Thursday, 6 October 2016

Entry 5. Pre-invasion to end of January

Thursday 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.


Friday 18 Jnauary 1991

None of us got very much sleep last night.  We had a red alert/don all NBC gear at 3am and, basically, we slept all night in NBC gear minus the respirator.  It is a horrible hot and dirty experience.  I suppose we will become used to all this.  Last night some SCUD missiles reached Tel Aviv and that was what all the fuss was about.  One was fired towards the East of Saudi but it was taken out by the Patriot missiles.  No casualties in Israel and it looks like they are not going to become involved as a result of this attack.  The Allied bombing continues with the objective of getting the ground troop ratio corrected for a land invasion.  We have taken out every SCUD missile launcher with a Tomahawk Cruise missile after the SCUDs, most of which are dug-in, have been launched.  The main bombing is now on the elite Republican Guard troops.  The Soviets have launched an AWACS plane for reasons which we do not understand.  Could I hazard a guess and say that they are helping the Iraqis; despite their public XXXX of Saddam Hussein?  Basically, we did very little today.  I seriously don't think that the Command Post have a role for those of us who were designated to Ward 10.  We were to be general medicine and now we are to be part of EVAC, taking all sorts of patients.  Perhaps they know what they are doing and things are going according to plan, but I am not convinced.  It will all depend on the scale of the casualties.  If there are none, then none of us will be required.  If we are overrun by them then the division of wards will become a bit academic.  Eventually we were given some space to set up in and set to work checking our kit.  Some people are going to burn themselves out because this is a 12 hour day 7 days a week job.  No weekends off.  Much warmer today and needed to drink almost continually.  Had a very supportive note from Henry today.  Glad to see that the mail is getting through.  Had a very encouraging NBC brief.  The risk to us is very low indeed, but it does exist.

Notes: XXXX - indecipherable handwriting; I am embarrassed by my use of casual military language: 'taken out'


Saturday 19 January 1991

Much hotter today.  Spent a few minutes outside in the sun this morning before lunch.  Sunbathing per se now seems a completely pointless exercise to me.  We get sufficient sunshine just standing waiting for the bus.  Had to waken at 6am this morning to take NAPS and, apparently, we are adding BAPS to our pharmacological collection.  Thankfully there were no missile alerts last night but I heard the call to prayer this morning.  We arrived at the hospital complex to find that we no longer had a ward and were planning to move into the main airport terminal.  By all accounts our Saudi hosts were not keen on this and we are now returning to the original site downstairs.  We checked off some more equipment today and got ourselves organised with a table and some chairs.  Wrote to Mum & Dad, Debbie and Ali today.  No letters in for me yet.  Ken, Sgt. Galloway and I volunteered to do some work in the basement scraping fire retardant off steel girders to allow for support for sewerage piping to be welded to them.  This was hot, dirty work and there was some confusion over whether the retardant had asbestos in it.  I like the team of people we are working with and I hope we can pull together to do our job when the time comes.  Jane is a bit laid back, has a habit of going off for long periods but I don't think she will harass us too much.  General Sir Peter de la Billiere addressed us today.  By all accounts the war is going our way at the moment.  There was one alert when an explosion happened on the airfield.  It transpired to be a negligent discharge of a Patriot missile; it went for a jumbo jet and a second had to be launched to take it down.  I saw an AWACS in the air this morning and saw two at the airfield.  A very impressive sight.

Notes: NAPS = Nerve agent pre-treatment set; BAPS = Biological agent pre-treatment set. I cannot recall if BAPS were ever taken but we universally stopped taking NAPS which had side-effects, mainly on the gut.


Sunday 20 January 1991

A great day in the respect that I had two letters from home, one from Mum & Dad and a letter from Debbie including a little smiling face drawn by William.  Debbie was very cheerful in her note.  Hannah is taking my absence very badly and her class at school have been praying for me.  That was very moving indeed.  Went to Mass today.  It is hard to describe what is happening in 205 as anything but a shambles.  The CO seems really withdrawn and the Matron, who I have always personally found very pleasant, is managing things very badly.  Morale is definitely dropping and I can feel it in myself as they have changed the shift systems and bus times in such a way that there is hardly any time for us to have time to eat enjoyably in the morning and to visit the American shop.  I went to the shop today by the swimming pool and bought some chocolate, non-alcoholic beer and shoe laces.  Also have my eye on some American Desert Shield T-shirts.  Our ward is beginning to take shape.  We now have a few beds and all our stores in one place.  Ken Kirk is doing well at sign making and we feel that things are 'coming together.  We had 2 SCUD alerts today.  The first one was not explained but in the second there were 2 on their way to the south of Saudi.  Also heard that 2 Palestinian terrorists were shot near Riyadh so we are 'coming into focus'.  The worst I have heard is that the Saudis offered each soldier in their operation £1000 per month in addition to their wages.  The UK government refused but the French have taken it.  All told we are having a pretty bad time.


