Jarvis got hold of a couple of jerry cans of diesel fuel that morning and topped up the Land Rover. While Danny DI’d the vehicle he made a call on the radio briefly outlining yesterday’s incident and asking for clarification on the state of the MSR. He was assured that it was open as the stranded vehicle had been recovered the previous evening. At 08:45 the lieutenant nurse found him and handed Jarvis a sealed envelope.
“Give this to your boss,” she told him, “And thank you both so much. Please take care of yourselves.”
“You too ma’am. I don’t know how you can bear the stench of this place.”
“I’m sure that we’ll get used to it.”
There didn’t seem any point in hanging around the field hospital and they left heading back to the capital before 09:00. The journey back was much quicker and they spent most of the trip in silence, each alone with his thoughts. The events of the previous day were still stark in their minds, but what affected Jarvis the most was seeing the young girl gunned down on the road and just left nonchalantly. He had gone against the IRA and could understand their twisted logic, but the barbarity of Africa was primeval and would leave a deep scar on his consciousness. Jarvis was beginning to understand that the act could not shelter him from the pain of inhumanity.
Back at Kigali airport, Jarvis handed back the Land Rover and the paperwork to the MT Control, apologising for the additional ventilation and the damaged tyre. He had a few final words for Danny before they parted.
“Thanks mate, you played a blinder back there.”
The SAC shook his head, “No. I fucked up.”
“You didn’t. You came good in a situation you probably are not used to. You have big balls, Danny. One thing I must warn you of. The military police will want to interview us so get your story straight and tell the truth. Don’t elaborate or miss anything out. When you take your weapon back to the armoury, don’t clean it. Get the staff to bag it along with the ammunition because it’ll be a piece of evidence. Re-read your rules of engagement card Alpha and let that be the basis of your evidence. Got that?”
Danny nodded, “Are we in the shit, Guy?”
“No, but the coppers are bored. We’ll be fine, because we did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Jarvis trudged to the headquarters where the major who had sent him up country and the battle captain were waiting for him. The major was apologetic, “Sorry, Jarvis. I thought it would be a straightforward trip there and back. We had no idea that the MSR would be closed.”
“It’s OK, sir, but you know we ran into trouble. The lieutenant nursing officer asked me to give you this.”
The major opened the envelope, pulled out a handwritten note and read it carefully.
“Bloody hell,” he said, “How many rounds did you fire?”
“You know I’ll have to tell the scuffers?”
“I expected it, sir.”
“Have a brew, lad and well done.”
Jarvis was interviewed under caution by a sergeant and a corporal note taker from 160 Provost Company RMP that afternoon. The major sat in on the interview as an independent observer, but more to make sure Jarvis didn’t incriminate himself. He needn’t have worried.
“Lance Corporal Jarvis, you were the senior man in the vehicle?”
“No, there was a TA lieutenant nursing sister, a sergeant nurse and two corporals.”
“But you were the driver and therefore, vehicle commander.”
The RMP sergeant looked at his notes, “Why did you deviate from the briefed route?”
“Because the road was closed due to a vehicle recovery.”
“So why didn’t you turn around, return and try again today?”
“I consulted with the lieutenant who said it was essential that the nurses arrived at the field hospital without delay.”
“I see. And who advised you on the alternative route?”
“The Belgian NCO manning the road block. I didn’t get his name, unfortunately. He told me the route was safe and regularly patrolled.”
“And there was an incident at…” The NCO consulted his notes, “At Rusumo?”
“Yes. There were Tutsi soldiers manning a road block and raping and killing young women and girls. I saw a girl murdered by them and there were a number of bodies lying on the road. They stopped our vehicle.”
“How did you know they were Tutsis?”
“When I asked for passage, one of them asked where we were going. I told him to the field hospital and he said where you treat Hutu scum. The girls they were assaulting were Hutus. They look different.”
“Oh really,” the Provost said sarcastically.
The Provost Sergeant looked up at Jarvis with a slightly pained expression, “And then you opened fire.”
“No, not immediately. I told SAC Hopkins to move to the rear of the vehicle to guard and protect the passengers. While I was talking to the soldier on the road block, another soldier approached the rear of the vehicle.”
“Did you issue a warning?”
No SAC Hopkins did. The Tutsi soldier pushed him and he fell on the road, SAC Hopkins that is. The soldier then opened the Land Rover’s rear door and saw the nurses. He grabbed one of them and tried to pull her out.”
“And then what happened?”
