RAF Brize Norton Wednesday 17th January 2018
The RAF Regiment Sergeant was waiting for Wing Commander Hammond in the station’s Ground Defence Training Section at 08:30. He was expecting a dried-up and wizened old battle-axe from the Legal Services, like a Rumpole of the Bailey in drag. Nonetheless, he was intrigued as to why this Wing Commander had been authorised to draw a Sig Sauer P230 automatic handgun, be trained on its use and then authorised to carry the firearm in an MT hire vehicle to Hereford without an escort. As far as he was aware, there was only one notable military establishment in the Hereford area. The Sig was on the table in front of him, along four magazines, a shoulder holster and the paperwork to sign.
Cécile had left Shrivenham very early to avoid the hell that was the Oxford Ring Road and arrived at Brize Norton early enough to have breakfast in the Officers’ Mess. Brize Norton is a very large RAF station and she drove to the Ground Defence Training Section and parked her hire car. She was wearing disruptive pattern combat clothing, a beret that had been correctly shrunk and shaped (not a chiefy beret) and a pair of Pilgrim GTX FG High Liability Combat Boots, well broken in after running in them with light fighting order, as per her personal fitness training programme.
The RAF Regiment Sergeant was amazed to see his pre-conceived notions of Wing Commanders of the Legal Services go up in smoke. The baggy combat trousers and smock could not disguise the extremely attractive woman who wore them, nor the appealing, shyly smiling face. She was fit in every way.
“Are you Wing Commander Hammond?” he asked with a slight note of disbelief.
“Yes, Sergeant, poised and waiting like a coiled spring.”
He grinned, “I hope you’ve brought your green card?”
She pulled it out of her pocket and showed him.
“Have you ever fired the Sig Sauer before, Ma’am?”
“No, just the Browning pistol and of course the L85.”
“OK, so what we’ll do is stripping the weapon for normal daily cleaning then do some dry firing in the classroom. After that you can put fifty rounds through it down at the 25 Metre Range, then clean it, I’ll get the boss to sign the paperwork authorising unescorted weapon carriage, and you can go on to do your stuff, whatever that is.”
He held up the pistol, delicately with both hands, “The Sig Sauer P230. A small, compact handgun that has a magazine capacity of seven rounds. Because of its size, it’s usually only issued to aircrew.”
He put it down on the table and picked up the holster and webbing straps, “Shoulder holster as worn by fast jet jockeys. They now use the Sig rather than the PPK, which were getting rather old and tired. If you’ll slip off your smock, you can put it on and we’ll adjust it.”
Cécile did so and he noted his silent approval. Despite her baggy Norwegian shirt, everything seemed present and correct. They ran through stripping the weapon down, the routine cleaning regime and reassembling it. Then they ran through weapon handling drills, normal safety precautions (NSPs) and misfires and stoppages.
He stuffed a cardboard box of .380 ACP rounds in his smock, “We don’t often get to use this stuff. Our truck drivers usually use the 9mm Glock.”
As they walked to the range the Sergeant couldn’t help himself and had to comment, “I hope you don’t mind me saying, Ma’am, but you look very young to be a wing commander.”
Cécile smiled at the irony. As far as her career went, she had been passed over more times than the Jewish religion, “I’m acting up, Sergeant.”
“For a special mission that obviously you can’t tell me about it, otherwise you’d have to kill me?”
She was amused because she knew that he was fishing, “Nothing as exciting as that, I’m afraid.”
He unlocked the door of the range and asked her to charge two magazines of the weapon on a bench table behind the firing point, while he set up two figure 11 targets and raised the red flag.
“OK, Ma’am. We’ll start from the fifteen metre firing point to see how it goes. Fire seven rounds at the left target, then straight on to seven at the right hand target. You do the reload drills yourself. For inspection, port arms.”
Facing the targets, she pulled back the pistol’s upper slide and held the working parts open.
“Clear, ease springs. Holster your weapon and move down to the fifteen metre point. She did so, facing the representations of two armed running men, “With a magazine of seven rounds, LOAD!”
She pulled the weapon out of the shoulder holster and checked the round on top of the magazine and placed it into the bottom of the pistol grip. He was behind her and to her right.
She cocked the Sig.
“Seven rounds at the left target and seven rounds on the right, in your own time, CARRY ON!”
