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The Corporal's War

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The Corporal's War

Taken From Chapter 7 Not Knowing:



Corporal Steven Henry Pattison’s Account of what happened in the New Lodge:

My team position within the agreed designated zones was Unity Flats, which was about half a mile away from Girdwood, and we hard targeted it all the way.  The RMP guys were pretty knackered and one of them said ‘he had never run as far before with all this equipment on’. So straight away, it was an eye opener for them.  About half an hour into the patrol we could hear other C/S over the radio who were monitoring the marches on Crumlin Road, saying everything was going ok and on schedule, with no trouble as yet, so I started getting into a routine of moving from position to position, never staying in any location for more than five minutes.  Now and again I got the RMP guys involved with stopping some of the locals to carry out personality checks (P Check) or a quick stop and search.  At about 4.30 in the afternoon, the platoon commander called all teams to stand by for a rapid zone change on his mark.  This basically meant that when the platoon commander announces a particular code word over the radio, each team within the multiple moves to a different zone and occupies that area.  However it is always carried out in a very fast and aggressive manner. 

When the codeword came over the radio we ran as fast as possible to the area of Lepper Street and Duncairn Parade.  This became our new zone of responsibility.  The team that occupied it earlier, had now moved to my previous zone at the same time.  Once there we immediately started to carry out 5 and 20 meter checks (small area searches for anything suspicious or what could be an improvised explosive device (IED)).  Once that was complete we started to generally scope the area out and do a few checks of parked cars in the area.  After a few minutes of checking our new zone out I started to pick up on the radio a conversation with the observation post (OP) on top of Templar House, which was a twenty storey block of flats in the middle of the New Lodge estate.  The OP had an excellent commanding view of the area and was an excellent intelligence gathering capability.  I personally thought that the Templar House OP was a very good early warning system to us troops on the ground. Templar OP had noticed what looked like a black bin liner on the ground by the junction of New Lodge Road and Donore Court.  They informed my platoon commander that the bin liner looked half full and it had only just appeared on the side of the road.  Templar had regarded this as suspicious because it was unusual activity.  The platoon commander agreed to their suspicion and decided to conduct a long and short range reconnaissance to confirm that this item was too considered as a potential IED.  However this would detract the multiple from its original mission, so the platoon commander decided to use my team to carry out the reconnaissance with assistance from Templar OP. 

I then started to communicate with Templar OP.  I started to look at my street map and decided my course of action.  In order to conduct a long and short range reconnaissance you need to view the suspicious object from at least four different angles, first at a reasonable safe distance and then again but at a more closer range but trying to keep out of line of site of the object as much as possible.  My only concern with this course of action was that one of my approach angles would place me outside of the multiple patrol zones and would leave me dangerously isolated for at least a short period of time.  I informed my platoon commander of this concern and asked if he could manoeuvre the other teams to the northern edges of their patrol zones, this would bring the multiple closer together and maintain the triangle formation.  However the platoon commander disagreed to this request because the marches had moved within our patrol area and it was important that they be in a position to react quickly to any police requests.  That was his final decision and he completed the sentence with ‘Just get on with it’.  I decided to move my team into Donore Court via Sheridan Street from the east to avoid going onto New Lodge Road.  Once in Donore Court, we carried out 5 and 20 meter checks, when I was happy that the area was safe I instructed two of the RMP guys to remain in cover within Donore Court and not to venture near the junction, whilst I take the other RMP to conduct the reconnaissance.  My four long range viewing positions were from, the west end of New Lodge Road, an alleyway from Stratheden Street on the north side of the New Lodge Road.  Templar OP carried out the reconnaissance from the east side, using very good technical viewing equipment.  I completed the reconnaissance from Donore Court and New Lodge Road junction and it was at this point I was convinced that the black bin liner was just that.  A young lad on a skateboard came tearing along and attempted to jump over the bag, but failed terribly.  He fell on top of the bag and normal household rubbish came spilling out.  With a deep breath of relief I informed Templar OP that it was ok and they acknowledged with thanks.

As I was about to leave the Donore Court area, a black Ford Granada turned into Donore Court and pulled into the cul-de-sac.  A young lad jumped out from the passenger seat and ran off into the alleyway at the back of Donore Court, which leads out onto the Antrim Road.  I did not have time to react to this but I was able to prevent the driver from leaving the scene.  I told the driver to turn off the engine and step out of the vehicle.  I then asked one of the RMP guys to have a chat with him and conduct a search of him and the vehicle whilst I carry out a vehicle check.  It was at that moment when the shit hit the fan, although at that point I did not know what had actually hit us.  My description of the incident is as follows;

I could feel heat at a very hot temperature on my face and a blinding flash.  The next moment I was looking downwards towards the ground and I knew that I was at quite a height, because I was on top of a dark bluey grey coloured smoke cloud, it was then that I actually heard the sonic boom from an explosion.  Then I can remember landing in the middle of a flower bed with a hell of a thud which knocked the wind right out of me.  Through the smoke I could make out the driver of the black Ford Granada lying on the floor screaming his head off, but I could not see the RMP corporal who was stood next to him just a moment ago.  I cocked my rifle and screamed to my team to follow me, as I intended to go into an immediate follow up and pursue the attacker. 