“The Lieutenant, Lieutenant Carter drew her weapon, which was a Browning 9mm and fired at the soldier. Unfortunately she missed.”
“From a few feet?”
“It was unfolding very quickly and there was a danger of hitting the other passengers. The soldier put a burst of fire up through the Land Rover’s roof and then SAC Hopkins began firing single aimed rounds, killing the soldier and trying to keep the others from overwhelming the vehicle.”
“And then you opened fire?”
“Yes. The nearest Tutsi fighter manning the roadblock and the others unshouldered their weapons. I knew that we had to get out of there so I cleared the road block and yelled for SAC Hopkins to get in the rear of the vehicle. He was firing at the approaching troops, even when he was in the vehicle.”
“Did you issue a warning?”
“No, there wasn’t time.”
“How did you clear the road block?”
“With short, aimed bursts of fire.”
The RMP sergeant was suddenly very interested and the Major could see a trap coming. He leaned forward, ready to interject to prevent Jarvis from incriminating himself. Jarvis went to the breast pocket of his tropical shirt, pulled out a small white, printed card and laid it on the table. It was his Card Alpha. Jarvis quoted from it.
“When you open fire you are to: Seek and wherever possible to positively identify your target: AND use the minimum force necessary to engage that target: AND ensure the use of suppressive fire is proportionate to the threat environment.”
“And the discharge of sixty three rounds was proportional to the threat?” the RMP asked incredulously.
“I fired around twenty rounds at those soldiers manning the road block, to prevent them from interfering with our escape. We were followed by two technicals, which are civilian vehicles that have been modified to carry heavy weapons. I stopped our vehicle, moved into cover and fired the remaining rounds at the two technicals, again in short, aimed bursts, concentrating on the weapons crews, the front tyres and the driver compartments.”
“I’m fully aware what a technical is,” said the RMP somewhat huffily. Jarvis could have sworn that the corporal note-taker smirked.
“Before you ask, no I did not issue a warning, as to have done so would have compromised my position.”
The major could tell that Jarvis was becoming fed up with the questioning and decided to bring the events to a close, “Sergeant, I have a written, witnessed and sworn statement from the senior nurse, a commissioned officer who was in the rear of the vehicle. She is happy to be interviewed under caution if necessary.”
The major gave the RMP the letter which he read slowly, “Yes, but she wasn’t present at the second incident, when Lance Corporal Jarvis opened fire on civilian vehicles.”
“Jarvis has stated that these were technicals, manned by Tutsi fighters. Both he and the SAC probably saved the lives of those four nurses, because otherwise, you would investigating four raped and dismembered bodies up country. This has gone on long enough. Do you intend to charge the Lance Corporal, because if you do, you had better be sure of your grounds for doing so?”
“I’ll need to interview SAC Hopkins before we decide, but…”
“I’m ending this interview now. Jarvis has been through enough and acted in a brave and decisive manner. He has no case to answer.”
“I’ll need to take the statement from the nurse as evidence.”
“No you won’t,” the major said firmly, “You can take a copy. The original goes in Jarvis’ end of tour report.”
The two Provost stood up and left and the major smiled at Jarvis, “I’ll just let those two clowns go and then I’ll phone the RAF movers, to make sure your sidekick has a grownup with him when those scuffers pitch up.”
He came back about five minutes later and Jarvis thanked him for sitting in during the interview.
“It was the statement from the TA lieutenant that clinched it,” the major told him, “Did you by any chance sleep with her?”
“No. But I think Danny Hopkins might have done.”
* * *
He didn’t speak with Danny until about a week later. They hadn’t been consciously avoiding each other, but there was a strange awkwardness about recalling such extraordinary, momentous events in a life. Perhaps Danny felt embarrassment about initially freezing at the road block, but Jarvis couldn’t have cared less. He was a soldier and Danny wasn’t, but the most important thing was that he overcame his fear and showed the right stuff when he needed to.
Jarvis had taken a late lunch and the mess tent was nearly empty when he saw Danny pour a tea from the hot water heaters at the servery. He walked over to where Jarvis was sitting.
“Hello, Guy,” he said rather stiffly.
“Danny. Why don’t you sit down?” The SAC sat down across the table, “How’s it going?”
“All right I suppose,“ Danny looked at his mug, pondering a question. When he looked up his face was drawn and anxious, “Guy, when will I stop constantly thinking about it? When will I be able to sleep without waking up in a cold sweat?”
“In time. Events are still raw in your memory, but they will seem more in perspective after time has passed.”
