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August 14 2012 17:05:49.
Today Sunday 19 May 2013 18:42:05
They never appeared in groups of less than three, and they
always carried pistols. They were clearly very wary of us. On one of the
visits our boots were taken away from us and replaced with white pumps
I asked for water. They came back with a pitcher and a cup. We drank
some, and then put the pitcher back down on the floor as if it was going to
stay there. They didn't question it.
"How do we go to the toilet?" Stan asked.
"You go when we say you go."
"We're suffering from diarrhea and stomachaches, and we're being sick.
We need a bucket or something so we can go."
A bucket turned up. They were small victories, but encouraging signs
that we could manipulate our circumstances. That first night was a happy,
giggly, taking the piss sort of time. We heard mumbling in the near distance
and guessed that there were other prisoners. We eventually worked out that
they were right next door to us. How many of them, we couldn't tell.
There was a door right at the end of the corridor, and once the guards
had slammed that shut they seemed to be out of earshot. Nobody had told us
that there was a no talking rule, but it was safer to assume that there was.
Tapping on the wall with our tin mug, we knocked out a simple
identification code to see if the person in the next cell was an ally. Only
a Westerner would recognize the friendly pattern of knocks you would do on
the front door of a friend's house: tap, tapetty, tap tap --to which the
reply, of course, is: tap tap. We got the answer we were hoping for. The
contact was good for our morale, and probably theirs. It was a good feeling
to have got something going on the very first night.
We started to speculate about our situation. Were the other members of
the patrol here? Was this a staging post? Would we be here for the duration?
"We didn't know where the hell you guys had got to," Stan said. "Vince
was babbling about aircraft and TACBE, and Chris and I remembered hearing
jets. We worked out that Vince was telling us that you'd stopped and tried
to make contact with them. We sat on high ground looking through the night
sight, but there was no sign of you. We tried to raise you on TACBE, but no
answer. In the end we decided to press on, hoping you'd keep on the bearing
and we'd meet up."
They carried on for about four hours, and then it was coming to first
light. Chris and Stan were worried about being caught in the open. Vince was
out of the decision making; he stood swaying in the wind and rain as the
others ran around looking for somewhere to hide.
Stan found a tank berm about 6 feet deep, with tank tracks leading away
from it that were about knee deep. They led Vince into one of the tracks and
lay down either side of him. Throughout the night Chris and Stan took it in
turns to sleep. The man who was awake kept a watchful eye on Vince.
First light came and Stan had a auick look around. To his horror, he
found that the tank berm was only about 600 meters from some sort of enemy
position--either a hut or a box vehicle with aerials, it was hard to tell.
They were stuck there now until last light.
It started to snow. Soon the snow turned to sleet, and the tank track
filled with slush. They were soaking wet. The temperature dropped. They had
very little food left, just a couple of packets of biscuits between them.
Everything else had gone in the berg ens
As it started to come to last light, they crawled into the berm and
stood up. They'd been lying in freezing water for twelve hours. Stan had
lost all feeling in his hands and feet; Chris's joints were frozen. They
moved around in circles, frog-marching Vince between them. When darkness had
fallen and it was time to leave, they were so cold that the only way they
could pick up their weapons was by cradling them in their arms.
Vince was soon lagging behind. He stopped in his tracks at one point
and called the other two back. He complained about his hands, muttering that
they had turned black. Chris looked at them and saw that he was wearing
black leather gloves. "They'll soon get better if you put them in your
pockets, mate," he said.
The next time they stopped, Vince was totally incoherent. Stan and
Chris huddled around him, but it wasn't much use. They had to keep going or
they'd freeze. They were on high ground, crossing bare rock and large
patches of snow. Chris was in front with the compass, but the cold was
getting to him. He was doing everything in slow motion.
The three men spread out as they climbed a gradient at their different
speeds. Stan stopped to let Vince overtake him; he wanted to keep an eye on
him. But Vince didn't appear.