Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Entry 4. To Saudi

Tuesday 15 January 1991

Definitely a day of rest because that is what we have done all day.  Parade as usual in “coaches”.  We have an Asian Major as our coach commander.  They give these people (Majors) responsibility without sounding them out first.  Yesterday she read out a list of surnames and then said that some of them were lieutenants.  I had to go and check which Watson she meant.  I sat down with her at Supper, by chance and she ignored me.  Today, she had to read out our names and give some instruction and she is absolutely incapable.  Why do I complain - because there is nothing else to complain about.  Managed to `phone Debbie for a reasonable length of time.  This will be the last time before going to the Gulf.  We took our large packs and kit bags to the gym at ten o’clock and I am now worried that I did not close the side pockets on my large pack and may have lost my Captain’s badges of rank and some name tags.  Otherwise we have all had hours of sleep and listening to the radio.  Moved off to South Cerney at 1700 where we arrived at about 2100 and made process fairly quickly.  Went to bed at midnight expecting to sleep until 7am but were woken at 4.30 to move to RAF Brize Norton.  Slept in a dormitory with 50 bunks in it.  Must be awful with all of them full.  Had breakfast at 5.30, boarded, or crammed into double deckers and headed for RAF Brize Norton.  A couple of female officers are missing as I write and we are just waiting for our flight at some unspecified time.  People are busy changing money to Riyals.  Personally I hope we’re not there long enough to spend any.  The UN deadline has expired and we expect military action soon.

Wednesday 16 January 1991

As mentioned yesterday; I woke up in a complete daze at 0430 in South Cerney to have a rushed breakfast before leaving for Brize Norton.  We did not have to wait too long at Brize Norton and we were off on a Kuwait Airlines Jumbo Jet by 11.30 and had a superb flight to Riyadh; landing a 18.20 our time which is 21.20 local time.  It was a warm evening when we left the plane at King Khalid airport.  We gathered in the new terminal building which is still being built.  This is where the hospital is to be situated.  The CO and Adjutant were there to greet us and there were drinks and sandwiches.  It was actually very pleasant to get away from the biting frosty air in England.  We had a briefing about our accommodation which sounds quite promising.  It is about 15 minutes away.  I sat beside Alex and Fiona on the plane.  They are a couple with very little to say to anyone else; although I feel I’m getting to know them slightly.  Biggest present concern is “who will I be accommodated with?”  According to a news report we got from the pilot on the plane Hussein has taken personal command of his army and the French have agreed to put their troops under US command.  Today, more than ever before I am missing Debbie and the children.  I start to forget what they all look like - really; not as in a photograph.  Next main concern is “when will we all get home?”

Thusrday 17 January 1991

Leaving King Khalid airport early this morning the siren went and we masked up immediately and took cover.  This was the first ever alert in Riyadh.  We were told after the alert, as we were getting out of our NBC gear, that the war had started 90 minutes previously.  It then dawned on some of us that we were surrounded by military planes and that some had gone from here.  The war started, according to the radio, at 1 minute past the deadline.  Very frightening; not knowing what to expect after the alert and, when we got to our accommodation we were in and out of IPE twice, once on red alert, so we had a very disturbed night.  We eventually slept in our NBC suits.  After a reasonably long sleep we managed to take stock of our accommodation.  Pretty basic really.  At first I could not find a room and was put into a lounge with six others.  There was no obvious space for me.  Eventually John Hughes poked his head out of a door and said that he had a bed for me.  There are three of us sharing and I have a top bunk.  Breakfast was excellent; we are sharing a canteen with French troops.  There are plenty of salads and fruit.  At midday we were transported back to the airport where the hospital is located in a half-finished airport terminal at King Khalid Airport.  This is a barren looking country.  It reminds me of Portugal, but is very much less hospitable looking.  At the moment it is not too hot and does not appear to be too cold at night.  The hospital is far from ready for action so we continued to set up.  The place is filthy with dust and it took quite a while to get oriented.  I managed to post a letter to Debbie but our brief tonight said that cargo flights were currently not flying.  No more alerts today and some mattresses have arrived in our rooms.  Two of the girls, one an officer, have had psychiatric referrals.