“How long though?”
Jarvis smiled at him, “I don’t know. If you need to, speak with someone. I’m here. Or there’s the medics.”
“I just want to forget it, Guy. I want my old life back.”
“That will be difficult. Try to remember the good bits, like Lieutenant Carter.”
Danny looked down, but he was smiling.
“You did, didn’t you?”
“Well, we both got a good report. And she was pretty traumatised as well…”
“As well as being a bloody awful shot.”
“Thanks, Guy. I’d better get back,” He stood up to go.
“Danny. You did OK.”
* * *
Major events in a life are often random and unfold slowly like a motorway pile-up. Like a slow patrol through Ireland’s Border Country. An obvious trip wire in a gap in a hedge and the well-hidden wire in the less obvious gap. The blast of the explosion, bloody rags where someone’s legs had been. Smoking boots. Screaming. Bright gobbets of blood on the long grass. The crack of incoming rounds. The tinny rattle of the “General” returning fire. The smoke of the flare and wop-wop of the Wessex rotor blades driving blood off the grass in congealing strands. The endless flight and the battle of the combat medic and the loadmaster to keep someone’s now legless son alive. The raw smell of cigarettes in the barracks and steaming uniforms caused by body heat. Jarvis had lied to be kind. Sometimes these memories would never be expunged and you just had to thank God it wasn’t you.
The headquarters was quiet and preparations were being made to ready the non-essential kit for return to the UK. The field hospital had moved to the west near the border with Zaire and the country was considerably safer than when the UN troops had gone in. However, there were still some incursions by Tutsis from their camps in Uganda and some of the roads and tracks east to the border. Life in the headquarters was in steady state and they were thinking of home and post deployment leave. There was a limited staff on duty that late morning in the Ops Room, just the Major, Battle Captain, Watch Keeper and Jarvis.
“Jarvis, if you’re not too busy, could you make us a coffee please?”
He went outside to fill the kettle from some water jerry cans and switched it on. He had been able to scrounge some decent coffee from the French and there was a plentiful supply of oatmeal blocks from the ration packs. While he waited for the kettle to boil on the reduced power from the generator, the Ops phone rang and the Battle Captain answered it. Jarvis was only half listening, but it became apparent that the captain was having difficulty in understanding the person on the other end and he became impatient.
“Jarvis, could you please find out what this clown on the phone is trying to say? His English is bloody awful! He sounds like Officer Crabtree.”
Jarvis grinned, took the phone and spoke in French. The man on the line was speaking from the Divisional HQ that was located near the main airport buildings. He was extremely excited to the point of panic. Jarvis pulled a notepad towards him and started to make quick notes, looking up at the situational map of Rwanda on the wall. Maintaining Ops Room protocol, Jarvis addressed the Battle Captain.
“Sir, there’s an ongoing incident just off the Route Nationale 3, near Muyumbu. Grid Blue Zero Five. A Belgian patrol has run into an ambush and a vehicle’s been hit by a roadside IED. There are casualties and they have none of their medics available.”
The major looked at the map, tracing the RN 3 east and the southerly fork down to Muyumbo, “What the hell are they playing at? That road hasn’t been cleared by 49 EOD yet.”
“They have a chopper standing by, but no medics.”
The Battle Captain deferred to the Major, “OK Jarvis, round up a couple of our medics. Where’s the helicopter?”
“On the pan, waiting to go.”
“I want you to go with them as you speak French. Make sure that any comms are relayed to us here.”
“OK, sir,” Jarvis said and grabbed his webbing, rifle and Kevlar helmet. He doubled towards the British Role 2 medical centre and reported to the Command Post, explaining the situation to the Sergeant. It took around five minutes to round up a combat medic (CMT) with the necessary medical bergen.
“She’ll need her rifle and webbing.”
There was another delay while she found her kit and with Jarvis carrying the extremely heavy bergen, they ran towards a Belgian Air Component Sea King, that was sitting on the pan with its engines running. There was a section of Belgian Paras for force protection already on board. As they were strapping in, the Sea King rose from the tarmac and pitched forward. As the city outskirts and then the jungle passed below, Jarvis yelled in the CMT’s ear above the roar of the engines.
“Ambush on patrol of two vehicles. One hit by a mine or IED. There are at least two casualties.”
She nodded, wide-eyed with anxiety, because a few minutes before she had been stocktaking medical supplies in the Role 2’s store tent. Jarvis grinned encouragingly and she returned it with a wan smile.