Notes: the reports of terrorists being shot was undoubtedly false; the money was not and it's a disgrace that highly paid officers could have taken the decisoin that some poorly paid soldiers be denied this extra cash.  I am harsh on the CO (= Commanding Officer) - whm I respected greatly - and Matron but, while excelletn clinicians and well trained in military matters, setting up this hospital was, I felt, beyond their capacity. There seemed to be a refusal to take stock and plan - every idea for flow of patients through the hospital - some involving the use of fork-lift truck to move them form one level to another - was suggested. the worst thing was that with each new plan we were moced into action only to scrap that and start again.  We were relatively immune down in the basement but some colleagues on the ground floor were mutinous.


Monday 21 January 1991

No letter from my dear little wife today; much to my disappointment.  Last night we came under attack in Riyadh by SCUD missiles fired from Iraq.  The missiles, of which 11 were fired, and 6 came towards us, were mainly destroyed by the Patriot missiles.  We heard the ‘whoosh’ of the Patriots being fired, a bang as they broke the sound barrier and then felt an explosion as the SCUDS were destroyed; a little too close for comfort.  I was having a cup of tea after my main meal at midnight and ended up with everyone else, on the canteen floor with my respirator on.  I did not have my full NBC gear with me, or my helmet.  We have been joined here by medics from Singapore and we are to have a couple of doctors with us on Ward 10.  The ward is definitely taking shape but there is really very little to do and got a couple of letters off to Henry Macnicol and Jeremy Crang as well as a letter to Debbie.  We are all getting a bit fed up with the boxed meals at lunchtime but, apparently, tomorrow we are to have proper cooked meals.  Not many blunders from the hierarchy today but it seems unlikely that we will get any time off before we have to be ready on the 28th.  This all seems very pointless.  The British Ambassador came to visit but only drifted past our ward, accompanied by the CO, and his entourage.  I put a bag of laundry out today but found it still here when I got back.  Apparently the migrant labour has fled.  Saw plenty of Arabs this morning at the airport for the first time, presumably, since last night’s events when there was some damage in Riyadh, they are fleeing.  What is Debbie making of all this back in Edinburgh?


Tuesday 22 January 1991

Another night disturbed by SCUD missiles.  One hit Riyadh, causing minimal damage and the hospital had some shrapnel.  We had some missile fuel landing on the camp.  I have started to mask up only and apply the same principles here as applied in the complex.  We are under cover and there is little need to get fully kitted up.  The Americans, who control our life here, tend to overreact a bit.  Part One Orders say that the Iraqi airstrips are still functioning and there are signs, in my opinion, that the war is not going as well as we thought.  The Iraqis are pumping sea water into the desert with an unclear objective, but it is perhaps an attempt to make it impossible for tanks to cross the desert.  No letter from home today but very welcome letter from Tonks.  I wrote to Helen and Terry Cole as well as replying to Tonks and writing to Debbie.  I am Duty Officer tomorrow and have a day off the next day so it might be the case that I will have no mail for a coupe of days.  I’m enjoying The Seven Pillars of Wisdom as the story develops with the organisation of an Arab resistance force by Lawrence against the Turks.  At the complex we had a dummy run of casualties through the system to test the flow.  Apparently this went quite well and we are to have a day off.  XXXX, our NO i/c is a strange bird.  She disappears for long periods, which is noticed by everyone, and is hopeless at keeping to a train of thought and following through with things.  Also, she does not appear to be very good at passing on information.  I watch with amazement the liaisons forming between married people away from their spouses, on our ward.  They do not seem able to help themselves.  It may be harmless but the spouses would not agree, I am sure.

Notes: XXXX - identity concealed.


