We’re all human, as the saying goes. And with that we all have our superstitions, wee things in the mind that make us tick, or get through times when we need a bit of confidence when placed in a position of unpredictability.
Well, here’s mine from over the years through my military career, and on to today.
It all began while taking part in a large ambush during the Falklands War back in 1982. I was a B squadron, 22 SAS member (one of eight) of a D squadron ambush waiting for an Argentinian airborne unit to drop onto the Falklands. I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable, not so much from the thought of the drop taking place, but from any Argie units already here clearing the ground prior to the drop. Although we were a large (by our numbers in the Regiment) ambush party, we were also in an area of extremely open ground along a valley with a shallow river to our front, with the odd sparse tree. Cover from view from ground troops maybe…but most certainly not cover from fire.
During the day of the ambush, having had the ambush “set” before first light, we went through every type of weather imaginable, only in the Falklands…
At one stage with blowing ice rain, I found myself wearing 6 layers of clothing…at another period in the day, 2 layers only as the skies cleared and the warm sun not only provided much needed heat, but dried my soaking clothing too…then snow…then it would clear again with a bitter wind!
A mate told me to look up above us. There was a dog fight going on between Argentinian aircraft and our Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers…amazing to watch, and from it came a Saltire in the sky.
My mate Tommy was Scottish too, and boy did it remind us of home. Although now, some 8,000 miles from home, the landscape was similar to parts of Scotland, and now we were seeing our flag.
There was something soothing about the Saltire in the sky…like it was saying to me “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”
With that, my mind took me back to my early days in the military, and times of again when I’d see the Saltire in the sky. I remember the first time that I can clearly recall, in a defensive position in the Dhofar War in Oman in the early 70s…shortly after first light. As the sun rose to the East, the ground from the night’s cold air would warm up by the second. Looking up, high in the blue cloudless sky…was the saltire…possibly made by passenger jets this time flying above 25,000ft. Was it there to look after me, and get me through my first war at just 17yrs young? “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”
Now it’s 1980, I’m on the roof of the Iranian Embassy, about to lay a charge to explode as the distraction. I’ve watched 2 pensioners making a brew in their kitchen across the gardens inside their beautiful Georgian apartment. At one stage as I’m about to crouch behind a wall to take cover from the explosion, I look up, and there it is…a Saltire in the sky. “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”
Another time, lying in a hedgerow in Northern Ireland, funnily enough with the same Scottish wingman as from the Falklands’ ambush (he also received an award from the Iranian Embassy siege)…freezing cold again too, and looking to the sky…and there it is, the Saltire, both of us with a wee smile on our faces. “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”
And another time that I can record today, well after the Falklands, this time during the First Gulf War, sitting in an LUP next to our Pinky Land Rover having made a brew…that night to our north it seemed that every munition ever made was fired or dropped onto targets on the ground by coalition aircraft, and as I look up into the early morning sky…the Saltire. “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”
Some key memories of the Saltire in the sky during conflict that I can record today. All kicked off by the moment during that ambush in the Falklands War many moons ago now.
Yesterday was Christmas Day, a family day…I stepped out into the garden with a wee whisky to mark a personal moment to absent friends…and there it was…the Saltire in the sky. “Robbie son, I’ve got your back!”