Welcome to Hell: Bosnia '94
Andrew Thomas, 20 July 2010
We, the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, known as the "Poachers", had been told some time before-hand that we were to deploy to Vitez School in Central Bosnia.
After completing our United nations 'Operation Grapple' training, we touched down in Split airport, Croatia, on the 3rd may 1994.
I was quite suprised as I was expecting to come under fire soon as we arrived! After some long hours, on 4-tonner vehicles and in warrior convoys, we arrived at vitez, Bosnia. This was an old, run-down school - our home for the next 6 months! I was nervous as this was my first operational tour. I was a new boy and got a load of the crap jobs.
We started to adjust to a routine of checkpoints, guard duties/patrols and vehicle maintenance days. The terrain was unforgiving (the Germans could not conquer the former Yugoslavia in world war 2!) I always remember the devastation in that place; run down buildings shot to bits. The people suffered the most, as always in a war.
The kids would beg for food and sweets, and we would try and help when we could. On guard duties you could watch the bombardment going off. Echoing in the background was sporadic gunfire and gun battles. On a checkpoint one day, bombardment from the Serbs bombing near us in Muslim/Croat territory got a little too close for comfort. We battoned down in our warrior armoured vehicles, after some time we came out and saw a building, not far away, demolished!
There where several incidents in the tour, including one of my mates being accidently shot in his room in vitez. He suffered some injuries but luckily lives to tell the tale. We were mortared up Jelah, and many of us owe our lives to our body armour. On another occasion our warrior almost rode over a minefield, luckily, seconds beforehand, our Section Commander saw this and reversed back out to safety.
The tour will always be remembered by many as it was and probably for most will be the only time we donned blue UN berets and helmets. Many times we would have to go into hard cover, as the Serbs liked to bombard the Muslims and Croats who where right near our position. Heat, dirt and dust, with terribly poor living conditions for a UN tour. Once again, the poor old British soldier had to make do, with only the bare essentials, whilst other UN troops got all they wanted.
Sadly for us Poachers, the tour was marred by the death of Captain Stephen Wormald. He died when his Land Rover went over a mine. He will never be forgotten, alongside many of my comrades who have long left the Queens finest, the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment "The Poachers"!
Northern Ireland Op Banner Nov 96-May 97
By Andrew Thomas- ex 2nd Bn R Anglian
I was a private soldier at the time serving with my battalion, the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment "The POachers"! We were now a demonstration battalion having moved from a Armoured mechanised role in Celle, Germany! We were now based at Battlesbury Barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire.
Although the role could be exciting at times, we were conducting mundane and boring exercises, especially Tessex (basically, it was wearing sensors, they bleeped when you were hit, same for all the vehicles). I was getting restless, when Major Smith, a robust and aggressive OC, C Coy mentioned the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, known as the "Vikings" where looking for a platoon strength of 'Poachers' to accompany them on a forthcoming tour in West Belfast, Northern Ireland! I automatically put my name to the Platoon Sergeant, and he gave it in through the chain of command to Major Smith. I was chosen as part of the "Poachers Multiple", and informed my family although my mother wasn't too pleased at the time!
The situation in Northern Ireland remained tense, even though the Provisional IRA had called a ceasefire in 1994. They broke that with the bombing of Canary Wharf in february 1996. I was sent to the 1st Battalion, who were part of airmobile brigade and took the nickname Airmobile Vikings! We met up with A coy members, (we were to be placed into A Coy 3 Platoon). We conducted low level training in Oakington Barracks the home of the Vikings, and around Thetford training area. We then stepped up the mark, and completed and passed the trainign for Northern Ireland with flying colours. The trainign had taken place at Lydd in Kent.
After flying in an uncomfortable Hercules flight from RAF Brize Norton into Belfast, we were taken in wendy house vehicles (basically a four tonner all blacked out for obvious security purposes). I always remember the horrible gut and butterfly syndrome kicking in. After a quick brief at RAF Aldergrove, off we went to Fort Whiterock, where our main HQ for the tour would be. We were driven in Sazons to Whiterock, not far only a few kilometeres. But I was put on top cover back to Whiterock, and in the short distance, the hatred off the catholics towards us was very much evident!
Our first patrol was under Lt Howson as Platoon commander.
I always remember to this day the sheer nerves and fright when we hard targeted out of the back gate from Springfield Road RUC station. We sprinted for about 50-80 yards zig-zagging. This was the first time exiting and entry to any RUC station or barracks!!!
We then broke into a normal patrol pace, the front man carried VJ - an ECM (electronic counter measures equipment) to inform us of any bombs or devices anywhere. I was 3rd man and the task I had was to patrol backwards watching our brick's back (a 'brick' is the smallest unit of the British Army - usually 4 men). I carried the white sifter (ECM as well but a lot heavier) and also a baton gun. The 4th man carried 'Antler' the heaviest of the ECM kit. We was covered by satellite teams on either side of us and a team in the rear giving us all round defense!