Wednesday 23 January 1991

Had a whole night’s sleep with no SCUDs but Israel was hit with many injured and some deaths.  Apparently there were deaths in Riyadh the night before last but it is being kept quiet.  John was able to go down to Riyadh today to pick up some medical supplies.  Riyadh is only 15 minutes away; not 30 miles as we were led to believe.  I had a good day today.  Managed a run in the morning, 4 times round the camp and then a swim before lunch.  The water was very cold; in fact the weather was very cold this morning.  The rest of the day from 12-12 I spent as duty officer.  This was not at all onerous and very little happened all day except a SCUD missile at 11pm exactly.  We heard the Patriots go off and an explosion but no damage here.  There are quite a number of psychiatric casualties.  One girl came back to the camp tonight to give it a go but the Red Alert finished her off.  She was taken back to the complex.  According to Tony, in my room, he is dealing with quite a few more including a regular soldier.  They seem convinced that the next SCUD is going to kill them and some are afraid to leave the complex.  Went over to the American shop and the pool for a while tonight and had some pistachios and non-alcoholic beer with John and Ian.  Good friends; we have a good laugh together.  Wrote to dear Debbie as usual but no mail for me today as I was not down at the complex.  Hope it is waiting in a pile for me when I get back there on Friday.  Not sure how to gauge the progress in the war.  Saddam has had trouble with his air force leader and I heard that he had shot him.  We may, therefore, see a change in tactics.  It will surely not be long before a ground offensive.


Thursday 24 January 1991

A day of intense inactivity today.  Spent most of the time on my bunk sleeping.  It was good to see a bit more of John Hughes today.  Missing Debbie very much today; wishing that this whole sordid mess was over and that I was at home.  But I do want to see the job done properly, in a military sense, whether or not we actually get involved.  These days off are, by all accounts, increasing morale.  I heard that the Matron thought they would have the opposite effect.  She is really and truly ‘not in touch’ with the people on the ground.  I have written to Debbie already today; it is not yet posted, but I am tempted to write again.  I wonder what she really makes of me now?  I do hope she loves me, I know she does, but I hope she knows that I love her.  The uncertainty of our present situation makes me feel a bit insecure.  Saddam Hussein has warned Moslems to leave Riyadh as he has a special surprise lined up for us on Friday.  That could mean tonight or in the early hours of the morning.  We fear a nuclear attempt or a massive barrage of SCUDS with which the Patriots cannot cope.  We can only wait and see.  Also speculation about suicide missions by Iraqi pilots.  Listening to the US press briefing on the radio tonight but didn't really learn anything.  They are covering up the truth about Riyadh, presumably for reasons of morale.  I love my wife and all my children and damn the world and what it thinks of us.  John asked me tonight, “If I could have any luxury other than my wife, what would I choose?”  I could think of nothing other than wanting my dear little wife here beside me, or for me to be at home beside her.


Firday 25 January 1991

Another superb night's sleep last night; undisturbed by SCUD missiles.  Nick Nicholls came for 2 of the circuits.  It was very hot indeed.  We were told that leave was cancelled and that all of A shift had to report for duty.  This raised speculation that the war had started on the ground but it transpired to be that help was needed putting up tents and filling sandbags and sweeping down the stairs in the complex.  The last one seemed particularly daft as all you do in the complex is rearrange the dust.  I helped with the tents but only for a short while before going inside and writing to Debbie.  Went to Mass today and was very grateful for this daily celebration.  I must see Jim about Confession before too long.  Elation - 4 letters today.  Dad wrote yesterday, a letter from Steve Tilley, Martin Kuhn and one from my dear little wife.  She writes very good letters, interesting and they cheer me up a lot.  We did end up getting off quite early tonight so I came home at the back of 6pm and slept until 9pm.  At about 11pm we had the expected Red Alert.  Two Patriots went off and one SCUD was destroyed.  Apparently one hit Riyadh.  Am I going to be killed in the God-forsaken place?  I really hope not; for the first time in my life I really value my life and will be grateful for every day I live if we make it home from Saudi.  There were free condoms to be had this afternoon at the hospital.  I wrote to Debbie, having expressed my disappointment to folk in the ward, and suggested she raise this disgusting issue back home, How do they expect wives (and husbands) who are left at home to feel safe that their loved ones are not having it off with all and sundry when this kind of thing is encouraged.  I am seriously considering resigning over his issue now.