Note: apologies for sexist use of the term 'girls'.  met one of these women years later and she refused to speak to me.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Entry 3: Preparations at Saighton Camp (3-14 January 1991)

Thursday 3 January 1991

Why do I wish to capture such a dismal day in my diary?  Perhaps because it is typical of how disorganised the army - and 205 in particular - can be.  A totally wasted morning was compounded by a mostly wasted afternoon.  Eventually we got our inoculations.  Extreme pain in my left arm testifies to that.  Also issued with our identity discs and cards.  It gets more ‘real’ all the time.  There is not much change in the news regarding the Gulf - a US initiative has been launched to get the Iraqi Foreign Minister together with James Baker in Switzerland.  I don’t see much prospect of there being peace.  Only a miracle, or something extraordinary which Saddam Hussein has up his sleeve, will avert it.  If only I could be back home with Debbie and the children.  The highest point of the day was finding the cardphone free at about 7am so I took the chance to `phone Debbie.  She sounds so sad and I cannot blame her but I wish she didn’t sound so sad.  It annoys me because it reminds me that she never wanted me to join the TA - and that makes me feel guilty.  I thrust the army upon her; it has taken me away from her, and I still demand that she supports me.  It’s amazing to observe how the same very determined ‘clique’ of NOs and MOs - all friendly stalwarts in their own way - get the ‘important’ jobs to do.  This annoys me not one bit; rather it amuses me but I often wonder if they can see themselves as others (and I have confirmed this) see them.  That fine body of men and women were doing the ‘jabs’ this afternoon.  A new MO has joined Room 4; XXXX is his name.  He has a handshake like a cold kipper and looks so pale and waxy that I fear he may die in his sleep.  Couldn’t `phone Debbie tonight due to the queue in the mess.  I think that I am going to enjoy the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which Jeremy Crang gave to me.  I wonder what is going on in wee Willie’s mind now?

Notes: * - identity concealed and he was, indeed, discharged on medical grounds. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a strange autobiographical book by TE Lawrence (of Arabia) and Jeremy was one of my wardening colleagues and The University of Edinburgh.  I am very negative about the organisational aspects here - and firther on - but at times they were shocking; senior doctors - and RAMC units are run by doctors, do not necessarily make good managers.  There was also little use made of the wide nursing and medical experience available; almost any of us, RN and MB ChB trained, could have carried out the inoculations but it was confined to the 'usual suspects' and the rest of us has to queue in the cold.

Friday 4 January 1991

Managed to `phone Debbie at 7am this morning.  No more `phonecards available; usually no `phones available either.  Feeling a bit weak today and this got worse as the day went on.  Probably the result of my inoculations - anthrax, pertussis, typhoid, yellow fever, cholera and meningitis in addition to antimalarial chemotherapy.  A much more productive day today; appeared to get my pay sorted out.  I put it this way because I don’t yet believe that I’ll have my salary topped up until I see it.  According to the pay desk calculations I will lose about £4000 per year and that does not include my Warden’s fee.  Rumours spreading that only MOs are having their pay made up.  If this is true then the RAMC is going to be short of NOs on operation Granby.  Also got my final inoculation; picked up inner NBC gloves and had my teeth examined for identification purposes - In case we have a plane crash.  Apparently Aziz is going to meet Mr Baker in Geneva.  Wouldn’t it be great if they worked something out; although, having got this far I wouldn’t mind actually getting to Saudi for a short time.  Debbie says that Ali seems to be under some pressure with his new found responsibilities.  I hope for his sake that he copes.  Hope also that he can take wee Willie out for some exercise.  I heard Hannah singing yesterday - some of the songs from the school Nativity play.  I can’t wait to actually hear her singing again.  She is a serious little girl; always afraid that she will be outshone by other children.  Who could outshine our first born?  Gave one of the lads (John) a hand to put his webbing together this afternoon.  He is a very approachable, friendly anaesthetist.  Had supper with Ken Brown - he is getting two salaries while we are in the Gulf.  He’s a good friend who seems to show some concern for me.  I will stay in tonight and sleep off the vaccinations.

