The Man Who Played Ross – Chapter 7

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
CDC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jarvis had a well-established routine and fitted in well with the headquarters staff, all of whom were senior in rank to him but accepted him as a good operator. He quickly had a handle on the battlespace and helped the watch keepers to prepare the daily briefings for the Brigadier. The fighting in the country had become sporadic since the UN forces had moved in, but there would be an occasional flare up, particularly ambushes of convoys moving around the country.

The genocide had by now turned into a humanitarian disaster with outbreaks of cholera and dysentery to add to the misery of the country’s population, which had already suffered nearly a million deaths. Around 600 deaths per day were being caused by disease and the role of the British contingent was to provide humanitarian and logistical support to the UN forces. Jarvis discovered that he was a good organiser and able to remain on top of the complexities, maintaining a good tote board and log within the operations room. By sustaining good relationships with the RAF contingent, he was able to inform the HQ when the next flights were arriving and what was on their manifest. This enabled the logisticians to prioritise equipment for loading onto the DROPS vehicles, for onward moves up country. There was a tendency among the HQ officers to regard the RAF as “Hats” and sometimes this Army arrogance was counterproductive. Jarvis played it just right and unbeknown to him, he was a natural administrator. In the Belbin team roles, he was a monitor-evaluator with the specialist role of fluency in another language

However, despite being busy, Jarvis was becoming bored of the narrow confines of the airport and longed to venture further afield. He felt as though he knew the country well from the operations room maps and Sitreps from the dispersed units. 23 Para Field Ambulance (23 PFA) was providing care clinics for the refugees in the north of Rwanda, as well as bolstering the three hospitals that were still functioning nationally. Part of his role was to prepare the weekly medical report for onward transmission to HQ Land at Wilton, and it was clear to Jarvis that the country was racked by man-made disease.

About a week after Bluma unceremoniously threw him out of her bed, Jarvis was in the Ops Room early in the morning. He couldn’t sleep because of the heat and it was 22 degrees when he went for an early run. Rwanda was just below the equator and not too humid in August, but it seemed as though it would be a warm, balmy day. He hadn’t felt hungry and decided to relieve the watch keeper and trawl through the Sitreps, before the rest of the staff came in for the day’s shift. The Major came into the Ops Room, made himself a cup of coffee and then sat next to Jarvis.

“Much happening?” he asked.

“Nothing of any interest, sir. I haven’t had chance to go through the latest report from 49 EOD or the one from the Loggies. There are the latest cholera figures from up-country and there’s a request to aeromed a couple of disease non-battle patients out of theatre. Nothing major and they can go out on the Herc unescorted to Entebbe, to pick up the strategic aeromed flight back to the UK.”

The Major nodded and couldn’t help but be impressed at how quickly this young Lancejack had picked up the different aspects of working in the headquarters. He pondered on this and a pressing problem that he had, a problem that Jarvis could possibly solve for him.

“Four nurses arrived on last night’s Herc. They were late arrivals from a TA Field Hospital and missed this week’s main flight, so they went into Entebbe on a cargo flight. Because of the epidemic up-country, they’re infection control specialists and are needed at the field hospital in Nyakinama as soon as possible. The regular transport run isn’t for another couple of days. It’s fifty miles there and fifty back, so it should take six hours max.

“I was wondering if you felt like getting out, if you would take them in a Land Rover and pick up anyone who needs to get on tonight’s flight out.”

Jarvis’s eyes were shining at the opportunity, “You bet, sir.”

“There’s just one problem,” the major continued, “We can’t spare any of the Princess of Wales to go with you to ride shotgun. Do you think one of the Crabs could go with you, one of the Movers? The TCW boys seemed ensconced in their tents with their radio kit.”

“They are downloading live feeds from the Canberra for General Dallaire and UNAMIR, sir. But I’m sure one of the Movers would like a trip out and about. I know I would.”

“Good lad. Make sure that whoever goes with you takes his rifle and kit. I think the nurses only have side arms, but things should be fine on the MSR (Main Supply Route). Take a radio and get a briefing and pack-up from MT Control. Depart at 10:00 and no hanging around at the field hospital. If you’re not back here by 16:00, somebody will come looking for you and your name will be mud.”

“Understood, sir.”

“Good luck.”

Jarvis went and drew his rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition from the armoury tent. He magged-up and made his next port of call the RAF Movers in their Rubb hangar. He asked the Flight Sergeant if anybody could be spared for the day to deliver four Pax to the field hospital. He was introduced to a senior aircraftsman (SAC), who seemed as eager as he was to leave the confines of the airport. He told the SAC to meet him at the MT section once he had collected his rifle and kit.

