Monday, 29 August 2016

Entry 2: Mobilising (1-2 January 1991)

Tuesday 1 January 1991

Not the happiest New Year I have spent.  Mum and Dad went home yesterday; Mum wanted to avoid the final “goodbye” to me and also wanted to avoid seeing me saying “goodbye” to the children.  I guess that she also wanted to avoid the tears and greetings of Hogmanay.  I returned home from the Ponniahs’ to find a very tearful Debbie lying reading on the settee.  I made it just in time for ‘the bells’.  The day was spent packing my equipment and deciding finally what I could and could not take with me.  I can see that Debbie finds it all very hard to take.  She is getting the roughest deal by far.  I look at the children, William in particular, with intense interest.  He looks into my eyes to see if they are filling with tears.  Hannah wishes I “didn't be in the soldiers”.  All I can say is “bless her” and ask her to be a “big girl!” while I am away.  We had a trip over the Forth Bridge.  I think that Willie liked that.  The children were very good in the car.  Rosemary and Andrew ‘phoned as did Martin.  Martin is a good friend indeed.  We spent the evening at Ali’s with various people there.  Ali and Nabeel came down with us and have offered to do all they can to ease Debbie’s obvious burden while I am away.  Hardly wanted to go to sleep since I knew that on waking up, I’d be off to the Gulf.

Notes: 'Rosemary and Andrew' are my wife's aunt and uncle; 'Martin' is Martin Kuhn with whom I worked in the NHS before joining The University of Edinburgh, a fellow Catholic and remains a friend. 'Ali and Nabeel' were, respectively, one of my Assistant Wardens from Afghanistan and a Saudi PhD student.  At the time of being mobilised I had recently taken up the position of Warden of Grant House at Pollock Halls in The University of Edinburgh.

Wednesday 2 January 1991

I felt a bit like a condemned man when I woke this morning.  Not that I suspect that will the outcome of my time in the Gulf; just the finality and the centrality of my separation from Debbie and the children plus the uncertainty about when we will be together again.  I could hardly bear to look at the children; William looked into my eyes again, searching for tears.  The taxi came too early and I was off before I knew it with nothing but a kiss for all of the children and a hug for Debbie.  The taxi took me to Gilmore Place too quickly.  We paraded; hung around and loaded the buses before marching out of the unit as our predecessors had done 50 years before when they were going to war.  There were many tears and last minute farewells as we boarded the buses.  I was too choked up myself to speak for quite a while.  A reasonable journey down; met Padre Jim Duddy, who will be coming with us to the Gulf, never been so glad to see him.  Arrived at Saighton in the dark and wasted much time queuing for information which could have been given to us XXXX*.  No activities at all in the evening so settled down in Block 37 Room 4 with a dentist; and an anaesthetist and a dentist.  Quite a good ‘bunch of lads’.  Sought out a few others from 205 and met a couple of officers from 212.  Not the only person to be sorry to have left his family behind.  Ian Gouldbourne seems very keen to get over there.  I would put Sam Rawlinson and Dave Clough in the same category.  Amused myself in the evening by starting this diary, playing with my new radio and reading about the Middle East in the book which Ali gave to me.  Orders for the next day were delivered to our rooms for a 6am start and 8.30 parade.  Slept very well.  Sorry that I couldn’t `phone Debbie.  Only 1 `phone for 700 people.

Notes: * - indecipherable writing; possibly 'beforehand'; 'Gilmore Place' was then the Edinburgh HQ of 205 Scottish General Hospital RAMC (v); Ian Gouldbourne, Sam Rawlinson and Dave Clough were medical officers Sam Rawlinson - who did a great deal to ease my transition into the TA - is now deceased; the anaesthrtist with whom I shared the roon was John Hughes who remains a good friend and with whom I am in regular contact. I make reference to officers from 212 (Notthingham and Sheffield based) as I had done a placement at Saighton Camp - now long closed - with them prior to the Gulf War.

Entry 1: My Gulf War

I joined the Territorial Army in 1987 as Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (v) attached to 205 Scottish General Hospital RAMC (v) which had headquarters in Glasgow and bases in Edinburgh, Dunoon and Inverness. I spent two years training for an invasion by the Russians and then, in 1991, we were sent to Saudi Arabia to support the US led coalition forces in the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

I received a phone call in December from our administrative officer telling me that we were to be mobilised and as only the first part of the Queen's Orders for mobilisation had been signed that individual participation was voluntary. I volunteered - someting my dear wife only discovered on my return. We don't talk much about the period I was in Saudi, but I kept a daily diary which forms the basis of this blog.

Clearly I have edited the entries consderably as there are a great many personal reflections I would not wish others to read, in my lifetime.  They will be available in the hand-written copy of my diary to my family on my departure from this world.  I have also edited slightly to protect some individuals.

It has taken me over 20 years to transcribe the diary. Why? you may ask on reading it - it is not long. The reasons include that I did not want to look at it for many years until, encouaged to do so by Dr Jeremy Crang, an eminent military historian at The University of Edinbugh - once a close colleague as a univeristy warden and a real source of support before, during and after my time in Saudi.  Jeremy said that these diaries, no matter what the contents, were always of interest and could be lodged in some way with the war records.  I have not taken that step yet; on the whole I did not find them all that interesing or informative to re-visit.  Nevertheless, there was the occasional gem of a memory that I had forgotten. The other reason it took so long will be apparent to anyone who has ever transcribed; it is very tedious work.

What surprises me most is not the contents, but what I did not include. For example, while it happened prior to my departure, the Roman Catholic Priest who had brought my wife and me into The Church drove from Glasgow to Edinburgh (I was employed at The University of Edinburgh) to plead with me not to go.  I was very angry  and my defiance  permanently affected our relationship. We maintained contact for many years but, thereafter, his modus operandi was to undermine me regarding every aspect of my professional life.  At that time I was a neophyte Catholic and, while defiant, I continued to respect him. I consider that respect was misplaced and betrayed.

As you can imagine, my wife was not happy about my departure. I would have been concerned if she were not. We had four young children and she was expecting again. My stance was then - and now - that we had happily taken considerable amounts of money in pay from the Territorial Army (TA) for a few years, without which my Staff Nurse salary in the early TA days would not have covered our mortgage.  I also maintain that an army staffed only by the unmarried and childless would be an even more unbalanced and socially strained place than it already is. The Gulf War left a scar on our marriage that took years to heal - and it has healed. But one tragic casualty of that period was the copious letters - probably in the hundreds - that we exchanged on 'blueys' (British Forces Post Office free airmail letter cards).  These recorded far more of mine and her daily routine during the war, in addition to some exchanges of a very private and personal nature, than any of the pages of my diary. In a fit of temper following one of our almost continual marital post-war disputes, I binned the lot.

This diary is dedicated to my dear wife Debbie and to all of my children, especially those with her in my absence and to those of my children who have had and continue to have military careers.  God bless them all.