Notes: Aziz and Baker were, respectively, the foreign secretaries of Iraq and USA; I have already referred to Ali (Serisht was his surname at the time but later changed to Wardak) who always seemed like a nice chap but was really very lazy and let me down badly several years later.  He now teaches criminology at the Univeristy of South Wales. 

Saturday 5 January 1991

Had an uncomfortable night due to the injections; woke up in a sweat in the middle of the night and slept in this morning; feeling a bit ‘washed out’.  Sam Rawlinson gave me a `phonecard so, after queuing for a while I was able to `phone Debbie.  Ali and Anne Deary and my mother have all been in touch.  She sounds as if, so far, she is coping.  I think that it is my departure to the Gulf which will be hardest to cope with.  Basically, nothing happened today.  We paraded in the morning and at lunchtime, between which time I lay on my bed and feasted on Radio 4.  There was a Vigil Mass at 1.30 in the Officer’s Mess which was well attended.  I think that Father Duddy is rising to the occasion and it is good to see  Albert and others there.  In the afternoon I went down town with XXXX.  We picked up a few items of shopping and had a coffee before coming back.  A gale was blowing; it was freezing cold and we are dressed for the Gulf.  Every second person, it seemed, was from 205.  I was absolutely taken aback to hear from XXXX that he had previously been married for two years and divorced his wife to set up home with her boss.  People carry enormous tragedies around with them.  The highest point of my time here was to meet three stalwarts from 212 Fd Hospital who had volunteered and were waiting to be assigned to a unit.  Among them are Ken Kirk, Gerry Tyrer and Francis Comisky; we had a good reunion over supper and I caught up on one or two others who are now serving with 22 & 33 Field Hospitals already in the Gulf.  Spent part of the evening in the Gulf.   Gavin was filling us in on his experiences as a nurse in the Gulf - in Saudi.  He paints a grim picture of the restrictions upon Westerners there.  We have two new room mates.  XXXX went home and Gerry Tyrrel and Bill from 208 have joined us.  A gale is blowing outside.

Notes: XXXX - discharged on medical grounds as I predicted.

Saturday 6 January 1991

NBC training started today.  Our platoon has a colour sergeant from the Light Infantry in charge; he’s very good and the message from the whole team seems to be to encourage and give confidence in our equipment rather than anything too demanding.  NBC is a different game altogether with a helmet and gloves.  We started the day with a Panorama film on Iraq’s chemical weapons and willingness to use them.  The point was made that we “were going to war”; there seemed to be no doubt about this and that we were a likely target, or close to a likely target.  Saddam Hussein could hit Riyhad from Kuwait.  What our retaliation will be is still in question.  There are some doubts being expressed about the competence and even the ‘sanity’ of our platoon leader.  The latter point refers to the fact that he will be most upset if there is no war.  I was asked by one of our own people, upon sharing the concern with her, that perhaps I should say something to him!  I don’t think it would do any good; I’d also be afraid of his reaction since he is a most odd and unpredictable fellow.  Also a warning to me about being too destructive.  Debbie did not sound too happy on the `phone this morning.  Willie and Lucy are wandering at night.  I could hear them in the background while I was on the `phone.  A sound which irritated me so often in the past but which is now music to my ears.  I don`t know if I have the courage to talk to Hannah or William on the `phone. Of all things that might be too much for me.  There seems to be very little information specifically for Nursing Officers.  The surgeons and medics get lots of information on their expected role.  I think, basically, we are just spare parts.  Or does our hierarchy ever think of us and for us?  Mustn't grumble.  PT was good today.  Newspapers very pessimistic about peace in the Gulf.

Notes: NBC = nuclear, biological and chemical. 'Albert' is Albert Smith - mentioned on 8 January - who proved to be a very good friend and remains so.