Cécile emptied one magazine and reloaded deftly, moving on to the right. The sergeant checked the weapon was clear and she holstered it, “Let’s see how you did.”
There were two tight groups of under two inches, each one slightly right and below the target’s centre, which he marked with chalk, “Hmmm, pretty good. Re-charge the magazines and we’ll move back to the 25 metre point. That will sort the women from the girls. Remember to aim off slightly left and high.”
The next time the groupings were more spread, but they were all within the central area of the target. He asked her to patch and paste the holes and then they went through the drills again, this time using rapid fire. If anything, the groupings seemed slightly tighter.
“Ma’am, that is quite impressive. Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“On my uncle’s farm in South Africa.”
“Interesting. For the last drill and to use up all the ammunition, put four rounds in each magazine, while I shift the targets further apart. For the last practice, I will shout UP and you’ll have fifteen seconds to fire at the first target, quickly move position, change magazines and put four rounds in the second target. The point of aim is up to you.”
Cécile loaded four rounds into each magazine and took up position.
“Load. Ready. Watch and shoot, watch and shoot. UP!”
She dropped to one knee, supporting her left forearm on her left knee, fired four rounds and quickly moved right, changing magazines as she moved. Then it was four rounds in the second target, same routine.
“DOWN! Unload!” He checked her weapon and she holstered it, both of them going forward to check the targets. The two groups were around four inches, both centred in the crotch area.
The sergeant gave her a strange look, “Could you indicate on the Figure 11 target where the bad men touched you?”
“They didn’t touch me. They touched a friend.”
Stirling Lines had been an RAF Base, where clerks, members of the Womens’ Royal Air Force and assorted junior and senior NCOs had completed their basic, phase two and General Service and Management Training. The base was now the home of 22 SAS. Once she had finished her day’s training the following day, she would drive to her next location for her SERE training. Cécile was staying in the visitor’s annex of the officers’ mess because the garrison had so many visitors, including politicians, MI5 and MI6 officers and counter terrorist police. She had finished dinner and was reading the joining instructions for the SERE course.
PURPOSE: To train selected personnel on Code of Conduct, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. This SERE Course is only for personnel holding an ARSOF MOS as per UKJFKSWC command policy.
What the hell did that mean?
Level C training is for Service personnel whose position, MOS, or assignment has a high risk of capture and whose position, rank, or seniority makes them vulnerable to greater than average exploitation efforts by a captor in governmental and non-governmental environments. Governmental examples include personnel who operate forward of the FLOT such as Special Forces, pathfinders, selected aviators and flying crewmembers during armed conflict or peacetime. Non-governmental examples include personnel who have a high risk of being taken hostage by terrorists. Examples include Special Forces, selected military attachés and anyone in special support missions near conflict areas.
Now it made sense. Holy shit!
ITEMS TO BE PACKED IN RUCK SACK
Field Pack, Large with Frame, no modifications
Sleeping Bag, Patrol, Bivy Cover, Gortex Cover
Torch Right-angle with One Set of Extra Batteries (or headtorch)
Bag, Wet Weather
Canteen, 1 L
Cover, Canteen, 1 L
Poncho, Wet Weather
Boots, Issue (winter) (Additional to the pair worn)
Socks, Wool, Cushioned Sole
Sports Bra (Females Only) Black
Undershorts (Black Issue) Optional
Cold Weather Gloves, (Issue)
Gloves, Leather, Work (Or Issue Goretex Leather Gloves)
Wet Weather Top, Gortex
Wet Weather Bottom, Gortex
SPEARS Top (Polypro Authorized)
Field Jacket Liner (Optional)
Knife, Pocket And/ Or Sheath (Not Longer Than 18 cm)
Personal Hygiene Items for 19 Days (Females see Note 4 below)
550 Cord (8 Metres minimum)
1SET Eye Protection (Clear Lens Only)
Magnesium Bar (NSN: 424-00-1160-5618)
Hair Pins (Stay Right Brand, model/style 1352)
Ear Plugs (Foam)
Sewing Kit (Optional)
Clear Nalgene Bottle (2 L large opening)
1. Reading Material, exceptions for Religious, POW or Survival literature
2. Audio/Visual (I.E. Radio, Camera, CD player, iPod, Camcorder, Pager, Etc.) (Mobile phones will be collected on day one and returned at out processing)