“Don’t worry. These badarses will look after us.”
The Sea King headed east and Jarvis stared down at the heavily wooded hills and the road winding through the trees. Ahead a column of dirty smoke smudged the horizon. The helicopter began to flare and below in a large clearing, a Belgian soldier stood with his arms in the air to guide the Sea King in. As it landed, thick red dust was thrown up by the rotor blades. They unbuckled and the CMT headed for the door, but Jarvis pulled her back.
“Wait for the force protection to get into position.”
After a few minutes the co-pilot turned round, “They’re in position. Go now.”
They headed out towards the road and the smoke. The smell was rancid with burning oil and rubber and on the highway were two vehicles, both Vextra armoured reccee cars. The nearer of the two was firing blindly into the jungle, at an enemy that was probably long gone. The furthest away was incapable of doing anything apart from melting in a blast furnace of burning diesel fuel. As they ran towards the scorching Vextra, Jarvis knew, he just knew and he felt sick.
The driver was beyond any mortal help. A blackened skull stared up at the sky as the front compartment had taken the full force of the blast, which had probably been caused by a mine. Of the second crew member there was no sign, probably still inside the incandescently, burning vehicle. They found Bluma curled up in a ball on the far side of the Vextra. She had made it out of the fighting compartment, but not before she had been terribly burned. Her boots and socks were partially melted and it was impossible to ascertain where the tattoos ended and the burns started. Her gauntlets and helmet had protected her hands and face, but the t-shirt and shorts were burned away. It was too late to berate her for the stupidity of not bothering to wear a flameproof tankers overall in the African heat. The blast furnace inside the APC had contracted the sinews and tendons on her arms, drawing them into the classic pugilist’s position. The worst part was she was still alive, whimpering and crying in pain. It was perverse that somebody who had been so badly burned was still conscious.
The CMT was overwhelmed by the scale of the injuries that she was presented with, but nevertheless, she went through her protocols of Airway Breathing and Circulation. The Belgian Paras could deal with any potential hazards. There was no bleeding per-se, but the young medic knew that her patient was losing fluids at an alarming rate.
“Hello, my name is Ellie and I’m a medic. I’m here to help you.”
Jarvis said: “Oh my God.”
“He can still hear! Be careful what you say!”
“She isn’t a he.”
“Guy, is that you?” the burned husk whispered hoarsely.
“Oh, Bluma, yes I’m here. We’re here to help you. You’re going to be OK.”
“I can’t see you, Guy. Take off my helmet please.”
Jarvis looked at the medic who shrugged, “A head injury is pretty low on my priorities. Let the air cool her head.”
The female CMT was frantically trying to work out the rule of 9s and how much fluid she needed to get into her patient. Each leg would be around 18% and the front and rear torso a further 36%. With the burns on her arms, the casualty had around 70% full thickness burns. To work out the fluids, the medic calculated a body weight of 60 kilos x 70 for the percentage burns x 4 for the crystalloid fluids. She needed to get around 17,000 millilitres of fluids into the casualty’s body in the first hour. That was more than she carried and with such a high percentage of full-thickness burns, she knew that what was left of this woman was going to die within the hour.
“Talk to her. Give her some comfort.” The medic said to Jarvis, then instructed him to slowly pour the contents of his and her water bottles onto the most badly burned areas. Next she took large bore central venous catheter cannula and two bottles of saline solution from the bergen and wondered where to insert it. Wherever it went it would mean inserting the cannula through burned flesh. She decided on the subclavian vein as the landmarks of the body were easier to find. She immediately discounted inserting the cannula up the casualty’s anus because most of the fluids would be lost through leakage. It was hopeless, but she refused to give in.
Bluma shrieked as the catheter went through the raw nerve endings of her shoulder, but the medic found the vein with much difficulty and began to squeeze the fluids into her.
“We need to get to hospital fast,” she said to Jarvis, “Not the Role 2 but the main hospital in Kigali. Get someone else to help put her in a poncho, so we can carry her to the helicopter.”
Jarvis beckoned one of the Belgian Paras over and Bluma screamed again when they lifted her into it. The two soldiers carried the poncho and its agonised cargo to the helicopter and Jarvis told the pilot where to take the casualty. The burns and blisters were weeping plasma as they waited for the force protection to re-embark.
“Guy, listen to me,” Bluma croaked before the helicopter took off, “Go and visit my parents and sister. Tell them I died like a good soldier. Please.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ll be fine as soon as we get you to hospital,” He looked at the medic for reassurance, but she avoided his gaze.