Monday 7 January 1991

****This entry began with a long complaint about the state of our relationship over my mobiliasation which I have removed entirely; also, the following pasage is edited for the same reason. Suffice to say that we had a very difficult phone conversation and no meeing of minds about my miltary 'career'****   We worked hard today.  Parade was cancelled but things got going after aerobics, running, shuttle runs and some reasonably strenuous exercises.  I enjoy all this greatly.  NBC training continued and we had a short spell in the CS chamber.  I had no problems at all this time.  Cannot get to like our platoon commander.  He is an ass. He rebuffs every attempt I make to speak to him, or to speak in his presence.  Fancies himself as a military man.  How to help a totally impervious character?  Very sore and quite tired today.  I need to be even fitter than I am.  No hopeful news from the Gulf.  Our platoon instructor reiterated “you are going to war.”

Tuesday 8 January 1991

Had Albert Smith not appeared in my room tonight I might have sent a particularly awful letter to Debbie.  I'm sure it was God’s doing that he came along to ask how things were.  I told him that my wife was not too happy (an understatement for which she will berate me!) and his quiet, Catholic, philosophical way; without even mentioning the problem specifically, let me see how wrong I was in writing to Debbie in this particular way.  I tore up the letter and wrote a short note.  Albert was saying that Mary Pringle was `phoning round the wives to ask how they were and trying to organise getting them together.  I don`t think that Debbie will have any part of this and will probably give Mary an earful.  I hardly see Mary as the right person to handle welfare.   Training continued today with NBC and some reasonably tough physical exercise.  I can’t get enough of that.  We had the press here today getting in the way; they are incredibly intrusive.  The Armed Forces Minister Archie Hamilton was flown in by helicopter and buzzed around.  I wonder what he really makes of us?  Had a good briefing on intelligence from Ian Gouldbourne.  I must give him his due - he is very good at this and seems to ‘know his stuff’.  It’s his abiding lack of a sense of humour which does not endear him to people.  The news, which I watched on TV tonight, seems to offer no hope of peace.  We had a mess meeting tonight; the CO addressed us, with nothing to say as usual, and Norman, the very pleasant half Colonel from Belfast is to be PMC.  I `phoned Debbie this morning, very briefly. It’s snowing in Scotland and it's blowing a gale. Ken Brown says that many people will be resigning after this camp.

Notes: Albert Smith was from the Dunoon platoon and we were regulars at morning Mass here and in Saudi; Mary Pringle was the previous Matron of 205; Ian Gouldbourne was an Edinburgh based surgeon to whom I never took and he always ignored me. But he did give me a nice smile at Prestwick airport on our repatriation when he saw me lift up my son William, the first time I ever saw him smile...and the last.

Wednesday 9 January 1991

Debbie sounded much more cheerful on the `phone this morning and I had a very pleasant, welcome letter from her which made me feel like a real louse for some of the things I almost said to her in mine.  Woke up feeling hot and dry with a severe headache.  The bronchitis is cleared up now, with virtually no ‘wheezing’ but my sinuses are sore any me chest seems to need a good clear out first thing in the morning.  Ian Jack say it is like a smoker’s cough.  Managed to get 4 hours of sleep during the day today as, basically, we had nothing to do.  We had a lecture from two people from 33 General Hospital who are based at Al Jubayal.  It seems that boredom is the biggest curse.  There appear to be no trips into town and very few other outings.  Wherever you go, of course, you have to carry full IPE which is a bit socially restricting.  Part one orders announced last night that we would only be paid at a first year rate but this was reversed in the evening.  Now no hand luggage is allowed on the plane.  We are, by all accounts, going by jumbo jet.  The advance party, which leaves tomorrow, are going by Hercules.  It will take them 17 hours.  After my long sleep I called at the QM to pick up some missing kit; at last I got some insoles for my boots and then our injections were cancelled until tomorrow.  The evening was occupied by 4 short lectures on CTRs and this will continue for 3 nights.  I was glad, despite lots of sleep during the day, to get to bed very early; plug in to Radio 4, and drift off to sleep.  The news is that the talks between Aziz and Baker have failed and that we are still going to war.  If Fr O’Connor is right, the UN attempt will be successful.  I do not think that the UN attempt will be successful as I do not think that Fr O’Connor knows what he is speaking about.