3. Camp Stoves or Heat Tablets
4. Additional Food, Spices, or Aluminium Foil
5. Contact Lenses
9. Bum Bags
10. Tents or Hammocks
11. Pace count beads
12. Non-prescribed Medications. All prescribed medications will be reviewed by SERE medic support
13. No dietary supplements are authorized.
She was tired after having driven from Brize Norton and read a couple of chapters of Human Game before turning in. Although separated by gender, time and circumstances, Squadron Leader Francis P. McKenna was a man after her own heart. He had been particularly single-minded in his manhunt that brought twenty-one Gestapo killers of the Great Escape airmen to justice.
I hope I’m as good as you were, Francis, she thought and went to sleep.
The next morning after a light breakfast, Cécile drew her SIG from the armoury and followed the map she had been given to the Killing House. As per her joining instructions, she was wearing sports clothing with a waterproof outer layer to conceal the carriage of the weapon in its shoulder holster.
The term “Killing House” was a misnomer, as it was a hangar surrounded by a selection of buildings of different shapes and sizes, some clearly identifiable as what they were supposed to represent, others just blank walls with single doors. It was anybody’s guess as to what lay inside. Two groups of men stood outside the wired-off area and she immediately recognised the groupings. The bearded hipsters were plod, the almost identically dressed bunch who were a celebration of diversity. The second group who looked as though they had outfitted en-masse from Harrods’ sports department were spooks. As she was the only woman and possibly the only military presence, she stood to one side and tried to blend in with the background, where she barely warranted a second glance from them. After a few minutes two men with a clipboard appeared and looked at the waiting personnel.
“Charlie team with me, Delta team with my colleague.”
They filed into the hangar leaving Cécile on her own. She had an uncanny feeling that someone, somewhere was watching her. After what seemed like a lifetime, a man wearing black overalls and boots came out of a large brick-built building and walked towards her.
“Good morning, Wing Commander Hammond. Can I see your green card please?”
He inspected it and gave it back to her, “That’s pretty up to date, your qualifying yesterday. Hopefully there will be no problems but here’s the golden rule. You will be firing a couple of hundred rounds with that weapon today. We’ll start nice and easily, but then the conditions will gradually become more exacting, until you are operating and discharging the weapon in a stressful environment, lots of noise, thunder flashes going off and the targets will be firing back at you. Don’t worry, it will be lasers not live rounds. You’ll be wearing a sensor suit, so we’ll be able to see how good you are at not getting shot.
“This afternoon you’ll be learning how to exit a car and return fire on the training area. You will be firing live ammunition from the vehicle, which will include through the windscreen, so I hope you brought your ballistic safety glasses with you. If at any time I shout STOP, you are to apply the safety lock and await further instructions. The golden rule? Under no circumstances are you to shoot me. Any questions.”
“Yes, Staff. My name is Cécile. How will I address you?”
He grinned, “Cécile, what a nice name. You may address me as Jarvis for two reasons. One, I like it and two, it’s my name. Now, if you would like to follow me inside yonder building, we can let the fun and games commence…”
By 17:30, Cécile was lathered with sweat and her wrists ached from the constant loading and firing of the Sig. The weapon had behaved beautifully with not a single stoppage or partial ejection. He had given to her and helped her to adjust two more holsters, one that was worn in the small of the back, another on her inner thigh. She was cleaning the weapon for the final time and it was second nature, as Jarvis had made her go through the stripping and re-assembling of the pistol in total darkness. She was sitting cross-legged on the ground, the pieces laid out on her waterproof jacket. Jarvis was sitting opposite her, watching.
“I have to say, Wing Commander Cécile, you are a bloody useful markswoman. Your uncle you said taught you how to shoot must be quite a lad. I bet he doesn’t have much trouble from the Kaffirs.”
“Not at the moment, but I fear that they’ll come for him one night.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Yes. What do you do about the windscreens?”
“We have a contract with Autoglass to replace them. No questions asked,” He stood up and stretched, “I would have a rest until tomorrow. The armoury is open 24 hours. Where are you going next?”
“SERE Course. Starts on Monday.”
“It will be pretty bad, but I reckon you’ll cope with it. Just remember, they’re not allowed to get you pregnant any more. Goodbye, Cécile. It was a pleasure to have met you.”