It was obvious to me that the attack came from the alleyway at the back of Donore Court, which had an obvious escape route onto the Antrim Road.  However I now had the added dilemma of one team member missing and a seriously injured civilian, so the follow up action idea was instantly cancelled.  The missing RMP soldier was a complete nightmare on top of a nightmare scenario and any training that I had received never prepared me for this situation.  The ground immediately surrounding the area was completely blood splattered and I could see bits of torn clothing and the occasional bits of flesh around on the ground.  I started to think that the missing RMP had been vaporised in the blast.  I then got on the radio and sent an initial contact report and finished of by telling all call signs to steer towards Antrim Road.  A large crowd by this time had appeared at the junction of New Lodge Road and Donore Court.  The time from explosion to sending the contact report in real time would have probably been less than a minute but at the time it was all in slow motion and appeared longer.  I detailed one of the other RMP guys to administer first aid to the injured civilian and to basically do his best for him, considering the extent of his injuries, he looked in a very bad way, to put it mildly, he was shredded and in particular his right shoulder had been virtually torn off by the blast.  I told the other RMP to provide close cover for the RMP who was applying first aid.  My next concern was the large crowd that had developed and were been very hostile and shouting for blood.  It was at that point, I noticed a blood trail along the ground, leading away from the seat of the explosion and into the direction of the crowd.

I then thought that somehow the crowd had taken the missing RMP soldier. (It was revealed some time later by CCTV that the RMP soldier had managed to run away despite his serious injuries towards the New Lodge Road whilst in a state of shock and disorientation, where he then collapses).  I decided to charge into the crowd and try to push them back, so I ran into them as fast as I could, swinging my rifle at the same time like a baseball bat and making full contact with it. I fought my way deep into the crowd and sure enough, I found the RMP soldier helpless on the ground with blood everywhere around him.  The crowd was trying to get at his rifle and equipment so I swung my rifle heavily into them and followed up with lots of kicks and punches into anything that came close enough. I managed to create a bit of a clearance around the RMP and I knelt down beside him and I could clearly see that he was conscious, although I believe he was completely unaware of what was going on around him.  My first words to him was “Were the fuck have you been?” He did not answer, but just stared with a total look of fear on his face. I knew the crowd would overpower me at any moment so instead of immediately applying first aid I decided to get his rifle, ammunition and radio off, especially the rifle before the crowd got it and used it against us. I could see the fist mike of his radio attached to his chest rig shoulder strap but the coaxial cable was severed and not attached to the radio and all I kept saying was “Where is your radio, Where is your radio?”, but he still did not respond. 

I started to feel some kicks and punches in my back and head so it was time to go.  I pulled the RMP up by his chest rig straps and put him over my shoulder into a fireman’s lift carry position.  It was then he started to scream in excruciating agony from his injuries.  I knew that I could be causing more injury to him by doing this but there wasn’t any choice in the matter, it was getting him up and out of there or both of us would have probably been killed.  The crowd was hell bent on finishing us off and I was not about to concede.  I used the RMP over my back as a bit of a battering ram to force my way through the crowd and made my way back to Donore Court as quickly as I could and threw the RMP over a garden wall.  During that short space of time something else was happening in the background but I just did not know what it was however, I was thankful that the angry mob did not pursue me into the Court.  On the other side of the wall I started to get my field dressings out, of which I always carried four but on this occasion it became clearly obvious to me that four field dressings would not be enough for the RMP.  He was suffering from serious leg and arm injuries and the whole heel of his right boot and that part of his foot was missing.  He was clearly losing a great deal of blood and suffering from shock, the colour of his face told me that much.  The wound to his upper right leg was a great concern to me; it was a wide and very deep laceration running from the top of the leg just below the hip joint all the way down to his knee.  The blood which was oozing from this wound was very scary but at least the blood was not pumping, which would suggest that it was arterial bleeding.  I started to pack field dressings on it as best I could and kept talking to him as I did so, constantly telling him not to pass out.