At the MT Section he gave the Land Rover a daily inspection and was issued with a pack-up, which included a map of the country with the routes annotated with a highlighter. The Land Rover had a radio fit of a VRC 321 so it was a hard top Fitted for Radio (FFR). Jarvis knew the Clansman radio quite well, although he had only used the backpack variant in the past. Because the vehicle was FFR, there wouldn’t be much room in the back for their passengers. He found some rolls of camouflage netting to make the hard interior a little more comfortable and presently the SAC joined him, lugging his daysack and rifle.

“What’s your name?” Jarvis asked him.

“Danny Hopkins.”

“Well, Danny, I’m Guy Jarvis,” and he went on to brief the SAC about the route, destination and number of Pax, “It should take less than five hours to get there and back, but they’ve given us a window of six hours. As soon as we leave the airport you can do a radio check. We’re Mobile One and control is Charlie One.”

The four nurses arrived a few minutes later, carrying their bergens. They looked tired and wan after the flights from the UK and Jarvis opened the back door for them.

“I’m afraid it’s a bit cramped in the back and will probably get quite warm. It’ll only be for a couple of hours and if you need to stop, just tell me.”

They were on their way a few minutes later with Danny navigating and the vehicle left the confines of the airport and headed west into Kigali. The streets were thronged with crowds of Africans, the women wearing bright, colourful clothing. The capital was a mish-mash of sprawling shanty towns and modern buildings and it all seemed so exotic to Guy who was driving. Once through the city they headed north on the Route National 4 and they were in the heart of Central Africa. Guy marvelled at the greenery and the lush, hilly countryside on each side of the road. There were very few other vehicles on the road, they passed a couple of vehicle convoys heading south towards the capital. There were white-painted APCs is UN colours and a small convoy of British Demountable Rack Offload and Pickup Systems (DROPS) vehicles, heading back to the airport for resupply.

The road surface was good and they made good time, until they hit a fork in the road north of Tumba. The RN 4 had a temporary road block, manned by Belgian troops. Guy stopped the Land Rover and went to ask the Belgian NCO what was going on in French.

“A truck has hit a bridge and has gone into the river. We’re waiting for the engineers to recover the vehicle and check the bridge, so we’ve had to close the road. Where are you heading?”

“The British Field Hospital at Nyakinama. I’ve got four nurses who are needed there, so I can’t turn around and go back to Kingali.”

“Go and get your map and I’ll show you another route you can use.”

Jarvis returned with the map and the Belgian NCO showed him an alternative route, “Take the right-hand fork and follow the road, which tracks east of Lake Burera. It then heads east to Kidaho where you can pick up the road to Nyakinama.”

“Is it safe?” Jarvis asked.

“It’s not as wide as the RN 4 and quite windy north of the lake, but it’s safe enough and we patrol it regularly.”

Back in the Land Rover Jarvis consulted with the senior nurse, then made a call back to base, telling them about the road closure and the diversion route. They were on their way again and presently saw the glint of a large lake through the trees to their left. Jarvis spotted the strange sight of bright colours in a field to their right and stopped the vehicle. He got out and pushed through the undergrowth edging the road to an overgrown tea plantation. The bright, fluttering colours was the material of clothing and he recoiled in horror.

They were still lying where they had been massacred, hundreds, perhaps over a thousand women and children, their scattered corpses had been attacked by wild animals and the plantation was strewn with body parts and bones. A skull with its hair still attached leered at him and he could see the deep notches in the bones and skulls, caused by the machetes, which had been used to hack these people to death. Jarvis jumped as he heard a voice behind him.

“What is this? Oh Jesus!”

“Go back to the Land Rover, Danny. There’s nothing we can do for these people now.”

The SAC doubled up, “I feel sick.

“Yeah, me too. Let’s get out of here.”

They hurried back to the Land Rover and drove away as quickly as they could.

“What is it?” The senior nurse asked from the back of the Land Rover.

“A massacre. Bodies just lying in the fields. Some time ago by the looks of things.”

But Jarvis was worried. Who had done it and where were they? The road became very windy in the hills and they came to a place marked as Rusumo on their map. Jarvis was about to see the dynamics of the country first hand, something that his act couldn’t blot out and would haunt him for the rest of his existence.

There were armed troops in this township and they wore the brightly coloured tropical camouflage the French wore in the 1970s. Jarvis noted a couple of technical, pick-ups with heavy machine guns mounted on the back and the troops were looting. He had no real idea whose “side” they were on, but suspected they were Tutsis from the RPF evening up the score. They had probably come into northern Rwanda from their bases in Uganda and their pressing thought was revenge.

