The war started, not with shock and awe, but rather with a good night’s sleep. The expected flypast by an armada of coalition aircraft and the rolling thunder of explosions from the north never happened. However, the next day our routine was changed completely.
As Land Rover horns started blowing one second on, one second off, there was a brief moment when everyone stared wide-eyed at the person standing next to them before grappling for their respirator. The drill had become second nature through training but it was still a shock to realise that this time it was for real as we dived into our shell scrapes. The next thing we knew, we were bugging out: as the decon section covering the Divisional Support Group, within 5 minutes of getting the call we were racing down the dirt road in a cloud of dust.
It was only as we were on our way that we were briefed that a Scud had come down and we were being stood to, ready to decontaminate the Fuchs that was doing a chemical recce on the crash site.
It turned out to be a false alarm. The guy living in the tent at the grid the Fuchs was sent to was unaware that he has just had a Scud land on his head – and to this day, nobody has told me where that Scud actually landed.
We spent the next 48 hours putting on and taking off our respirators. One soon becomes blasé about the presence of danger and although our drills were no less hurried our hearts ceased to speed up quite so much as we went about them. Part of the reason for our lack of fear was the apparent arbitrariness of the alarms. They were supposed to sound while the Scuds were five minutes away. It was quite surprising, therefore, to hear them go off about ten minutes after we had seen one slam into the ground about a kilometre from our vehicles. Occasionally, I was almost glad of the alerts as they allowed me to ‘accidentally’ knock the chess board I was playing at and so avoid yet another defeat at the hands of Tpr Ewing (on the left in the photograph above) in our ongoing desert chess tournament.
At night, many of us became so irritated with being woken up every hour for an alert that we simply put noddy suit, respirator, body armour and helmet on and curled up in our shell scrapes. It’s a surprisingly comforting feeling being so well protected whilst you sleep.