‘He landed on the ground not 20ft from me, unclipped his parachute and discarded a jump suit’
I AM fortunate to be a member of a small club in London which is restricted to individuals who have either been involved with the “Special Forces” or “intelligence” activities.
I qualify because of my work in Northern Ireland in the late seventies. I stayed at my club the other evening and it brought back vivid memories of the days when I spent a substantial amount of time with military personnel.
I was seconded to Northern Ireland in 1976 to help them develop a computer system which collated information from the separate data bases in place in the Province at that time.
In order to assist me to do this I worked with a team comprising of people from each of the services who were operating on the ground there. These included the police; the special branch; the security services and the SAS.
Suffice to say that our work was successful and the system we devised is still in operation today.
Besides being a tremendous learning experience I met some fascinating people including the SAS officer – he must remain nameless – who engineered my membership of the club.
My first encounter with him was in his secure office in the heart of Belfast. As you can imagine in those days the military compound was heavily guarded but his rooms had the additional security of a barred gate, much like the ones you see in a prison, and an armed sentry.
We shook hands following which he shouted “You got the grip”. I was taken aback as I had no idea what he was talking about.
Recognising my blank look he continued “You got the grip, I can usually out squeeze any man but you did for me”. This seemed extremely strange at the time but nothing of what was to come.
One day I had a meeting with him in what he described as “bandit country”, a very dangerous area on the borders with the South where subsequently one of my bodyguards was murdered by a road side milk churn bomb.
My friend was punctilious about timing and had never been late so with two minutes to go I was getting a little anxious about his safety as he was nowhere in sight. Then I saw an airplane above from which appeared this little speck of black which grew larger and larger.
He landed on the ground not 20ft from me, unclipped his parachute, discarded a jump suit, which was collected by a squaddie who appeared from nowhere and, dressed in a smart blazer and flannels, greeted me with “I’m not late am I?”
I will have to wait a long time before anyone could repeat an entrance like that one.
The first time he invited me to the Club was one summer evening. He telephoned to ask if I would like a “Jolly” or a “Thrash”. I later learned these meant getting fresh or drunk. When I arrived I was ushered to a bar on the first floor where my friend was waiting with a group of others including Dickie, a brother officer who had recently returned from a mission in the Middle East.
Dickie drank whiskey. After a while my friend – referring to Dickie –repeatedly said “He’s going, he’s going”. When Dickie finally collapsed from too much alcohol my friend remarked quite dryly “He’s gone”.
Dickie was unceremoniously removed to a chair on the landing outside the bar. When I was about to leave I enquired about his fate and was told he would stay there until he “slept it off”.
I had a driver, so offered to take him home.
He lived in a wonderful four storey Regency terrace house not far from the club. I rang the doorbell which was responded to by a woman in curlers shouting down at me from the second floor balcony “Yes”. I shouted back “Mrs X”. She replied, in a very clipped accent “Yes”. I responded “I have your husband here”. She shouted “Is he p*ss*d”. “Yes” I shouted back. “Just leave him on the doorstep” she instructed, stepping back inside closing the window.
I thought all of this rather strange behaviour and something I had never experienced before but within days I received a letter from “Dickie” thanking me for my kindness and a request to join him for dinner.
All of these fond memories, and others I cannot repeat, returned the other evening. Both Dickie and my SAS friend are retired “to the country” but I learn the latter, now approaching 80, is currently walking across China.