In September 2000, a group of British soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in war-torn Sierra Leone took a wrong turn and were captured by a rebel militia called the West Side Boys. It was a full-scale crisis that became the number-one priority for Prime Minister Tony Blair. His solution: Send in the SAS.
The SAS, or “The Regiment” is comprised of four separate units, A, B, D and G. I was in D Squadron, and we were the ones who got the shout to deploy to West Africa from our headquarters in Hereford. Ironically, we had only just arrived back from Africa where we had been on mountain and jungle training exercise on the east coast.
A few days earlier I had been relaxing in a beautiful tourist lodge on a game reserve, preparing for a full-out assault on Mt. Kenya. My only concern was whether I was going to make it up the mountain in all the heat carrying well over 100 pounds of kit. My Bergen, weighed down with all the climbing ropes, weighed about the same as a medium-sized SUV. I was at the peak of my physical fitness, but still….
And then we received the call to deploy urgently back to the British Army base at Nanyuki and await further instructions.
While we were kicking our heels in Nanyuki, disaster struck. Two of our lads, Adey and Marty, had been tearing up from Mombassa where they had been on jungle training ops. They were racing to make the flight back to the UK in time but had been killed following a pile-up on the notoriously treacherous Kenyan roads.
I had picked up an injury, a broken hand. I’d busted it up that night in a bar fight when I’d overheard a bunch of locals blaming the dangerous driving of the troopers for the accident. I was all set to silence them once and for all but fortunately my mate Tommy deflected my fist into the nearest wall.
Tommy’s instincts were the right ones. If I had been done for brawling, I could have been locked up by the Monkeys (military police) with no chance of going on ops. The bad news was that the right hook to the wall had broken my hand! If I went to the MO, it was almost a dead cert that I would be declared unfit for duty, so I kept my mouth shut and kept swallowing the aspirin.
We flew back to the UK on the first available charter. Although everything we do is supposed to be surrounded in secrecy, the stewardesses knew exactly who we were and kept the drinks flowing throughout the flight. We were completely cut up about losing our mates and knocked it back solidly from takeoff to touchdown. But with the memory of what had just happened, there was an air of revenge hanging heavy in the air.
Back home, Marty and Adey were buried with full military honors at St Martin’s Church in Hereford. We then went and mourned their departure with the mother of all drink-ups in the mess. And it was then the regimental sergeant major announced that he needed volunteers for an advanced deployment. All we knew was that the job involved hostages.
We got kitted out at HQ and then hopped on the Hercules transporter that took us to Dakar in Senegal. Set aside for us outside the airport was a great big aircraft hangar where we set up our advanced base and waited for the rest of the squadron.
It was here that we began to receive the first of many intelligence reports and intel about what was happening a few hundred miles down the coast in Sierra Leone.
Please standby for Part II.