In the centre of the town was a checkpoint, oil drums thrown hastily across the road and manned by black soldiers, some of them barely out of their childhood. In the Rwandan genocide and places like Liberia or Sierra Leone, rape and sexual violence was just another weapon in the armoury of warfare. A group of these soldiers was in the process of the mass rape of Hutu women and girls and Jarvis saw a young girl who tried to run away, calmly gunned down, the ejected empty cases of the AK 47 glinting in the sunlight as they cascaded down onto the road. Her body bent back, the rounds blowing her blouse open before she was dumped face-up on the road. A pool of blood forming under her corpse. A girl was being held down as a group of the soldiers pulled at her clothing and into this maelstrom of barbarity, the British Land Rover and its passengers had blundered like innocents abroad.

“So much for the bloody Belgians patrolling this road regularly,” Jarvis said as a grim, crawling fear wrapped itself round his vitals.

The group of soldiers manning the checkpoint stopped the Land Rover and Jarvis got out cautiously, his rifle slung discretely behind him. The Tutsi soldier babbled something in a language that to Jarvis was unintelligible.

“Danny, get out and watch the rear of the vehicle,” Jarvis said quietly.

“I don’t like this, Guy.”

“Just do it!”

“Est ce que tu parles francais?“ Guy asked the soldier who nodded enthusiastically.

“In which case,” he continued in French, “Would you please allow us to pass?”

“Where are you going?” the soldier demanded. His eyes were dilated and crazed, caused by some narcotic.

“To the field hospital at Nyakinama.”

“Where you treat Hutu scum.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“We give aid to everybody.”

“But mainly Hutus, white man. Where were you when the Hutus butchered my people?”

The SAC had gone round to the back of the vehicle and a soldier approached from another direction, appearing from behind two market stalls. He was suddenly enveloped with terror. Jarvis was continuing to speak with the soldier from the road block and the other troops were beginning to become interested. This was not good. He had no idea that one of the Tutsi troops had approached the back of the vehicle and heard Danny Hopkins’ panicked voice say: “Stop! Stand still!”

All well and good for a gate guard at RAF Little Snoring, but out here it sounded more like a terrified plea than a command. Jarvis glanced around and saw the African fighter push Hopkins away and unshoulder his rifle. And everything slowed down as Jarvis became hyper alert. He could smell the fresh blood on the road, the earthy aroma of this blighted country and the sweat from the African troops.

Hopkins sprawled on the ground from the shove and the Tutsi wrenched open the Land Rover’s rear door. He looked inside and grinned like a child in a sweet shop when he saw four, white, female nurses, wearing their red crosses like a futile talisman. Jarvis had no allusions about what would happen next. These soldiers were driven by lust, lust for revenge and lust of the good, old fashioned kind. The Tutsi pointed his AK 47 inside the rear of the vehicle and grabbed the nearest of the nurses, starting to pull her out.

Sitting up front next to the radio frame between the front and rear compartments, the senior nurse, a TA Lieutenant had the presence of mind to draw her Browning pistol, cock it and with a shaking hand she pointed it at the fighter. He snarled at her and took up first pressure on the trigger. The Browning 9mm round grazed the side of his chest because it was a lousy shot, but he fell back and the burst of fire went high, exiting the Land Rover’s roof. At long last Danny Hopkins seemed to come out of his cold funk and cocked his SA80. With a bellow of rage the Tutsi fighter recovered and was sweeping his rifle down to kill all in the back of the vehicle. Hopkin’s 5.56mm round hit him in the left side of the chest and literally blew the African out of his boots, which were not tied. The SAC laughed hysterically and began to open fire of the other troops who were moving towards the Land Rover.

Jarvis went down into a crouch to diminish his profile, put the change lever to Automatic, cocked his SA80 and killed the four men manning the road block. He was up on his feet screaming, “Get in the back, Danny and shoot at anyone who tries to follow. MOVE!”

He jumped into the driver’s seat and yelled: “Are you in?”

“All in. Go!”

Jarvis accelerated through the road block, bowling the oil drums aside and running over a body. He could hear Hopkins firing from the back of the Land Rover at everybody and everything. So much for the Card Alpha, he thought, stunned by the madness of it all. Near the outskirts of the town, two Tutsis tried to stop them, one running into the road. The Land Rover’s front wing struck him a crippling blow while the second opened fire. One round went between Jarvis’ chest and the steering wheel and two rounds hit the rear compartment. Hopkins fired off the last three rounds of his first magazine and missed, but they were close enough to make the fighter go to ground. He fumbled the magazine change, the empty one falling out of the back of the vehicle and clattering on the road, but he got the second mag in its housing and remembered to let the working parts go forward.
About four miles up the road, just after a hairpin bend, Jarvis pulled the vehicle off the highway and ran back towards the direction they had come from.

“Danny, we’ll need to stop them if they’re following and I think I can hear engines.”
“I’ve only got one full mag left. They only issued me with sixty rounds.”

“Damn! OK, then look after the nurses. If anything happens to me, it’ll be up to you. With your life if necessary. Time for big balls, Danny.”