Bluma Rameker died three minutes into the flight. The medic felt for the carotid pulse but there was nothing. She calmly laid the fluid bottle down between the body’s legs and leaned back.
“What are you doing?” Jarvis yelled, “Keep going!”
The CMT looked at him sadly, “She’s gone. I’m really sorry, but we lost her.”
“No! That can’t be right.”
The CMT put her hand on his shoulder, “She’s dead. There was nothing more I could do and she would have died, even in hospital.”
The Sea King landed in the deserted car park of Kigali’s main hospital and the medic went with the body to have the death annotated in her log by a doctor. The aircrew and force protection gathered a good distance away and were smoking and drinking. Coffee from a flask. Jarvis sat miserably in the door of the helicopter, alone with his thoughts. The medic came out and sat next to him.
“She called you Guy. You knew her, didn’t you?”
He nodded, his head down.
“I’m really so sorry that you should have seen her like that.”
Jarvis turned away so that the CMT couldn’t see that he was weeping, but she knew. She put her arm round him and cuddled him. Sometimes even the most accomplished actors found that their part was overwhelmingly challenging.
* * *
He kept his promise to Bluma and sacrificed four days from his post operational tour leave to visit her family. He drove to Neufchâteau and booked a room in a cheap, budget hotel and the next day, changed into his best No 5s with the maroon beret. Before leaving Rwanda he had visited Bluma’s company commander and explained what had happened and her dying request. The Belgian major gave Jarvis the details of her next of kin and feeling very apprehensive, he drove to Bluma’s patents’ house. It was a small, neat, detached house on the outskirts of the town, with a well-cared for garden. Suddenly feeling a dread, he approached the front door and rang the bell.
The door was opened by a trim looking man in middle age, bookish and wearing spectacles. He looked like a bank clerk, which was what he was. He regarded Jarvis uncertainly.
“Bonjour, puis-je vous aider?”
Jarvis took off his beret politely, “Good morning, sir. My name is Guy Jarvis and I knew your daughter Bluma. I was with her when she died.”
He looked at the young, British Para as though making up his mind, “Good morning, Guy Jarvis. Would you like to come in?”
Bluma’s father introduced Jarvis to her mother and sister, a young woman who was incredibly pretty and feminine, so unlike her elder sister. He gave a sanitised version of the events in Rwanda and Bluma’s dying request to him.
“So the reason I am here is to fulfil her dying wish. She wanted you to know that she died like a good soldier. It was incredibly important to her.”
Bluma’s mother and sister were crying gently and her father went to fetch two beers from the kitchen. He handed a bottle and glass to Jarvis and said quietly: “Please come out into the garden with me.”
They both sat on a bench overlooking a small pond full of carp basking in the warm, morning sun, “Guy Jarvis, there’s something that I need to know. Did my daughter suffer?”
He looked at her father and decided that this man did not deserve a lie, “She was badly burned and must have been in a great deal of pain. She bore her injuries with a stoicism and bravery that was humbling. She knew that she was going to die, but remembered her family right until the end.”
Jarvis irritably brushed away a tear and Bluma’s father looked at him, “I can tell that you’re deeply affected by her death and would like to thank you for taking the time to visit us. You are a sensitive soul, are you not?”
Jarvis said nothing.
“Where are you staying?”
“The Hotel Esprit Campagne. It’s cheap and cheerful.”
“What are your plans, Guy Jarvis? You are welcome to have dinner with us tonight if you wish.”
“Thank you, sir, but I don’t wish to intrude on your grief. I will probably visit the Ardennes and Bastogne tomorrow before catching the ferry home to stay with my parents.”
“You are most welcome if you change your mind.”
Jarvis stood up and made to leave, “Thank you again, sir and I’m most dreadfully sorry for your loss.”
He hadn’t touched the beer.
* * *
The following morning Jarvis was packing in his hotel when there was a knock on the door. He opened it and saw it was Bluma’s sister.
“Oh hello, err…”
“Carine. Hello Guy Jarvis.”
“Hello, Carine. What do you want?”
“I want to be close to my sister again. Through you and with you.”
Jarvis stared at her, “I’m not sure that I understand.”
“Can I come in?”
“Is that a good idea?”
“I’m willing to take the risk. Are you?”
He stepped out of the way and she sat on the bed looking at him, “Don’t try to understand. Just accept whatever it is.”
Jarvis mentally shrugged and took her advice. He never got to see Bastogne.
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file