Saturday 26 January 1991

A very disturbed night with SCUD alerts every hour.  However, none appear to have come this way.  It sounds like one person was killed last night in Riyadh and a building damaged.  Went to work today later than usual which gave us a more relaxed morning and the chance to sleep in for a while.  A reasonably hard physical day at work today with loading of lorries and unloading; mainly XXXX and then boards for making the windows next to COLPRO safer.  However, there was a fair degree of disorganisation within the work and this was not unwelcome as it gave us a chance sit out in the sun for a while.  I also like talking to some of the ORs who like physical work.  I think they all try to protect us officers from hard work.  I enjoy it though; it is all good exercise and helps me to sleep at night and takes my mind off my longing for home for a while.  No letters today but I wrote to my darling Debbie as usual.  How I love her!  Ken Brown, on whose behalf we were doing the work, was very appreciative of my help.  He expressed to me certain difficulties in getting some of the other officers, particularly the XXXX in COLPRO, mainly surgeons, to come and help.  I saw my glorious Platoon leader (from Saighton) helping to lift one board and then never saw him again!  It was educational to watch the Arab drivers just watch us lifting without doing a thing to help us.  One of the comedians from Edinburgh suggested getting a chair for one of them.  I hadn’t realised that Suzanne on the ward, who is just married, was called up and is ex-regular.  Poor girl and her new husband who must be worried sick about her.  Am I doing the right thing in deceiving Debbie about my safety here?  Especially by telling others about it!  We had another SCUD alert at 11pm tonight.


Notes: First XXXX is indecipherable writing and second is to protect identity.


Sunday 27 January 1991

A whole night's sleep again without SCUDs.  This was fortunate as I was off today.  I was very pleased with myself for getting up at 8.30am; going for a run and then a swim before breakfast.  I'm making a conscious effort to eat less since food is so available here.  I can afford one very big meal per day since we are doing some physical work; lots of walking, but I avoid the cooked breakfast and stick as much as possible to the meal at the complex.  It is possible to have about 6 meals per day as the food is very good.  I concentrate on salads and fruits.  Greatly enjoyed The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Wrote to Steve and Hamish today but, quite frankly, the only person I want to write to is my beloved Debbie.  I wrote a proper letter, as oppose to a bluey, to her today.  It was very frank about many things I feel.  I am so lucky to have such a wife; one who I have no doubts will be waiting for me when I get back.  I don't know if everyone could say that.  I saw one of my “friends” from 205 today walking to the pool hand-in-hand with some small woman with long dark hair.  I have no idea who she is or why the stupid bastard should be such a fool as to tow her along.  He's got a wife and two young children at home; he is a bloody ass.  Attempted to go to Mass today but no transport turned up.  Today was, on the whole, freezing cold with a constant sand-storm.  It was like a winter's day at home.   I also wanted to go to the complex to see if my wee girl had written to me.  It will be nice to get letters from all sorts of people but I only really want to hear from Debbie.  Last night I missed her more than ever before, I think.  I longed for her and would fly home on a magic carpet of one were available.


Monday 28 January 1996

Another peaceful night and a good sleep.  Woken at 5am by the call to prayers.  This was my best day here, so far, because I had two letters from Debbie and a parcel and also a letter from Neil Heath and one from Sophie Williams and later one from Mum.  Neil was asking about the radiography set up so I will ask Nick to reply.  Sophie's letter was very generous about my abilities as a tutor.  People seem quite stunned that I should be out here at all.  Mum is a good correspondent.  However, the real light of my life is Deb who writes so well and so affectionately.  The parcel had a packet of batteries - lots of them and laces and Vanish and pictures and a letter from the kids.  I wrote Debbie as usual and to Ali and Martin Kuhn today.  How I love my little wife.  Managed to have Confession with Fr Duddy and also Mass.  By all accounts the morning Mass is a real international affair with Americans, French, Singaporeans and some of us.  Very 'unbusy' today.  Read TEL for most of the day but also some very good stuff in the Sunday Telegraph.  The CO briefed all officers tonight.  I actually thought that he spoke fairly well; fairly typical for him but dropped a clanger regarding the abilities of the Reservists re the TA.  Also, of course, anything that was going wrong was the fault of the 'middle management' and not of the hierarchy.  Spoke at length to Ken Brown about it all.  He seemed very much on the CO's side but the reservists and those from other units were not impressed.  William did a drawing of ‘a soldier crying’.  Bless my little son, he is the apple of my eye but I love him no more than any of the others.  He is special and very different.


Note: TEL = TE Lawrence.