“Goodbye, Mr Jarvis. And likewise.”
Evasion, Resistance and Escape Phase. Location Classified
Cécile scanned the ground ahead in the darkness. She knew they were on the road behind her, because she had heard the vehicles and the howling of the dogs. She wasn’t worried about the dogs because she could lose them after the river. It was the Hunter Force with their NVGs and the helicopter swooping above the valley with its IR and heat sensor array that concerned her. The helicopter probably belonged to the local plod, a useful training exercise for all concerned. She was a tight knot of fear, because she definitely wasn’t in training mode. This was deadly serious.
She had about five miles to cover to the RV and they had been assured that a helicopter would be there to lift them out. Five miles? It might as well have been five light years across this terrain. She had already blundered into bogs or mires, which was why she was traversing the higher ground. Cécile was chilled to the bone and soaking wet, smeared with mud and some sparse vegetation she had pulled off a bush in an attempt to camouflage herself. On the first attack on the bivouac area, they had scattered like frightened sheep. Cécile knew that they had already caught several, but she was determined to make the RV.
The half-moon slipped from behind the clouds and it was possible to ascertain the lie of the land, which was useful but a curse at the same time. They didn’t need the moon. She did. To the north a smaller tributary ran westwards to join the main river, but the road followed it and they were on the road. She reckoned that if she cut the corner by heading north-west, she could pick up the river and follow it against the flow northwards. There were small fields on the river and the sides of the river were lined by trees. It was about five hundred metres, but it would mean moving up across the skyline, before dipping into the next valley. It started to rain and the moon disappeared behind the clouds and she was up on her feet and sprinting.
The ground underfoot was full of tussocks of coarse, upland grass and a jumble of stones marked the crest of the hill, remnants of an ancient, volcanic plug. There was the sudden note of Land Rover engine accelerating, instantly recognisable, as was the sound of the vehicle’s tyres on the wet tarmac. They had spotted her.
Cécile was over the crest and sprinting down the other side of the hill. She lost her footing, probably in a rabbit hole and crashed down, tearing the fabric of her boiler suit on her left elbow and knee. Winded, she picked herself up and ran towards a copse of stunted trees, beech and alder, the stuff of ancient woodland, gnarled by the westerly winds. There were dogs behind her, yelping and slavering, but the vehicle sounded to be heading towards the larger road that followed the river. They were going to cut her off, while a party was following her on foot.
There was a hedge, tall on a bank, like the bocage in Normandy and Cécile followed it to the denser vegetation of a stream, running east-west to join the river. She realised that she was exhausted through lack of sleep and food. The sickening reality hit her like a hammer blow. She would never make the RV. The paucity of her options sapped the morale. Now she realised how the Great Escapees had felt, recognising that beyond the wire stretched a hostile and occupied Europe between them and a home run. Sobbing with frustration, Cécile blundered into the stream and turned left towards the main river. There was a road ahead and the stream went into a culvert underneath it.
It’s too obvious. But what else can I do? Come on you stupid Doris, think!
Shaking with the cold like a victim of palsy she crouched in the freezing water. Oh God, it’s all over, isn’t it? Above her head a Land Rover stopped on the road and doors slammed. Two men dropped into the stream from each side of the road and the harsh light of a torch swept the conduit and centred on her shaking body. They wore the old-style combat clothing and their Asian faces were totally expressionless. That was the worst part. One of the Gurkhas advanced towards her and dragged her up, whilst from behind, his companion dragged a black hood over her head and cable tied her arms behind her back. As she was hauled towards the vehicle, by no means gently, Cécile realised that she had spent around ten hours on the run and had barely covered seven miles. Her evasion phase was over.
She groaned in agony, knowing that this was the conditioning phase. Sleep was impossible as was the measurement of passing time. She had been forced to maintain the jetliner position, with her back against a wall, crouched so her thighs were parallel to the ground. The stress on her knees and thigh muscles was unbearable and her legs were shaking with pain. Every time she dropped out, someone would kick her and drag her back into position. They had taken her boots and socks and she was still hooded. Cécile felt sick with fear. She knew she was inside an industrial building of some kind, which was deliberately bitterly cold. There were constant shouts and the screams of men and a woman that was chilling. One of the personnel on her SERE course was female aircrew and Cécile shuddered at the thought of what they were doing to her. It would be her turn sooner or later.