Our patrol as I remember would take us into falls road and through the notorious RPG avenue (Beechmount Avenue) back through the beechmounts and back into Springfield Road RUC station. It was a quick introduction by the Coldstream Guard Corporal and INtelligence guy who were leaving N Ireland the same morning.
I remember heading onto the falls road, and going firm in a firing position after carrying out 5 and 20m metre checks (checking the area for any sign of any devices, bombs etc). We patrolled past a school for girls and I had never taken as much abuse as I took in that first 45 minute patrol. The shouts, the anger, the hatred and the sheer aggression in little girls' voices made me feel sad but also angry. Hard to believe a kid could be filled with so much hatred. We moved off and spotted a known IRA player, we stopped him and RUC policeman searched and asked him some awkward questions. The player was let go and gave us a mouthful of abuse, something which would become second nature.
We patrolled our way through the beechmounts and through Cavendish street and back into Springfield road RUC station. The things which amazed me on that first patrol was the hatred, the fear of talking to the British Army, the spookiness of the place in general, and the hiding places for easy guerilla warfare of which the IRA was renowned for!
We completed the tour in West Belfast with no fatalities. Several riot situations took place in the notorious Ballymurphy estate and Kelly's corner. And several lucky escapes for our platoon, one in particular when a mobile patrol came under attack in Springfield road. The missile missed the top cover by inches! Another in the Ballymurphy, Glenalina road where a CWIED (Command wire improvised explosive device) was hidden behind a wall detonated sending 2 members of a 4 man patrol flying several feet into the air. Luckily no one was seriously hurt!
The tour was a success with several decent finds, and arrests of key players. However, it was also where Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick Royal Artillery lost his life to a sniper on checkpoint at Bess brook mill. He remains the last British soldier to die in Northern Ireland before the ceasefire was declared in June 1997. We enjoyed the tour, but were pleased with our efforts and hard work there. But I have never encountered such hatred as I had done in my tour of West Belfast. Never Forgotten!
RIP Stephen Restorick and all British Soldiers, RUC and UDR personnel killed in Ulster.
Andy Thomas, December 2009, Chelmsford.
Here is a story from Cyprus 1998. We Poachers had been tasked to clear a part of PYLA ranges for MOD/ Army ranges.
After some public order training (riot training), where we had taken part against D Coy enemy, and with the Soveriegn Base Police, it was down to chopping down trees and wood clearance. We anticipated trouble from the locals, none materialised.
We - C Coy - had pitched up in Army tents close to range clearing area. As I remember we had been at it a couple of days. We had adequate rest, but the heat was stifling. I remember being in a rest area at the time, when we heard screams from about 500 metres away. Immediately we ran into the 'Lanny' [Land Rover]. I jumped in the back.
The 'Lanny' pulled up close to the screams. We saw a soldier shivering. He had been burnt, but was shivering with the heat on his body. I took off my desert combat jacket and drenched it in water. The Sergeant prompted me with the jacket and we wrapped it around the injured man. I never knew the reason behind the fire incident, but I heard that the injured man had 28% superficial burns.
He returned to the Battalion six months or so later. He seemed ok, but even though I served in places such as Bosnia and Northern Ireland, his screams will stay with me forever.
Remembrance March Raises Cash
(Article reproduced with kind permission of the Braintree and Witham Times)
10th November 2009
"An ex-Royal Anglian has taken part in a remembrance march which raised cash for the Royal British Legion.
Andy Thomas, who served with 2 Royal Anglians from 1993 to 1999, marched in dpm and bergan (camouflage and backpack) from Braintree Cemetery in London Road to High Chelmer Shopping Centre in Chelmsford on Saturday.
Before setting off there was a wreath-laying ceremony at the graves of his father Barry Thomas and grandfather Leslie Thomas, who both served in the Royal Navy, with family and the standard bearer of the Braintree branch of the Royal British Legion.
Mr Thomas, a father-of-two from Chelmsford, has so far raised more than £300.
The 37-year-old said: “That was the point - to mark remembrance, 25 years on for my dad and granddad who died in the same year, and my two mates and all the veterans and people serving in Afghanistan now as we speak and losing their lives as we speak.”
He added: “I think it was definitely worthwhile. In the long-run it benefits the Royal British Legion.”
Mr Thomas, who used to live in Braintree, said his father and grandfather both died out of service - his father in a car accident in 1984 and his grandfather from a heart attack the same year.
His friend Darren Bonner, of 1 Royal Anglian, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2007 and another close friend, Robert Baldwin, of 2 Royal Anglian, took his own life in 2003 after leaving the Army."