Authors: Diem Burden
Tags: #uk, #Royal Engineers, #cops, #police, #army
END OF THE ROAD
Part one of
By Diem Burden
Published by Shriven Books
Copyright 2012 © Diem Burden
Edited by Vanessa Finaughty
Cover design ©
Soldier image © Vladimir Ivanov | Dreamstime.com
Police Officer image © Editorial | Dreamstime.com
Police car image ©
Landscape image © Yorkman | Yaymicro.com
Sky image © Mykola Mazuryk | Dreamstime.com
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author.
This book is based, in part, upon actual events and persons. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in all instances, I have changed the names of individuals and places. I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence, as well as other descriptive details. Some of the events and characters are also composites of several individual events or persons.
This book is dedicated to the memory of Mr RV Mellor (1937 – 2006); a true teacher and a genuine English eccentric. Many years ago, he saw something in me that I couldn’t see for myself. If it hadn’t been for his selfless intervention, this book – along with all those to come – would never have been written.
Thank you, Bob, for making a difference.
The sun had dipped below the horizon. The sky turned a sharp orange as darkness spread out across the desolate plain. Overtaking us in the distance was the black outline of a familiar Gazelle helicopter as it flew back to the nearby Army Air Corps base.
I glimpsed a sign for Stonehenge, which marked the halfway point. We’d soon be back in camp, showered and dressed and out to Andover town centre with its pubs and girls.
As the alcohol took hold of hungry men drinking too quickly, the debate between Pizza and Donk over the advantages of computers versus plant equipment became more and more animated.
Pizza was the baby of the group, a young, funny lad of about eighteen years of age who had earned his nickname on account of his poor complexion, and had never once challenged it. That was the kind of guy he was.
“Nah,” said Donk. “You dunna want none of that bollocks. Waste a-fucking time, computers.”
Donk was hilariously proud of being called Donk, which we all knew was short for ‘donkey’. Built like a horse, he naively believed he’d earned the moniker on account of the size of his penis. He hadn’t; it was because he had a very long face which vaguely resembled that of a donkey. We never had the heart to correct him.
“Construction’s where the money’s at,” Donk continued. “With the qualifications you’ve got, just top ’em up with a trucker’s licence on your pre-release course. Get a fucking top job anywhere in the world with those quals, mate.”
What Donk was saying made perfect sense, and the free, month-long course given to all army leavers meant I could gain a qualification in almost anything I wanted. I had just twelve months to decide, and putting my name down for the course was another reason I had to make a decision about my future soon.
“A mate of mine took a course in London with computers,” said Pizza, undaunted. “Did the lot, he did, and got loads of certificates at the end.”
“And become what?
?” scoffed Donk.
“He’s right though, Dave,” said Cat. “Like it or not, computers will be everywhere in the next few years. Could be useful to have computer skills; never know where it might lead.”
Corporal ‘Cat’ Stevens was a newly qualified truck driver who had enthusiastically jumped at driving that day, although the unexpected beers had made him wish otherwise. Cat was my top drinking partner; everybody liked Cat and boy could he drink.
I sighed. “You’re probably right, Cat, but computers? I mean, what am I gonna do with a shit-load of computer certificates?” In comparison, a trucker’s licence had merit – it was a
“How about the
?” asked Cat. “My mate’s in his first year with the Manchester lot, loving every minute of it, apparently.”
I stared at Cat, speechless.
The police? Me?
?” laughed Donk. “Could you seriously see
?” He had a point; I had broken a fair few laws in my time
I hated the sight of blood.
“Get stuffed, you ginger prick,” I said good-naturedly, as I turned and stared out of the window at the emptiness of Salisbury Plain. I listened absent-mindedly as the argument continued, and felt the warmth of something that had been missing from my life for several years creeping over me – job satisfaction.
It was early September 1988, shortly after my twenty-third birthday. I remember it well because on that day a seed was planted, a seed that should never have seen the light of day. That seed only needed a slight amount of nurturing to begin its life, and that nurturing came from the most unexpected of places, as indeed did the damned seed.
Apart from the sergeant, all the guys in the cab were my regular drinking buddies. We lived together, worked together, fought together and socialised together. We knew each other inside out, and probably would have died for each other if war had come our way. Thankfully it never did and, like all good military relationships pre-computers, I was to lose contact with each and every one of them as soon as I left the army behind.
We were bantering about women, life and sex, easy and relaxed in each other’s company. The man in charge was Sergeant ‘Smudge’ Smith, an overly short career man who had been with us for so long that he was like part of the furniture. For a sergeant he wasn’t all that bad, despite his size. He was the man handing out cans of beer we’d been given earlier, blatantly ignoring army regulations which forbade drinking in military vehicles.
