Celtic Illumination, part 187, Veni, vidi, vixit.
Our little Italian adventure was laughed off by the squadron, something more serious was afoot, we were at war. The Falklands war had kicked off and we all waited for our orders. As we were perhaps the most southerly unit, at that time, many of us expected to be moving a bit more south, in fact quite a bit more. For some reason I always think of a large game board featuring the world. Although one incident may be happening at that moment, such as the Falklands, each player had to position the remainder of their forces, as we said in the air force, to cover their six o clock. Cyprus became a staging post for thousands of troops heading South.
A certain sobriety descended on the squadron. We were sitting outside the mess having a lunch time beer when some Rock Apes came out to, well; if the truth be told, they came out to start a fight with us. These guys had read far too many war comics, they were the real ‘blood guts gore veins in their teeth I wanna kill’, breed. Plus they were quite drunk, which didn’t help matters. The head drunk was a six foot six tall Scouser. Shaved head, even his spit had muscles and tattoos. He broke two beer bottles, placed the bases on the ground and began to perform press-ups with his hands over the broken bases. By the time he had completed his exercises we were gone.
We were told that we were to stay in Cyprus. The Russians had a permanent fleet of ‘trawlers’ around Cyprus which were basically spy ships, listening posts. When we arrived there was something in the region of twenty five trawlers. The moment the war started the number of trawlers in the Med went up to over one hundred and twenty. They were constantly trying to get our crews to speak to them; we knew that most forms of communication would be intercepted. At least we had our Falcon Codes, even the Russians couldn’t break them.
John Zammo and I were sharing a room. We spent a long time discussing how we should spend our time. Many troops heading south were quite ‘pumped up’ and with the addition of strong drink, punch ups were becoming the order of the day as members of one unit wanted to prove how much tougher they were than some other unit. John and I came up with a cracker of an idea, the theatre club. No member of our squadron, in fact no roughie toughie in their right mind would be seen dead in a theatre club. It was settled. We would allow the squadron chaps to carouse to their hearts content in the mess while we would gently pass the time in the theatre club.
We wandered over to the theatre club and were impressed. It surely was a corner of calm. The barman was an old friend from Watton so we settled in and enjoyed a few drinks. As we were leaving, my friend informed me that there was a good-bye party on the Saturday night. There would be a barbeque and dancing and free drink all night long. Oh, and by the way, it was a toga party. We told no one and were quite pleased that we had managed to slip in with the permanent staff almost unnoticed. Work wise most people kept their heads down and then somebody just had to go and spoil the peace.
Part of my job was to plot the approximate position of some of these spy trawlers so that our crews knew to steer clear of them. One crew flying along was contacted by a trawler. The Russians were always trying to establish contact and this one claimed that he was an aircraft enthusiast. He pleaded with the crew to fly past his ship so that he could take a photograph for his ‘collection album please sir.’ The aircrew on 92 squadron were always perfect gentlemen so had to oblige and did fly past the trawler. In fact they were so accommodating they flew as close as they possibly could to the trawler. Perhaps if they hadn’t have been going supersonic the fellow may have got a better photograph.
Seems that every valve on their spy ship exploded and a diplomatic incident quickly evolved. Nothing to do with us, we had a toga party to attend. On the evening in question John and I took a sheet from our beds, cut a hole for our heads, secured the garment with a belt and on the way to the theatre club ripped branches from various bushes and made our headgear. It was a fantastic night. I haven’t a clue who the farewell party was for, or who paid for all the drink and nosh, but thank you. About midnight I managed to find the bar, which was proving difficult even though it was only ten feet away from our table.
I ordered two brandy sours and was shocked to be asked for a few hundred mills. “I thought the drinks were free all night?” I asked. “They were,” I was told. “But they’ve run out.” It would appear that everyone had the same idea concerning the free drink. I reached around for my wallet to discover that it wasn’t there. I explained my predicament to the barman who waved me away. It may have been no problem to him but I suddenly realised that it was a huge problem for me. I told John that I had lost my wallet and he too realised the seriousness of the situation. In my wallet was the combinations for the safes, which contained all the war codes and guides, plus battle orders for the NATO air defence network.
Cyprus was bristling with people who weren’t there; there were even aircraft flying every day,that were not there. The place was full of spooks and spies, special forces and God only knows what else. Because of the sensitivity of the information I had no choice but to report myself for a failure in security. I telephoned the police and reported the fact that I had lost my wallet; it was only when I explained what the wallet contained that the copper, on the other end of the telephone, seemed to take a blind bit of notice of me. He asked me if I understood what this would mean. Unfortunately I did.
The only other person who had the safe combination was the security officer; he would have to be called out as would the squadron commander. Because of the seriousness of the incident the station security officer would have to be called out and the station commander. All the safe combinations would have to be changed and NATO would have to be informed so that they could decide which codes and procedures should have to be changed if our security had been breached. The copper told me to return to my room and wait for further instruction.
John and I went back to our room and poor John knew that just through being associated with me he was in deep shit too. We lay on our pits and let the alcohol take over. I have to say that military police do not have very good manners. Rather than knock on our bedroom door and wait to be invited in they stormed in and began tapping the metal ends of the beds with their batons. With our attention gained, they demanded to know who Morris was. I admitted to being myself and complied with their orders to get dressed and get outside in double quick time. John had to come with me.
I opened my locker to pull some clothes on as pitching up in a bed sheet might not be seen as being appropriately dressed. On lifting a clean shirt from my locker my heart sank for sitting there, where I had hidden it, was my wallet. There’s no point in taking your wallet to a free drink event, especially when it contains such important information, it would be safer and more sensible to leave it in a secure locker in a locked room. I could see the deep and dark hole they were going to throw me in open up beneath my feet. I told John who expressed his belief that I was a fecking idiot or words to that effect.
We went down to the waiting police and climbed in to the back of their land rover. I was wondering where they were taking us as we were driving away from the technical site and heading in to the married quarters patch. My heart sank, for this meant that it would be MI6 at least who would be questioning us. The land rover pulled up outside a small bungalow and we were told to get out. We were told to approach the front door and the land rover reversed away.
I knocked on the front door. It swung open and an RAF copper was standing there with two bottles of beer. As he said “Morris you little bastard,” I got the feeling that I knew him. I took the beer and had a swig. “I knew it was you the moment you called last night,” said the copper. “I’ll never forget your voice.” Then it dawned on me, for the fellow had a Dublin accent. It was the copper from Valley who I had refused to snitch on. “I owe you a big favour from Valley,” he said, confirming my assumption. “But what about…?” “I bet you found your fecking wallet this morning,” he said, and I nodded, feeling the lump in my back pocket just to be sure.
“Come on then,” he says. “Let’s have a bit of breakfast.” “But what about the report?” “Listen,” he says. “I didn’t report a thing, there’s nothing in writing. I knew you were drunk and had probably left your wallet in you locker. You did the right thing through, and for all these years I’ve wanted to be able to pay you back, so we’re even.” I promise you. I have never been so lucky in all my life and perhaps there is some truth when they say ‘what goes around comes around.’ But perhaps more importantly, I had discovered that perhaps not all military policemen were a bad lot.