Notes: I had bronchitis just prior to mobilising and it was one of our own medics, Ronnie Sieler who worked at The University Health Centre who trerated me.  IPE = individual protective equipment; QM = Quartermaster; CTR = combat treatment regimes

Thursday 10 January 1991

Woke up drenched with sweat again last night but felt much better when I got up in the morning.  Plans were changed such that, instead of PT we went for our boosters, malarial tablets and other aspects of administration.  I picked up my new European passport and had a chat with the COS Padre who was doing welfare.  I told him about Debbie’s pregnancy and he said that, when the time comes, we can get a call home made at MOD expense, if it comes to that.  I told him that I hope to be home long before then.  Generally a much more organised day today. We did some really useful NBC drills - eating, drinking and decontaminating after simulated chemical attack.  Glad to say that I would have survived this attack.  Made some headway with our platoon leader.  Told him to stop getting involved in the work of erecting a COLPRO tent and told him to go and hand out orders.  This seemed to work and he spoke to me afterwards.  I know this sounds like I’m trying to ingratiate myself - not the case - I just want to know what makes him tick. Another letter from Debbie today was very welcome.  She writes well, gives good news and describes the children well.  I love her and the children.  Tonight saw some further lectures on CTRs.  We’re all in for a shock I think.  No idea where I’ll be working.  Frankly, I hope it’s more administration than medical. As the psychiatrist said last night “we will all doubt our professional competence”.  The siren has just gone off at 2100 to call us to the drill square.  Apparently a report of a bomb.  We found a box in the gym.

Notes: COLPRO = collective protection; a positive pressure system allowing work to proceed under contaminated conditions

Friday 11 January 1991

The box in the gym turned out to be of no consequence but we were roused again at midnight by a second bomb alert.  This time we were allowed back to our beds very soon.  I didn’t hear the “all clear”.  Naturally, we were a bit weary this morning. Continued NBC training and had a really good PT session after lunch.  Some people are really unfit; or they cannot and will not push themselves.  Our platoon bought our Colour Sergeant from the Light Infantry, who was instructing us, a present.  The closer we get to war, the less confident I feel about my NBC masking drill; so I practised 10 of the drill with helmet on an hood up tonight.  Our platoon commander made a real ass of himself today by prematurely fiddling with equipment, as it turned out, he knew nothing about.  Enough said.  Hannah’s lovely letter came today.  I nearly cried; I showed it to several people.  Had supper with George Wady tonight.  He is a Catholic but it transpires that he is married for the second time.  More CTRs in the mess.  It transpires that I am to work on the wards - Ward 10 to be precise.  This is general medical and I’m very pleased to be there and hope that I’m not shifted.  I’m working with XXXX, which is bad news, he’s a bit of a dope, and Graham Smith is our doctor, which is very good news.  The list is up for the first wave of the main party to the Gulf.  My name does not appear to be on it, but I will check it again in detail.  This leaves on Monday.  There is no apparent logic so I can’t predict when I’ll be off.  In case the “worst comes to the worst” I think I will write a letter to each of my precious children.  I love them all so much.

Notes: XXXX - identity concealed.