“But Dave, seriously,” said Smudge. “You’ve got your pre-release interview with the
next week, for fuck’s sake! You
He was right, of course. I had to have something to say to the boss. In twelve months I’d be out of the army and on
, and the major expected to hear of my plans for the future.
As much as the dull routine of army life had bored me for the last five years, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied at that day’s work. We’d been assigned to ‘civil aid’, which roughly means the army helping the civilian population in some way. We’d arrived in a tiny village in the middle of Salisbury Plain in a huge tipper-truck, towing an enormous tilting-trailer with one of our camouflage-green, earth-moving machines on the back.
The twelve-tonne digger had spent the day knocking out the crumbling wall of the local church yard and digging the earth out, as we prepared the foundations for the vicar to have a new wall built. We also carted off all of the leftover rubble. Cat won the kitty for guessing the exact quantity of skeletons we’d pull out of the ground – zero, if you didn’t count the small finger bone. I tapped my pocket.
“It’ll come back to haunt you,” Smudge had said, laughing.
As we were sweeping the soil off the road the vicar came out and thanked us all individually, whilst presenting Smudge with a case of bargain beer for our efforts. We were thrilled; British squaddies will drink absolutely anything.
The vicar watched as we routinely and expertly loaded the digger onto the trailer, tethered it down and jumped up into the spacious cab. After some careful shunting back and forth by Cat, we ended up facing in the right direction and headed off out of the village and up onto the desolate, darkening roads of the plain, and back to the dull routine of camp life.
It felt good, and I wanted this feeling to be a regular part of my new life. So what
I do? In my panic to escape my previous life at seventeen, I’d ended up here – a squaddy in the British Army, overjoyed at being let out to do a bit of useful work for the day. That was a mistake I was only too aware of.
How I’d turned out to be a combat engineer is down to similar, well-thought-out planning. At the army recruiting office I had commented on the fact that I liked the look of the Royal Engineer cap in the poster. I was told that I could learn any trade I wanted to in the Engineers. Nice cap; good trade. So into the Engineer Corps I went. As for the trade, I had no idea. Other recruits said that being a
was the easiest job available. I had no idea what a
was, and I certainly wasn’t one to take the easy option but it seemed like the job everybody in the know was taking.
“You’ll have to sign up for six years for those qualifications, son. Army’s gotta get its money’s worth from its investment, you know.” When you are eighteen years of age, six years doesn’t seem like a very long time at all, so I took the job of
– which I later learnt stood for
Plant Operator Mechanic
. For the last five years I’d been learning how to operate and maintain dozens of huge earth-moving equipment, along with all the other jobs we sappers did.
I briefly thought of going back to college, but soon laughed at the thought. Being a squaddy changes you in subtle ways. I would never be able to fit in with a bunch of adolescent, immature college kids again.
My rambling thoughts were silenced as efficiently as Donk and Pizza’s argument by the huge metallic crash from somewhere just behind us as something slammed through the truck. It smashed all thoughts from my wandering mind.
We froze, brows furrowed, trying to identify the origin of the sound. Cat was startled enough to ease off the throttle.
“What the fuck was
?” I asked quietly, looking at Cat. He was checking his mirrors as he double-de-clutched his way down the gearbox, carefully bringing the vehicle to a stop, apprehension on his face.
“Did any cars pass us, Cat?” I asked, suddenly fearful. Despite the very realistic first aid training we did every year, I dreaded having to deal with injured people. I always panicked when confronted with a realistically made-up battlefield casualty, guts spilling out through his hands.
“Dunno,” replied Cat. “I didn’t notice any.”
I turned and, standing up, looked through the rear window of the cab across the back of the cargo area to where the digger’s cab should have been visible. It took a moment for me to comprehend.
“It’s gone! The digger! It’s fucking gone!”
The colour drained from Cat’s face. We all knew what this meant – we were in deep, military coloured crap. We’d lost the digger due to loose chains and we’d have to take full responsibility, especially the driver and the sergeant in charge.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,
!” screamed Cat as he activated the truck’s hazard lights on the empty, darkening road in the middle of nowhere. He punched the dashboard as we jumped down from the cab into the silence of the plain, beer cans being thrown in panic into the darkness. When a squaddy throws his beer away, you know it’s serious.
“Pizza! Run on ahead and wave down any approaching traffic!” I shouted. “We don’t want anyone piling into the digger.” I watched him swiftly disappear into the darkness and turned to the next man. “Donk, you do the same behind us until we know what we’ve got.”