Jarvis didn’t need Danny to tell him how frightened he was. The SAC’s face was white and pinched. He pushed into the undergrowth and took cover behind a tree, from where he could scan the road. Two technicals approached and as they slowed to take the bend, he opened fire with short, economical bursts. He concentrated on the machine gun crews, the cabs and the front tyres. He fired around twenty rounds at each vehicle and the survivors took off into the jungle. Steam hissed from the radiators and blood dripped from the vehicle onto the tarmac. He stepped out of cover and finished off one of the fighters who had been playing possum in the back of the second truck, then ran back to the Land Rover.

“That should buy us some time. Is everyone all right?”

“One of the nurses was hit by a fragment from the burst that came through the floor.”

“I’m OK,” she said, “Just get us out of here.”

Jarvis looked at Hopkins’ leg, “You’ve been hit as well. There’s blood on your trousers.”
He looked down, “Christ, so I have! I never felt anything.”

As soon as it had sunk in, the SAC began to babble, “Guy, I’m so sorry but I froze back there. I just didn’t know what to do. I was useless, just crap!”

He was close to tears and the Lieutenant put her arm around him.

“It doesn’t matter, Danny. You did the right thing after all, so don’t worry yourself. It’s OK to be frightened. Now they’ll fix you up while we get out like the clappers.”

He drove as fast as he dared and the road skirted Lake Burera to the north of the bright blue expanse of water. In another time it would have been idyllic, but the still, empty lake seemed sinister. They came upon another township the sign said was Kidaho and Jarvis pulled the Land Rover off the road and consulted the map. He stuck his head in the back.

“We’re getting close, but we need to drive through this place first. Can anyone else drive this thing?”

“I can,” Hopkins offered.

“Not you, Danny. Your job’s to look after the Pax.”

“I can drive and I’ve got an FMT 600,” one of the nurses said, “Why?”

“Because I can’t drive and shoot and I don’t need to see your 600.”

She got out of the back and clambered into the driver’s seat, while Jarvis went into the passenger’s side.

“If anything kicks off, just keep going,” he told her, “And if anyone tries to stop us, mow them down. Got that?”

“I think so.”

She had to move the seat right forward but made a decent fist of driving the vehicle. They went quickly through the township and saw a few Tutsi fighters, but they seemed disinclined to do anything about the Land Rover that sped past them. They were busily engaged in bouts of looting and rapine, to worry about a single UN vehicle and they passed through the shanty town quickly enough to leave a plume of red dust behind. They were back on the RN 8, where the scale of the humanitarian disaster was apparent. The road became choked with refugees and makeshift camps had been set up on the shores of the smaller Lake Ruhondo.

Finally they saw military signs, including a red cross indicating the way to the Field Hospital and drove through a throng of Africans at the security checkpoint. The stench of dysentery was all-pervading. Jarvis pointed to a reception area and the nurse drove up to a tent and stopped the vehicle.

“We’re here ladies.”

They all climbed out stiffly and Jarvis looked at the bullet holes in the Land Rover’s outer skin, marvelling at just how lucky they had been. A round had made a deep score in the tread of one of the tyres, so they were millimetres from a possible massacre. He doubted that the few rounds of ammunition they had between them, would have been enough to hold at bay hundreds of troops turgid with blood lust.

He had no idea of the dynamics that had been going on in the back of the vehicle, but the nurses embraced Danny Hopkins like he was some kind of saviour. Perhaps because Jarvis was a Para, they rather expected him to laugh in the face of danger and tweak the nose of terror. Or maybe that maroon beret of his was some kind amulet that made him impervious to bullets. Jarvis didn’t really mind, he just smiled ruefully and wondered if they understood just how terrified he had been. He was no hero. Why them? Because they were there and they bloody well shouldn’t have been.

The Lieutenant nurse approached him and asked, “What are you going to do now, Lance Corporal Jarvis?”

“Well ma’am, I’m going to radio my headquarters, tell them what happened and change the wheel of the Land Rover.”

“You’re not going back to Kigali today?”
“Not on your bloody life, at least not until the main supply route has reopened and somebody looks at Danny’s leg.”

She put her hand on his arm, “Thank you. We probably owe our lives to you and Danny. He was scared but came through in the end. I don’t know how you stayed so calm.”

“Because I’m a good actor.”

She smiled, “What time are you leaving tomorrow?”

“09:00 if the MSR is open.”

“Don’t go until I give you something to hand in to your HQ.”

With the SAC’s help, Jarvis changed the wheel and then they had a meal and found somewhere to doss down for the night. Because his personal admin was good, Jarvis had brought his sleeping bag. Danny had to borrow a blanket and they made some bed spaces in the corner of a supply tent. That night Danny came into the supply tent quite late and tossed and turned restlessly. Jarvis filled out his journal by the light of a head torch. Perhaps one day someone dear to him would read it.

© Blown Periphery 2021

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