Saturday 12 January 1991

A very relaxed day.  Up for parade and training as usual but the Colour Sergeant gave us a couple of drills, showed us a video and then took our gear from us. The next NBC equipment we use really will be for our personal protection. Got my first kit bag packed for moving and worked out what would go where in my large pack.  Also, after officers’ meeting at 1230, found out that I will be moving on the 15th from the camp and flying on the 16th.  It is not without some anxiety that I’m taking all this in.  There are a few anxious faces around but also a few of the ‘gung-ho’ brigade.  The MOs had a BATALS course today so we haven’t seen much of them.  Otherwise, after a walk to the nearest shops I have just relaxed.  Spent the afternoon in the mess reading the newspapers.  The UN General Secretary is in Baghdad today trying to convince Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait.  Who knows what will happen?  Frankly, I’d be disappointed, after all that has happened, not to go to Saudi; although I should think that departure is now inevitable.  Also, I am prepared to do my job.  Provided that I survive to see my dear wife and children again, I am sure that the experience will be one of a lifetime.  Mixed feelings - even mixed loyalties.  Am I here to follow my own selfish ends?..or am I here for ‘legitimate’ God-inspired ends?  I know what Debbie, Fr O’Connor and CND think.  Who is right?  Can I be right even if the war is wrong?  The closer we get, the more rather than the less, I question.  Spoke to XXXX at some length today.  At the least, I would say, he's a confused Catholic.  Nevertheless, a sincere and likeable bloke.  He has been having chest pains and has high blood pressure.  He is genuinely worried at the prospect of our involvement in a war.  Perhaps this may end his confusion.

Notes: MO = medical officer; BATALS = British Army Traum Life Support; XXXX - identity concealed.

Sunday 13 January 1991

More or less a completely wasted day today, by anyone’s reckoning.  We met in departments which was useful inasmuch as we identified our team, but then we had to pretend we were doing something for most of the day, which was not.  Felt unwell this morning after having a very painful sinus overnight.  Ian Jack reckoned I ought to have some antibiotics so I called at the Med. Centre and got them - feeling much better tonight.  Tension is mounting in the camp as most of the advance party have left and the main parties prepare to leave.  XXXX is resting up - things seem to be getting at him.  Steve was saying how homesick he was and, while he had gone to Glasgow to surprise his girlfriend; she had come to Chester to surprise him.  Most of my packing is now done; just the final bits and pieces to be stowed away.  I ‘phoned Debbie tonight but the queue was building up while I was on the ‘phone.  I can’t relax like that and was a bit snappy.  Debbie talked incessantly.  I’m sure that she is even more anxious than she shows. Mass was held in the Officers’ Mess this morning and Jim gave us each an individual blessing which moved me a bit.  There was also church parade where the Anglican Padre “went on a bit” and Jim gave the whole unit a blessing.  What does it all mean?  Went out briefly tonight to the pub down the road but it was full of ‘squaddies’ and I got the feeling that we were ideal IRA targets.  Came back to the mess for a while with Ian and John. Had a long hard look at my one photograph of Debbie and the kids.  What am I doing here?  Cards came today from Martin and others at Kirklandside.  Betty Farmer is calling to see Debbie next week.

Notes: XXXX - identity concealed.

Monday 14 January 1991

Paraded, as usual.  This morning it was so foggy that you could not see the whole of the parade square.  We formed up in our coach parties today and then went to the classrooms where Sam Rawlinson gave an excellent talk on chemical weapons.  I went to the hospital complex for a while to help tidy up and, after lunch, could not get into the intelligence briefing so I went for a run.  Spent the afternoon lazing around and doing my washing.  Had a card from Tonks today so I wrote to her.  Also had time in the morning to ‘phone Debbie.  She never stopped talking for a minute - she so needs someone to talk to but I’m not sure if she will really talk to anyone but me - Why should she?  The situation in our billet is driving me round the bend.  Bill is a nice guy but insists in plonking his plug-in radio on my bedside table to “save my batteries”.  I don’t want my bloody batteries saved.  I want to listen to my £80.00 radio not his £10 tinny job.  God, I’m so selfish and intolerant.  I hope and pray for some good roommates in Saudi. The remainder are not all that tidy but at least Ian and John keep their stuff in roughly the same area all the time.  Bill and Gerry spread out all over the place.  The room is a tip and the waste-paper bin is constantly overflowing.  There will be some benefits in leaving for the Gulf.  All pointers are still that there will be a war.  Apparently the briefing said that the 31st was an important day.