Tuesday 29 January 1991

A very poor night's sleep; not due to SCUDs but due to the extreme pain in my arm from the anthrax and plague inoculations.  Felt sick and had a headache.  Woke at 5am with the call to prayer and took my NAPS and some analgesic.  Took the latter throughout the day.  An extremely dull and boring day at work.  Jane showed me round the evacuation chain, which I found quite interesting.  Otherwise, I had a glance at the SOPs for EVAC and read the Telegraph and TEL all day.  Managed to get some sleep before supper, which was welcome.  No more boxed meals but was not very impressed by the beefburgers.  Perhaps it was because I felt sick.  Went to the canteen this morning to do the corrections to my Care of the Elderly article and sat with XXXX.  He was reasonably chatty; naturally I didn’t mention last night’s pep talk, which more and more I think was a real disaster, but talked about research and publishing.  He talked about his historical research but he is a very dull and broken character.  Obviously under pressure and rumour has it that Brig Johnson is coming to take over.  XXXX is rather pitiful and I feel quite sorry for him.  He is, I think, paying for his lifestyle.  Two letters from little Debbie today and I wrote back to her.  Also wrote to Sophie Williams.  Did not go for supper tonight as I didn't feel sufficiently well.  There are now sheets and a couple of blankets for our beds, which is an improvement.  Hopefully we will be able to have a day off tomorrow.  I heard Major Shepherd trying to convince the CO that days off were quite unnecessary and we should cancel them.


Notes: SOPs = Standard Operating Procedures; XXXX - identity concealed; Sophie was one of my undergraduate students


Wednesday 30 January 1991

Thankfully we got a day off today and the weather was glorious.  Still feeling very off colour from the injections and could hardly manage any breakfast.  Did manage two figure of eight circuits in the camp.  Slept until John came in from his shift and we went to the pool for a while read and wrote some letters.  Everyone was exposing themselves to the UV; I have quite forgotten why people do this as I have no time for it myself.  An incidental sun-tan from working in the sun is nice but it is so obvious when people have been sunbathing.  Returned to our room and I slept until early evening.  Manages some supper and sat with a few 205 friends and John and chatted for an hour or so.  Graham Smith and his fiancĂ© Fiona Mackay, Una Smith, Ian Jack.  They are all very good company.  Returned to write some more letters and then went to the shop for a beer before closing time with John.  We were joined by XXXX who was reasonable interesting on his time in Saudi but who is, otherwise, a dead bore.  Things are in a mess at the top of 205; the RSM has had his gun taken away; the ATO is shacking up with the Staff Sergeant from QM stores in Glasgow - a woman who has written off several husbands already.  Nobody looks very happy.  (I have always felt obliged to fill these pages).  Tony, in our room, is fed up because he hasn’t been chosen to move forward with the BSRU teams.  He really fancies it and would be ideal; however, I would be very sorry to see him go.  Over 200 people have applied for transfers.


Notes: XXXX - identity concealed; RSM = Regimental Sergeant Major; ATO - some manner of training officer; QM - quartermasters; BSRU = battle shock recovery units.


Thursday 31 January 1991

Could have slept all day today; eventually surfaced at about 10am.  Strange happenings at work today.  Our XXXX claimed that she had had a death in the family and returned to the camp, conveniently accompanied by her boyfriend.  It so happens that he is going to the front.  I’m convinced, for various reasons that this was a set up job, a con, to have the day together.  She is a hopeless, irresponsible fool and I have talked to Ruth Murie about it.  Talking to Ruth was very interesting; my stance re morals and my dear little wife have been seen and truly noticed.  She said that this would put up a barrier between me and many of the other men who were only after sex.  She said that I was definitely in the minority but that there were others.  Ken Kirk has been moved to another ward so I was, in a sense, in charge of the ward.  I took the opportunity to have the two love-birds on the ward split up.  Three letters from dearest Deb - two parcels and 4 other letters today; what a great day.  Deb sent me some chocolates, an early Valentine’s day present; they were lovely.  I wrote to Mum & Dad today to tell them about the new arrival.  Poor Debs will have to “pick up the bill” at the other end.  Action has been taking place, in a limited sense, on the Kuwait border and we are all very expectant that things will blow up very soon.  I think that it is time for me to take more responsibility on the ward.  I attended an ‘O’ group and see no sense in the way the RSM is trying to manage things.  Other letters came from Diane, on of the NS2 students, Morag Lynch and Jeremy Crang.  The latter is a very good writer and observer of what is going on.  The media cover at home is nothing short of saturation.

Notes: XXXX - identity concealed; NS2 = Nursing Studies 2, one of the courses on which I taught at Edinburgh.