued with 20 rounds of ammunition, all signed and accounted for. I carried another 20 rounds, spare, unaccounted for and given to me by the commander of a platoon of Guards that we had previously relieved. I was told that the ‘spares’ were in case we had any accidental discharges. Nod nod, wink wink. In reality, it meant our platoon could patrol the streets, return up to 20 rounds of fire, and not be accountable for any bodies should there ever be a court of inquiry. At 3.30a.m., selected team leaders were given a map and an accompanying address with the name of the person we had to ‘arrest’. We had practised the words of the arresting procedure a thousand times, though I don’t recall that the precise procedure was ever followed by my platoon. It was the same with the ‘yellow card’ procedure: no British soldier could shoot or return fire unless they first shouted out a warning printed on a silly little yellow card. It was all bollocks to us, all political crap. We hadn’t as yet come under any sniper fire, but I think we all agreed that if we did, we would dispense with the formalities of polite warnings. We were to be severely tested in the coming weeks, when the impact of the arrests caused large scale rioting and sniper attacks on our positions. Little did we know that our actions this day would draw us into situations that we could never have dreamed of.
It was three men to each Landrover. Three men with blacked up faces, with adrenalin coursing through their bloodstreams. Hearts pumping, brains working overtime. What if, what if? My driver drove the Landrover, and I used the map to direct us to the correct location. It was a small village, the house at the end of a terrace with a green door. I couldn’t help thinking of Frankie Vaughan and his song ‘Green Door’. The tune going through my head wouldn’t go away. I was trying to remember the correct arresting procedure: ‘I am arresting you under the special powers blah, blah, blah’, but all I could think of was maybe there would be an old piano behind the green door. The third man in my team was nicknamed Ginger. He sat in the back of the Landrover, constantly whingeing and whining about the cold. It was cold, it was freezing, and I didn’t need to be reminded. I told him to shut the fuck up. We listened in silence for the instructions that were to come over the radio. We were parked about 100 yards from the house, engine off. Army Landrovers in those days had no heaters. We sat shivering, immersed in our own thoughts.
At exactly 4a.m., the radio hissed into life: ‘All stations go! I repeat, all stations go!’ We did not have to acknowledge the message. The driver started the Landrover and we slowly drove up to the green door. Myself and Ginger jumped out - the driver was to remain with the vehicle at all times, ready for a quick getaway. We were supposed to knock. On the count of three, we both kicked the flimsy door off its hinges. I remember thinking the door needed painting, it was tatty and peeling. The door burst inwards, opening directly into a small living room. The stairs were directly to my right, with another door, half open, leading into the kitchen. We took the stairs two at a time, Ginger directly behind me. At the top of the stairs was a single, closed door. One kick flung it inwards. Ginger found a light switch and flooded the bedroom with light. There was a double bed in front of me, another door, closed, to the right of the bed. I pointed my rifle at the person in the bed. A man, mid-forties, dishevelled, trying to get up, wondering what the fuck was happening. I shouted: ‘Stay still, you’re under arrest. Don’t fucking move or I’ll shoot!’ The correct arresting procedure had completely flown my mind. I was as scared as the man in the bed. I shouted, ‘Ginger, take the other door. I’ll watch this one.’ Ginger burst into the second room. The man I had arrested called out, ‘It’s children, it’s only my children.’ I kept my rifle pointed at the naked man on the bed, and edged over to the door. In the second room were two double beds. The room stank of urine and I gagged at the smell. The two double beds seemed full of kids. I counted 11 heads, all sleeping top to tail. I remember thinking, Jesus, how can anyone living in such poverty have so many kids?
The naked man spoke. ‘What about them?’ he asked.
I decided to get the man downstairs and out of the house. Pushing and shoving, I forced him out to the Landrover. He was still only half dressed, shivering and trembling with cold and fear. Ginger followed me downstairs. ‘What shall we do with the kids?’ he asked.
I left the house and checked my watch. Christ, so much had happened and it was only 4.05a.m. I looked at the man in the back of the Landrover. I felt elated. We had got our man. I wondered if he really was a killer or a bomber. He didn’t look like a killer but I hoped he was. I wanted to be the soldier who had captured someone important, someone wanted for some heinous crime against my countrymen.
As the Landrover headed for Magilligan Point, the man spoke quietly from the rear of the vehicle.
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