*Quick disclaimer* The purpose of these fragments hasn’t been to pull up a sandbag and tell war stories, it has been to give people a glimpse into the life of a soldier in today’s army going through the near continual cycle of operational tours and everything that goes with it. */Quick Disclaimer*
We flew into Sierra Leone by way of a stopover in Senegal. Clearly the army and RAF didn’t want their soldiers to be staying anywhere that would be putting them at risk and so the decision was made to allow a company (around 100 men) of infantrymen to stay in the Presidential Hotel, Dakar. We landed at the airport and were ferried in rickety buses to a shining oasis in that chaotic city. We arrived, dressed in jungle fatigues, and were greeted by the RAF equivalent of the holiday rep.
‘Here are you room keys, you drink the mini bar you pay for it. Do not get pissed’ he warned us.
A few years prior to that an RAF officer decided to visit our camp in the UK. He was prancing around in his nice blue uniform when he came upon two Riflemen in much more practical green uniforms. They walked past him still talking; he clearly did not like this:
‘Don’t you salute RAF officers in your regiment?’ he asked
‘Fuck off, we don’t have RAF officers in our regiment’ one replied
And they carried on their way. The army don’t like being told what to do by the RAF and so the holiday rep’s warnings were met with fits of hysterics.
We proceeded to the buffet served by very tall African ladies in headdress, it was amazing. We ordered a few beers, a few more beers and then many, many beers and were soon shit faced. One group decided they were going for a swim in the sea, the very sea we were told contained sharks. However, my room mate Tony and I had had enough and headed to bed. By this point I was having some issues with walking and standing, I staggered to the beautiful glass lift and was soon joined by a smartly dressed gentleman. I slumped on to him, using his shoulder to support myself.
‘Hello’ I said ‘I’m here with the British army, what about you?’
‘I’m the Egyptian ambassador’ he replied, rather haughtily I thought.
I finally got to my room to find Tony already there. He had got talking to some very friendly ladies in the foyer and had invited them back to our room for drinks. Soon after I returned there was a knock at the door and they appeared, however, even in my drunken state I could see there was something amiss. I took Tony to one side and explained that I thought they may be prostitutes, in hindsight I may not have been as quiet as I thought I was being and this may have angered them some; we made a command decision that we didn’t want much to do with them and told them that we were tired and going to bed. They did not like this.
From nowhere reinforcements arrived. We found ourselves trying to keep around ten women of the night from entering our room, something they were set on. We tried slamming the door but a foot appeared to stop this and we were literally forced aside. We retreated.
So there we were, standing on the balcony with ten prostitutes in our room intent on carrying out their profession regardless of what we wanted. Tony asked them to leave, they wouldn’t. He tried grabbing one by the wrist, she slapped him. So we bribed them with the contents of our mini bar and finally we were able to lock the door.
Relieved we sat down when it occurred to me to look at the price list, it was outrageous, something like £6 for a can of coke and we’d just emptied it of brandy, vodka, wine, whisky and beer without touching a drop. There wasn’t much we could do so went to sleep and caught the bus back to the airport in the morning. When I say bus what I actually mean is a series of vans with wooden benches nailed to the floor and windows actually cut out of the walls. I sat in the front, still drunk and giggling with a stereo on my lap having escaped without paying the bar bill. And so we drove catch our plane, me sat next to a very confused looking driver as the Pogues blasted out of his van into the hot Dakar morning.
I never paid that bill but in the same tour I did provide a guard of honour for the American ambassdor to Sierra Leone for some sort of celebration. The function was in a brothel.