At that moment I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to see who it was and I was very surprised and extremely relieved to see my OC standing there.  His exact words to me was ‘”Ok corporal, let us take over now”  I stood up and it was then that I noticed the OC’s rover group getting stuck into the angry mob and putting up mine tape to cordon off the Court area.  It was amazing how fast the OC’s rover group arrived on the scene and started to take control of the situation. 

By some sheer coincidence the OC’s rover group had just deployed from Girdwood patrol base and was escorting an ambulance to the area of Carlisle Circus, when he clearly heard the sound of the explosion and my initial contact report so he re-directed to my location ASAP which in fact took only two minutes and to bring with it an ambulance and medics was just too good to be true.  Whilst the OC’s rover group was dealing with the crowd and the control of the cordon I and the other RMP’s started to assist in the casualty evacuations and it was at that point I noticed one of the RMP guys was bleeding quite badly from the back of his shoulder and then the medic realised that the others had blast injuries as well.  The amazing thing was they were completely unaware of their injuries until it was pointed out to them, the injuries resembled small deep lacerations to areas of the legs and arms.  The medic insisted that all injured personnel must get into the ambulance regardless of the severity so I ensured that their weapons had been made safe and piled them onboard, shut the doors and the ambulance was off to Musgrave Park Hospital on the other side of the City.  I stayed with the OC’s rover group until the incident was drawn to a close.  The Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) turned up to examine the scene, he asked me where was the seat of the explosion, so I pointed it out, he asked me exactly where everyone was stood at the time of the explosion and it turns out that myself and the seriously injured RMP were less than four feet away from the blast.  ATO asked me if I had received any injuries to which I replied “No” and he found it hard to believe.  He said I was very lucky because it appears the RMP must have reflected and absorbed some of the blast from me.  I took some of the blast in the area of the stomach where it was absorbed by my chest rig which was full of rifle magazines, maps and aid memoirs and my body armour; it was totally shredded.  The ATO explained that because of the area that the blast had hit me that was the cause for my little trip into the air (between 10 and 15 feet).  ATO took my chest rig, body armour and rifle away and handed it to the RUC for forensic evidence and it was at that moment I notice my rifle was drenched in blood, some from the RMP and some from the crowd.

The explosion was caused by an impact grenade known as the Mk 15 or commonly known as the coffee jar bomb.  The reason why the mob did not peruse me into Donore Court was because the OC’s rover group had just arrived and started immediately pushing the crowd back.  But at that time I was completely unaware of this.

All casualties from this incident made a full recovery.  In 1994 I was summoned back to Belfast to attend a court hearing in which I was accused of using excessive force during the incident.  I was astonished to hear the story of the incident from other people’s points of view and further evidence that was revealed during the hearing.  It all became clear to me why the incident happened, how it happened and what we did about it.  The use of CCTV evidence clearly exonerated me and my so called excessive use of force from any wrong doing.  However the main cause of the incident was all started and instigated two hours before the explosion took place and it was all because a certain team commander liked to use a particular location regularly for his smoke breaks. That team commander will remain nameless, but he knows it was his fault and the cameras never lie. The crater caused by the blast is still there today; in fact, a friend informed me that you can actually see the crater on Google maps, although I have never looked myself.  That incident was just one of many that I was personally involved in during the six months tour of duty.  However that particular incident was different because it was the only one that involved casualties.  My original team that was stood down that day, confessed to feeling guilty and no matter what the circumstances would have been they had wished that it was them and not the RMP.  I was personally glad it was the RMP.  That may sound a bit cold and callas, but my team were close friends and had been for a long time.  If I was to have witnessed one of them seriously injured it may have impacted on my way of thinking and dealing with the incident.

For a while I kept thinking about that incident, and often pondered over the possibility that I could have performed better or should I have refused the Brigade Commanders request, or should I have told the platoon commander to ‘do one’ when he refused my request to bring the teams closer. 

*******

Henry really put the record straight and I went away from Girdwood a little bit happier but was still mystified to why I was not told of the incident, I was also mad as fuck because  Snakes Eyes version bared no resemblance to my brothers account of the incident, my brother was lucky to be alive as were the members of the RMP team ,he was lucky that his OC read the situation and got to his aid as quickly as he did and I thank him for that. I returned back to North Howard Street Mill to take in what Henry had told me, I was just glad he was still alive and kicking and not too fazed by his brutal ordeal. As for Snake eyes he was just living up to his name, I would never trust him again he just confirmed to me what a conceited man he was, his dislike for our platoon was never more clear I tried to justify why he never breathed a word to let me know about my brother’s situation or he could have even told my Boss. It was water under the bridge now I had to get through the rest of this tour so I put it to the back of my mind with the rest of the shit.

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