And it came. She was hauled to her feet by two men and dragged through the building into another room. It was impossible to estimate how large it was, but she sensed there were several people in there. She could hear voices speaking in what she thought sounded like Russian. And then there was an English-speaking voice that had no trace of any accent.
“Good morning, or is it afternoon, evening, or the middle of the night, Wing Commander Hammond? We would like you to answer some questions. It’s really quite easy. If you answer truthfully, we’ll let you sleep, but if you don’t…”
Someone cut the cable tie from her wrists and she flexed her hands to get the circulation going.
“If we take the hood off, you can sign a disclaimer that says you are being treated kindly. It will be given to the Red Cross and in turn passed to your authorities, so they know you are well.”
She sensed bright lights despite the hood. Someone was filming this. What else had they been filming?
“I’m afraid I cannot sign anything, as you well know.”
“Why are you afraid, Wing Commander? First a simple question. We know you were based at RAF Marham in 2014 to 2015. That’s correct isn’t it? Which squadrons were based there then?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that question.”
“You’re sorry? Why are you sorry? Do you have something to hide?”
“Hammond, Wing Commander, nine, seven, four, Golf…”
“Shut up! You’re trying my patience. Get undressed.”
“Down to your underwear, please, or we will strip you completely.”
Cécile took off the boiler suit and stood there humiliated and shivering. She heard a conversation in Russian, which was followed by coarse laughter.
“My friend says you look cold. Perky, but cold.”
She heard a metallic clank behind her like, like a… Cécile gasped as a bucket of icy water was dumped over the hood and her shoulders and there was even more laughter. It was difficult to breathe through the wet material and she was gasping for air like she was drowning.
“You certainly look cold now. Oh dear, you’ve grazed your knee and elbow, now legs spread, hands on top of your head, if you’ll be so kind.”
She felt two metallic prongs on the back of her thigh, “My friend is very deft with the cattle prod and we would all like to watch you dance a little jig for us.”
The prongs were run up her inner thigh, then up her side to the armpit. Cécile sobbed and the last view of Flight Lieutenant Emma Halling’s face reared horribly in her mind, “Nine, seven, four Golf, Hammond, Wing Commander, YOU BASTARDS!”
There was silence in the room while she waited for the intense pain, but the prod was removed from her armpit.
“I’ve had enough of you. You disgust me! Put your clothes back on. Get her out of my sight!”
Cécile was dragged back to another room and allowed to sit on the floor this time. She was hyperventilating with shock and fear, but most of all, with anger. Eventually her breathing and heart rate came back down. She was too exhausted to even cry in self-pity.
Cécile sat up with a start. Had she been asleep? She had heard an explosion and men were shouting. There was the rattle of automatic gunfire and more explosions.
“GET DOWN! GET DOWN!” somebody yelled. Cécile dragged off the hood and her eyes hurt with the daylight coming through the windows. She was on her feet and running out of the door and down a corridor. Somebody ahead of her tried to stop her. The figure was all in black, wearing an S10 respirator. She shoulder charged him out of the way, she knew it was a he, by his muscular hardness that jarred her arm and she burst out into bright sunlight, falling down three steps. More bruises and grazes. She was in the parking area of what could have been a disused Victorian police station and two military Land Rovers were parked near a high wall.
The gravel was painful on her bare feet and she paused to get her bearings. Tools in the Land Rover, a weapon perhaps? She ran towards the nearest one and wrenched the driver’s door open. The keys were in the ignition. As she jumped up to get in, strong arms grabbed her from behind. Cécile fought like something possessed, kicking back with her heels and ramming the back of the head into the face piece of the man’s respirator.
“CALM DOWN! STAY CALM. It’s ENDEX.”
“You bastard!” she grunted, trying to reach down for his balls, but he was much stronger.
“ENDEX,” he reiterated and said the safe word. He repeated it and she stopped struggling.
He let her go and gently leaned her against the side of the Land Rover. He was also dressed in black, and had a slung MP5 sub machine gun. He pulled down his hood and pulled off the respirator. Both his nostrils were bleeding from where she had head-butted him.
“You’re a bit of a lively one, luv.”
Physically and emotionally drained, Cécile burst into tears and he comforted her awkwardly.
© Blown Periphery 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file